We finished presenting. I was a tad disappointed that many of the students were not present, especially since we were giving them concrete information. Just yesterday, I was reflecting on the fact that the RUPP students are undergraduates, and broadly speaking, UG students seem to desire directives and concrete information – something to grab onto and feel a sense of mastery in understanding. The RUPP students vary in age and life experiences and possess an honest thirst for knowledge that I have not seen in any group of students in a long while. Presenting for these students made me feel inspired. I experienced a “felt knowledge” of my privilege in being educated. Cambodia’s history account for the limited resourced in education. It explained why students seemed to hang onto the words of the presenters (that always makes me nervous). The students are really there to learn, and they take it seriously. And I say this recognizing that it is not the case for every individual in the room – in every classroom there are those who are more preoccupied with their plans for dinner or the weekend. Nonetheless, it felt to me that generally speaking, Khmer students crave leadership, work hard and possess an honest humble spirit. It’s an honor to be amongst them.
My internal process during our presentation was more about regulating my negative internal dialogue – how is this going? Am I taking up too much space? Not enough? I don’t know how to respond to that question. Thanks for jumping in Letty. Should I move around the room more? Make a joke? Wait, humor doesn’t translate well and I don’t want to create awkwardness. Are the bruises on my legs noticeable? Why did I have to go get that foot massage last night and wear a dress this morning? I bruise like a peach. Am I anemic again? Ah well, it’s probably going fine.
I was glad that Alicia and I went with our idea to draw out our presentation. I am accustomed to using Powerpoints in the U.S. In the world of academia, powerpoints are expected. Slide after slide of bullet points and clipart or stolen google images that serve to illustrate someone’s “important points…” technology’s contribution to rote learning. As an aside, earlier this year I, along with my CSU counterparts (grant managers), were gifted a handbook on how to powerpoint (yes, I just made it a verb) by the CSU Chancellor’s office. I’ve seen many ppts – very few have been captivating for longer than 7 minutes (mine included). This was the Chancellor’s attempt to develop uniformity in our presentations. A subtle hint to those who may be ppt challenged or who just don’t care. And while I was appreciative at the time, I grew gradually annoyed at the suggestion that our creativity needed to be uniform. It reminded me of a student at our spoken word poetry workshop this year who recounted her professor’s critique in her classical poetry class when he attempted to steer her creativity by requesting that she include more of something written by someone else and less of her. But I digress.
We broke for lunch and facilitated our last group. During lunch, I took some time away from the group and walked up to the rooftop of the Engineering building on my own. I watched the Khmer students. I watched them watch me. I walked over to the edge of the building and looked down. I imagined the horrific deaths. The evil that was present just a few short decades ago. The evil that is still present now in different parts of the world. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like being rushed up the flights of stairs knowing I would die in a matter of seconds. I would be killed because I was educated. Because education meant that I had a free mind. And my freedom made people afraid and so they were going to kill me.
It’s like Yoda said:
Man, how the world has suffered.
The presence of those fallen are around.
I descended and made my way over to the classroom where we would meet our group. Our last group meeting was quite chaotic. All were present (minus the Australian volunteer who was there for Day 1). We needed to scramble to find a meeting place. Our interpreter wasn’t there for the first 10 minutes and we struggled to communicate the fish bowl idea with our group members, trying not to let our linguistic impotence paralyze us. We exhaled a sigh of relief when Plaktin, our dutiful interpreter, found us.
The fish bowl was very powerful. I especially enjoyed when Emily gave feedback. Also moving was when Alicia allowed herself to be transparent with the group. And when Jason offered such genuine positive feedback to the one group member with whom I had difficulty connecting. I marveled at the progress the group made. Day 1 was very much focused on the academic piece of group therapy. All the questions were about understanding group (content) and just 3 days and 8 hours later, the group had moved through most of the stages and developed a bond and connection superseding cultural differences and language barriers. My faith in intercultural connection was heightened. These hours together felt meaningful, moving and spiritual. The group process allowed for authenticity and greater understanding between human beings and human experiences that may never have been reached without this assignment. I was filled with gratitude for all the words exchanged, tears cried, hugs given, and stories told. Gratitude.
Throughout these days, I have been conscious of the messages our group communicates, whether directly or not, about therapy, psychology, education, about ourselves, about what we think we know about them, and what we do with what we think we know. I watched how the Khmer people respond to us, what is presented on the outside and what is happening on the inside. I wait for congruence.
My own personal hangup is about how to teach with honor for the host culture, and cautioning Americanizing. Are we unintentionally teaching that our way of doing therapy is the right way? Are we finding ways to empower? Perhaps we need to learn more from them. The clinical work is being done in Cambodia already. Data has been collected… when will it be time for recursion to take place? When can we learn from them as well?
I end this day feeling fulfilled. Filled with questions and all the while reflecting on my own process. What could I have done better? What did I learn about others? About myself? What am I proud of? I am filled with joy and appreciation for the experience as it has helped me along my personal path of truth seeking and doing the heart’s work. Thank you all.