Lehigh students in the Global Citizenship Program visit students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh during their winter break trip to Cambodia. Twenty-three Lehigh students went on the trip, which focused on different elements of the nation, including its government, healthcare and education systems. (Courtesy of Sothy Eng)

Global Citizenship program returns after Cambodia trip

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After taking a year off from the intersession trip last year, Lehigh’s Global Citizenship Program returned to Cambodia with 23 students for 12 days during winter break.

This is the only time the Global Citizenship intersession trip has traveled to the same country two trips in a row. But, because of Lehigh’s close connection with the non-profit organization Caring for Cambodia, the program decided to make the return, said Sarah Stanlick, the director of the Global Citizenship Program.

“Sothy Eng . . . has been responsible for cultivating a long-term partnership (with Caring for Cambodia),” Stanlick said. “Because we’ve had that long-established relationship, and we are hoping for that type of sustainable travel abroad, it made perfect sense to go with (Cambodia).”

Stanlick said the purpose of the intersession trip is to provide the Global Citizenship students with an abroad experience that has elements of community engagement, service learning and historical and cultural education. Additionally, it is an opportunity for the students to form a bond as a cohort.

Each trip’s cohort is typically comprised of only sophomores, but because there was no trip last year, this year’s cohort was a mix of sophomores and juniors.

Eng, a professor of practice in comparative and international education, and his graduate assistant Laura Dean served as the two trip leaders. While Eng made the logistic arrangements for the trip, the students planned most of the trip’s daily activities.

Eng said the 23 students were divided into six groups that each had a different focus. The six focuses included government, health, education, human rights, environment, and art and culture. The groups researched places they wanted to visit in Cambodia that related to their topics, and Eng, a native of Cambodia, would decide if each place was legitimate or not.

The sites the students chose to visit included the genocide museum, the U.S. Embassy and non-profit organizations such as Caring for Cambodia and the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, which supports people with mental health disorders in Cambodia.

Eng said one of the students’ favorite places was the Harpswell Foundation, which provides dormitory living to poor, young girls from remote areas of Cambodia, allowing them to attend college in Phnom Penh, the capital city.

“The students can really interact directly with those girls at the dorm,” Eng said. “We visited the main public university in Phnom Penh, and a student took them around campus. They walked and talked them through (the campus), and they have become Facebook friends already.”

Nia Baker, ’19, was a member of the human rights group and said the most memorable moment for her was visiting S-21, which is a high school that was converted into a torture and execution facility during the genocide in the 1970s.

Baker said she loved meeting the people at the site and seeing their resilience and optimism, especially as someone studying human rights issues.

“It wasn’t my favorite experience, but it was definitely the most important one,” Baker said. “Seeing it was very different from reading about it, and that way made it seem a lot more real. It definitely motivated me to get involved in more global issues.”

The students started their days on the trip as early as 5:30 a.m., Eng said, and they remained busy until 9 p.m. when Eng and Dean would lead an hour of reflection for the students. Eng said the reflection time allowed the students to put their daily experiences into a “complete picture,” as well as share their perspectives with each other.

Dean said the reflection time was most memorable for her because the students’ “valuable perspectives” allowed her to see how each of them experienced Cambodia in his or her own way.

Baker said the students are currently enrolled in a Global Citizenship Program class that is focused on reflecting on the trip and thinking about the next steps the students can take as global citizens.

Stanlick said the Global Citizenship Program is a three-year “backpack program” open to undergraduate students of any major in any of the three colleges. The program combines study abroad, service learning and community engagement.

Prior to the intersession trip, the students attend several workshops throughout the fall semester to prepare for travel and learn more about that year’s chosen country.

Besides a $500 contribution that the students are asked to make, the intersession trip is Lehigh-funded. Seniors complete a capstone project that focuses on connecting Lehigh to the local community by applying their global knowledge to a local scale.

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