CWF, that’s where I’m heading. It stands for ‘Conversations With Foreigners’ but confusingly, their website is at: http://www.volunteerincambodia.org . Now, hopefully I’ve made an informed choice here, but really and truly I won’t properly know until I get there. On the plus side, even if it all goes pear-shaped, at least I’ll have a nice pear, and committing to this project will get me to Cambodia, a destination I’ve been longing to visit for years and years. All those tree-rooted temples have got to be worth the trip.
So, what is CWF? Well, the website blah de blah says:
Conversations With Foreigners (CWF) is a socially responsible organisation building capacity in Cambodia through affordable English language classes for adult Khmer students from all walks of life, and raising funds for rural development projects by our partner, the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT).
International volunteer English teachers provide affordable English classes to Khmer students in a fun and informal setting, using our unique curriculum rooted in everyday Cambodian life.
Profits from student fees are used to provide core funding to CRDT for their work to deliver community and rural development projects to 6927 families in support of conservation of the critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphins in Kratie and Stung Treng, and the protection of tropical forest biodiversity in Mondulkiri.
Since 2006, CWF has hosted 608 international volunteers, and improved the English of 23,718 students. Our sustainable model of learning and cultural exchange has raised over $143,270 for CRDT
So, this project appears legit, it’s reasonably short, seems well organised and socially responsible. It is working with older teenagers and adults 14+ or thereabouts. (I really don’t want to work with children). I’m basically ‘teaching English’ but by acting as a facilitator rather than formal educator. The emphasis is on interaction and conversation which is far more up my street than static classroom settings. BEcause of this, class sizes are around 14 with students seated in circles rather than formal rows. Because the focus is encouraging speech not grammar, no particular grammatical knowledge is required, hopefully my spoken English is sufficiently ‘correct’ to get me through. Each term they recruit up to 20 volunteers, so there is a cohort coming through. Here is one jolly lot, my they look young, I feel I’m going to raise the average age rather dramatically! I hope there weren’t leeches in the water.
It’s light on assessment, though you are required to do a weekly monitoring of students. This seems to be more about making sure students are in the correct ability group as much as anything. I’ll be honest, the assessment aspect does not sit entirely comfortably with me, partly because I prefer formative rather than summative systems (which to be fair this is), partly because I’m scared of getting it wrong and so bringing disadvantage to some poor student, but mainly I’m massively worried because I struggle to learn names of students at the best of times. Don’t want to mess up where gradings are concerned. Eek. So many new faces and names to learn and I’m crap at recognising even people I know well when seen out of context, let alone 60+ students all met within a period of a few days. Eek. I had a head injury a couple of years ago and I have genuinely got worse since then, I just can’t remember names at all, it can be really embarrassing. An art teacher friend of mine who worked at a sixth form college had the same issue. He got around it by just calling everyone ‘chuckles’ which was sort of endearing and fairly gender neutral, kind of thing you can probably get away with in the art deparment, I fear it might not go down so well with students at CWF. Still, one to have up my sleeve in case of need eh? Maybe if I presented it as a quaint English mannerism in the spirit of cultural exchange, that could work.
The project is based in Phnom Penh, not my first choice of destination, but I think it will be good for me to live in a city, though I expect to find it noisy and challenging too. There was an attempt to set up a rural project in Kratie, which was my first choice, but that didn’t happen so PP it is. From what I can tell, we are near the Russian Markets, which is a good place to be, sort of up and coming, not backpacker hell, nor expat ghetto, but hopefully a mixed community, with good access to amenities. Also, this change in plan means I won’t be spending extended time in malarial regions, though I’m still expecting fierce mosquitos. I say I can’t kill anything but with clegs (horseflies to you) and mosquitoes I cannot tell a lie, I have been known to implement irreversible damage on the little critters. I feel bad, but not as bad as I do when swollen, feverish and red-skinned from their bites. I still have scars from years ago where their cousins have got me. I’m like blooming Princess and the Pea my skin seems to be so sensitive to their attacks!
I’ll go for the November term, which starts on 30th November, it means I’ll be away for Christmas which is always a bonus and a surprise in a new culture – though I will miss my Christmas Day parkrun – the term runs until 26th February 2017. The first couple of weeks are induction, and at the end of it you have a wind down of farewell parties as well as the obligatory final assessments. I’m not sure about public holidays as such. In Vietnam holidays popped up all over the place without warning. Sort of constant scatter bombing of vacations. Disconcerting, but pleasurable all the same. I’ve found one listing of Cambodian Public Holidays, but I have no idea how accurate it is… I reckon there will be loads more. I’m annoyed I’m missing the water festival, although I did read somewhere that it was cancelled a few years ago something you would think would be hard to achieve. Oh well, so be it. I won’t be there in time for it anyway alas, things to do in the UK necessitate I leave as late as possible.
On the plus side, I think that this could be the best time of year to go weather wise, according to the website (so it must be true), the rains are now over and in December and January the nights are cool. Easier to do stuff in the comparitively lower humidity and heat, but it will still be hot, hot, hot by my standards.
The deal is you work through text books designed to stimulate conversation, you can be creative within the frame-work as you wish, but it shouldn’t require too much planning and preparation which is a relief. To be fair, working as a Careers Adviser I’m pretty nippy with putting together a workshop, but with a less familiar subject matter and mixed ability groups I don’t fancy burning the midnight oil trying to generate original, creative and stimulating ideas with no raw materials to work from. I’m nervous because it will be a new environment, but in previous jobs I’ve always really enjoyed getting good discussions going, and interactive styles suit me because everyone has more fun and is more engaged. That’s how you get to learn from your students. Working hours is a bit of a grey area. Four is the usual expected minimum, but you should be prepared to do five contact hours a day (if people are sick, absent, or bluntly, not recruited in the first place). I’m well aware that this might not sound much, but in the sweltering climate and working with groups for whom English is not their first language five hours contact time would be a lot. My style is ‘high energy’ I suppose, this has been effective for me in the past, but it does take it out of you. I’m worried about the heat. I remember in Vietnam standing pouring sweat in packed classrooms without air conditioning. I’m hoping the physical environment here will be more benign. There is some air-conditioning, and class sizes are a lot smaller, so that might help.
Because students are often working, there will inevitably be split shifts. I’m not looking forward to that. 6.00 a.m. starts do not fill me with joy. However, I recognise that early starts are preferable to midday heat. I also think it’s just 3 months of my life, I should be able to grit my teeth through the routine just for that. Equally though, I learned from Vietnam how precious personal space is. I will pay for my own independent accommodation rather than the project hostel. It will be worth it for a few home comforts. I’m also planning on going out a few days before term starts to join a small group tour to help me adjust, see a bit of Cambodia and overcome some of the worst of the culture shock before being launched into a more professional role.
So, that’s the plan. I hope it is a good one. I will be self-funding, but you get some perks such as good organisation, in country support, induction, training, opportunities for professional development as well as things like language training and organised trips out and about. I’m sure you have to pay for them, but I think they may well be a bit more hidden treasures than standard tourist destinations.
What is it they say about staying within your comfort zone? Oh yes, stay in your comfort zone and you’ll always be nice and comfy! This is true, but I am trying to remind myself that comfy or otherwise, you can also be missing out and increasingly becoming a spectator on life. I shall therefore venture out of my own comfort zone and hope for the best. Sense of humour, open mind and wide smile are what I need to take with me most I think. Oh, and insect repellent. Have I told you yet about my quest for the perfect insect repellant impregnated sock? No? Well that will have to be a post for another time, something for you to look forward to. I like to think I always leave my reader wanting more… though on reflection why it is that leaving my reader with a strange disquieting sense of dissatisfaction should be thought a good thing I know not. Oh well, it can be our little secret.
Til next time, stay safe.