This past year, Phare Ponleu Selpak received two student volunteers from the United States. They have spent around seven months at Phare and will be leaving soon to start their first year of university. As a farewell, we asked a few questions about their internship experience here.

This week, we interviewed Eliot Witherspoon, a communications and marketing assistant. Catch his answers below!

Can you introduce yourself?

Hi! My name is Eliot and I’m from upstate New York in the United States. I’ve finished high school and am now taking a gap year in Cambodia with five other students before starting at Princeton University next fall.

In the U.S., I love spending time with my friends going on drives to new places, and I love being with my family and being in nature. In Battambang, I’ve loved exploring the café scene and going on trips with my homestay family…and working at Phare, of course!

Eliot Witherspoon, communications intern at Phare Ponleu Selpak

Did you come as an intern on your own or through a volunteering organization? Give us some details.

Neither actually! My gap year is organized as part of a Princeton University program that contracts out an experiential education company called Where There Be Dragons to manage the gap year on the ground.

After visiting the Phare campus, I fell in love with it. I landed here at my Where There Be Dragons teachers’ suggestion, and I’m so glad I did!

Learn more about being a volunteer intern at Phare Ponleu Selpak from this interview with Eliot Witherspoon

What made you want to volunteer as part of the Phare family?

As soon as I stepped onto the campus of Phare Ponleu Selpak for a visit with my group, I knew I wanted to volunteer here. The campus is so beautiful and green, and the environment is amazing.

Everyone seems to know each other like a big family. The students are so creative and inspiring, and the staff is so friendly and knowledgeable. I also love the arts and believe in their power to create happiness and passion.

Olivia AUDO with 2 other volunteers from Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang, Cambodia

Photo credit: CHAN Rattanakoudom

What was your role while volunteering at Phare?

For the past seven months, I’ve been a communications and marketing intern, and I’ve had a wide variety of responsibilities. I’ve been a content writer for the blog and some of our 30th anniversary events, I’ve helped out with the S’Art Urban Art Festival Instagram and Facebook, and I’ve even done a little bit of videography.

Another big part of my job has been updating the website. This involved updating and standardizing a huge backlog of blog posts, as well as managing, organizing, and cleaning up our many web pages and linking systems.

Learn more about Pchum Ben Festival and how Phare Kindergarten students celebrated in Battambang

Photo Credit: CHHUON Vyro

What did you like most about doing an internship at Phare Ponleu Selpak?

First of all, I really like the campus. I honestly think it’s one of the most beautiful places in Battambang. It’s full of green spaces, Khmer- and French-style architecture, and of course it’s packed with mural painting on every spare wall. It’s also full of life. Students are always walking from place to place laughing in groups of friends, visitors to the campus are frequent, and there is always a pulsing heartbeat of drums coming from the music school.

Second, I’m very grateful for how much this experience has taught me. I’ve learned about everything from writing, SEO, and marketing to videography and Photoshop. I also feel very lucky to have learned a lot about existing at a workplace in general before even starting college.

But most of all, I love my coworkers for making every day fun, enriching, and exciting. I’ve done so much learning and laughing with them, and I’ve formed relationships that I hope will last far into the future.

Volunteering opportunities in Cambodia at Phare Ponleu Selpak

In your opinion, what makes Phare special or unique?

I think it’s so unique because when you’re a part of Phare, you feel part of something bigger than just an art school or an NGO. Phare doesn’t just help the community; in a way, Phare IS the community. In values and attitude, Battambang seems to me like an extension of the campus, and I don’t think that’s just a coincidence.

The people of Battambang are very accepting and supportive of the arts, and I think that’s because Phare is so well respected and so many loyal students have gone through its doors. They also do so much community outreach through events and festivals that have become huge phenomena throughout the city.

I think Phare Ponleu Selpak is largely responsible for making Battambang the cool, artsy city of Cambodia, and for making it such a great place to live.

What advice would you give to someone else who is thinking about volunteering or interning at Phare?

Go for it!

Phare Ponleu Selpak is such a special place, and any experience you have here will stick with you for the rest of your life. Although a new workplace and country/language may seem daunting, the people are so kind, and everyone at Phare will welcome you with open arms.

You should definitely come to Phare. You’ll learn so much about the world and yourself, and you’ll make unforgettable memories in the process.


Looking to volunteer in Southeast Asia? Apply to volunteer at Phare Ponleu Selpak and use your skills to make a meaningful impact in Cambodia and beyond.


Soree Kim, Communications Intern at Phare Ponleu Selpak
Soree KIM
Soree Kim is a Communications Intern at Phare Ponleu Selpak. She is taking an organized gap year in Cambodia through her university which involves volunteering at an NGO, living with an homestay, and learning Khmer. She chose Phare because of how the passionate the community is about the arts. She hopes to become a better writer at her time at Phare. In her free time, she loves baking desserts and spending time with family and friends.