Middle College Tour To Cambodia 2019

August 05, 2019 at 2:29 PM

With thanks to expedition leader, Mr Al Ronberg and student reporters

Whilst there is a lot to be said for lazing away at the side of a pool, or relaxing in some exotic beach locale, two groups of Year 10 students, three staff and two World Challenge expedition leaders instead embarked on an exciting expedition through the Kingdom of Cambodia during the July school holidays. The second year that the Middle College has conducted this expedition, students were presented with learning opportunities at every chaotic turn of the tuk-tuk.

Cambodia is a country rich in archaeology and history, and has its fair share of compelling narratives that serve to excite the imaginations of all who visit. At the heart of this expedition is the opportunity for students to facilitate most of the trip. The logistics of accommodation, transport, managing a budget and organising several people to be fed and hydrated is something that truly brings out the best in our students. The itinerary for both teams involved five days of cycling and trekking through the World Heritage temples of Angkor Wat, four days of serviceto schools and environmental charities, and the balance of time immersing in the culture, history and environment of Cambodia.

One of the outstanding opportunities that this trip presents our Middle College students is the ability to push their leadership skills and overcome several personal challenges. I have appreciated the opportunity to walk alongside these students as they thrive in the heat and frustrations of this expedition. Over the course of two and a half weeks, the positive change in our students was entirely evident. One of the truly positive outcomes of this expedition is the opportunity for students to experience the growth of the trip, and then seek to live out their learning over their next 3 years of school life.

The following reflections are provided by the students from both teams and serve to capture the amazing scale of this opportunity for Year 10 students at the College. They will be broken down into some of the different phases that made for an entirely life-altering trip.

Cycling and Tramping

Both teams were excited to be offered the opportunity to spend two days mountain biking through the Temples of Angkor Wat and then to the base of Phnom Kulen National Park. The ability to travel on backroads, that are seldom accessed on the main tourist routes through the temples, ensured that the experience was something to be treasured. The hiking component was over three days in intense heat and humidity through jungles, waterfalls and a very challenging descent.

Some of our students reflect:

Alissa Huang – Team One:
‘After spending two nights acclimatizing in the city of Siem Reap, our first day of the challenge involved a 45km cycle through Angkor Archaeological Park, led by a local guide. We visited many breath-taking temples during this journey, including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and Bayon. With the majority of these ancient structures still standing even after centuries of sackings and regional conflicts, these temples held immense significance to not just the Cambodians, but to us visitors as well. We stood is awe as we beheld Angkor Wat in particular, which still remains the largest religious monument in the world. Learning about Angkor’s history, as well as its cultural and national significance, was definitely a highlight of the trip.’

Ollie Reid – Team Two:
‘The Cycle and Trek was fun but also had some challenges in it, including getting used to Cambodian culture in a homestay , climbing up hundreds of steps and going to the toilet with giant geckos and spiders. Overall the trek was a good introduction to Cambodian culture and was a great experience.’

Jaydon Urlich – Team Two:
‘The cycle to start off with was great fun and I had a really good time biking through temples on my birthday - but the hike and trek was much less entertaining as it was very long and my bag was severely overpacked making it much harder on my shoulders! However, overall the hike and trek were good to learn more about the people in my group and I felt very accomplished at the end of the total 88 km of travel.’

Jack Buckingham – Team One:
‘The trek/cycle was the hardest yet most rewarding part of the trip. Cycling 50km on the first day in 36-degree heat was far from easy but also showed us a different part of Cambodia where we saw the traditional housing and living that was far from the modern life we were used to back home. That night was spent at a home stay where we really experienced Cambodia culture and what life there is really like. Getting on our bikes the next morning with sore backsides for another 20km ride was a hard task but something we soon conquered to then find ourselves at the bottom of a rather large hill awaiting a 8km hike. We spent the next two nights staying at campsites and tramping another 18 and 11 km before heading back to Siem Riep. Over this time, we learnt the importance of staying hydrated and helping each other out. Being back at the hotel felt as close to home as we were going to get and we had found how much we took flushing toilets for granted! We all had this sense of accomplishment and found ourselves more capable than what we first thought.’


The Elephant Valley Project is a sanctuary for abused elephants who have been given the opportunity to experience their twilight years learning to behave and roam naturally. All of the elephants have a back-story which more often than not has seen abuse, neglect or mismanagement. Their philosophy is very clearly to let elephants be elephants and they also work extensively with the indigenous Banong community around the project.

Emma Csite – Team Two:
‘The Elephant Valley Project was personally my favourite part of our trip. I will always remember the moment when I saw the tops of trees moving and heard sticks crushing, a brown top appear in the distance and the most beautiful delicate creature arriving: The Asian Elephant. We stood on the bridge and observed them for hours, learning about their stories, their habits, mahouts (keepers) and habitat.’

James McKelvie – Team One:
‘It was amazing seeing elephants closer than we had ever seen them. The people there were so nice and what they do for elephants is amazing. We dug out bamboo shoots and planted them for the elephants to have reliable food sources.’

Treak Community School in Siem Reap is a FREE school that gives 470 students access to English and IT skills. Ranging in age from kindergarten to young adults, they are exclusively staffed by Cambodians. They seek to provide learning that allows communities to gain employment in the Siem Reap tourism industry. They also make bricks that integrate waste plastic, that they then use to build toilets in local communities that have no sanitation or sewerage systems.

Danielle Eccles – Team Two:
‘The Treak Community was such an inspiring and motivating experience. To see all the kids enjoying and engaging with the learning opportunities provided to them and their families was so moving for me personally.’

Rory Merrie – Team Two:
‘Treak was another massive learning experience, as it demonstrated how people who are less fortunate take enjoyment from the simple things (which is something we could all learn from). An example of this was when we were playing hand games with them, and they celebrated when they had to leave the game... None of the kids got upset when they lost!’

Save the Bears in Phnom Penh is a charity that works with mistreated animals.

Arwyn Stevens - Team One:
‘We went to Save the Bears which was a bear sanctuary for Sun bears and Moon bears. When we arrived, all the bears wandered out to see us and smell the layers of insect repellent we had on. I just wanted to climb over the hug them as they looked like giant teddys, even though they’d probably eat us. What we did do though was prep all their food and create enrichments for them all, which are toys for the bears that you put all sorts of mashed up fruits and jam in. We then threw them over to the bears and watched them trying to leave not even a fruit seed behind. It was so impressive how quickly they emptied the balls. When the bears were out, we got to go inside their enclosures and hide sweet potatoes and guava for them to find. Like an Easter hunt! We then found out how terrible our hiding skills were as they found them all in the first couple of minutes. Watching the bears in the sanctuary was awesome and I’ll never forget their faces once we bought out their food.

Culture and History

Both teams had time in between their treks and service opportunities to experience the culture and history of Cambodia. The following anecdotes serve to capture the different experiences and observations.

Xing Xing Lawrence – Team One:
‘The Killing Fields and S21 museum made me appreciate every little thing I have and taught me so much I didn't know. Cambodia's history is full of culture, beauty and unique events which make the country like none other. Cambodia has taught me many things in only a short span of time, and one of the biggest is gratitude. My perspective on how I see the world has changed completely and never have I been so grateful for the people in my life.’

Jaimie West – Team One:
‘I will forever remember the living conditions in which most of the Cambodian population lives and will forever be grateful for the living conditions in which we are so fortunate enough to have. And having this experience with friends adds to the whole experience.’

Miles Rae – Team Two:
‘The food in Cambodia was a unique blend of French and south-east Asian meals and I especially enjoyed the frog (I look forward to having it again sometime!).  Seeing the local population's economic situation gave me a greater appreciation for all I have.  I love history and loved all the cultural experiences. The overall experience was amazing and I would like to do it all again.

Kelly McKinnon – Team Two:
‘Exploring the temples and learning how they were built, who lived in them, and how over hundreds of years they have slowly broken down was really interesting. Going to S21 and the Killing Fields was a different experience for me. Discovering what happened was a hard experience but I feel it was good for us to go and learn about this part of Cambodia’s history.  This experience makes me feel grateful that I live in an amazing country such as New Zealand. Something I have taken away with me is to always try new things and challenge myself, so I really get involved and make the most of an experience.’


This trip is something that leaves students with an insatiable hunger to make the most of what they have experienced and let it change their view of their world. The investment that these families have made is something that will bear fruit for years to come. Exposure to a different culture, different histories and different approaches to life is something that truly gets under your skin. The teachers that accompanied this trip have been unanimously impressed with the attitude and actions of these students.

The 2020 Middle College World Challenge Cambodia trip will have an information for current Year 9 families on the 19th of August in the Sports Centre Lounge – we highly recommend you come and hear about how this trip can change your world.



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