Lauren Borrelli - 2015 Program Participant

Volunteer accommodation in Cambodia

My bedroom

What inspired you to volunteer in Cambodia?

I wanted to see a different part of the world. Coming from a privileged family in the United States, I wanted to know what it was like to live in third world country like Cambodia.

Why did you decide to teach English in Cambodia?

I love children and I love helping children grow and find themselves. I have a history of community service with at-risk youth in juvenile detention facilities as well as tutoring grade school children. I thought being able to blend both roles as a mentor and as a tutor, I would be a good fit as a volunteer English teacher.

What was your favorite part about Cambodia?

The people of Cambodia; not only my students and the local teachers I worked with at the school, but the citizens of Cambodia that I met on the weekends, be it at coffee shops, historic attractions, or taxi drivers. Getting to know the people and the history of their country made for an eye opening educational experience for me.

Street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Streets of Phnom Penh

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

The condition the students were in. At my specific placement, the students were grade school aged, and were either orphans, affected by HIV/AIDS, or came from poverty stricken families who could not afford to send their children to public schools. These students were starving for an education. The amount of respect and love I received from these children was unlike any human connection I've ever made. The students valued foreigners coming in to volunteer and teach them English; they knew on a basic level the "sacrifice" volunteers make to come spend time with them.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Projects Abroad does everything possible on their end to ensure that their volunteers feel safe, worthy, and taken care of, not only in the accommodation, but also in their projects and in their general health and safety while traveling abroad. They made themselves available to me and the other volunteers whenever a problem arose or a question needed to be answered. If the specific staff member didn't have the answer or solution, they knew another staff member who did.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wish I would have spent longer than a month in Cambodia volunteering with these kids. Projects Abroad offers trips anywhere from two weeks to a year, even more. I definitely should have taken advantage of the opportunity and extended my stay.

Locals students at Bamboo Shoot School, Cambodia

Locals students at Bamboo Shoot School, Cambodia

What was a typical day like for you as a volunteer teacher in Cambodia?

As a school teacher, I worked Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a two hour lunch break around 11 a.m. Every weekday morning I woke up at 7 a.m. for breakfast and a shower, before I had to meet outside of my apartment for my arranged ride to and from work. We (volunteers at the same school) left the apartments at 8:15 a.m. and school started at 9 a.m. At 10:30 a.m. class ended and daily prayers and advice were given to the children from the local teachers in the school yard before dismissal.

At 11 a.m., us volunteers were brought back to the apartment by a Projects Abroad driver for our lunch break. All meals were provided through Projects Abroad at the accommodations, lunch was at noon. At 2:15 p.m. we met outside of the apartment again to go back to school for the second session. Session two started at 3 p.m. and was dismissed at 4:45 p.m. We generally arrived home by 5:30 p.m. The Projects Abroad cooks who live at the apartments with the volunteers had dinner ready by 7 p.m.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

Hanging out with the volunteers I lived with. Whether it was going out for lunch or dinner, weekend traveling across Cambodia, or just touring around Phnom Penh. I became very close with the volunteers I lived with, and specifically my roommate.

Tell us more about your accommodation. What did you like best about it? 

We lived in apartment style houses. There were four apartments basically connected to each other by a three foot wide alley that allowed access to each apartment via backdoors. What I enjoyed most was living and rooming with the other volunteers. The living conditions in Cambodia, in general, were not necessarily great, so I do not blame that at all on Projects Abroad. The apartments were not equipped with air conditioning and did not have hot water. There were rats and geckos, which were addressed by Projects Abroad upon observation.

Bamboo Shoot School in Cambodia

The school

Now that you're home, how has your time in Cambodia impacted your life?

I want to go back. I was sad leaving my friends, but more importantly, the impact of knowing I was leaving people of the country, my students, and the people I met there in the conditions they live in and knowing the privileged life I was coming back to in the States made me extremely upset; it was almost disturbing. I've been back for a month and a half now and I still think about the country and people, often wishing there was some way I could continue to make a difference in their lives.