Gretchen Wesche E-mails NGO & Ends Up in Cambodia

Gretchen Wesche is currently completing MA degrees in International Relations from the Maxwell School and Teaching & Curriculum from the School of Education. She completed her summer internship with the South East Asia and China regional office for Aide et Action in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and will graduate in the spring of 2017.

While I have known since coming to Maxwell that I wanted to spend my summer internship abroad, going to Cambodia was a surprise. My focus had been to secure an internship in South Asia, as I have been studying the region and Hindi/Urdu as a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow for the past year. Due to previous language study and work with French, Francophone Africa was also a possibility.

However, it was a cold email I sent to the South East Asia/China office of Aide et Action, an educational NGO, that brought back my first response. After a short skype interview, I started making plans for the summer (sometimes drifting off to the weekend trips I would take, which both helped me get through exam time and severely distracted me from them!).

In the early weeks of my internship, I rode a tuk tuk with my roommate to work. Later I switched to riding (definitely not driving!) a moto.

In the early weeks of my internship, I rode a tuk tuk with my roommate to work. Later I switched to riding (definitely not driving!) a moto.

My internship was with the South East Asia/China regional office for the NGO called Aide et Action. Since Aide et Action works primarily in education, it seemed a perfect fit for my academic and professional goals (in addition to my MAIR degree at Maxwell, I am also pursuing a Master’s in Teaching and Curriculum at the School of Education). My research project in preprimary education and side work in ICT (information and communications technology), however, offered a chance to learn and work with subtopics outside my comfort zone.

In addition to my main project of producing a report evaluating early childhood care and education (ECCE) projects in the region, for which I did mostly desk research and conducted interviews with country office staff, I also contributed to the regional team’s work in some other endeavors. The most memorable side project was my chance early on to take a field visit with my supervisor and a program assistant to talk to teachers, students, and parents about Aide et Action’s new educational app suite, KhmerLEARN. It was exactly the kind of thing I had hoped I’d be doing—visiting schools, talking to stakeholders, and working with them to help students learn better. I’m really excited to see this app continue to develop and encourage a culture of reading and writing not just in Cambodia but also the region. This trip to the field was also exciting because it was my first chance to really apply some of the skills I’d learned at Maxwell while also giving me a lot to ponder in terms of the goals I have for my studies this final year.

A poster I found on a school visit demystifying greetings for preschool kids…and unsure graduate students.

A poster I found on a school visit demystifying greetings for preschool kids…and unsure graduate students.

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that especially if you go abroad, the Maxwell network is definitely worth tapping into. One of the other MAIR students in my cohort grew up in Phnom Penh and put me in touch with her sister. Besides making a great iced coffee at her shop, having a local connection helped make Phnom Penh even more welcoming. Another friend used to travel to the city quite frequently for work and recommended places to eat and visit that were among my favorites by the end of the summer. I was also able to travel a bit and met in Viet Nam with another classmate also interning in South East Asia along with a friend of another member of our cohort.

Phivear, the sister of a classmate from Phnom Penh, introduced me to her favorite spot for hotpot.

Phivear, the sister of a classmate from Phnom Penh, introduced me to her favorite spot for hotpot.

Outside of my internship, I also got a chance to visit the workshop for one of my favorite artisans at Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade artisan store I have volunteered with for about five years. They welcomed me to their store and allowed me to spend several days interviewing staff members and artisans for a photo story for my local store. Rajana is a Cambodian-run social enterprise that connects artisans to markets, pays a fair wage, and encourages the continuing revival and growth of Cambodian artistic traditions through sustainable livelihoods. They are perhaps best-known in the States for their “bombshell jewelry”—vestiges of the wars refashioned to symbolize remembrance and new hope.

In front of Ten Thousand Villages, Phnom Penh

In front of Ten Thousand Villages, Phnom Penh

View from Aide et Action office, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

View from Aide et Action office, Phnom Penh, Cambodia