Good or Bad News?

‘Hello, <student>. Let’s resume our English lesson tomorrow.’ I called my student on Friday after I came back to the village from Siem Reap and after THEIR long holiday.  Mind you, it’s a  6-hour bus ride and after that, I had to take a tuk tuk from the town to the village and that cost a lot too cos the bus cannot reach the village.

BUT, my student said, ‘hello, Teacher. My friends and I decided not to have the English class with you.  We want to stop.’

‘Huh? Why?’ I asked.

‘Because we are busy.’ The student said.

I am busy too, I thought to myself.  This is a very common excuse in Cambodia.

The student continued, ‘we do not have time to learn English with you.  We have other extra classes too.’  (Other extra classes include their private English lessons provided by their local Khmer teachers who teach them poor English grammar. That means, they learn wrong English grammar.)

‘OK, then. Could you please return all the books to me?  When will I see you again? Can you come tomorrow?’ I said. High EQ and rational, right?  😛

‘Yes, I will see you and return the books to you tomorrow.’ She answered.

‘At what time?’ I asked.


‘7am?!’  Now, this time, I really tried hard to suppress my emotion.  I am not a morning person and recently I had been waking up at around 9am or 10am. Seeing her at 7am meant I had to wake up at 6:30am the latest to wash my face, brush my teeth etc..  ‘OK. See you tomorrow.’ I immediately set my alarm after I hung up and texted the persons-in-charge.

Dear readers, if you plan to work in Cambodia, whether it is a paid job or a volunteering opportunity, THINK AGAIN! Worse, if you think you quit your full time job in your home country and work as a volunteer to teach the kids in remote villages and that’s a big sacrifice for you, THINK TWICE OR EVEN THRICE before you take any actions, especially if you teach in optional classes with no other staff to support you. (After I moved to the college, I had a much better time there because I wasn’t working alone.)

It is actually NOT the first time the students ditch their teachers.  After all, as I mentioned, my English class is only their ‘extra class’ (i.e. private and optional tutorials).  I had a chat with the French volunteer afterwards, she told me, ‘previously a French volunteer was ditched by their grade 12 students because the students were so concerned about their university entrance exam that they just wanted to take those “extra classes” that were related to their “syllabus”. So it’s not you. Don’t take it personally.’ But she was shocked too when she heard the news because it all sounded very promising previously.

However, if your contract states that you have to teach a mandatory subject in a formal school, then it will be a different story.  Your students are forced to attend your class and they can’t ditch you. The downside is their learning attitude will be different too. 

Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately), I am a very persistent person. I still think I haven’t finished my ‘mission’ yet and so I am not satisfied. I have set aside USD100 for their scholarship and so I will make sure they will apply for it and they will get it.   

Yesterday morning (Saturday), they came to say goodbye and returned the books to me. I woke up and got ready before 7am but they were one hour late. I asked them and made sure that all of them decided not to continue.

One said with determination, ‘yes.’ This is the one who talked to me on the phone.  She also went to the Vietnam Cultural Exchange trip with me.  

‘You know, if you don’t want to continue, I will leave this village and I will never come back. Never.’ I said.  Yeah, I know, never say never.  😛 and I just said it four times.  😀  

They started to realize how serious their decision was. Some of them started to have tears in their eyes.

Silence filled the air. 

Then that determined girl started to say something in Khmer trying to influence the others. 

‘Don’t listen to her. Ask yourself.  Is that what you want too?’ I said.

A boy who went to Vietnam with me had a quick discussion with that ‘determined girl’ in Khmer.  I had a feeling that she was trying to convince other students.  Then the boy answered me without looking at me, ‘yeah, we are too busy. If we have the lesson with you in the afternoon, that means we can’t have lunch.’  He was reluctant to make this decision. But they were the ones who suggested that time.  Actually, it was that ‘determined girl’ who suggested that time.

‘Do you want to change the time then?’ I asked.

The boy said, ‘no, then it will be too late at night.’ When I first arrived, that ‘determined girl’ suggested 7:30pm – 8:30pm. Some students dropped out in the end because it was too late for them.  Then the ‘determined girl’ changed to noon (without consulting other students, I believe).  Now, they think both timeslots are not good for them. 

‘How about Sunday?  We have a 2-hour English-cum-Computer lesson on Sunday and you all said Sunday is the least busy day for you.’ I suggested.

They discussed for a while and then some reluctantly shook their heads.

I asked the rest of the students, ‘Are you sure?’

Some were a bit hesitant.

I don’t like to see any manipulation, especially among the young people.  I started making a speech:

‘When I first came here, you (I was looking at the determined girl) asked me to come to teach you English. You said, “Please, please, please come to teach us English.” (I repeated what she said when I first met her in January this year). I gave up my life back home to come to teach you in the village.  Can you make this sacrifice when you grow up?  Can you do that?  When you grow up, if you have a job in Cambodia, earning money, having a comfortable life, but if some students ask you to go to another village in another country to teach them English, can you give up your comfortable life in Cambodia to go and teach them? Can you do that?  And now you say, “I don’t want you anymore.”‘  

I wanted them to understand the seriousness of the consequences of their actions. Nowadays, young people don’t think about these before they take any actions. But she probably didn’t understand. For them, it’s nothing because it is your life, not theirs. It is your own decision, not theirs (they think).  It doesn’t bother them at all.  This is their mentality.  This is their culture.  When it is a culture, there is no problem at all.  Such a good excuse, ‘Yup, that’s the culture. If I want you, I beg you to come. If I don’t want you, please leave. It doesn’t bother me at all because I don’t want you anymore. You are only at my beck and call. It’s your choice that you come.  And yes, I ask you to but you don’t have to say yes.  And remember, that’s our culture.’ It’s so convenient.  Wait, that sounds very familiar. Doesn’t it sound like some corporates too? Maybe I should create a Learn x Travel culture and use that as an excuse all the time.

I paused, for them to reflect… although I didn’t think they understood it, as I said.

‘But you know that your English has improved.’ I remarked.

Within less than one second, one of the students answered with sureness, ‘yes.’  He once told me he wanted to be a medical doctor.

I was glad.  He was a little bit hesitant about discontinuing the lessons but he might have peer pressure.  

So here’s what I proposed, ‘connect me on Learn x Travel Facebook Page. I know some of you have LINE. Let’s connect on LINE as well.’  (The reason I use LINE is because I also have online English tutorials with other students there.) The one who aspired to be a medical doctor immediately took out his phone and installed LINE and connected with me. 

‘Good!  Now, we can continue to have our lessons online on LINE.’ 😛  I started demonstrating how it worked with that student.  The others who were hesitant and wanted to continue with the lesson started to feel envious and started to check their phones. Some unfortunately didn’t bring their phones with them.  The ‘determined girl’ was a bit upset because her phone didn’t have enough memory to install that app and also maybe because she couldn’t get everyone to be on the same page which also means she will miss my lessons while some of the others continue.  😛

‘So, it’s not a final goodbye.  We can still see each other here.’ I waved my phone.

I gave them a hug.

I hate goodbyes and I hate seeing people cry so I always try to create a happy ending.

In the afternoon, they came again. One student who couldn’t make it in the morning came at this time and returned a book to me.

They hid something behind them. 

I asked, ‘what is that?’  

The ‘determined girl’ said, ‘nothing’ with a cunning and yet innocent smile. I know it sounds very contradictory. 😛

They finally revealed.

It was a present.

I pretended to be suspicious while I opened the present and I held it far far away from me pretending that I was expecting something to pop out from the bag (of course, they didn’t know I did some drama at school :P).  They laughed.

It’s a white shirt with black polka dots and a few kittens and a mouse sewn on it.  It’s cute. 

The white shirt with black polka dots that my students gave me.  It's white. Trust me.  I know it looks a bit blue in the photo.  Blame it on the light. and the plastic bag.  :P
The white shirt my students gave me. It’s white. Trust me. I know it looks a bit blue in the photo. Blame it on the light… and the plastic bag. 😛

‘We want to see you wear it tomorrow.’ The ‘determined girl’ said.

‘OK. So I will see you tomorrow?’

She said, ‘yes.’

This time, they all except the determined girl prepared their phones and started to install the mobile app and connected with me. Some successfully installed it but some couldn’t. I don’t know why.

In return, I gave them an English book.  They were brand new books donated by the Hong Kong Youth Group who came a few months ago for the Youth Exchange programme. They gave us 12 copies of the same book so I gave one book to each of my students. The interesting thing about the book is that you choose the ending of the story. You probably have read this kind of books before but it’s new to them. It was their first time to own a real English book. They may have some English books but those ones are published and printed in Cambodia – they are full of grammar mistakes.  Trust me, even their Oxford-Khmer dictionaries contain loads of spelling mistakes. (I have also mentioned something about a so-called English book that they read in my previous blog. )   

A story book that allows you to choose your own ending. I gave this to my students.
You get to choose your own ending.

After they left, I continued to pack.  I was planning to leave either on Sunday or Wednesday when one of the persons-in-charge was free to pick me up.

But then, I got a call.

It was from another person-in-charge. 

‘So, what’s your plan? I haven’t got any further news from you.’

‘I am still thinking if I should leave tomorrow or on Wednesday.  But I am packing anyway.’ I said.

‘If I come to pick you up now, will you be ready? I will be there in around one hour.’ He said.

I took a look at my things in the wardrobe and cupboards, etc. I said, ‘It shouldn’t be a problem. I will pack quickly then.’  After we hung up, I stopped packing.  Instead, I was literally stuffing things into my backpacks.

Empty wardrobe now. The curtains you see in the photos are for the windows and for covering the rotten wood.  As I said, it's a wooden house so all the walls are made of wood.
Empty wardrobe now. The curtains you see in the photos are for the windows and for covering the rotten wood. As I said, it’s a wooden house so all the walls are made of wood.
The night I left the village. The sky was very clear. I saw the moon and the star. Sorry, I was in a rush so the photo is a bit blur.
The night I left the village. The sky was very clear. I saw the moon and the star. Sorry, I was in a rush so the photo is a bit blur.

So, now I am back in town where more civilization can be found. But I am still staying in a wooden house with a ceiling fan.  I am staying in a room where I was badly bitten by mosquitoes but this time I have mosquito coils, citronella essence oil, and more insect repellent. I hope it will be better than before.

And the next steps?  

The online lesson with my students from the village has started today (Sunday) and they are working on an exercise that I gave them this morning. 🙂 How long will it last? I have no idea.

Will I continue to stay in Cambodia? 

Stay tuned.  😉

P.S. The online lessons with these kids only lasted for a few weeks because they were too ‘busy’. As for the scholarship, I will accumulate more funds and then give it to other students who deserve it.

6 thoughts on “Good or Bad News?

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