Emily & Anya

Students Anya and Emily from Griffith University in Australia came to CFI for three months to complete their final placements to qualify for their social work degrees. This is Emily’s story of her time in Battambang!

Arriving in Battambang, alongside fellow student Anya, I couldn’t have imagined the cultural and personal lessons we’d carry home. With my bag heavy with supplies from insect repellent to hiking boots, unsure of what to expect, I prepared myself to embark on a 14-week social work placement.

I felt immediately welcomed by the CFI staff and locals, the start of what would be a truly memorable experience. When initially arriving in Battambang, I was busy taking in the environment around me; assessing what would be my home for the next three-and-a-half months! It did not take us long to create our own lifestyle within Cambodia.

We purchased bicycles and took to exploring local hotspots and forming friendships with other Westerners living in the area. I came to love Battambang’s neighborhood feel. Battambang is a rural city where Khmer culture and Western culture collide. Although I was happily immersed in the local culture of Battambang, home didn’t
seem so far away thanks to the familiarity of many Western cafes and pubs.

Maintaining our vegetarian diet was easy. Vegan pizza and cake, vegetarian dumplings, burritos, and vego-gyros were regularly on the menu. We also tried traditional food at CFI. It was often delicious, but some dishes we found to be more challenging – the cuisine of Battambang isn’t for the faint-hearted!

I formed friendships with local staff at CFI and other local Khmer people and would hang out with them, too. We were invited into a Khmer friend’s house where we helped them cook and eat dinner, where fried crickets were on the menu!

I noticed a dramatic difference between Khmer culture and Australian culture when it came to winding down. Khmer locals would never plan things too far ahead. Although I tried to adopt this relaxed lifestyle, I found myself keeping busy on weekends by visiting temples, going to the movies and exploring other local attractions.

The trip didn’t come without challenges, one of which was not always understanding the conversations going on around us. Sometimes at CFI the social workers would be laughing with each other and I would sometimes find myself laughing alongside them, even though I had no idea what they were laughing about. Turns out laughter is a universal language!

The friendliness of Battambang culture was evident, as the English-speaking locals would happily interpret for me. I enjoy history and was fortunate to have that in common with my fellow students. We were immersed in a different culture and learned about Cambodia’s rich, yet devastating, history; an emotionally enriching experience which I will treasure.

Overall, we were so glad to be part of a supportive organization for the last three-and-a-half months. CFI’s passion, transparency, and enthusiasm in helping the community are commendable!