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Spotlight: February 2015

Our February 2015 spotlight features students who have traveled abroad or within the country, either over winter break or during the last semester.


Cheemoua VangCheemoua Vang ’17

Where did you travel? What did you do?

Panyia Vue ’18 and I went to Cambodia this winter break with a non-profit organization called Global Connections Project. Our main objective was to be of service to the locals in Singha Village, Battambang. Teaching conversational English was our go-to activity to be of service because that’s what they are most interested in gaining from us. Along with teaching, we did a lot of traveling, cultural learning, and relationship building. As we traveled we immersed ourselves and were challenged to think about our American privileges and differences with the locals. We learned about their culture and some of the history behind it. Lastly, what was most beautiful was that we built relationships along the way. The students I had there were just marvelous and very bright intelligent people.

What was the highlight from your trip?

There are just way too many “ah-ha” moments from my travels. Overall, the time with my students is the most memorable. There was a time where they wanted to unlock my phone so they could see pictures of me and Panyia together, so I gave them clues to see if they could unlock it. It took them over 30 minutes to finally crack the code.

What did you learn?

I learned to learn without assumptions, give without conditions and see the world as it is.

What was surprising?

The whole experience took me by surprise to be quite honest. I went expecting nothing but to teach English to Cambodian students, but I got something way more than that.

What advice do you have for other TRIO/SSS students?

Travel. Please travel, you learn so much when you step out of the states.

You don’t have to feel pressured to travel to be of service to any one, but as long as you aren’t traveling for only tourism. Many times when people travel as tourists they forget to see the underlying truths of the world, so I encourage you all to travel and do it to gain insights rather than to just have fun. No matter where you go you will have fun, but don’t go just for the fun.

kananAli Kanan ’16

Where did you travel? What did you do?

I traveled to Cuba in the winter of 2014! My days were jam-packed. There was not a minute wasted during this amazing trip. We stayed in the city of Havana for the most part, traveled outside of the city to visit the countryside for a day in Matanzas, and spend a night in Varadero; a spectacular beach. We took many pictures throughout the experience, so many memories were made in a short period of time!

What was the highlight from your trip?

This is a hard question to answer, because there were so many highlights that made the trip a wholesome experience. But one highlight that I will always remember is seeing the famous band called Bueno Vista Social Club perform live at a café/bar where me and one other student from the trip (who I now consider a close friend after experiencing the Cuban life together) were the first to get pulled up to dance by these professional Cuban dancers. I felt so alive, especially when we were the ones to get picked out of everybody else in the room! We had the pleasure of meeting with the band members after their performance, where laughs and hugs were shared. They just knew how to make us feel at home!

What did you learn?

We learned about the Afro-Cuban culture, their history regarding music, economics, the people who influenced and impacted Cuba. The wonderful and welcoming people of Cuba taught me personally how to be myself, how to love and show affection to those near and dear to me. I learned to appreciate my senses even more especially in sounds and the aromas of the city, and of course we learned everything you need to know about the Caribbean music, including how to dance. They really knew how to shake it!

What was surprising?

There are many stereotypes/ideas held by Americans regarding the Cuban people/lifestyle. For example, there is a presumption that Cubans dislike American’s, which is absurd. The majority of the Cubans we met believed in the principles of unity and peace. Another misconception is, since Cuba is a communist country, it must mean they are poor and don’t have opportunities or the right kind of resources to make the system work (e.g to attend school and receive a good education.) Anyone with an open mind can understand that there isn’t one right way to structure a society, there maybe a better alternatives depending on the countries circumstances, but there isn’t one right way. It works for them, and there are uniform resources, with a free education, free healthcare, free art schools (you should see the talent they have; they are awe-inspiring). One word to describe the Cubans: authentic.

What advice do you have for other TRIO/SSS students?

If studying abroad is on your bucket list, or to do list, then I encourage you to take a trip to expand your horizon. You will not only see what this world has to offer, but what you have to offer for this world. You will learn new things about yourself, this is a given. Don’t let money or fear get in the way of making this a reality, I urge you to take the time to set up a meeting with the Study Abroad office, and there you can explore your options; there are many! “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” – I am.