Spending a month in Cambodia seems like an awfully long time but in retrospect, it seemed to have flown by before I could even say “STORM”. Nonetheless, this month in Cambodia has taught me:
- That I was not on a mission trip to Cambodia; I was experiencing life in Cambodia. It seems pretty obvious but apparently, it wasn’t that clear to me. I went with the mindset of being on a mission trip, working long and tiring hours from dawn to dusk, day after day. As Terence and Debbie highlighted, ‘living’ like this would only cause you to burn out after about a week. Instead, I lived with the locals for a month as a volunteer teacher. My daily schedule consisted of teaching English classes at a local primary school for a couple of hours in the morning and, after an afternoon break, teaching kindergarten students at the Legacy of Hope International (LOHI) centre. Apart from that, I spent time interacting with the locals and building relationships with them. Some days, I would go to the wet market to buy things to cook meals and a fruit seller even spoke to me in Khmer once because she thought I was Cambodian! Thankfully, she could speak English and I could buy my apples.
- To appreciate the virtue of education. More often than not, I, a typical Malaysian teenage student, have taken my education for granted. I grumbled and complained about homework and exams, but I never bothered to think of how fortunate I am to be able to read, write, and learn in the first place. Not until I realized that there were still children who don’t have access to education. The first time I went to the Puk Chmaa primary school transported me back to primary school days, but worse – the classroom had worn-out wooden tables with attached benches, no lights or fans, a blackboard with chalk, and posters and old artwork hung up on the walls. Most of the students wore their school uniform and came in with their exercise books and a pen or pencil. Oddly enough, what struck me the most was that none of them were wearing shoes. Even though (to quote my friend Esther) “slippers are the way of life in Cambodia”, I still found it weird/sad to see that they were all wearing slippers or barefoot. As part of a new project with the school, I was the first volunteer to teach English to two classes of about 25 students each. These 50 children between the ages of maybe 8-14 were learning English for possibly the very first time, and boy were they eager about it. Kind of puts me to shame for complaining, doesn’t it?
- That I CAN do it. Whenever we are put in situations outside of our comfort zone, we tend to shrink back and be very negative about things. For example, I am not generally a scared person, but going to Cambodia alone really took some courage, especially when I had to sit in a taxi alone for three hours from Siem Reap to Battambang. Honestly, I thank God for protecting me because I had no idea where I was going and I was very glad that I didn’t end up in some human trafficking chain (and there I go being negative again!). However, as Debbie said, these circumstances that are out of our comfort zone, are often in our growth zone. Teaching classes on my own is rather foreign to me and I was worried that I would teach something wrong, or that the students would not like me because I didn’t know how to make the classes interactive. What I learned is that Cambodians are really nice so they usually won’t hate you, and that I grew to actually be quite creative in my teaching (if I do say so myself).
- That life is only as complicated as we make it out to be. In Cambodia, life is about as simple as waking up early, working hard during the day, eating mangoes for dessert at almost every meal, and ending the day with your family at home before calling it a night. There is no need for nightlife, numerous social interactions or even worrying about your fashion sense (because yes, wearing furry winter gloves or four layers of clothing is perfectly acceptable to protect you from the sweltering heat when you’re on a motorbike. See also: “slippers are the way of life in Cambodia”).
To sum it up, Cambodia was a blast 🙂
(and no, I’m not just saying that because it was mango season.)
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