I can’t believe my experience in Cambodia is over. I have been thinking about, planning, and preparing for the experience for about a year, so it’s hard to accept that this part of my life is over. It’s not completely over though, thankfully, because I am still in contact with Mr. Chanthan and CSSD and will be talking about the organization to the Rutgers GlobeMed team all of next semester. However, the largest portion of my work with GlobeMed, the GROW internship of 2013, is over. What?!
I haven’t been in New Jersey since the experience; I ran away from home for the whole summer and will only be returning at the end of August. So I don’t know if I had time to truly reflect on my experience. I do know that my leadership, team work, and communication skills have improved. I am more confident in myself. I learned some things about myself and how I function that I did not know before. I grew to love so many people and places. I saw so much beauty. I learned about nonprofit management and capacity building. I asked the phrase “who am I?” a good number of times.
I know it will take much more time for me to wrap my mind around what actually happened and in what subtle and explicit ways the experience has affected me. I am excited to see how the experience will manifest itself when I am back in New Jersey and at school, caught up in academics, work, interning, friends, family, and all of the other things instead of a relaxed and exotic backdrop.
The most important part, I think, for all of us, will be to keep Cambodia with us as we go through our hectic and distracting lives as students. How can we take GROW back home? Cooking (as Jackie has done,) talking to our friends and loved ones (though how much do others really want to hear?) and sharing what we learned with the Rutgers GlobeMed chapter. And we will have each other. Jackie and Megan are the Directors of Campaigns this coming year. Nabgha will be in Boston doing research, as she has graduated. My main GlobeMed responsibility will be to teach our chapter about CSSD and Cambodia. I know that we will be with each other, no matter where we are physically. CSSD and Cambodia will always be with us.
I owe so much thanks to so many people, Megan, Nabgha, and Jackie, you ladies have made the experience for me. I love you all so much and I can’t believe how incredible our team was. Mr. Chanthan and CSSD, thank you for treating us like family and allowing us to develop professionally. GlobeMed, thank you for the support, as without your existence and your resources my life would be vastly different. My parents, for your continued love and support, but also for your willingness to let me go and explore. To all of my friends, for being constant lights in my life and reminding me of it even though I am so far away.
With much GlobeMed and GROW love,
I finally unpacked my backpack today. I had emptied my suitcase, washed my clothes, and done all the immediate mechanical tasks that were necessary for readjustment after returning from Cambodia. But I hadn’t touched my backpack because there were too many precious things inside.
I surrounded myself with all the little trinkets that emerged: notes I had taken during staff meetings, receipts from our favorite stores, business cards from restaurants, boarding passes for the flights, and cards written to us by various staff members just before we left. Memories were scattered on my bedroom floor. Reflecting on the internship is strange. In a way, it feels like years have already passed and I have already become used to the memory of it. But in reality, I have been home for just three weeks and have only talked to a handful of people about my experiences before they were treated like a “tired” story.
So this is my chance to ruminate and distill meaning from the six weeks that made Phnom Penh my home.
I have to begin by thanking Mr. Chanthan and the rest of the CSSD staff for their hospitality, love, mentorship, and willingness to teach us about everything that piqued our curiosity. Their presence defined our trip, from the sights we saw to the things we accomplished. And of course, I owe a heartfelt thank you to Gabby, Jackie, and Megan. You were the most fun, loving, and motivating G.R.O.W. team I could have asked for. It’s humbling to think how great and unassuming you all are.
The shocking thing about the internship was how quickly it gave rise to new perspectives and character changes. My research pursuits and intellectual interests always favored specialized care. I’ve often thought about careers in neuroradiology and neurosurgery, and despite the fact that I appreciate the importance of primary care and family medicine, I never pictured myself as an active member of those fields. Exposure to the CSSD mission and vision, however, helped define my developing interests in them. CSSD is successful because it addresses the need for comprehensive and personalized attention to its target populations, considering the context of a family and community network. The same principles are applicable to a meaningful physician practice – I look forward to incorporating them in my future work.
Of course, hands-on experience with our project also taught me not only the value of, but also the challenges associate with, community health projects and NGO development. It was interesting to pose what I thought of as “straightforward solutions” for the problems we faced and to, in response, learn the complexities which prevented my solutions from being useful at all. I learned to appreciate the challenges associated with creating social change as well as the careful, nuanced solutions that are needed to address them. And in this way, I also gained a richer understanding of the problem that our project attempts to solve.
Working on my medical school application while abroad was certainly not a cakewalk. But I think the two processes – interning and writing my application – fed one another in a really positive way. I incorporated developing perspectives and changing character into my medical school application. Conversely, the long-sightedness required for the application (thinking about my future, my ultimate goals in life, etc.) made me appreciate the internship in a richer way.
On a personal level, the trip also built my independence, sense of self, and confidence – it was my first experience travelling abroad without family and without a host to live with in the destination! Navigating a new country with just the G.R.O.W. interns by my side made me realize how beautiful it can be to explore a place just for the sake of appreciating its wonder and not with an agenda. I learned to build connections and care about people without thinking too hard (every person that I encountered throughout Cambodia was humble, welcoming, and extremely gracious). And I learned the value of travelling – opening my mind to the beauty of a life completely outside my norm.
I have nothing but gratitude and love for the experience. I cannot fully communicate how much it meant to me, how much I “grew” from it, and how thankful I am to have been a G.R.O.W. intern this summer. CSSD, the other interns, and the sights, sounds, and tastes of Phnom Penh will always have a special place in my heart.
It has been over a month since the GROW team arrived back in the US and I still feel like Cambodia was just yesterday. The memories, knowledge and relationships I have made and built during our trip has changed who I am forever. Upon coming back home to that states, it took me a few weeks to realize that I was in the New Jersey and away from the people and places I called ‘home’ for the past month and a half. Everyday I would reflect back on the trip and try to relive as much as I could remember – every day, every second. Yet it was impossible.
Before I left for Cambodia, I have to admit, I did not expect to return home with a different attitude or outlook on life, but I was wrong. Im a whole new person after the GROW trip to Cambodia. The 6 week long trip has taught me a lot about our partner CSSD, the people and culture of Cambodia, 3 strong young women who shared my experiences, and most importantly – it has taught me a lot about myself. I am more grateful for what I have, the opportunities available to me and the people that surround me everyday.
After getting to know the loving, warm, motivated and passionate staff at CSSD, I can now say that my efforts to help the grassroots organization is justified and renewed. Spending majority of our days with them, learning about their lives and where they come from, has birthed a reality of the people we are working with and the lives we are striving to improve. GROW has given me a sincere, undying passion to dedicate my time and energy to this organization.
Lastly, I would not be who I am now without my team. Gambi, Naga Queen and Mega (also known as Gabby, Nabgha and Megan) have made GROW what it is to me. I cannot begin to explain how different we all are in our personalities, beliefs, goals and aspirations but somehow we made for a perfect team. Regardless of the situation, whether it be stressful and confusing, urgent and life-threatening (yes, there were many moments), blissful and exciting – we all held it together and made the most of the moment we shared. They might not even be aware of it, but I am eternally thankful for having learned so much from the three of them and what they have taught me – about myself and life in general. Living with a small group of girls for 6 weeks and spending every second of the day with them, in an environment completely foreign to us was extremely exciting and startling all at once. It was fabulous and I would not have had it any other way. Thank you to the best GROW team I could have ever imagined – you girls are fearless! Always remember, GROW will never end.
I want to conclude my last post in the blog with a quote from an admirable travel righter of today, Pico Iyer.
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
Warm appreciation to everyone that kept up with us during our travels abroad.
Cheers to a successful and memorable GROW trip!
With eternal GROW love,