Explaining the concept of Semester at Sea is difficult to do in a nutshell. Equally difficult is to summarize the work of EGBOK Mission (Everything’s Gonna Be OK). So when the two programs unite to provide once in a lifetime opportunities to underprivileged young adults from Cambodia, it takes a bit of explaining to piece together the two organization’s backgrounds, missions, and range of participants.
While Semester at Sea is comprised of mostly American college students, EGBOK Mission consists of young adults from throughout Cambodian. Semester at Sea students make up a wide array of areas of study and many students who sail have yet to decide on their major. EGBOK Mission students study a specific program within the hospitality realm. Semester at Sea was established in 1963; EGBOK Mission is a relatively young organization and only dates back to 2009 (founded by a SAS alum, Ben Justus). Despite these differences, the goal for the students of both Semester at Sea and EGBOK Mission is the same: to help create engaged, productive, educated young adults who can use their experiences from their respective program to positively influence their futures.
The way to do this? Exposure. In EGBOK Mission’s case, exposure means helping rural Cambodians see the possibilities and potential the hospitality industry may hold for them. It means taking a class of 20 students from the outskirts of Phnom Penh to see a hotel, swimming pool, and restaurant menu for the first time. It means giving them the opportunity to meet Cambodian and expatriate staff and managers and hear their stories and advice. It means taking them to the museums, cooking classes, and famous Angkor Wat temples which their country is so well known for – but is a place they have only ever dreamed of visiting. From this exposure, EGBOK Mission students witness more than just the basics of hospitality; they are able to gain experience interacting with foreigners, learn what it’s like to feel like a guest for the first time, and, for the extremely lucky ones, get to leave Cambodia and sail for a week on Semester at Sea.
For the past three months, two EGBOK Mission students have been preparing for their week on the ship as it sails from Hong Kong to Vietnam. In addition to their full time classes at hospitality training school in Siem Reap, Panha and Sreyna worked with EGBOK Mission volunteers to prepare presentations, practice conversation skills, and discuss cultural norms . Describing the MV Explorer, the variety of students, and the concept of circumnavigating the world to two students who come from rural Cambodia and have never stepped outside of their country is challenging. However, over the course of a week at sea, the students successfully overcame their seasickness, quickly became comfortable having each meal with friendly Semester at Sea students, and confidently educated the shipboard community about their country and what it has to offer.
In several classes, Panha and Sreyna had the opportunity to explain why the hospitality industry in Cambodia is important to them and why they chose to study with EGBOK Mission. The pair also presented at a pre-port seminar about Cambodia’s culture, religion, and silk production. Daily, the two expressed their pleasure in interacting with the diverse students and staff who constantly exuded genuine hospitality and appreciation toward the EGBOK Mission students.
To meet the ship in Hong Kong was the first leg of the journey; Panha and Sreyna were wide-eyed as they boarded the airplane for the first time in their lives. Their jaws dropped when they witnessed the height of Hong Kong’s buildings, and their minds raced as they approached the gangway and prepared to come aboard a ship for the first time. Little did they know they’d soon be on the back of the 6th deck enjoying Snack Time with a table of students who come from Colorado, India, Ecuador, Vietnam, and Washington. As they learned about the popularity of peanut butter, they were encouraged to try it with a banana. In return, they described all the different varieties bananas are cooked in their home villages. When Semester at Sea students offered to sing them a popular Adele song, Sreyna politely explained she had never heard the tune before. She was encouraged to sing a Cambodian song, so she happily chose her national anthem and was enthusiastically applauded for her bravery. Over the course of a week, the EGBOK Mission pair was also exposed to the ship’s diverse and friendly staff, attempted to understand the effects of traveling through different time zones, and received a memorable in-depth tour of the galley.
When Panha, the 21 year old restaurant student from the outskirts of Phnom Penh, was asked by a Life-Long Learner what he would like people to know about his country, he paused briefly before explaining clearly, “I want you to know that some people are poor in my country. Without the opportunity of EGBOK Mission in my life, maybe I would stay a farmer. Now, with Semester at Sea, I can see outside of Cambodia to have more dreams in my future.”
The adventure’s finale came during the Semester at Sea field program to Siem Reap with a visit to the EGBOK Mission Learning Center. Here, Panha and Sreyna interacted like old friends with their 20 visitors from the ship. As their EGBOK Mission peers joined them in hosting the afternoon’s event, the Semester at Sea students were surrounded with true Cambodian hospitality: traditional kramma scarves, lotus flowers, and mangoes. The evening ended with a spring roll making demonstration, volleyball game, and the universal activity any group of 20 year olds from around the world can enjoy together: dancing Gangnam style.
EGBOK Mission would like to thank Semester at Sea for supporting the two students and EGBOK Mission volunteer and SAS alum, Molly Daugherty. The experience and inspiration Panha and Sreyna received from their time aboard will change their lives forever.