Yesterday we arrived in Thailand after 6 and a half weeks in Cambodia, 5 of which we spent living and volunteering in Phnom Penh. Way back when we started planing our trip, working or volunteering abroad was high on the list of things we wanted to do, and we spent many hours researching. When we finally found an organisation called UBELONG, both affordable and offering different types of placement (teaching English for me, something other than working with kids for Law!), we then settled on Phnom Penh as well. Having this last few weeks booked in advance helped us planning a lot of the rest of our time in Asia.
We finished last Friday, and are still digesting the experience I think! For us both, it ranged from rewarding to frustrating at times, and it took a while to get to grips with the Cambodian way of doing things. Timekeeping, organisation and the pace of work are ’different’, so in some ways 5 weeks doesn’t really feel like enough time to make a discernible impact. On the other hand, it also felt like time to move on; being in one place for such a long time was weird after so much travel.
It’s probably with rose tinted specs, but I really enjoyed my experience. I think it’s easier to see if you’re making a difference with teaching English, as the kids either improve or they don’t. I was lucky in that I had a small group to work with for at least 2 or 3 hours each day, so I could plan my lessons and see what worked and what didn’t. I also enjoyed the time I spent with the other, younger students, but such short lessons with bigger, mixed ability groups were harder to move forward. By the end of the last week, my older students had definitely improved at least a little bit and they seemed sad to see me go as well.
I’ll miss the students, especially the older group, and hopefully they’ll have another teacher take them over soon. They were funny, and gave me a hard time at points, but most of the time we got on very well. The melodramatic, comedy response of “Teacher, no!” to most of my instructions will always make me laugh.
It does make me think I’d like to teach English as a foreign language again possibly, but also makes me wary of short term volunteering – there were maybe some people we met during our time in Phnom Penh that were more voluntourists. Some of the orphanages and NGOs also seemed to be more interested in the money the volunteers bring, rather than the skills they might have.
Cambodia is a country with thousands of NGOs and orphanages, with huge problems with corruption and a big reliance on foreign aid, as well as a tragic recent history. Living and working here for even a short while has been a really rewarding and interesting experience. We’ve met some awesome people, had some hilarious nights out and hopefully made a little difference somewhere at some point!
Since finishing, we’ve spent a night on a desert island, met up with some Vodkatrainers, had a hassle free border crossing into Thailand, and celebrated are 12th anniversary of being together. Off now to spend another night on a train, this time to Chiang Mai.