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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

West Point Volunteers - Zach


Describing a week in Cambodia teaching at a free school for area children and living in the heart of what was once dense jungle is a mountainous task in itself. As an American college student who has never traveled remotely near Southeast Asia before this, I hadn’t really anticipated just how much I would’ve seen and accomplished in such a brief time.

Teaching at Wat Chork and Wat Thmei has been eye opening to say the very least. The range of ages alone (of the students) has surprised me: we have very small boys and girls and men and women older than my ripe young age of twenty-one. What unites them all is their striking willingness to learn as much as they possibly can: planning to end early on a Friday, I said goodbye to the class only to watch as they all remained in their seats. This is partly due to the ever-present Khmer-English communication barrier, but it is symbolic of the students’ selfless attitude. In America students would be out the door at the slightest hint that class was to end for the day.

I’ve experienced quite a bit outside of class as well. Journeying to temples such as Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei, and Bang Mealea has been quite fulfilling and undoubtedly adventurous. A simple tuk-tuk ride by the different communities that make up Siem Reap is an education to foreign eyes.

I look forward to our continued time in this amazing country.

July 31

To sum up my experience in Cambodia during this month is to put together a mosaic of remarkably different experiences. The day-to-day responsibility of teaching in area schools was both inspiring and highly personal, and the same can be said for the work Kevin and I did with Angkor Hospital for Children. Cambodia is a country stuck in the old world but continually making strides toward the new. Our visit to Phnom Penh was a microcosm of this: spending time in the Central Market with its main building that reminded me somewhat of Grand Central Station in New York was coupled with strolling through walkways covered only by plastic garbage bags to keep the rain out.

What constantly impressed me about this country were its hardworking, dedicated, selfless, and caring people. For the most part, all of the Cambodians we worked with were unflinching in their wish to learn as much as possible, to get a job to support their family and themselves, and to improve their knowledge of the wider world that is slowly reaching them.

Tourism continues to be the most important industry here, and many of the teachers and guides we worked with rightfully took advantage of this by majoring in tourism and hospitality at area universities. Several of these people surprised me not only by their excellent English, but also by their dedication to their jobs. This especially lies with the teachers, as our interviews with the JWOC scholarship students revealed that education remains the single largest impediment and stepping stone to a successful career in their country.

To close, it’s been a whirlwind. I’ll miss many parts of Cambodia, not the least of which will be our group of bright students. I think that someday I’ll come back.

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