Ivanhoe Grammar School Cambodia Service Project 2023 – Day Thirteen Students’ Reflections
To continue from Day Twelve Reflection blogging of the Ivanhoe Grammar School Cambodia Service Project 2023, this article reposting the reflections from the assigned students on their Day THIRTEEN experiences and impressions:
Day 13, Team 2. Final farewell/celebration at Peak Sneang village and final reflections on the trip:
During this trip I deepened my understanding of Cambodian culture and history. Every day was full of activities but visiting the S21 Genocide Museum really stuck out to me. This is because of its gruesome and saddening details that were displayed, as well as meeting a fortunate survivor. It was also saddening in the fact that it was so recent and therefore still affected many Cambodians today, including our tour guide who was brave to share his own story about his father. This made me reflect on how fortunate I am for my family and my life back in Australia.
I learnt the many values of Cambodian culture through first-hand experience when teaching the kids. Upon our arrival to the village and schools we were warmly welcomed by the enthusiastic kids who were eager to learn. Teaching the kids was challenging due to the language barrier however it didn’t stop us from having a good time and making lifelong friends. Not only did I teach the kids, but they taught me. I learnt how to play a game where you throw up rocks trying to catch the same amount in your hand and jumping over a long elastic band with shoes attached to make it faster, and most importantly, they taught me how to find happiness with the smaller things in life.
Going into Cambodia I had no idea what to expect, and reflecting now, I can confidently say, I would have never guessed the experiences I have lived in such a short period of time. During my time in Cambodia I learnt not only about the rich history of its people but also its land that held the wonders of history that still to this day are standing. After learning about the Khmer Rouge I only gained more respect for Cambodians as they were so warm and welcoming to foreigners despite what horrors they have been through. Their refusal to hold a grudge against a piece of their history is admirable and definitely a trait I wish to take away from this trip.
At the village schools they were so welcoming, showering us with hugs. But what I loved the most was their eagerness to stay in touch with us when we separated. During our last days of teaching we were all frantically writing down our numbers, Instagram and Facebook to anyone that asked and even now I am still in contact with some of the girls I met. I also met an aspiring teacher at 16 who told me about her hope to become a primary school teacher and her dream to one day come to Australia. Hearing her story warmed my heart to see how determined and strong minded the kids were despite whatever challenges they faced. The relationships I have made with locals on the trip will be forever remembered and I hope to see them again in the near future.
Before the trip I knew most of the group members as classmates or simply through mutual friends but it’s safe to say this trip has definitely brought me closer to them. I hadn’t talked to my friends Charlotte and Charlie in ages, but I think we all talked more on this trip then we ever had at school. There was also nothing like a tuk tuk ride or tuk tuk karaoke for some quality bonding time, even if we broke down or took a wrong turn, we definitely got a good laugh out of it.
Throughout the trip I kept a constant reminder to put this trip into perspective, “I will never be 17 in Cambodia with 100+ of my peers again in my lifetime”. Saying this simple sentence was initially the reason I went on this trip even though most of my close friends weren’t going and I wasn’t too sure about it. If I had a time machine firstly, I’d go back and relive this trip and then I would go back and thank my past self for convincing myself to go on this trip it was so worth it!!
During this two week trip, we were provided with such a great variety of experiences which allowed me to enhance my understanding of life in Cambodia. I was able to learn so much about Cambodian history, culture and religion, alongside temples and significant sites which continued to amplify my knowledge. This was especially true at the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields. It was a privilege to learn about the events that have shaped Cambodia to the present day, and it was also really impactful to hear about. I really enjoyed learning the Khmer language so we could embed it into our conversations as well. Learning and being immersed into a typical day in the daily life of Cambodians was also really enriching, as this created a complete contrast to my norms at home. It was really nice to experience this and to see how other people who are less fortunate. Our transport in tuk tuk’s and tractors was also so much fun!
One of the highlights for me was going to the ‘graveyard’ community, because while we were confronted with the conditions that some people live in, it was really great to see how positive and how happy the community was with members of all ages rushing to us from any angle . This opened my eyes to see how the small things matter and how sometimes I can take things for granted. I also really loved working with the kids at the schools as they were so happy and willing to learn. Even just interacting with the kids was really beneficial because while it was sometimes challenging, helping them and seeing the smiles on their faces felt so rewarding. By reflecting on how others live, I think this trip allowed me to learn about myself. As soon as we arrived the first thing that surprised me was how open everyone was to us and how they were all so excited to meet us with smiles from ear to ear. Overall, just being in the community and feeling that we were making a difference and feeling valued and loved by these members we had just met felt really special. It highlighted to me that no matter what background people come from, the basic value of happiness and connection is valued by everyone.
Something else that I valued a lot on this trip was our team. Over the two weeks in Cambodia, we were all able to bond so much from our experiences and create such a great positivity, comradery and spirit that I believe helped to make this trip much more enjoyable. Whether it was just our teams inside jokes, getting chased by monkeys, being collectively sick, singing happy birthday or just laughing and having a good time at the pool, I think it made this whole experience so much more valuable, especially as I got to enhance my current and new friendships. The teachers were also great in removing a strong teacher-student relationship which allowed us to go about our time on the trip in a more free and relaxed way. Our group was so supportive and fun, which I believe ultimately helped everyone to work through the challenges we faced as a whole. I’m really grateful for the people I was surrounded with on this trip because without them my experience would have been completely different.
There are honestly no words to describe how appreciative I am to of had this opportunity and I have been able to learn so much that I will keep with me for years while having so much fun.
The experience of Cambodia as a whole was amazing and I gained so much. It was very different than I expected in both good and bad ways. Learning about Cambodian culture was so interesting and, by the end of the trip, I found myself fully immersed in their way of life and their practices. Through the village experience I was able to see how the Cambodians live in extreme poverty but still manage to have a big smile across their faces. I thought this lifestyle was authentic and more ‘human’ than they way we live in a western society. The Cambodian villagers seemed to live back-to-basics, living off their own grown foods and natural resources for survival, which stood out to me as something positive, as challenging as it can be to see at times.
Learning about Cambodian history was a ‘bad’ aspect of the trip, as it was extremely difficult to comprehend the horrific events of the Vietnam war and the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Walking through the genocide museum and Killing Fields, and meeting one of the survivors made it surreal. However, I believe its very important to know these things when visiting a country like Cambodia. It puts things into perspective, especially since it was only 40 years ago, which is in my parent’s lifetime.
I formed many new connections on the trip and found myself quickly warming to the school kids. They were so positive and excited to see us every day, which made it so enjoyable to teach them. They also were so grateful for our presence and listened intently to our lessons. They all had different personalities and for the most part were all quite extroverted and chatty and were always keen to learn something from us. With different ranges in skill level, they all managed to learn something we taught them about our culture and language due to their eagerness to learn. I think this comes down to their gratefulness for what they have, although not much, and it was reflected in their attitudes towards us. Although, I think I also learnt many things about them. Some of them told us their life stories, some quite sad and some shocking, but it allowed us to connect on a deeper level. I also built new connections with my teammates in the process of planning and presenting lessons, and going on all the experiences as well. The friendship aspect of the trip was a highlight for me and reminded me of how important it is to maintain strong relationships with the people you surround yourself with.
Overall, the Cambodia experience served as an eye opener for how differently people outside of Australia, and even Ivanhoe, can live. Although I don’t think necessarily that means we have it ‘better’ than them, as they also find the fun in their lifestyles and are extremely proud of what they have built over the years, as they should be. But it also reminds me to be grateful for what I have in my life as those who are ‘disadvantaged’ by the unfortunate events of the Khmer Rouge and even the financial state of Cambodia, still find the happiness in life. It shows me that I should also look for this level of happiness and stress less about the small things in life.
On the service trip to Cambodia, I learned countless things about Cambodian culture and history, and also about Cambodian people through experiences such as working in the village, teaching, and going on historical tours such as the S21 Genocide Museum. I’ve learned that although Cambodia as a whole has gone through one of the most horrific genocides in recent times, citizens put that behind them and always have a smile on their faces even when meeting foreigners that they have never met before. I have made numerous Cambodian friends such as Piseth and I’ll truly never forget the bonds that I’ve made with them in two short weeks.
Some ways that I’ve deepened already existing relationships with my mates would be creating core memories that would have been impossible to recreate in Melbourne. If its hurtling around in a Tuk Tuk with six people in it chauffeured by our own ‘private’ driver Sam, or helping coach a Cambodian village soccer team to the grand final, these experiences create long lasting memories with my mates.
Cambodia definitely changed my world view. The experience has made me reassess the simple things that I do at home such as being mindful of wastefulness, as we saw how things we take for granted are precious: clean water, working toilets and spaces to play sports. I’ve always known that I need to be grateful for the situation that I’m in, but seeing and meeting thousands of people who earn less than $1 a day is a stark reminder about how those less fortunate live.
This trip was unlike any holiday I’ve experienced before. Usually, my holidays are primarily about tourism or basic learning about a country’s history. This is the first time I’ve truly immersed myself into another culture and lived among the local people. We got to experience Cambodians daily lifestyle, including religious practices, eating habits, and building jobs. While our main mission going to Cambodia was to teach English, in the process I also learnt a range of Khmer words which enriched my cultural experience. This trip has therefore inspired me to look deeper into other cultures and their history for my later travels in life.
Coming to Cambodia, I knew that the best yet hardest part of the trip would be meeting and then later saying goodbye to the kids. The bonds we formed were life lasting. Everyone was always so happy, and I couldn’t help but smile every time I met someone new. Seeing everyone form connections with their particular child was incredible. On our visit to the primary school, I met a boy and despite not being able to understand English, we created a new game with a frisbee. We could then communicate with hand gestures to understand each of our intentions and make sure we’re at the same stage of the game.
My favourite day as a whole was the bike riding day. For me, this day was the perfect combination: physical activity and historical learning. It was a very challenging, long and draining day, but everyone showed great resilience and determination to get to the end. My favourite part of Angkor Wat was the ‘centre of the Earth’ which was a stone that lies up with Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. In addition, my favourite experience from the trip was the Tuk Tuk rides. The drivers, in particular Mr Chin, were very funny and we learnt about their little competition. The race was on, and our driver would take a shortcut in order to beat the other groups to the hotel. Overall, this trip was full of highlights and made me grow as both an individual and member of society which I will forever be grateful for.
– Caitlin M
Throughout my experience in Cambodia, I expanded my understanding of the culture by trying new local dishes and visiting various renowned monuments. In Phnom Penh we visited the Killing Fields and the S21 Genocide Museum, which broadened my knowledge of Cambodian history and informed me of the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge. These memorials and museums were able to help me understand the dark side of Cambodian history and the devastating effects of the genocide that have shaped the country. Throughout the two weeks spent in Cambodia, I was able to learn how welcoming and generous everyone is, especially through the village experience. Everyone always seemed happy and appreciative, which displayed how caring their society is.
Throughout the trip, I was able to connect more with my peers and teachers through the different experiences. I also formed closer connections with my classmates as we were able to bond over various highlights and challenges. I was also able to forge strong relationships with the primary school students and the children in the village, who are extremely special. Through teaching at primary schools, I was able to develop new friendships with the children despite the tough language barrier. These relationships were extremely meaningful as they enabled me to learn more about myself and grow as a person. Having the opportunity to teach at the local schools allowed me to learn about Cambodian culture as well as see how much the children valued our presence. This was initially surprising, as I didn’t expect them to be so enthusiastic to see us not only once but a few times, and it helped me to become more grateful for the smaller things in life.
The highlights of the Cambodia trip for me were teaching the children at the local primary school during our village stay and the boat trip in Phnom Penh. For me, teaching the children at the village was special because you were able to see the impact you had on them, and it was encouraging seeing them enthusiastic and happy every morning. However, I also discovered that teaching can be quite challenging as it can be extremely difficult to consistently keep everyone engaged, especially when it’s 34 degrees! Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity and helped me to become more aware and grateful for the privileges I have in my life. The boat trip was also a highlight, as it was the first time all the groups were able to be together. The fireworks and karaoke were fun and pretty entertaining but also a nice way to celebrate the trip. Overall, the trip did help me to develop and grow as a person as I was constantly exposed to so many happy and grateful people who taught me to appreciate the simple joys in life.
During my time on the service trip, I came to learn about Cambodia’s rich sense of history and culture through Cambodian daily practices and important religious monuments. I came to understand the old and powerful civilization that built many of the temples and important sites that stand today. I developed an understanding of traditional customs and greetings which showed a great sense of respect to older generations. As well as this I learnt about the confronting past of the Khmer Rouge and how its impact still challenges the livelihood of modern day Cambodia.
I have been able to strengthen and form new relationships with peers and teachers at Ivanhoe Grammar as well as form a new friendship with Piseth, a local of Cambodia’s Siem Reap. Our friendship started over a game of UNO and continues through our love of movies and Spider-man. Coming into Cambodia I was to share a room with Jaxon, initially not knowing who he was, I had to form a new relationship. However, pretty soon after meeting, we both opened up and now I can comfortably say that Jaxon is an absolute legend and made Cambodia an experience to remember.
There were many highlights and funny moments throughout the trip such as teaching and building infrastructure for the school and village. But what stood out the most for me was the Tuk Tuk rides. Sitting at the back with all my mates singing songs and laughing with our personal driver Sam. I find it strange, how such a small moment stands out so much.
Coming home after the trip has taught me how much I love to travel, being stuck at home in the cold is not something I have ever enjoyed. But now I realize that I am coming to an age where large scale travel is possible and soon I will be able to go on adventures of my own. I would say that Cambodia has changed the way I look at cultures of the world and inspires me to learn about the deep rabbit holes of history featured in every country.
Saying goodbye to those kids was truly one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Over the past two weeks we have met so many people and made so many friends which has made the trip so much more valuable and worth it, I would even say that they have became our family. The community was so welcoming and I am so grateful for the love and kindness they have given to us. I think all of us have taken so much out of this experience and learnt so much about the Cambodian culture. I am so sad to say goodbye to this wonderful community, but I know that we will leave taking life long memories and friends and we may have even made a difference. This is a trip that I will remember forever!
Today was our last day in the village. Whilst we knew we only stayed for four days, it was surreal to think that we’ve stayed for such little time. It felt like we became a part of the community, meeting the kids, teaching English, weaving, visiting a Buddhist temple, and even making rice noodles for lunch. Visiting Peak Sneang Primary School and 48 Colleurs was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I’ve ever had. It was so amazing to see what the community was able to do to support the children in attempt to break the poverty cycle. The people there were so welcoming towards us. They were so accommodating to our every need and made so much effort to make us comfortable.
Needless to say, this truly was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life, whether it be the memories created, or just how kind people can be.
Team Three Wednesday 28th June By Dean, Josh and James
Today we said goodbye to our friends at Samrong Village. After a later than expected wake up and hotel breakfast (and a delayed bus), we left to go to the village for the last time. During the morning, we were split into groups in order to finalise some tasks around the area. One group was tasked with finishing the mural in the library and the computer room, which contained 10 brand new computers donated by the students on the trip. That group also worked on reorganising the library to make sure that all the books were sorted by category and genre. The other group helped to dig holes for and plant 40 new trees in the surrounding community of the village. Despite the heat, everyone had a good time and managed to finish their tasks in a timely fashion (which made Mrs Patterson very happy). We were all delighted to make a small dent in improving the welfare of the village.
After lunch and a few hours of interacting with the village kids, it was time to start setting up for the afternoon celebration. Unfortunately, a massive thunderstorm rolled in and turned the sand floor into a mud pit. After a short delay with unsuccessful attempts to drain the floor of the celebration area, we decided to embrace the weather and continued with the festivities anyway. The activities kicked off with the blessing of 3 Buddhist Monks, who chanted a prayer for us. Following this, dinner was served – a delicious mix of friend rice, yellow curry, and pork. After yet another small intermission, it was time to dance to the local Cambodian music. The party raged on until after the sunset, until it was truly time to say goodbye for the last time. Shirts were signed, tears were shed, and hugs were given until we were ushered onto the bus to return home. We departed with many memories of village life and the friendships we made over the last week, ready for an early night in preparation for our big day tomorrow. The night ended with a ‘quick’ debrief and swim – we are all ready to pack our bags for the flight tomorrow evening.
In celebration of our 20th year in Cambodia, each partner was asked to produce a plaque paid for by our students. This sizeable plaque was beautifully produced by Samrong’s (AKC ) local wood carver, proudly acknowledges our student commitment.
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