For the German Red Cross Schleswig Holstein i have to write a report about my life and work in Cambodia every 3 months. Here are some excerpts from the first one, talking about my classes, my free time and reflecting about my first months here.
At the moment I teach three English classes and one Computer class a day. Two of my English classes are Beginner level. At first it was really hard to get used to the fact that my students understand nearly no English at all and that now I would be the person in charge of their education. However after the first two weeks I figured out how to handle my young students, who are often loud or run around the class, and by now I feel really confident about what I teach them and about how to treat my students. Especially as a young person, who just 6 months ago was still going to high school and listening to teachers, now being the teacher and no longer the student is a bit tricky at the beginning. I do feel though that the best method was to just get thrown out there and start teaching. Here in Cambodia there is often no better way than to improvise and just try to figure things out on your own.
The other English class I teach is a Pre-Intermediate level. Many of the students in that class are around the same age or even a little bit older than me. All of them understand quite a bit of English and they start learning more complicated grammar. I instantly started to have a lot of fun teaching that class since it was great to have students who understood most of what I said and who I could actually have a conversation with. After my first few days of enthusiasm with my Pre-Intermediate class I quickly realized that this class was also the toughest to prepare since they would actually start to ask a lot of questions about the grammar I had to teach them or about more complicated vocabulary that I couldn’t explain without looking it up first. Since it is important to me to keep up the motivation of my students and encourage them to improve their English constantly and to take studying at SCAO seriously I started to let them write at least one vocabulary test per month, let them do homework for which they can get points, give points for attendance and also have a final exam at the end of every month. At the end of the month I print out the list with all the scores of my students and I also rank them so they know who the top ten students of the class are. This is similar to how the Cambodian Public Schools grade their students, only that students can fail classes and get sponsorships at the public schools. So far I’ve noticed that many more students do their homework when they get points for it and that they care a lot about how good they are in class now.
Around three weeks ago Leon and I started to go to Khmer class every day from 4 to 5 o’clock. So far it has been a lot of fun however it is also quite a lot to learn and another addition to my already busy schedule. Right now we only study how to speak Khmer but maybe in the far future we will give a shot at also learning how to write and read Khmer.
Even though we still have lots and lots to study I already start to understand a lot more when I hear people talk Khmer and I’m already able to go shopping at the market or talk to Moto & Tuk Tuk – drivers completely in Khmer. It is a great feeling to be able to understand and speak a little bit of the language and see the reactions of the Cambodians. It makes me feel a lot more at home in Cambodia than before.
On the weekends I either spend my time in Phnom Penh or I stay at the center in Boeng Chhuk. When I stay at the center I usually try to sleep long, do my laundry do some more work for SCAO, go to the internet café nearby and research for classes or Skype with friends and family. When the kids come home from school we sometimes play monopoly together or try singing recent chart songs together, it’s always great to enjoy some time with the center kids and get to know them better. Weekends at the center are pretty quiet most of the time, but I like to spend some time alone, without all the students around me, just hanging out in my bed and relaxing.
Weekends that I spent in Phnom Penh are quite the opposite. Most of the time I share a room in a guesthouse with at least one other volunteer. During the day we are either procrastinating and using the wifi in the guesthouses for almost the whole day and then go out for dinner somewhere on the streets and later for drinks and going out with the volunteers or we spent the whole day running around Phnom Penh, from market to market, from fruit stand to fruit stand and browsing the shelves of the biggest supermarket. However these days also end at dinner and drinks with other volunteers quite often.
One of the moments that was quite new to me, was the day that a monk from the local pagoda joined my beginners class. At the new school many monks have been coming to conversation class for a while, but before that one monk came to my class we didn’t have any monks from the pagoda joining us at the Old School. In the beginning I was not really sure how to treat the monk. I had read about many rules regarding the relationship between monks and women. I was not to look into his eyes, not too touch him and if I would greet him he wouldn’t be allowed to answer. Some people even said I wasn’t allowed to talk to him. Since the monk was now my student not talking to him was not an option though. After some classes I figured out a way how to treat the monk that worked for him and me as the teacher at the same time. Obviously I did speak to him and I also looked at him, however I still try to not look into his eyes for too long or in a way that might be mistaken. Whenever I walk through the classroom or I pass him the marker, I make sure that I do not touch him and that I give something with my right hand.
Now I’m really happy about the situation. The monk in my class has a great level of English and is always very interested in learning more about Germany and my German life.
Having a monk in my class also helped me a lot to be a bit more relaxed about Buddhism and monks in general. The first weeks I’ve always been very careful that I wouldn’t do anything that might be against the rules of Buddhism. Having the monk in my class though helped me realize that I do not have to be that tense all the time and that even monks are normal people, like everyone else.
I hope everyone had a good start for the new year and i’ll write some more posts about my family visiting me and recent changes around here soon.
All the best from Cambodia,