Global Service Scholar: Michelle Wan
Country: Cambodia

Prior to leaving for Cambodia, I grew more interested in the possibility of teaching English as a second language in foreign countries. Being able to experience that in Cambodia gave me a glimpse of what it could be like if I choose to pursue that option. It helped me realize that it is a worthwhile job, even if I don’t do it long term, because the impact on those who get the opportunity to learn English are long-term and potentially life changing. The emphasis on learning English in Cambodia is extremely important because being able to speak English means opportunities in tourism related jobs, which are better paying than other jobs like farming in Cambodia. I continue to see how lucky I am to have grown up speaking English and I hope that I can help others.

After working at Treak Community Centre in Cambodia for a month, I think the staff have taught me much more than I could ever teach them. Three teachers in particular live with so much integrity that I am inspired to adopt their outlook and approach to life.

I hope to always be curious and hungry for new knowledge like Pechey. At Treak, Pechey is the head teacher and he is well-respected by his staff and all the students. When he is not teaching, he also works as a tour guide to famous attractions in Siem Reap like Angkor Wat. He is talented and intelligent, but so incredibly humble; he is always asking to learn and be taught more whether it be developing new curriculum for the school, receiving resources for organizational admin work, or even learning American slang words! Prior to teaching at Treak, he went through two years of monkhood where he fell in love with the practice of meditation. I believe that his practice as a monk had a big influence on his temperament and composure which are always calm and peaceful. Though he is soft-spoken and gentle, there is so much passion that comes with his speech when he talks about improving education for the students at Treak and Cambodia. He creatively draws inspiration from popular movies (like Kung Fu Panda) to model his teaching style that best caters to the students, believing that students are most receptive to learning when they are encouraged through something they are good at or interested in. I have no doubt that his openness and receptiveness to new ideas and feedback will help Treak grow in their village and make a strong impact on the students. I hope to have the same passion for learning throughout my life like Pechey.

I hope to always bring joy and life to a group like Dara. A recent college graduate in Cambodia, Dara works as the assistant head teacher at Treak, and like Pechey, he is also a tour guide when he is not teaching. Upon meeting Dara the first full day we arrived in Cambodia, I felt so warm and comfortable around him because he was so polite and cheerful. Every morning when I arrived to Treak, he would smile brightly and wave at me, saying “good morning, Michelle!” It was a great start to my day and helped me feel motivated to work hard at the school. Dara is a popular teacher because he is so genuinely kind and friendly. Seeing how he interacts with the kids, it’s obvious that the kids love him; his energy is contagious! On top of that, I feel so lucky and happy when I see how excited he is to share about Cambodian culture with us. He gave us a tour around Angkor Wat (with Pechey) and Phnom Kulen, and it was such a blessing to learn about the history of these sites and how much knowledge he has to share about his country. I am encouraged by Dara’s positivity and aspire to bring warmth and joy to the people I meet like he did to me.

I hope to always be patient and invested in the youth like Chhuer. About three years ago, Chhuer started working as a teacher at Treak. When he is not teaching, he works as a tuktuk driver to earn a little more money after recently getting married. I worked most closely with Chhuer as the volunteer in the K2 classroom, where the kids are around 6-11 years old. I quickly realized how draining it was working in K2 was because of how much energy they have and also how incredibly patient Chhuer is with his students. The students often shout in class or will chat with their classmates during the lesson, but I have never seen him yell at them. I once shared my concern with the lack of discipline in the classroom, but he shared with me how he does not want to be a strict, authoritative teacher to these kids because he grew up with a teacher who would always whack him if he talked in class. He would rather the kids stay at Treak to be exposed to English than be scared away by strict classroom rules because he strongly believes that education is the way out of poverty. Though he will occasionally put the “naughty kids” on time out, he endures their rowdiness as kids with grace and patience, so he can fully invest in their education and future in hopes that they can find good paying jobs when they grow up. I admire that Chhuer values education so much and I hope that I can be as patient and invested in what I do like he is in teaching his students.

I have high hopes for Cambodia and I hope to return in the future to see people like Pechey, Dara, Chhuer, and all the other teachers at Treak lead the new generation into the future. This experience was beyond what I could have asked for and Cambodia now holds a special place in my heart not just because of the natural beauty of the country, but also the beautiful hearts of the Cambodian people. Chum reap leah (“goodbye”), Cambodia! Arkoun chraen (“thank you very much”)!