This summer I was lucky to be an exchange participant. I want to share my story of life in a different country. Let’s dive right into it! This June I traded Budapest for Phnom Penh as my capital city. I was ready for a big adventure. Signing up for a project to help a developing country definitely been on my bucket list.
I gathered as much information as I could from my friend – who has also been on an exchange in Cambodia – and packed with her advices at the end of June I left Hungary. A “mere” 22 hours of flights later I arrived at my destination where I was picked up by my buddies. We took our ride on a “tuktuk” to my home for the next 6 weeks – to the school I was going to work at.
I was in for a huge culture shock – no matter the amount of advices given. What first caught my eye was the amount of scooters. They are literally everywhere! Moreover it’s not just 1 or 2 people riding them but rather 5 or 6. On the other hand, there are barely any cars.
The program of my first day was to occupy my accommodation. Hugo, a Portuguese exchange participant whom I quickly became friends with, gave me a fast tour & showed me around. That’s when my second surprise occurred: the flip-flops. The ultimate Cambodian footwear, no matter the weather. On my first night we ran into one of the local teachers who invited me for dinner to establish a great coworker relationship.
On the following day I went to work right away. And I guess due to the nature of my job this is when the most outstanding difference occurred: the contrast of our education method. As I applied to be a teacher I prepared with a bunch of interactive exercises, which focused on speaking skills. However the kids being rather secluded were not appreciative of this. Trained teachers are hard to find in this country, that’s why I feel like the education system is not the best. In addition there were barely any guidelines for me to follow. As all of it added up made the job of teaching rather challenging. Despite the hardships I managed to find the key to the students’ hearts and by the time I had to leave I was happy to recognize, we succeeded in developing their language knowledge.
Travel and Food:
In every given free time I made sure I make the most out of my experience here. Hence we travelled and ate a lot. I explored every corner of Phnom Penh. I had some interesting expeditions: what I liked the best was a meal called ‘amok’ & a certain type of fish I don’t remember the name of but it was marinated in lemon balm & ginger and it was the most perfect seafood meal I have ever eaten. The weirdest stuff I tasted were probably the garnishes made of bugs: they often season meet with ants, wasps and other ‘cutie stuff’. They have a stuff called ‘sugar cane’ which is a liquid pressed out of the plant. It was way too sweet for my liking but some people are just head-over-heels for it. They often sell it in sacs which is also interesting considering the un-practicability of it.
What really made me go ‘wow’ was the popularity of markets – no local would go to a supermarket there whereas here we are rather the opposite way. What’s also important if you are considering traveling to Cambodia is that you cannot drink tap water in Phnom Penh – on the positive side you can still wash your teeth with it. Not to forget to mention the mobile net there is a hundred times faster AND cheaper than here or it’s just a first world problem of mine
I feel like I really ‘maxed out’ the time I could spend in Cambodia – I made plenty of friends & several unforgettable memories. I would really recommend this place as – not only it has great food & wonderful landscape but – the kids are really in need for a good English language tutor. Unfortunately the locals English is quite poor, so for them to hear it being spoken properly is already a huge help. I fell in love with Cambodia in 6 weeks. I was thinking about taking an opportunity for quite a while and I’m so glad I did! This experience gave me so much that no other opportunity could make up for.
Know about volunteer opportunities here: www.aiesec.org