Patrick Young and Chum Mey, one of seven survivors of the Cambodian death camp Tuol Sleng.

Patrick Young and Chum Mey, one of seven survivors of the Cambodian death camp Tuol Sleng.

Outside a former Khmer Rouge death camp in Cambodia, Clemson senior Patrick Young stood with a group of American students listening to a tour guide. An elderly man sitting on a bench at the entrance was identified as one of the camp’s only seven survivors. While walking alone later, Young came upon the same man, who offered to guide him around the camp. The two communicated through hand gestures as the survivor led Young through the cramped cells and narrow halls.

“There was still blood staining some of the cell floors in the camp,” Young recalled. “He showed me his own cell where he lived for years under horrible circumstances.”

Walking through the dilapidated halls, Young was struck by the gravity of injustices such as those faced by this survivor. He returned from his trip with a new appreciation for things he had previously taken for granted in the United States.

On that same study abroad trip, Young took part in a global studies class for which the final assignment was a creative project about sustainability. Choosing to focus on sustaining the human connection, Young’s group created a documentary about worldwide threats to children such as trafficking, infanticide and disease. Young completed his individual research on child sex trafficking in Vietnam and Cambodia, interviewing activists, community leaders and ordinary citizens to gain a well-rounded perspective of a pervasive and eye-opening global problem.

“My experiences allowed me to re-evaluate what’s really important,” he said. “I don’t complain as much anymore because my worst days are better than the best days of many of the people I encountered.”

A language and international trade major, Young began studying abroad in summer 2008 with a five-week program in Xalapa, Mexico, where he lived with a host family and took classes in both English and Spanish at the University of Veracruz. Although he had studied little Spanish before the trip, he quickly developed his language skills and became fairly fluent during his stay.

Young’s exposure to the exciting customs and culture in Xalapa inspired him to expand his next excursion to include multiple countries through the Semester at Sea program, which took him to the Cambodian death camp. In the program, students travel to 12 countries around the world while taking classes aboard a cruise ship outfitted with academic resources. Between stops, which lasted from four days to more than a week, Young took business classes in international finance and marketing.

“We got to meet a lot of lecturers and professors from different countries,” Young said. “It was really interesting to get so many cultural perspectives.”

Upon returning to Clemson, Young experienced what he called a “reverse culture shock.” While his personal understanding of the world had changed through his trip, the familiar life and customs he had left in Clemson had not, and readjusting to the culture of the States proved difficult. To ease the transition, Young has kept in touch with friends he made on the trip from the United States and from the many countries he visited. Also, his renewed awareness of prevalent world issues has informed and enriched his international studies.

“I took that Clemson mentality of wanting to know people to 12 different countries,” he said. “I was able to spread the Clemson spirit in my own way, and people really appreciated it.”

If you have a story you’d like to see appear on the Clemson website, e-mail your idea to writer Crystal Boyles at