Alumni Spotlight: Patricia McDonnell

Patricia's home is Sydney, Australia where she attended Macquarie University and majored in Social Anthropology. Patricia's favorite dance is the salsa.

Why did you pick this program?

I picked the CWF Cambodian program because I had visited here before and knew people who had taught English here. The length of the program of three months suited me an fitted in with my work commitments. I liked the fact that revenue from CWF went to Cambodian Rural Development Team in needy areas in many projects. The projects involve agriculture and tourism industries.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I have encouraged my friends who I think have the requisite skills and open-mindedness to apply for the program. It is a wonderful way to become immersed in the customs and culture of Cambodia. Your students have a great appreciation of foreign volunteers and have a thirst for learning English. Your students range from university medical students to delivery drivers. They all know how important it is to speak English. They want to contribute to the development of their beautiful country. They are so welcoming and give you their hearts unconditionally. It is a once in a lifetime experience and so rewarding.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One piece of advice would be to stay positive and accept with an open heart any challenges that happen and make them into something that will make you a better person. Of course there will be highs and lows. Always reach out for support from volunteer colleagues and CWF staff. You will become part of a big family.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

We were all lucky enough to be invited to our CWF support person who was marrying a fellow compatriot from Australia. There was much excitement among the female volunteers as Khmer weddings are very long and complicated affairs with around seven ceremonies and many traditional costume changes. Having shopped in the markets and found traditional costumes and also Western style wedding clobber, we all climbed into the mini van with our Cambodian friends. Plastic chairs were placed in the aisles to fit all of us. On arrival in the village we were assigned our homestays where we had to share double size mats for sleeping. We donned our wedding clothes and all the female volunteers found the local hairdresser and beauty shop. We all managed to have our makeup done which includes the obligatory false eyelashes. Some had very elaborate hairdos. I looked like one of the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella. So the Khmer people who look sensational with the makeup and traditional costumes appreciated our efforts. The night in the open and in the decorated wedding tent and copious food went on to the most wonderful celebratory Khmer dancing. It was a fabulous time had by all and not to be missed if you are privileged enough to be in invited to a Cambodian wedding.

What are some of the challenges of living and working in Phnom Penh?

It takes a while to get used to the congestion and lack of traffic rules. It really is organised chaos and walking and crossing roads are not hard as the cars and motorcycles travel slowly and adroitly miss you as they are expert at keeping the requisite distance. Accommodation is cheap if you opt to live independently or you can live in the volunteer house. The restaurants and cafes serve great food from all cuisines. The coffee is excellent. Khmer food is varied and delicious. There is enough time to travel and see other parts of Cambodia.

As for the teaching English, it can be daunting at first but with the support of CWF expert education staff and your student workbooks you will become a very proficient teacher even if you have never set foot in a classroom.