The Impact of an International Circus Tour

(c) F. Lugnie

For almost 15 years, our circus and music students have toured Europe twice a year. This month, the students from our popular circus show Influence are on their first international circus tour in France.

To get a better understanding of how these international tours impact the lives of our students, we spoke to a group of artists from our show “Chills” who have been to France twice on tour with PPSA.

Their First International Circus Tour      

For most of these artists, their first trip to Europe was their first time ever on an airplane. Some even report being frightened before take off. But when asked about their emotions before that first fateful trip, they were unanimous in their reply:

“We felt happy and joyous! We were going to France.”

Many of the children attending Phare Ponleu Selpak come from families with poor economic situations, low levels of education, and histories of drug abuse or domestic violence. Of all our artistic programs, the circus trainings are the most attractive to kids from these difficult backgrounds.

The children are not encouraged to stay in school, and we have high drop-out rates. For most people from our community, international travel is a far off dream. But for hardworking, dedicated students at Phare, this dream becomes a reality.

The Reality of a Tour in France
(c) C. Saltzman

Once they touch down in Paris, the students, many of whom have never left Cambodia, are in for a shock. From the language, to food, to the weather, everything is a new adjustment. For most of the cast of Chills, one memory stuck out among all the others:

“There was one food that smelled terrible. You eat it with bread. Cheese! We don’t like the cheese”.

But stinky French cheese aside, there were more tough adjustments to come. According to Danith, one of the young women from the Chills band, “The first month is very difficult. Everything is new and strange.”

But after a month, she says, things start to get easier.

One thing that helps the students is living with a host family. For the first few weeks of the trip, the performers stay with a family in France, learning a bit of the language, and getting their bearings in this new culture.

But pretty soon it’s time to leave the nest and hit the road. During a grueling three-month tour, the students perform their show in street festivals and parks all around France and other European countries. The tours are organized by our partner organization, Collectif Clowns d’Ailleurs et d’Ici (CCAI).

Chills travelled to Belgium in August 2016. In February 2017, Influence will visit Sweden. It’s a whirlwind tour for a group of artists who, one month before, had never left Asia.

International Circus Tour France 2016

(c) David Bert

The tour is a chance to learn on many different levels. Of course, they learn as they perform in the festivals, but they also find inspiration by watching other performances. They are exposed to new ideas, new styles, and new concepts by troupes from Europe, Africa, and the US.

As Tida, a performer from Chills tells it, “In Cambodia, we focus on displaying our technique and using comedy to tell a story, but most of all we focus on technique. But in Europe, they focus so much on the storytelling.”

(c) Sigrid Spinno

This experience of seeing new ways of performing is invaluable to the PPSA students. It serves to inspire them to work even harder at their circus trainings at home.

Upon Returning to Cambodia

The teachers at Phare all remark on the changes in the students when they return from their international circus tour. The most notable change is in their maturity. Though they left as excitable young circus students, they return closer to the professional artists they will grow into.

“Cambodia feels very different when we come back. We can see that Cambodia is not as developed as France, the roads are not as good, and there is more garbage.”

But the feedback is not all negative. The students come back more motivated than ever before, throwing themselves back into their circus studies with ferocity. Many students also return with a desire to study French, realizing the importance of being able to speak a foreign language.

(c) P. Gomé

For these students, the training at Phare is a chance to make a better life for themselves, and for their families. They hope to become professional circus artists and musicians, performing in Siem Reap, or around the world. Already, performing here in Battambang, they can make some money to help support their families.

Some of the students plan future trips abroad. They want to see Denmark, Germany, and the United States. But all of this international dreaming and goal setting doesn’t take away from their love of their home country. Because at the end of the interview, Chhoun Champov, who plays one of the ghosts from Chills, summed it up the best:

 “We are very happy in France, but still we miss Cambodia because we are Cambodian.”

Want to support our students’ dreams of becoming professional artists? Like to make an impact on the life of a child? Donate today, or become a long term sponsor and join our Child Sponsorship Program.

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Want to catch Influence while they tour in France? You can find the schedule and more information on our partner, Collectif Clowns d’Ailleurs et d’Ici, website: