‘My Projects Abroad Experience’ by Olivia Lee



“My experience with Projects Abroad was incredible, and it taught me so much about myself and the world around me.

I chose to partake in the 2 week ‘Childcare and Community’ project in Cambodia for teens aged 15-18 – just one of the many options available from the company. Projects Abroad offer a vast variety of options, including trips involving volunteering, internships, cultural immersions, and gap years, as well as a range of locations all around the world. They also do age specific groups for 15-18 year olds (‘High School Specials’), and even separate trips exclusive for over 50s! Offering all-year availability with many of their projects being ‘flexi trips’ – where volunteers can be taken in at any time throughout the year – Projects Abroad is a brilliant place to look for fantastic opportunities.
For my project, because it was volunteering (rather than an internship, for example), an application process was not needed, as no academic requirements had to be met – instead, a referral from the college was all that was required to ensure my place on the trip once I had signed up. I assume that the same could be said about most other trips, however you may need to look further into the requirements of the internship placements.
My experience on the trip with this organisation was fantastic. The High School special ensured there was always someone available if anyone needed a hand, and each day was well organised and managed. However, autonomy was also given as much as possible, so there was still ample opportunity to choose our own activities. This allowed us to gain experience in travelling and exploring new and unfamiliar environments independently too, which is a great skill to have!
My trip to Cambodia will always have a special place in my memory, not just because of the incredible experience I had, the wonderful people I met, and the confidence I gained as a result – but also because of the emotions I associate with my time there, and how I managed to find the positives in all of them. Travelling alone was a nerve-wracking experience, and I worried about whether or not I would make friends when I arrived, as anyone would. But what I found instead, is that whilst I made close connections with the likeminded people on the trip (it is incredible how much a group of people you didn’t know at all when a trip starts can feel like family two weeks later!), I also gained a deeper understanding of myself and my own resilience, allowing me to enjoy the moments of the trip I had in solitude to reflect and pause. The day we went to explore Angkor Wat sticks out to me in this sense – I chose a quiet spot to enjoy the beauty of the sunrise in the morning, and reflect on what got me here, feeling so proud and so emotional, yet very much at peace… then only a few hours later I was enjoying a delicious lunch and exploring more temples excitedly with my friends! These are the kinds of memories that Cambodia gave me that cannot be replaced.
As well as this, learning the history of the Khmer Rouge through visiting the killing fields and S-21 prison was an extremely visceral and impactful part of my trip, particularly as in the previous week we had been working closely alongside the children and teachers in the school where our placement was located. I had gained a fondness and attachment to the children and the Khmer people in general at this point, and the day we learnt the history of the Khmer Rouge and those following were incredibly poignant as a result. I was glad I got the opportunity to learn about the atrocities of the genocide and it’s significance to the country, as well as the ways in which its effect is still felt, and I considered learning about this to be of great importance. I also, perversely, felt grateful that I was so warmly welcomed and treated with such kindness and respect by the Khmer people from the moment I arrived, that learning about what they experienced caused me to feel so deeply affected and upset. I felt so heartbroken because of how special Cambodia had become to me, and that is beautiful.
My experience in Cambodia was an exciting, insightful, joyous and fantastically unforgettable experience. Although there were of course moments of sadness, as there will be visiting any country with a troubled past, my memories of the trip are overwhelmingly positive, and it is something I would wholeheartedly and absolutely recommend to anyone considering something similar. I am still friends with some of the people I met on my trip, which goes to show the strength of the bonds you build with others. But ultimately, the experience, confidence and skills I gained within myself is what Cambodia gifted me – and these are not things that can be taken away, nor can they be replicated.”