Yesim Karasu - 2015 Program Participant

Volunteer Teacher in Cambodia with Local Students

Last Day.

What convinced you to apply to volunteer abroad?

It was the end of my HSC and I was bitten by the travel bug. Cambodia was a place theoretically close to my heart, but I had never been there. I empathized deeply with the extreme poverty and corruption that existed there. That is what ultimately pushed me to apply.

Why did you choose IVHQ?

I was tossing up for ages between IVHQ and Projects Abroad. The deciding factors came down to the fact I just did not have the money for Projects Abroad. IVHQ seemed wonderful and although I would not walk away qualified I would at least have a fantastic first international volunteering experience and money for Uni.

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Cambodia?

The busy-ness of the city. Your senses were continuously assaulted. Although it made you sick to stare too long, you couldn't help but feel immersed in the culture around you. I stayed with locals and did not feel ”kept at arms length” with the country.

What should future volunteers know about your program?

You cannot escape the people in the world around you. If you’re coming in thinking that you just want to do your own thing and get out, you'll never survive. You can't escape the past volunteers work, or the work done by current staff. The impacts of everyone around you are very visible and something that needs to be addressed and worked off. It is impossible to know what you will get yourself into. Things change, people become desperate and in need overnight. And in different ways too. This is all very present in the IVHQ program. You are made to work around the situation you are introduced into. Not the other way around.

How supportive did you feel the local staff was?

I am so glad this question was asked because I NEED to unashamedly praise the local staff at the CVF house. They were so caring and so passionate but at the same time they gave you space if you needed it. They were professional and homely all in one. I was sick during my time in placement and straightaway I had someone caring for me and managing my eating, making sure I had not eaten contaminated food or gotten majorly sick. Everyone tried hard to make us feel welcome and would always recommend safe Tuk Tuk drivers, ways of travel, or simply suggest places to see and eat at. They were great.

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

Paid to stay longer.

Describe what a typical day was like volunteering in Cambodia. 

My day would begin at 7:00 a.m. at the volunteer house in Phnom Penh. Honks and bells and music can be heard from the street already. I get out of bed to walk past my partners bed (whom I am volunteering with). The room is small and dark, the curtains shudder open from the two fans we constantly have on. It has enough room for me to feel comfortable and homely rather than squashed. It's exactly what I expected as well.

I wash my face in the bathroom in my room and brush my teeth before going downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast is toast, fruit, and spread. It's not as lavish as the traditionally cooked foods served at lunch and dinner, but it is still very welcome. I catch the ends of conversations other volunteers are having. Something about a club they want to go to and another about a group bus to Siem Reap. Before going I wish them well at their placements.

My placement is very close to the house so I walk there with my partner. We meet with the schools director and one of the teachers before going to class. Our lesson structures are based off logs kept by previous volunteers which detail their past lessons and skills as well as where they struggled. During our free time, we have come up with specific lesson guides for each class. However, as usual they do not go as planned. We adapt our guides to the appropriate level of the students or ditch it completely when they suggest something they really desire to learn. It can wait another day. The changing weather is great inspiration to expand on the words they know relating to weather. Or prompt discussions about it.

Then we return for lunch at the volunteer house. Some people get lunchpacks, but we are so close that we can just return to have it freshly made for us. Lunch is warm and always traditional. We wash up afterwards (out of courtesy) and quickly dash up to our room to grab resources for the second half of the day. This is the more hectic time.

We have a completely different older class because those who were there this morning had to go to work. This creates a more intimate atmosphere where we can work one on one with the students and have class discussions in English. We always tell them that we are tools as well and to talk to us as much as possible. A permanent teacher remains close to occasionally translate or help us if we struggle. Luckily, the routine of the school means that the students are easy to teach. We finish the day with a game, say goodbye to our students and the staff and walk back to the volunteer house.

Tonight we don't stay for dinner, although it looks good. We inform the staff that we are going to riverside to eat at a restaurant we heard about. The Tuk Tuk driver, that the staff recommended to us, takes us to riverside and we are able to walk around and enjoy the busy-ness. Over dinner, we can't help but talk about the students and unofficially plan our next lessons. Then we return home. The staff put a movie on so most are watching that. Others plan to go out. Behind us the street is alive and will not rest ‘til we are very asleep. Upstairs we fall asleep under two fans on full blast.

What did you enjoy doing most in your free time?

Visiting the night markets on the first night with all the other volunteers.

Can you explain your accommodation a little more?

It was very standard living. It had two beds, a wardrobe, fairly spacious, a bathroom with a shower, sink, and toilet. Everything was clean and well maintained. We were given power points and two fans. There was no window though. That was hard because we could not air it out. It was a place to sleep, a place to get away from people but also a place I couldn't spend forever in. I seriously had no complaints though. It was on par with the underdeveloped country. The living, in comparison, was five star.

How has your time in Cambodia impacted your life?

It made me more aware and open to things happening in the world around me. I feel more confident with myself and my teaching abilities. I have definitely learnt more about teaching and more about myself and how I operate under pressure. I feel more skillful and more open to life.

What is one thing every volunteer should bring with them?

Games. Board games that everyone can join in on. Or something interactive for placement (sporting equipment, games, puzzles). If its something personal, then a towel. Don't forget a towel...