Now that I’m just hours away from parting ways with Cambodia, I am going to make an attempt to record some of the things that have been going through my mind this past week.

First, I’ll say thank you to everyone who followed along with me, reading whatever I posted from week to week. Since I started this blog in May I’ve had over 1,000 views, so I hope that something here entertained you at some point or another. I haven’t been very good at keeping in touch with many people in my time over here, so I tried to record most of the high points here, for whoever it is that reads this. However, there are so many things that this blog did not capture which have been most quintessential to my trip.

I never wrote of the impromptu English lessons I would fall into teaching at work, or the nights spent similarly helping with English homework with the staff at my guesthouse. I never wrote of the hours I would just spend laying on my rooftop and the reasons why I love the Cambodian sky. Or how I absolutely hated the monsoons when I first arrived, but now I welcome the afternoon downpours and the peace that the pattering of the rain brings. Or of most enjoyable breakfasts, most of which have been spent munching over my food in the company of 12-year old Louie from Scotland, who is here for his second summer volunteering at a community center with his younger sister and mother. My best days have often been those spent on my bicycle, when it’s up to me and the power of my own legs to see, accomplish, and do what I want.  More so, I left out for the most part the reasons I fell in love with Khmer people here; from the way the look when they are surprised, the communal meals and snacks I’ve shared with my colleagues, how most will help you pronounce whatever word you want to learn 10 times before you get it right without making you feel silly, the way that anyone (cab driver, stranger on the bus, etc.) will share food with you if they have some and you don’t, the way Khmers will say thank you when you tell them you are a volunteer and then tell you about the hope they have for the future, and for the receiving going away cards that say thank you for your help, but thank you more for being my friend.

On the academic side of things (that is why I’m here, right?), this IPSP has really helped me define what public service means to me, which despite all the conversations we at UACS have had before on this, is still a bit fuzzy from time to time. I have seen public health put into practice here between various NGOs, policies and behaviors, and understand the comprehensiveness of the sector much more than I predict my intro to public health class will teach me this fall. Both these factors have aided in altering and enhancing my understanding and perception of development, and I welcome further conversation about these topics offline.

Finally, after my first few trips working abroad, people would ask me after about the personal impact. Did it change me? Was it “life changing” (whatever that means)? I definitely know the answer here for my time in Cambodia: no, this trip was not life changing.

It was affirming. I already know the sort of work I want to find myself in, and this trip just confirmed that. I sometimes feel like I am chasing some obscure or unknown ending in the endeavours I’ve chosen the past few years. It’s especially common when I go home once or twice a year, and see the opportunities and relationships I’ve forfeited, the friendships that have faded, and the distance between my family and I. Although I’m always generally happy in the here and now, I can’t say I haven’t always questioned the path I’m on and the choices that have led me here. Plus, can you just imagine how hard it was to first explain to family and friends that yes, I was moving to Kentucky to work, and then yes, I am actually moving to Arkansas next :-p

But anyway, this summer has been perfect in so many ways. It’s acted as one of the reminders that I am where I am because I want to be here and have worked for it. I’m leaving Cambodian feeling accomplished in what I came here to do, and as long as I can keep on helping wherever I am, it’s good enough. So what does it mean for now? It means that I’m actually a bit more ready to come home than I thought I would be about a week ago.

I have said that if I didn’t have my public health degree and two new job to return home to, I would likely look to remain and do my capstone here. It’s still true, and I probably would. But, I know that come Wednesday evening I will be back in Little Rock. I don’t remember the last time I was as excited as I am now for classes to start. I’m taking four courses at UAMS this semester, and I can’t wait to dive in. I’m excited to resume my new role as a case manager at Catholic Charities Immigration, where I will be working with the Supporting Survivors Program. I took the last year off from working in immigrant and refugee services, and that year was long enough. Finally, I’ll also be working for the Clinton School with first year students in their fieldwork placements, and I’m ready to see my refined definition of public service put to practice in 10 different setting.

I have had a perfect summer in Cambodia, met and learned from people around the world, completed a meaningful project for my partner organization, and fell in love with a country, culture, and people. There is so much good happening here, and I was continually impressed day after day by the people I met and events, programs, and social change that was happening. I honestly do feel that I will be back one day, and when the opportunity comes I will be better prepared than I was this summer. I’ll sharpen my skills through my work at home, where I will be operating on my own terms and in much more control over the ways plans turn out. I’ll expand my knowledge and praxis as a public health servant as I continue academically in my degree programs. And when the time is right, I’ll return.

Thanks again for reading. I would say that maybe I will keep this blogging thing up, but I know I won’t. Plus, my Arkansas life is not nearly as excited as my Cambodia life has been. Now to get a few hours of sleep and prepare myself for two days on an airplane.

Last day in the office wearing my new scarf from my colleagues

Saying goodbye to our regular visiting kids from the village