We have two core geographic areas in which our programs are focused: Cambodia & Vietnam and Bangladesh & Myanmar. We choose to focus on these areas because they are sites of sensitive and complex conflicts that received limited attention and constructive engagement. Sarus approaches these conflicts in a non-political and non-ideological manner, focusing instead on creating supportive and intentional spaces in which key individuals from conflicting demographics can collaborate for positive social change, while developing meaningful and sustainable friendships and building community across traditional boundaries, in the process.
Why Cambodia & Vietnam?
The strained relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam has its roots in the deeply intertwined histories of each nation. From land disputes to full-scale invasions, these neighboring countries have seen their share of disagreements.
With both countries emerging relatively recently from their turbulent pasts, there has never been a better time to come together and recognize the value of their relationship as neighboring states in a region primed for social and economic growth. Instead, the cycle of distrust and suspicion is being perpetuated and passed down to younger generations. Older family members in particular discourage travel between the two countries, and biased versions of history remain popularly held.
A One-of-a-Kind Exchange Program
Our approach to this issue seeks to create an experience-based attitude shift within university-level students in each country. This generation of students, whose worldviews are still developing and who are open to new experiences, is perfectly poised to make a real impact as soon as they transition into roles of social and professional prominence. By converging future leaders from both countries in a collaborative and transformative month of personal growth and socially cohesive group formation, Sarus Exchange Program is a dynamic, foundational blueprint that will help build future peace between the two countries.
A Year-Round Shared Cultural Experience
Orientation & Training
From March to June, each country's group of students prepares for the full exchange in their respective home countries. During this time, students learn about the Sarus mission, values, and educational philosophy, take an overnight field trip to learn about the culture of the country they will be visiting, participate in a short course that trains them to teach children, and take an overnight field trip to a center with disadvantaged children where they practice group living skills.
Finally, students participate in a pre-departure orientation shortly before the July program in which they learn about culture shock, cross-cultural communication skills, basic phrases of the language of the country they are about to visit, and tips for successfully living and working in a group.
During the training period, students also explore a topic of their choice about the other country with the intention of conducting primary research on the topic during the July program.
In July, all twenty students converge for two weeks in each country. They live together, do construction projects, mentor disadvantaged children, and have educational excursions. There are meetings every other night in which they are encouraged to communicate directly with each other from the bedrock of their own feelings.
Throughout the program, students are involved in both its planning and execution. Setting up the exchange program includes activities such as arranging the logistics of the excursions, setting up the living arrangements at the project sites, developing the curriculum and activities for children at the partner organizations, and putting together different components of a cultural exchange performance.
Students are both guests and hosts. Sarus focuses uniquely on group formation through collaborative service and a reflective process.
In August, students return home to complete community education projects and share their research and experiences with their communities, thereby broadening Sarus’ impact. The community education project is an integral part of the Sarus Exchange Program.
Students are free to define for themselves what constitutes their community. It could be their high school or elementary school, their university department, or their religious community.
Students are encouraged to choose a creative and personally meaningful way to share their research and experiences in the other country with people they care about. By doing this, more people will have access to accurate, firsthand information about the other country – coming from people they trust and care about.
The medium for the project is up to the individual student. Past Sarus students have given public presentations, written articles, made slideshows, or even produced videos. What is important is that the project is creative and meaningful to the student, and that it informs and educates community audiences about their neighboring country.