January 8, 2010

All in the Families

By 6:30 p.m. this evening (Friday evening for us, Friday morning in the U.S.), all 19 students had gone home with their host families. It was a whirlwind day, first with orientation at the hotel, a driving tour of the city, and then meeting the parents and siblings.

Ann and Keith tend to practice the “soft landing” approach to SST, especially given the arduous 29-hour flights/travel and the reversal of body clocks. Given that, the Colonial Mansion was a fitting and comfortable place for our first night, allowing us to relax on our balconies (Charlie, Austin, and Seth), swim and play cards around the pool, and lounge in the rooftop mini-pool that overlooked the city.

Orientation began with brief introductions and then a 45-minute presentation by Dr. Gloria Christie about “Staying Healthy in Cambodia.” Dr. Christie is quite colorful, so this was an invigorating introduction to healthy living. For the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon Keith, Ann, and Marya spoke about being cross-cultural learners; how to negotiate traffic and monetary matters; guidelines for living carefully and responsibly on SST; and what to embrace and what to avoid while living with Cambodian host families.

In the midst of orientation we took a long lunch break, beginning with an extraordinary buffet luncheon at the hotel, with Cambodian, Western, and other gourmet foods many of us had never experimented with before (squid, leg of lamb, lobster bisque, oysters). See the photos of Allison getting her food at the buffet table, followed by Stephanie, Phil, and Jake. After lunch about half the group took a walk, some played Rook by the pool (Annie, Austin, Rachel, and Phil), and some lounged on the rooftop (Kat and Annalisa).

After a briefer afternoon orientation we took a two-hour driving tour of the city, passing by most of our key landmarks. On a typical Phnom Penh map, much of our activity will focus on the northwestern part of the city — Royal University of Phnom Penh (morning Khmer language classes) — and also the west-central section of the city (Ann and Keith’s house, Mennonite Central Committee’s office, our afternoon lecture meeting space). Mao Tse Toung Boulevard is a key street that provides access to many of the places we need to go.

When we arrived at MCC at 5:00, some parents already were waiting for us, and others came to pick up their new family members over the next 90 minutes. In the photos are a group of students waiting for their families; Annie sharing a first laugh with Sreyhem and her new host family; and Allison greeting her mother. These were pleasurably intense moments for students as they met the people they would be living with for the next six weeks and then found their way home on motos (see heavily laden Michael Ruth with his brother Oudom) and tuk-tuks (Seth with his mother Sivorn; Charlie with his mother Phai). Students are settling into their new homes and spaces now.

One of students’ experiential assignments tomorrow is to find their way back to the Graber Miller house at some point during the day, just so we can check in with everyone and they can have a reason to explore the city. We look forward to seeing them, though we know they’re in good hands with their Cambodian hosts.

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