The first time that I ever travelled abroad was on a mission trip. I was in the 6th grade when I learned that the high-school had a trip being organized to visit Cambodia, where they had gone before and been setting up an orphanage to care for children in Siem Reap. I decided that I wanted to go, and began asking how to make it possible. I was pushed back and told to wait until I was older, but I was determined to go that year, and so was finally able to convince the school to let me travel with them, so long as one of my parents came along. My father ended up joining me, as my mother had been pregnant and gave birth to my sister only a few months prior to the trip. It was a 19 hour long flight from New York to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and I was thrown into the deep end of culture shock that way. We had to quickly learn about the differences between Cambodia and the US, thankfully made easier by some of the leaders of the group who had lived in South Asia as missionaries for years. We learned about the history of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that took place in Cambodia when we visited a museum housed in one of the schools turned prisons. It was bitterly hot and humid all the time, and we were warned to stay only on asphalt and concrete, as they still find mines to this day, and have a large population of amputees due to this problem.
During our stay in Phnom Penh, my dad and I both got salmonella, and were horribly sick. We flew next to Siem Reap, dehydrated and exhausted. Siem Reap is much more touristy, with fewer scars from the Khmer Rouge, as they have pushed their tourism to the forefront, and moved most of the homeless and amputees out of the city. We visited the Tonlé Sap Lake, where many people live on the water. We took them supplies and met many different families. Many of them are descended from refuges of the Vietnam war, who escaped on the river and came to Cambodia, but never left the water, as they were not citizens of Cambodia. Many of these families never left the water, and so an entire town has grown on the water, with even schools and play areas floating on the lake. We were too sick to go with the group to Angkor Wat, the gem of Cambodia’s tourism industry, so we ended up visiting the area with the temples later on our own, which made for a unique visit there, as our guide showed us some of his favorite and the lesser known temples.
We got to know the people who worked at our hotel well, as many of them had joined one of the churches we were connected with, and had one guy in particular who loved hanging out with us. One of the guys on our trip gifted him his guitar, as he loved the instrument and wanted to learn how to play, which was a really cool moment at the end of our trip. We also went to the facility that was built, and I pretty much adopted about three or four girls who just wanted me to play with them every time we were there. They were so sweet, and we were so excited to gift the school with some new supplies and money to help keep the entire facility running, and we had helped raise funds for them to buy more property around them. The property owners in the area had gouged their prices so there were so many empty plots just outside of the city, and no one could afford them, so we helped buy the orphanage more land to bring in more children in need. It was an interesting trip, as I learned a lot about a country that really isn’t taught about a lot, and hopefully helped at least a few people in need, even though we saw just how much need there is in Cambodia.