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Paris students adjust to life in Phnom Penh

Marie Schneegans and Alexis Tuil of Paris Dauphine University.
Marie Schneegans and Alexis Tuil of Paris Dauphine University.

Paris students adjust to life in Phnom Penh

Both Alexis Tuil and Marie Schneegans are 19-year-old students at Paris Dauphine University and they both just arrived in Asia for the first time on internships to work with a microfinance company.

The unpaid internships they applied for include free housing and jobs at YCP Microfinance on Street 118, a family-owned company. They arrived on June 28, met at the airport, and will be staying until early September.

Schneegans saw the ad for French National Day in The Phnom Penh Post and sent an email. She and Tuil sat down for a conversation on Wednesday afternoon, expressing their impressions of Cambodia and the differences between here and France.

Originally from Lausanne, Switzerland, Schneegans majors in management.

Tuil is specialising in finance, economics and mathematics.

Both had interviews at the Dauphin Microfinance Association to get the chance to come to Cambodia. They’re both very excited and delighted to be here.

“They look for financial institutions in developing countries in Asia and Africa and contact the company,” Tuil said. “We are not paid; we have accommodation and they interview us to know our profile and match the needs of the company,” he said.

Tuil’s family comes from a suburb just east of Paris called Le Pelleux where his father is a medical doctor and his mother is an accountant.

“This is my first time in Asia and my first long trip for two months,” Tuil said. “It is very exciting to be here. And it is a very different culture. People are so friendly and here it is relaxed, but there’s lots of traffic and pollution.”

Both Tuil and Schneegans observe that Cambodians have been friendly and polite with them.

“Cambodian people are very nicewith us,” Schneegans said. “In the microfinance company we feel like a big family. The CEO is a Cambodian and it is a family company and they are all very young. Everybody in the branch is less than 30 years old.

The branch manager is daughter of the CEO and she is 19-years-old.”

Schneegans’ father, a Swiss national, works for a retail company in Geneva. Her mother is a nurse and she has one younger brother who is in high school.

“Life in Cambodia is very different than the life in Paris I had before. Before I was a model and it was luxurious and snobbish. Here it is very different and even if Cambodians have very little, they seem to be very happy. This is a unique experience and I enjoy every moment. It is a very human experience,” she said.

Schneegans said you have to be careful of traffic every second and it is hard to know how to react when children come up and ask for money.

“There are always children who come and they want money and we don’t really know how to react,” she said.

Schneegans and Tuil met a Cambodian boy, 19, who tried to sell them marijuana.

“He started to speak about his life and he told us he has no family, no ID, and can’t work and has to live in the streets,” Tuil said. “This affected us very deeply and we felt we were lucky to be born in Europe.”

Both Schneegans and Tuil have decided to give food to Cambodians instead of money.

“We can give a banana or water,” Tuil said. “We don’t know if the money is for them or parents, but with food we are sure. We don’t know if they are friendly because they want our money, or because they are genuinely friendly,” he said.

Both recently returned from a trip to Siem Reap. Neither is accustomed to seeing so many poor people around the streets as they do in Cambodia.

“When I lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, there were no beggars, but in Paris I saw many homeless, and now when I came here it is a big contrast. We are not used to it. In Switzerland it is totally different,” she said.

Tuil said his first impression was the contrast in Cambodia between so many poor people and then rich people in a lot of big cars.

“In Paris you have to have small cars that are more easy to park and cute. Here, big cars are like bling bling. Idon’t know if it is to show how rich they are, or because the road is bad but there is a great contrast between poor people on street and new rich guys with big cars,” he said.

He also noticed the difference between the westerners along the Riverside and the poor people in the streets nearby.

“I feel that rich people don’t care about the poor people,” he said. “I think they think they’re rich and it’s not their fault. I never saw Cambodian people give money to the poor,” he said.

Schneegans hopes to use the internship in microfinance to we see that poor people can change their lives.

“They give between one thousand and five thousand dollars, for business, for construction for the house for family, equipment or a car,” she said.

Tuil said unemployment in France was a big problem of concern to young people looking for jobs.

“For us we care about that; in four years we are going to work and have a job. When we speak with other students we are not so positive for our future. We are concerned,” he said.

One thing Schneegans likes about Cambodia is the totally different mentality.

“It is totally different. Here people find solutions and it is always positive. At the office they sit down on the floor at lunch and eat rice. In Paris it would not be possible to eat with the manager like this. We can be really near everyone,” she said.

Schneegans and Tuil live in an apartment near the Olympic branch office of YCP Microfinance.


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