A study trip to Southeast Asia this spring was an eye-opening venture for Radford University graduate student Rachel Ward of Gloucester. "I did so many things, it’s hard to grasp it all. It makes me speechless. Everything was so different," she said in recounting the highlights.
Ward holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Radford and stayed on to pursue a master’s degree in corporate and professional communications. Her trip, which earned her college credits, was made with nine other students and a Radford communications professor.
"We visited big universities and public relations and marketing firms. We do so much business with that part of the world. We need to know how to communicate correctly and be familiar with their cultures," Ward explained. The group also had plenty of time to see the sights and customs that were distinctly different from those they left behind in the western world.
The travelers landed in Sing-
apore after a lengthy flight. "We went there first and it was easy to adjust. They spoke English, and of all the places we visited it was most like here. We got off in Singapore and there was a McDonald’s, but the food tasted better. We found that everywhere everything tasted so fresh. After a while, I felt like I was having preservative withdrawal," said Ward.
The group also visited Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. "Going in, I knew they didn’t have a lot. Coming away, it makes you appreciate how much you have. You see children that don’t own any clothes and by the second week none of what you left behind seemed important anymore," said Ward, who at first missed her laptop computer.
"Cambodia was my favorite place," she continued. "Under these horrible circumstances, they were so welcoming and embracing. And they love Obama. They know more about him than I know about him. They also know more about worldly cultures." The group spent seven days in Cambodia, including two in Phnom Penh.
The students also visited Angkor Wat, a Hindu temple complex built in the 12th century. "It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen," Ward said. "The temples were so beautiful, just breathtaking, and we rode in carriages pulled behind motorbikes." While in Cambodia, the group participated in a community service project in Siem Reap, one of the country’s fastest growing cities.
The service project was arranged prior to the trip and included a tour of a village and a visit to a local school. Then the group turned to the day-long job of building composting toilets. "They were just little thatched structures. You can’t build them out of something more valuable than what their homes are made of because they’ll take it apart and sell it," Ward explained.
She found Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia in general, to be dirty. But the wonders of the other countries made up for it. She recalled seeing the floating houses on Cambodian rivers, crossing hanging bridges through the rainforest, white-water rafting and consuming enough rice and noodles to last a lifetime.
The travelers also ventured into Thailand after it was deemed safe following a civil uprising. "There had been fighting in the streets and there were still burning malls and things. When we went there, we couldn’t believe it. There were bullet casings in the streets," said Ward.
There were also new sites to see, and Ward most enjoyed a trip to the Theravada Buddhist temple known as the Tiger Temple. The forest temple in western Thailand is also an animal sanctuary. "The monks there raise tigers and walk them on a leash," she said. "They let us pet the tigers, but they also have other animals. When we were there, a deer came up and licked my arm."
Ward, who is on track to complete her studies in December, said she was initially challenged by the cost of the four-week trip, but found it well worth the sacrifices it took to make it. "I really didn’t know if I could swing it. I just saved, saved, saved. But it was fun, it was amazing. I’ll never forget it."