Australian Catholic University 2017

Midwifery, Cambodia Phnom Penh

When we first arrived into Phnom Penh International Airport, it was easy to find Sorn, the Programme Manager, who was waiting for us at the gate. We got back to the house later than expected as our flight had been delayed, however we still arrived early evening and got to have dinner and meet all the other students.

After a day travelling, we were tired but so excited for the next day, so we went straight to bed! The next day, we had our city orientation, which was very useful — we got to visit the local markets, have lunch with the other students and get our local sim cards. It was a great way to get settled into the area. Sorn was really helpful showing us around and helping us get ready for the weeks to come!

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Phnom Penh as a city is so busy, and huge. Everyone is very friendly, welcoming and interested in us. We never felt unsafe whilst we were there, and took the same precautions as we would at home. We chose Cambodia as our destination, but we also considered the Philippines and Nepal. In the end we all decided Cambodia was where we’d always wanted to go! The country was even better than we expected!

Before we arrived at the Work the World house, we travelled around Cambodia, which was both easy and amazing. Starting in Hanoi, we enjoyed Cambodian food, museums and soaked up the culture. We enjoyed street food tours, saw the pagodas, visiting the national parks, exploring caves, kayaking and snorkeling. Everything was easy to organise and very cheap.

Back in Phnom Penh, we enjoyed the city and its unique culture. There was loads of traffic and noise, but it was easy to jump on a bus and find a nearby destination to relax. We went to the movies, the local markets and even immersed ourselves in some educational activities, such as visiting the Killing Fields museum; it was shocking but eye-opening, and helped us understand Cambodia’s history. We also visited the incredible Angkor Wat, a  stunning jungle temple (the world’s largest religious monument).

Life in the Work the World house was so much fun. We made a really great group of friends, and always looked forward to going back to the house after a long day. We had so many laughs. Every night, we’d have dinner together, and then meet up for lunch at the hospital. It was easy to make friends but also nice to have your own space to chill out in the house so we could do our own thing if we wanted. The best part of sharing with other students was being able to chat to people who could relate and were in the same situation as us. We also learnt about their healthcare systems, too; whether they were from the UK, USA or another country, it was fascinating to get a new insight in that respect, too.

Yellow kayak on turquoise sea water amongst the rocks of Halong Bay

The Work the World staff were so lovely and really nice, they felt like family. Everyone cared so much and always went to extra effort. For example, one night we needed a tuk tuk so the guard went out on his bike to hail two tuk tuks for us because there was none on the street! We were blown away by how hard working Cambodian people are. The house chef put a lot of effort into food and cared about what we thought, often asking us what we’d like to eat and making us our favourite breakfast. She even helped us get our clothes laundered when we weren’t sure where to go. It was Shekinah’s birthday whilst we were in the house, so the Work the World team helped us have a party for her, complete with cake!

In the hospital, we saw some very difficult and challenging situations in particular women giving birth and all the things associated. It made us realise we needed to consider what type of midwives we want to be when we go home — the whole experience shaped us and how we consider our future careers.

We noticed cultural differences between the Cambodian hospital staff, and Australian staff we’d met at home. They all eat lunch together at the same time, and always offer to share their food with us.  All the staff seem to be friends with one another, and are very friendly and welcoming. Although a hierarchy was in place, there was a real communal culture, but no stigma or division as everyone worked together. Whereas at home, there's segregation in that senior staff have their own office and canteen. Everyone was happy to welcome and have us as part of their team — it’s just Cambodian culture. Doctors are extremely dedicated to their job; they often work their shift at hospital and then go to private hospital to do another shift. They work 16 hours a day 6 days a week. We think this is why they remained so social and friendly at work, as often it’s their social life, too!

Tourists cycling in the countryside at Vang Vieng, Vientiane Province, Laos.

We never felt unwanted or in the way in the hospital, and never felt out of place after the first day. Even on the first day, everyone would smile and everyone would want to teach and communicate with us, they love when you try speaking the local language too! They made a lot of effort and were very helpful.

Our advice for the hospital would be to go where the action is. Make an effort to learn the language as it can be a barrier between yourself and the staff and patients. Finally, don’t be nervous to ask if you want to see something, the Cambodian staff will always make sure to try to accommodate.

don’t be nervous to ask if you want to see something, the Cambodian staff will always make sure to try to accommodate.

To afford our trip, we applied for scholarships at our university and were awarded with the Dean’s Grant, which was $500 each. You’re able to use it for travel, so long as it’s something educational and related to university work; it really made a big difference. 

The three of us had an amazing time in Cambodia with Work the World. One thing that we will all remember about Cambodia is how kind and friendly everyone is.

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