Volunteer Review: Charlie B., Teach English and Other Subjects in Cambodia
My name is Charlie B. and I had the pleasure of volunteering for two months in magnificent Cambodia. I decided, due to a high recommendation from a friend, to use Projects Abroad when traveling. I already knew that Cambodia was my perfect destination after extensive research on the country.
Since I am a very maternal person, my major excitement was based around the children and applying myself as much as I could when teaching them English. What I gained from the experience was a lot more than I could have predicted, and more than I could ever articulate.
When I landed in Cambodia, the culture shock hit me immediately. The warm air hit me and my senses were instantly aroused with so many incredible smells, so many beautiful buildings; some old and wrecked, some bright and new. What really amazed me, and never stopped amazing me, were the beautiful people, inside and out, young and old, who populated Cambodia. From Cambodia’s history and the genocide, the people have clearly gone through a large amount of pain and trauma. However, everyone there seems so wise and content with their lives.
The staff from Projects Abroad were so helpful and supportive from the day I arrived till the day I left. I got picked up from the airport and taken straight to the apartment. All the cooks and volunteers introduced themselves. I unpacked, and then ate a home-cooked Cambodian meal; rice, chicken, vegetables and fruit. From that day forward, I built a close relationship with all the cooks who were like mothers to us all. They truly cared about the volunteers and their well-being.
After I arrived I got taken on a tour of Phnom Penh, around all the beautiful and colorful temples, and then to my placement. I worked at VCAO elementary school, which was located next to a rubbish site, and the children’s parents earned a living by collecting rubbish to recycle. All the children were wearing ripped and dirty clothes, yet they were all running around laughing, seeming like they didn’t have a care in the world. It was incredible.
From that day on I taught two English classes, and spent the rest of my free time playing with the kids. As my time there progressed, I didn’t stick to my schedule of leaving at 3pm. I would stay as late as I could, until everyone left, so I could have as much time with the children as I could. I formed strong bonds with many of them, and the teachers. They are people I will never forget.
Cambodia’s culture came as a bit of a shock at the beginning. Coming from London, the culture in Cambodia seemed the complete opposite to my own. However, as with everything, the more time you give it, the more you discover about it. At the beginning I felt Cambodia was beautiful, but did not think I would ever feel at home there. When I left, I felt like I was leaving the only place I really belonged in. My appreciation for everything I had grew enormously, and I had continuous realizations that people can be happy with nothing.
I found some amazing friends in the Projects Abroad apartment. Volunteers are easy to connect with since they are all there for similar reasons, going through similar things. If you are feeling homesick, you are guaranteed to find someone who is feeling exactly the same way. I worked on weekdays, but the weekends were free to do as I pleased.
Some of the volunteers and I traveled around Cambodia, getting night buses on Friday and coming back Sunday night. My favorite place was Battambang. It was similar to the capital, just greener and quieter. As soon as I arrived, the smell of fresh bright green grass hit me. I’ve never appreciated nature as much as I did there. Koh Kong was also incredible, with massive stunning waterfalls.
The people in Cambodia are beautiful and friendly and welcome you into their country with open arms. Although foreigners get constantly asked if they want a ‘tuk tuk’ or a ‘moto’, I always made a conscious effort to remember that they are just trying to do their job and earn some money to feed their families. They deserve to be treated with respect. There are many markets in the capital, such as Russian or Central. You can buy beautiful things for a ridiculously cheap price. I came home with at least 4 times the amount of things I arrived with!
As a well-traveled person, my favorite place in the world, without a doubt, is Cambodia. The Projects Abroad staff were amazing, the placement was perfect, and the people of Cambodia, the culture and the country itself are all breathtaking. If you are looking for a life-changing experience, visit Cambodia, give it the chance that it deserves and make a difference, however small it may be.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.