Volunteer Tom Conner: The Next Phase

Volunteer Tom Conner: The Next Phase

By
Tom Conner
Friend of SSI
This article was originally published on Kari Grady-Grossman's blog on 09/02/2014

Last summer I worked as volunteer at the SSI Leadership Academy outside Phnom Penh and had a very good experience. School starts up again in a few days and for the first time in many years I kind of dread going back to the same old routine. So, inspired by my experience last summer and to give my students a flavor of daily life in an emerging nation in Southeast Asia I have decided to implement a section on Cambodia in all of my courses.


My language students at St. Norbert College will be given an opportunity to volunteer as language partners of SSI students back in Phnom Penh, Skyping once a week or so. In my advanced French civilization class a section on French colonialism will focus on the transition of Cambodia from the relative calm of the colonial world to the chaos following in the wake of the French departure. In addition, I am in the beginning stages of planning a three-week immersion trip to Cambodia next summer. It remains to be seen if I can secure permission from College administration. Parents are awfully squeamish these days (not without reason) and, not knowing much about the outside world, naturally assume the worst. And who can blame them, which is precisely why their children need to travel but stay safe and out of harm's way.

Still, Cambodia today is a far cry from what it was and exercising normal caution should be enough to ensure personal safety. Of course, I must also recruit enough students to make this trip economically feasible. But I remain guardedly optimistic provided I can include some kind of service component. Service Learning (SL) is all the rage today and inspires a number of student trips both domestic and international. Student participants will have an opportunity to visit tourist sites, such as Angkor Wat and follow in Indiana Jones' footsteps. On a more sinister note, they also have a chance to follow the rampage of the Khmer Rouge. In addition, they will have a chance to do some teaching and to interact with SSI Leadership Academy students, who might well be able to accompany them on some field trips and create lasting bonds of friendship. My students are more or less the same age so who knows, some of my students may want to return as volunteers on their own one day in the near future after they see for themselves how much they can learn even during a short stay. Ideally I would also like to incorporate other service opportunities, but the trick will be to find something worthwhile that is both beneficial to my students and easy to arrange for my local counterparts in SSI.

I returned from Cambodia about a month ago but left almost immediately for France. I teach French and need to stay in touch with my culture even though I feel very much at home in Asia. But the main purpose of my trip to France was to continue my research on French intellectuals. My last book on the Dreyfus Affair appeared in April. My forthcoming book is about French intellectuals and what I call the totalitarian temptation, a Faustian bargain to gain power and magically achieve paradise on earth. This is a topic well in line with the national tragedy Cambodia suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the second half of the 1970s and might well become the subject of my next book. 


I am excited about these new projects and will keep you all posted on my progress.

Stay safe and always keep a book going!

"What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it." ~C.S. Lewis

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