Blog assignment number seven- Lydia Van Wolde
#7: How did this conference change your understanding of development in Cambodia? Concretely summarize several things that you have learned as a result of the seminar presentations, Q&A and multi-national small group discussions.
I really enjoyed the International conference. It was really rewarding to be in an environment where there were Cambodians, Koreans, and Americans. I learned a lot about the different perspectives brought to the conference. Those of us from Calvin went into the conference with a mindset that we wanted to learn about the problems in Cambodia and the Cambodian Way of life from the Cambodians. The Koreans went into the conference with a mindset that focused more on fixing and addressing problems they saw in the Cambodian System. I’m not really sure what mindset the Cambodians were coming from, but I learned a lot of things from the discussions we had with them.
One thing I learned is that Cambodians look to the government for answers. This was very different from how Americans think. Our government is not overwhelmingly corrupt, but even so, we do not look to the government for the answers to all our problems. Instead we dialogue about different ways to approach issues. Sometimes this involves the government, sometimes it does not. However, in Cambodia, they look to the government for solutions to agriculture, education, business, economy, energy, and many other problems. But their government is so corrupt, there is small hope that it will be able to solve any of these problems on its own. If this was the case in America, we would start organizations to fix what the Government could not. But Cambodians do not think that way.
Another thing that surprised me is that Cambodians think foreign investment in their country will solve their economic problems. They want big companies to come in and build factories in Cambodia. However, Cambodians do not realize that this will lead to more exploitation of their people. The big companies will most likely take all the profits out of Cambodia, leaving only the meager worker wages for the benefit of the Cambodian economy.
Finally, Cambodians are not leaders. There were more Cambodians at the conference than any other nationality. However, when we had group projects or discussions, they looked to the Koreans and Americans for leadership. We led most of the discussions, asked most of the questions, and did most of the presentations. I remember in one of my group discussions, when we had to select a presenter, all the Cambodian students were quick to say that they did not want to do it, and that they wanted a foreigner to report. I think that this is because Cambodian students do not have good models of leadership, and therefore do not often have the chance to take initiative in situations like this conference.
I began to understand that these three Cambodian perspectives make development in Cambodia difficult. Ideas that seem very simple to foreigners are difficult for Cambodians to understand. And visa versa. Cambodian Agenda’s are very different from Foreign Agenda’s. Also, local leadership is hard to find. Hopefully NGO’s and Cambodians can begin to understand each other better to pursue better development.
All in all, this conference was a eye opening experience. I loved getting to know the students and learn about their culture. my favorite part was the banquet at the end of the conference. We had a time of sharing different cultural music and dance. We got to teach the Cambodians the cupid shuffle and another line dance. They taught us some traditional Khmer dances. Afterwards, we were having so much fun that we had a spontaneous dance party. We are able to put aside our cultural differences and just dance together. It was a blast!