Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A long-winded post!

Hello family and friends!

I have officially been in Battambang for one month and Thursday marks the 100th day since I left the U.S. The time is really flying here!

This is going to be a long one because I haven’t really updated everyone in a while, so just bear with me. The first part will be all about school and then my family/community. So for those of you that think I am “long winded” (Jenna Best), feel free to skip any part of this that gets boring. I know that some enjoy the details, so I will go into detail.

School- I have been observing for about 4 weeks now. I came up with my schedule last week and I decided to teach three 11th grade classes (B,C and D) and one 10th grade class (Q). The way that it works here is students are placed into classes of about 60-70 students A-S based on their test scores from the previous year. So, the 11th grade classes would be our idea of “honors” class and my 10th grade class would be remedial level. I wanted to work with the older, more accelerated students so that we can do more advanced projects and assignments. The 10th grade class is going to be tough because they don’t have that great of a foundation, but it will be a challenge and they deserve the chance. There are three periods a day, 7:00-9:00, 9:00-11:00 and then 2:00-4:00. They will have English twice a week. My classes have upwards of 65 students, and the largest class has 70 students. Here is my schedule:

Monday- 9:00-11:00 with 11C
Tuesday- 7:00-9:00 with 10Q, 9:00-11:00 with 11D, 2:00-4:00 with 11C
Wednesday- 9:00-11:00 with 10Q, 2:00-4:00 with 11B
Thursday- 9:00-11:00 with 11D
Friday- 7:00-9:00 with 11B

I tried to avoid the classes starting at 7:00 because the flag ceremony starts every morning at 7:00 and lasts for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want that to cut into my classes, so I only have two 7:00 classes. We also get 3 hours for lunch, which is too long. I usually just nap.

I will be coteaching with two Khmer teachers. My 11th grade classes will be taught with a man called Sem Sopheap (Sopheap being our idea of a first name, since they put the surname first.) So, Sopheap was delegated by the school director to look out for me and show me the ropes. He is pretty good at English as is super stoked about teaching with me. The other teacher is called Prajenda for 10Q. She is in her 30’s and has three children, one goes to the high school and the youngest is 3 years old. She is very strict and will be great to teach with.

I began interviewing each student individually this week. The interview will be very important for a few reasons. First, I want to meet each student that I will be teaching individually and have a chance to get to know them better. There are a few students that I have been able to talk to previously, but I’m really glad that I have the chance to meet them personally. The students come out with some really personal stuff and it really helps me get a feel for what I am up against. For instance, I was able to find out that a few of my students live at the Buddhist temple with the monks while their parents live in different provinces. It’s really heartbreaking to hear, but they are very determined to continue their studies and to change the course of their lives and help their families out. There was another student, who speaks very, very well, who told me that he wants to be a doctor but his family is so poor that he won’t be able to become a doctor. This is where I will come in soon enough because there are a lot of opportunities for this boy, he just doesn’t know it yet. One really big reason why I am doing these interviews is to see their level of English. With a class of 70 students, it’s not difficult to see that there are some students that are really advanced and some that need more help. My plan is to place them into 8-10 groups in the class so we can work to each of the groups’ needs. Those students that are shy or aren’t as good at English, we can help them in many ways. We just wouldn’t get anything done with a class of 70 students that work all together. I also want to learn about the school from this sample group of students. I will talk to well over 200 students and I think that what they say will be pretty indicative of the students at the school. I will be starting secondary projects in a few months, and I want to work with all of the students, not just the ones in my class. So, if I am able to learn what the majority of students like to do here (soccer is pretty common), I will have a better idea of what a good secondary project will be.

My first project is to clean up the library. I will be taking before and after pictures because there is a lot of work to be done there. I want to establish “office hours” in the library, so all of the students know where I will be if they want to come and learn, talk or just hang out. I will be in the library every class that I’m not teaching. There is a lot of potential in there. There are not a lot of books at all, but everything is really unorganized and cramped, so I will be spending a lot of time in there organizing the books and making it much more welcoming to the students. There are two rooms- one is basically storage and the other is a actually used as a study hall. When I asked the vice director, she said that someone can get in there to clean up and get rid of the books that haven’t been in use for a long time. I was able to get a book from Peace Corps about the proper management and maintenance of a library. We will definitely need some donations later, but right now, I want to figure what we actually have and what we need.

I met with the vice director last week and then this week I had a meeting with Peace Corps staff and my director and everything seems to be good. It was great to have the staff come in to make sure that there wasn’t any miscommunication about anything. They understand that there are new techniques that I will use in the classroom that Khmer teachers don’t use, but my coteachers and school director seem to trust me. It’s really fun to have those meetings and be really professional and proper. The Embassy came to visit, just to see how Peace Corps Volunteers are doing and to learn about schools in Cambodia. It was cool to see the students look at me a little different after that.

Next week is the water festival and school will be cancelled all week, so that means I won’t be able to start teaching until the week after, or the one after that, depending on the interviews. I want to make sure that I have all of the interviews completed before I start teaching because the structure will be different. I will start lesson planning with my coteachers after the water festival. We need to come with rules and establish a routine. I have a master plan and it is going really well so far. During my meeting with the vice director, I told her that I really want to emphasize that my students do their own work because it only hurts them to cheat. She asked me if I was going to hit them if I caught them cheating. I said, “No, I won’t. They will just get zeroes.” Let’s just hope that they don’t test the rule, because I will have no problem making an example of the students that test it.

The students are so cool. The more that I am here, I really grow to like them more and more, and I haven’t even started teaching. They are so respectful and eager to learn. It’s really fun to walk around the school and hear the students say “Hello, cher”. In Cambodia, everyone refers to someone by their title. So, for me, I am “net crew”, which is what the woman who make my lunch everyday call me. But for the English teachers, it’s teacher and the students cut it down to “cher” (not said like Cher, the singer…)

I wrestled with the idea for a while, but I decided that one of the new things that we will do is to give the class American names. I know that I need to come up with a lot, but I already have a pretty solid list. I realized that many of my students want to work for western companies or Ngos, so if they get used to saying American names and have an American name themselves, it will be better for them. Plus, it’s just really fun to have Shirley Temple in the class. I met a boy yesterday who is studying at the teacher trainer college and he introduced himself as James Bond. It was the deal maker because he clearly is used to referring to himself as James Bond, so I think it will be good for my students as well. Plus, learning 260 Khmer names is going to be really tough on me. Like I said, I have already made a pretty good list, but it’s tough to not repeat first names, because I don’t want to confuse them, so I can only have 4 Johns (one for each of the classes I am teaching). So, if anyone has any recommendations for names, PLEASE leave them in the comments section. Just to clear the air early on, none of my students will be Dick Cheney or Joe Biden (especially Dick Cheney…). I am trying to keep it as non-political as possible.

Family/Community- My family is so cool. It’s really great because in Takeo, my family was always so concerned about me and every time I got onto my bike, I was bombarded with a bunch of questions in Khmer- where are you going? When will you be home? Who are you going with? And a few times when I came home past 5:00, my host parents called my LCF to see where I was. Of course my family now gets concerned, but I have my own life. They are really busy with their tailoring shop, so I try to stay out of their way. I just found out that my mom is internationally known for her work. Sweet! She is in the process of making me teaching shirts, but her expertise is in wedding clothes. Some of the outfits that they make are unreal; they are so beautiful and detailed. It is common for brides to change as many as 10 times at their weddings. Speaking of which, wedding season is coming up soon, so hopefully I will be able to go to some!

It’s really fun to feel like you are integrating a little more. I am beginning to feel very comfortable here and I have established a routine. I have a lot of fun with my family too. My host nephew, Chun Lai is still scared to death of me, but I think that he is coming around. I may start buying stuff for him to buy his love.

I went to my host aunt’s 71st birthday party. Of my 4 host grandparents, 3 were Chinese, so my family is very in touch with their Chinese roots. At this birthday party, we ate vegetarian Chinese food- spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce and grilled mushrooms and kebab sticks with jackfruit and carrots. It was unreal, I ate so much. I was able to meet a lot of host cousins, who are around my age and most study English. They made me feel so comfortable. Four out of my 6 host siblings are married with kids, so they are pretty busy, but they always go out of their way to make sure that I feel comfortable because I feel like a total moron about 90% of the time here, and it shows. Everyone gets a good laugh and since I don’t really get embarrassed, I don’t get upset. There are just little things that don’t come natural. Like, how was I supposed to know that you use the little stick that the mushrooms came on to pick up the jackfruit and carrot combination? Well, I didn’t, but they all showed me how to do it and when I was struggling, they appreciated my attempts, but laughed none the less.

After dinner we sane “Happy Birsday” which was much different here. Right before we started, the birthday girl called me to stand next to her while everyone clapped and sang. She blew out the candles and then everyone commented on how I am so much taller than she is. We went outside and talked and hung out. It really hit me how no matter where you are in the world, whatever the local language is, whatever the local customs are, family gatherings are so universal. You eat, laugh and hang out. It made me miss my family, but I felt at home. I also was so proud of my family (my real-life, American family) because everyone always made the foreign exchange students or various friends feel so welcome and at home. I think that it’s a cycle- my family was always so welcoming to guests, and now I find a family that is so welcoming to me. It really means a lot and you don’t realize until you are the weird person from another country who always sweats, can’t really speak and has trouble eating, although my 3 year old host nephew has it down….

Last night I was talking to my host brother Huck (who is a life saver) while we were watching TV and he was talking about his family, because it’s really confusing to figure out who is married, etc. I found out that my host aunt who had just turned 71 lives with her niece and her family. Huck told me that during the Pol Pot regime (which is how many Khmer people refer to the Khmer Rogue) she lost all 5 of her children and her husband. She carries around such a heavy burden that I will never, ever understand. Stories like hers are common, but everyone that was born before 1979 has s tory. My host brother Manlee was telling me about how durin Pol Pot, there was no rice, so he would trap rats, kill them and eat them and he was seven. A lot of that was probably lost in translation, but you don’t have to be fluent to get the gist sometimes.

Sorry for the horrible stories, but there are sometimes that I get really frustrated with the state of this country but when I hear these stories, it’s a miracle that the country isn’t in worse shape. It’s the horribly tragic truth of living here and it’s something that I will never understand, although I try.

Well, I miss everyone so much! I will be posting some pictures soon of my room, house, family, and city. I am getting an expensive dinner paid for by Peace Corps! I am so excited!

This blog does not reflect the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. This entry reflects my thoughts, beliefs and opinions alone.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From Sister Kea!

This morning class was canceled again, so I thought that I would take the time to update everyone on what has been happening….

I have been in Battambang for almost three weeks and I can feel myself falling into a schedule, which I am very thankful for. After swear in, we sort of venture off on our own and have to figure stuff out, which has been very exciting, but also very awkward. Here is what my daily schedule looks like: (sorry for the disorganization, but I am just typing whatever comes to my mind…)

I wake up at 6, shower and eat oatmeal in my room. I bought some brown sugar and cinnamon at the drink shop that has a lot of western food, so I add that to my oatmeal. I usually throw in some bananas, which are 25 cents for about 12, so it’s a cheap and healthy breakfast. I leave my house at 6:45 and get to school at about 6:50. The flag ceremony starts at 7:00, but because of the amount of rain water at the school, we have been skipping that. Whenever it rains, there is an enormous amount of rain water that collects around the school, it’s actually really gross. Some classes were canceled on Monday because the first floor of most of the buildings (there are 5 main buildings and a few more in the back) were flooded. The class that I was observing was on the third floor, so I was still able to observe. There are three periods at my school, from 7:00-9:00, 9:00-11:00 and then 2:00-4:00. So I rotate observing the three English teachers. I am hoping to figure out my schedule next week and start teaching the week after that, but I am taking my time. There is no rush and I want to make sure that I do this right. It looks like I will be teaching two 10th grade classes and two 11th grade classes. Of the classes that I have observed, many of the students have asked me some awesome questions when I introduced myself to them, such as “what are your goals while you are in Cambodia?” and “what is the best way to learn a language?” It makes me really excited when the students take an interest into learning English and I can’t wait to start teaching them. In between the morning and afternoon classes, I eat lunch at the school canteen. I chose my spot to eat at everyday. There is an older woman and her two daughters who run the stand. I usually get noodles and eggs and have become a regular. Part of the difficulty in moving into a new place as an American, especially in such a big place like Battambang, people try to rip you off (I would too if roles were reversed). I am also trying really hard to make a few really great connections, so I decided to eat lunch there everyday. I also have my usual fruit lady, the guy I go to refill the credit on my phone, an electronics store I buy things from and take other volunteers too as well as two women in the market- one sells fabrics and the other is a tailor. I stop by to see them as much as I can. If they become familiar with me, it will help me integrate into the community. So, back to the schedule, I eat lunch with those women and then head back to my house to wash some clothes, shower, read or pick up my laptop to head to the University to get internet. After observing the 2:00-4:00 class, I head back home and write in my journal and write a letter to Maura in the journal and hang out with my family. We usually eat dinner around 7:00 and watch tv together (either popular Khmer shows, the news, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Amazing race or last night we watched some competition from the U.S. from 2001 where huge men smash cinder blocks, it’s pretty funny to see my family react to that….) I head to bed around 8 and take my third shower of the day, read and then head to bed. It sounds like a really boring schedule, but it is the schedule that I decided would fit me the best. There are many curveballs that are thrown into the schedule though. Such as the fact that there is some sort of exam for the teachers today and tomorrow, so classes were canceled today. So, I did a little laundry and got internet. I will probably go to the market a little later and some little stuff to add to my room, or just walk around and try to meet people or talk to those few people that I know. Instead of getting upset about these curveballs, I think the best way to handle it is simply roll with the punches and make the best of the situation. I will try to get as many errands done today as I can.

I have had many “Peace Corps moments” in the past two and a half weeks. For instance, I was having one of those days where I was second-guessing my presence here, in the sense of “do I have what it takes to make a difference?” because I felt like I haven’t done anything. I was sitting in a tenth grade class that I won’t be able to teach, but went anyways to try to meet the students. I was sitting there contemplating this when a boy named Thon turns around and strikes up a conversation. Most of the students at the school are either super confused why I am even there or too shy to say anything, so this kid strikes up a conversation. After talking for a few minutes, I find out that he has 5 siblings and is from Svay Rieng and lives in the pagoda with his siblings and has been there for 8 years. He also said that he works on English with one of the monks. He told me that I observed one of his friend’s classes and he said that he was so excited that I came to his class because he thinks speaking with foreigners is really important. He has a friend that as able to talk to a foreigner and his pronunciation improved so much, and that’s what he wants. When I asked him what he wanted to do for a living, he told me that he wants to work for an NGO, which I didn’t expect. When I asked him which one, he said that he wants to work for one that helps women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. He really brought me back to reality and I remembered why I am here.

In addition, I have been upset at how little Khmer I have been using. I had an epiphany the other night when my cousin (who calls me sister Kea, it’s really cute) was trying to speak Khmer with my and I was too shy. Well, when I tell my students that they shouldn’t be shy about speaking English, I am a huge hypocrite because I am shy about my Khmer. So, I decided to become shameless about using Khmer and it has been great. Darlene and I went to the market to buy some fruit, but then we realized that we don’t know how much we should be paying, so we went to visit our tailor friends (the two women who work next to each other, one is a tailor and one sells the fabric). We talked for about 5 minutes about how much we should be spending. They don’t speak any English and loved that we came to them for advice. We went back and talked to the fruit lady (“our fruit lady” as we call her now). Also, my host mom is really scared that I am unhappy and that I don’t like the food. While I was journaling last night, I had a 20 minute conversation with her last night about my family and America. We also talked about how happy I am here. I think that she feels a lot better because she has been stressed out about it.

Yesterday was a really great day at school. I went to my usual ladies to eat lunch (the spot had to be moved up near the buildings because the back of the school is literally underwater). When I walked up, they told me (in Khmer, of course) that I am going to be so unhappy because she didn’t have noodles today! Would rice be ok? I go there not because she is the world’s greatest cook, although the food is good, but I go there because I want it to be part of my schedule. I guess I have become a regular, with a usual, which is really fun. They call me “net crew” which is Khmer for female teacher. It’s very respectful and I think that she loves the fact that the American eats there. Whenever kids walk by that she knows, she says, come eat here, sit by the American teacher. It’s really fun.

When I observed the 2:00-4:00 class, which is grade 11, one of my favorite classes that I have seen, my coteacher could only teach for an hour because he had to go to the Provincial Office of Education for a meeting. So, I stayed with the students and just talked to them. We talked about a varied of things- how old people are in America when they get married/drive, all about my family, seasons in America, what I do in my free time, why I came to Cambodia, food, the fact that I am not married and don’t have a boyfriend- they told me that they didn’t believe me that I didn’t have a boyfriend. It was really fun to informally be able to talk with these kids. We just hung out for a while and headed home. I decided that is a class that I really want to teach because I really like the students. Their English is amazing, but their desire to learn the language is what really makes me want to teach them

Keiko sent me a text today that every time we take a step forward, we take two steps back. When class was canceled today, I was pretty annoyed because I didn’t understand that today was canceled too, I thought that it was tomorrow. So, after thinking about it for a while, I decided that this is the way things are- I will never get a schedule letting me know when class will be in session. I can either get upset at everyone and be unhappy with it, or come to terms with it. I am not going to change the education system here in Cambodia and that’s not why I am here. The things that I can control are my interactions with the people here and what happens in my class, so that is where I plan on making my mark. I can set a good example, which is what I am doing, but I realized early on my limitations, and I am very glad that I did.

Sorry that the last post was really bad, but I tried to make up for it with this one. I was sad when I saw that there were no comments (that was a shocker Mom!) but I realized that when I make a really bad post, people aren’t going to comment. I hope that I made up for it on this one!

This post does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the Peace Corps or of the United States government. It reflects my thoughts and opinions alone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One week down....

I have officially been in Battambang for one week and I love it here so far.

First, family life: I live with a widow and she has six children, the youngest is 23 years old and studies at the University near my house. Four of her children live with us- the oldest son, his wife and their son who is two and scared of me, two daughters and another son. The other two live near our house and are married with children. They are all very nice and don’t speak much English, which will really help me with my Khmer. My house is about one kilometer from the school, but I have to ride in the really busy and scary round-about right when you get into town. At first, I took a much longer way to get to school just to avoid that round-about, but since it was infringing on my sleeping time, I just decided to tough it out and take that way. I haven’t been hit so far, so hopefully I can keep that streak alive… just kidding, don’t start freaking out Mom… But this family is very different from my last family. Since I had three tounger sisters and a billions nieghborhood kids, I literally couldn’t leave the house without a bunch of questions- where are you going? What time will you be home? Did you eat rice yet? Now when I leave, they let me go- it’s nice to have my independence again. I also have a really nice set-up and I just can’t really wait to get into a routine.

School: This could be one of the more frustrating parts of my day. I am not a patient person by nature, but I am learning very quickly just how important it is. I will be observing for about a month before teaching. Since there are 5 teachers in my school, I spend my days observing their classes and trying to figure out which classes I want to teach. It is time consuming because it’s tricky to make the schedule that I want. I will be teaching grades 10 and 11. I am just learning to sit back and watch and let the chips fall where they may. The classes are very enjoyable though. Many Khmer students are very shy and timid, but the students at my school are much less shy then the ones in Tramkak, which is a huge relief. Also, the classes were divided between boys and girls in Tramkak, but these classes aren’t really as segregated between the genders.

I am still trying to set up my room and my host brother Huk is going to take me to buy some more stuff today. The vendors like to jack up the price when they see that I am not Khmer, so having someone from here is a huge help. I printed out a lot of pictures and hung them up on my wall, which is a fun decoration and a great reminder of home.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Quick Post

I don't have too much to report, so I will wait a few more days for another update. I wanted to let you all know my mailing address:

PCV Kealan Waldron
P.O. Box 328

My new email address is kealanwaldron@gmail.com. Now that I am not in training, I will have much more time to send personalized emails (I already have gotten a few!) and of course, facebook!

Thanks everyone!

This blog represents my own thoughts, views and opinions and does not reflect on the thoughts of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.