Reflections from the Killing Fields

There are many opportunities for International Studies majors at USF to engage with a broader global community and put the lessons of the classroom into context and into practice.

img_5403The ERASMUS class is a year-long living-learning community in which the students delve into their understanding of ethics, service, and justice at local and global levels, discuss the material as a community, and directly apply information and ideas through various community-based research projects. At the end of the year, students have the option of traveling to Cambodia to further their understanding in a global context.

BAIS major Ali Buck participated in ERASMUS during the 2015-2016 academic year and made the trip to Cambodia in May and June 2016. Today, she recounts her experience visiting the Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields where millions of Cambodians died during the campaign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and the impact both the experience and the International Studies major have had on her global perspective.

Student Reflection by Ali Buck (’18)

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Killing Fields memorial

I expected to be more emotional at the Killing Fields than at the S21 Prison Camp because I’ve studied various prison camps since I was young. Every year a Holocaust survivor came to talk at my school, so I assumed that visiting S21 would be just as hard as listening to the survivors talk. It was harder than anything I could have imagined. The woman guiding us through had lost her family in the building we were standing in. One room was lined with images of those who had come to the camp; some seemed to know they were about to die while others were either too young or too naïve to understand their fate. In Erasmus, we had spent the past semester learning about the Khmer Rouge, so I knew that children were killed and I knew the number of people that died. But knowing something and understanding it are completely different. I didn’t understand until I looked into the eyes of the photos that these people were dehumanized in the complete sense of the word. Every photo was eerily the same: the same haircut, the same facial expression, and ultimately the same fate. People were reduced to identification numbers, which became death tolls. Even now, each of those individuals is just part of the total number of victims of the Khmer Rouge.

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In my International Studies courses, I have struggled to comprehend how governments around the world can do such terrible things to their people or even how people can treat one another so terribly. The moment I finally understood that this was not old history, this was something that happened while my parents were alive, was the moment I broke down. The difference between learning about something in a classroom is than experiencing it in the world is incredible. It invokes emotions that lead to passionate actions, which ultimately lead to change. Some changes are large-scale movements that affect the world, while others are small internal changes that may just alter one’s perception of the world.

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That’s what drew me to USF: the allure of being challenged in the way I think about my place in the world. There is this constant discomfort that I have come to accept as growing pains. For me, this trip solidified my desire to study global politics and understand the world around me, and what I can and cannot do within it; the best way to understand the world is to see it. I am going to continue to travel to places that I learn about and learn about the places I want to travel to. The International Studies program at USF takes a holistic approach to understanding one’s place in the world. By approaching the world from a multi-disciplinary standpoint, I have been able to critically analyze the “how” and “why” aspects of the “who?” and “what?” questions.

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