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Cambodian encounters: Helping the recovery

  • Cambodian encounterProfessor Rahtz combines his research on Cambodia with personal interaction.

    Cambodian encounter
  • Cambodian encounterUndergraduates Ryan Miller and Alice Hahn returned this summer to teach English to Cambodian youth.

    Cambodian encounter
  • Cambodian encounterMBA student Tom Feist, a U.S. webmaster, helped connect Cambodian teachers with the larger world through the Internet.

    Cambodian encounter

When marketing professor Don Rahtz returned to Cambodia this summer with three students, the objectives were personal. Six months earlier, the group had visited Southeast Asia as part of the professor’s global business immersion class that addresses cultural issues at the corporate, national and transnational levels. The group returned to take care of what was, according to Alice Hahn (’09), Ryan Miller (’09) and Tom Feist (flex MBA program), “unfinished business.”

For the students, the unfinished business involved Wat Bo Primary School. During the first visit, they were onsite a short time—“less than half a day,” according to Feist. Given the enthusiasm for learning they encountered, the students envisioned the impact they could make if given a week. The undergraduates proposed to return and teach English; Feist, a Webmaster at Tidewater Community College, wanted to help integrate technology into the classroom.

When the students approached Rahtz, he eagerly took them up on their suggestions. His unfinished business, after-all, is twofold and ongoing. First, his research interests concerning emerging economies have taken him to Cambodia numerous times during the past decade. Not only has he seen the country’s people come “Back from Zero,” he has contributed to the their progress through his input into tourism strategies. Second, having seen the results of executives making decisions absent contextual understandings, he believes such cross-cultural immersions are necessary in preparing business students at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary. “I can talk in class and lecture and tell students what things are like on the other side of the world,” he said, “but if you don’t walk down the street—see it, smell it—you can’t really understand it.”

Rahtz also knows such exposures are apt to change his students, just as Cambodia has changed him. He has seen students refocus their lives. “I’ve had them come back and say, ‘I’m going to join the Peace Corps,’” he said.

Feist said that he could not forget Cambodia, even if he wanted to. He receives e-mails almost daily. They read,  “‘Hi, teacher. How are you?’ in all sorts of broken English,” Feist said.

Recently he responded to them on the Mason School-sponsored blog.

To my students,
I had a lot of fun in Siem Reap. Your gifts were very kind. The shirt, the scarf, and the Apsara dancer statue were all very nice. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I miss you all very much. Please tell your students, the kids, in the English classes that Mr. Tom says hello and misses them, too!

Related content
Mason School story: Cambodian outreach experience helps rebuild a society;
First-person reports: Cambodian blogs by Alice Hahn, Ryan Miller and Tom Feist.