January 5, 2010

Meeting with Host Families

Tuesday evening Ann, Keith, Sreyhem (our family assistant/coordinator) and Marya (our local assistant/coordinator) met with students’ host families on the Mennonite Central Committee rooftop. Parents were quite animated as they looked over the personal information sheets for their students, asking about what students’ interests and hobbies were, their year in school and major, what their parents did for a living, and other questions.

We talked about our desire to have true cross-cultural learning, with the hope that Goshen students could be integrated into their families as sons and daughters rather than as specially honored guests. We expressed gratitude that their families were making possible the kind of deep learning the Study-Service Term seeks.

Pictured here are, in order: Austin Yoder’s 13-year-old brother and father (Mr. Thy, a contractor); several mothers, including Nary, Allison Yoder’s mother (in pink) and Um Chenda, Bailey Bontrager’s mother (in darker color); Keith with Rachel Lanctot’s brother and mother, Phoung Bopha; Trisha Handrich’s baby sister Sophia in the arms of MCC Cambodia Co-Director Shari Yordy; Keith with Chloe Mathonnet-Vanderwell’s sister Sina (who speaks Khmer, French, and English) and other sisters; Marya with some of the parents and siblings; and Sreyhem and Keith with Ata, Allison Yoder’s 19-year-old sister.

As we write this blog, students are preparing for their last night of rest before leaving for their 29-hour journey. They will leave campus at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning (Wednesday) and arrive here in Cambodia, after leaping 12 hours ahead, at 10:40 p.m. Thursday night (10:40 a.m. Thursday in Indiana).

The day of students’ arrival is a major holiday in Cambodia known as Victory Over Genocide Day. It’s the day in 1979 when Vietnamese troops, together with former Khmer Rouge soldiers who had seen the errors of their regime, marched into Cambodia and took over the country from the Khmer Rouge. Current prime minister Hun Sen was among those former Khmer Rouge soldiers who re-entered Cambodia with the Vietnamese. For the next decade, the United States (having recently come off the war with Vietnam, known here as the American War) and United Nations saw this Vietnamese event as an “invasion” rather than a “liberation,” and only allowed the ousted Khmer Rouge (which had been responsible for the deaths of about one third of all Cambodians in their several-year reign of terror) a seat at the United Nations table. The history, which we’ll be learning about in the opening two weeks, is quite tragic.

When students arrive Thursday evening, we’ll first be staying at the Colonial Mansion, providing for a quite comfortable initial night in Phnom Penh. All day Friday we’ll do orientation, and then at 3 p.m. we’ll take a driving tour of the city, ending up at Mennonite Central Committee’s offices, which are near the Graber Miller home. Host families will pick up their students at MCC by 5:00 Thursday, less than 18 hours after they have been in the country. The SST Cambodia journey begins.

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