As I boarded my flight to Phnom Penh from Heathrow, I caught myself looking down the aisles of seats in the plane. Will there be anyone here I know? Do I recognise anyone from the Facebook group? Could I actually end up being sat next to someone else who was going on the same internship as me? These questions surrounded me as I tucked myself into my seat to prepare for the 14-hour stretch to Phnom Penh and started daydreaming of everything I expected I would experience when I arrived in Cambodia.
Fast forward a day, and my sweet, calm aeroplane journey had been turned on its head as I entered the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Phnom Penh.
I was met at the airport after an extremely close call with nearly missing my connecting flight at Bangkok airport (note to never bring a teddy bear in your carry on luggage, they WILL think this is suspicious!) by a member of the Nutty Adventures team, who would be looking after us in Cambodia.
She quickly guided me up to a cafe where I met three other interns before heading on a bus journey to the Le Mont Hotel, where we would be having our orientation weekend.
After the initial small talk, the shock of seeing five people on one motorbike and the sharing of all our expectations of the internship, we arrived to meet Kimlay, who immediately told us all to lower our expectations.
At the time, I saw red flags appear in my head. Why would he tell us to lower our expectations? Is it going to be bad? What’s going on? But in hindsight, this was one of the most helpful things Kimlay would tell us. Because everything was going to be different to how we thought, and we would find surprises, changes and challenges each and everyday. But that’s what makes the internship so rewarding.
Our orientation weekend flew by. We were taken out to eat authentic Khmer food, and me (the vegetarian) accidentally consumed a quails head – beak, eyes, bones and all. But hey, it’s all about embracing the culture, right?
We were guided through presentations about the history of the country, spoke with past interns about their own experiences and went on day trips to visit The Royal Palace and the Central Market to really get a feel for our new life in Cambodia. At the end of the weekend, we were finally told how our group would be split into the two different schools.
I was sent to The CamTop International School, with two of the other female interns, and the other two girls and a boy were told they were teaching at Golden Bridge International School. We toured both schools as our group of six before finally being shown to our rooms and being told to unpack, relax and get ready, because we would be starting school the next day.
I remember lying in bed next to my new roommate and thinking, ‘how can they possibly expect me to start teaching tomorrow?’. I had no experience of teaching English (only sport), no lesson plan and most importantly, I hadn’t a clue what age to aim the lesson at. Luckily, to my relief, we were taken to dinner with our principal that evening, who explained that we were only to observe lessons for the first week to see how the Khmer teachers were teaching English. This relieved a lot of anxiety for myself, as it also gave us a chance to really settle into the school, meet the kids and fully prepare for our first lessons the next week.
After a week of observing, I was itching to teach my own lessons. We were shown the choice of three schedules to pick from, with a variety of grades across them all. After settling on teaching a variety of social studies and English, I began to start preparing a lesson with the help of the textbooks given to us by school.
After a night of restless sleep, it was time to start teaching my first lesson to Grade 3. It’s worth noting that at least in my school, grades are sorted by ability, not by age so my class had a range of 8 to 15 year olds all in the same room. The students were keen to learn, and it was clear from just my first lesson that some of the students were using English extremely well outside of school too. Although I had to adapt some of my lesson plan to suit the age and the engagement level of the class, I was really pleased with how my lesson went. If I was ever stuck or concerned, I had the support of a Khmer teacher in my classroom too. This was really useful to help manage classroom behaviour and to hear feedback about how you’ve taught.
Let’s fast forward again, and now it’s at the end of my second full week of teaching.
I am tired, I am sweaty, but most importantly, I am so fulfilled.
They say that those that can’t do, teach – but I say those that CAN do, teach. Seeing improvements lesson by lesson in your students gives you a feeling that’s hard to describe. The sense of pride you can have for each and every child when they learn a new spelling, count to a higher number or read you a story is incredible. These aren’t my achievements, they’re theirs. But knowing I helped support and encourage them to meet these goals is enough motivation for me to continue to want to teach them each and everyday.