Category Archives: Cornell on Break

Summer in Tanzania

Continuing on with the theme of “Summer Adventures,” senior Shanna tells us about how she spent this past summer in Singida, Tanzania conducting global health research.

By Shanna Smith ’18, Biological Sciences and French double major

One of the most interesting experiences of my life was participating in global health research in Singida, Tanzania this past summer. I have been working on the Singida Nutrition and Agroecology Project (SNAP) since Spring 2016. SNAP is an agroecological intervention-based project that also focuses on nutrition and gender equality education to address household food insecurity and the high stunting rate among children in rural villages of Singida. This past summer, I got to see my research come to life as I visited our ten intervention villages to lead semi-structured interviews and partake in participatory validation of graph data. I also played a role in mother and child anthropometric measurements and data entry quality control.

Women in Singida, Tanzania walk to the village SNAP meeting.

One of my favorite aspects of field research was getting to meet our participants. I got to not only hear about their lives but also see their lifestyle. Before this summer, I had never had the opportunity to witness or be immersed in a non-Western culture. I came out of the summer gaining an appreciation and much greater understanding of customs and cultures that are different from those of America. Many of our participant interviews took place in subjects’ homes and occasionally while the participant was doing housework. Also, at the end of my first village visit involving a village-wide meeting of SNAP participants, everyone broke into song and dance. Dancing along with them was an experience I will never forget. I really admired the idea of community in Singida. We had a team of Tanzanians helping us with transcription and translation that I got to know at a personal level at the office every day. If one of our staff members was home sick, we would visit him or her and bring a small gift.

I have always praised Cornell for the extensive research opportunities given to students. For instance, there is a research database on the Office of Undergraduate Biology website that lists professors and details their research, making it relatively easy to learn about and get involved in academic research taking place on campus. Cornell also provides research opportunities that do not involve joining a research group. While I decided to continue the research I had been working on for a couple years, there are many global health abroad programs – both summer- and semester-long – that students can participate in through Cornell to gain valuable fieldwork experience.

Overall, I am really grateful for this amazing opportunity and will remember the fieldwork I conducted, the Tanzanian staff I worked with, and the memories I created during my stay for the rest of my life.

Interning in London

Happy October! This month, we will be focusing on two themes, “Easing Back into Classes” and “Summer Adventures.” In the first post of the semester, senior Solveig shares with us her experience interning in London this past summer. 

By: Solveig van der Vegt ’18, Biological Sciences

I went on a day trip to Oxford with my cousin and visited the botanic gardens there.

About halfway through the Spring 2017 semester, I was starting to panic a little because I had not yet found an internship for the summer. Most deadlines for applications had passed by that time and it was hard to find anything in the U.S., especially as an international student. While googling opportunities, I came across the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, which is affiliated with Imperial College London. This ended up being the luckiest thing that happened to me all semester!

My family came to visit me and we walked across the roof of the O2 arena, which gave amazing views!

The past summer in London has been one of the most exciting internships I have done so far. The research group that I was in, Behavioural Genomics, was very welcoming and I learned a lot throughout my time there. I got experience working with worms, which I had never done before, and I got to try my hand at computational biology, which was very exciting because that is what I want to study in graduate school. Moreover, I had the chance to talk to many PhD students and postdocs, which was incredibly helpful as I am applying to graduate school this semester.

I stayed in Camden, which has the most amazing market over the weekend with all the best food you can dream of.

Besides an amazing research experience, I was lucky enough to have the time to explore London! I had been to the city a few times before because I have family there, so I could avoid all the more touristy bits and just explore all the different markets and lesser known museums around town. I also got to meet some incredible people in my lab who took me out to bars and restaurants. I am still in touch with some of the people from my lab and I hope to return to London some time soon to see them again. All in all, not a bad summer!

 

 

 

When the Summer Ending is Just the Beginning: "Coming Home" to Cornell

The last member of our Arts & Sciences Ambassadors E-board is Kasey Han ’18. After spending most of her summer conducting molecular and cellular neuroscience research at Stanford University, Kasey returned to campus early for training to be a Student Assistant on West Campus. It’s fitting that Kasey’s post closes out our September collection just after Homecoming Weekend here in Ithaca – her post strongly emphasizes how it feels to leave summer behind and “return home” to Cornell!

By: Kasey Han ’18, Recruitment Co-Coordinator

Niagara Falls

Here I am (second from left) with three other members of the Cook House staff on our annual trip to Niagara Falls!

Returning to campus this year, I felt like a kindergartener excited for their first day of school all over again. This August, I started a new position as a Student Assistant in West Campus’s Alice H. Cook House. Amid all of the prelims and problem sets looming just weeks away, I was thrilled to step foot back onto transiently sunny Ithacan soil.

Three weeks before classes began, I moved into my new dorm room. I strung up my twinkly lights and laid down my fuzzy rug. I plastered feel-good posters and important event flyers around the building. As an SA (another name for Resident Advisor) my goal this year is to make my residents feel as welcome and at home as possible.

Cook Community Engagement Course

House Professor Shorna Allred leads a discussion with Cook residents as a part of the Cook Community Engagement Course.

West Campus is a truly unique place to live, in that each of the five residence halls is a hub for both living and learning. Like the four Harry Potter houses, each student has a home base that emphasizes both intellectual and social engagement. Through a variety of programs, we connect our residents with professors and community leaders that work in fields of their interest, as well as with their neighbors to build community and a sense of “home.”

After an early August move-in, our training schedule was a whirlwind of fun. The first half consisted of staff bonding and Cook House missions. We rented out a massive house off campus and spent time discussing our vision for Cook House, strategizing how to engage residents in a living-learning community, and all around becoming better leaders. Once the sun set, we broke out the card games, challenging each other in Mafia and Taboo. By the end of our retreat, it was clear that we Cook House staff had formed our own family and that the rest of the year would only get better.

welcome back cake

When the West Campus Dining Halls opened back up, we got to enjoy this delicious “Welcome Back” cake!

The second half of training explored handling common and uncommon situations that may arise when you work in the same place that you live. We discussed everything from roommate conflicts and academic stress to bias, sexual assault, and mental health. While each day was necessarily emotionally and mentally heavy, I felt much better equipped by the end to look after my residents and assume a leadership position.

Regardless of what we study and how we spend our free time, every Cornellian is excited for the start of a new year. We may have reservations about leaving behind our easy summer routines, but the underlying emotion is always eager anticipation for what the next year at Cornell holds in store. I think this universality is because, no matter where we come from, coming back to Cornell means returning home.

West Campus

A view of West Campus from Libe Slope.

From One Hill to Another: How I Spent my Summer in Washington, D.C.

This week, junior Sam Cohen ’18 discusses how her sociology major at Cornell (on East Hill) inspired her to apply for a summer internship in Washington, D.C., (on Capitol Hill), and how that experience helped her discover a new appreciation for politics and government.

By Samantha Cohen ’18, Social Chair

Behind me, you can see the White House!

Behind me, you can see the White House!

Before this past summer, if you had asked my opinion on the latest Democratic vs. Republican squabble, I would try to change the subject of conversation as quickly as possible… or fake an excuse and run away. I had never paid much attention to politics – yes, I had registered to vote the week I turned 18, but that was about the extent of my relationship with the workings of our federal government.

Here I am (in the middle) with my George Washington University roommates in front of the Capitol Building!

Here I am (in the middle) with my George Washington University roommates in front of the Capitol Building!

This is why it initially seems a bit strange that I spent eight weeks this summer in Washington D.C. Whereas many of the other college students I met there were all government, political science, or international relations majors, there I was, a sociology major, the odd one out. It was actually my major, however, that drove me to the nation’s capital in the first place. Throughout my sociology classes, one underlying theme has arisen again and again: inequality. Hoping to explore issues of inequality outside of the classroom, I applied and was accepted to a six-week social justice program that places college students in non-profits throughout the D.C.-Metro area. On the first Monday of June, I woke up in a GW dorm and walked to the office of the National Council on Independent Living, a cross-disability advocacy organization, to start my first day as the policy intern.

This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in National Council on Independent Living's annual March & Rally!

This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in National Council on Independent Living’s annual March & Rally!

By the end of my first week, I had been to two coalition meetings, three meetings on the Hill, and had called the offices of all 435 representatives (who knew there were so many!?). What struck me most was how well I was beginning to understand what all this policy “stuff” was about. Sure, some of the legal jargon went right over my head, but every bill discussed in these hearings emerges from real people with real every-day problems. Nearly 20% of the American population has a disability of some kind, so most of us probably have a cousin, friend, aunt, or grandfather with some kind of disability; disability rights affect everyone. Politics was no longer this untouchable, scary concept I wasn’t experienced enough to understand or engage with. It was now about listening to the concerns of different groups of people and working to find a direct, comprehensive, and attainable response.

A view of the beautiful sunrise behind the Supreme Court Building.

A view of the beautiful sunrise behind the Supreme Court Building.

Fortunately, I was also able to spend lots of time outside of the office and explore many other cool parts of the city. DC’s streets are lined with endless treasures: the Smithsonian Museum, national monuments, food trucks, art galleries, Georgetown Cupcakes, etc. Almost all of the museums and national buildings offer free admission (music to any college student’s ears)! One of the coolest things I did was pull an all-nighter on the sidewalk outside of the Supreme Court to go inside at 7am and hear the Justices announce their final decisions on the last day of the session. I always knew I’d put my Cornell late-night studying skills to use!

6 weeks flew by and my program had come to an end. It was then that I decided I was not yet ready to leave this amazing city and decided to extend my internship for an extra two weeks. I felt that I still had so much more to learn, and I woke up every morning eager to see what was next. All in all, after 8 weeks, I was definitely excited to return to Cornell with a new awareness and appreciation for how our political organizations discuss local or national issues that affect so many of us. It’s safe to say I will no longer be running away the next time someone initiates a conversation topic I know little to nothing about; maybe this time, I will be the one asking the questions!

Interning in NYC: How I Spent my Summer Working for Carat

This week, our secretary, Information Science major Meg Shigeta ’17 , gives us a window into her summer experience as an intern in New York City. Enjoy!

By: Meg Shigeta ’17, Events Coordinator/Records Keeper

I met a lot of great people this summer, including my fellow intern Kelly (right).

I met a lot of great people this summer, including my fellow intern Kelly (right).

This summer I had the opportunity to work in the media industry as an intern for the Dentsu Aegis Network, specifically for the Carat New York office. One of my favorite aspects of the job was working with the other interns at the office to create a media plan that analyzed specific consumer groups. In order to do this, we researched the various daily schedules, habits, cultural beliefs and values held by certain demographics to get a better sense of who they truly were, especially in comparison to the general population. After doing this, we were then able to create strategic suggestions on ways to better target these groups. One of my favorite aspects of the job was learning how to use the company’s various research tools in order to complete this project. While these tools provided us with rich data, it was up to us to determine how to view and organize this data so that our presentation told a cohesive story. As a result of this, I learned about the importance of perspective. Depending on how you view a statistic — whether it be the scale you use or the amount of surrounding context you allow — quite different interpretations can arise as a result. Consequently, it is crucial to continually keep in mind your purpose, and to always consider the fact that different people often lend different sets of eyes to a singular set of data. This project was especially fun because I got to experience daily life in the industry, and also because it was for a real-time client. I really felt like I was a valuable member of the company!

Here I am with the other interns (L to R): Carolyn, me, Jillian, Lauren, Rachel, Brett, and Rachel.

Here I am with the other interns (L to R): Carolyn, me, Jillian, Lauren, Rachel, Brett, and Rachel.

Not only did I get to work with data this summer, but I also got to work alongside two dedicated mentors. Both taught me many valuable lessons that I aim to uphold during my last year as an undergraduate here at Cornell, the most powerful being the importance of clear communication. Although it sounds cliché, my mentors constantly stressed the importance of communication in working and collaborating with others, and this is indeed critical to making sure tasks get completed and operations are optimized. This combination of takeaways not only helped me to become a more efficient worker, but also a more nuanced thinker, and as a result I can certainly characterize this summer as being a success!carat

Checking Off #31 on the List of 161 Things to Do at Cornell: How I Spent my Summer in Ithaca

Welcome back! Here at the Arts & Sciences Ambassadors, we’re easing back into the swing of the fall semester. What with the warm weather and the long weekend, though, we can’t quite shake off the feel of the summer, and so we’ve chosen to devote our first blog posts to that very topic: what did we do this summer? Throughout September, we will be posting blogs written by the four members of our executive board. I start us off this month with a nostalgic look back at my summer spent here in Ithaca.

By: Emma Korolik ’17, Recruitment Co-Coordinator and Media Manager

When my friend Bridget (on the right) visited from home, I knew I had to take her birdwatching at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology.

When my friend Bridget (on the right) visited from home, I knew I had to take her birdwatching at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology.

This past summer, I went hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and running, explored an herb garden and went bird watching, attended free outdoor concerts, watched a meteor shower in the middle of the night, sang karaoke for the first time, finally figured out how to throw a Frisbee, took a summer class, started my honors thesis, and made new friends from across the country and around the world – all while (and mainly because of my position) serving as a resident advisor (RA) for college students staying at Cornell for the summer months like me. Anyone who has stayed a summer at Cornell is quick to tell their friends to do the same (it’s even on the official list of 161 Things to Do at Cornell), and now I’m doing my part by telling all of you!

Sarah Gaylord '18 and I pose in our kayak before paddling out to Cayuga Lake.

Sarah Gaylord (right, CALS ’18) and I pose in our kayak before paddling out to Cayuga Lake. Photo credits: Kim Anderson.

Ithaca is on full display in the summer –flowers are blooming, the local wildlife bravely explore campus, and this summer, a whole new species of college student – the Pokemon trainer – has stayed out all day (and sometimes all night!). For those of us less interested in catching a Pikachu on the Arts Quad, there are over 150 waterfalls within 10 square miles around Ithaca, and countless state parks that are open to the public for hiking and swimming during the warm summer months. For our retreat at the end of RA training in May, for example, the other RAs and I took advantage of the multitude of outdoor activities on offer around Ithaca and went kayaking on Cayuga Lake.

Serving as a resident advisor was both challenging and rewarding – and not just because I got to go kayaking for free! As Summer Sessions RAs, my coworkers and I served as peer advisors, mediators, rules enforcers, friends, and community builders in Flora Rose House and Hans Bethe House on West Campus from June through mid-August. While for most students, the residence halls served as a place to relax, Rose and Bethe Houses were our places of work; our bedrooms could double as an office at any time of day or night. Yet, being an RA was also a blast – I was able to meet so many new people, especially through our scheduled series of programs, which were specifically designed to foster that sense of community.

(L to R) Sarah Gaylord '18, Alyssa Elezye '17, and I pose with homemade props during our "Harry Potter" party on July 31st.

(L to R) Sarah Gaylord (CALS ’18), Alyssa Elezye (CALS ’17), and I pose with homemade props during our “Harry Potter” party on July 31st. Photo credits: Catherine Wei (CALS ’18).

Some of the programs we created this summer were more passive, like watching the Olympics Opening Ceremony and celebrating J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter’s birthday with a Harry Potter party and movie screening, but some were more active – like running a 5K through the Cornell Plantations, hiking and swimming in Buttermilk Falls State Park, and whitewater rafting in Watertown, NY, on the Black River.

Arguably the best boat to float down the Black River - I'm at the top, second from the left!

Arguably the best boat to float down the Black River – I’m at the top, second from the left!

Not only did these programs foster community just among the residents, however; by supporting the other RAs and attending their programs, I gained a new set of friends myself. Because RAs are asked to do and be so much for their residents, it makes sense that the people I worked with were all incredibly caring, intelligent, and interesting individuals. Yet, I didn’t expect to find a group so willing to binge watch Netflix’s Stranger Things during a thunderstorm, try power lifting at the gym, introduce me to salsa dancing at Agava, sing “Alexander Hamilton” at karaoke, play ridiculous games of Quelf (look it up!), or eat endless amounts of Indian food at Mehak. I’m lucky to have had the time to explore Ithaca this summer, but I feel even luckier to have found such a phenomenal group of people with which to share those experiences. It may sound cheesy, but even though my job as an RA is now over, I know the friendships I’ve made will remain strong long after the weather inevitably turns cold.

The whole Summer Sessions team after an intense night of karaoke!

The whole Summer Sessions team after an intense night of karaoke! Photo credits: Emily Schnier.

"Boring" Summer Plans

By: Christopher-James Llego ’17

Last night, as I was eating my salad bowl of spinach and baby carrots (and loathing my friends who were on their cheat days), a thought went through my mind: my summer plans stink. I hadn’t really thought much about my summer plans—and if I did, it usually wasn’t in such a negative way—but after hearing about Friend A’s internship in New York City, Friend B’s plans to backpack through Europe, and Friend C’s plane tickets to XYZ LOCATION (I kind of zoned out at this point), I really got to thinking about how utterly boring my summer would end up being.

To be fair, I might just be exaggerating, though Cornell students seem to have a peculiar habit of “doing the most.” So here’s my attempt at trying to look on the bright side: this summer, I’ll be conducting research for my honors thesis on Global Horror Cinema and Transnational Feminism, studying for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and contemplating graduate programs in Comparative Literature or Asian Studies or English (so many options!) and fulfilling an Arts & Sciences distribution requirement.

Christopher-James and thesis research materials

Here’s me, a book pile from phase 1 of my thesis research, and my fifth cup of coffee that night.

Within Arts & Sciences, seniors on the honors track (i.e. those with a high enough in-major and overall GPA) have the opportunity to write a ~50 page thesis on any topic that interests them. I have a weird obsession with cult classic horror films, foreign languages, film and media theory, and feminism, so I decided to combine my eccentricities and start a project examining the “Final Girl” Teen Slasher trope and its various permutations, as well as its variations across foreign film movements like the New French Extremity, Giallo all’italiana, and Tagalog Aswang films. Nifty, huh? I like it. In fact, I like it enough to have spent my past year watching and re-watching over 300 horror films—and will spend this summer and all of next year watching hundreds more.

GRE prep

A remnant of my first day studying GRE vocabulary. Notice the similarity to SAT prep. Unseen in this photo—me sobbing as I have a flashback to my days studying for the SAT.

And why am I doing all of that, you ask? To fulfill a deep-seated desire to validate my obsessions, to find the feminism in a misunderstood cinematic genre, and to practice for what will most likely be several more years of research. Yes, graduate school! This summer, I’ll be self-studying for the GRE. Locked away in a small apartment sublet with blank walls and piles of GRE prep books and card sets, I’ll be cramming for an exam that will decide my FUTURE (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Such a scary thought. Will I get into graduate school? Which field will I pursue? What will I do with my life?

Well, the answer sort of depends on whether or not I can graduate first. And so, we come to the last part of my summer: an online course on Human Evolution. Arts & Sciences has a few distribution requirements, which allow students to choose courses in fields that they normally wouldn’t pursue. I discovered my Gender Studies major through the Cultural Analysis requirement and Comparative Literature through both the Foreign Language and Literature & the Arts requirements. Unfortunately for me, I have a knack for procrastinating and have avoided any math or science courses these past three years. So now, I’m finding ways to fulfill these requirements during my breaks.

Online class

Online courses—taking classes from the comfort of your bedroom desk.

Cornell is awesome in that it offers Physical & Biological Sciences courses that aren’t as intensive as, say, Organic Chemistry. In other words: non-science-minded students need not be afraid of the distribution requirements! Also, pro tip: don’t wait until the last minute (senior year) to start taking these courses!

So yes, I may not be backpacking through Europe, but at least I’ll get to do something that I love: conduct research. And hey, thanks to Cornell’s dedication to providing students with online courses, I’ll get to spend my summer blasting my A.C. and avoiding the blistering heat that I’m so unaccustomed to as a Cornellian.

Spotlight on the Summer: Opportunities to Work around Ithaca

Being a student here definitely has its perks – one of the reasons that students choose to attend Cornell is the wealth of opportunities available to us during the school year, during school breaks, and even after we graduate! In our last April post here at the blog, junior Julia Montejo discusses the variety of ways in which she was able to give back to Cornell and the surrounding community through her multiple jobs last summer.

By: Julia Montejo ’17

When I first arrived on campus, I constantly heard about how amazing the summer in Ithaca was. I decided to give it a try last summer, but it came with a huge change of pace: working instead of studying! As a dedicated student with many extracurricular commitments, I love to keep busy. To fill my summer days, I worked at two summer camps, one part time job, and a volunteer position. They were staggered throughout the summer, and made for one of the best summers I’ve ever had.

11856527_1214113771947906_7066314112626275157_oIn June, after visiting in Florida for a month, I came back to Ithaca to begin my job at the Cornell Undergraduate Admissions Office. As a student employee, I spent my mornings setting up, speaking at, and breaking down information sessions for prospective students. I loved meeting the admissions officers and other staff while interacting with students from around the world. Because Cornell visits are really popular during the summer, we had sessions with more than 750 visitors. It was so exciting to be able to share my Cornell experience with so many people. I also became an expert restaurant and campus eatery recommender! I loved being able to suggest places to eat both on and off campus to visiting families.

During June, I also continued my volunteering commitment at Finger Lakes Juvenile Residential Center, a detention center for young men in Ithaca’s next-door town, Lansing. I worked as a volunteer debate coach and helped young men develop their advocacy and public speaking skills.

Some friends and I pose in front of Cascadilla Falls.

Some friends and I pose in front of Cascadilla Falls.

During early July, I worked at the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s Kids’ Shakespeare Summer Camp. As an actor and passionate student of literature, I had a great time great time working with children for a week, developing their acting skills while teaching about Shakespeare. We prepared all the kids to perform at the Ithaca Shakespeare Festival, where they did a short compilation of texts incorporating many Shakespearean works. It was an amazing experience to meet families throughout Ithaca and to share my passion for acting with younger children.

11793374_10207437398919006_279559027_nAt the conclusion of the summer, during the first week of August, I worked as a camp counselor for the Cornell International Summer Debate Camp. To say that it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had during my time as a Cornell student would be an understatement. I was both a residence hall mentor and a teaching assistant for the camp, where I worked with debating experts to develop teaching modules and created fun activities to do in the evenings with the students. Students from all over the world, including China, Canada, the UAE, and Mexico, came to camp, in addition to students from across the United States.

I learned so much from my students and I was able to help them grow as well. I loved being able to share the most important activity from my upbringing as a high school student, debate, with students from around the world.

Jobs and internships are a huge part of the college experience, and mine have been made possible by living in the wonderful City of Ithaca and by being a Cornell student. Once summer came to a close, I was able to continue volunteering at Finger Lakes Residential Center, and I’m still a student employee at the admissions office. I’m so fortunate to be able to continue engaging in what I love during my time as a student and during the summers.

Winter Break in Peru: The Chance of a Lifetime

By: Matthew Donnelly ’18

IMG_1496One of the greatest aspects of Cornell as an institution, in my opinion, is the number of doors an education like mine can open. Having recently decided to declare Spanish as my second major in addition to Biology, I was eager to find opportunities to practice the language with native speakers. After talking with some friends, one of whom is Peruvian, we decided that over winter break we would embark on a journey to Peru to experience the culture that I had come to love through my courses here at Cornell. Weeks passed, the trip was planned, and before I knew it I was on the plane traveling to a country I had been waiting to visit for years.

Upon arrival, I was immediately thankful to Cornell, not only for introducing me to some of my best friends who made the trip possible, but also for endowing me with the skills necessary to communicate with a new group of people. After completing three Spanish courses here, I felt more than prepared to converse with people in the country. Whether it was the tour guide on our trip to Ollantaytambo, an Incan archeological site near Cuzco; the store owner who I was forced to haggle with to purchase a souvenir; or the waiter who was more than happy to explain the local cuisine to us; I was able to meet people who had lived in Perú all their life and really experience the culture and pride that fill the country.

The trip was eye opening, not only due to the amazing places I got to see firsthand (Machu Picchu, Lima, Las islas ballestas), but because it really made me appreciate the value of my education here at Cornell. I realized that I was gaining lifelong skills, which allowed me to spend over an hour talking with an older couple from Arequipa about everything from how they met to the infamous taste of cuy (guinea pig!). Cornell gave me the opportunity to travel, the opportunity to communicate, and the opportunity to experience something I never thought I would.

DSC_0292

Machu Picchu!

GOVT 3434: Chinese Empire and the Cambodian Experience

By: Austin McLaughlin ’18

Arriving back in chilly, cloudy Ithaca for the spring semester was in stark contrast to the 95-degree sunny days in Cambodia. Altogether, I spent 14 days in Siem Reap and 5 in Phnom Penh. I didn’t get a tan, but I did leave with an enriching experience.

Wat Damnak

The grounds of Wat Damnak, the holiest Buddhist site in Siem Reap. Our class was held there.

This is in part because GOVT 3434 was not like other classes. While the course offers a few days of in-class lecture, it was largely centered on guest speakers, field trips, and on-site lectures. Led by Professor Andrew Mertha, the course delved into questions about the relationship between China and Cambodia and brought in unique political, anthropological, and archeological perspectives in addition to the complex history between the two countries.

Austin at Angkor Wat

Me at Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world.

While the course mainly focused on Cambodia’s recent history, it still left room for sightseeing of the ancient temples. Notably, Cambodia is the only nation in the world to fly a flag proudly emblazoned with old ruins, and deservedly so, as Angkor Wat is the most magnificent structure I have ever laid my eyes on. The walled complex is huge for something built in the 12th century, and its stone carvings are both intricate and expansive. Later, our class toured the smiling Buddha faces at Bayon and the giant trees growing on the ruins of Ta Prohm. These temples are all representative of Cambodia’s rich cultural history, a source of pride for the country to this day.

The whole program at Angkor Wat

The whole program, alongside TC3 students, at Angkor Wat.

Of particular relevance for the course, we had the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a tribunal to convict leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Less than 50 feet from us, through a glass pane, was Khieu Samphan, the president of Democratic Kampuchea and the man responsible for the deaths of 2 million people. Seeing his unmoving face was truly a surreal experience.

Truly, never did I think I would eat whole frogs, trek through jungles, or even get a massage. Cornell in Cambodia allowed me to try new things and opened my eyes to a different perspective on the world. Thinking about it several weeks later, I am brought back to this original question: why Cambodia?

Anlong Veng

The whole group at Pol Pot’s bunker in Anlong Veng, which is a two-hour hike through the jungle.

For me, it was about adventure. I wanted to find the edgiest possible study abroad program offered by Cornell, one that would also offer me intellectual growth. While Cambodia is not a Rome, Madrid, or Berlin study abroad, it remains a unique opportunity for personal enrichment. Before Cambodia, I had no conception of a developing country, much less how a population views and responds to a world dominated by the West. Afterward, I grew to appreciate the abundance and availability of products in the U.S. and the privileged position we live in. The winter course also remains a great option for those who don’t want to miss a full semester in Ithaca, like me, because they love being on campus.

I am very thankful for being able to go on this rewarding and transformational trip, as not only was it one of the best experiences I have had at Cornell, but also in my life. Shout-out to the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) as well as Mr. Pheng, our facilitator, for making this trip possible.