To be fair, they did say. It being Chinese New Year, this seemed to be basically a pass card to all students not to bother coming to CWF today. In my first group, all bar one of my students had sent apologies in advance, but I still trotted down as I wasn’t 100% confident the other would be a no-show – in fact she too had given an excuse slip. Other teachers were less fortunate, 100% no shows, but no advanced warning. It was weird, we all sort of roamed the corridors between 5.00 and 6.30, speculating about what attendance might be for the later class. One group of teachers took refuge in an upstairs classroom, making food for an Australia Day party. I use the term ‘food’ loosely, as it seemed to constitute Vegemite sandwiches and ‘fairy bread’, which is a ‘thing’ in Australia apparently. Basically bread with margarine, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands! I spent the time surfing the internet, and wondering if I should though more about how to structure my later class given that I was expecting four…
In the event, I just had two for my second class. They are both more reflective individuals, with good English but less inclined to initiate conversation. I went with giving them each a pile of postcards of Sheffield that I’d brought with me from the UK. This was quite fruitful. They spotted differences, and asked questions which brought out new vocabulary and also things I’d forgotten. There was one shot of a street near Hunter’s Bar in Sheffield. It is a ‘typical’ terrace on a steep hill, cars are parked along the whole extent of the residential street. One of my students was puzzled. ‘are they at work?’ he asked, pointing at the cars. I was equally confused. Then we worked it out between us. First point, in Cambodia only wealthy people have cars, the default form of transport is the motorbike. Second point, if you do have a car, you park it in your house when it is not in use. This used to puzzle me. You see these great gates opening, and a car will pull up into the open front of a domestic home, basically into the living room. I’ve got used to it now, but this student’s questions reminded me of what I used to think bizarre and now totally except. It was grand! I haven’t got any particularly good pictures of this, because when you see cars being waved in through huge gates into homes it’s all very quick, and also it would be too intrusive to take a photo into someone’s living room. These shots taken by the riverside I think are fair game, you can see the car parked at the back of the gallery display areas. I must take one of the school reception one day, it’s stuffed full with motos!
I got them each to choose a favourite picture to keep. I think their picks are interesting. One went with the formal glass house in the Botanical gardens. She liked the quiet tranquility and ordered open space. The other student went with the purple heather on the open moors of the peak district. I explained to him about the wind and showed other pictures of the heather at different times of year. It is certainly a very different landscape to any I have seen in Cambodia.
It was a quiet and reflective session. Intimate even. I tried to find out why they had come to study at CWF, and why they were so committed to coming every day (I don’t think either of these students have ever missed a class) when they have full-time jobs. They said again that it is the opportunity to have a native speaker and a small group that appeals. In previous lessons they studied for years but were assessed only in reading and writing. Neither had had a native speaker to teach them before. They are very committed. I think it helps that they enjoy my sessions too, but I think even if they did not they are tenacious and would still come. I am pleased by this of course… but I also made a mental note that they will clearly ensure I keep on delivering classes until the bitter end. I got the impression that our last week of ‘student parties’ and a short week anyway, might mean we could finish our formal sessions a day early by mutual consent! Oh well. It is why we are all here I suppose.
I’m actually a bit fretful about the ‘student party’ concept. Our education manager keeps saying ‘the students will take you out‘ and ‘the students will bring you lots of gifts’ but I don’t see that happening. My students are great, there is a lot of fun but I don’t see much in the way of identifiable organisational skills or initiative. Maybe the parties and gift-exchanges was a feature of previous terms when group sizes were much larger, now the group sizes have shrunk there are fewer students left in each group to party plan. We shall see. I just hope it doesn’t fall to me to organise, I have dipped in to my pockets quite a lot during this trip, to buy posters, pens, glitter, tinsel etc, but I draw the line and laying on a whole party. Still, a few weeks to go yet, maybe they’ll surprise me.
So as the session ended, one of the two students started to talk about his goals. He wants to be good at English so one day he can teach in the provinces. He said he saw the picture included in my talk about my trip down the Mekong. The one of the school with nothing at all, closed because there was no teacher that day, and with no resources – not even a useable blackboard, and that is where he wants to go. Somewhere like that anyway. He wants to make a difference.
I thought my heart would melt. These students are extraordinary, they have commitment, vision and compassion. Whether it is the student who wants to be a nurse in rural Stung Treng, working with communities with very limited access to healthcare, or this student who wants to go to help in a poor area where students have nothing, they will contribute to a brighter future for this fragile country. They inspire me, they really do.
I still don’t want to have to pay for pizza for everyone on the last day though. I am increasingly skint.