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Monday, July 23, 2007

West Point Volunteers - Katie


For me, the most rewarding part of my experiences in Cambodia so far has been teaching at the schools of Wat Chock and Wat Thmei. Every day has been an adventure at Wat Chock. It is located about 15 minutes outside the village of Siem Reap, surrounded by farms and fields. The tuk-tuk ride there is a bouncing, bumpy, hang-on-for-dear life experience down one of Cambodia’s infamously bad dirt roads. Zach and I get a lot of smiles and laughs as we try to brave the road, bouncing around in the tuk-tuk as Cambodians sail smoothly by on their motorbikes, missing the potholes.

The school is located at the back of Wat Chock, in a building with only a roof, which serves a variety of other purposes beyond being just a school. The orange robes of the monks are hanging everywhere around the classroom drying after being washed, chickens walk by with chicks following them, people take showers by dumping a bucket of water over their heads less than 15 feet from my classroom. Occasionally some shirtless older men wander by and might join in the lesson, repeating after the teacher in English.

The best part of Wat Chock are the students, all of them are extremely dedicated to learning, very respectful and have great senses of humor. Bo-phi is a little girl who rides her bike to the school every day and is unfailingly the first one done with every lesson and assignment. Another student is studying to become an English teacher in one of the surrounding schools, many others are hoping to get jobs in the hotel or tourism industry, such as working as guides at the near-by Angkor Wat temples.
We are looking forward to another week of teaching, along with helping with the building of a new school at Wat Chock. The new school will have two sunny, well-lit, open rooms with computers and new desks, allowing for the expansion of the school. It would be very rewarding to come back to Cambodia in a few years and see the new school and what the students are accomplishing.

July 31

Looking back, I can’t believe how fast the last month has gone while we have been in Cambodia. It is really going to seem like no time has gone by when we board our flight for Bangkok. I think what I will remember most about being here is the time I spent teaching English at Wat Choch and Wat Thmei. Getting to know the students and finding out about their lives was what made it memorable, especially having the same students for the entire time.

Saying goodbye yesterday to the students was difficult, especially a few I got to know very well. I would love to come back in five years and check back on the students that I had in class. On the last day we talked about what we wanted to do in the future; Zach and I talked about our plans after we finished college. Most of the dream jobs for the students centered around the growing tourist industry in Siem Reap and education, two areas that provide decent jobs. Many wanted to be tour guides for sites like Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, some wanted to achieve management positions at hotels, a good majority were working towards becoming teachers. Going to university was a dream for a lot of students, but a difficult one to achieve without outside financial help or a scholarship, due to their poor backgrounds.

I was really touched by a girl in Wat Thmei class who took the time and money to go out and buy Zach and me departing gifts, to thank us for teaching us. She works very long hours at a nearby hotel and has to be away from her family in order to work, I know it must have cut into whatever free time she has to get us gifts. The scarves and bracelets she gave me are beautiful and will be a great reminder of my time teaching here. Another student who was difficult to say goodbye to was a girl named Bo Pea in my Wat Choch class. She is extremely bright; she finishes before everyone in the class on every single assignment, and despite starting to study English only a few months ago she has the best pronunciation and understanding in the class. She would love to go to university but cannot afford to do so; she will be finished with high school in two years and most likely go to work at a hotel in Siem Reap to support her family.

After three years of college, I have to say that I have learned more this month than I have in any of my classes, and definitely have gained a new perspective. I hope I can come back to Siem Reap in a few years and see the changes that have taken place as Cambodia continues to grow.

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