Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back in the US

I have now left Cambodia and am in Akron, PA for a re-entry orientation. Or disorientation, if you will. My last week or so in Cambodia was fairly busy. I slowly dragged my way through grading all my exams and doing all the final grades. I was less than pleased that grades seemed to be worse this semester than last semester, not encouraging. I packed up my bags and then did a lot of re-adjusting and shifting to make sure that both were just barely under 50lbs.

Traveling through Bangkok was exciting and the trip back to the States was smooth, though very long. This week will be fairly busy and then I'll head home and be very busy as I join the preparations for Tom's (my younger brother) wedding on August 1!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Exam Grading

I have now finished all teaching and exam giving and am left with exam grading. Though generally speaking it's not very fun and I hate it, it does have redeeming moments.

The writing section for Year 1 instructed them to write one paragraph about a festival, or national holiday, in Cambodia giving various details about the event.

This is one correct response that I received from one of my top students.

"The festival that I've participated is Water Festival. This festival is celebrated for three days every year. We celebrate this festival in order to remind about the marine because in the past the marine fought so hard with the enemy to protect the country." (She is describing a historic battle that was fought along the river). "I participated this festival last year. I went to the river side to see the boat racing with my friends. It was really fun. I'll go again this year and I think it will be fun like last year."
Wonderful grammar, nice and brief: full credit.

And this is one incorrect response.

"Last week my brother and I had a party at my house. We do this because we want to meet our friends, especially my siblings in my hometown. At first we bough som beaf, pork, some ingredients and about drink we choose ABC beer and tiger beer. during we have foods with beer, we feel drunken, and then we danced to the tone each other. We so happy together in there. and after we had small talk and went to bed. It's our traditional culture. For people, when they have leave for a long time and when they come back, they always do this to meet each other in their places."
Incorrect grammar, incorrect (though entertaining) content: not full credit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Teaching High

Yesterday I was blessed with a very rewarding and encouraging moment. Over the past month I have assigned a small research paper (of sorts) to my higher level students. I have been endlessly talking about not copying, outlines, NOT copying, essay structure, not COPYING, thesis statements and NOT COPYING. I did it all in small steps and I corrected a full draft a couple weeks ago. I then gave them a break of two weeks between that and their final draft, which is due next Monday. I told them that if they wanted me to read it again in the meantime for extra help I would be very willing to help them. Last night I read over the paper of the one girl who took me up on that.

And I was completely floored. I've been working with this girl throughout the process. She chose a topic that seemed straightforward, but starting running into some problems. "Teacher, I have learned that fertilizer use in Cambodia has declined in recent years, but rice production has increased, is this strange?" Yes, this is strange. I looked and found the same information. I tried to advise her as best I could and told her I was more concerned about the paper than the content...blah,blah,blah. When she turned in her rough draft I could see that she was putting in some good information, but it didn't have cohesion. The paper I read last night was an amazing piece of work that made complete sense to me and answered the confusion in a structured and logical way. I made some grammatical marks and will talk with her this morning about two small points that need clarification, but I am fully confident that when she turns it in to me again on Monday she will have a paper that could legitimately be turned in to any college in the U.S.

My joy in this situation is not that I taught her everything she knows, because she came in with a great deal of ability. Rather I am glad that she had a level of ability and motivation that allowed me to really help her in a meaningful way. She is at the level to understand what I am saying and I am at the level where I can understand exactly what she needs to fix. And now her paper is amazing. I am so proud of the work she has put into it, and glad that I was able to help her in a substantial way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

This morning I went with a group of MCC staff to witness part of the justice proceedings for the Khmer Rogue crimes. The first and only defendant thus far is Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch. He worked as the head of the S-21 prison which incarcerated, tortured and killed more than 15,000 people. Since he was found and captured in the late 90s he has cooperated with authorities and what I saw today showed me how aware he is of his crimes. When asked about the process of issuing orders for torture Duch was quick to admit that he carried out training and supervision. I was interesting also to note the things that he described as outside the guidelines of the allowed torture, things done without his knowledge. He also approved lists of prisoners who were taken outside the city and killed in the now famous "Killing Fields." It was both powerful and somewhat technical testimony. At times the questions dragged on about what kind of food he ate and with whom. But one of the most disturbing things was that when either the prosecutor or Duch were referring to people who were executed they used the word "smash." The Khmer word is very specific to the action, and the English translation was no less brutal.

This trial has been carrying on for several weeks now, maybe months, and does not seem to be ending soon. After five years of complete terror, decades of covert fears, and a seeming eternity of waiting and promises, the Cambodians are now faced with a court proceeding dogged by allegations of corruption, stalls amounting to years, and testimony that, while true, passes off much of the blame to higher level officials who are nowhere to be found.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You know you're in Cambodia when... part 2

- A student saying "Look at the snake" stops class for a good five minutes and provides sentence material for the rest of the day.

- You name the spiders that live in your bathroom. And cheer when they catch a mosquito.

- You instinctively put all your verbs in the present tense to be understood.

- You name all the geckos Sammy.

- You think that being sick for a week and a half is "not so bad." Since we're talking about dengue fever.

- You have learned that not all chili sauces are created equal. And cried because of it.

- You notice that the black and white puppy you saw earlier this week is now a black and gray puppy.

- You participate in the rain race, against your better judgment.
Rain Race - compound noun, defined as the futile effort to out-run the ominous black clouds. This involves driving faster and more recklessly than normal, constantly debating whether to stop to put your trash-bag raincoat on, being fully blinded by the dust and windstorm that precedes the rain, and finally giving in to the inevitable soaking. Just hope that you have an extra change of clothes wherever it is that you are going.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Long Overdue

Ok, ok. So it's been about five years since the last time I posted. But really now that it's less than two months until I leave, time has almost become irrelevant. But I do want to tell you about my recent vacation to the province of Mondolkiri. In May there is a week long holiday for the King's birthday, so quite a large group of us decided to risk the long van ride out to the middle of nowhere. Thankfully it hadn't been raining much so the road was only terrifying to us but not actually physically impossible, as proved by our driver. We stayed at a very "natural" guesthouse, meaning it wasn't in the town but out a little ways, with all the creatures. I had thought my bug tolerance was pretty high, but I discovered otherwise. I really think it's a size threshold. Anything over a certain size freaks me out. Got a lot of that in the evenings, especially while taking a shower in the bathroom that was really a garden. Then would have to quickly go and huddle under my bug net in a minor state of denial. But during the day it was wonderful to explore the area visiting numerous waterfalls and seeing beautiful rolling, green hills! The highlight was riding elephants. Despite being very uncomfortable it was an extremely unique experience to sit so high up and watch this massive animal slowly lumber through the woods. Occasionally when she wanted a snack for the road she would tear up a near-by sapling to munch along the way. During our lunch break we also got to see the handlers give the elephants "a bath" in the stream. The elephants apparently enjoyed it and were quite willing to lie on their sides to allow easier scrubbing. Upon questioning we learned that our elephant was 60 years old, which is quite a feat considering that the Khmer Rogue tried to kill them all off in the 70's. Glad these survived.

Friday, April 24, 2009


This week we returned to classes after the two-week break for Cambodian New Year. I was uncertain about attendance after the holiday, but most of my classes had good return. The problem class was, of course, my upper-level class. This was supposed to be the start of student teaching in groups. On Monday afternoon only a quarter of the students even showed up and none of them were the ones who were supposed to teach the lesson that day. On Wednesday there was greater attendance, but still none of the students who were teaching. Being very pressed for time with this chapter I began to teach the lesson. About 20 minutes in the group slowly began to trickle in. When I questioned them whether they were prepared to teach they looked at me with laughs that indicated they had totally forgotten. "But we can go next class, right?" When I informed them that they had to do it now or never they proceeded to stand up and teach a shambles of a class. The students listening had no idea what was going on and were utterly confused. I sat at a desk in the corner silently mourning the disaster that had been my great idea for second semester. Worse was the thought that there are still three more groups scheduled to teach lessons. I am still perversely clinging to the hope that it might be better, maybe the groups will prepare more...we'll see about that.

On the other side of the coin, however, is my Year 1 class. No matter what I make them do, they are always willing and cheerful. Sometimes more so than others but always willing to engage. They really are a saving grace for me and some weeks that's all I have to look forward to. Also a surprise last week: my silent Year 1 class gave me flowers. I don't know who picked them, but when I walked into class there was a bunch of my favorite flower on the desk, which was very pleasant. I think they might be starting to talk a little more too, but that could just be my wishful imagination.