Letters from Abroad: Learning From the People of Laos


Cailey Cummins ’20 , Abroad Columnist


Over winter break, I had the opportunity to travel to Vientiane, Laos and Siem Reap, Cambodia, along with 10 other students, two student trip leaders and two administrators. We spent the majority of our time in Laos helping out at a school for vocational skills. This school offers classes in English and motorcycle repairs, two skills very useful in a country where work is often difficult to find. Our task for the week was to help construct a room on the property where students from the outer provinces could stay for free, rather than finding an apartment in Vientiane, which can be expensive and might prevent students from being able to attend classes there. We mixed cement and laid cinder blocks, constructing the walls and floors of the residence. We also helped with some odd jobs around the school, such as repainting the walls of the property and cleaning up the backyard so they could plant a new garden.

When we weren’t working, we were helping with the English classes taught at the school and getting to know the members of the community that had blossomed around the school. We also went on a variety of outings, such as visiting the Buddha Park, the Golden Stoopa, the large night market located near the Mekong River, and even flying to Cambodia at the end of the trip to visit the Angkor Wat Temple Complex.

Personally, the most meaningful part of the trip was forming friendships and learning from people of such a different culture than my own. We spent most of our free time with Lao natives, talking to them about their lives, their country, their goals. We ate together, sang and danced together, played card games and went on outings together. While we learned about the history, language and culture of Laos – including their favorite foods, types of music and dances – they practiced their English with us. It was incredible to see how hard we laughed and learned together, despite the language barrier. For me, and many of the other participants, these moments were the highlights of our trip.

I have been lucky to travel a good bit in my lifetime, but this trip has been the most meaningful. Instead of traveling to a country to observe the culture and the tourist sites, we were able to learn from the people there and give back to the community that welcomed us with open arms.