Savoir-faire and savoir-vivre are skills that I acquired thanks to a 4-month work placement that took me to the other side of the world to discover Cambodian agriculture. In this article, I’d like to share with you my unforgettable experience. My name is Simon V., I’m 21 years old and I’m studying agronomy at the HEPL (La Reid Campus) with a major in ‘environment’.
After taking a course in permaculture, which I really enjoyed, I decided to look for an internship in the field of agro-ecology. I turned to Eclosio, knowing its reputation and because we share the same values. Eclosio offered me a placement on Bokashi, a natural fertiliser produced by Utdom Sorya, a Cambodian farming cooperative that the NGO supports. The subject corresponded to my desire to be involved in family farming that respects the environment.
Eclosio offered me an internship on Bokashi, a natural fertiliser produced by Utdom Sorya, a Cambodian farming cooperative that the NGO supports.
I was aware that it wouldn’t be easy to do an internship in a country I didn’t know. So I wanted to prepare as much as possible for this big trip by reading the testimonials of former interns and getting in touch with them. Before leaving for my 4-month internship, I researched the subject that was going to occupy me for an entire academic year (internship + TFE) and I read up on Cambodia, its culture and its history. I felt ready for it and the change of scenery promised to be total.
Reassuring initial contacts
When I arrived in Cambodia, I was given a very warm welcome by the Eclosio staff. I was able to use their offices and an Internet connection to write my TFE. I travelled there by tuk-tuk once or twice a week from my flat in Phnom Penh, the capital. The rest of the week, I was out in the field, 70 kilometres south of the capital. There, I worked on improving Bokashi in an agricultural cooperative. This cooperative produces this fertiliser from A to Z, from the purchase of materials to marketing, including production (several tonnes a year) and the transformation of the fertiliser into pellets. I was staying with the Meourn family, who are active in this cooperative. This family welcomed me with open arms into their home, where I ate some very good food.
A positive frame of mind
There are many cultural differences, from the way people say hello to the way they dress. In Phnom Penh, traffic is very heavy and the Highway Code is not respected. Cars park on the pavements and everything seems disorganised. The city isn’t the best place to go for a walk, so I was very happy to return regularly to my work placement to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside. To get there, I had to use several types of transport (minibus, tuk-tuk and motorbike). The journeys were long because of the deplorable state of the roads. The people with whom I was squeezed into the shared taxis took their patience in their stride, so I quickly adopted the same philosophy. Once we arrived in the village, the rhythm of life was different, we got up very early and went to bed very early. There were no shops, cafés or restaurants, and the houses were rudimentary. But what a joy it was to wake up in the middle of rice fields and nature! Benevolence and joie de vivre were omnipresent.
There are many cultural differences, from the way people say hello to the way they dress. In Phnom Penh, traffic is very heavy and the Highway Code is not respected.
This placement taught me to work independently, to take responsibility and to find the right contacts to carry out my project. I learnt to persevere and to negotiate with laboratories to get them to agree to analyse my samples. Admittedly, there are many pitfalls. The language barrier was a hindrance and the project didn’t progress as quickly as I wanted. In spite of everything, I quickly forgot about the inconveniences because I loved what I was doing. What’s more, I was struck by the remarkable work that NGOs active in international cooperation do on a daily basis. Very quickly, I was taken by the desire to add my stone to the edifice.
Photo 3: Bokashi production with the help of cooperative members. (Meourn, 2019)
Considered a friend, not a stranger
Unfortunately, my host family didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Khmer, but with a bit of good will and the help of translation applications, I was able to make myself understood. Eclosio staff and Cambodian students regularly worked at my placement and they were invaluable in helping me talk to the villagers and set up my field experiments. I was invited to family dinners, weddings and parties with friends and I have nothing but fond memories of them.
Outside the course, I was able to meet and socialise with people from all over the world. I tasted local dishes and was lucky enough to discover magnificent landscapes, culturally rich national festivals and fascinating tropical flora and fauna.
Photo 4: Meourn family, members of the cooperative and Cambodian trainees at a meal. (Meourn, 2020)
If I had any advice to give future interns, I’d tell them to learn about the country’s culture and painful past, which will help them understand the socio-economic situation Cambodia finds itself in today. Find out about the cost of transport, accommodation and food so as not to fall into tourist traps. Find out as much as you can about your internship topic and don’t hesitate to contact former interns, like me, to find out more.
I encourage you to seize every opportunity that comes your way, both professionally and culturally, because it’s not every day that you get the chance to enjoy such unique experiences in such a short space of time.
Once you’re there, communicate as much as possible with your work colleagues and make sure that the person you’re talking to has understood the message you wanted to get across. Finally, I’d encourage you to seize every opportunity that comes your way, both professionally and culturally, because it’s not every day that you get the chance to enjoy such unique experiences in such a short space of time.
In conclusion, if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it straight away!
I’d like to thank the NGO Eclosio for their guidance and for the professional and human experience I had.