The floods have finally started to drain away, and life is slowly returning to normal in Siem Reap. September was a very difficult month for all of us, but here's hoping the floods will stay away for now.
We were back to the books this week after our one-week break for the Pchum Ben festival. It's back to work until our next long break in November for the Water Festival.
The Writing Exchange Program: In Japan
During the first week of the fall semester back in Japan, my students got their first letters from their Cambodian partners. In total, there are 104 students in four different students participating in this project. Students in BEA's Intermediate course are paired with my Integrated English Skill seminar course while BEA's Pre-Intermediate course are matched with my English Communication course.
Before my students got to read their letters, I prepared a 20-minute power point presentation to give my students some basic background information on education in Cambodia, BEA and the students’ lives. My students then got their letters and had the remaining class time to introduce their partner and discuss significant points with their groups.
In their written “reflections” after class about the lesson, almost all of my students commented that “I knew Cambodia was poor, but I didn’t know it was that poor.” Many of the students also expressed shame because they felt that they had taken for granted their educational opportunities in Japan. Most surprisingly, students said their partner’s letter has now motivated them to study harder and appreciate the chance they have at university to learn.
For homework, my students had to comment on their partner’s letter and write on the first theme: a self-introduction. I was quite impressed with the effort the Japanese students put into their letters. Many of them included photos and drawings from their lives, and many letters included “print club” stickers. These are tiny photos from automated booths that print out the photos on multi-colored backgrounds. You can often fit 5 people in these booths for group photos. When I first came to Japan many years ago, I used to frequent the game centers with these booth taking “print club” with my Japanese friends.
Deny’s partner, Mayuka, included photos from her summer vacation in Greech. Vannack’s partner, Shoki, included beautifully hand-draw Chinese calligraphy on traditional Japanese paper. Little did I know, Shoki is a calligraphy master!!
Writing Exchange Program: In Cambodia
In yesterday's lessons for the Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate courses, BEA students received their first letters from their Japanese writing partners. Shally and I have had to quite a bit of "cultural preparation" for this program. One of the challenges we had when the BEA students received the "profile cards" for their Japanese partner at the start of September was the large number of cultural-specific vocabulary. At the end of my semester in July, students in my English communication and Integrated Skills Seminar courses had to complete a one-page profile card - just some basic background information about themselves for the BEA students before they wrote their first letters.
During the introduction to this program, Shally and I spent most of our class time explaining this culture-specific vocabulary to the BEA students. Because of the age difference between my Japanese students and myself, I even found this quite challenging, especially since Japanese idols and fashion trends change so rapidly that it's impossible to keep up with at times.
Since I'm back in Japan now, I didn't want to leave Shally completely only own to figure out this cultural content on his own. Last week, before I sent of the letters from my Japanese students, I spent an evening trekking through Tokyo getting as many postcards as possible that included all the cultural vocabulary my students included in their letters. To my embarrassment, after 14 years in Japan, I didn't have a SINGLE Japanese postcard in my collection of picture files!!!
Once Shally received the letters and postcard packets, we had one of our skype training sessions. We brainstormed ideas how to introduce cultural concepts to the BEA students and then went through the place names and things pictured in the postcards. Shally was then able to plan his lesson introducing these terms so that the students would recognize them when they read them in their letters.
In yesterday’s lessons, each group of students received one of these postcard packets and got 20 minutes to comment and ask questions about them. Shally then instructed them to note these terms when they came across them in their letters. It’s always much easier to visualize a concept rather than spend time explaining it.
Shally commented that the BEA kids were really happy to read their partners’ letters and were excited to discuss them in their groups. For homework, they have to respond to their partner’s letter and also write on the second theme: daily lifestyle. The writing exchange program has gotten off to a great start on both sides, and students in both countries are now anxiously awaiting their next round of letter.
The Bayon English Academy (BEA) is an NGO school that provides underprivileged youth with quality English language education in a safe, clean environment in Siem Reap, Cambodia.