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Team Watching Sunset

25 Things We’ve Learned in Southeast Asia

Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, Southeast Asia Program Leaders.

Five summers deep and half a decade of life lessons, Operation Groundswell has explored Thailand and Cambodia extensively. The best part? We’re still learning! We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve learned, changed and grown. We are not trying to “save the world”, but hoping to help make it healthier. We want to engage with it beyond our comfort zones, push our boundaries and learn about ourselves. We want to embrace the hustle and bustle of city life then find sanctuary in a temple, a hammock or in watching a big ol’ sunset over a bright green rice field. We want to take it all in. We want to shake things up!

As we grow and learn, our dedication has shifted towards embracing cultural immersion while empowering our partners to tell us how to help, rather than telling them how we can help. We just have so much to learn from one another! Like any relationship, it takes more than one side to make it successful. It takes time, trust and patience.

Over the years, our Southeast Asia programs have funded the construction of 3 water wells, 20 water filtration systems, 20 homes, a bridge, a small school house, sanitation facilities and countless other initiatives. These demands all came directly from our partners. Yet, it’s not the house that we remember but rather the moments, relationships and lessons we learn that we carry with us once we return home that are most important.

With a tinge of nostalgia, here are the top 25 things we have learned over the years…

Southeast Asia temple hopping

1. Travel opens your eyes and your heart.
2. Try everything once.
3. Everyone has a story. Listen to them.
4. Monks have Facebook too.
5. It’s not a flood… it’s a pool party in the street! Yay!
6. Nothing ever goes as planned. Relax. The bus will come.
7. The more you get lost, the more paths you find. Enjoy whatever path you end up taking.
8. Long-term change takes long-term commitment.
9. Do not ride elephants. Do not pet tigers.
10. Street food is delicious, cheap and not to be feared.

Permaculture in Cambodia

11. Civilization exists without luxury or vanity.
12. Communication causes and solves problems. Be mindful with your words.
13. Self-confidence is sexier than any bikini. Be culturally aware.
14. I want to be tanned. Everyone else is using whitening cream.
15. Knowing the right choice is different from choosing it.
16. Guilt is a useless emotion. Do something.
17. Smiles and laughter are a universal language.
18. Everyone sees the same stars but from a different perspective.
19. Stay hydrated! Drink a coconut!

Elephant rehabilitation

24. I am here to learn and teach, teach and learn.
20. Go local. It’s cheaper, healthier, ethical and more fun!
21. Umbrellas can be used rain or shine.
22. Tarantulas don’t taste bad, but they’re endangered.
23. Tiger bomb cures everything, except for when you need stitches.
25. Never stop learning.

What will you learn this summer?
Join us on our Southeast Asia Cities & Sanctuaries Program and find out! 


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