Story, challenge and advice following a 4-month internship in Cambodia with Eclosio, to learn more about biopesticide practices. It was a trip out of the ordinary and out of my comfort zone.
Who am I and how it all began
My name is Eliza and I’m in my 3rd year of a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy, with a major in Environment, at the Haute École de La Reid (province of Liège, Belgium). As part of my course, I had to do a placement during my first term. The aim of this placement was to write a bachelor’s thesis on the subject studied.
Fascinated by nature and eternally convinced that agroecology is synonymous with sustainable development, I decided to do my placement from September 2019 to January 2020 with Eclosio in Cambodia on the subject of biopesticides. A biopesticide is a pesticide made from natural products and is therefore in line with environmental protection – which made it an ideal project for me.
Ever convinced that agroecology is synonymous with sustainable development, I’ve decided to do my internship from September 2019 to January 2020 with Eclosio in Cambodia on the subject of biopesticides.
Figure 1: from left to right: Piano, Mr Chea Sok, Éliza, Sophorn, Takada
I went to Cambodia with Simon, also a trainee at Eclosio and a student at the Haute École d’Agronomie in La Reid. So we shared this experience together, even though our projects were different. After a long flight, I arrived in Cambodia in September, just as autumn was beginning in Belgium. We arrived during the rainy season, with temperatures hovering around 30°C. Simon and I were given a wonderful welcome and we quickly acclimatised to the food, the customs, the city and the countryside. As well as the heat shock, the culture shock was enormous. Over there, everything is different. The customs, pace of life and way of working are not the same as back home, so I had to adapt a lot. The language was also a major obstacle to my study, but I quickly found another way of communicating and making myself understood.
The pace of life and the way of working are not the same as at home, so I had to adapt a lot. The language was also a major obstacle to my study, but I quickly found another way of communicating and making myself understood.
Figure 2 : Landscape in the region of Takeo
I stayed in the capital, Phnom Penh, in a flat shared with Simon in the centre, and I took taxis to Takeo’s countryside, where I was fed and housed by a Cambodian family. The dichotomy between the organised chaos of the city and the serenity of the countryside was part of my daily life. Agronomy students helped me to find farmers and with the translation for my study. Piano, Takada, Sophorn, Sreyrath and Butun very quickly became my friends, despite some difficulties in communicating from English to Khmer! I also quickly met expatriates from the rest of the world who helped me discover other parts of Phnom Penh and other provinces, encouraged me to travel and open up to others. This trip would not have been the same without the wonderful encounters I made there.
Figure 3: From left to right: Sreyrath, Takada, Simon, Eliza, Sophorn, Buntun and Madame Meourn
What I learnt
I quickly learned to be tolerant, to solve problems, to find solutions with compromise, to manage a project, to be independent and to overcome my shyness. I now feel more professionally capable and legitimate – it’s comforting and satisfying, after years of hard study, to realise that the knowledge we’ve acquired has real weight. My study involved meeting many farmers and, through one or two interviews, gaining a better understanding of biopesticide practices. So I was in contact with a lot of people in a short space of time, in several provinces, which gave me a better understanding of the heterogeneity that makes Cambodia such a special country, different from neighbouring countries. I had to do away with my Western way of thinking in order to adapt to the situations I faced on a daily basis. I quickly forgot about bread, cheese and Belgian fries and became a fan of Cambodian cuisine – completely unknown to the general public. I also got used to using a few Khmer words that were essential in everyday life, and which have now become part of my vocabulary even once I’m back in Belgium.
I had to suppress my Western way of thinking in order to adapt to the situations I faced on a daily basis. I quickly forgot about bread, cheese and Belgian fries and became a fan of Cambodian cuisine.
This placement also gave me an insight into the importance of NGOs in a battered country recovering from a recent genocide. In the absence of a strong state, the cooperatives, NGOs and scientific institutions working in Cambodia are essential to the country’s development. It made me realise the importance of the work that awaits me after my studies and the particular responsibility of working in the field of environmental protection.
Go for it! That’s the most important advice I can give you. This trip changed my life and I can’t wait to go back to Cambodia soon. My advice to all future interns is to speak English, be social, independent and, above all, self-reliant. This adventure may seem insurmountable, but, with a little boost, it’s easy to get out of your comfort zone and take on this unforgettable trip. Time flies, so make the most of every moment.
Once you’ve made this important decision, find out about the local currency, visas, vaccinations and so on. Research your project and the history of the country and region you want to visit. Once you’re there, it’s important to write down as much as you can – once you get home, it’ll be too late to remember the names, numbers or villages of the people you’ve met.
And above all, be prepared to change! The person you’ll be when you get back won’t be the same as the person who left.