Yesterday, I took my first trip as Ambassador to a Cambodian province. On the drive to Kampong Cham town, I enjoyed watching the country side and couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of Cambodia. My favorite part of the trip was visiting Nokor Bachey Temple with a few Cambodian students. The students were members of the American Corner English Club, and on the tour, they told me all about the temple. They were very proud of their history! I was surprised to learn that Nokor Bachey was built even before Angkor Wat. It is amazing to think about the Cambodian architects who designed these huge stone temples without the use of machines – they were obviously brilliant. I particularly loved seeing the new Wat built right up next to the ancient temple – the juxtaposition of bright colors and old stone was very beautiful. There is nothing like this in the world.
The temple also had some very unique lintel carvings, and I asked the students about them. The students told me that the carving showed images of Buddha while he was still a king, before the Enlightenment. The carvings were fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about them.
I also had the pleasure of visiting the American Corner at the University of Management and Economics and meeting with high school and university students there. My visit was wonderful – the students were also members of the American Corner English Club or were Access English Microscholarship recipients, and were impressive both with their English skills and with their inquisitive and thoughtful questions. Several students gave a presentation in English about life in Kampong Cham, and we talked about some of the problems the students see in their own community and how they think we can solve them. One example was that sometimes students don’t like to go to school because they would rather go out and have fun with their friends. Of course, this is a problem in the United States as well! One suggestion I have for students is to think about how to make school more fun for themselves. In the United States, students participate in extracurricular activities, but can only do so if they attend regular classes. American students join sports teams associated with the school so that students don’t have to skip class to play, but can play at school as an after school activity. I know that there are many youth organizations in Cambodia that are very popular and successful, like the English Club at the American Corner in Kampong Cham.
I also talked to the students about my new Ambassador’s Youth Council. We talked about why the Youth Council is a priority for me. Seventy percent of Cambodia’s population is under the age of thirty, and I believe that as the future leaders of this country, their views are important.
Someone on the blog posted a question about what the Embassy will do to help provincial students participate in the council, and my trip to Kampong Cham is a perfect example. I want students both from Phnom Penh and the provinces to join the Council, and I am making an effort to reach out to the provinces to let students know that. I also understand that paying to travel for meetings or activities may be difficult for students from the provinces, so the Embassy will work to provide a small stipend to any provincial student selected in order to help cover their expenses for travel and lodging.
I was excited by the enthusiasm of the students at the American Corner in Kampong Cham, and I look forward to receiving applications from them. I hope to receive applications from young people all over Cambodia.
I am very much looking forward to my next trip to the provinces. Which provinces do you recommend that I visit? What would you recommend that I see? Leave me a note, and perhaps I’ll write a blog posting about my visit to your hometown!
Thank you for your questions and comments. Let’s talk more soon.