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Our first days in Cambodia by Elena, Jessica, and Loida

These first few days in Cambodia have been some fun. It has taken us a bit of time to adjust from the long airplane rides also from being away from home and this very hot sun. But we have managed to have fun by being able to go explore the towns, cool off in the swimming pool, and try new delicious food. 


Our first days in Kampot, Cambodia have also been orientation. In the orientation we have learned how to stay safe and to be smart travelers. We really enjoy going out towards the evenings and looking at all the shops. 

The hostel we are staying at has been a great place to get to know each other and provide support for each other. Its also a great place to take a swim and cool off from the hot sun. We are really excited to continue our journey!


Leum Dtaa has arrived safely in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

Dear Friends and Family,

It is with a smiling heart that I say “Leum Dtaa has arrived!”. The group is safe and sound in Phnom Penh, and are settling into their hostel for the night. They’ll be heading to Kampot tomorrow to begin their orientation and start their semester. They are a bit road weary from an incredibly long flight, yet so excited at the adventures that lie ahead!

We hope that their travels are filled with the magic, education, and beauty!

Stay tuned in the coming week for blog updates from the students.

Here’s to a fantastic journey!

Meet the 2019 Carpe Mundi Southeast Asia Leader Team!

Hi Carpe Mundi friends and family!

Today we had our last cohort meeting with our Luem Dtaa students. Luem Dtaa means to open the eyes in Thai. We are so excited to support our students as they open their eyes to the world of experiences that awaits us in Southeast Asia! During our cohort meeting we watched a movie about a Thai boxer and played some games to help us get to know each other a little better. We also went over last minute questions to ensure that everyone is feeling good about packing and prepared to leave soon.  

Topher and Anya are very excited about leading the Luem Dtaa cohort for 2 months in SE Asia! Topher is leading his 4th Southeast Asia semester program and this is his 3rd year working directly with the PDXchange program. Anya has been leading programs in Southeast Asia for about 5 years and has spent time living in Thailand. We are both super excited to be going back to the region we love so much and continue exploring and learning. 

Here are a few fun facts about Topher and Anya: 

Topher not only plays the guitar, but also the ukulele. He's had his Toyota truck for 16 years and they've been through a lot together. His favorite book in 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 

Anya recently spent 7 days on a 30 foot boat with 12 people. Her mom is one of her most inspiring people in her life and Anya is passionate about dance (she's got some pretty sweet dance moves). 

Together we hope to make this trip to Cambodia and Thailand the adventure of a lifetime!

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Sierra and Elena's Blog





This trip is all about...

I feel like I learned more on this trip than I did in 4 years of high school (granted if high school involved hiking with elephants in a tropical forrest, I probably would have paid more attention.) During our student directed travel I was tuk tuk which will teach you a lot of things. It will teach you that tuk tuk drivers will scam you harder than Joanne the scammer. It will teach you that bargaining is a skill, but a skill that can be learned and even mastered. 



Our first day of student directed travel we went zip lining. We left the hostel early and drove up a really windy road to reach our destination. By the time we got off the bus, multiple people were care sick and I was pretty sure Denis was going to throw up and pass out. But within a few minutes we were able to pull our shit together and get geared up. Our zip lining instructors were really fun and made sure we were laughing the whole time. After we went to watch a live Thai boxing match where a bidding pool began (is this allowed) but it was all fun and games. About halfway through the fights there was a “special fight” There was a group of 6 guys put into the ring trying to blindly fight each other. At one point a fighter tried to punch the ref and the ref surprised us all by ninja kicking the fighter. 


The next day we took an overnight train to Bangkok. The ride was full of deep talks between certain individuals and moments where we all squeezed into one bed and ate snacks together while sharing stories and looking out the window. 


After a total of 26 hours of traveling we finally made it to Lonely Beach of Koh Chang island.  The beach had white sand and warm blue water. As we waded further into the ocean we could look back and see the tropical forest against the sun filled sky. 



Our time at the island was spent buying over priced food and burning in the sun, but we enjoyed all of it. 

We also got to watch a fire show. The girls and I really enjoyed seeing the mans oil covered muscles glisten in the fire light. 

We also got to go clubbing 2 times while there. Both times there was nobody dancing until our group showed up and started the whole party. 

I went on a trip to Thailand with 11 strangers and by the end of the trip i would have taken a bullet for any one of them

Chiang Rai and Mirror Foundation by Lena Tran


Sawadee kha from Lena reporting for the Haithai cohort! Last week, we were staying in Chiang Rai at a nice hostel which was provided by the Mirror Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on ethnic minorities from the region of Chiang Rai. It’s mostly an organization that helps people who are stateless provide jobs and gaining citizenships which is a long and slow process.

The Haithai cohort helped build a fence and a flag pole for the kiddos from a Tai Yai comunity which was a success. The cohort spent long work days and fun times chopping bamboo sticks and shaving them in order to build the fence and flagpole, pretty fascinating don’t you think?

The first day of arriving at the village, right away I was excited to meet my homestay family. I actually took my first pooping experience on a squat toilet that was in the restroom floor, it was a weird but good experience in my opinion. Every morning, we would meet up, eat breakfast, and go see the kids at the daycare center near the village and spend time with them before heading out to work on the fence for the new school. Overall, my favorite part of the experience was seeing the kids, eating many traditional Thai food being served by my homestay mom, and meeting Chetah, who was a student and intern for Mirror foundation.


The day before we left, in the evening we all had to get ready for the string ceremony. Where we ate dinner on the ground laid out by a plastic mat for everyone to sit on and enjoy the night. Some kids in the village performed a dance for everyone to see and it was just a cute and amazing performance. After dinner, we offered the villagers a gift which was when the string ceremony began. There were nine villagers sitting in a circle and each one of the cohort members would sit in front of one and let the nine villagers bless all of us with a piece of string which have been said to wish for good luck, good health and other good things as well.

During our time with Mirror Foundation, we gave a huge thanks to Pi Manop who was our guide and a good friend/brother. Pi Manop helped us with everything, from getting us sleeping bags and mosquito nets for the night to serving us ginger tea and shared laughs.  He is a good hearted person who treated all of us like family. Our time with Pi Manop and the families in the village reminds me of a saying from Lilo and Stitch which is “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” We ended our goodbyes with a cute funny video of all of us on the first day of arriving at Mirror Foundation and being recored for all the hilarious moments that were captured. When we said our goodbyes, it made me realized what an amazing experience I had with Mirror Foundation and that I would come back and volunteer with them more in the future and am blessed to meet each person who was apart of the organization. 

Mirror Foundation by Cynthia Rodriguez

 Note: this blog was written on 3/29/18

This is Cynthia reporting from Bangkok at 10:10pm. Last week we stayed in a village for almost a whole week. A village where we were all welcomed into their homes. We had fun, exiting, and sad moments. We were fortunate to work with the Mirrior Foundation. The mirror Foundation is a program who helps the people who don’t have citizenship. They help people who in society are called “no identity”. They help them by finding them homes and jobs. They also fight to help them get citizenship.



So what we did was build a fence for the new school that was built for the children who’s parents worked at the orange farm. We worked on the fence everyday. We separated into different groups some of us would be shaving bamboo, others would cut them in halfs, put up the fence and the last group worked on the flag pole, it was a daily routine. after working for a few hours we would get a long relaxing break where we would get fed some yummy food.



Before going to work we would stop at the daycare near the village where we interacted with the kids for an hour. We sang songs, played games and played with them. My favorite part was seeing the kids smile and hear their laughter when they would see us.



Every evening we would go back to our home stays and eat dinner with them. Our mother Mae Jeene was a good cook, all of our dinner meals where delicious and spicy. We had several laughs and good moments in our homestay with my girls Ana, Elena, and Sierra. The first night we were a bit confused, we didn’t know where to brush our teeth, since there was no sink in the bathroom. So we got the idea of spitting it out in the squad toilet, until we realize the next day that we were supposed to brush our teeth outside. We got to experience bucket showering but the water was super cold and we were sharing the bathroom with a huge spider which no one wanted to kill because we were scared until the last day in our homestay we notice it was dead.



Even though sometimes it could be difficult we manage to get through them and had fun. One of many funny memories I will always remember about our homestay, was that the last day in our homestay we were picking up the blankets from the floor since we slept in the floor with mosquitos net and sleeping bags but as we folded them Sierra saw a cockroach running away from under her blankets, so we figured it was probably under blankets all these days but the funny part was she screamed as the cockroach run away and she said “guys looks its pitter patting” we just started cracking up. There was one evening where i wasn’t feeling good so I went to play pickup soccer with Mai Mao, the kids, and some adults from the village in a bumpy grass area with no shoes. It was so much fun and a pretty good competitive game. It reminded me so much of my childhood.


The day before we left we only worked half day, after we went to a museum and to Laos. It was a pretty good day so far but it got even better during the evening. In the evening we got ready and dressed up for the string ceremony. We ate dinner “more like a feast” with the people from the village. During dinner the kids performed a dance for us. After we offered he villagers a gift and then the string ceremony began. There was nine villagers in a circle with white string and we all sat down in front of a villager. We all routated until all of us got to each person. They tighted the white string in our wrist while saying a blessing. The string are sed to be for good luck, good health, and other good things.


The final morning we got to give a huge thank you to Pee Manop who helped us with everything you could think of. He is a good and kind soul, who helped us, took care of us, and treated us like family. As we said our good bye to everyone , i realize how amazing it was to be part of the Mirror Foundation and part of the village. I will always remember every single kind and caring soul I met in this program and village. 


Introduction to Pun Pun by Cecilia Franklin-Knapp


Pun Pun is a piece of land that lives up to its name- "One Thousand Varieties". While the title is focused on seed variety, it goes much farther into enormous variety in any aspect of the land. It’s a place to volunteer, one of the many things Hathai cohort did there. Upon an afternoon arrival and an hour of settling in we were given four options of community chores. That day I watered the garden. We helped a woman named Tip water her garden and she told us about her no dig method. This method includes a lack of planting as well, instead the seeds are tossed in a healthier spot of her plot in the community garden. She told us many people don’t till either way as tilling only pulls up more dry soil. This community practices not digging into the land but building onto it. 


To build a garden bed:

*note* preparation time 50 minutes plus three to six months digestion


                              leaves          manure   

                      white mold          effective micro-organism (EM)

                               water          tarp

                    a rake or hoe        heat (the tarp traps just enough heat!)


I if you want your new soil ready for March planting start in September/October. If you want your soil to digest in 4 months start in April/May.  

Step one: leaves               Lay down a layer of leaves 

in the shape of a long rectangle, outside. One reason to start in the fall is that leaves are more readily available. 

Step two: manure             Add a layer of sun-dried manure.

The importance of manure is around the white mold, this mold cultivates its self on manure and is a worth it component that expedites the digestion of your leaves. Manure is not so accessible unless you have cows, horses or somehow elephants. Just get creative, everybody poops. 


Step three: effective micro organism (EF).   

The EF is another worth it component to digest your leaf material and it can be cultivated easily enough. See it comes from the air, it’s attracted to moisture and other living things.

We were spoken to you also about the effective micro organism (EM) it is another component for digestion. You can usually cultivate this by letting moss form in a tub of water. Once you have your moss probably you have EM because it comes from the air. Than cover your tub to reduce the chance of contamination.

There’s a way of leadership at Pun Pun, self direction. There is no one leader instead each individual relies on their own common sense. Many people progress on their own projects of course with a willingness to ask for help and in other cases lend a helping hand. The key at Pun Pun is to help and work with the land and earth so it can better support you. When you build on the earth to support its health it is healthy enough that when the papaya falls a second tree will grow.


Pun Pun Farm- by Denis Eckert


This is Denis Eckert logging at 11:30am Earth date 12th of March 2018. Today was our last day at Pun Pun. I had really enjoyed my days on this beautiful land with wonderful people. All the buildings were made with natural materials around the land that the earth provided us. Some of them with unique arts on them. They also have a massive collection of plants in their gardens. Pun Pun focuses on seed saving.


As a cohort, we helped build walls on the second floor of a community house for the first three days. We were in mud and enjoying our time with others. To cool off we would jump in the pond that’s right next to the house. The rest of the time we helped out around by gardening, feeding the chicken and cows, milking the cows and cooking. I also found an easy bread recipe. Thank you, Lisa, for the recipe.


During my time at Pun Pun, I discovered something about myself that I never would have at home.  Now, I am working on what I want to change about myself...but I’ll keep that to myself.

 Hathai cohort will miss Pun Pun and a few of us are planning on coming back in the future as I know I will.

To all of you on the other side of the internet:

Denis signing off.


Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary- by Najma Abdirahman aka “Maya”


We went to an elephant sanctuary which was really cool. The elephants are treated well here, I mean humanely. They are not caged or beaten, they eat a lot and they are free to take baths in the river or eat most of the time. They can sit in the shade and be with their kids. They go to school to learn a couple of words like go, let’s go, sit, kiss, hug, open up high (they will put their trunk high enough so the you can put banana in the mouth, you get to see and touch their tongue) and a couple others. The baby elephants get to be with their mothers until five to six years of age. We fed the elephants bananas and coconuts, they chewed the whole coconut shells. We went on a hike with them, we gave them baths-they liked the sand baths because it scratches their itchy skin and cools they in the heat. We got some pictures with them and we got lots of water splashes and kisses and hugs.



We rode on a raft for 40 minutes down a river, it was so peaceful and you could hear the sounds of nature-birds singing, insects chirping, and the most beautiful sound of the whole ride the water splashing every time we took a turn. It was like you are in a really great spa and just enjoying yourself and you don’t want it to end. The feeling of the bamboo raft against your skin when it goes through some rocks was priceless, cool water just brushing you. The raft guides where so familiar with the path that they knew every turn to take. They rode through the river so many times that it was like their path to work.


We went to a camp for the night after the elephant sanctuary. We passed a Karen village on the way to the camp. The village was beautiful and kind of vintage because it had houses built out of bamboo like the old days before concrete. The camp was right next to a waterfall and the group swam there when we arrived. The rooms where built of bamboo too. They had mosquito nets- since it was close to a water sources it had lots of mosquitos. You could see the water moving in front of you room and the sound of waterfall moving was my lullaby that night.


We played soccer in the little space we had and the ball went into in the water a few times. After dinner, we had a bonfire right in front of the camp. Everyone was communicating and two people played the guitar. You could feel the connection between everyone, the people that run the camp the Carpe Mundi students and some other guests, they were all enjoying themselves and being in the moment.


Homestays in Mae Rim- by Ana Basaldua

Ana and Elena with their homestay moms

Ana and Elena with their homestay moms

Last week the Hathai Cohort met our homestay families. We were all really nervous at first but ended up sharing the best moments with some of the kindest people. I had a mom and an older brother. The first day I met my mom, she took me on walk and held my hand as she showed me off to all her neighbors. She’s so sweet! She fed me insane amounts of bomb-ass food and would then walk me over to her friend’s house, who would then feed me some more bomb-ass food. I kept saying “eem, eem, eem” (which means “I’m full” in Thai) but still continued to receive more plates of food. The good thing is that Thai food is really healthy. My host brother was cool, he always went on snack runs and came home with chips and cookies for me.


Hathai cohort dressed to the nines in traditional northern Thai attire

Hathai cohort dressed to the nines in traditional northern Thai attire

Our cohort and I received bikes so that we’d be able to bike to and from our Thai language school. I picked out the pink one.  School was in the same village that we lived in. ‘Twas great. At school, we learned Thai language and how to cook fried rice, kaoo soi, mango sticky rice, lapb and papaya salad. We were also learning a traditional northern fingernail dance and a sword dance which we were all really terrible at but perfected towards the end. I loved school. Learning had never been this fun and productive. At this point our cohort was becoming closer. During our lunch break my girlfriends and I would bike to the same stand every day. It was run by 2 cute boys who sold the best iced cocoa. We didn’t know which of the two was better, the ice coco or the boys. Lol. We ended the week by having a goodbye ceremony at school with our teachers and families. It was “SUAY” (beautiful). Our parents gave us a blessing by tying a bracelet around our wrist. The boys in our cohort performed the sword dance and the girls in our cohort performed the fingernail dance while wearing super long boujee fingernails. Our mommies joined us girls in our dance. Eventually students, teachers, parents, and siblings were all dancing the night away. We all enjoyed every minute of it and were so thankful for everything our homestay families did for us.

Cynthia, Ana, and Lena holding Loi Kratong lantern boats at the village farewell gathering.

Cynthia, Ana, and Lena holding Loi Kratong lantern boats at the village farewell gathering.

Hathai boys show off their sword dance moves

Hathai boys show off their sword dance moves

Scavenger Hunt in Chiang Mai


The Hathai group poses under the nagas that guard the entrance to the the mountain-top temple of Wat Doi Suthep 

The Hathai group poses under the nagas that guard the entrance to the the mountain-top temple of Wat Doi Suthep 


A scavenger hunt was the task at hand and our time was spent doing the following...

Our first step was to get a songtaew to Wat Chedi Luang. When we first arrived our eyes were drawn to a mysterious looking brick tower. As we turned the corner the mysterious brick tower turned into a beautifully run down old temple. As we walked around in awe we searched for a monk to question, as that was our first task of the scavenger hunt. We eventually discovered the university where English speakers could communicate with monks who were practicing their English speaking skills. After a very interesting yet somewhat complicated conversation we gathered our things and continued our hunt.

We went right out of the temple and stopped at a small store to purchase postcards. Sierra purchased a folding card with an elephant and postcard with a temple. I bought three post cards. Two of them had elephants one had a temple. I also purchased jackfruit. After walking for a few minutes we decided we didn't know where we were going and looked around to find a tourist guide shop. In the shop a gorgeous Thai woman directed us to a fish spa on the edge of the moat opposite of our hotel.

Sierra and I now sit in the AC of an internet cafe drenched in sweat after a strenuous adventure in search of a fish spa only to find an unsettling high price and accepting the fact that we won't be finishing this scavenger hunt.



Hello this is Cynthia and Zahkile. We are writing from an internet cafe near Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai. Today we have been exploring the city looking for items to complete a scavenger hunt. It has been difficult so far. We started the day by traveling to the temple Wat Chedi Luang. we took lots of great photos there and got to have a chat with one of the monks who has been learning English for three months so far so it was a bit difficult to understand him. Hearing his story about why he became a Monk was very revalent and interesting.



We (Elena and Denis) are enjoying there time in Chiang Mai. The flights to Chiang Mai were SUPER long and bumpy. We've spent our time watching movies and eating ice cream. Chiang Mai is a beautiful busy city that is hot but enjoyable. We are enjoying all the wonders of tasty food carts.

Right now we are bonding via scavenger hunting. which is a perfect way to bond with one another. Later we will go get a foot massage while drinking fruit shakes. This may seem too good to be true but its not. We'll be sweating for our college credits. This ain't easy

From yours truly,

Elena and Denis.



Hello this is Lena and Maya, we are currently at an internet cafe.

Currently at Wat Chedi Luang at one of the internet cafe's here. The scavenger hunt today so far has been a challenging yet difficult journey. We have visited a beautiful temple and spoke to one monk who is in a 3 month English program to learn English as he said is an important factor to communicate with foreigners and to teach them what Buddhism is. Two interesting facts about monks are that they do not cook for themselves, they get food from the locals, and they have 271 rules that they have to follow including not driving, shaving their hair and eyebrows, can't work. After arriving in Thailand, it seems to be really crowded and more humid than it was back in Portland with the snow. The money over here is definitely different from home due to the currency and having different amounts in one pocket.

There are so many temples in Thailand and from where we are staying at, we went to two temples. At those temples, there were different people of many races coming all together in one place. There are many statues representing of the Buddha, there were this one particular flower that seemed to be a common one and it was white like a lily flower.

The bathrooms here are very different. For example, there's a squat toilet where you have to squat down to do your business and clean it after with a bucket of water to wash it down. Many dogs here are street dogs roaming around the city but they don't bite, very gentle animals and people here seem to take care of them very well like it's their own. Street foods are mainly around from the mornings to the evenings and are homemade and delicious.


Safe Arrival

Dear families and friends of the Hathai Cohort,

We just heard that the group arrived safely in Chiang Mai, have collected their baggage, and are on their way to their hostel to get some rest and start orientation. They had a smooth, but long, day of travel. Stay tuned for updates from the group – they will post updates about their orientation in Chiang Mai in the coming days.


And they're off!

Dear families and friends of the Spring ’18 PDXchange SE Asia Cohort - Hathai,

We are happy to report that that group has departed Portland and is en route to their adventures in SE Asia. They are doing well and are happy to be on their way. We’ll post another blog here when they arrive in Chiang Mai Thursday evening. We wish them a safe and easy journey to Thailand!


10 Days 'til Departure!


Hello!  Mai Mao and Topher here with a pre-departure update from Portland.  For the past week we have been planning and organizing our trip with the support of the amazing staff of Carpe Diem Headquarters here in Portland.

We've spent most of the last sunny week at a retreat center in Corbett attending safety workshops, playing games, honing our leadership skills and doing some last minute planning for our trip to Thailand and Cambodia. Some highlights of our time were sharing some laughs beside a beautiful waterfall and building a sweet stick fort in the woods. 

Hailing from the Twin Cities in Minnesota, Mai Mao is bringing her years of leadership experience, her passion for social justice and a deep appreciation for almond butter to this PDXchange program.  Although she is sad to be leaving her cat IceCube at home for these two months, she is looking forward to sharing some amazing experiences with our unique students. Recently transplanted from the mountains of North Carolina to the rich soil of Oregon, Topher has been working with the Carpe Mundi program and the Hathai student cohort for the past 7 months. He is beyond excited to lead a semester in Southeast Asia for the third time. Topher is looking forward to sharing his knowledge and passion for human connection through music, games, and mindfulness practices.      

It's hard to believe that next week, we will finally be all together as a group embarking on a truly incredible adventure. We can’t wait to share the wonder of travel, as we all grow, learn, and transform together. 


Mai Mao and Topher