These days, travelling is the thing to do. Whether it’s to study abroad, go on a school trip, a spring break adventure with friends or family summer vacation. All of these reasons to travel are wonderful. If you get the opportunity, take it! However, the trips I chose that were off the vacation map were the trips that changed my life forever.
I have been to three different countries with a culture much different than my own. China, Thailand and Cambodia. China holds wonderful memories of singing worship in a church filled with individuals from all over the globe as well as a trip to the Great Wall. My experience standing on atop this structure left me with no doubt of its place on the Wonders of the World list. I was awe struck. The wall seemed to stretch so far it disappeared into the distant fog, but the closer you moved, the farther it stretched. This was my first experience in a different country.
My next experience was quite different: Cambodia. I hold a special place in my heart for Cambodia. My heritage lies here. The story of this land is remarkable and devastating. I can’t help but feel a tug on my heart every time I picture the school’s restructured into prisons and the ongoing divots in the ground of the killing fields. If you ever visit this country, please visit these land marks—it is a vital experience in understanding these people and the rebuilding of their country. I had a chance to visit with and give to a community of elderly whose family members kicked them out because they could no longer afford to support them. The joy emanating from this woman’s face after all she has seen and experienced still shakes me.
This trip set the foundation of my love of this country. There are villages and slums that break your heart. And then there are places like this…
This is Angkor Wat. Another Wonder of the World. Even now, thinking back on this experience blows my mind. Walking through these ancient walls exploring temples built thousands of years ago…there’s nothing quite like this.
The following year, I traveled to Thailand. Most of my time in Thailand was spent in a village far from the city Bangkok. I remember walking around to different homes visiting with the local people. Most if not all of them had never seen anyone of different skin than their own. I can’t imagine living your entire life so secluded that you don’t even know anyone else exists. Most children didn’t have enough money to go to school. There was a youth program in this village, specifically for these kids. We spent time with them, teaching them, exploring with them and doing community service with them. This picture is of us walking around picking up trash that had been littered around the village.
And then I was lucky enough to travel once more to the country I hold so dear to my heart, Cambodia. Again I visited Angkor Wat. Even the second time I was just as awe-struck. This time we were in a different part of the country, closer to the coast. We spent time in another poor village, teaching children (like the one pictured below) who could not go to the schools in the city. Unlike the village in Thailand, this one was literally 20 minutes (or less) from one of the most Westernized parts of Cambodia. The coast was full of European and American men and women on vacation. Most Cambodian residence spoke English because of all the tourists. Huge five-star hotels sat along the beach. Some of you may know human trafficking, sex trafficking, is an issue in Cambodia; especially in this area. I cannot express the feeling I had as a young American girl watching as a Western man held a young Cambodian woman by the arm like a piece of meat, trudging through the sand towards a hotel. My heart shattered. It is still broken to this day thinking about how many young women (and men) experience that on a daily or hourly basis.
The things I have seen in these different countries; prisons, orphanages, shelters for trafficking victims, brothels, villages, cities, five-star hotels, Wonders of the World. This experience will forever be in my heart. If you ever get the chance to travel the world to places like these, do it. It will be uncomfortable, challenging and hard to experience; but the lessons you learn will change your life forever.