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Cambodia Study Tour Report


The Practicum for Convivial Global Society Cambodia Study Tour took place on September 15-23, 2018. Six students participated: three first-years, one second-year, and two third-years. Before departing, we attended six sessions comprised of preparatory classes and a safety course held from June to August. As well as a class on field study interview techniques and a lecture by an international cooperation expert from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) outlining a gender mainstreaming project, we took part in sessions where we improved our understanding of Cambodian history and the general political, social, and economic situation in Cambodia by reading an array of texts and discussing them to share a diverse range of views. Based on these preparatory classes, we each decided on a research theme for our field studies. These reflected individual majors and interests, and included Cambodian education, career choices, migrant labor, and dance.

Field Studies in Rural Villages

We spent our first day in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. We were all surprised to find it more developed than we had imagined, with rows of modern buildings and stylish cafés, and streets thronging with large vehicles. On day two we travelled to Kampong Cham province in the eastern part of Cambodia located about two hours’ drive from Phnom Penh, to conduct interview-based surveys in rural villages, and on day three we started our field studies in earnest. We were able to interview a range of people, including the commune chiefs, elementary and junior high school principals, families with migrant laborers, and families with children in higher education, and to inquire further into our chosen research themes. After completing our interviews, we returned to Phnom Penh, and on day five, we visited the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center (CJCC) at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. There we heard talks by survivors of the Pol Pot regime who have revived the classical Cambodian Apsara dance. We were particularly struck by accounts of how marriage and other relationships between men and women were controlled by the government during the Pol Pot era.

We also had the chance to mingle with students of our own age who are studying Japanese at CJCC. Many of us got the impression that they had much broader choices about aspirations for the future than students in rural villages, which gave us a sense of the disparities between city and village life. On day six we visited the wheelchair workshop at Wheel Chair for Development (WCD), where the WCD Director and staff assigned to Cambodia by the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan, a refugee aid association) told us about their initiatives. WCD makes wheelchairs customized to the needs of individuals with disabilities and supports them to play active roles in society. AAR is engaged in a project to promote inclusive education in Cambodia and provides financial and management support to WCD. In the workshop, the Cambodian staff, including people with disabilities, were conscientiously making wheelchairs. We had a chance to try out the wheelchairs and experience the ride and handling. When we visited wheelchair recipients, we heard first-hand how their wheelchairs had greatly reduced the burden on their families. On day seven we visited JICA’s Cambodian office to hear about its work and ask questions on our research themes. We learned that JICA provides support in many areas. We felt that this support aimed not only at physical improvements, but also at new ways of thinking. There was then time for two Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers to tell us about their activities in Cambodia. I was inspired by people of my own generation actively engaging as JOCVs. On day eight we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This museum is housed in a former Khmer Rouge detention center. We saw photographs telling the story of people’s imprisonment and the isolation cells where they were detained, which gave us a chilling sense of their cruel fate. I had to fight the urge to look away, but felt the terrors of those times in a way that words alone could not have conveyed.

Although we were only in Cambodia for about a week, we had the opportunity to visit many people and organizations to deepen our understanding, and it was a very fulfilling study tour. I feel that I broadened my horizons and opened my mind to diverse ways of thinking. During the field study I saw material development, especially in the city, but I also perceived a range of problems, such as low-quality education, rural-urban inequality. I felt that the less visible aspects of society, and the aspects that are only visible if you look for them, show that Cambodia is still on the road to development. I want to make use of this experience in my studies and in the future.

Finally, this valuable experience was only possible thanks to the people, who accompanied us and interpreted, and the people who consented to be interviewed, not to mention all the others involved with the tour, and I am filled with gratitude to them.

(Mayuko Sakai, 2nd grade student,
Global Studies for Intercultural Cooperation, Faculty of Letters and Education)

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