How quickly time flies! I can hardly believe that four weeks, one whole month, have past since I first stepped foot in the Kingdom of Wonder. When I first arrived, I wanted to run home unapologetically. Now, the idea of leaving in five months seems nearly impossible.
After being in Cambodia for one month, I have settled into my routine here and grown comfortable with my new lifestyle. Realizing how much and how well I have grown here is empowering, and makes me feel like I am truly embracing my experience. I do not just feel like I am living an incredible life, but the life I was born to live. I am coming into myself, and transforming back into a person that I can identify with. When I look in the mirror, I recognize the person staring back at me. After months of feeling lost, I cannot stress how important and remarkable that feels.
But once again I have spent long enough boasting about my personal revelations, and so on to the weekly rewind. I wanted to try something a little different for this week’s post, in terms of format. Let me know in the comments below which format you prefer.
This week provided many incredible moments. Being my last week teaching, I strove to make the most of my remaining time with my students. I sang songs in class every day, entertained them with games, but also kept to the curriculum and included English grammar activities amongst our fun. My students loved it. Every day when I walked into the classroom, they greeted me with smiles and eagerly asked, “Teacher, Alice the Camel?” or “Teacher, we sing about the moose?” And when I replied we would sing after the lesson, they smiled in agreement and for the most part, cooperated in completing their work in order to reap the benefits of singing at the end. While this did not work with every student, and some put up quite a fight with me, not wanting to work and only sing, at the end of the week, I look at this as an accomplishment. Overall, I successfully bonded with my students.
Eighty students, over four grade levels, aged six to fourteen: I made an impression on them. They liked me, I like them, and we had fun. And even more than that, I loved teaching and I was good at it. One day while going through my lesson plan, one of the Cambodian teachers approached me and said, “You are doing well. The students understand you – you are a good teacher.” I could not conceal my smiles. I felt proud and happy. It took me four weeks, but I finally hacked teaching, even if at the tail end.
Delicious food also makes the cut for this week’s top moments. On Thursday, I went to Joma café with some friends and spent the evening eating cakes. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my obsession with plain white cake. I love it, and despite its simplicity, stubbornly believe it is the best cake flavor. So when I walked into Joma and my eyes found a slice of white cake calling my name, I am not ashamed to say I started to drool a little bit. There was no question that was the sweet treat I would be buying, and I happily savored every mouthful.
But the tasty treats did not end there. The following evening, finding ourselves activity less on a Friday night, we ventured out to Delikat Gelato. I shamelessly ordered a double scoop of gelato, and treated my taste buds to cheesecake and blueberry flavors, telling myself it was okay because I would workout the next day. Spoiler alert: I did not.
Slightly unrelated to the rest of the week’s events, another one of my favorite moments included finishing a book. For the past three weeks, I have slowly been making my way through The German Girl, a hauntingly beautiful story that details the lives of Jewish people in Berlin in 1939. The book was a page-turner, and I eagerly looked forward to reading it during my lunch break each afternoon and each night before I went to bed. Since I have wanted to get back into reading for pleasure for years now, having the time and motivation to do so feels incredible.
The week ended with a bang, creating a reenactment of the party night in Siem Reap. After volunteering at the restaurant Saturday morning, and spending that afternoon walking around Phnom Penh, my friends and I returned to the main part of the city in the evening to go out for drinks and dancing. I danced, I laughed, and I went home on tired feet.
As wonderful as this week was, there were unfortunately some less than ideal moments sprinkled throughout it as well. For the most part I enjoyed teaching my students, but as I alluded to earlier, it was not all smooth sailing. Some of the students, interested only in playing and not working, refused to do their assignments and pouted instead of writing down simple sentences. They talked in class, shouted disruptive comments, and one student even made crude comments towards me. Taking a stand, I took matters into my own hands and decided to do some disciplining in class. I take my role as a teacher seriously, and while some of my fellow volunteer teachers rolled their eyes at me, I will not stand for students misbehaving in class. School is for learning and it is a privilege to be able to go to school. So many people lack the opportunity to receive an education, so being given the opportunity to receive one is something that should not be wasted; especially in Cambodia, where normally students must pay even to go to public school. When the country is riddled with poverty, this creates a large educational gap between the wealthy and the poor. The school I worked at provides free education to students from disadvantaged areas. They are receiving an education that would be impossible for them to obtain otherwise. I wanted to ensure that the students in my class that wanted to learn could; and this was not possible with the distracting behavior of unruly students.
So this happened…
Say what you will, I stand by it.
Saying goodbye to my students also put a slight damper on the week as well. While I made the most of the remaining time I had with them, it was still hard to say goodbye. While throughout the four weeks I struggled to find a balance and figure out how to teach four different grades, with students with different performance levels within each one, I still loved those little rascals. I will miss their smiles, their high fives, and their sweaty hugs. Receiving “goodbye” drawings and gifts from them on Friday took everything I had not to burst into tears in front of them. They are so kind and, for the most part, eager to learn. I wish them all the best in the future.
This week, as is probably evident by now, has been filled with conflicted emotions. I felt sad to leave my students, but happy for the time I spent with them. I felt guilty for wanting to switch volunteer placements, but also proud of myself for taking the initiative to ask for what I wanted.
Too often, I force myself to take on more guilt than is truly necessary, feeling the need to make myself suffer when it is not justified or constructive. This week, I had to remind myself that I came to Cambodia with the vision of working for a NGO, and exploring the opportunity to experience first hand the type of work I wanted to commit my life to. There is no reason to feel guilty about wanting to expedite my doing that. When I applied to volunteer in Cambodia, I agreed to teach English, first and foremost, because I was told that there was no room to volunteer at a NGO until May. Upon discovering that this information was not true when I arrived, I wanted to transition back into the experience I originally hoped for myself, especially since I was made to believe something that was not true.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to teach English. Since teaching was something I wanted to try one day anyway, having the chance to do so was truly wonderful. And I learned so much from it. I learned that I do enjoy teaching, despite its challenges, and it is something I could see myself doing again in the future. However, I do not need to feel guilty for wanting to stop teaching and instead do something that I have dreamed of doing. I spent the majority of my undergraduate years hoping and praying I would be able to use my International Relations degree to make a difference in the world and work abroad for an organization striving to do that as well. And now I have the opportunity to do so.
A bit of anxiety also crept its way into this week. Having always had a difficult time with change, I worried about my transition into working for the NGO. I knew I wanted to experience it, but worried it may not end up being what I hoped it would be like. At the end of the day, I reminded myself to keep an open mind. I am smart, competent, and hard working. Working in these types of organizations is not new to me. I know how to take initiative, do research, and ask for projects. Everything would be fine if I simply let myself believe it would be.
But mostly this week, I felt gratified. It took me four weeks to transform back into a person I recognized and loved. Four weeks, after months of despair, and almost a year of uncertainty. Returning to myself brought me the greatest satisfaction and confidence and love, and it is something I did. I initiated my metamorphosis. While I do not think it is totally complete yet, as I hope to continue to learn and grow, the stage I am at right now is brining me all kinds of joy.
Going into my fifth week in the Kingdom of Wonder, many new and exciting things are on the horizon. As I mentioned, I am starting a new volunteer placement where I will be at a local Cambodian NGO called Youth Council of Cambodia, or YCC. They strive to empower Cambodian youth through encouraging them to participate in the strengthening of democracy, human rights, and good governance of Cambodia for peaceful and sustainable development. I am excited to start working there, and to learn more about these issues in Cambodia and become part of their movement of change.
At the end of the week, I will also be once again venturing out of Phnom Penh. Some friends and I are planning on making our way to the Mondulkiri province, and participating in the Mondulkiri Project, which strives to protect forests for elephants and wildlife. We will trek through the jungles, swim with elephants, and wash them, being about these magnificent creatures while they are free from the unfortunate and often abusive tourist activities they were rescued from.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my week in a nutshell. A whirlwind of emotions, a plethora of self-realizations and feelings of personal empowerment: one month in Cambodia has treated me well, who knows what the remaining five will bring.