New program takes students to Cambodia to assist with schools, explore culture

Marjorie S. Miller
October 13, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A course at Penn State provides students with the opportunity to travel to Cambodia to assist in public school programs, and also gain valuable insight by observing educational settings very different than their own.

Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies H. Harrington "Bo" Cleveland, who teaches the course Adolescent Development, HDFS 239; and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology Cathleen Hunt, who teaches Introduction to Developmental Psychology, PSYCH 212, came together to create a one-credit embedded program that allows students to travel to Cambodia over spring break.

The course was first offered in the spring of 2017, and students are encouraged to register for the spring 2018 semester.

“Many young children [in Cambodia] don’t attend school or drop out early, because their families can’t afford it or because their families need help around the home or with the family business,” Cleveland said. “In a lot of ways our students have never seen anything like this.”

The purpose of the course and associated trip, organized with Caring for Cambodia (CFC) — a nonprofit, non-governmental, charitable organization based in Siem Reap — is to learn about school systems in Cambodia and assist with school programs and projects through CFC. CFC’s mission is to provide resources to schools, including teacher training, parental education and school infrastructure.

The students who participated in the trip this year first spent two days assisting school programs through CFC. Next, students explored Cambodia, visiting landmine museums, attending a culinary training program and Cambodian cooking class, learning about silk production, and visiting temples and other landmarks near Siem Reap, including the Angkor Wat temple.

While visiting schools, students helped complete a variety of tasks to improve infrastructure, including building a wall and painting a patio. They also had an opportunity to work with faculty on classroom lessons and observe a preschool class.

Cleveland said working with CFC gave the students an opportunity to see children in different educational settings, as well as interact with the children to learn about their lifestyles.

In addition to learning about infrastructure and curriculum, students on the trip also learned about some of the needs in the schools they visited, which ranged from clean water to breakfast to technology. The group assisted CFC elementary school teachers with a curriculum-based project to teach students the differences between and appropriate use of singular and plural nouns.

“A major difference between schools in the United States and CFC schools truly seems to be the availability of curricular resources,” said Mark Klemencic, a senior psychology and biology dual major. “Although CFC schools have an increasing amount of classroom materials, I think that they may benefit from more technology, such as computers, as this will help students become more acclimated to a technologically-dependent global workforce.”

For Carly Danielson, a junior psychology major, visiting the schools through the CFC opened her eyes to the visual differences in the schools, such as their layout, and how the resources available affect their functions. 

“Compared to schools in the U.S., schools in Cambodia were quite different. They were much more open, with outdoor hallways and an outdoor lunchroom area. There were small classrooms along a stone walkway, and the bathroom areas were a few small stalls and a large trough-like container of water to wash hands,” she said. “There was a very nice playground, one similar to what you’d see in the U.S. But I think the entire place had a less formal, and more lively expression. The walls were colorful, covered with paintings and drawings and designs.”

She said the trip as a whole gave her a new appreciation for people in other cultures – in how they live and work, and also how they educate their children.

“We must embrace people for who they are, even when it’s not what we’re used to,” Danielson said. “We must accept that sure, cultures make us different, but two people in the same culture can be just as different as two people from completely opposite cultures. We shouldn’t shy away from difference. We should come together to learn from each other and help each other out, while still respecting the wishes and cultural norms of others.”

For more information on the program, visit Global Penn State

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Last Updated October 13, 2017