Katelyn McMaster, a junior studying International Studies, is the first BYU-Idaho student to get accepted to the Center for Khmer Studies Program in Cambodia.
The program, according to khmerstudies.org, offers five Americans, five Cambodians, and five French undergraduates the opportunity to go to Cambodia for six weeks and learn about the history and society of Cambodia.
“It’s a center where they maintain their culture,” McMaster said. “In the past they experienced a very big genocide with Pol Pot, so they maintain and continue to carry on their culture through this center.”
She said she was interested in this program because she served her mission in the Philippines and has a love for Southeast Asia and is curious about more opportunities in that area.
McMaster said she was ecstatic when she found out she had been accepted into the program because this is something that she always had hoped to get into.
“I was really shocked because it’s a very prestigious program, all the other people who are there with me are from Cornell and Vassar and George Washington University.”
By being the one only one not from an Ivy League school she felt like she didn’t belong and that was a hard thing for her to overcome.
“When I got accepted and I realized I was the odd ducking, and I was the only one not in an Ivy League school, I got in my head and I got really nervous that I wasn’t going to fit in,” McMaster said. “When I was talking to someone about that they were like ‘oh don’t worry about that, that shows that you did something good enough to get and that you didn’t need an Ivy League school name backing you,’ and so that was a hard thing to overcome.”
McMaster said to apply to this program she had to submit a research proposal and she worked alongside Doctor Michael Paul, Chairman of the International Studies department at BYU-Idaho and Doctor Aaron Stalker, Animal & Food Science professor.
“I developed a research project based on the economic impact of agricultural diversification in Cambodia,” McMaster said.
She said one of the main things she wants to research is knowing how the crop diversification is allowing the small holder farmers in Cambodia to adapt to economical changes.
“When Cambodia experienced the genocide that occurred, they lost a lot of educated people,” McMaster said. “Anyone who was educated got killed. Anyone with a degree, with a job that was more than being a farmer was killed.”
She said now Cambodia has struggled to keep up with the economy because they lost an entire generation.
Apart from her love of international studies she has a love of agriculture which began when she was in high school.
“My parents have always had a really large garden,” McMaster said. “We don’t have anything like a farm, but we have a really nice garden and ever since we were in high school I was the one in charge of it.”
McMaster said some of the things she is excited about going to Cambodia for are the connections she will make and the tourists sights she will be able to go see.
She said to anyone who wants to apply for this program the biggest advice she has is to have good mentors.
“I worked Doctor Michael Paul from the beginning and if I didn’t have his help, I don’t think I would have gotten accepted because it was all so new to me and it was such a foreign thing,” McMaster said. “You have to get letters of recommendations from teachers, so finding those people that you feel like will help you early on in the process is important.”
McMaster leaves to Cambodia at the end of June and will be there through August.