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This is a guest blog post by Emily Chugg, a final year student from the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Melbourne. Emily is studying a Bachelors of International Development Studies, and recently completed a month-long Development Education Immersion Program with Ayana Journeys across Cambodia.

Landing in Cambodia, the first thing you could see out the plane window were the curved tops of the beautiful pagodas and temples, bringing home to me the exciting month ahead of experiencing a different culture. The second thing was the heat, that smacks into you as you walk out those airport doors. It’s a bit of a challenge at first but you get used to being sweaty 99% of the time.

Our group of ACU students studying International Development threw ourselves into this experience, making the most of the opportunities Ayana Journeys provided to us. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with NGOs and learn about the practical side of development work.

We met with a wide range of organisations, from the UNDP and CARE Cambodia, to more local grassroots organisations like the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) and the Women’s Resource Centre. By meeting with these organisations, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of how NGOs work and the complex nature of development work – things that could never be translated or learnt in classroom theory.

Despite being a quiet and shy member of the group, I enjoyed the chance to debrief with my peers about our thoughts and feelings from the day. Our almost-daily debriefs were an opportunity to think deeper, with our facilitators Amy and Yut asking all the right questions to push us further. All of us made a conscious effort to create a space where we could challenge our perceptions while remaining respectful of each other’s views.

There was not just academic learning to be done, with the added excitement and adventure of being in a new culture which is often quite challenging and out of our usual comfort zone. Being welcomed into a family’s home twice on this trip was nerve-wracking, but our families were incredibly welcoming and kind. Language barriers made it difficult to communicate but in those five days the time spent with my family was such a privilege. Eating all sorts of delicious (chngine!) food like green mango, noodles, and salty pork was so enjoyable! You could always count on there being a bowl of rice though, with every single meal!

By far my favourite experiences were the theatre and dance workshops in Battambang and Kampot. When meeting with the Battambang Theatre, the group participated in a workshop and it was such a fun experience. Seeing everyone come out of their shell and share stories and ideas through theatre was so insightful. [Battambang Theatre is a grassroots organisation that uses theatre to support communities address issues such as domestic violence] The dance workshop with Epic Arts was another highlight, not only for me having fun and being creative with my fellow students but to see the organisation’s focus on inclusivity and normalising disabilities. Being part of something that showcased ability and focused on empowering people was really special.

Now that I’m home I am already applying what I learnt about development and NGOs to my life. The real and human face of development will stay with me throughout my life, along with the other incredible memories of the places and the people I met in Cambodia. Awkun Cambodia for such a wonderful month!

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