Trying to find the words for a life-changing experience is an almost impossible task. Where do I begin to describe the unique food I ate, the people I met, and places I saw. A summer in Cambodia was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. When I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for the summer of 2019, I thought I would end up in my hometown with an internship and living at my parents house, little did I know, I would be across the world living by myself in a studio apartment in the middle of the popping city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. When I was offered the position to be Kids Play International’s All Girls United Intern there was little consideration, I knew that this was an experience that would trump any summer I had before.
I was fortunate enough to work with Kids Play in November of 2018 in Gatagara, Rwanda with my study abroad program. 11 other Virginia Tech students and myself had the experience of a lifetime in the country of a thousand hills to work with the KPI coaches by collecting data, supporting in sports lessons, and developing new projects. I attribute my time in Rwanda with the All Girls United program the reason I added a Women and Gender Studies minor and the reason I felt strongly about pursuing my Internship in Cambodia. I was moved by the support and trust that these girls had in one another and I found that women and girls all over the world need more support. And so after being strongly impacted by my time in Rwanda my journey of working with girls internationally began.
As an All Girls United Intern I was able to apply what I have learned from my studies of Women and Gender Studies at Virginia Tech. Interacting with the players and learning what they needed from me while learning from them is something I will never gain from a classroom. The very last day I was in Cambodia, I executed a Professional Development Day I had been organizing for the AGU players with a small grant that I received from the Women and Gender Studies Department at Virginia Tech. The players learned about professions outside of the countryside as well as the process and benefits of going to University. This was also an opportunity for the four coaches that joined us to make connections with the six female, Khmer, professionals we invited to speak with our players. These women ranged from Accountants to Founders of NGOs, and from Chefs to Spa Managers. But they all had one thing in common: they all had incredible stories of overcoming unimaginable obstacles to get to where they are today.
I was able to work with incredible Khmer coaches who are putting the needs of the KPI players before their own. They taught me what it meant to be hospitable, welcoming, and accepting of me into their culture which was new and totally different than my own. I knew I had been welcomed when I was given the nickname ‘Miley”, just close enough to my own, but forever warms my heart. I was taken on an all day tour of the temples with KPI coach, Tien. She selflessly took her one day off to show me her culture and historical sites. Coach Sophea was constantly bringing me new foods and plopping them into my mouth for me to try. Coach Chet tried to teach me Khmer, even though I failed miserably he was patient and urged me to keep trying. And these are just a few stories of the amazing KPI coaches that brought me pure happiness and made me feel comfortable when I was thousands of miles away from my home. And then there is my mentor Katey, she is in every definition a perfect mentor. Katey is the current Kids Play Program Coordinator on the ground in Cambodia and she made me feel comfortable, helped me succeed, and most importantly she became a friend. It is people like Katey and my fellow intern Mike that made me realize the power of working abroad and the friendships you create. I will forever be grateful for Katey and Mike and all the adventures we had together from traveling to HaLong Bay to swimming with elephants.
This summer was an experience I will never forget and made Cambodia my second home. I am thankful for all the people I met and the experiences we shared. Kids Play International is a unique and special organization full of wonderful people and goals. I am fortunate to have been a part of this organization.
(Emily Burger, 2019 Intern)