Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Study queries effects of Kingdom on expat kids

Study queries effects of Kingdom on expat kids

Study queries effects of Kingdom on expat kids

Aid and development professionals moving their families to Cambodia may hope that the experience will foster a sense of open-mindedness and societal responsibility in their children, but a new study suggests otherwise.

The study, published last month by the Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, was the product of five years of interviews conducted in Phnom Penh with foreign aid professionals, their children and their teachers by anthropologist Dr Anne-Meike Fechter.

Fechter found that, in many cases, the privileged environs and elite company kept by the children she studied were no guarantee that they would develop the “reflective capacity or motivation” to adopt a “different engagement with their position between privilege and poverty”.

She discovered that a belief in their own open-mindedness – as supposedly brought about by growing up in Cambodia – often led to a feeling of superiority among children she spoke to.“I think being an international child makes you more . . . superior,” one respondent said.

She also noted that her respondents’ Cambodian friends tended to be fellow international school pupils and therefore presented a very limited vision of what life is truly like for most Cambodians.

The parents of those friends would often, too, have jobs whose functions were at odds with the goals of aid work, and whose values do not include critically engaging with privilege and poverty.

One country director for an international aid organisation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post this week that he will be moving his 11-year-old son out of the country soon to avoid what he described as a culture of “gangster-ism” in Cambodia.

His son attends Northbridge International School, where he said his classmates include grandsons of Prime Minister Hun Sen and deceased Cambodian People’s Party president Chea Sim, as well as the son of tycoon Kith Meng – who was dubbed “Mr Rough Stuff” in a leaked US Embassy cable.

“Some people think that you send your kids to school with elites, they’ll become elites. I don’t. I think they become a gangster,” he said.

Northbridge principal Sarah Osborne-James said yesterday that the school has to “address these issues in a very sensitive way”, but maintained that if students graduated without an appreciation of the political realities outside the school gate, “we haven’t done our job in making these students aware globally and of their surroundings”.

Osborne-James also maintained that the school’s status as one of 42 around the world in the Nord Anglia network instilled “international mindedness” in the student body, and pointed to the International Bacchelaureate’s Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) component, which requires students to undertake voluntary work in order to complete their studies.

In her study, Fechter found that this kind of voluntary work often strayed into the same ethically dubious territory as “voluntourism”, and questioned its benefit.

Leanna Payne, 22, spent all but the first three weeks of her childhood in Cambodia, where her parents – lifelong senior NGO staffers – chose to make their home. “I hear both sides,” Payne said of the study’s findings.

“There’s such a diversity of kids from aid, it doesn’t automatically make you more engaged but it does make you more critical. Whether you do something about it is up to the individual.”

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Pursat Ford assembly plant opens

    The Kingdom’s first Ford assembly plant was inaugurated on June 16 in Pursat province amid rising demand for brand-new vehicles among Cambodians. The facility is seen as a game changer for the domestic automobile industry, which could bring a wave of investors seeking to cash

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • $50B infrastructure plan en route

    The government’s upcoming $50 billion,10-year infrastructure master plan will provide tremendous investment opportunities for domestic and foreign entities, transport experts and economists say. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol revealed the plan to Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami on June 15. At

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro