Welcome to “Being There and Time: A Holistic Exploration of Laos and Cambodia”

This intensive course transports students to Cambodia and Laos, immersing them in the cultural rhythms, religious practices, and spectacular nature of Southeast Asia. Against these ecstatic experiences, however, students confront five profoundly unsettling topics in both countries: societal collapse, ecological degradation, state-based violence, and accelerating consumerism. Students examine evidence of these five issues by visiting several sites, including the monumental Angkor Wat, the ancient province Luang Prabang, the Nam Kang and Mekong Rivers, the cities of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and rural outposts such as Vang Vieng. Through pre- and post-production guidance, students practice respectful documentation of their experiences at each site. Specifically, students create a body of individual and collaborative work that emphasizes bearing witness and eschews expensive, mediating technology that reifies traditional tourism. A centerpiece of the course is the student-produced “Micro Script.” Based upon landmark methods of documentation pioneered by writer Robert Walser and expanded by anthropologist Michael Taussig, Micro Scripts encompass small, humble gestures toward documenting a place, time, artifact, or culture. A photography-based Micro Script of Cambodia, for instance, might include only close-ups of citizens’ left hands, considered the dirtiest, most unusable part of the human body in this culture. Their diminutive size underscores an observer’s nascent, necessarily incomplete understanding of the environments they visit. By documenting small-scale details, students practice keen observance of specific customs, feelings, and beliefs, rather than the breathless acquisition and appropriation that marks contemporary, capitalist-based tourism. Each student’s Micro Script is mindfully curated and constructed by trip’s end. By the culmination of this course, students gain a skill fundamental to becoming global citizens: being present. This highly challenging, rewarding state allows students to serve as conduits for particular histories, cultures, and environments in the future.