Cambodia’s brutal past leaves a mark during uni placement in South East Asia

All students at the Bendigo Campus get to take part in work integrated learning placements as part of their course, and many opt to also take advantage of studying abroad.

For third-year Master of Physiotherapy Practice student Thomas Floyd, the chance to combine both was too good not to pursue.

“I wanted to do something exciting and different with my placement, rather than just be watching a physiotherapist work for two weeks,” says Tom, who has recently returned from placement in Vietnam and Cambodia.

“The placement opportunity came up half way through the year, and it was spoken really highly of from the physios in the year above who did the trip.

“Being university students, it was incredibly cheap to travel around Vietnam and Cambodia for a month, and there was such a rich history and culture in the region that I wanted to experience.”

Tom and a group of his physio classmates spent all of January touring and practicing their physio skills in the South East Asian countries.

“We travelled for around three weeks in total either side of our placement in Danang, which is in the middle of Vietnam,” Tom says. “We worked our way from north to south, before heading up into Cambodia for a week. Events like the Vietnam War, and the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia only occurred in the last 50 years, so it was all so recent and such an important part of the respective countries’ histories.”

For Tom, the highlights of the experience were varied.

“I had two highlights, which were polar opposites of each other,” he says. “We spent two days in Halong Bay in north Vietnam, swimming and kayaking. The scenery was absolutely incredible; far more spectacular than anything you see in photos.

“I also found the museums and memorials dedicated to the Cambodian genocide to be eye opening. Visiting the genocide museum and the killing fields in Phnom Penh was a harrowing experience. The genocide killed nearly 2 million people in four years, and the manner in which it was completed was shocking.”

Other memorable moments for Tom involved working with and meeting the people, despite the language barrier.

“On our placement, the children and the families we were working with couldn’t speak English, so we had to develop other ways of communicating with them to tell them what physio work we wanted to do with their children,” he says.

“My communication skills, especially non-verbal communication, developed significantly on the placement. I think that’s something that will be of great benefit throughout my career as a physio.”

The chance to combine uni with travel has now whet Tom’s appetite for more of the same. “It’s made me want to go back and travel outside of the tourist hotspots and experience the true Asia and its culture,” he says.

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