How do I even start this blog post? Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling what seems to be millions of different emotions. I have been so happy that I have cried from laughing so unbelievably hard. I have also been so sad about leaving that I couldn’t help but smile about the fact that I’m so lucky to have something so wonderful here that I do not want to leave. Though, all in all, I have mostly been reflective (mainly because I really do not know where the time went?!).
I have been doing my best to think back and go through all of the moments that have made the past 9 ½ months such an amazing journey.
Now, I wouldn’t be me if I did not include a quote here, so here goes:
I remember reading this quote last year on Shelby Cutter’s blog (shout out to Shelby, one of the 4th generation Ecuador Fellows!) and thinking that it was extremely powerful. It is very true that I will miss the people that I love in Cambodia more than I can explain, but it is also true that I will miss the person that they have helped me to become here.
With that being said, I am now at a loss for words. Prior to writing this post, I had written out about six pages in a word document, attempting to get across my thoughts and feelings about all things Cambodia. Well, six pages later, I was emotionally drained and still feeling as though I had not fully gotten my point across. Thus, I am going to save that document and hope that it makes more sense to me at some later date.
It all comes down to this: I have no idea how to begin to express how grateful I am for the experiences that I have had here, so I am just going to do my best to make a few lists that might explain how I am feeling right now.
My top 5 ‘thank you’ shout-outs to people back home:
1. To Union College: I am indebted to you for this opportunity. The Minerva Fellowship Program has changed my life and enabled me to reach out to others in such a special way. Thank you, Tom McEvoy & Hal Fried! Also, a big thank you to Judy Wheeler!
2. To Michael Rappaport and Michael Epstein: I would not be here without your support and sponsorship. Thank you so much again, for everything.
3. To my family: You never fail to make every obstacle look ten times smaller and every celebration feel ten times bigger. I love you all so much.
4. To Will: Thank you for being there to support me through everything and for literally coming here to be a part of my Cambodian experience. You are wonderful.
5. To my friends that have reached out on a regular basis: Thank you so much for your messages, pictures, and more. Thank you for making me feel like home wasn’t so far away – it meant so much more than you know.
Now, onto discussing the incredible people here…
The top 3 things I have tried to teach my students (aside from English, Debate, Art, Health, etc):
1. Never stop pushing for the things that you believe in. Also, follow through with your education – knowledge truly is powerful and will help you to reach your goals in the future. Stay clever, Grade 7 ;)
2. It is okay to try really hard and ‘fail’. It is not okay to not try.
3. Confidence is beautiful – always be proud of who you are.
The top 3 things my students have taught me:
1. Teaching is not all about following the books. Life lessons are equally, if not more important… and those come from the heart.
2. It is impossible to be in a bad mood when you have adorable children smiling at you and joking around. It is also impossible to stay angry at those adorable, smiling children when they do not finish their work… and they know it. They are so smart.
3. We truly do not need ‘things’ to make us happy. Some of my favorite teaching AND non-teaching moments involve: sitting on a circle on the floor and saying silly words that rhyme with one another, running around in circles and laughing until we couldn’t breathe, jumping around in the rain, and telling stories after we have been away from each other for a day (or even a week!).
No material possessions. All human relationships. All unforgettable memories.
The top 10 things that I will miss about Cambodia (I could probably make a list of 100, but I won’t put any of you through that):
1. Perfect sunsets on a daily basis.
2. Friendly faces everywhere you go (literally, I can’t ride my bike for 5 minutes without having someone smile at me or say hello as they pass by).
3. Loud wedding or funeral music playing on a regular basis, at all hours of the day and night. And the sound of tuk-tuks whizzing by.
4. Genuinely looking forward to freezing cold showers (no hot water) because it consistently feels like it is about 1,000 degrees outside.
5. Everyone coming together to repeatedly talk about how ridiculously hot it is during the dry season and how ridiculously wet it is during the rainy season. Laughing through the sweat and/or water-logged clothing.
6. A delicious assortment of food and fruit shakes (even if I resorted to eating a lot more Western food after awhile) for extremely low prices. Fried rice, and lok-lak, and curry, oh my!
7. Riding my bicycle everywhere. Who ever thought I would say that?
8. Amazing and supportive ex-pats/volunteers that became great friends and understand Cambodia better than anyone. They were always there to offer a helping hand, to enjoy meals together, and on some special occasions: to dance the night away.
9. Joe to Go/Beau Fou. The staff, the food, the atmosphere. It is a wonderful place.
10. The Global Child. Above all else, TGC has been my Cambodian experience. I will miss it more than anything.
Let me elaborate…
The top 10 things that I will miss about spending time at TGC School (again, I could probably list 100):
1. Asking students how they are, watching them make serious faces & hearing them say “Ohhh Amanda, I am not good today” (because they think it is funny), and then standing by as they break down giggling, because they ARE happy after all.
2. Never knowing what to expect when I walk into a classroom. Sometimes I would find Teary crawling across the floor, sometimes Lida would be standing on my desk ready to break out into a full-out dance routine, sometimes Kanya would have moved her desk into the corner because she ‘wanted space for her thoughts’ (she always took the phrase very literally), and sometimes Srey Am would be coloring in pictures she had drawn of strawberries (this one was actually more of an ‘all the time’ kind of thing).
3. Hearing the students say “Gooooood afternoon, teacher. Thannnnnk you, teacher” before every class began and “Goooooodbye, teacher. See you nexxxxxxt time!” after every class finished.
4. Knowing that any amount of time spent in the Teacher’s Room would be full of: lots of questions from the other staff members, smiles across the room with Chhaylon, jokes about absolutely anything with Sopha, long conversations about America and other assorted places with Chanthy, and all-understanding glances across the room at Ian. Also, knowing that meetings with Dara in the Office downstairs would always leave me with something profound to think about for the next few days.
5. Watching the students run around during their 10-minute ‘break time’ in between each class. This time always involves a lot of silly fighting, poking, talking in the computer room, girls braiding each other’s hair, catching up on homework that should have been done the night before, and completely letting loose before everyone has to attempt to sit still for another 50 minutes.
6. Seeing students and staff at their ‘best’ and ‘worst’, even if they would never want to think about it that way. As I have voiced before in my blog posts, it is extremely important to ‘save face’ here. However, I can take comfort in knowing that I have seen some of these wonderful people ‘lose face’ and I now understand them more and feel even closer to them for it.
7. Making peace with the fact that the printer in the Teacher’s Room will rarely ever work. Also, accepting that the electricity may go off for hours or days at a time for absolutely no reason (or because a truck crashed and took down 11 electricity poles… one or the other).
8. Laughing with Sopha every time he said that he had ‘heard a rumor’ and knowing that he was about to say something along the lines of ‘I heard a rumor that you will stay two more years’ and ‘Oh, I stole your passport, sorrrrrrry’.
9. Understanding that, while all of the students may jokingly poke and try to ‘fight me’, it is out of love and it is a completely mutual feeling. I don’t know if I will never be able to have someone kick at my feet again or poke my side repeatedly without viewing it as an ‘I’ll miss you’.
10. Feeling like TGC was a home away from home and feeling so lucky to be welcomed and accepted as part of TGC’s family.
I do not know how I am going to say ‘goodbye’ to everyone on Friday. As I said in one of my earlier posts: I do not want to believe that it will be goodbye forever – it just can’t be. But still, I cannot imagine not seeing my students’ smiling faces every day. I literally get anxious when I am away from them for a week. How am I supposed to hug them, send them off on their bicycles to head home for the night, and not be able to say “see ya tomorrow!”. All week, my stomach has been turning at the thought of leaving. I have not been able to bring myself to pack, because that will make it all feel too real. To be honest, every time I try to start packing, I just end up looking at my 3,000+ photos and crying. I know that I will always have those memories, but I do not want to accept that this experience is coming to an end.
Don’t get me wrong – I am extremely excited to see my family and friends back home. I could not have done this without them (thank you so much to everyone who has kept in touch, read through my novel-like blog posts, and gone above and beyond to offer support!) . Many people have been sending sweet messages and letting me know that they will be there for me through this emotional roller coaster and that means the world to me. Also, many of them have also been asking lots of thoughtful questions about whether or not I feel as though I have ‘made a difference’ here at TGC. When I reflect back on the past 9 ½ months, it is hard to come up with a solid answer for that question because it almost requires making the experience quantifiable.
So, I think I will just end with this:
I know that I was able to make people happy – we were able to make each other happy. I was able to help other people realize their true potential and work towards a better future. In that nature, I was able to provide them with an emergency medical fund so that they will always have the care that they deserve and the opportunity to keep working towards that future. In turn, they have given me so much more than they will ever know. They have helped me to grow and opened my eyes to so many new perspectives. I will never be able to thank them enough or get across just how much they mean to me.
I will be taking their kind words, their smiles, their quirks, and their life lessons with me.
And a piece of my heart will always be in Siem Reap.