STS Summer Blog: ALLISON BUKYS from WUSTL to Cambodia

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Wednesday – June 17, 2015: Reflections on teaching

Everyone thought programming was hard. It didn’t matter if someone was in the top of the class or the bottom, everyone said it was hard. Some people liked it anyways and others didn’t.

The boys were better than the girls at saying what they were good at. Even the boys who weren’t good at programming could think of a skill that they did relatively better at, whereas all of the girls just kinda shrugged.

Whether my students succeed depends a ton on whether I am prepared. Obviously I cannot hope to be perfect, but my preparedness and attention to detail are a major factor towards learning rate and retention.

Every student has something to offer the class. It’s my job to put them in a position to showcase their strengths even while working to improve their weaknesses.

 Reflections from the students:

“After this exploration I think I had learned some of the basic of how to program the games. Before this class I had wonder how people program the game because it is one of the most entertainment activity that people used when they’re free. For me during this exploration class I have programed some games such as Hangman Game, Guess Number, Playing Rock Paper Scissor with computer and our final War Ship Game.”

“What I would like to do in the future with programming was I want to teach other people what I have learned and what project I have do with my partner, talk to people and tell them that why it important to learn about programming (help us to do anything we want by using the program.) For me I think it hard because I never learned it before but sometimes it easy because I like it and I understand a lot.”

“I have learned a lot from programing class. I learn about if statement, while loop, for loop. We also use turtle to draw a shape like square, triangle and others. In the future is program about a lot drawing and also game. The best part in class when I answer the question right and I understand the lesson. The worst part is I can’t answer the question also the first time that I started learning programming nothing go into my head. Sometime coding hard for me cause I never learn it before it my first time sometime it is easy like turtle. I like when use turtle to draw the shape like square or octagon.”

 “This year, at Liger, I have learned a lot about technology. Programming is one of the technology class I have taken. But this class is different from the other class because my teacher is a new amazing teacher from the US. This class have made my coding ability improved a lot. The first week, I learned about boolean algebra. It is about true and false statement. True is represented by number one and false represented by number zero. I practiced a lot. One example is true or false or not true is equal to true. The best part of this class is I could do a lot project such as guess the number, rock paper scissor, hangman and my final project, which is called Guess Liger. All these project include a lot of content. One of the most important things are for loop and while loop. While loop is used to run something repeatedly. These projects used up a lot of team working. Guess Liger is a game to guess all Liger people. There are 10 guesses available for you. If your guess is right, the letter will show in the right section. But if your guess wrong, it will show in the wrong section. In the game we will show you the hints and pictures for you to estimate who are they. I love my hangman and my final project so much. My partner for hangman was Makara. My partners for Guess Liger was Vornsar and Samnang. My group finished the final project first because each of us had different jobs to do. We have description to write, picture to crop, code to do and some problems to fix. My problems were mostly about the order of the list of names, descriptions and pictures.”

 “Cambodia is an amazing country to visit. We have a lot of beautiful place such as Angkor Wat temple, Sihanoukville beach. There are a lot of delicious food like khmer noodle, sticky rice. The people in here are so friendly too. There is one amazing school in this country. It is called liger Learning Center. There are fifty students that selected from all around Cambodia. There are a lot of subjects in this school. I love literacy the most. This place is a very good place to visit.”

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Monday – June 15, 2015: A word about trash…

trash-2015-05-30-05.16.58There is trash everywhere here. It’s totally gross. It’s by the side of the road, in fields, in streams, public squares, people’s yards, literally everywhere. The worst is the neighborhood garbage areas that occur frequently where people stack trash and then burn it. The smell is awful, and the thought of all the carcinogens that are released into the air is slightly terrifying. If for some strange reason you don’t think this is horribly gross, check out the page below, which tells you everything you expect: it’s really bad for people and it’s really bad for the environment.

http://www.epa.gov/solidwaste/nonhaz/municipal/backyard/index.htm

In Cambodia though, the trash is a complete cultural norm now, and I can only imagine the amounts of trash are trash-2015-05-30-05.16.42increasing as the world produces increasingly packaged products like single serving chips. The Liger kids play Frisbee once a week on a field near school that is right next to the trash pit, and depending on the day, the field is often strewn with debris and/or smoky from the burning trash. Sometimes the Frisbee lands in the trash pit.

I include this as part of my blog not just to bring up something gross, but also as a call to action. Because the thing about having trash everywhere is that you become hyperaware of the trash that you personally produce. And in Cambodia I am able to produce so little waste with relatively little effort. There is a plastic seal on the water bottles I drink (the bottles are refilled), some of the food that I buy from the market comes in plastic grocery bags (which I don’t usually need, but my communication skills are quite poor) and there is occasionally additional packaging around meat products. If I compare this to the amount of waste I produce in the US, the difference is alarming.

For those readers who have short attention spans, I made a handy chart to highlight the US’s incredible ability to clear trash from where we can see it without really addressing other problems.

  US Cambodia
Waste Disposal Good Terrible
Recycling Poor Terrible
Lifetime of plastic FOREVER FOREVER

Sarcasm aside, we need to remember that everything we put in a trash can actually goes somewhere and most of it exists for a really long time. The recycling rate in the US is only about 35% which is pathetic for a country with our resources. According to the EPA, the US generated 164 million tons of waste that was not recycled in 2012 alone. One year. That’s seriously gross. It’s time to change.

Check out this site for a few tips to go waste-free: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/10-ways-to-adopt-a-zero-waste-lifestyle/

Or find a more comprehensive list here: http://www.zerowastehome.com/p/tips.html

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Wednesday – June 10, 2015: Profile of Liger Learning Center – Part 2/2

The Kids:  I can’t say enough about how cool these kids are. They have been students at Liger for nearly 3 years now, so communicating with them programming kids 2015-05-26 03.10.12in English is straightforward as long as I avoid advanced vocabulary. In many ways, the kids form a diverse group – they are from many different provinces, substantially different financial backgrounds, and their temperaments run from sassy to sweet. What sets them apart from any other group I have seen is their ability to think and act as a group. The students are quite attuned to each other, and intercede on each other’s behalf on a regular basis. The implications of this are quite astounding. From large actions, like standing up to bullies, to small actions, like regulating each other in a classroom, these kids have one another’s backs. Many teachers at Liger have remarked that they spent almost no time on classroom management, which allows them to spend the vast majority of their time actually teaching! When I compare this to my experiences in US schools of any age, I just can’t imagine how teachers in the US manage to get anything done!

The Staff: Not surprisingly, students that are so incredible are partially a product of the excellent team of staff members working to make Liger the place that it is. There are about 10 members of the education team, both Khmer and Western, who teach all of the subjects that form the more official curriculum at Liger. In addition there are several people that teach a class once a week, either at Liger or at another school. For example, many of the Liger students are involved with a video editing class that meets at an international school in Phnom Penh each week.  Supporting the educational staff are all of the people who make Liger continue to function normally so that teachers only have to teach. Among the many people who work to support the students, there are house moms, a nurse, a chef, his wife (who is the go-to person if you need ANYTHING done, especially if you are lost in a tuk tuk) and many cleaners and landscapers.

Programming: Teaching my programming class is the highlight of my day. We spent the first four weeks covering theory, and last week and this programming girls 2015-05-26 03.13.50week we are working on projects in small groups. The range of projects, especially after only 4 weeks of coding experience, is remarkable. One of my favorites is an interactive grammar study guide to help study for the end of year grammar exam. There are six lessons programmed in, with a menu to choose a lesson and a variable number of example questions with an optional quiz at the end of each lesson. A few groups are trying their hand at building games, with mixed success. Games have a fair amount of complex background code that requires an intricate knowledge of how different objects within the game interact. One group has successfully built a pirate ship game that involves two keyboard-controlled agents that can move on one axis and shoot at each other. Another group is creating a Tic-Tac-Toe game that is interactive. It will be exciting to see what each group can finish as the school year winds down.

Why is this place really so awesome? Liger Learning Center 2015-05-25 05.10.18
I am a computer science major for many reasons, including my aversion to writing. While I am thrilled to share as many of my experiences with you as possible, I am afraid that I struggle to share the true magic of Liger with you. It’s something intangible –that sense of community, of belonging. Knowing that everyone here is here for the students. Knowing that these students are being given a chance of a lifetime, and seeing what they are doing with that chance. Knowing that your being here makes a real, measurable impact on the students. This is an experience I cannot fully share with you, but just wait –these kids are changing the world.

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Sunday – June 7, 2015: Profile of Liger Learning Center – Part 1/2

It’s hard to describe the number of awesome things that happen at Liger on a daily basis. Hopefully, soon I will be able to share a new video from the kids that provides a snapshot of some of the projects happening at Liger, but until then I will do my best to describe what goes on at this awesome, crazy place.

Background: Liger currently only has one grade of 50 students, aged about 11-13. Essentially, Liger is a 7 year school, serving grades 6-12 as a middle and high school. The students are in their third year at Liger, making them 8th grade students. The students hail from all over the country, with 12 students living close enough to go home on a daily basis or for weekends. They were selected for Liger through a series of tests for intelligence, creativity and leadership. These kids are seriously awesome, though all very different.

2015-05-28 02.34.30programming class

Alli’s 8Th grade programming class at Liger

The Schedule: It’s somewhat hard to classify the school day, because there’s a lot of space built-in for flexibility and change. Generally though, the kids take 2 Advanced Enrichment classes (which include Advanced Reading, Robotics, and Earth Science as options), Literacy (in English), Khmer, Math, and Exploration. The Explorations are intensive project-based classes that meet for 10 hours a week for an 8-week session, and they are a major part of the curriculum that makes Liger such a unique place.

This session’s explorations: 

  • Programming – clearly the most interesting, special, and wonderful exploration.
  • Animal Guide: An exploration running for the second session in a row that will culminate with a complete book written by the kids that documents and explains the animal species native to Cambodia. Each species has a watercolor illustration done by a student and a full page description written by a student in English and translated to Khmer as well.
  • Economy Book: Similarly to Animal Guide, the Economy Book is in its second session and will result in a book being published about Cambodia’s economy fully researched and written by Liger students in English and Khmer.
  • Water Safety: Drowning is a serious problem in Cambodia as major parts of the country flood each year during rainy season. The Liger students have previously all learned to swim, and now they are learning how to spread drowning prevention information across the country and are teaching swim lessons to the community.

Liger also recently got its first 3D printer! I’m not sure that there is a specific project that this is accompanying at the moment, but given Liger’s holistic focus during projects on design through production I am confident that the printer will be well used in the future.

Liger Campus 3

Liger student housing

Liger Campus 4

Liger’s main staircase: at the top there are photos of students and staff, each paired with one of the words that embodies a quality of the Liger community – Stewardship, Integrity, Determination, Optimism, Appreciation, and Ingenuity.

 The Campus: Liger centers around one academic building that has 3 classrooms, a conference room, offices, a library, and an outdoor gathering room. Before the main building near the entry to the school, there are 4 teacher apartments, of which 3 are currently occupied. Behind the main building, there is a small pool attached to the science building, which has an awesome science classroom downstairs and two rooms known as “the innovation center” which houses workbenches and lots of parts that can be used for class projects or personal projects. Behind the innovation center are the Khmer style houses in which the kids live. They are divided into 4 houses, each with two rooms and a house mother that is responsible for her house. Up until now, the students have lived with one room of boys and one room of girls in each house, but next year the students will be segregated into two full houses of boys and two of girls, which offers the students the exciting opportunity to choose their own roommates. The girls seized upon this opportunity gratefully and quickly organized themselves into houses. The boys eventually succeeded and submitted their list shortly before the deadline at which they would be assigned randomly.

Check in shortly for Liger Part 2: The kids, the staff, and “I thought you were teaching programming but I haven’t really heard much about it.”

Learn Khmer: On Friday, programming was interrupted by an important lesson in Khmer. Apparently, while pong moan means chicken egg and pong tea means duck egg, if you just say pong it means testicles. Thanks kids, for telling me that now! (Suddenly the locals laughter makes sense.)

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Sunday – May 31, 2015:

Angkor Wat at sunrise 1000 px

Angkor Wat at sunrise – a must see tourist destination

Corey and Alli 2015-05-22 01.04.492015-05-22 03.11.31Last weekend, we took our final trip out of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Wow! Siem Reap is unfortunately touristy, but is so because the temples are legitimately amazing! We spent three days there, and visited the temples on Friday and Sunday. Angkor Wat is the largest temple, and covers more than a square kilometer! (In total about 500 acres.)

The pictures of the temples pretty much speak for themselves, but I will share the small bit of history I now know about them. Today, Cambodia is 95% Buddhist, but historically Buddhism and Hinduism have traded off in popularity largely following the choice of the king. Cambodia was Hindu until King Jayavarman VII attempted to make Buddhism the state religion in 1811. He was largely successful as Buddhism eliminates the social castes inherent to Hinduism until his successor took the throne as a Hindu. Eventually, the country did switch over to Buddhism with increasing percentage, though many signs of mixed Buddhism and Hinduism remain throughout the country and in the temples in particular.

hindu temple 2015-05-22 01.13.32This knowledge of religious history informs us as we look at the temples in Siem Reap. Any temple built before 1180 was a Hindu temple, and most of the ones built after are Buddhist. Hindu temples are generally tall and include areas that can be easily segregated so that the people of high caste could pray separately from the common people. Buddhist temples are low to the ground and are designed to be accessible by everyone. Many of the temples underwent forced conversion between the religions; the Buddhist to Hindu conversion of temples mostly entailed adding Buddha statues and shrines throughout the Hindu temple, but many Buddhist images were scratched out in order to turn Buddhist temples to Hindu.

Our guide on Friday was a Cambodian man named Bopha, and his stories about his own life were (perhaps unintentionally) one of the best insights we’ve had into Cambodian life. Bopha was born in 1980, the year after the Khmer Rouge regime officially lost power, so the country was in particularly bad shape. Although the Khmer Rouge regime was no longer in direct control thanks to the interference of the Vietnamese army, the regime continued fighting a guerrilla war that consumed the country until Pol Pot died in 1998. This means that Bopha spent childhood working a rice field, because no schools were opened in his region until 2000. In 2000, he wished to go to school but told he was too old. Also, he is the oldest of six siblings, and his parents did not want to lose his work in the fields. After some consideration, because of his age and having no money, Bopha decided that the only way to become educated was to join the monks. Bopha was a monk for 15 years and only left about six months ago. Over those years, he graduated high school (2009), got a BA (2012) and then a masters in law (2014). Despite his law degree, Bopha works as a tour guide in Siem Reap because he cannot get a job in Phnom Penh as a lawyer without $1000 to start as bribe money.

Boha]He also told us stories of his relatives and their marriages. His brother entered an engagement without ever having seen his bride only to later have the woman decided to marry someone else. He then entered another engagement never having seen his bride, and the two got married about a year ago. Bopha’s mother received upwards of 20 proposals only to have her father turn them down on her behalf. She eventually got so upset with her father that she went to a “magic man” to have him change her father’s mind. However, the magic man was related to the man that would eventually become Bopha’s father, and simply told her “don’t worry, all your troubles will be gone soon.” It worked out.

Bopha was able to explain many of the religious stories depicted in carvings and statues throughout the temples. One Hindu story was a common theme in many of the temples. It tells of demons and angels competing to move a mountain to find a milk that will make humans immortal. After struggling for 1,000 years with no progress, they approach Vishnu and tell him that they cannot succeed. Vishnu convinces the two groups to work together to move the mountain, and after another 1,000 years, the groups succeed. Vishnu then has to intervene again to prevent the demons from obtaining the milk. Many temples had lines of demons and angels tugging a snake (in order to move the mountain) at their entryways.

2015-05-22 01.14.56

cooking class 2015-05-23 00.03.48On Saturday, our day off from temples, we took a Khmer (reminder, this word is said KMAIcooking class at a local restaurant, Le Tigre de Papier. Our chef was hilarious and also knew her food well. We made papaya salad, pumpkin soup, Lok Lak, fried rice, and pumpkin custard. Wow. Everything was incredible.

Le Tigre de Papier is located on a famous Siem Reap attraction called Pub Street. Designed to attract all of the foreign visitors to Siem Reap, Pub Street is unlike anything I’ve seen in Cambodia. During the day all is calm, but at night neon signs and pounding music advertise each restaurant’s signature cocktails, and street vendors sell food, smoothies, and mixed drinks by the bucket. I couldn’t take a picture that could possibly capture the buzzing energy of the street, but it felt like town carnival meets the lights of NYC plus a little grunge. Overall, such a cool place.

Another highlight of our trip was seeing a dancers 2015-05-22 07.56.47traditional dance show put on during our dinner on Friday. I don’t know much about the traditional dances, but the dancers were young and quite talented!

HERE’S WHAT’S UP: Corey left last night to start her job at Mastercard, what?! That means we’ve been here a while.

I’m continuing to play Frisbee 3 times a week in Phnom Penh and also have started going to volleyball once a week. The people I meet are so cool and everyone has a different story. It’s also a little weird because the expat community is quite transient and few people are here long-term.

I can count to 10 in Khmer!

2015-05-22 03.01.45

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Tuesday – May 26, 2015:
Things you may or may not know about Cambodia but might find interesting

  1. There isn’t breakfast food. People eat breakfast, but it’s just normal food. In the morning. Okay, I’m told this isn’t completely true, but you still eat rice with meat and veggies, so I really can’t tell the difference.
  1. It’s not “summer” here (thank goodness) because there are only two seasons. We’re just on the very beginning edge of the rainy season, which lasts from around now until about October. (The opposite season is the dry season, which is the rest of the year.)
  1. The roads are surprisingly good! Main roads are well-paved, and side streets are hard packed dirt or gravel, which are still quite navigable.
  1. Kids that aren’t in a private school attend public government schools. They go six days a week (Monday-Saturday) but only in either the morning or afternoon in order to fit everyone in. So, a child will either attend from about 8-12 or from 1-5. Everyone wears a uniform, usually a white shirt with navy shorts or a skirt.
  1. There are stop signs, traffic lights, and lanes painted on the roads, but as a driver from the US by comparison they feel more like suggestions than rules. Traffic lights are roughly followed, especially if you are in a larger vehicle (a car or bus.) Motos can pretty much do whatever they want, as long as they aren’t in someone else’s path. The rules essentially seem to be: don’t hit anyone, and don’t put yourself in a place to be hit.
  1. There are mango trees everywhere. It’s awesome.
  1. Fresh fruit in general is really cheap. Meat and eggs are much more expensive (though still much cheaper than the US) but fruit and vegetables are just sold by weight.
  1. Things you can buy for $1:
    1. 1 kilo of Mangos
    1. A pineapple
    1. At least 1 large water bottle (depending on where you are)
    1. A delicious fruit smoothie
    1. Coconut ice cream served in a fresh coconut shell
    1. A very short tuk tuk ride
    1. A cheap wallet
    1. 6 eggs
    1. Entrance to most national parks
    1. About 20 bananas
  1. The official Cambodian currency is the riel. Essentially, the other official currency is the dollar. It is commonly accepted to exchange 4000 riel for one dollar. So it is totally normal to get a bill that says 7.50, pay with a $5 and a 20000 riel, and get $1 and 6000 riel in change.
  1. It is very rude to wear shoes inside. I wear shoes to go from my apartment to school, and if I go out in Phnom Penh, but never in my apartment, the school buildings, or the hotel rooms we stayed in.

Also, I thought it would be fun to include photos of the visual assignments the kids just finished! They are working on loops and controlling objects (in this case a turtle) through built-in commands. They’re doing awesome! They just finished coding hangman on Friday. Enjoy!

 Python partern 1 copy

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Monday – May 18, 2015: Second week at Liger recap

*Disclaimer*
This is not the post I promised on Liger, which will be forthcoming.

Last week brought a lot of opportunity for sight-seeing and adventure, now that we have a better grasp on how to get around. A highlight of my week was accompanying two of the Liger teachers to the local Frisbee league. I am always impressed that the Ultimate community, wherever it may be located, is always a place where I feel welcomed and comfortable. The league has four teams of roughly 10 people (that were actually present) and splits to play 4 on 4 on a small turf field. Doing something so normal to me was a welcome relief.

Liger students

Liger students performing

Other highlights of the week include seeing the students perform music on two occasions. One of the performances was at a local restaurant, Luna D’Autunno, owned by a woman who has been working with the kids for several weeks. The other performance was a concert given over Skype by both Liger and a Singapore school, which was just completely different than any concert I’ve been to before. Liger and the Singapore school Skype weekly and perform music for each other. The Liger students mostly sang pop music accompanied by guitar, while the Singapore students played classical music on an impressive variety of classical instruments (a few strings, several keyboards, a tuba, and a few woodwinds.) It was awesome to see two schools from such different places and with such different music come together to experience each other. Really, this experiencing and respecting of different people’s lives embodies Liger. Liger recognizes that its students have only had the opportunity to experience a very small portion of the world, and seeks every opportunity to connect their students with people from all over.

*Second Disclaimer*
I am not a historian and it is altogether possible that I may have written something in error.
If that is the case, I apologize. Wikipedia actually has an excellent overview of the Khmer Rouge regime.

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A harsh reminder of a genocide that took place only 40 years ago

 The most moving and difficult place we have seen is the Killing Fields, which honor the memories of the ~2 million people who died under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. We visited two sites: the Killing Fields, at which the regime exterminated thousands of people, and S-21, which was one of the largest and most ruthless prisons and now hosts the Genocide Museum. Understanding the slaughter that occurred during the genocide is critical towards understanding how Cambodia is today. Our trip to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum give us just small glimpses into the brutality that swept the country and the aftermath that still plagues the country today.

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The Memorial Stupa in Phnom Penh is a memorial erected to remember those who were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Pol Pot was a dictator who desired to set up a completely interdependent and equal Communist state, following the same ideals as Mao Tse-tung. His forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975, and he remained in control as Prime Minister for four years until 1979. Initially, the people of Phnom Penh welcomed his soldiers, because they came saying that they would lead a revolution to end the suffering of the people (at the time, Vietnam was trying to overthrow the Cambodian government and US bombs were destroying both Vietnam and Cambodia.) Shortly after taking control of the city, Pol Pot’s forces evacuated the cities to the countryside and made everyone participate in brutal work camps, slaving 12 hours a day on very thin gruel. Many died of starvation. At the same time, the Khmer Rouge began targeting anyone educated or with Western knowledge. Doctors in particular were targeted, and anyone who could read. Many were taken to a prison or execution site. Over four years in power (though the Khmer Rouge was recognized by the UN as the only official representative of Cambodia until 1990), the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of about a quarter of the population, or about 2 million people. Those who were not directly executed starved in the work camps or died of illness, because medicine was no longer allowed.

 How can this inform us about Cambodia today? The Cambodian genocide happened in the late seventies, so the people directly affected are the parents and grandparents of today’s children. Anyone who could read was executed. Anyone who studied science was executed. Before Pol Pot, Cambodia was not well off, and the destruction of education set them back immensely. Today, children go to school, but the teachers themselves are not particularly well educated. Many people do not have jobs, and few people have the ambition to get one — presently there is not much opportunity for upward momentum, for change. Liger hopes to change Cambodia through education, and the Cambodian people are excited when they do see progress made. In particular, STEM is becoming increasingly important to the country, and the first local STEM competition was held recently. Right now Cambodia is a victim of a vicious cycle that prevents education and progress, simply because there are not people who know how to teach more effectively. However, Cambodia is ready to change, and it will be exciting to see how much can be accomplished.

On a much lighter note… the lizards have been named: Spectacle, Howard, Cheerio, and Sneaky.

Expect posts soon about our weekend trip to the river towns of Kampot and Kep, and also a profile of Liger!

Next weekend we will be traveling to Angkor Wat!

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Tuesday – May 12, 2015: First week recap

Our first weekend in Cambodia was action packed! Once a year, Liger holds a mock auction where the kids can use merit points earned over the year to bid on special excursions or items. One auction item was to see the new Avengers movie, so on Friday night we joined several of the kids on their trip to Aeon Mall (also home to the ice skating rink.) The movie was excellent and the 4D was overwhelming but a lot of fun. Afterwards, we shopped for food for our apartment and made our first (unsuccessful) attempt to buy a magnetic pan to use with our induction stove. That night was also our first trip in a tuk tuk, the local taxi (basically a moto with a cart attached). Because we live about 20 minutes outside of the city, it can be difficult to get a driver that knows where we live or how to get there, and we were momentarily lost! We have quickly gotten skilled at navigating our way home.

On Saturday we accompanied a different group of students on their auction trip to Silk Island. While most of the silk in Cambodia today is imported from Vietnam’s machinery, people on Silk Island still weave silk garments by hand. We rented bikes and rode a 12K loop on the island, stopping for lunch at a beach on the Mekong River. The island is mostly farmland, and seemed poorer than the area around Liger. Many of the animals, cows in particular, looked desperately thin. At the lunch site on the Mekong, we ate on shaded platforms that rise a few inches above the water on stilts. Many buildings around Cambodia are on stilts to stay above the water when large portions of the country flood during the rainy season.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh: view of a city street with shops on the first floor and apartments above

We spent Saturday night and Sunday afternoon exploring Phnom Penh! After taking a tuk tuk into the city, we ate dinner on Saturday at an excellent restaurant named Khmer Surin. I ordered a fish fillet from the Mekong and it was incredible in the way that only fresh seafood can be. On Sunday we wandered around several markets, beginning with the Olympic Market, stopping at the Center Market, and ending at the Night Market.  The Olympic Market is known as a fashion hub of the city, and a warren of narrow paths between clothing shops winds over 3 floors.

Central market

Central Market, Phnom Penh

The Center Market sells jewelry in its central area and has typical goods available on its outer ring – food, kitchen supplies, etc. Corey and I caused a slight scene as we ran around tapping all the pans with our magnet and jumped excitedly when we finally found a magnetic one. The Night Market, open from 5-9 pm, has a lot of food stands and clothing shops aimed at tourists. I bought an overpriced but totally awesome patterned pair of pants that is extremely loose and cool in the heat.

Food! Corey and I have been eating about half of our meals with the students. The chef at Liger, Matt, makes mostly Cambodian food with only a few Western style meals mixed in. Traditional Cambodian food consists of rice with an accompanying dish of veggies and meat. Overall, it’s delicious, if a bit repetitive. There isn’t much differentiation between meals – it seems like any of the food could be served for any meal. We have been cooking eggs and toast in our apartment on many mornings, which we buy from local shops down the street. There are also more Western style grocery stores in the city, as well as both Khmer and Western restaurants.

For those technical minded people out there, this is what our class has covered so far (in Python):

        • Boolean algebra basics
        • If/else statements
        • For loops
        • Lists

Now we are working on combining lists and for loops!

The kids continue to impress me with how much information they retain from class to class. It is so rewarding to teach a room full of people who want to learn. Their focus over our two hour class is outstanding. Corey and I are definitely improving at figuring out how to structure our lessons to not overwhelm the kids but still keep them challenged. We’re also learning to be flexible, and to stop the new material early if we feel like the kids have been saturated. We can successfully teach a lot more new material on Monday than Friday. I’m so grateful to be working with these students and am excited to feel my relationships with them growing as I stay here longer.

HERE’S WHAT’S UP: (Where I tell you whatever is on my mind.)

Corey and I have 3-4 small salamanders living with us. We don’t bother them and they don’t bother us.
Name suggestions welcome — email me

Mekong River

Mekong River (or possibly a tributary a few miles from joining) from the city side of the river. Liger is on the opposite side and about 20 minutes inland.

Learn Khmer (pronounced this kmai): raw egg = pong chau (long OH, not like ping pong)


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Friday – May 8, 2016: New Horizons

Cambodia is beautiful, and different from what I expected. Liger Learning Center is about thirty minutes away from the airport by car along roads filled with motos where the lanes are merely suggestions. The campus is a rectangle about 5 minutes by 10 minutes walking, with one main school building, a science building, four small houses for the kids, and a few apartments for foreign teachers.

Alli Bukys and Corey Salzer

Alli and Corey at Ice Park Cambodia

2015-05-03 12.13.29 apt

Liger Learning Center – housing for foreign teachers

My partner, Corey Salzer, and I are staying in a two bedroom apartment on the school’s campus. The architecture here is extremely open, so you never feel far from the outdoors, which is a necessity to keep air moving in temperatures that stay above 90 degrees for the entire year.

Corey’s and my class meets for two hours each weekday, and has 17 exceptional students. All 50 students at Liger were chosen for their intelligence and overall leadership abilities. They know that education is a privilege and that makes them the most motivated students I have ever met. They are curious and insightful, and their ability to stay focused is extraordinarily helpful to me as a new teacher. Over the first two classes we went over theory related to how computers make decisions, and then yesterday we gave the kids code for the first time. It was amazing to watch them explore the program and figure out which parts they needed to change. The students are unfazed by the unfamiliar and thrive when given problems they can dive into themselves rather than learning through structured directions.

After school, the kids each have a chosen activity – depending on the day, there are soccer, Frisbee, study hall, music, and video editing available to choose from. Yesterday, Corey and I tagged along on a special trip to the ice skating rink in the local mall. The rink is the first of its kind in the entire county, and many people crowd the rink just to watch the absurdity of such a strange and new activity. I am not a good skater in the US, but here I was one of a few people that had ever been skating before! We also had ice cream (a new treat from Korea) and dinner in the mall before returning to school.

This weekend we are looking forward to a bike trip with the students and going to their ultimate Frisbee tournament/clinic! We also plan to go into Phnom Penh to eat dinner.

Cambodia,_Phnom_Penh,_Royal_Palace_as_seen_from_acros_Tonle_Sap_River

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