Bryce Fricklas is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder in international affairs and peace and conflict studies. He recently spent three months volunteering at the “advancing community rights” Volunteer Abroad in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Before becoming a UBELONG Volunteer in Cambodia, Bryce studied in Europe and traveled to China, and volunteered in the US on issues ranging from environmental protection to HIV/AIDS awareness and human trafficking. Bryce is an extraordinary individual who is determined to make a difference. Fresh from Cambodia, he just started volunteering with Peace Corps in Senegal.
What motivated you to seek this volunteer opportunity in Cambodia?
I chose to volunteer because I believed that experiencing NGO work firsthand would give me valuable insight into how development and human rights efforts work in developing areas. I recently graduated with a degree in international affairs and a certificate in peace and conflict studies, and I am interested in pursuing a career related to the work that was available to me in Cambodia. I had visited Asia as a teenager and was eager to return and experience a new culture. Cambodia was suggested to me because it is a key location for human rights work in Southeast Asia.
What impact did you make as a volunteer?
Most of my work centered around writing concept notes and project proposals, as well as annual reports. These documents are of particular interest to donors potentially willing to provide funding for projects. I went out to see my hosting organization’s beneficiaries to get an understanding of their needs, and then worked on projects for education and vocational training for people in disadvantaged communities.
If you could give three pieces of advice on volunteering in Cambodia, what would they be?
I think it is important that volunteers be flexible in their understanding of the work that is expected of them. Development and human rights work in Cambodia can be chaotic, so volunteering is rarely as straightforward as people expect it to be at first. Volunteers need to adjust to the demands of the organizations they’re placed at so that their skills can be utilized most effectively.
I recommend that volunteers immerse themselves in the local culture as much as possible. To get the most out of the volunteering experience, it is important to gain an understanding of how Cambodians live, as well as how they see development in their country. This means socializing with staff at their placements and the volunteer house. It is also valuable to speak with other locals. Reading and watching films about Cambodia’s culture and the problems it currently faces can also be valuable in understanding Cambodian culture.
It is important to keep calm and be mindful of one’s actions in Cambodia. Typically if there is a cultural misunderstanding or some kind of tension, it is you who needs to adjust, not the other person. As a volunteer, you are there to learn how things work within Cambodian society, and the more open your are to Cambodian perspectives, the more you will grow as a volunteer and person.
What did you learn about yourself in Cambodia?
In Cambodia I learned the value of being patient in my dealings with Cambodians and people of other cultures. Cross-cultural interactions are opportunities to learn about other people’s perspectives, and the more effort you put into understanding the other person’s perspective, the more rewarding the experience is. I also gained confidence in my abilities in developing human rights projects.