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Children in Cambodia: Understanding PreK-12 Opportunities (Embedded Program)
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Melissa Folan

Major: Psychology
Minor: Spanish
Hometown: Weymouth, MA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I learned about this experience through my Psych 100 professor. He emailed our class about the Developmental Psychology class and how they would be going to Cambodia, and I was immediately interested in an abroad experience. I then emailed Dr. Hunt to get more information and details and then enrolled in the class.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

On this trip, we went to Cambodia and visited schools for both younger and older kids. Interacting with the kids firsthand was such a rewarding experience. They value education so much, as many students can either not afford to attend school because of fees or because the schools are too far away from their homes. Also, a lot of students can't afford to attend school because their families need them to work to help provide for the family. Seeing how something that I sometimes take for granted is so valued by these students was really eye opening, because not everyone in the world has the opportunities that I do. I realized how lucky I am to live where I do, be able to afford the things that I have, and have access to the simplest things like indoor plumbing, bathrooms at school, school, and other things. I felt so lucky to be able to have such a close look at the way of life there and to meet people who are my age and already have experienced so much in their lives. It really was such a wonderful and unique experience that I don't think I'll ever have the opportunity to experience again.

I saw how a lot of children in Cambodia cherished the chance to have an education, and every child should get the opportunity to learn. If I could help make that possible in even the smallest of ways, I would feel really content with my life.

How did this experience impact you academically?

Academically I feel like this experience made me more interested in psychology than before. I am pursuing a psychology degree because I wanted to study forensic psychology, but after this experience I really think that I would be more interested in the developmental side. I really love kids and working with kids, and going to Cambodia and working with kids really reassured me that this is something I would like to do. Developmental psychology focuses on children and how their minds work and how the way they grow and interact affects their lives. If I could incorporate that into a career where I travel around the world interacting with kids from a variety of backgrounds, I would be very happy.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

I would very much like to be involved with something like the United Nations or the Peace Corps and travel to different countries and help in the best way I can. I'm hoping to pursue an international politics major/degree alongside my psychology degree during my time at Penn State. This experience really confirmed my desire to pursue this career, but also altered it in that maybe I would like to focus more on kids and providing them with the opportunities they need to be successful and happy. I saw how a lot of children in Cambodia cherished the chance to have an education, and every child should get the opportunity to learn. If I could help make that possible in even the smallest of ways, I would feel really content with my life.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

Yes! I would definitely recommend this experience to other students. It was really eye opening and such an amazing experience to travel across the world, be in a country I might not otherwise visit, and see the culture and the people up close and personal. We experienced this trip from more than a 'tourist' perspective because we were more immersed; we learned parts of the language, went into schools, and learned about the way the people of Cambodia live their day to day lives.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

The Paterno Fellows Program at Penn State has inspired me to involve myself in any opportunity I can that would be beneficial to myself and others. I see that many within the program have had such amazing experiences abroad. The program also helped me get the funding I needed through the Career Enrichment Network to help make going on this trip possible. I really enjoy the experiences and opportunities that Paterno Fellows opens me up to, and I don't think that I would get many of those without the program's help.

For more information on global opportunities for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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