Impressions from Chansom Senmongkul

Stefanie and Johannes with children and learning center staff
Stefanie and Johannes with children and learning center staff
Stefanie and Johannes from Switzerland decided to spend their time during their ‘around the world’ trip at our learning center in Chansom Senmongkul, Cambodia. Here are their personal impressions on what they experienced during their voluntary works at the learning center.

One day, about 5 weeks ago, Johannes and I were relaxing at the shore of the Mekong river on Don Det island in Laos, where our 10 month trip around the world took us. It was just a few days before we were going to continue our travels towards Cambodia, when we remembered how our friend Olivier was telling us enthusiastically about his time at Bookbridge in Cambodia earlier this year. We were always certain that we will stop in Angtasom to visit the learning centre during our travels, but that day we came up with the idea that instead of just popping by to say hello, we could stay a little longer to support the learning center with some activities and at the same time taking the opportunity to get a deeper insight into the Cambodian culture, which is usually not very easy while just travelling on the standard tourist paths. So we spontaneously contacted Olivier who immediately got in touch with all involved parties. Just a few days later we received the confirmation that we can go to Bookbridge Angtasom to volunteer for two weeks. We were extremely happy and excited that Bookbridge made it possible for us to volunteer in the learning centre for a rather short period and on such a short notice.

Stefanie supports the teacher in getting students to talk during her conversation course
Stefanie supports the teacher in getting students to talk during her conversation course
Honestly we were quite nervous before our first day at the learning centre, first of all because we were excited and didn’t know exactly what to expect and secondly because we were not very experienced with working with children. What we definitely wanted to avoid is that we are burden more than a relief for the staff at the learning centre. But all our concerns have proven to be needless after the first day at the learning centre. Kadet, Sreydieb and Ratana gave us an incredibly warm welcome when we first arrived on Monday morning. We got a great tour through the indoor and outdoor areas and talked about where we could help. In the afternoon we already found ourselves singing the ABC-Song in the Kindergarten class, coloring drawing books, playing memory games and reading princess books with the children at the library and last but not least, of course, teaching and high-5ing all the numerous amazing Bookbridge students. After that first very inspiring day at Bookbridge Angtasom we had our heads already full of ideas on how we could contribute to the learning environment at Bookbridge Learning Center over the coming two weeks. Since we usually work in front of computers and not with 300 active young children it goes without saying that we not only slept very well that first night but as well very early…

Role-play in one of the English courses organised by Stefanie and Johannes
Role-play in one of the English courses organised by Stefanie and Johannes
Over the two weeks we somehow established a routine concerning our schedule and the classes we attended and we figured out that we can contribute best by preparing interactive and playful activities that require a high level of spoken contributions from the children. So every morning we assisted Sreydieb with her conversation class where our main goal was to encourage all students to practice their speaking skills. The small size of the group allowed us to make sure all children are involved and to organize interactive activities like role plays and games, where everybody had to engage. My sister who teaches 4th to 6th graders in Switzerland gave us some ideas beforehand on English teaching methods and games she uses and we selected the ones best suitable for the classes at Bookbridge. In the afternoon we usually spent some time at the library involving the children in easy English conversations by reading books, playing games or drawing pictures and we assisted the teachers in the English classes, helped checking homework and supported the children with exercises and just tried to speak as much as possible to ensure a high exposure to the English language for everybody at the learning centre. Despite the incredible heat during the last two weeks, which we usually tried to manage by making sure we are as close as possible to one of the fans in the classroom, Johannes found himself regularly running around on the schoolyard playing against the little Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona stars.

Johannes joins children playing at the playground in front of the learning center
Johannes joins children playing at the playground in front of the learning center
Of course we soon recognized as well many cultural differences in the learning approach and in the behavior of the children and the teachers compared to what we know from back home and this was certainly an experience that made this stay unforgettable for us and from which we could learn a lot in the sense of intercultural understanding and interaction. During the first few days we observed a lot in order to understand, adapt to and not to interfere with the local habits and behaviors. During class we sometimes had to try different activities to find out which ones appeal to the preferences of the children and which ones will bring the best benefit since this was often not predictable without having tried it. But right from the beginning we were absolutely amazed with the motivation all students showed to improve their English and we were impressed with their open, honest and confident way in approaching their teachers and ourselves especially outside of the classroom. On the other side we noticed that once it comes to contributions within the classrooms many children are very shy and it takes a while and some effort and a lot of empathy to encourage them to participate but we felt that many children just needed some extra encouragement and some praising and they will quickly feel comfortable contributing to the classes. And we strongly believe that by studying at Bookbridge they have the best prerequisite to slowly but surely strengthening their confidence when it comes to classroom contributions and speaking English.

Johannes reads a story book to children in the library
Johannes reads a story book to children in the library
Considering the fact that Bookbridge Ang Tasaom has only been operating for less than a year we were overwhelmed to see the ongoing demand from the community. It is stunning to see how Kadet and the team managed to advertise Bookbridge Angtasom as an English learning institution for children but as well a place for children to just play and getting a first exposure to the English language. Currently the biggest challenge seems to be to cope with the incredibly high demand from the community and we can truly understand that it is not always easy for the team to turn down parents because the classes are full. But this high demand is a clear sign that the team in Angtasom is doing an amazing job and we feel that the most important thing now is to work towards a certain stability in the learning center operations and to ensure Bookbridge Angtasom can continue to build up a very strong reputation for not only being the most frequented English and IT learning center in the area but as well the one providing the best quality.

Right from the beginning we already knew that two weeks is a very short period of time and that it would be hard to leave this place. Nevertheless the day came, much sooner that we have hoped and it was truly impressive to realize how attached we got to the children, the team but as well to the carefree and inspiring atmosphere at Bookbridge Angtasom in such a short time. We hope we will still be in some memories and hear many success stories out of the student community when we come back the next time, because we are more than convinced that this was by far not our last time in Angtasom and we wish we can be part of the extended Bookbridge family.

Thank you very much for giving us this unique, unforgettable and very rewarding opportunity!

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