Hello, Cambodia

Okay people, I am trying out this blog thing!  For those of you who know me well, you know technology is not my strong point.  I will keep it nice simple, but I thought this would be a good way to keep everyone informed about my latest adventures.  Most of you did not even know about my move to Cambodia! On here, I will tell you stories about village living and teacher life.  I am glad you are all here to follow my journey!


A Cambodian Birthday

Thank you for all of the birthday wishes and everyone who made it so special!  I had a lovely birthday spent with my kids and co-teachers.  My day started out wonderfully with a smoothie waiting for me in the fridge! It continued with a little class party where I invited the kids to come in to have some fun (even though it was Sunday).  We colored, watched a movie, and had some snackies.  The kids gave me cards and little random gifts like stuffed animals, (which I am sure were gifted to them at some point and they had cuddled up with the night before).  I said I do not need these gifts! Very thoughtful, but those are for them to keep, not me!birthday nhcc

Then some fellow teachers, our librarian, and I played card and dice games.  They surprised me with a chocolate cupcake too!  The combination of spending time with my class and with my friends here really made it a special day.  I feel so thankful to have met the people here who always lift me up and encourage me.  The little things throughout the day like a homemade smoothie, my favorite foods, and a cupcake with a candle really were so thoughtful, especially when those things are harder to come by being in rural Cambodia. IMG_6583

Finally, my family back home even was able to send me a package, and my favorite thing was not the gift, but the card. My mom and dad filled the card with confetti, so when I opened it, it really felt like a celebration.  They were able to celebrate my birthday with me even with thousands of miles between us.  I feel so lucky to have such a great support system back home.

I was pleasantly surprised with all of the day’s events and all of the love that I received.   It was a good reminder to be so grateful for this opportunity and to be a part of the kids’ lives and to have them in my life as well.  A birthday in Cambodia is a birthday well spent!bdaybirthday

Geckos, and Spiders and Frogs! Oh my!

There is never a shortage of company.  The amount of critters here are endless.  I am guaranteed every morning to be greeted by 3-4 frogs in the bathroom.  They will be relaxing on the walls, in the trashcan, on or in the toilet, on the shower head. The list goes on.  Even if I don’t see them, I know they are there. I learned my most valuable lesson on day 2 here.  ALWAYS check the toilet seat before going to the bathroom.  It is not out of the norm for them to be camping out ON or IN the toilet.  Oh, and I thought I could out smart these little guys by making sue I close the toilet seat every night, but this does not phase them. They still find a way to sneak into the toilet.  Now, it is just normal for me to check the seat before I can sit down.  It is a good thing I got in the habit of this for the frogs because the other morning, I lift up the seat to find two frogs in the toilet: no surprise there.  But what was a wonderful surprise at 5:30 in the morning, was the biggest spider I have ever seen.  Honestly, the size of my hand.  Just sitting there, on the edge of the toilet, waiting.  Thank goodness I check!IMG_0509

Other critters I get to see everyday: little geckos climbing along the walls (usually talking to one another), mosquitoes, ants, beetles, scorpions, cockroaches. You name it, we got it!

I had a dead scorpion on a shirt when I pulled out the laundry.  First clothing item I picked up, there a I saw it, dead and on my stuck to my shirt.  Don’t know if they are still dangerous when they are dead or not, but don’t think I want to find out!

The cockroaches are mostly found in my classroom…. Knock on wood.  The kids have no fear of them.  They pick them up as if it was a pencil off the ground; just doesn’t seem to phase them.

This morning, as I was walking to class, I almost stepped on a crab! What?! I didn’t even know they lived in this area! It must have been because it rained recently, so the little crab decided to join us! Well, he wasn’t so little.  Probably the size of my fist.

The geckos talk to each other at night, or talk to me. I don’t know which.  Either way, it is like they are singing me to sleep.

So there is never a shortage of critters whether they are wanted or not, they are here.  I have become used to them and they are a part of everyday life here. I’m thinking wow, good thing I don’t have a phobia!

(Wish I had more pictures to show, but I’m sure you can use your imagination!)

Angkor Wat Projects

So I have officially been here for over a month now.  I cannot believe it is March already.  I was here for the whole month of February, and man did it fly by!!  The biggest update, as you can see from the pictures, was our Angor Wat project.  Although I cannot take credit for the concept of this project, I can’t express enough how proud I am of my students.  My co-teacher has done this project in the past, and he did it with his students the week before us. Since I came in late, my students were a little behind, but I still wanted them to do have the opportunity to build. We were able to see how the projects from the other grade 5 classes turned out and went from there.  In Social Studies, the students are learning about the history of Cambodia.  For a little over a week, they learned a lot about Angkor Wat which is very important to Cambodia, considering it is the symbol on the Cambodian flag.  They learned about when it was built, how long it took to build, why it is so important to Cambodia, and other facts.  After learning all about Angkor Wat, it was time for us to build our own.  Other teachers had been saving their toilet paper rolls so we could have enough for 3 classes to build!

I really let my kids be their own creative directors for this.  Yes, they had seen other projects from the classes, and they of course knew what it looked like realistically, but after a base form,  I let them construct what they thought was applicable.  This was great to see because all of the kids were so involved.  Our word of the week was “teamwork” so we learned about what it is like to work with others and that everyone should be involved.  We made sure everyone had their ideas heard. The kids worked in their teams of 4 and had to plan out how they wanted it to look, and then they had building days.


Day 1: Planning on paper and drawing what they wanted Angkor Wat to look like

Day 2: Planning on cardboard with all the materials, but nothing is permanent

Day 3: Gluing basic structure

Day 4: Glue, glue, glue

Day 5: Final touches (adding flowers, water and decorative pieces)


Team Pigs: Neri, Dalin, Narak, and Sovin

The kids really look forward to building, so I had been saving it for the last class of the day so it was an incentive for them to be on their best behavior all day.  One day, they did lose their building time. This was even a bummer for me because I really like seeing them work  together on their projects.  This has been the highlight of my days too!

As a class, they were able to show off all of their hard work at our weekly assembly.  Originally we were just going to display the projects for the students to walk by after assembly, but after seeing Teacher Mike’s class present their projects, my kids wanted to too (of course)! The kids would say, “Teacher, sentence,”  meaning wanted to read the sentences of the facts to the school just like the other classes.  So I picked 4 kids that wanted to present, and during assembly they stood up in front of the other classes and shared the facts we learned with the other students.  They loved it and were so proud of themselves!


This was an amazing project. (Thank you Teacher Mike!) I loved that the kids were so interested in it because they had been learning about Angkor Wat all week and then had something to look forward to after learning.  I saw a lot of kids in class step up and be fully interested; it really allowed a lot of the kids to shine.  Some of them just really took to this project and would ask at the beginning of the day, “Teacher today Angkor Wat?” to make sure we were still doing the project.  We learned about teamwork and to make sure everyone had a part in the building process. Proud teacher!


Team Monkeys: Sokchan, Sophorn, Sophea, and Nita


Team King Ants: Sreysor and Veasna (Sun Heng and Panha tpp)\


Team Monkeys: Sophea, Sophorn, Sokchan, and Nita


Team Kung Fu Pandas: Phearak, Pasy, Sreynith and Vibol


The 4 students presenting at assembly.

My First 2 Weeks

I arrived in Cambodia on January 27th after 30 plus hours of traveling!  I went straight from the airport to New Hope for Cambodian Children (the orphanage), so this past weekend was actually the first time I got out and about to travel a bit.  I got a walking tour of the whole compound and was shown my accommodation upon arrival.  The teachers each live in their own little house (which consists of a bathroom, a little kitchenette area, and a bed all in one area).  I was shown the school grounds and where my classroom was.  Everything is all within the same common grounds, so it literally takes 2 minutes to walk to any place in our little orphanage.

The kids were having a little ‘disco’ that night, so although I was running pretty low on sleep, I of course had to see all of the kids!  The kids danced to some popular Westernized songs like the Macarena and of course The Chicken Dance.  They also danced to popular Khmer songs as well; for those I just had to wing it and follow the kids! It was a great first night to be here.  Kids would come up to me and tell me their names, but they are very difficult to pronounce, and there are so many kids that I couldn’t remember names! (I blame it on sleep deprivation).

I wasn’t told too much about how things go, or when I would start teaching.  But as it turned out, I would jump right in and teach my first class on that Monday! I was so excited to meet my class: Grade 5 ‘Pandas.’  We are mid-year, so they had a different teacher previously.  They were told about a new teacher coming in: “Teacher McKenzie!” One kid came in and said “Teacher McKenzie, that’s M-C-K-E-N-Z-I-E.”  I was so surprised!  People in the states can’t even spell my name half of the time! So I let him write my name on the board to introduce me.  It took me about 3 days to match their names to faces and pronounce all of them correctly.  I came at the perfect time because the kids were reviewing for test week which was the following week.  So for the whole first week, we got to review what they have learned so far this year.  This was great for me so now I can have some type of direction on where I want to go with the rest of the year.  It is really difficult to figure out what exactly to teach because there is no standard curriculum to follow.  We basically are starting our own curriculum for future teachers to be able to follow.  I quickly realized we will be paving our own paths.  Luckily, I have a co-teacher who has been here for 3 years and he has been super helpful with catching me up to speed and giving me tips.

Originally there was a spot for second grade and I really wanted it, but I was placed in 5th grade.  I was a little bummed at first, but after being here for 2 weeks and having my 5th grade class, I wouldn’t want it any other way! I really think it was meant to be!  Although they are grade 5, they are not at the same curriculum as grade 5 in the states.  We have to remember they are learning in their second language which is extremely difficult! With that, I soon realized the huge gap in my class.  I have students who pick things up quite quickly and you can tell they have had English for a couple of years.  On the flip-side, for some students, this is their first expose to English so they are still having difficulties with things like the alphabet, vowels, and sounds that each letter makes.  The gap makes it difficult because I dont want to go too slow or too fast.  If we go back and relearn some of those things, the more advanced kids will get bored and when they get bored, they tend to act out.  But if I go too fast and skip over important steps to learning, those kids will fall behind and always will be behind.  This is probably the most difficult dilemma that the teachers face.

:Life here is pretty simple.  We eat at the same times everyday: 6 am for breakfast, 11 am for lunch, and 5 pm for dinner.  They are of course optional, so a few teachers choose to cook for themselves.  I dont feel the need to cook for myself on my little hot plate in my room.  Plus, most of the food is pretty good!  I do, however, eat breakfast on my own.  We eat family-style so its a lot of “Hey can you pass the…”  After dinner, we play with kids for awhile until their bell rings.  This is great because I can get to know other students who aren’t in my class.  When the bell rings, it means it is 6 o’clock which means the kids need to take their medication.  So all of the kids go running to their ‘clusters’ which is where they live.  The sun starts going down not too much later.  Then its all of us off to our own little houses and in for the night.  I find myself going to bed around 8:30 every night (I know it seems so early, but you truly are drained from the day.)  Then its wake up, and do it all over again!

I know I am probably missing some information, but that’s just a glimpse so far!

Big plans for the week: Make my classroom, MY classroom.  I am rearranging desks and trying to decorate a bit so it feels more like my own!

Blogs to look forward to:

  • What is New Hope for Cambodian Children (NHCC)
  • Weekend Trips
  • A look inside my house

Any other ideas.. let me know!