Ariel's Adventures in Cambodia
Cambodia, The 10 Things I Love About You

April 17, 2014

Here are my main reasons why I love this country and it will be so difficult to leave in only 4 days!

The Global Child.
Of course TGC is first on my list. The students, the staff, the teachers, and everyone involved are such amazing people. The students have a passion and dedication to their studies whether it be Khmer, English, Physics, Math, Art, Music. They learn it all and they give it everything they have. The teachers and staff provide the students with all of their knowledge in individual subjects or of life in general. It is one big family. The students come from difficult backgrounds yet they are strong and are encouraged to accomplish their educational goals for a better life. They are truly inspirational. “We are family. We are TGC. Nothing is impossible.”


The Land and the Beauty. While rapidly developing, Cambodia has so much natural beauty. The abundance of trees and fields that supply their fruit and rice are a must-see. The country sides are so peaceful and beautiful, and the beaches are one-of-a-kind. I just returned to Siem Reap from travelling to Kampot and Kep. Kampot had such a magnificent river and an amazing view of Bokor Mountain. Kep was recently renovated with a beautiful white sand beach and was filled with Cambodians in their swimming outfits. Yup, “swimming outfits.” Here, most locals would not be seen in a bathing suit or a bikini. They swim in their clothes for modesty.

The Passion. The people here have such a passion for their country and education. Everyone wants to make Cambodia a better place for workers, educators, students, and tourists. No matter if they get to travel or learn more about other places, their ultimate goal is to return to Cambodia to make a difference in their own land.

The History. Learning about the Temples and the Cambodia history has been incredible. Each temple has a different purpose and you can see it in its ruins. One of my favorites was Beng Melea.  You can walk around and climb on the stones and trees that flow throughout the Temple. With such a traumatic history of the Khmer Rouge-everyone has a story here. A story of hurt, hatred, hardships, or poverty. A story of what their lives used to be and how they are trying to make a change. A story of how someone used to be poor but worked hard to get an education and a good job. It is remarkable.

The Smiles. Despite the poverty and the hardships, the Cambodian people always have a smile on their faces. Regardless of where you are, little kids will constantly wave to you and say “helloooooooo!” Our landlord’s family has the most adorable children who never, ever neglect to yell “hello” or buh-bye” when we walk in or out.  It is the best welcome anyone could ask for!

The Adventure. There is so much to do in Siem Reap! From cycling to Road 60, a Khmer carnival with a ferris wheel, bumper cars, games, and a street market, with the locals, to attending various activities organized by expats. There is never a dull moment. Some of my favorites include Nerd Nite in which someone volunteers to present on any topic they choose, with 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. It is a great way to learn new things and an excellent way to get to know some people in the community! There is also Spoken Arts in which people get together and read poems or writing that interests them. Also, let’s not forget the lady boys. Lady boy shows are in the night markets and around Pub Street. Who knows? You may even get pulled on stage to dance with them!

The Coconuts. Fresh coconut juice everywhere!!!! I will miss this so much.

The Bike Rides. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you would know that before I came to Cambodia, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years! Riding around here is so nice and I definitely want to keep it up at home. Although it won’t be the same without the dirt roads! I did so much cycling here- to Barai Lake, to the Butterfly Gardens, Museums, and more. I’m hooked and will definitely have to invest in a bicycle when I go back.


The Cultural Diversity. Siem Reap is filled with NGOs and growing businesses. So many people travel here to work, teach, volunteer, and help Cambodia grow. I have made friends from all over the world and it has been delightful to learn, not only about Cambodia, but about other cultures and customs as well.


The Markets.
Throughout Cambodia you will find markets that include, pretty much everything. You can find your food, your clothes, get your hair washed, have a beer, or just walk around and practice your bargaining skills. In Siem Reap there is an Old Market and three Night Markets. Although sometimes they are smelly because of the food, it is so much fun to walk around, explore, and see what kind of trinkets you can find.

I will miss you Cambodia!

April 1, 2014

Congratulations to our girls soccer team who came in second place in the Grand Final Tournament for the Globalteer Junior Soccer League! We are so proud of you!! 

Reflections

March 21, 2014

“So, are you ready to come home?” That is always the first question I hear now when speaking to my friends and family. And, honestly, I don’t really know how to answer it. I do miss certain things- I miss my family and friends and being able to call them without thinking about what hour it is at home, I miss certain foods like my mom’s typical Friday night dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas, Panera, Chipotle, and Starbucks runs, I miss driving around town, I miss planning reunion trips over weekends in different cities, and other home comforts. At the same time though, despite all of the things that I am looking forward to going back to, it is going to be extremely hard to leave.

In a discussion with one of my closest friends here, an anthropology major, we reflected on our adaptations into life in Siem Reap and whether we actually experienced culture shock. She explained to me the four stages of culture shock (by Dr. Richard Jones and Dr. Murl Dirksen from Lee University) and I couldn’t believe how spot on I felt that it related to my experience here. To explain, let me walk you through my eight months here. From the very beginning, my acceptance as a Minerva Fellow.

After I saw my e-mail from Tom McEvoy that I was selected to be a Minerva Fellow at The Global Child in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I was SO incredibly happy. Words couldn’t even describe it. I couldn’t wait to get started. That feeling lasted for about a month or two until my departure got closer and then it hit me. This is really happening. I went from excitement to panic.

Let’s call this "The What Did I Get Myself into Phase.”

Not many people knew how nervous I was but, I was. I wasn’t nervous about leaving home, I had been away for a long time before. I just really didn’t know what to expect. Will I be happy there? Will I be a good teacher? Will I do as good of a job as the Fellows that preceded me? I was still excited, don’t get me wrong, but I got more and more nervous as the departure date approached.

And then it came.

1. “The Honeymoon Phase.”

This phase was exactly how it sounds. Right when I landed in Siem Reap all of my worries flew away and everything seemed perfect. It poured rain, but I said “let it rain.” My feet were constantly covered in dirt from the roads, but I didn’t mind. I would have jumped in a pile of dirt if I could. Everything seemed flawless. Yes, there was extreme poverty and beggars on the streets but I was ready to make a difference. I looked at everything as an opportunity. An opportunity to experience new things, learn a new language, learn how to teach, meet new people, make new friends. Nothing could stand in my way. And, it didn’t. It took time, but I improved as a teacher, I finally learned all of my student’s names (even though at first I never thought I would be able to pronounce them). I made a lot of good friends, and I said yes to every opportunity given to me. I went to the floating villages and had an amazing time, I went to every volleyball match my students had, every pot luck dinner the school principal hosted, every event TGC was organizing, I went to the circus, I went to Nerd Nite, Karaoke, and so much more. There was so much going on. I was amazed at how much work I could do while having fun. I started my dance class, my mental health class, I was teaching, decorating the school, and everything was going perfectly. Of course I had a few bumps along the way but it didn’t matter.

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2. “The Shock Phase.”

I’m not entirely sure what happened or why it started but not everything seemed perfect anymore. It may have begun during my visit to Phnom Penh when I had my first negative experience. When I was walking on the side of the street a man on his motorbike zoomed by, grabbed my purse, and kept zooming off. He didn’t get anything, but I fell. Hard. Although shocked I got right back up.

The next month, my friend Amanda and I were cycling to dinner for our friend Veronica’s birthday and as we turned the corner, another man on his motorbike zoomed by and crashed into Amanda on her bicycle. I was right ahead of the incident and when I turned around they were both lying on the ground. We rushed Amanda to the hospital and, luckily, she only fractured her thumb but we were both traumatized for a while.

And then there were some other frustrations like my bicycle having problems and always needing to be fixed, inflation throughout Cambodia and the thought that everything is constantly getting more expensive, feeling overworked and getting burnt out, feeling like sometimes the people here speak in circles and it is difficult to get your point across. Getting annoyed when I take the time to make worksheets for my students when they don’t do their homework. And literally feeling like I would punch the next tuktuk driver in the face if he were to ask me AGAIN if I want a ‘driver to the Temples tomorrow.’

3. “The Adjustment Phase”

As time passed, my frustrations slowly wore off and I came to accept everything. At this time, I felt like everything started to come together and I realized how much I had grown as a person. I’ve learned so much throughout my experience here. I’ve become patient, really patient. I’ve learned that if something doesn’t work the first time, it will be okay, just try again. When I first came to TGC there were several activities I would plan for my students that didn’t work because of slow internet connections or power outages. Although upset, my students would always just respond, “don’t worry, it’s okay.” Even though I appreciated their kindness and patience, it didn’t process with me until now. If something doesn’t work out now, “it’s okay”, I can do it later. If the power goes out, I don’t NEED to be using the internet at this moment. It will come back on soon. If a lesson I try with my students doesn’t get through to them, “it’s okay”, I will try again next time using a different method. If I feel like I need time to myself, “it’s okay”, I can take a break. Despite some of my hardships, I truly learned that everything will work out in the end, and it will all pay off.

4. “The Re-entry Phase”

This next phase will begin next month and I can’t even fathom it. I have cherished every moment I have had here and have connected with so many people, it is difficult to picture myself moving on. Consider me as though I’m Elizabeth Gilbert, I felt like I have “Eaten, Prayed, and Loved” and “found myself” throughout these eight months here. I absolutely love working with these students and I am so happy. I have watched my students grow, from being too shy to speak in class, to not being able to get them to stop chit-chatting. It is truly remarkable to see them improve and use the knowledge and skills that I have taught them. I am going to miss their appreciation for education. With that in mind, and with the lessons that they have taught me, I know that my re-entry will be just fine and everything will “be okay.”

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The Global Child Dance-a-thon Fun(draiser) II

March 3, 2014

As the Union College Dance Department was preparing for their Winter Dance Concert all the way in Schenectady, we were preparing for ours in Siem Reap. The students at The Global Child and I have rehearsed during every opportunity that we were given; during class breaks, lunch time, and our Saturday morning dance class for the past month. They practiced their Traditional Cambodian Dance, Bhangra, Salsa, Zumba, and Hip Hop. Every Tuesday they had a Traditional Cambodian Dance Class with their teacher Sokoan Lun who is also a student at the Performing Arts Center in Siem Reap. The Bhangra and Salsa dance I adapted from the Union College Zumba class and the Salsa and Hip Hop dances the students and I choreographed together. After several meetings, advertising, rehearsing, creating the program, and fundraising, we were just about ready!

Fifty chairs were arranged outside, in front of the school and a small stage was set up using blue tarp. A small group of expats came to watch this performance and all of our staff members from The Global Child and Joe to Go came to support our students. It was show time… AND WE GO! (as Miryam Moutillet, the Director of the Union College Dance Department, always says before every Union dance concert).

We had a brief introduction by Dara and me about the TGC mission statement and my dance class followed by Kontea, our student council president, who spoke about her love for dance. She was fantastic!

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The Traditional Cambodian Dancers began with their traditional outfits. They wore special Cambodian pants with their hair in a high bun embellished with flowers. With the support from their teacher Sokoan, they were outstanding. This was the first time ever that they had the opportunity to perform this dance in front of others and they blew the crowd away. They held their fingers back, were perfectly in line, and had a wonderful costume. I was amazed at their talents and passion for their traditional dance.

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In every dance, the students were so confident and poised. I could tell that they really enjoyed having an audience to showcase what they have learned and meet new people. During their bows, Dara and I surprised the dancers with a flower that each one of them could take home for their hard work. It was so great to see their smiling facing!

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Though the dancing didn’t stop there- we had our students teach the audience how to dance. Phiron, one of our Wood House students, took the lead on this one. Phiron is known in the school for his ability to ‘pop and lock’ and his general goofiness and sense of humor. He taught the expats a Cambodian line dance and he was definitely the man for the job. He was a fantastic teacher! He taught the moves, step-by-step, and went very slowly so everyone understood. The students made sure to get all of the audience members involved, whether they were experienced dancers or not. Once all of the expats learned, all of the students clapped and joined in to dance with them- it was so nice to see them interact.

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Even with a table of refreshments set up in the entrance room, the students were too busy dancing. We needed to make an announcement to take a break and eat some snacks and make sure to drink water (it was a very hot day).

During the break time and, to my surprise, the students began singing karaoke using the microphone! I had no idea they could sing too! And not just any song, I’m talking about belting out “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. It was really adorable to see all of the students crowd around the computer screen looking at the lyrics as Kontea belted out in song. She was great!

And, again, the dancing continued… this time with the Cha Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle, the Macarena and Waka Waka. The students even got to ‘whip their hair back and forth’ and dance to their favorite songs from K-Pop. During their free dance time, Lyka, Grade 5, grabbed each person in the audience to join in and Rithy, Grade 5, danced as hard as he could- he impressed us with some flips too!

The students truly have a passion for dancing and it was incredible to see them perform and interact with some members from the expat community. They are all so talented. It was an absolutely amazing day filled with dancing, singing, smiles, and so much fun.

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“Thank you for you teach us about dance my cuteful girl.” – A note from a student

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Thank you to everyone who donated to support children’s education at The Global Child and special thank you to Upstairs Café for donating a cake for this event, and my wonderful friends Amanda Mitchell for creating the flyer and Jessica Barofsky for making a mash up of the songs for the hip hop dance!

 

Dragons, Snakes, and Horses… Oh My!

February 24, 2014

Giant horses, snakes, Apsara dancers, bugs, and other creatures filled the streets of Siem Reap- for the Giant Puppet Parade that is! This past Saturday evening everyone at The Global Child participated in The Giant Puppet Parade. This event was absolutely amazing! It is noted as the best night of the year in Siem Reap and I would most definitely agree. Over 500 children joined to showcase the giant puppets that they made with the help of Savann Idea (Siem Reap artist and art teacher at TGC). This year we spent two full mornings working on our puppet. Our theme was “The Color of Ozone.” This idea was first displayed at the Made in Cambodia Market at the Shinta Mani Hotel in which we made colorful umbrellas to represent the ozone.

We made a large umbrella and various large plants and hats to represent the ozone. It was a wonderful display and it was so much fun to make! We met at the Wood House to begin our adventure and march. Everyone was dressed to impress in their TGC t-shirts. After a few announcements, and some pre-parade pictures of course, we were off!

All of the schools gathered around the Old Market and I couldn’t believe all of the tremendous art displays and puppets that each school had created. Large dragons, Apsara dancers, bugs, horses, and more were all carried in the parade. Each puppet and display was lit up and either carried or wheeled throughout the streets. Thousands of people crowded the parade and we danced and sang with them all evening long.

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The parade began with a drummer group from Madagascar called Malagasy Drummers followed by the Phare circus performers and, of course, all of the children and schools with their puppets.

Throughout the parade we shouted “Kaphea Preycha Ozone!”- “Protect the forest, ozone!” We worked hard to make a statement on the streets of Siem Reap. One of my students, Kontea (grade 8), held my hand almost the entire time as we danced together throughout the duration of the parade. Marot, one of our Wood House students worked as an incredible leader guiding our way. I was absolutely amazed by his leadership abilities! He led the group so well and made sure we were in check throughout the parade. All of the other students had a role holding up our display or getting the crowd involved in our artistic presentation.

It was a fantastic thing to be a part of. The lit up Apsara dancers demonstrated the Cambodian traditions, the giant horse represented the Chinese New Year, and we, as TGC, represented the current environment issues by displaying the color of ozone.

As the parade progressed we passed by all of the smiling faces of Siem Reap supporting the children and their artistic abilities. It was a magnificent night filled with lights, art, music, and traditions. I’m so happy to have been involved! 

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Congratulations!!! :)

February 23, 2014

Biggest congratulations to The Global Child Minerva Fellows selected for next year, Miriam Hammer and Samantha Wynn. You will do amazing things! Can’t wait to see you in the spring!

February 12, 2014
Probably the sweetest Valentine I have ever received.  <3 TGC

February 12, 2014

Probably the sweetest Valentine I have ever received.  <3 TGC

Kids Say the Darndest Things…

February 6, 2014

From being kids to some things getting lost in translation, my students have said some pretty funny things…

  • …when accidentally writing on the board in a slant… "You’re writing up the mountain!"
  • …on a day when I decided to wear colored lip gloss… “Ariel, I like your elbow.. I mean! Oops…”
  • "I’m not stupid… just a little bit crazy"
  • …when teaching about careers and showing a picture of an Optician… Me: “what’s another word for an eye doctor? I’ll give you a clue, it starts with an ‘O’”… Students: all at once , “Octopus!”
  • … when I walk into TGC (without me saying a word) “Hi, how are you? I’m fine, how are you? I’m fine…”
  • "I miss you every day"
  • … when my students are speaking Khmer in class and I tell them to try to speak in English… “we’re speaking KhmEnglish!”
  • "Goodbye, I hope you have a nightmare…"
  • …whenever I say something that just so happens to be lyrics to a song, my students start singing…
  • "we no longer say ‘bf’ (boyfriend), we say ‘sp’ (special person)"
  • "Is that your VIP person?!?"
  • "Good luck to you!!"
  • "I smile because of you but when I’m sad it’s because of myself. You always smile and happy."
  • "See you when you see me!"
  • "Do you like that song because it gives you feelings?"

I will continue to add to the list!!

The Global Child Dance-a-thon Fundraiser I

January 24, 2014

A dance-a-thon is a fundraising event in which you see how long you can dance and stay on your feet! I have had the opportunity to work with the TGC students for the past six months and I am always amazed by their hard work and their drive to succeed. Being a dance minor at Union, I began a dance class once a week which incorporated various styles such as Ballet, Hip Hop, Bhangra, and more, and the students loved it! The Global Child will be hosting a dance-a-thon on March 1st, 2014 at 2-5pm in the school’s courtyard. The purpose of the Dance-a-thon is to allow the students to showcase their new moves while gaining confidence performing in front of an audience, speaking English to the audience, meeting new people, and raising money for their education. THEY will be preparing for the event and THEY will be teaching expats, volunteers, and locals how to dance. The students will learn how to organize an event and raise money for their school while dancing and having fun! The TGC students will perform what they have learned in their dance classes including Traditional Cambodian Dance and Hip-Hop. After their performances, they will teach the audience how to dance. Following their lessons, anyone from the expat community can teach the students how to dance as well.

Any donation, big or small, will greatly benefit our students at TGC. Siem Reapers, hope to see you there! 

Check out our dance-a-thon website to donate. Thank you so much for helping to support our school.

http://www.gofundme.com/tgcdanceathon

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Mental Health Education

January 20, 2014

I know that I have briefly mentioned my mental health education class in previous posts but I never had the chance to fully explain what this class entails… so this post is long overdue!

The mental health class occurs every other week before the dance class and switches off with the health class led by Becca. This class was created based on the students’ needs after I witnessed the physical and emotional stresses that the students undergo from their family backgrounds. When observing their lifestyles during their home visits, it was astonishing to see the conditions in which these children (and so many people in Cambodia) live. These children at The Global Child have family pressures caused by extreme economic stress, abusive relationships, and mental health problems.  In order to meet their specific needs, a mental health education class was developed to benefit my students. The students learn about time management, making use of their support systems, handling peer pressure, and ways of dealing with stress. This class’s goal is to create well-rounded students who are capable of handling the many pressures and stresses of life.

Although this is a passion of mine, I was very cautious while approaching these issues because children can be very influential and, frankly, I am not a certified mental health educator. I first turned to the counseling center at Union College for advice about mental health education. Being mental health educators themselves, they were very helpful. Thank you so much for your suggestions!

After being in touch with this department at Union, I was able to create a syllabus for a mental health education class. I focus on topics that are suitable for children: how to cope with your stress, how to prevent bullying, how to deal with peer pressure, memory & thinking, etc. With the “save face” culture that Cambodia has, I was surprised to see how open my students were with these subjects. They may have adapted to having Western volunteers come every year, or it may be that they are just getting older and are more mature and open about their thoughts and feelings. Whatever the cause, I am so happy that this class has shown to be successful and they are enjoying the interactive games and activities in each class.

Several of the activities that I use, I’ve learned from an organization called Active Minds at Union College. Active Minds is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to raising mental health awareness on college campuses. It is run by students, for students. I started my mental health class by introducing the topic of mental health and stress and discussed what can cause stress: too much homework, too many chores, etc. We then did an activity from Active Minds:

~we blew up balloons, wrote what may cause stress in our lives on the balloons, and then we all popped them together. Some of my students wrote several things that stressed them out. I was surprised how open they were about their feelings and how willing they were to participate in this activity.

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~ for the topic of bullying I showed various videos of children who had been bullied themselves and how it affected them and then they wrote compliments on post-it notes and posted them around the school to show their support for one another.

~ for peer pressure, we had several scripts and the children were able to act out different scenarios in which they learned how to say “no” to their friends. They loved role playing!

~when we learned about time management, a student approached me and said, “Can you teach me how to study?” This student is very bright but she admitted to working very hard and having trouble remembering everything. I worked with her during her break and we discussed study skills. This topic will definitely be discussed in our mental health class soon and I hope that all of the other students can benefit from it as well.

I am so happy that this class is going extremely well and it has been an unbelievable experience to see how my students incorporate these lessons into their daily lives.

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Special thanks to the Union College Counseling Center for helping me create a syllabus which includes child- appropriate topics for mental health education. Also, thank you to everyone who is involved in Active Minds for the amazing work that you do and for the activity ideas.