Blog 8 Adam Hawley

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in English Boot Camp 2013 | 0 comments

If you’ve been reading the other blogs, you’ve been well informed of our routine.  Up early, breakfast by the Mekong River, an idyllic sunrise then off to our perfectly temperate classrooms to work with our group of diligent Cambodian English teachers.   Actually, no one ever said that about the classrooms – they are sweltering – but the rest is entirely accurate.


It’s the second to last day of Boot Camp, as Friday is the Cambodian King’s funeral; and therefore a rare public holiday here, whilst Thursday will be halved to allow for the presentations ceremony.   All of which suggests it’s a good time for a little reflection.


It’s my first year on Boot Camp, so I can’t compare to the last, but the 2013 intake of Cambodian English teachers have been a wonderfully mixed group.  Mixed in their levels of spoken or written ability, in their age (there more than a couple of not-so-young dogs here looking to disprove the old adage), but most importantly, character.  I know that amongst the breadth of assumptions made about the project, not an insignificant number of friends, family or acquaintances subscribe to the image of the grateful participant – hungry to learn and eager to please.  Of course within the group, there are people that fit that mould (to an extent), and it is of course a useful fundraising image, but it’s not an entirely true representation of what’s going on.  These are classes full of adults.  Smart, capable adults, who have trained at teacher training college to join their profession.  Many of them proud and almost all of whom hold positions of status within their communities (for anyone in the UK struggling to imagine this, think of how teachers used to be regarded, perhaps minus so much cane and slipper re-enforcement).


What does all that mean?  It means some of them are grumpy, some of them don’t like being told what to do and some of them find it hard to admit they don’t understand.  Moreover, some are plainly insolent.  They believe they’ve been sent here by their boss to do a training course they don’t need.  Many of us have been in that position, but how many of us have had the humility to not only allow ourselves to be shown that our self-perception is inaccurate, but to also find the person running that course and apologise for having spent the first  chunk of it being a pain in the arse?  Some of us maybe, a number of these guys did – and some of them had hidden their contempt pretty well!  The gratitude and in some cases, transformation in attitude, from this group of professionals has been remarkable.


Enough reflection, the night before the last day is party night.  All the Cambodian English teachers are invited to join with all of the Boot Camp staff for a meal, a sing, some deceptively tricky dancing then a rare trip to a local night spot.  The meal is tastey and reminiscent of most of our Cambodian lunches – some grilled, some steamed, some in a stock or broth like soup, not forgetting the perennial bowl of rice.  Tonight did however include my first try of Soy Bean Milk, a chilled soft drink.  It’s not likely to become a regular at home.


After dinner, the singing and the dancing.  The singing started pretty rapidly, up on the impressively large and high stage, and gave rise to a moment of stark cultural dissonance, as the UK contingent came to terms with the fact that  a) not one of the performers had the excuse of being drunk (not more than a glass of beer had been consumed by anyone, and not at all by most), and  b) those putting themselves in the spotlight were actually really rather good!  And so it was, at 7pm on a Wednesday night, that a group of professionals soberly had a whale of a time singing Khmer songs to an endearingly low-fi, live synth backing, whilst their colleagues tried in vain to teach me a basic two step dance (which involved circling a table in the middle of the dance floor – which I guess is a step up, in size at least, from a handbag).


The night continued for some hours more, with the constant generally seeming to be a bunch of visitors from the UK looking keen, eager to please and grateful to our Boot Camp participants for sharing with us outside of our classrooms.

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