Joseph Allen

Conversations with Foreigners-

 Posted by Joseph Allen at 10:56 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on Conversations with Foreigners-
Jul 022008

It’s getting a little to think up what to include for my journal entries, but there is still a lot.


At the school there are 9 levels that students can be assigned to. I’m assigned to levels 4, 5, and 7. The texts we are using are in American English and it’s interesting other English speakers will spell certain words differently. While teaching for the most part is going well, it really is difficult to get motivated and plan for some of the irrelevant/uninteresting topics. As we do have some flexibility in teaching, I decided to take the liberty and skip to the section in level 7 on vacations, and had the students give me some ideas for the one week vacation coming up this month. We handed out a questionnaire to the students this week asking about the teaching and the program in general. We should get their feedback by the end of the week, which I’m looking forward to.

Volunteering notes

So just when I said the perpetual sweating went away it’s beginning to make a slight comeback.

For those staying at the volunteer house, if you’re wondering how much money to bring, first take into account the following: visa costs are around $100.00 US, if you want a cell phone you’re looking at $45 and up, and the trip to Karachi Province about is $50. Also add in any money for your planned purchases (whatever you know you need but decide you will be buying once you get to Cambodia), and for any vacation time. Weekly costs for me are around $20.00 US. Those that like to make the most of their weekends will spend a little more. The currency of Cambodia is called the Riel, but the US dollar is accepted just about everywhere. The conversion is 4000 Riel for 1 US dollar.


We had a birthday party this past weekend for Nev (picture is from party – Happy Birthday Nev), one of our volunteers. To celebrate we had a barbeque. A bunch of us will also be going to the US Embassy this weekend to celebrate the Fourth of July on Sunday July 6th. Don’t quite understand that but hey, a party thrown by the US government seems too good to pass up. Hope it lives up to everyone’s expectations.
A few occurrences of the stomach bug have manifested themselves at the volunteer house. So far though, those affected have bounced back fairly quickly.
Elections are scheduled for the end of July. These occur once every 5 years. Cambodians refrain from discussing the elections, as they prefer to keep their political views to themselves. Based on the current political climate of Cambodia though, you can’t blame them.

One of my students is teaching me Khmer. He’s really an interesting person. He is very into learning English and keeps coming up with all these slang phrases for me to translate, some I’ve never even heard of.
This past weekend I visited the Toul Sleng Museum, which serves as a memorial and testimonial of the atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge.

Traveling and culture

 Posted by Joseph Allen at 10:54 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on Traveling and culture
Jun 232008

If you’re traveling to Cambodia, and want to travel light for the plane ride, you can pick up anything you need here in Phnom Penh. It might take you a few days to find where everything is, so bring some bear essentials to get you by. Good mosquito repellant, sunscreen, an English dictionary, and duct tape are exceptions. Also what to bring will depend somewhat on what time of year you will be here, and whether or not you plan on traveling to other areas. Personally, I brought too many socks, haven’t worn any since I arrived. The best months weather-wise from what I understand are from November to February during the dry season. Temperatures during this time are also lower.

Compared to when I first arrived at the end of May, the rains have been coming more often now. Seems that everyday there is at least a brief sprinkle. Showers seem most likely to occur in the evenings, but can occur at anytime of day and last around 30 minutes to an hour. Keeping an eye on the sky can give you some idea of what weather might be in store for you. Cooler temperatures have come with the rain. With cooler temperatures has come cooler water (e.g. for showering). The perpetual sweating has abated, but one still feels sticky most of the day due to the humidity.

Getting around Phnom Penh

The volunteer house is located in the southern part of Phnom Penh, and relatively far away from the more happening areas of the city. The cost to travel by moto or tuk-tuk to the riverside area is around one dollar (US) to three dollars. If you’re with a group you can split the costs up. For those more thrifty, bikes are available for volunteer use and there is always walking. The riverside area will take around 30 minutes by bike to get too, and walking will take over an hour.

I went to my first tourist sight on Saturday, the National Museum, and visited another part of Phnom Penh near Boeung Kak Lake on Sunday. At the Museum some items there dated back as early as the 1st or 2nd century BC. Times for many items were indicated as unknown. Based on what others said, I have a feeling the great treasures of Cambodia are either lost or destroyed. In the lake area, where a lot of backpackers stay, can be found a number of guest houses and restaurants, some scenically along the lake front. This area also had some of the worst living conditions I’ve seen since coming here, yet the people were very friendly. (Picture is of a boys & his family who live near the center of the lake. They need to use a boat if they want to go anywhere.)

Cambodian Culture

Some people especially, the laborers, work every day starting around 6:30 am. There are 2 houses going up, one next door and the other 2 houses down on the opposite side of the street. The construction has been my alarm clock. In my opinion the days start early here and Cambodia is in the wrong time zone. If the clock was moved back one hour it would make more sense. The sun comes up around 6 am and sets around 6:30 pm. Nepotism is alive and well both here in Cambodia and at CWF.

Aside from Cambodians working long days, I am still developing a picture of how they live and who they are. There are things they do without a thought, that I would not consider, like walking through the streets barefoot. Their pace of life and their priorities may be guided by factors like waiting for the rain to pass and getting out of the midday sun. I’ll mention again that the people here are very friendly and for the most part are very genuine, a quality I don’t find very often back in the States, a quality that I hope can continue pending Western influences and developmental pressures.

Cambodians working for the government seem to have it made. They work Monday to Friday 8 am to 11 am and 2 pm to 5 pm.

First week of teaching

 Posted by Joseph Allen at 10:52 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on First week of teaching
Jun 142008

Well all the uncertainty has come to an end. My first day of classes and the week, I would say went fairly well considering I’ve never taught before.

We have course books to use for teaching, however these books are geared more toward acclimating foreigners to US living and are not very applicable to local Khmer culture. Despite the curriculum the students are eager to learn and are open to learning anything and everything you teach them. Other resources are available, and though rudimentary serve their purposes. Major skills that the students need to work on are vocabulary development, improving coherent speech, and pronunciation.

While teaching some students are somewhat reticent, while others are almost too eager. For myself, not having much teaching experience has not been a problem, and any native English speaker should feel confident teaching the prepared lessons. For those interested in preparing for such an experience, unless you can design a curriculum specific to the needs of the students here, my advice would be to identify and practice different teaching strategies. The lessons are based on topics dealing with everyday life, everything from food to problems in your house. There is much flexibility allowed in teaching strategies and even choice of topics, however, I have not deviated from the lessons much.

I can tell you that the students indicated their main reasons for studying English were to aid in finding a job, to communicate with foreigners, and to educate themselves further. Very few if any have traveled outside of the country, and only slightly more seem to have traveled within Cambodia itself.

At the end of the week, we had a volunteer house meeting to discuss any issues in accommodations or teaching.

Trip to Kratie Province

 Posted by Joseph Allen at 10:23 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on Trip to Kratie Province
Jun 082008

We took a trip out to the Kratie Province from Wednesday to Friday of last week. The main purpose of the trip was to allow us to better appreciate the work and efforts of CWF’s partner organization Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT). Although we are volunteering here at CWF, students still pay for their lessons. The tuition proceeds go to fund CRDT and their projects.

We started our trip with a 6 hour bus ride, with occasional rest stops. The food dishes along the way were very good. Aside from the roadside restaurant we stopped at, there were numerous venders selling a delectable selection of crispy crickets, dried spiced spiders, Cajun mini frogs, cooked fowl, fruits, and other dishes.

Once we arrived in Kratie we rested for an hour, and then attended a presentation at the local CRDT office. Here we learned of the various CRDT projects including: water and sanitation, biodigesters, fish farming, small livestock production, agricultural production, community awareness, and an effort to help preserve the remaining population of Irrawaddy dolphins still found in the Mekong River. The best chance to see the dolphins occurs during the dry season when they congregated in deep water pools of the river.

We spent the first night at a local guest house and the next morning started for a remote village located on the largest island in the Mekong River (about 7 km by 2 km in dimension). Traveling initially by car (approx. 1 hr), then by boat (approx. 30 min) we made it to the village. We saw several of the projects firsthand and socialized with some of the locals doing our best to breach the language barrier. It was all about cameras and taking pictures. (For anyone thinking about CWF, I would recommend taking something that would help share about you and your family. One volunteer brought pictures of his family and a bottle of port. Oh how they enjoyed that port!) In the afternoon we took a boat trip out on the Mekong with the hopes of spotting a glimpse of the Irrawaddy dolphin, but with no luck. As a consolation, we did manage to spot foam mud patties floating on the river, and one of the boatmen picked up a dead fish not quite half eaten, but with a strong foul smell. After we picked up the dead fish my thoughts focused on tossing it back into the river. As it became apparent that the fish was on board for the duration of our trip, my main concern shifted to remaining upwind of the fish, which having no control of the boat, was a futile effort. Returning to shore we ate dinner and rested. The local inhabitants have this uncanny ability to sit comfortably on the floor (as there is no furniture) for hours on end. After sitting for 5 minutes I had to change positions every 2 minutes. The only position I could remain in for any considerable duration was to lye flat on my back on the floor, but this position was not very conducive to cross-cultural interaction.

Later that night there was a celebration in the village complete with a DJ and dancing. Traditional Khmer dancing was fairly easy to learn. The younger children didn’t much participate in this, and instead waited for more contemporary pieces before getting up and dancing. (Some could really get their groove on.) Tired, sweaty, and smelly, we retired to our lodging at one of the local houses and slept on floor mats, protected by mosquito netting, and appreciative of the small pillows provided. All-in-all not a bad nights sleep. I did wake up in the middle of the night however to the sounds of birds chirping a melody suggestive of an alien space invasion. The next morning we headed back to Phnom Penh.

Though our trip to Kratie was brief, it provided a vivid look into the lives of rural Cambodians and Khmer culture.

Almost one week in Cambodia

 Posted by Joseph Allen at 10:20 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on Almost one week in Cambodia
Jun 012008

I’m really enjoying it here in Cambodia. They’ve been pretty good about giving us the chance to acclimate to our new environment. We had a quick tour of the city by tuk-tuk, these motorcycle-drawn carriages, and we’ve been taking Khmer classes for an hour a day. Just can’t seem to get the hang of it … it’ll click one of these days.

The program with CWF is well structured and the staff is very supportive. Orientation has gone well, and they have provided information on how to stay safe & healthy out here. Nothing alarming, with the mosquitoes being my biggest concern. The food out here is decent, but the fruits are really interesting and yummy. I’ve probably had 4 fruits that I’ve never seen or tasted before, and look forward to enjoying others.

Living in Phnom Penh of course is urban. But a different kind of urban than the States. There are
tons of these little shops out here, and I can’t fathom how they all stay in business. You can find pretty much everything here you need, so you should be able to pack light (now I know for next time). The main challenge will be getting around the city to find what you are looking for. Sambo the Operations Manager, and Sopheap the Volunteer Coordinator can help with that.

There are 11 volunteers, most living in the volunteer house. Rooms are shared, but since there were openings I ended up with a single. The negative aspect is that it is one of the hotter rooms, and is poorly defended against mosquito attacks. I’ve tried to strengthen the defenses by using additional netting help up with tape, but that hasn’t worked to well (it keeps falling down). There is running water, but no hot water. Honestly, you don’t need hot water here. The showers help cool you down. I’m guessing the temps have been mainly in the 80s and humid. We had rain for the first time since my arrival last night. I was inside and avoided getting soaked. I’m sure my time will come.

Sunrise is around 5:30 am local time, but it gets dark fairly early (6:30 pm ish). Most people retire to their home by 8 pm, but the main late night-time activity, based on my walking around, seems to be karaoke. (Hearing Cambodian karaoke is quite the experience). We’re supposed to go as a group tonight. The local people are really friendly, and the other volunteers are saying Cambodia is the place to be based on their experiences.


 Posted by Joseph Allen at 10:12 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on Cambodia
May 242008

T minus 3 days 15 hours and 20 minuts (approximately).

Really looking forward to getting out to Cambodia. Still working on some checklist stuff, but I’m getting there. Someone will be meeting me at the airport holding a sign with my name on it either Sopheap or Huy. Erin from GVN has been very helpful answering questions. And I’ve been in touch with the other two GVN volunteers from Australia. There should be others, but they are involved through different organizations. We’ll have to see how many people are there.

As Conversations With Foreigners has lesson plans to work with, I’m sure this will make this experience truly rewarding both for myself and the students.

Next update … See you in Cambodia!

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