My volunteer experience at Conversations with Foreigners (CWF) began in March 2017. I taught at the Toul Tom Poung site until the end of May, then again from September to November of that year at their new school in the Toul Kork district. This led to a part time job at an entirely different school in Phnom Penh where I have been teaching until now.
I’d visited Cambodia as a tourist in 2015. Prior to my visit, all I knew about it was what I had read in the papers and in a travel guide.
When I found out about a volunteer teaching opportunity at CWF in late 2016, I wanted to make sure it’s a legitimate school. There were stories about questionable organizations in Cambodia and I certainly didn’t want to waste my time by jumping into something I didn’t know much about. I contacted the school and I asked if it was all right for me to come and visit. I didn’t want phone or skype interviews – I wanted to personally look into it. So, I flew to Phnom Penh from San Francisco, California. The Education Services Manager graciously took the time to explain the program to me and gave me a tour of the school building. Feeling well-assured that this school fit my criteria as a good place to volunteer, I signed on.
Here are some thoughts I would like to share:
• CWF is a legitimate ‘social enterprise’ school. Part of the students’ tuition is donated to socially responsible causes in other provinces to help marginalized communities (e.g., water purification program, free schooling for children from impoverished families, support for environmental causes, etc.).
• CWF staff, from the director to the guards, are friendly, helpful, and great to work with.
• CWF has a volunteer house which is walking distance to the school. There is a reasonable fee for staying at this house which includes three meals a day, 5 days a week, and internet service. CWF can also loan you a bicycle to use for the duration of your volunteer time. The Volunteer Services Coordinator is available to provide support to the teachers (one of the nicest people you can ever meet).
• The school has school supplies and teaching resources and materials available.
• Prior to teaching, all volunteers receive a one-week orientation and training. Ongoing training is also offered throughout the term.
• Prospective students are tested and assigned to classes according to their level. A class may be composed of high school students and professionals, and everyone in between.
• Saving the best for last, the students are eager, enthusiastic, and inspiring. They make me want to wake up in the morning and go to school. They motivate me to do my best, and to be as good a teacher as I can be.
This is my experience, one that has extended from CWF to my current school, but “experience” can vary and can depend on the volunteer’s purpose for coming to Cambodia. My take and my suggestion? Search yourself and find out what may motivate you to teach as a volunteer at CWF. What can you offer and what’s in it for you? Do you have the resilience to adapt to a culture that may have dissimilarities to yours?
When you find the right reasons, it can truly be a transformative experience, as it has been for me. CWF has a special place in my heart.