Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hello Cher!

I think that the hardest part of Peace Corps is simply the emotional rollercoaster. Last week was rather dull, and that is entirely my fault. But this week was absolutely. I feel like I didn’t do anything as all last week and this week I feel like I haven’t had a second to relax. I don’t mind being busy, it means that I am doing something and hopefully making a difference. I didn’t really go out and do much. Because being at site is simply discovering everything for yourself, by yourself, its tough to know where to start or what to do. On Sunday, I looked back on my week and was pretty bummed to see that I hadn’t really done much. While I was sick for a few days, I really didn’t do anything to help myself. I swore to myself that I would make weekly goals within the school and community to avoid that happening. It’s just pretty crazy when you get into a rut how quickly things can become stagnant. I started the week off my getting sick and that just threw me for a loop. Lesson learned and I moved on. Overall is was probably the worst week I have had here (which shouldn’t even classify as bad, but it’s all relative, I suppose.) My ipod died, which really stinks because it is such a great escape. Those you who are looking to send things over, CDs would be awesome! I still have my laptop (knock on wood) and I will be able to listen to music on that.

Having said that, this has been a crazy week! I taught my first class last week and it has been a whirlwind since then. I can honestly say that I am obsessed with teaching. I am exhausted by the end of the day, but it’s so worth it. I taught my first class as a Net Yong teacher last Wednesday. It was 10Q and I was so nervous. But, it went really well, considering they can’t really understand me. Teachers in Cambodia don’t lesson plan (whether they are too busy because they all have more than one job or whatever the reason) so the students aren’t used to playing games and doing activities that we take for granted in America. It’s really tough because there are very few resources. In America, you can print off an article in the office and hand it out to the students and have an exercise out of that. Well, in Cambodia, if you want to do something like that, you need to go to a copy shop and either pay for the copies yourself (4 classes with 70 students in each can be expensive) or charge the students for their copies. So, I have to think of activities that we did in America that we fun and useful, but I also need to make sure that I can do it for free. It can be tricky, but so far so good.

So, Wednesday was my first day and I have been teaching everyday since then. I have been finishing up interviews for the 11th graders and while it has been a total headache and pain in the butt at times, I am so happy that I did it. I feel like I know the students better and I hope that they feel more comfortable around me. On Wednesday night, I got a text from this girl in my 10Q class. Her name is Sray Ban and she is probably one of my favorites at the school. She sometimes texts me to ask me what I am doing and how I am doing. Well, her text that night was something along the lines of how much she loves learning with me and wants to study English forever with me. It’s really hard to tell if the students understand or took anything from the lesson, so it made me happy that she sent me that text. The 11th grade class is the one where I am testing out some new things (ie American names, groups, interviews, etc.) But with my 10Q class, I decided against all the complication and dove in head first to try to get them to understand what the hell I am even saying before I get all fancy with them. They took their first test with me as a teacher and it is just painful to watch. The cheating is outrageous. I have to admit that I am impressed with some of their strategies, but I hate that they do it. I decided to turn a blind eye in that class because I am not sure that the students will be able to complete the tests on their own. It’s really defeatist, but maybe we will work up to that later. I couldn’t help myself when I saw the two smartest girls in the class opening their books when we said that we they weren’t allowed. They found other ways to cheat, but it just pained me to see the two girls who are always volunteering and talking and essentially lead the class cheat. They were really embarrassed and I wanted to talk to them about how I took their books because I know that they are smart and they don’t need the books. Maybe the other students do, but I wanted to show them that I expect more out of them. I will have to pull them aside next week to talk to them about it. Hopefully they understand what I am saying. But regardless, we are having a lot of fun in class and they are getting used to doing things that they aren’t used to, such as getting out of their seats and talking to each other. We usually end class with a game and although getting someone to come up to answer a question is like pulling teeth, they always freak out when someone gets it right. They clap when someone gets it right, even on the other team. I feel so exhausted by the end of the lesson, but it’s totally worth it. Plus, everyone in Cambodia naps anyway, so I have started taking a siesta.

My 11th grade classes have been pretty crazy. I divided them up into groups based on their level of English from the interviews. There are 8 groups with 7 students each. It is really cool to see the kids thrive sitting next to kids who are their same ability. The first grade 11 class I taught was 11C and it was somewhat of a disaster. I overloaded them with changes and it really backfired. But I was happy to see that the students in the highest group were with the kids in the lowest group and they were helping them with the exercises. It sort of naturally happened. I also gave that class Western names. Some students weren’t crazy about it, but that’s ok because some are so happy. I came up with a bunch names and wrote descriptions of each to give them a better idea of who they are. You should have seen the look on Bill Gates’ face, this kid was ecstatic. There are a few kids in the class that I really like and I am really happy that they now have a name I can remember. For instance, Walt Disney is really attentive in class and Andy Roddick is really smart but really shy. I totally overloaded the class with new stuff and it went a little haywire, so I adjusted the lesson for 11D, which I taught on Thursday. If 11C was a bomb, 11D was a text book lesson. The students were all about it. We went over the groups and when we broke into the groups, they naturally formed circles and when the assignment was to come up with 5 classroom rules, they all took is really serious and came up with some really awesome lists. One good thing about the groups is that I told the highest level to go to the back of the room and had the weaker students come to the front, so they have to pay attention since they are front and center. We played a game at the end of the class, boys vs. girls. We would have one volunteer come to the front of the room and when that brave soul would walk up, the ENTIRE class would cheer that student on. The ones that came up and got it right were applauded and some students become braver as class went on. The boys won, but they all had a great time. One student was even banging on the desk, which is really unlike the students in Cambodia to let down their guard and have a good time like that. It’s really fun to watch them open up. I don’t really do much when we play games, I just read the word or definition or whatever. The students are the best part. They love slap stick comedy over here, so over-the-top silliness is really well received. I am thankful for that because making the kids laugh is easier since I can’t really speak their language and they may not understand what I say. So fake tripping in class will bust the kids out laughing when a pun won’t. It makes lesson planning easier because silliness is their favorite.

As you can tell, I am really happy teaching. I spend my free periods in the library. I told the school director that I want to clean up the library and when I went in there, it was cleaned up, which was great. I have to organize the English books, but there aren’t many, so it won’t take too long. I want the students to come in for help during my free periods. There have been a lot more students who ask me to practice English around the school, which makes me feel like I have found my place here and that the students aren’t as scared. I helped a French teacher today. He is learning English and didn’t understand some words, so I tried to explain them to him. I’m not sure where he got the sheet of paper he was reading off of, but I was trying to explain to a man who speaks as much English as I speak Khmer what “looking down on someone” was. He just laughed when I did my impression of a rich person looking down on a poor person. He is close to retiring but was really excited to understand this story that he had about a woman, her stove and her daughter entering high school.

As for community goes, I plan on seeing an orphanage this weekend and visiting an Ngo. Language IST will be from Friday to Sunday of next week. The K3s from Pursat, Banteay Meanchay and Kampong Chnang are all coming to Battambang. We will all be staying at a hotel and during the day we will be working on Khmer. Not coincidentally, Thanksgiving is on Friday, so we will all be celebrating together at a restaurant in town. We tracked down a turkey and I asked my baker friend to make apple and pumpkin pies, so we will be having as close to a regular Thanksgiving as possible. It’s my favorite holiday (actually tied with Easter), so it will be great to be able to celebrate with friends.

Those curious about the weather, it has been cold by Cambodian standards. I won’t admit it to my students or my family, but it’s pretty cold. I am used to sweating through every shirt I put on, so this change in temperature is very nice. I don’t even need to use my fan at night. The morning showers have been rather chilly and I have made my coffee hot, instead of diluting it with warm water. Sometimes it is just too hot to drink hot coffee in the morning. I may have to go out and buy myself a sweater of some sort if this keeps up. By American standards, this is nothing. My body must be adapting to the hot weather though because I think that I am right there with the Khmer people who think it’s cold.

I have also been trying to figure out how to describe the fashion for the boys at my school and I finally figured it out- it’s Jersey. I feel like I am back at Seton Hall when I see boys with pierced ears, rocking bling. Battambang is really progressive compared to the rest of Cambodia, so it’s common to see boys with their ears pierced and more girls with multiple piercings. The boys also have started gelling their hear and many have faux-hawks. Some even shave little designs into their hair. They also wear tight little pants real low and everyone has a belt. Many have Gucci belts and backpacks. Most wear gold jewelery and necklaces. For those people from Jersey reading this- don’t be offended, it makes me really happy to see. It makes me feel at home when I look at these Cambodian boys who could very well fit in at Seton Hall.

This blog represents my thoughts and opinions alone and do not represent the US government or the Peace Corps.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's already November?!

Hi everyone!

Sorry it has been a week since my last post, but nothing has really changed since my last post.

At school, I have been conducting the interviews and I am just so happy that I am. It’s rather frustrating when the students can’t answer either because they are too nervous or they just aren’t as good at English as some of the other kids. But I have learned a lot about the students. A few kids are really motivated and have established goals. For instance, one student told me that he wants to be a director and move to Hollywood and direct movies. I was impressed that he could actually say that in English (I don’t know how to say that in Khmer!) and that he has his goals in place. Many responses include “I want to be a doctor because I want to help poor people and support my parents when they get older and sick.” The questions are really straight forward- what is your name? how old are you? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What did you eat for breakfast today? (the response is ALWAYS rice, I don’t know why I even ask it anymore) Do you want to study at university? Where do you want to study? What do you want to be in the future? Why? So, I am able to learn about them as people and more importantly, I am figuring out how I can help these kids mold their future. How do you become a doctor here? I have no idea, but I need to find out, because half of the students want to be doctors.

At home, I think I am growing on my family. I still am really bad at Khmer, but my host brother Huck, who is 23, is probably my best friend. He is getting a lot better at English and we talk and hang out. We watched game 6 of the World Series when the Yankees won it all (Sorry Winn!) and I have never seen someone so confused. When it was over, Huck asked me what was happening. How do you explain baseball and the World Series to a person who has only seen one inning? Well, I tried but after my explanation, he said, “I am confused. I do not understand.” I chalked it up as a loss, but I will try to explain in later, when his English improves. The other night we were sitting outside, like we do every night before dinner and he told me that I need to be really careful about gangsters here because they are almost always drunk and love to cause problems around Battambang. He said this because the last night of water festival, my host family took me to the wat to watch the festivities. It basically is a lot of people, fireworks, food stalls and performers. It was really cool, but it took a long time to actually get into the wat. From the second we left the car, I felt really self-conscious because people always say hi to me. It’s really embarrassing at times because I feel like a celebrity. Sometimes people make fun of me, I don’t really care, but I know my family feels protective. Well, as we were leaving, someonbe said hello to me, and it’s kind of a double edge sword because if I ignore the people who say hello, am I being a jerk? But if I say hello, I feel like a celebrity or something. So, this person said hello and I said hello back, and I realized right after I said hello that he was drunk. He said something to me in Khmer and the only thing I caught was “how many people” and the way the his friends reacted, I could tell that he made a gross comment. I was mortified because he said it, and for those who know me well, I would have said something back to him if I wasn’t horrible at the language. So, my host sister turned and said something to him and it shut him up. I was really embarrassed, but I was so glad that my sister stood up for me when I simply couldn’t. So, Huck brought this up because he was a “gangster” and I need to steer clear of those people.

For those who keep asking what I need, I have something that I need, desperately. My ipod broke last week and I had to restore it, but I lost all 4,500 songs that I had been collecting after the past 2 years. I was pretty upset about it, but those of you who can and want to, I have my laptop, so, I can take CDs and put them on my laptop and then on my ipod. I would greatly appreciate it, because I am lost without my ipod. I never realized how depended I am on it.

I decided that I will start teaching a pronunciation class at the university soon just because I feel like I will never start teaching at Net Yong. I decided that I have to finish the interviews before I start teaching (because grouping the students is really the only way to get anything accomplished in a class of 60-70 students...) But when class gets canceled all the time, it's really hard to get anywhere with the interviews. I only had one class last week because of the water festival during the week and then my class on Friday morning was canceled because the students had to participate in a funeral. Class is canceled again tomorrow because it is Independence day. There are so many holidays here. I think by teaching at the University, I will have a little more control over my schedule. The inconsistency is the killer. It's strange to think that I am a teacher, but teaching at a university? Crazy. Just call me professor from now on, thanks....

Hope all is well with everyone from home! Miss you all!

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are mine alone and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the Peace Corps or the US government.