I am finding it difficult to believe that I have less than two weeks left in Cambodia. There is a constant and nagging part of me that is certain I just stepped off my flight into Phnom Penh yesterday. But as I currently sit in a coffee shop in that same city, I realize how relaxed and comfortable I am here, and that is confirmation that I have been here much, much longer. Those first days, I was very nervous for this experience, even getting a tuk-tuk seemed like an impossible task. Now, I bargain down to the last .50 cents, feel comfortable walking where I need to go, and I am even looking forward to spending a night and day alone here next week before I leave. Like anywhere, now that I understand Phnom Penh and what to expect here, and even more so in Siem Reap, I find the traffic an annoyance not a fright, the market sellers warm and friendly not pushy, and the atmosphere exciting not overwhelming. For the first time since this experience began I am confident that I could stay here much longer than three months, and that is how I knew for certain that my time here is winding down.
There is a strange mental dichotomy when an experience comes to an end – there is a sense of wanting to continue while beginning to”check-out” and prepare myself to leave. First I realize that I could have stayed longer, and then I start to mentally prepare myself to leave by realizing I am ready to go home. Two completely different feelings and reactions, but both happen at the same time. It is almost as if I know that if I had another six more months of commitment I would have found the same joys in those months as I have in the past three, but because it is starting to be time to leave I realize three months has been long enough. Europe, the ranch, my study abroad, even college all felt the same way. Like those other experiences, the things happening around me in Cambodia all point to an ending as well. It is not just me winding down, but the goals I set out to accomplish here are almost completed, and as I look around I realize that my projects are reaching their conclusion and the projects of other volunteers are taking off wonderfully.
In the past few weeks Molly, Ben, I and Christine have worked hard to arrange a new class for my wonderful friend from Ohio State, Elizabeth Mundy, to teach at Self-Help Community Center. We have visited, given English assessments, done interviews, collected interest information, had meetings with the site director, and finalized a class list. Then this past Wednesday I was overly excited to take Elizabeth there for the first time. She met Sambath the director, Isabelle the resident pig, and many of her amazing students. I saw her immediately feel the same “love at first sight” that I had experienced with the beautiful drive out there and wonderful village the center is located in. When Ben had first asked me what I felt was important to get done while in Cambodia, I told him finish all the class trips with my students and make sure Elizabeth’s site was arranged when I left. This week, both of those goals were accomplished, and I am so pleased. Now, I have a one week bonus of begin able to attend Elizabeth’s first two classes with her and spend more time at Self-Help. Her beginning this summer might be my ending, but it is also a fullfillment of the initial promise I made to myself when I came here.
In addition to Elizabeth’s class starting up, this week also brought incredibly exciting news for EGBOK Mission as a whole. We found out that 24 of the 25 students we had apply to Paul Dubrule School of Hospitality were accepted to a program. This includes my students from Angkor Thom Junior High School, and I am unbelievably proud of them and excited for their future. It is very fitting that as I prepare to walk away, they are preparing for the next step in their lives and a drastic change from the village where I taught them, to the city of Siem Reap will EGBOK Mission will further help them succeed in the future. I could not ask for more closure to my time here than knowing that all of my moto rides, lesson plans, and time spent preparing the students reaped for them the best reward of acceptance. There is no greater gift I could have been given than knowing that what I have taught them will positively impact their future in the short term with each moment of practiced English and learning in the classroom and in the long-term as they move forward into careers in the hospitality industry. I am proud beyond words of the work and effort each of the 24 students expended to reach this goal.
This past week we took students to the final interviews at Sala Bai, the other hospitality school affiliated with EGBOK Mission in Siem Reap, attended our first Skal International meeting at the River View Cafe and made some great connections for the future with hoteliers, took our final guest speakers out to Angkor Thom Junior High school, our first student graduating from Paul Dubrule was offered a job (way to go Saona), and I hopefully was sick for the final time of this trip (fingers crossed). I could go on with the endings, beginnings, new starts, and conclusions that have occurred this past week but I think the point has been made. As I look toward the next week and a half, I realize all of the students that I have worked with in Siem Reap, from Phenom Penh, and at Angkor Thom have accomplished so much in my three months here. Soon they will graduate 9th or 12th grade, graduate hospitality school, start hospitality school, start jobs, move to new cities, move to new homes, and I will be sure to stay updated on it all even from as far away as the U.S.