Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)
  Institute of Foreign Languages, RUPP

The ASK (Advanced Study of Khmer) program provided an opportunity for a number of students of Khmer language to attend a four-week language course in Cambodia during the summer. Our group was a mix of undergraduates, graduate students and professionals from a variety of backgrounds. Although many of the students had prior experience in Cambodia, this program offered new opportunities and perspectives for each of us. As a group, we learned together, stayed together, ate together and explored together. We stayed in an apartment building in the center of town and took a ten-minute daily bus ride to the University. For meals, we sometimes went out to eat in groups or individually, and sometimes we ate at home. Our apartment had a kitchen, but it was a treat to go out to eat the variety of Cambodian foods that aren't available anywhere else. In our free time, we often went exploring the markets or other attractions around the city such as the palace, temples, museums and galleries. Most of our time was spent, however, involved with the activities of the program. These include the intensive language study at the University, afternoon field trips in Phnom Penh, and weekend trips outside of the city.

Although the language study may have been somewhat exhausting at times, I found this intensive focus on the language to be helpful in training my mind to think in Khmer. We began the four-hour class at seven thirty each morning at the Institute of Foreign Languages of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. The nine students (including undergraduates, graduate students and professionals) were divided into two levels, assigned to either book three or book four of the four-book Cambodian for Foreigners series. However, both books proved to be too simple for the students' level and the classes were instead improvised, focusing on discussion and newspaper reading for the upper level and the reading of books three and four as well as newspaper reading for the lower level. I experienced problems in comprehension during the discussions and therefore eventually switched to the lower level which allowed me to be more active in class. Both classes, however, were able to interact with each other regularly during film-viewing activities and presentations of Cambodian students. 

In addition to language study, the program provided a great opportunity to become acquainted with institutions of higher education and other academic centers in Cambodia. Afternoons, following language study, were generally spent visiting certain locations around Phnom Penh in which a tour of the facilities had been arranged and we were able to meet with the directors and staff and ask questions. Dr. Chhany Sak-Humphry here at UHM deserves much of the credit for organizing all of these activities. We were given tours of the top research centers of Cambodia, including the National Library and the Buddhist Institute. We also toured the Royal Academy and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, among the country's elite educational facilities. Some of the most interesting locations that we visited were the various NGOs. These included the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an NGO dealing with the documentation of the civil war and genocide, the Khmer Institute for Democracy, an NGO supporting democracy in Cambodia, the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, an NGO involved in various development projects, and many others. Through these tours, we obtained an exposure to the premier academic and research facilities of Cambodia that would not have been possible without this program. The knowledge that we have gained through visiting these locations is invaluable for possible future research or study in the country. Although I have spent time in the country previous to the program, I never felt so aware or so comfortable with the facilities as I do now.

While the weekdays proved to be hard work for all of us, the weekends provided a lot of fun. Each weekend our entire group made a trip outside of the city to sites of cultural and historic significance. Professors from the University accompanied us on these trips and provided background information and lectures on the history of the sites. We made trips to Phnom Da and Angkor Borei, a sixth century temple and archeological site, temples and an ancient city at Longveak, the origin of significant Cambodian folklore, a traditional weaving demonstration, a performance of Cambodian traditional theater and Kirirom National Park, a pristine wilderness in the mountains south of Phnom Penh. These activities allowed us to explore outside of the city and learn about Cambodian culture and history in an applied and structured manner. 

All in all, the program proved to be an excellent learning opportunity, not just of the language, but of the culture, history, the methods of operation of Cambodian institutions and of the resources available for research and learning in Phnom Penh. This program offers an opportunity not to be missed for students of Khmer language. Nowhere else can one gain the experience necessary for understanding more about the culture and language than in the country itself. The ASK program offers Khmer language students a structured orientation and introduction to multiple levels of Cambodian society, culture, and academic institutions.

Lukas Wettstein

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This website is produced by Dr. Chhany Sak-Humphry (sak@hawaii.edu)
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