This year, the Eleventh and Twelfth-grade students traveled to Southeast Asia for their Experiential Education trip. This experience included international travel; exposure to different people and cultures; and connections to our arts, humanities and science curricula.
In history, the group studied the United States government and foreign policy, building on last year’s trip to Eastern Europe that explored the influence of the Cold War conflict on U.S. and Soviet Union foreign policy. Visiting Vietnam, in particular, Ho Chi Minh City gave students a multi-layered perspective on the Vietnam War and the long term effects the actions of the governments of the U.S. and North Vietnam had on the Vietnamese people. Students also studied the subsequent events in the area after the Vietnam War, including the tragic events under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Students were able to learn about this conflict from a Cambodian perspective while visiting Aki Ra’s Landmine Museum and orphanage outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Aki Ra is a friend of Telluride through the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival where his story, as told through the documentary A Perfect Soldier, debuted and sparked the initial funding for the museum and orphanage.) Students dove deeper into what led to and happened in this conflict when they visited memorials and former sites in Phnom Penh, specifically one of the “Killing Fields” and the Tuol Sleng prison.
Vietnam and Cambodia are also on the front lines of conservation and environmental challenges, whether this is the endangerment of native animals in central Cambodia or the pollution in the waterways of the Mekong Delta. During our trip, students stayed in a residence along the Mekong Delta in southwest Vietnam and performed community service at the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Cambodia.
Finally, Vietnam and Cambodia have rich cultural histories. Students spent multiple days exploring and learning about the temple structures of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Not only are these sites evidence of a sophisticated and powerful civilization, but they are also visually inspiring, allowing students to create visual art. The bookends of the trip were in the culturally rich urban centers of Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. In one of our final days before starting our journey home, students took a cooking class in Phnom Penh at the Feel Good Cooking School and Restaurant, an organization that sources its ingredients locally and responsibly, and showed students how to do so.
Teacher, Director of Upper School