This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of several BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. This is the second post from Krystalbella Murnane-Victorelli, who is working at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Living and working in Cambodia has been quite a distinctive experience. Removing my shoes upon entering the office, staff meetings that take place sitting cross legged on the floor, 110 degree days (I am constantly covered in sweat), background music of monks chanting on loud speakers, spotty internet service, and two-hour lunch breaks (America take notes on this one) are all part of my new normal. Not only is the office culture completely different, but the field of the work I am engaged in is also brand new for me.
The organization I am currently working for focuses on (just in case you couldn’t tell from the name) peace studies and conflict transformation. The region that we work in is also new to me. Southeast Asia has a long and complex history that I knew nothing about. I spent the majority of my time the first month here reading about the history of Cambodia. Being catapulted into conflict transformation has been a bumpy adjustment for me. I am not accustomed to looking at situations through this lens and the scale of our work here is on a more macro level than I am used to (this I am very happy about). It is a daily struggle to divide my time between learning about this new subject and context, as well as contributing culturally competent and sound work to my team. This has been a difficult balance to maintain and my confidence has certainly taken a hit in the process. I was comfortable in my old field of work and now I am in completely new territory. The best thing I have done is to remain patient and kind with myself and continue to utilize my support system back in the states (big shout out to Bill, #1 advisor).
I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the local culture. One of my favorite days on the job thus far has been participating in the 27th annual Dhammayietra Peace Walk. We are including the peace walk in our upcoming exhibit on reconciliation. The walk first began in 1993 as a supportive mechanism to accompany refugees from camps on the Thai border through the war torn country, back to their homes south of Phnom Penh. The walk has continued every year in the name of different social justice issues. The walk creates solidarity among people and is seen as a tool in healing from past injustice.
I have seen the miraculous things that happen when people come together for a common good, so when my supervisor asked if I would like to attend this year’s walk I jumped at the opportunity. It is literally impossible for me to explain in words what a once in a lifetime opportunity this was. From the moment of my arrival I was embraced by the participants who had been walking for days. We shared meals on the floor of the pagoda and at night slept in the temple (it was like the biggest slumber party I have ever been to). The feeling when we marched through the village was like no other. People came from their homes to join and pretty soon when I looked back I could not see the end of the line. The energy of walking for peace was electric!