My Trip to Cambodia #1: Teaching English

So I know that I haven’t blogged in a while, well ages, but I have a good excuse: I’ve been in Cambodia! I’ve just come back from the best three weeks of my life and while I’m still a little dazed and confused, I’m ready to share my adventures.

I went to Siem Reap in Cambodia to teach underprivileged children English, and so I thought I’d use this first instalment to talk about the teaching aspect of my trip.

First of all, a word of warning. I remember being told before I came that children in countries like Cambodia weren’t like children in the Western world, and that they were eager to learn as much as they could. Well, that turned out to be a big fat lie. The children that I taught were cheeky, naughty, wouldn’t listen and would fall asleep in my lessons, but ultimately that’s what made me fall in love with them even more.

children asleep

Was my lesson really this boring?

I taught in a school about 15 minutes out of Siem Reap, where the majority of the children came from a very poor local village. The children had very little; some wore the same filthy clothes everyday and others didn’t have any shoes, making them prime targets for the ferocious red ants which were abundant around the school. And yet despite their lack of material wealth and possessions, they were all just so cheerful and happy, crying little and laughing often. Their energy was contagious, and even when they were running away from my lessons, I managed to find the energy to bring them back with a smile on my face and a stern word of caution that they wouldn’t listen to, and couldn’t understand anyway.

It was a little bit heartbreaking to see where they lived.

It was a little bit heartbreaking to see where they lived.

The classrooms were outside. In the morning I taught a class of about 12, aged from about 11 – 19 (it was a bit of a shock to find out one of my students was only a year younger than me!). I called them my ‘good class’ because they were older and knew what was going on a lot more, although it was still a bit of a chore to teach them sometimes. With them, I managed to go through grammatical things like tenses and comparatives, and by the end I even managed to get them to produce a letter, although the English on them is a little questionable at times. I loved challenging them with surprise spelling tests (which they clearly enjoyed) and getting them to do partner work, questioning each other in English only. It was such a joy to teach them and I’ll miss them pointing at the laziest, naughtiest boy in the class and saying, “Teacher, he lazy”.

My "good class" complete with "lazy" boy centre bottom.

My “good class” complete with “lazy” boy centre bottom.

My afternoon class, who I entitled “the terrors” were aged from 3 – 14 so it was immediately impossible to engage them on all of their different levels. I had children too young to pick up a pencil, and children old enough to be writing sentences, and it was just so unrealistic to be able to teach them all at the same time. With the younger students, we practised the ABC, and they would write out one letter at a time  for a whole page in their books. I tried to teach the older students three words for each letter and some basic questions, but they really struggled with the difference between “how are you?” and “how old are you?” so I spent a lot of the time saying loudly “OLD, how OLD are you?” to their blank faces. I think a few may have got it by the end though, and that’s all I could hope for really. Thankfully, before I left some more volunteers arrived and there were enough for a new kindergarten class to be established, which would really help solve the problem of “the terrors”.

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It’s hard to tell them off when they’re just so godamn cute.

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I can’t say that it was all plain sailing teaching these children. There were times when it felt like a horrible full-time job which I wasn’t getting paid for, and I would come home frustrated and disappointed that they just weren’t understanding it. But then there were those moments where a child would say something in perfect English and I could have cried with happiness. Those were the moments that kept me going. I’ve been promised that teaching in England isn’t nearly as rewarding as teaching English as a foreign language, and that’s kind of crossed off that career from my list, but I’d recommend the experience to anyone and everyone, if only to have the chance to meet children who have the ability to change your life. I’ll remember these children always and I miss them like crazy already.

In the next instalment of my Cambodian adventure, I will be talking about all the sightseeing I did. Bring on Angkor Wat and Battambang!

To read the next instalment, click here

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One comment

  1. […] To read about my teaching English in Cambodia, click here […]

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