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Wuthikah’s First Summer in the U.S. – The Perfect Summer That was Falling Apart

Wuthikah’s First Summer in the U.S. – The Perfect Summer That was Falling Apart

Summer was not something I thought about when I was in Cambodia. It’s a tropical climate with just dry and rainy seasons; the hot weather was just a constant throughout the year. Plus, I did not have a three-month-long break from school either. I believe that was why I started planning my first summer after two months in the U.S. The thought of gaining many experiences outside the school in the first summer abroad filled my head with dreams of what I could do and had me smiling from ear to ear. I imagined and planned my PERFECT first summer. However, little did I know that the closer it got to my summer break, the more plans I had made during the school year fell apart for many unforeseen circumstances. Although this was a bumpy journey, I am glad to be able to gain alternative experiences this summer.

At the PPIA Public Service Weekend: Emerging Public Policy Issues in Texas and the American South

I was desperate, frustrated, and upset. I did not know what to do as I changed my plans the closer it got to the summer break. My heart which had been pounding with excitement about my adventures to come, now pounded with anxiety. I ended up not doing so much planning, took whatever opportunity came my way, and let time work its magic. As a result, I enrolled in a virtual fellowship course with FIMRC (Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children), assisted one of Centre College’s professors with her research, attended the PPIA Public Service Weekend, became an assistant for the Lincoln Peer Mentoring program and one of the leaders for the Lincoln pre-first year orientation.

Although the FIMRC virtual fellowship assured me that a career in health care is not for me, I learned so much about what global health means, public and community health, comparing healthcare systems between FIMRC partnering countries to Cambodia. I also enjoyed learning about important health topics to policy-makers such as social determinants of health, threats to global health, health as a human right, global health with justice, and introducing technology in healthcare.

At the Sunsphere in Knoxville, TN. Explored the city with Dr. Chelsea Cutright

Next, was my trip to Knoxville, Tennessee with Dr. Chelsea Cutright (an International Studies Professor at Centre College). It was a meaningful experience, especially for me who had just finished my first year of college. I am grateful for the opportunity to assist her with the preliminary research on domestic sports for development. We had meetings with KORE Mobile Outreach and First-Tee Knoxville. I was able to attend their events and played with kids from different communities in Knoxville. On the trip, I often thought of how I can bring this idea (sports for community and personal development) to children in Cambodia and educate them about health, nutrition, and ways they can be more active while gaining life skills through sports and games. This experience taught me so much about the research process, working with local organizations, exploring a new city, knowing that I can tailor my international studies major to focus on what I am most passionate about, and also getting to know more about my professor personally.

Activities with the CAC Beardsley Community Farm in Knoxville, TN

My weekend at the LBJ School was probably the highlight of my first summer in the U.S. I am honored to have been selected as one of the 38 participants among 450 applicants to attend the PPIA Public Service Weekend: Emerging Public Policy Issues in Texas and the American South. The PPIA Public Service Weekend is a three-day conference empowering undergraduate students and recent post-graduates from historically underrepresented backgrounds to consider graduate degree programs and careers in public service. I learned and was inspired by outstanding speakers and panelists through many thought-provoking and meaningful discussions on various public policy topics ranging from civic engagement and voting rights, policy-making in a bipartisan environment to race and democracy, border issues, and the housing affordability crisis. I also had the opportunity to produce and present my first oral testimony in front of Texas State Representative, Gene Wu. This experience allowed me to connect and expand my network with many incredible people in the public service sector. I want to thank Estevan Delgado, Michael Paniagua, and the PPIA for making this weekend conference an empowering and inspiring experience that awakened my passion for public service and public policy.

At the PPIA Public Service Weekend: Emerging Public Policy Issues in Texas and the American South (Picture with Mr. Julián Castro, Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development)

This summer, I also helped Dr. Robert Schalkoff (director of the Lincoln Scholars Program at Centre College) with the peer-mentoring program and helped to plan the pre-first year orientation for the new cohort.  I want to thank Dr. Schalkoff for his continuing support during my first year at Centre College. These summer experiences were possible because of his guidance and encouragement.

One final and important takeaway from this summer was a lesson in flexibility and rolling with the punches. Things might not always work out the way you plan them, but that doesn’t mean things are ruined. So, take the time, enjoy the slow progress, no stress planning and be flexible. Sometimes, the thing we are least expecting might become the best thing to happen. Instead of going to a new country or challenging myself to be in the woods, I went to two new states and challenged myself in areas I had little knowledge of before: healthcare, sports, and public policy.

With my roommate for the PPIA Public Service Weekend, Manaal Shaikh, in front of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Day 7 of the Lincoln Scholar pre-first year orientation for the class of 2026. 1 ½ miles Hiking at the Red River Gorge, Stanton, Kentucky
Spent a day with KORE Mobile Outreach playing with children at the Paul Hogue Park and the women basketball team from University of Tennessee.

So while this may not have been my perfect dream first summer in the U.S., it turned out to be full of unexpected opportunities and learnings. Now, onwards to sophomore year and more adventures to come!