But today, I could not have been more pleased with the commotion because for most of my life, I have never been more eager than for the first day of school. Only this time, I get to be the teacher. So, like any good Cambodian educator, I made sure to brush my hair (a rare occurrence), fill my bag full of half organized piles of paper and polish my helmet. Ready, set, throttle.
I didn’t realize it until I hit the road, but the school I work at is directly next to Banteay Srei, one of the most famous and beautiful temples of Angkor. This means I get to drive directly through the heart of Angkor at sunrise twice a week to teach kids english out in the Cambodian countryside. Basically, I could not have dreamt up a better experience.
I arrived by 8am, took a quick squat in the bushes then sauntered into the chaotic classroom to find a whirlwind of enthusiastic kids adorned in a dark blue bottom and white top uniform, as well as one teacher leading three different grades for a reason she could not quite explain. Maybe that’s how it always is…we shall see. Anyways, we set my schedule and I was to arrive back at 10am. Perfect. That gave me time to turn my jumbled mess of paperwork into a legit lesson plan, which I later thanked the Buddahs for.
This also gave me a chance to go meet the local family that lives directly next to the school who has offered me a space in their home two days a week. To be precise, I am staying in a hut with the school administrator—this includes jovial grandma, soldier husband, two older brothers, one younger brother, older sister, baby sister, a plethora of chickens of all ages (and chicks of all ages), two cats (plus kittens), a puppy named Lucky and a cow. At least, I think that’s everyone. And people, they are the definition of hospitable. They are some of the poorest people in the world, but have opened their door, their hearts, their smiles and their cooking pots to make me feel more welcome than I ever have in any home. And let me tell you, Grandma don’t care that I can’t speak Khmer—she’ll talk to me until the next eggs hatch and put a bear hug on top.
My lesson finally began with the classic name tag and greeting intro. Upon discovering the desks didn’t move, I tried to arrange the class in a circle by showing them how to sit on top of their desks. After the fourth desk I’d plopped on with the only reaction being a “she must be coo coo” stare, I forfeited the circle plan. I began to call out to students at random, desperately seeking educational success.
“What is your name?”
I bring my hands to my chest and say, “My name is Kori.”
……..giggles echo wildly……..
I place my name tag on my blouse and repeat, “My name is Kori and I am from America.”
I channel the power of persistance and try again. “What is your name?”
“My name is Chan Ji.”
“Yes! Very good! How are you Chan Ji?”
Chan Ji, you are better than fine. You are my very first break through. You are a 13-year-old lifesaver.
And Chan Ji appeared as hyped as I was at that moment. She basically stepped in as my teaching assistant by helping everyone remember what they were supposed to say, encouraging them to try if they were shy and helping me comprehend and spell names as they ranged anywhere from Neang to Tram to Lear, Phe and Bong. Then, everyone was stoked. We powered through numbers (1-20), sailed through rainbow vocabulary (aka. colors) and still fit in some hilarious games. No writing or grammar, but the participation was soaring.
I could not have asked for a better first day. Although I need some serious supplies to enhance the educational process (e.g.: color chalk, flashcards, homework assignments, etc), I think I am as grateful for the class as they are for me. There is nothing like some communal stoke, gratitude and 50 reps of the ABCs to make a brand new English teacher feel flitters of pride. More to come!