It’s been a uniquely different feel to this year’s trip. I’m conflicted as I learn more about our students’ personal and family lives. I find myself at an impasse. Wanting to know more, to do more and wanting to remain oblivious to protect myself, to remain safe. It’s difficult to describe the internal –ethical, moral, emotional – conflicts tugging at me. As I travel, things seem to exist in complex simplicity and simple complexities. And then, I’m reminded again of my privilege. I get to leave – to go home and take a break from this reality and immerse myself in my comfortable Minnesota life. And I do miss and want to come home soon. I want kiss my children, hold my best friend and just feel the cold Minnesota air on my face. There’s comfort in it.

A thought appears – next year will be my last year leading a service group. I smile and reassure myself that this is the best direction. And then something unexpected happens. Our group met Oum (Elder Uncle) a former soldier who fought against the Khmer Rouge regime. His story captivated me. It made me want to cry as thoughts of my parents and my people pulsed through my body.

We couldn’t even bury our dead. We had to leave them in the fields. When the fighting got intense, sometimes, I found myself sleeping next to dead comrades. I became numb to the killing, horror and suffering.

As he shared his story, he paused several times, overwhelmed with emotions. I realize that this may be one of the few times that anyone simply wanted to hear his story. I am so humbled by this man and reminded again of why I chose to engage in this work. Learning others’ stories and entangling ourselves in the lives other can be emotionally draining but the ah-ha moments can change us, our view of the world. I am eager to go home and also wanting to learning more about our students’ lives…Thank you, Oum, for the reminder.


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