Thursday, January 21, 2010

6 month mark!

So, today officially marks the 6 month point in my service.  I left Chicago exactly 6 months ago, which equates to one quarter of my service here.  Pretty crazy to think about. 

So, my birthday was on Sunday and I was prepared for it to be a regular day, but there were a lot of people who really made it a special day.  My coteacher told our classes (in Khmer of course, so I couldn’t understand) that it was my birthday and they raised some money and I got three presents from the classes.  It was really unexpected and extremely cute how the students presented the gifts.  I had just arrived at school and there was a group of girls standing near where I always park my bike.  I was talking to another student and they kind of waited around, then handed me the present, which was wrapped and had a card from the class.  The first gift was a wooden carousal that plays music as the Ferris Wheel of teddy bears revolves.  There is a windmill has four planks that read “Best Wishes For You”.  They were really cute about it and a few took pictures, so hopefully I will be able to put those up.  The second gift was a box with two pairs of earrings.  Khmer fashion is pretty centered around jewels and sparkles, so these earrings are really sparkly.  I have never really been that flashy with my jewelry, but when in Rome…. So I wore one pair on Monday and every female that saw them complimented me on how beautiful they are.  The last gift, which I think is my favorite, is a Mickey Mouse lamp/ night light.  It’s Mickey in a glass of ice cream. I put pictures on facebook of all of the gifts, so log on and check them out! 

My student Vida, aka Elvis Presley, also got me a gift.  I was concerned that he spent money on it, but he reassured me that he didn’t.  I know that he doesn’t have a lot, so I didn’t want him to spend what little he has on me.  One of his friends makes jewelry and keychains out of coconut shells.  So, he had his friend make a cross necklace.  The cross is actually the name “Jesus”. It is hard to describe, so hopefully I can upload a picture onto this blog to show you.  The other thing that he gave me is a keychain in the shape of Cambodia with my name engraved.  His friend has made a little business out of it and I would love to help him, so if anyone is interested in getting one, I have some visitors coming over soon(ish) and maybe something can be arranged.  While I would love to do a mail order thing, it probably isn’t the best idea because for one, things break on the way and also it may not go over so well with Peace Corps if I am working in a business. 

Darlene also came through and bought me a cake and brought it to my class on Monday, which was 11C.  I was not shocked to see every kid in that class when there usually are about 20 out of 70 on average.  The cake was made by our friends who just opened a western store (it’s a Khmer family) and are quickly adding on- a little café, garden and bakery are the latest additions.  They are a really great family and the boy who made it told me today that he put a lot of chocolate on it because he knows I like it.  The class really liked it.  Again, there are pictures on facebook of the occasion… I also met with Leah and Eddie, who are K2s who live in my province.  We went to lunch and ice cream and basically planned what we will do for International Women’s Day (which is March 8th) and caught up.  It was a very relaxing birthday and again, the weather makes it so confusing because my birthdays are always really cold.  Time is totally standing here, but I have grown accustom to writing 2010 and saying “Kinyom mein au ma-pie bye chnam” which means I am 23 years old. 
This week really marked the beginning of my busy schedule.  I am meeting with English Club 5 times a week and the English Club on Mondays and Fridays.  It’s nice because the English Club at my school is really me calling the shots and settings up, but at the UME, the club is already up and running, I am just there for guidance.  I will be meeting with the club on Monday and discussing the readings that were assigned the Friday before.  We are able to have more in depth discussions about really important issues- health, environment, AIDS, etc.  On Friday, I will come in and work for one hour on a skill (this week it is the Do’s and Don’ts of using PowerPoint in a speech, next week is The Importance of Body Language in Public Speaking).  The second hour will be really general, open for questions, discussion, etc.  I am very happy that my projects (teaching formal class and the two clubs) are very different, so I’m not getting bored.  The next project, however, will probably be unrelated to teaching English.  Like I said, we are trying to start a project for International Women’s Day.  We want to have some girls get together and discuss their goals, options and futures.  We will probably focus on education and how to get to university and stay there.  It will also be a great way to plant the seed about our girl’s camp that will be over the summer.  Needless to say through all of this that I am super busy.  But, I didn’t come here for a break or to relax.  There’s a lot of work to be done here.  Some days are really tough, but that’s part of the job.

I am steadily making more relationships with my students.  There is probably one student a week who works up the courage and asks for English help or asks a random question.  I realized really early on that the high school is my way into the community and it’s going well.  There are some students who are still really scared of me, but I find myself not really being alone much when I am at school.  There is one student, Houert, who asked me today to help him learn how to teach.  He juts got a job teaching children English.  I could tell that he is really proud of this and we arranged a meeting for tomorrow to talk about techniques.  One of the goals of Peace Corps is to teach teachers how to be better teachers and focus on student centered learning.  I never realized that by teaching my students American techniques in the classroom that they will be able to carry them over.  I’m not sure if it’s just a coincidence, but this boy Houert has a job as an English teacher and Vida (aka Elvis) is trying to get a similar job.  Just to clarify, most Cambodian students study full time (at a school like Net Yong) and then what they call part-time, which is at a private class and is paid for.  There are a lot of schools that are private where students come to learn after school.  So, they are trying to become teachers at those schools.  That is also a reason why a lot of kids ask me if I will charge for English Club and when one boy said he wanted to study with me, he quickly added, I will pay.  I constantly have to reinforce the “smot jet” (volunteer) status.  It is not the money but rather the fact that my schedule is steadily becoming more and more full.  I am literally exhausted all the time because of the workload and the heat.  But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. 

Two days ago marked the 7th anniversary of the death of my host sibling’s father.  Because he was ethnically Chinese (his parents were from China) many of the traditions that we took part in I would imagine stem from his Chinese roots.  The day before, Huck told me to eat lunch at home (I usually eat at a stand on the way home from school) so I knew that I was in for a feast.  I got home from school to see a legit spread on the table and it was only 11:00.  My host sisters were cooking all day and we had some awesome food.  We started out with Fried Noodles, which are so good.  I had to pace myself because then we sat down to a feast of rice (obviously) chicken soup, mushroom and chicken stir fry and to my surprise, peas and vegetables.  I totally forgot about peas.  It’s weird how acclimated your body gets when you have changed climates, diets and lifestyle.  We ate then I napped for a little before going back to school with a completely full stomach.  Before the meal was the tradition, and I guess ceremony if you will.  The food was used as an offering to the prayer houses(my family has three, one outside, one right by the front of the house and one on the wall in the sitting room).  When everyone arrived (as in my host brother and sisters who do not live at the house), they lit incense and prayed for their father in front of the table full of food, incense and candles.  Again, check out the pictures to be visualize it.  So, basically, there are two prayer houses that they prayed in front of, in addition to the huge table of food, incense and candles.  They put the incense (they usually light three, five or seven at a time, but this time I noticed it was seven because it’s good luck and symbolizes family) in the pots in the two prayer houses inside then in a holder outside of the house.  I always wondered what that was used for because it looks like the thing that contains the holy water inside churches.  My question was answered.  As I was riding back to school and writing in my journal later that night, I was really impressed with how happy the event was.  I thought that it would be really sad because from the stories that I hear, he was very well liked.  “My father always cooked while my mother worked, which is opposite in Cambodia.”  The entire time, everyone was really happy and enjoying the company.  People always say that we should celebrate someone’s life, but I have never really seen that until now.  He thought that family was really important and you could tell by looking at his kids.  They included me in on the process and I was very happy to be there.  It was probably the first time that I didn’t feel awkward at a ceremony.  It was really intimate and personal. 

English Club is currently working on creative writing.  This is a difficult concept to get across because they simply don’t write for fun.  I was so happy yesterday because I had two students, both 11 graders, read each other’s story then give feedback and suggestions.  One of the students was Vida (Elvis) and the other was a girl (I don’t remember her name, Khmer names are tough) who has really come out of her shell recently and is opening up and speaking up more.  They felt really weird at first, but they sat together and talked about their impressions of the other person’s story.  It was really heartwarming to see because at first, they said that they wouldn’t be able to because they don’t know how to say it in English, but they tried and they did a really good job.  What I am trying to do is to have the students work more with each other instead of relying on me to correct and fix.  It was a great first step and I hope that things continue to move forward in this direction.  Some of the stories are really great.  We are planning on having a meeting where the parents, siblings and friends can all come to listen to the stories.  We will also make a book of all of the stories.  It is really a long project, but I want this to set the stage for what we will be doing, which is working on things over time and using each other to learn.  I can already see HUGE improvements and the students have no idea.  It is really a pleasure to watch the whole process.

That about sums up what is happening currently. In between running to class and club, I am trying to spend time with my family and friends in Battambang as well as plan future events.  My group of girlfriends are going to try to plan a trip once every two months (at least) to get to each other.  The problem is that we are all so far from each other.  Keiko and I are about 3 hours away, which isn’t bad.  But you have to travel through PP for most trips down south, so it’s another 2 hours to get to PP.  From PP, Jessica lives about 2 more hours to her provincial town then another half hour to her site.  Jacqueline practically lives in Vietnam.  If I were to travel from my site to hers, it would take about ten hours.  But our plan is to meet in other locations, so in February we will go to Siam Reap.  We are also planning some international trips, most likely Vietnam in April then Australia this summer.  It helps to plan these things because it gives us something to look forward to.  If we were at site with no trip on the horizon, it gets tough.  Plus, we will be able to see a lot of the country this way (actually the continent if we have our way…)

Well, I have to sign off now.  Hope all is well with everyone back home.  As for the weather, it rained for the first time in 2 months for about an hour yesterday and the day before.  The “cold” season (cold being about 70 degrees) will end in about two weeks with the beginning of February and the hot, dry season starts.  That should be fun to teach in.  I am still hot and it’s “cold”.  People are actually wearing winter jackets.  I have to admit that it is pretty chilly, but hopefully that means that I am used to the weather.  If not, I am in big trouble when the hot season comes around. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Mein scacroap diet Bong Kealan?"

This is my last post as a 22-year old. With the new age (since it didn’t really feel like a new year, I will use my birthday as a new start…) I have grown to be very patient here, but there is always room for improvement. My number one goal is to be a better teacher, however. My private classes and English Club come very naturally, but working within the confines of a ministry developed book poses its problems. Honestly, as a teacher, I have never learned more in my life.

I cannot emphasize enough how much of an emotional rollercoaster it is to do Peace Corps. The problem is that it doesn’t bad days happen that frequently (probably once a month or less) but when things come crashing down, look out, it’s not pretty. It literally comes out of nowhere. Today, for example, was an ordinary day, then all of a sudden, I was walking home in a sampot, having just reamed out my 11B class contemplating if I am even doing anything here. The ish really hit the fan this morning in my 10Q class when ONE student turned in her homework. Yes, 1 out of 67. I was so upset not at the kids who never do anything, but the kids who I know are really into learning English. There are about 10 kids in that class that are really promising not because of their skills, but rather their determination and perseverance. I said my piece to them about the need to due their homework and felt better about it. They probably didn’t understand because I was speaking fast, but those who did are the ones that I was really talking to- the ones who are the heads of the class and have a chance to do something with English. During training, we were told that scolding the students doesn’t work because they aren’t used to that, but to that I say, they aren’t used to anything that I do. Talking wasn’t working, so raising my voice a little let them know that I was upset. I wasn’t upset about the lack of attendance or the amount of kids that come late, I was upset about their lack of effort, and they knew how wrong they were.

11B was just a bad class to start out with. Teaching on Wednesdays from 2-4 is just recipe for disaster. The building is always really busy and the classroom is close to the roundabout, so the cards are always stacked against getting anything done in this class. They are really bright but they LOVE to talk. That wouldn’t be a problem (it would be totally welcome, as a matter of fact) but they refuse to speak English when I ask them to, and instead they have a bunch of side conversations. No one was really paying attention, so I threw my book down on the ground to get their attention. I tried sushing but that wasn’t working. Those of you who know me best know that throwing things is my favorite way to release anger. It worked, but after the break, they were doubled in noise level and when I walked around to check on their work, there were 3 students actually working on the classwork and the other 60 students were on their phones, doing other work or just talking in Khmer about other things. I am embarrassed to say this, but I totally lost it. I wasn’t yelling by any means, but I pulled out all the stops of a typical teacher rant. I told them that coming to class simply isn’t enough. They have to work for it. If you don’t want to learn, you don’t have to be here. American teachers say that all the time, but this is so true in Cambodia. If you skip class at OPRFHS, the attendance office calls home and you are in trouble, unless you answer the phone yourself. Nothing like this exists here (much like every other country in the world…) I am not proud of how I said what I said, but I was glad that I said it, I think that they needed to hear it.

I asked them if they wanted to continue the lesson or just cut their losses and head home. They wanted to stay and we finished the lesson, but there was tension, awkward is probably the best word for it. I apologized that the end of the lesson, but the students said that they were sorry for not working. I explained to them just how frustrating it is because I want them to learn English so bad (clearly, I left America for it) and when the students just sit there and don’t work with the teachers, it’s is really frustrating.

I left the class pretty embarrassed that I came at them like that, but I felt a little better. Until I realized that I locked my keys in my room, for the second time that I have lived here in Battambang. So, I started the 1.5k trek back to my house in a sampot thinking about what just happened. Maura, I have that really weird cramp thing in my foot that I had in Italy again, so walking wasn’t fun. I was supposed to get my bike and go to the post office to get a package for my friend and meet her at the bus stop while her bus stopped in the BB, but that clearly wasn’t happening. I felt a little better walking, but I was still upset. Here I thought that I was making some strides, then I have a day like today. I realized that my anger should be directed at myself. It is my job as teacher to teach the students. I need to make learning English as appealing and fun as possible. So, I got my wallet/keys and turned around and made the 1.5k trek back. Usually people make no notice of me here, but for some reason, there were a lot of people taking interest and when you are in a bad mood, it’s not fun to have an audience. When I got back to school, I ran into a girl from my 11B class, the class that I just let have it. She apologized again for the class and said that she doesn’t know why her class gets like that, but she knows how I feel. While we were talking, this boy David (that is his birth name) rode up on his moto and we got to talking. His English is unbelievable, but when he comes to class, he just sits in the back and sometimes participates. His dad is French and his mom is Khmer, but they are divorced, so he spends a lot of time in France. He told me the first time I talked to him that we are alike because we are both not Khmer. He is a really great kid and he always comes to class, but never really says anything. I asked him today why he doesn’t do anything during class and he said that he doesn’t want everyone to rely on him. I pointed out that I could really use his help to inspire the class to speak more and that way he can be useful in class instead of just chilling in the back. We were talking about how little the class talks when David said, “Cher, you don’t understand. Before you came, my class NEVER spoke, now they speak a little.” He probably didn’t know how much that meant to me because during that whole walk back and worth, I was thinking about how little of an impact I have made. It gave me some reassurance. The three of us got to talking about how we can improve the class. I tried doing groups in my 11C and 11D classes, but it never really took off, so I decided not the try it with 11B. David suggested that we should try it, but he offered to help. “Cher, I can help you to make the groups. I know my classmates. We will put the weaker students with the stronger students to help.” When I told him that I wasn’t sure because my other classes had no idea what I meant by group work, he said “Don’t worry, I will help.” It made me feel so much better because at the tail end of my walk, I remembered what I have always thought about these situations, that I cannot control other people, I will never be able to. What I can control is how I teach, and that is what I need to change and make better. These two students offering to help with the class understanding the vision was simply remarkable. This kid David has literally nothing to gain by helping me out with the groups, but he is doing it anyway. So, starting next week, we will be working in groups. We will probably have group competitions and it will be really fun.

After David left, I continued to talk to the girl, Chakriya, for another half hour. We began by talking about her class and it got way more personal and we were talking about her problems with her friends. She is a ball of fire and is really assertive. She is always happy and is a really reliable friend. She was telling me how important her studies are, but she thinks that it is also really important to be happy and have friendships. “You never know when you are going to die, so you shouldn’t waste time being mad or sad.” She is totally right. She works hard but also plays hard. She really impressed me with her maturity because girls are girls wherever you go, so those pesky, little fights happen everywhere. It was perfect timing to have this talk because Keiko, Darlene and another volunteer, Lisa, are in the preliminary stages of setting up Camp GLOW, which stands for girls leading our world. Our vision is to have girls from Keiko’s province (Kampong Chhnang) and Lisa’s province (Beantay Meanchay) come to Battambang for a weekend camp for girls’ empowerment. We will have guest speakers, self-confidence seminars and the like with all of the girls. We are in the very early stage, which is observation. We are trying to find a handful of girls from our schools that really show the qualities of a leader. Chakriya really embodied everything we are looking for and I was really happy after this talk. We are all really excited about this camp, but it will talk a really long time to plan and there are a lot of aspects that need to be sorted out. We will do it probably in Septemberish. Tonight, after dinner, I got a text forward from Charkriya. The text forwards are really cute. Sometimes it is a poem, sometimes a picture made of symbols like *, ~, ], { etc. This particular one was a forward. I really enjoy getting these texts because they always add a personal note on the end. The text was about being happy and how important it is to smile (how totally appropriate) and at the end, she said thanks for talking to me today. Although sometimes the students are the toughest part of this job, they always prove to be the best part as well.

It’s simply crazy how quickly things can turn sour. For those reading this, you probably think that I was upset about something so miniscule and I probably was, but Peace Corps is all-encompassing, so when something heads south, it really involves all facets of your life. But just as important is how quickly things turn back around. Here I was throwing a pity part in National Road #5, complaining about something so ridiculous, and these two kids completely turned around my state of mind. They have no idea that they did this, but they really found the positivity that I needed to reverse my thinking and now I have two potential projects to improve the youth of Cambodia. One of the most important things to remember is that we are trying to help Cambodians help themselves. I will not change the system, but I hope to change the student that will one day.

In other news, my schedule is insanely busy. I started my English Club this week. We had the tests on Saturday and I was kinda put off by how few students showed up, but the concept is totally new and probably really confusing for them. I gave the test to about 60 12th graders and of those students, I chose 13 students. There were plenty of kids who cheated, and I marked their papers and refused to grade them even. For 11th grade, only 8 kids came and the same was true for 10th grade. Not a coincidence, the kids who came were all from my classes. At first, I felt embarrassed that not that many kids came out, then I realized that these are kids who I teach 4 hours a week and they want more time. It was really touching when I got over the initial shock of not having a lot of kids. I set up this club to study with kids who are serious about studying. It’s more important to have the kids who have the dedication as opposed to the kids who are the best at English but don’t give a hoot about the club. We met for the first time Tuesday and it was a success. We all introduced ourselves and went over why there is a club. There were some ground rules- come prepared and ready to study hard, listen to each other, don’t laugh at each other for mistakes, no Khmer and most importantly, don’t be shy. There are some kids who are really coming out of their shells and it is a total pleasure to see. I have a wide range of students in the club, from 12B to 10Q, but I did this on purpose. I want the 10th graders to study with the 12th graders because it will really help improve their level. The 10th graders are so cute and were really excited just to be there. The only problem is scheduling. That is a really common theme here, especially in the schools. The students hardly have free time because all of them have regular class, private class or work. What we ended up coming up with is 5 meeting times per week- one for each grade separate, 10th grade and 11th grade then we will meet all together once a week. The only time that we could all get together is on Saturday night. I don’t really want to “work” on the weekends, but this is really important too, and I want them to all come together at least once. I also want to instill really early on the importance of the students running the club, so the weekends that I am not there, hopefully they meet and get some work done. Saturday night for me is like any other night (I know hard to believe that my college days are over…) so it won’t be a big deal when I am around to give up my Saturday evening, because we all know I’m not doing anything anyway…

I will start working with the English Club at the UME (University of Management and Economics) on Monday. The way that the club is set up works perfectly for me- it is student run and the group consists of ten small groups and they have a theme for the week (AIDS, environment, etc) and they read about the topic then make a PowerPoint presentation in front of the club. I will be meeting with each group once a month and I will have 2 open hours in the American Corner, which is funded fully by the US Embassy and has a library, computers, essentially the resources that are really rare at any other school. When I met with the man who runs the English Club, I originally planned on meeting two or three groups per week then having one open hour to anyone who wanted help, but after some twisting of my arm, I agreed to two hours on Friday, one hour for open correction or question and answers and one hour of a public related speaking skill (for example, week one will be Do’s and Don’ts of making a speech and using PowerPoint.) Between my regular teaching hours (16 per week), English Club (about 10 hours per week) and the UME English Club (another 4 or 5 hours per week), I have a really full schedule and I for sure have my work cut out for me. But, I didn’t come here to have a two year vacation; I came here to do some work. I am happiest when I’m really busy and thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing. Besides today’s actions, I have been really happy and things have been going well. Those moments will happen, it simply comes with the territory. When you are really emotionally invested in something such as this, it tends to have a greater effect when things come up.

As for my family life, I have created a monster in Chun Lai. I gave him Jolly Ranchers and he is addicted. Every time I come out of my room, he is standing there and he says “Mein sca-cro-op diet?” which means “Do you have anymore candy?” We ate the last of the candy tonight, so we will most likely go back to regular. He is still as cute as ever and has been making many comments such as “Chun Lai doy-ka bong Kealan” which means “Chun Lai is the same as Kealan”. He usually says these things when we are “journaling, eating or playing. Chun Liap is equally as cute and she is growing so fast. She is ready to walk and has taken a few steps already. They are really fun to be around and though sometimes it is difficult to live with too children, our relationships are really growing. Even the other day, Chun Lai came into my room early in the morning and crawled under my mosquito and into my bed. He just wanted to play, but I told him that I needed to shower, go back outside and wait. But there was a cockroach on the ground, so he said “Kinyom klight!” and I told him not to be afraid, I will be out there soon.
One more note about teaching here: everyone is really worried about the semester exam, which comes out of the “English for Cambodia” book, which is not the best. It is difficult to strike a balance to cover what will be on the test but also making it fun. I will figure it out though, that’s what this whole thing is about. Mistakes will be made. It’s actually a bad sign, I think, if I am not making mistakes because that means that I am not taking any chances. This is pretty unchartered territory and it’s important to remember that mistakes usually bring progress and growth. You just figure it out as you go and it all seems to work out, somehow.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Happy New Year everyone! I just got back from a week long sort of vacation all over Cambodia.

It all started the day after Christmas. I came down with a pretty bad fever and sore throat. It is pretty common for me to have throat issues if there is a change in season. It was a pretty crummy feeling to be so far from home during the holidays and then to get sick on top of that. I called the medical officer and went into PP. Everyone was there celebrating Christmas and it was really fun to get to see everyone. My original plan was to stay in Battambang for Christmas then travel to Kampot in the south. But since I went into PP for medical, I just decided to travel to Takeo to see my training host family in Takeo, which is 2 hours south of PP instead making the 6 hour trip back to site. I spent a few days with my training family. I was really refreshing to see them and it was a great escape. I was surprised at how at home I felt. Keiko and I were joking that Takeo is our stomping ground, so it was very familiar to go back. There were a few changes that I noticed immediately. First, it is harvest season and my host family is part of the vast majority of Cambodians that are farmers. They were harvesting rice and I was able to see the process. The fields were stripped of the crop and my family hired a man to come and essentially pound the rice grain against a table to separate the rice. This is the table that my host sisters ate on in the kitchen when I lived with them, but for harvesting, they moved it outside. The table is made of really thin planks so the rice falls through the cracks and creates a pile on the ground. Needless to say, there was a lot of rice around the front of the house. The second huge difference was that upon my arrival, I wasn’t greeted by five children sprinting down the lane, only two. The other three were studying English. Liney, the oldest who is in 8th grade studies at school and takes private classes at night, like most Cambodian students. But her sister, Lineat, who is 7, hasn’t started English at school (they don’t start studying English until 7th grade) was at a private class with her cousin, Jan Bo, who is 5. Just to be clear, my host family lives right next door to my host uncle, so the kids are really close and essentially split the time between the two houses. Although I technically lived with three host sisters, I feel like my two cousins were around just as much. Lineat and Jan Bo, the two younger ones are taking a class called English for Children, which is really great that they are starting out early. Learning English is so important for children because Cambodia is supposed to be the next up and coming country out of Southeast Asia. Learning English opens the door to much better jobs. For instance, Cambodians that work for Ngos make much more money than other jobs. In addition, bank tellers need to have some sort of background in English and that is a good job because there are so many banks all over, in the countryside and in the urban areas. Once they all came back from studying though, I was reuinted with my original posse, consisting of about 10 Cambodian kids all under 12.

I spent my time with my host family and was able to see a few other volunteers who were traveling there. There is a volunteer living and working in our training village and I was able to see him a lot and see what is happening at his school. Also, one of the Peace Corps language coordinators lives in Angtasom (the name of the village) and she has an amazing house and amazing family. We were invited over there two nights in a row to eat pizza and hang out. She rents rooms out to travelers, so we ended up just staying there at night. There was a family from New Zealand staying there and the dad gave me two wooden bats that he had a bunch of tennis balls. It was really nice of him and will make a great addition to the growing amount of equipment.

I went to Kampot, which is in the south on New Years day. A bunch of volunteers were there and we were all able to celebrate with each other, which is always really refreshing. We are all pretty isolated and far from each other, so it is really enjoyable to relax and get some reassurance that we are all in fact, going through many of the same things. It’s nice not to have to worry about lesson planning or grading papers and such. From Kampot, a group of us went to Rabbit Island, which is a small island off of Kep. We had to take a boat there and we stayed in little huts that didn’t have electricity most of the day and only cost $7 per night. The bed bugs bites that I discovered on the way home were not a surprise at all. We basically laid out and relaxed. The pace of life is pretty slow in Cambodia and it is even slower on the island. No one was in a rush to do anything and we were really able to enjoy each other’s company and not have to worry about much. The island is pretty small and there are a lot of Khmer people who come during the day to swim and then leave at night. There were some tourists, but it was never really flooded with people. The whole trip was pretty inexpensive considering how amazing the view is and how much fun we had.

I had to travel all the way from Rabbit Island yesterday and it was not fun. Rabbit Island is about 4 hours from PP and then BB is about 6 hours from PP. I had to stop in PP to get the H1N1 shot, which took about an hour and I couldn’t get out until 3:15 which means that I didn’t get home until 9. I accidentally left my phone with my friend Jessica on the island, so I had no way to communicate with my family, so I just sort of showed up at the house at 9, right before bed. While I had an amazing trip overall, I am really happy to be back to my schedule. I realized that I really enjoy having a schedule and plans. Being spontaneous is really fun, but I prefer (especially as a Peace Corps Volunteer) to have a purpose to every day.

I taught class today and I was really happy to be back in the classroom. I think I am making some progress with my 11C, but they still have a long way to go. We decided today to have two sessions of the test to get into English Club. It’s tricky because the students are always in class. They are so busy. American students are too, but because teachers hold private classes outside of class time, it’s tough to find a time that works for everyone. I think it will work out though.

I started my day off today with Dunkin Donuts coffee sent from my mom for Christmas in the French Press mug from Matt and Katie and it made a huge difference. I also felt like such a teacher sipping some coffee while talking. Starting the day with a cup of coffee makes a huge difference. I always thought that those commercials were super lame, but it’s so true. I also had a Carmello from Curt and it is simply unreal what a chocolate bar can taste like when you haven’t really had one for almost 6 months.

As for what the next few months look like, I will be really busy at school and at the university. I will probably have little trips on the weekend, but I will probably staying really close to Battambang for a while due to lack of funds and due to how much work is unfolding. We have in-service training in February in PP, but that is about my only plan until Khmer New Year, which is in April. I will be taking a trip somewhere, most likely Vietnam, with some friends. Besides that, I am just flying by the seat of my pants. While I was really happy to take a break from Battambang for a while, I was even happier to get back to site and resume what I am here to do.