College Trip to Cambodia Changes Lives

Posted By Josh Nelson

Ms. Clinton with one of her students. Photo submitted by Ms. Clinton.

Lee University has an interesting requirement for their students, and it changed MacKenzie Clinton’s life in ways she never expected.

“As a part of Lee, you have to do what is called a ‘cross-cultural experience, meaning you have to travel abroad from anywhere from 10 days to a full semester,” Clinton, a 2017 graduate of the university, told the Gallatin Noon Rotary Club on Thursday. “I was an (international) business major, so I ended up going with the business department, and so for two weeks, we were in Cambodia.”

While there, the students worked with an organization called “People for Care and Learning.” It would change her life.

“It was never my intent to go and and live across seas, especially for a year on the other side of the world,” Clinton said. “But (during my college trip), I absolutely fell in love with the people there.”

After she came back to Tennessee, Clinton had the opportunity after graduation to return to Cambodia for a full year through People for Care and Learning, but she was not sure if she should take the leap.

“I was talking myself through this and praying about this, and I was on the edge…I was very scared,” she said. “It was kind of a terrifying decision because I’ve never lived anywhere outside of Tennessee.”

But Clinton felt God called her to return to Cambodia, so she did.

“I headed to Cambodia not really knowing anyone there,” she said. “One of the biggest things I did there was teach English. The Cambodian people teach the lower levels of English and they have foreigners teach the upper levels.”

Clinton also worked in a children’s home.

“They are very, very dear to my heart,” she said before talking about what she found to be odd behaviors. “They love to wash each other’s hair, which was very strange to me in the beginning…I have nails, and most of them do not, and they love head scratches.”

She then transitioned to stories about how children like to torture people with things for which the target person has fear. She started off with a picture of a boy named “Joshua” (just like in our Spanish classes where you assume a Spanish name, they assume an English name) who appeared to be 10-12 years old and whom was holding a snake in the picture.

“I thought the snake was dead,” Clinton recounted. “So, Joshua said, ‘Here, MacKenzie, take it.’ Um, it was not dead. He didn’t let go of it’s head, so nothing happened, but if they know you are scared of something they will torture you.”

Clinton also talked about the kids using bugs the size of a woman’s hands for the same purpose.

“They have these huge pinchers, and they will easily draw blood,” she said. “They will clip them to your hair or your shirt or something and you have to act like everything is okay or they’ll continue.”

During the question-and-answer session after Clinton’s presentation, she talked about the challenges of teaching English as a second language, Cambodia’s religion (they are primarily Buddhist), what it was like to be a Christian in their country, how Cambodia is behind other Asian countries in development because they are missing a generation due to genocide, how she ate and the quality of food, and – this was really interesting – how they have their own currency for money but also use the US dollar and how they will not use any paper bills from the US which are wrinkled or torn.

Clinton said she will be returning to Cambodia in late March to resume her work and love of the Cambodian people.

To hear Ms. Clinton’s full presentation, click on the link below.

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