Global Service Scholar: Jonathan Lee
Country: Cambodia

After recounting the days I spent in Cambodia to various friends and family, it’s easy to remember events that occurred, but understanding takeaways from each learning moment is difficult. Even now, I’m struggling to comprehend the changes that have taken root inside of me. The problem isn’t identifying small lessons, but rather finding the arching theme that causes permanent transformation without the cliché travelling ideal, “Our lives in the States are so nice compared with the lives lived in Cambodia.”

I guess the answer lies in the comparison. When comparing material goods, the United States does hold more than the still developing Kingdom of Cambodia, but when scrutinizing the much more important attitudes and personalities of the Khmer people, so much more value than gold and silver manifests itself, especially in the extraordinary teachers with whom I worked.

They exhibited an extreme curiosity that allowed them to explore the world, taking in personal experiences of a developing country and coupling lessons from other cultures with their own imagination to fuel their dreams of bettering their home. They spoke of educating a country whose general atmosphere is pointed towards working in tourism and catering to foreigners. They dared to speak with pride of creating opportunity, not dependence. To achieve their goals, many work two to three jobs, because a teacher’s salary is not nearly enough money to raise a family. Their work ethic is fueled by a need to better their society, and they use their bodies as tools for their immensely fortified minds. It seems different at home. It seems that in America, our bodies dictate our actions with trivial wants that add to our own physical comforts. With a different kind of comparison, two questions come to mind.

How much more could I accomplish with the passion that the teachers exhibited?

What could give me the same drive where my body and exhaustion is worth less than my pursuits?

Reflecting on the questions, my mind immediately turns to my overall professional goal of become a clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents, but it’s more than that. It’s daily. It’s community based. It’s understanding that I am second. Of course, I have to take care to not let myself burn out, but the individualist style with which I’ve grown in hinders so much my ability to dream better for those around me. I can pursue my passions, but can I work for the lives around me? Can I understand that there are issues surrounding me so close to home, and work for them? The teachers at Treak Community Center have inspired me by working towards a better future for their country. I plan to honor that by understanding the need in my community surroundings, working towards the betterment of others.