Last week I wrote an extensive post after visiting the National Library. I did not receive much feedback (positive or negative) on the post, so that must mean I nailed it, or got everything wrong and no one’s courageous enough to tell me. Either way, I’ll take the silence as a good thing and sprinkle some blame on the fact that the post is huge. Since it is.
This week I’m sitting here in Sihanoukville, which I’m visiting with my friend Suzanne, an Indiana librarian, thinking about the past quarter. It’s been extremely short here, and it’s going to feel the same way at the end of two weeks when my internship is formally over. There is a small chance that I’ll be able to work part-time for the project to train a future librarian, but I do not know what the chance of that is. I’m also going to hopefully be starting work at FCC as a part-time marketer, and a school I applied to work at earlier since being here reached out to me again about employment there. So there are opportunities, is what it comes down to. And I really look forward to making the most of them.
But for now I’m in this internship, and it’s a great internship. One thing that being in Cambodia, both as an intern at ODC but also as an “expat” who has moved and set-up-shop on foreign soil is what it means to be international. Among the many flaws of Americans is the lack of communicating with and understanding the relationship the United States has with its neighbors, Mexico and Canada. My generalizing aside, it’s mostly a question of the many, many people who do not think about the other countries the United States interacts with and is closely related to based on geography, and this is a huge issue. I really started to get a better understanding of the “international paradigm” when I came here, because questions of neighboring interests (Vietnam and Thailand) and regional interests (ASEAN, China, Singapore, for a few examples) are daily conversations.
What does it means to think from an international perspective? What implications does it hold to go beyond the boundaries of your own country, when thinking about daily life, social building blocks, human rights, and libraries? Often the term “melting pot” gets applied to cities like New York and Los Angeles, or in the case of Southeast Asia, the city-country Singapore. Every city by default means there are going to be a series of cultures getting melted into each other. In the case of Cambodia, there’s a lot of migration to and from nearby countries. There is also a lot of investment from countries like China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. There are significant people doing significant things from Western countries as well, and that goes above and beyond the NGO sphere.
“International” not only means keeping up to date with international relations, migrations and those people who have come from another place to live in the country of question, and import-export. International is also an extension of multiculturalism, tolerance for new ideas, things, and cultures. To be “international” means confronting many of the challenges of bringing multiple peoples from multiple countries together.
In the United States there is often angst about illegal immigration coming into the country from Mexico, and it dampens a lot of the potential for a cultural relationship due to grotesque generalizations and depressing elitism. There are issues in Cambodia with illegal Vietnamese immigrants, as well, and as I’ve seen, a lot of aggression toward the Vietnamese that is partially inspired by the Cambodian government and their relationship to the Vietnamese government and investors. There’s aggression toward Thailand as well, fueled by some territorial grievances, as well as illegal logging that has been going on steadily over and beyond the past few decades.
I feel privileged and enlightened to be here, to engage in conversations that involve a much higher degree of global awareness than most of my situations when I was in the United State. The USA is so big that it makes sense for the conversation to be within and about itself; however, things are far more exciting when your perspective expands. As a library “person,” I find any fuel for my interests and my cultural engagement to be positive. In the case of ODC, development is often related to international and regional interests, which means I’m hooked into the International. When I was with the Audubon Center, I found catalog records as close as Australia, which is significantly international.
One of those mantras I’ve been repeating is: you’re not going to know everything. And it’s true: to claim expertise on the many substantial topics and ideas floating around in contemporary Cambodia is impossible at only three months here. The landscape is pretty well painted out, but the details and that logical tree explaining to me how all the pieces fit together has yet to be crafted, consumed, and digested.
Working with the resources and actively engaging other people at ODC, and going off on the many adventures I have and seeing the country for what it is . . . these things have supported my own personal “open development” here in Cambodia, and getting to stay in Cambodia for another internship from January through March will be a real treat. It’s all about cross-pollinating one’s mind with knowledge from various information sources. Once that is accomplished, over time, the benefits will emerge and truly reward. Fortunately, though, the first step has been taken: knowing that the international perspective can really emerge and become a phenomenal tool is realized and will continue to propel me forward in life.