Two Lenses on Cambodia

CATEGORY: Civic Engagement, Academics
TYPE: Photos, Articles
RELATED PROGRAMS: Economics, Religious Studies

In January, 12 students journeyed to Cambodia to visit such diverse sites as Angkor Wat, a 12th-century temple complex; garment factories of Phnom Penh; the Cambodian World Bank Headquarters; and the Killing Fields. The three-week study trip was led by Professors Erik Davis (religious studies) and Raymond Robertson (economics). 

“It’s two sides of the same coin,” said Emma Lynn ’13 (Mt. Vernon, Wash.), about looking at development in the Southeast Asian kingdom through both an economic and anthropological lens. 

Lynn is a religious studies and music major whose long-term goal is to become an opera singer. She originally signed up for the trip based on her interest in Buddhism, but was surprised in Phnom Penh by a newfound interest in issues of economic development—specifically garment factories and Better Factories Cambodia, a program that supports healthy factory working conditions. 

“It’s easy to look only at potentially negative impacts of development such as pollution and the inevitable change it brings to indigenous traditions,” says Lynn, “and turn a blind eye to its positive effects such as raising the standard of living and access to health care.”

Anna Graziano ’13 (St. Paul), an economics major, admits she was a bit outside her comfort zone, but she gamely climbed around Angkor Wat (sometimes on all fours), rode in tuk tuks (motorized rickshaws), and dealt with the humid heat of Cambodia, where January temperatures often exceeded 90 degrees. She considered any inconvenience well worth it.

“Both professors are so amazing,” says Graziano. “They talked to us all the time—not only during lectures—and made us feel like equals.”

Robertson serves on advisory committees to both the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the State Department. In Phnom Penh, he spoke about factory working conditions at a large conference introducing his World-Bank-published book to an audience that included Cambodia’s secretary of state. Equally impressive is Davis’s knowledge of Cambodian culture. Having lived in Cambodia from 2003 to 2006, he speaks fluent Khmer and has published a number of articles on Cambodian religion and ritual.

Graziano’s dream job is to one day return to Cambodia as a buyer to do business with the kind of factory she visited. On July 1 she launches her career in business as a project manager for Epic, a health care software company in Madison, Wis.

PUBLISHED: 03/07/2013