Psychology Department broadens global vision to Cambodia


Graphic: Christian Sanchez

The Department of Psychology plans to send a group of students to Cambodia in May to accompany Dr. Robin Blair, an assistant professor, in cross-cultural trauma research and treatment. They will spend time getting to know girls at Rapha House, an organization that provides housing, food, education and technical training to youngsters who either have been sexually trafficked or are at a high risk of being trafficked.

After a week of intensive coursework for PSYC 495, Perspectives in Cambodia, taught on Azusa campus, the team will spend two weeks in the countryside outside the city of Phnom Penh where they will be helping a research group and working with Rapha House.

“Long term, we’d like to provide [Rapha House] with culturally appropriate trauma treatment that they can use with the girls,” Blair said. “They’re using some [treatment] that’s been standardized among Western populations pretty well, but it’s not translating as well as they’d hope.”

To reach this long-term goal, Blair and the team of five to ten students, who will be selected in December, will start conducting interviews with the girls to better understand Cambodian language and culture. Students can still apply late, but must do so before Thanksgiving.

“We need to figure out what do they even understand when we say ‘trauma,’ what do they mean by ‘recover’ and ‘healing’? So we need to make sure we’re on the same page on conceptualization of terms and concepts,” Blair said. “So that’s the purpose of the research part of it. The students will be able to see how we do those qualitative interviews [and] how we code data, how we utilize interpreters, how we try to be sensitive and aware of the fact that we’re coming from a different culture.”

The trip will offer an opportunity for students to consider how psychology and Christianity may work hand in hand.

“How can you use this degree to further the kingdom? By utilizing our research training and our clinical training, that’s one way we’re using our calling as psychologists to give back and to make a difference for the kingdom, to make a difference for God’s people,” Blair said. “And I think that’s a really beautiful, tangible way of integrating that. Oftentimes, we have a hard time getting our minds wrapped around, how do you be a Christian psychologist? This is a great example of that.”

Senior psychology major Crystal Orabona sees how studying abroad would contribute to the formation of any well-rounded student. Since she is now a senior, Orabona cannot apply for the trip, but wishes it had been available to her, she said.

“If there’s one major that has needed a study abroad program, it’s definitely psychology,” Orabona said. “I think the best psychology student is one who can learn to empathize with and step into the life of someone who is completely different from them. What better way to accomplish this than to be immersed in new, unique cultures overseas?”


Cambodia is home to Angkor Thomn, pictured, the last capital city of the Khmer empire established in the 12th century.
Photo: Rebecca Kay

Along with the Cambodia summer program, the psychology department and APU South Africa semester have collaborated to create a track specifically for psychology and social work students. According to the study abroad office, the tracks are housed on a separate campus for most of the semester than the other South Africa students. The pioneer team for these tracks takes off next semester.

“This is just a trip that’s an example of one of many things the department’s trying to do to have a broader impact and to expose students to various avenues of psychology and various ways to impact the kingdom,” Blair said. “But I’m also really excited about all the other plans [the department chair, Dr. Annie Tsai] has as far as implementing more of a cross cultural element to our department. … So we’re starting in Cambodia because that’s where the need is, that’s where our connection is. We have a big vision beyond Cambodia.”

Junior business management major Lacey Maloney and more than a dozen students are putting together a fashion show and silent auction benefit event in February for Rapha House. APU students can support Rapha House by purchasing $10 tickets.

This project started in their internship class which is working with Enactus, an international nonprofit that promotes business entrepreneurship and action within communities. Students can participate in the program for internship credit.

“I was in charge of finding the faith-based organization the proceeds of the fundraiser would go to,” Maloney said.

When she found Rapha House through the Internet, her friend happened to share that she hoped to work with the group over the summer. Through this connection, Maloney met with Dr. Blair and learned more about the organization.

“The more I learned about RH’s safe houses and restoration process, the more excited I was about RH. I don’t believe in coincidences; I knew this was God directing me to choose RH to support,” Maloney said.

The fashion show will be at Christ Church of the Valley. The proceeds from business sponsorships, the silent auction and the admission fees will fund the education program that teaches girls sewing skills and trade at three houses. The event will begin with complimentary dessert, and a silent auction, then lead into the fashion show, followed by the sale of merchandise made by rescued girls at the safe houses.

Students can support Rapha House by attending February’s fashion show or by connecting the team with auction donations and sponsorships. Contact Maloney for further details about the fashion show at Contact the psychology department or Dr. Robin Blair for further details about the Cambodia summer program at