So, I’ve had a few days to lick my wounds and rail at the injustice of the world, and I’ve got my shiny and polished CV all buffed and ready to go. I have an up to date Criminal Record Check, and I’ve even checked my passport has spare pages and years left so I am equipped to travel Seems a shame to waste it.
Therefore, in an idle moment, I did a bit more internet searching and found myself back at the website for a project I’ve come across before. Conversations with Foreigners. This is another NGO, reasonably well established in Phnom Penh, but with a satellite school newly opened up in rural Kratie. There are pros and cons. It seems to be a well-established project, they have taken volunteers for a while now and although I’ve not found very many reviews for CWF, the one’s I’ve come across seem to be broadly positive. It appears to be principled, with a relevant curriculum, well organised and emphasis on cultural exchange too. The main gripes are more teaching hours than expected (5 hours a day is norm rather than ‘up to’) and the volunteer accommodation a bit too basic when you can live independently for a similar cost.
That’s my big gripe to be honest. This is not a paid position, you are expected to pay a modest fee for accommodation. I’m ambivalent about this, if I have to pay to be there anyway, would I be better off just going independently and finding opportunities once I’m there? I’d be less trapped if it turns out not to be right for me, and it could be a lot more fun. On the other hand, to ease me into a different culture there are benefits in traveling to and with a reputable project. Also, there are some fringe benefits, a 10 day orientation trip; Khmer lessons; references at the end; teaching support. That wouldn’t have been enough, but what I stumbled across this time round in browsing, was that they have a new rural centre. Open only since Sept 2015, the CWF base at Kratie did catch my eye. I love the idea of being in towards the start of something. The more rural location appeals massively more than being in Phnom Penh. They do a good job on their website too to be fair:
Teaching in Kratie offers a very different experience to Phnom Penh. Teachers live in a beautiful and spacious house – varnished wood from floor to ceiling – with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms. The house is just a stones throw from the mighty Mekong River …. Lessons are taught at the local university – a 15 minute cycle from the house. University staff have been very accommodation in providing CWF Kratie with a staff room and reception space, classrooms, Kratie has its own academic adviser to help you improve your skills & adapt to the specific needs of the students here.
The town of Kratie is tiny but beautiful – the river front is impressive at every time of day but the sunsets in particular are stunning, and a 10 minute boat ride will take you to the tropical island of Koh Trung where you can cycle around the jungle scenery. We have a big market, a shop that sells western food, some restaurants, a swimming pool and places to sit and sip a cool drink.
If you choose to teach in Kratie, you’ll be instantly part of a community of CRDT employees – the staff at Le Tonlé and CRDT Tours are extremely welcoming. You’ll have every opportunity to travel around the area and experience local life , and the community spirit is very important with a much smaller group of volunteers than in Phnom Penh.
I have no idea what CRDT is, but small detail. Hang on, I’ll find out… right, CRDT stands for Cambodian Rural Development Team they look legit. There is even an article about them in The Guardian on ‘How teaching English funded an NGOs work in Cambodian Rural Communities‘ so that’s good. Anyway, there is something about this opportunity that does really appeal. I know from my experience in Vietnam that it would be good not to be the only English speaker, it got lonely and was hard work in that respect in Vung Tau, but equally, the only way to settle is to integrate. The thought of working alongside Khmer colleagues towards shared objectives is really appealing. I am also shallow, and really like the idea of cycling to work. I will try not to dwell on details like what the proximity of all that water might mean in relation to mosquito population, and what a 5 hour bus ride to get there might feel like in relation to isolation.
Anyway, I was watching a dull programme on telly in the evening, and almost accidentally found myself browsing through the CWF application process. It was very straightforward. Well, it was for me because I’ve just updated my CV and had everything else it needed as a pre-requisite for applying including a criminal record check as I’ve just had a basic disclosure done for work I do as an extra (long story). Pleasingly, I even have a suitable photo of me to attach (they ask for this, bit uncomfortable with that, but I know this is a common request in S.E. Asia). The picture seems apt because it was taken at an event in Vietnam. It’s a funny one, because I was rolled out at a sort of student recruitment day like an exhibit. ‘Look, we have a native speaker who teaches on our English course!’ I am holding a sign in Vietnamese that I presume says ‘English Teacher’ but really it could say anything. I thought though it would do the job of showing what I look like in relatively recent history and give credibility to my claim to have worked overseas, albeit all to briefly.
So bit of tweaking, and application was ready to send. The only hard bit was deciding who to use as references. I so resent having to give people to act as referees. I think it’s pointless. It’s a faff for the people you ask, and adds little. People have to write broadly positive things, and you wouldn’t ask anyone to act as your referee otherwise. I am also uncomfortable because I do have a gap because of last year’s chaos. I had to leave Vietnam very suddenly due to family illness, and anyway, references aren’t really a thing in Vietnam, so it would be difficult to get one from there, even though they did invite me back. The person who recruited me is now themselves living and working in America, the English skills of the people left behind aren’t such that they could do me a reference. Hence, I feel I have to go back to a UK employer from over a year ago, which I don’t like to, but needs must. I suppose if that’s not good enough, then that means I just look again at heading off and doing it myself. For now though, I hit send, and that was that. I know it’s the Khmer New Year holiday this week, so I don’t expect to hear for a bit, but we’ll see.
Next step would be a Skype interview, which is a hideous thought. I had a tortuous skype exchange before going to Vung Tau. The internet connection was ropy, and I spent ages trying to pose in front of camera with suitable background that didn’t make it look like I wade around in my own squalor at home nor have an OCD perspective incompatible with the flexible outlook required for living in a new culture. I also agonised over what to wear that looked ‘appropriate’. I don’t wear suits – I can’t fit into my only interview suit anymore anyway. I think I’ll go for ‘smart casual’. I strongly suspect that a major thing they are seeking to establish is that you are a native speaker, and in my case my southern British English accent will go down well. I’m not saying that is fair or right, but it was favoured in Vietnam, much to my embarrassment. I had some South African colleagues who were less highly valued, though they were much more experienced teachers than me. Still, some of that worked in their favour, I got asked to do everything and it got a bit overwhelming at times…
So that was yesterday, the thirteenth. Lucky I’m not superstitious. Today, well I don’t know how I feel. Still positive. I’ve been trying to find out more about Kratie, it’s the place where you go to see the famous (but massively endangered) Irrawaddy dolphins. There are some hilarious reviews on-line of people who have been on these trips. You are sort of aware of them, because of a splash, but loads of comments from tourists describing how they ended up with hundreds of photos of muddy green water, with maybe a ripple suggesting what ‘might have been’ now and again if they were lucky. Hard one this, of course if I was there I probably would want to see them myself, but you have to query the wisdom of taking boats out endlessly to view such a vulnerable species. Surely all that activity will put them at risk? There are thought to be only around 50 – 90 left IN THE WORLD. Not a good thought. Weird looking though, don’t you think?
I’ve been doing more research. All good. LinkedIn showed up a few people, none that I can link with directly (unless I join premium LinkedIn which I don’t want to do), but I have gleaned that a few obviously extended their stays, which has to be a good sign. The accommodation in Kratie looks better than that in Phnom Penh – though doesn’t say if there is any air conditioning. It would be hot and humid when I might go (Sept) and that could be gruelling. It also occurred to me I might need to take malarial prophylactics – I’ve still got some that I never took because it turned out they weren’t necessary where I was travelling in Vietnam. I wonder if they’ll be OK for Cambodia? They were really expensive. I also remembered that a couple of weeks ago I had an tripadviser exchange with someone who had just come back from CWF, they were really positive. It’s strange, the reassurance you can get from some faceless person online. Such is the power of the interweb! I think overall, if accepted, it would be a way to get me to Cambodia and ease me in. I have no doubt at all I might feel overwhelmed at times, and possibly find on arrival there are cheaper ways of doing things, but on the plus side, if it helps me through that disorientating arrival process, and gets me out to an area I might not otherwise feel confident enough to travel to then maybe that is a fair exchange. If it goes well, maybe I could extend and try the other site. There are clearly options.
Learn4Life would be a more sustainable way to travel, but CWF might be more fun. I wish the contact hours weren’t quite so long, as with preparation as well that looks like a full time job. Then again, being with a group that can help faciliate a bit of exploration and travel is appealing, and if I’m a ‘volunteer’ then I would hope expectations would be a bit different. I don’t think at CWF there is a focus on grammar and exams in the same way as at other teaching establishments. In any event, I don’t have to decide anything yet, just keep following the path just a little bit further along and see where it leads.
Immediate priorities for me though if I’m to do this are:
- Online grammar course
- Lose a bit of weight so I can cope better in the heat
- Get some glasses
- Check out teaching resources and similar on line
- Khmer familiarisation?
Really though, just wait and wonder. That is all!