a new thanksgiving tradition

Orange is the new color of choice for a group of SAS teachers during thanksgiving weekend, as we venture to Changi airport with bags packed to the brim, full of a hodgepodge of donatable school supplies, translated Khmer posters, lesson plans, art kits, and the minimal pieces of clothes and toiletries to last us through the four day break. With our bright matching Caring for Cambodia t-shirts, we assemble in orderly lines at the check-in desks. We have our passports in hand along with neatly packed bags filled with kilograms of art kits donated by students from our elementary school students. We play the game of adding art kit bags to our check-in luggage hoping that the combination won’t go over our 30kg luggage allowance. We give big smiles and hope that the airline will be as generous in return with a bags that might go over a few kilograms. We are group you can’t miss- a sea of orange shirts.

This was my third year going back to Siem Reap, Cambodia with a group of about 20 teachers volunteering to train Cambodian teachers. I had a chance to work with 5th grade teachers from schools in Siem Reap. As I reflect on my time in Cambodia, I’m reminded that being part of this CFC trip has become my new tradition. A thanksgiving dinner that involves no big family gathering in my home in NY, but an impromptu, where should we eat in town for dinner, with a group of coworkers that have become like family. We find a nice restaurant, with cheap prices and good food, but no turkey or pumpkin pie. And there is laughter, because happy hour is truly happy when drinks are only a few dollars.

The day after thanksgiving, we wake up early, grab our breakfast quickly, all before 7am, not because we want to beat the lines for black Friday, but because we have another day of training. By 7:50am, we arrive at the school, starting another day of intensive heat while training and working with our Cambodian teachers in the classrooms with no fan. I’m always trying to stay hydrated and cool with capri pants and a light t-shirt, while the Cambodian teachers are in long pants/skirts and long button down shirts, and don’t seem to break a sweat.

Saturday is the day I look forward to the most. Our training is done and we get to visit the classrooms of our teachers and observe them teach. This is truly the highlight of my trip each year; seeing the teachers take the lessons we taught them, and adapting them for their students and classrooms in Khmer. I’m always not sure what to expect, but I’m always amazed.

Sometimes, living abroad means letting go of the old traditions and embracing the new traditions that start to form. So for that, I realize there is much to be thankful for. cfc-0434cfc-0444cfc-0436cfc-0465cfc-0512cfc-0523cfc-0580cfc-0504cfc-0491cfc-0576cfc-0555cfc-0573cfc-0561cfc-0553cfc-0567cfc-0596cfc-0446

caring for cambodia


This thanksgiving, I had the unique opportunity to volunteer through Caring for Cambodia in Siem Reap with a group of teachers from my school. We went as a team to train the local teachers in Cambodia. Thankfully we had amazing translators that worked with us, so we could present different lessons and teaching methods to the Cambodian teachers.

CFC and the teachers wanted us to focus on science this year for the professional development. We were divided up into grade level teams and given a specific content to teach lessons on. I was teamed up with a fellow colleague, and we worked with a group of fourth grade teachers from various schools in Siem Reap. We taught them about the different parts of plant and the plant life cycle. We prepared these four different lessons, made a whole bunch of resources (laminated charts, photos, etc…) and brought as much as we could.

One of the experiments we did with them was putting celery in water, that has food coloring in it. As we had them do the experiment themselves, the teachers told us how this was new for them. They didn’t really do experiments with their students. Some of the teachers told us that celery was too expensive for them to buy in the market and use for their experiment. Luckily, we had some extra celery that we bought that one of the teachers could use for his model lesson the next day.

One of the most rewarding parts of this experience was the last day, where we got to visit a few of the teachers at their schools. We went to four different schools in Siem Reap. We saw them teach one of the four lessons that we modeled for them. It was so incredible to see them taking what they learned from us and making it work for their kids and classrooms. Some teachers had classrooms of 60 students in a classroom much smaller than mine back in Singapore.

Even though they didn’t really have any science resources, except their black and white science textbooks, they were creative and resourceful. We saw them use the different posters and charts we used. We saw them incorporate the ice breakers we modeled. We saw them get their kids excited for science. After each lesson, we gave the teacher feedback. We made sure to let them know that their students were quite lucky to have teachers like them in their classrooms.

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The 5 Month Journey


During the last week of school in June, I decided on a whim to sign up for a half-marathon. I was gently encouraged to sign up from a few colleagues of mine before hand, who were planning on the running the race in Cambodia during Thanksgiving weekend. I fully blame it on the end of the year craziness I was going through, which meant I wasn’t thinking very logically or clearly.  After signing up online, and realizing what this meant, I started to feel the anxiety. In the following few months, there were multiple times where I convinced myself that I could always back out and not run in the race. I mean I would loose the money, but it’s ok, save the humiliation and trouble.

Fast forward many months, I’m down to less than a week until the half-marathon. It’s been quite the journey, training, and pushing myself to run more than I’ve ever run. Also, training in Singapore has proven to have it’s own set of challenges, like finding a good time, which usually is early morning or late at night to run outside in the tropical climate.  I’m not really sure how I’ve made it up to this point, since running is still not something I really enjoy doing.

This past Sunday morning, I had my last long run. We ran  19.3 km (12 miles) at East Coast Park. When we got there, it was still dark at 6am. The first few kilometers are always difficult for me. This time, as I started running, I wondered why I was doing this to myself. Around 6km, I had my chocolate gu (energy gel) and things seemed to get better. As I slowly reached the halfway point, I felt a glimmer of hope that I could make it.  I started to mentally count down the number of kilometers left, and I started to think about the end and what delicious foods I would eat afterwards…


Then, I was at about 16 kilometers, and I just felt like I couldn’t run anymore. My knee was bothering me, the hot Singapore sun was finally up, and I didn’t know how I could possibly run anymore. I kept drinking water and the second Gu I ate didn’t seem to help at all. I knew my friend I was running with was probably almost done and I had to finish. So I started to make smaller goals for myself. Run to at least to one more song, then walk, then run again until the end. I honestly wanted to cry or stop, but I knew the end was so close. That last two kilometers took all of my mental will power to keep going. As I started seeing the palm trees that lined the path towards the car park where we started, I kept running. I finally managed to finish my longest run ever, and felt ready for the half-marathon. So please keep me in your prayers as I run this coming Sunday morning in Cambodia!

Here are some photos from my early morning runs at East Coast Park. It’s definitely my favorite place to run in Singapore.


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Teaching in the Dark

This Christmas vacation, I had a chance to go to Cambodia on a missions trip through New Hope for Orphans. I taught Korean classes for a week, and my team mates taught English classes in a rural orphanage in Kompong Cham, Cambodia.

I didn’t know what to expect at the orphanage in terms of teaching. I assumed the students would all be beginners.

However,  I found out they had been learning Korean for a few months and could actually read and write a little.  My lessons that I made went out the window. I taught two one hour Korean classes a day, which honestly doesn’t sound like a lot. I mean I was used to teaching from 8:10 to 3:30pm everyday here in Korea. However, when you only have a dry erase board, markers and very limited resources, it can get very long!

The first day, around 5:30pm, the room I taught in started getting dark as the sun went down early in Cambodia. Eventually they would turn on the generator and one light bulb would try to light up the entire room. I still had trouble seeing clearly, as my eyes weren’t used to the darkness.

I started running out of things to teach during that first hour and I even I tried to end class early, but my Cambodian teacher and translator, kept telling me to go on! I scrambled through the old photocopied Korean workbook he had and found more things to teach. After that first night, I realized I needed to plan much more for those one hour sessions. I couldn’t just wing it.

The second day, I played bingo with them. I was teaching them numbers in Korean and I had them make their own bingo sheets in their notebooks. They loved the simple game. The next day, a few of the kids from the village came early and I saw them sitting on a gazebo like swing. I asked them what they were doing, and they were playing “bingo” with each other!

By the end of the week, I had a number of different fun things I did with them. I taught and played games like pictionary and bingo. I also taught them some origami and had them introduce themselves in Korean. The hour didn’t seem as long.

Now that I’m back in my classroom here in Korea, I do miss my Cambodian students a lot. I’m also really thankful that I have lights that I can turn on and off when I want.

They were all so engaged!

The Korean workbook that my translator used.

Teaching with my Cambodian translator.

All of the seats would be full!!

class photo