"My participation in these SEAP programs prevented me from confining myself to tourist attractions. I was able to go beyond what is typically seen and, instead, visit communities. The experiences taught me not to be passive and emphasized the importance of engaging with those I meet from different countries in order to learn about their traditions and their lives"
Becoming a Global Citizen
by Gail Fletcher, undergraduate in history and government and SEAP Ambassador
Growing up in South Florida, I was constantly exposed to Latin American and Caribbean cultures but had very little exposure to Asian cultures. My knowledge of Southeast Asia went only as far as my understanding that Thai food was really, really good. Therefore, when I came to Cornell I sought to learn about a region in which I was most unfamiliar and began to immerse myself in Southeast Asian studies. I quickly became enthralled.
Two programs with course components, Global Citizenship and Sustainability, and Climate Change Awareness and Service Learning in the Mekong Delta, led me to Thailand and Vietnam. During my time in the two programs, I had unique opportunities to meet with Thai and Vietnamese farmers and government officials and talk to them about how they are attempting to adapt in the face of climate change. I learned not only of their resiliency, but also how the forces of environmental degradation have become increasingly more difficult to overcome. My experiences threw me into intense moments of reflection. I gained greater appreciation of all that I consumed after I experienced how painstakingly difficult it is to harvest crops.
I began to think more critically about my own sustainability efforts after I witnessed the resourcefulness of those in the rural communities that I visited. These experiences enabled me to build cross-cultural connections, working alongside university students from Thailand and Vietnam who I am proud to call my friends.
My time in Southeast Asia also taught me the value of field experiences, especially through participating in the Cornell in Cambodia course. I would not have been able to attend a war tribunal on the Cambodian genocide and witness the fragility of a perpetrator who orchestrated something so horrific and evil. I also would never have been able to sit alongside groups of Cambodian school children, who were also at the tribunal, and observe how the country is striving to ensure that future generations do not forget its dark past. I would not have been able to see all of the flags flying around the country with the image of Angkor Wat, expressing Cambodian pride for their past. I was able to hear a multitude of perspectives and stories that I could never have truly garnered from a textbook.
My participation in these SEAP programs prevented me from confining myself to tourist attractions. I was able to go beyond what is typically seen and, instead, visit communities. The experiences taught me not to be passive and emphasized the importance of engaging with those I meet from different countries in order to learn about their traditions and their lives.
I never thought I would be able to do all of these things. If someone had told me as a freshman that I would have immersive experiences in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam by the end of my time at Cornell, I would not have believed them. My experiences in Southeast Asia crystalized my passions for the environment and international development. I will utilize all that I have learned from the programs in my future endeavors in these two fields.
My relationship with Southeast Asia continues in Ithaca. I enjoy attending the many events hosted by SEAP. In addition to learning about the region, I have been able to relax to the gamelan music of Indonesia and taste the many desserts of the Philippines at these events. My knowledge of Southeast Asia has greatly expanded during my time at Cornell.
In an effort to give back to the program that has provided me with so much, I became a SEAP Ambassador in order to share with other undergraduates all that the region has to offer. I find it very exciting to communicate to undergraduates what the region has to offer and to entice them to embark upon journeys to countries that they may initially overlook. The Southeast Asia program has fostered a strong community that I feel lucky to be a part of.