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Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth: Sarah LavenderNees ’19 in Cambodia

The saying “never look a gift horse in the mouth” has always been a favorite of mine and I really do feel that it perfectly catches the reasoning and experience behind my recent trip to Cambodia for part of my second co-op.

A year ago now, two family friends that I now call my adopted grandparents, offered to pay my airfare on the condition that I would film and take pictures for them while in Cambodia. Naturally, I thought this was a joke. I mean, who just offers to pay well over $1,000 U.S. dollars so that you can point your camera at something?! I, of course, said yes immediately. There I was, flight itinerary in hand; my Gift Horse if you will. Ready to board.

Now, for those of you familiar with the phrase that I quoted above, then you most likely know that that particular phrase is rarely taken as an entirely positive statement.

I boarded the plane in Cleveland, Ohio knowing that my life would never be the same, but there is no way that I could have ever predicted any of the events that would follow.

After a 5 hour lay-over in New York, a 15 hour flight, a 23 hour lay-over in Shanghai and then another 4 hour flight, we finally landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Upon exiting the airport, we were greeted by friends and family of my adopted grandparents. It was 23:30 and hotter than it would be in Ohio for the next three months (at the time in February). We were escorted to our incredible place of lodging for the following 3 weeks: The Angkor Pearl Hotel. Still, to this day, I miss the entire staff there and writing about them brings tears to my eyes. We frequently spent our evenings on the veranda of the hotel and spent hours talking to the staff of the hotel.

We immediately dove into lesson plans and I was filming as we went. Our humorous and kindhearted Tuk Tuk drivers showed us around their beautiful city. By day, we taught and worked with the children of Siem Reap and by evening we dined in 5 star restaurants. I must admit that the difference between our days and our nights were a form of culture shock alone but still to this day (over a week later) I am still feeling quite out of place and feeling the true effects of the culture shock that took place and is taking place still.

In a mere three weeks, I filmed and photographed and worked with some of the most amazing people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The people of Cambodia are extremely kind and loving. We quickly made friends everywhere we went. They would pause their day to help you. During our all to brief time there, I visited sacred cultural sites such as Ta Phrom Angkor Wat and Bayon Temple, taught english, submerged myself into the city by day and by night, played with wild dogs and most importantly, I made a family over there. The school that we spent the majority of our time working with was run almost completely by one man and his family. They were quick to take us in under their roof and help us in any way they could.

This trip and the people that I met whilst there have forever changed my life and I already have plans to visit again after I graduate from Antioch. While this trip was full of a multitude of ups and downs. I will forever be grateful for this Gift Horse, for never looking it in the mouth (as it were) and for my adopted grandparents for blessing me with such an opportunity.

Our Last Day Teaching

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My name is Sarah LavenderNees (My preferred name is Azura) and I am in the class of 2019. My major is a self-design in Intersectionality Studies focusing on race, ethnicity, culture and religions.

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