Thursday, February 25, 2010

Teaching in Cambodia is a learning experience

February 25, 2010
By Adam Wisnieski
The Riverdale Express (New York, USA)


A trip to the poverty-stricken nation of Cambodia has led to dramatic changes for one Riverdalian.

“I’ve never worked that hard in my life, and I can’t wait to do it again,” said Helene Tyler, a Manhattan College math professor who spent the month of December teaching a graduate course at the Royal University at Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

The last Riverdale heard from Ms. Tyler, she was boarding a plane on Thanksgiving Day to help rebuild the education system of Cambodia, devastated during the reign of dictator Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge. Almost 30 years later, the country still relies on the generosity of volunteers such as Ms. Tyler.

Her three-week course in differential equations was different from any class she’d ever taught. Each of her 11 students had a different educational background, some with gaping holes in certain areas. Ms. Tyler had to prepare entirely new lectures every morning and spent every afternoon in stifling classrooms in order to get the lessons across.

“You know, a lot of people have asked if it’s changed my life, and I feel like it sounds kind of trite to say it, but it did,” she said while enjoying french fries at the Riverdale Diner last week.

Now that she’s experienced life on the other side of the globe, some of her priorities have changed. She uses the Internet less and loses patience with friends who complain on Facebook about waiting in line at Target for too long. Observing life carrying on in Riverdale is far different from watching children fight to survive on Phnom Phen’s streets by selling souvenirs to tourists.

“It was difficult because every bit of extraordinary beauty was right next to something extraordinarily ugly. On the road that led to the hotel we stayed at, the beach was this little shanty village. I just couldn’t believe that people live that way.”

Some of her students were so poor they slept in nearby temples with the monks, unable to afford the fare to get home to their families.

“They have a whole different attitude about everything. A lot of the drive to succeed is tied to an obligation to help their families,” said Ms. Tyler, “What they sacrificed to be in that class is unbelievable.”

They don’t take the opportunity to learn for granted, she said.

“I mean no disrespect to my students here. I have never had a harder working, more earnest, eager, hungry group of students anywhere. I didn’t work that hard when I was a student,” she said.

After her teaching was done, Ms. Tyler and her husband Ron Zwerdling traveled around Cambodia. They attended a traditional family wedding of a language instructor Ms. Tyler had befriended and visited the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat. To reward her students for their hard work, she treated them all to dinner at a nice restaurant. When she was leaving, the entire class showed up at the airport to say goodbye, regardless of how significant the cost of traveling there was for some of them. She boarded the plane in tears.

When asked if she would return to Cambodia, she said she hopes she will. Her husband has already been pushing her to return next year.

11 comments:

Sacrava said...

Thanks Angel Tyler.
We need more people like you to shape up Khmer Kids.

Sovachana Pou said...

I am touched by your didactic experience in Cambodia. My heartfelt thanks to you for being the spark and the flame of the students continuous learning.
Pou Sovachana

Anonymous said...

This is a great job.your contribution is meaningful and respectful. thank you. you must go back again to give those students of cambodia a golden opportunity to build their bright future.

Anonymous said...

Eat your heart out, Theary Seng.

Anonymous said...

Wouldnt it be great if there are more people like Ms. Tyler show up? There are a lot of good, Cambodian teachers here in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

A lot of talented Khmer professionals over here in the States. When it comes to helping Cambodia, it's too bad that they are only interested politic.

Anonymous said...

Somebody asked here;
Wouldnt it be great if there are more people like Ms. Tyler show up? There are a lot of good, Cambodian teachers here in the U.S.
10:13 PM

Why do always Foreigners have to help the Cambodian People?
Why other rich Cambodian People cannot help poor Cambodian People.

Why they rather let them die then to help them?

Why Cambodians in the USA usually not help each other like the Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese People?
(Yes I KNOW there are exceptions! Not all like this but most)

This is the reason that the Cambodian People are not successful in Life and Business.

Everybody is proud if there is a Chinese person as relative in the Family.
Why?
If a Cambodian boy have the chance to marry a pure Khmer girl or a girl have Chinese, half Khmer be sure he will jump on the mixed girl.

She is more worth! Better Family
and they know this.

As long as the Cambodians think so low about them self nothing will change in Cambodia.

Anonymous said...

1:42am,
All of your questions are logical. let me answer just one below:

Why Cambodians in the USA usually not help each other like the Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese People?
(Yes I KNOW there are exceptions! Not all like this but most)

I and my wife in US are doing well but I can't go to Cambodia like Ms Tyler and her husband, because my children and my grand kids are here. Unfortunatly we damn Cambodians (or Asians) always weight family member first over thousand of poors infront of our eyes who are crying for help. We Asians love Money and family members. Unlike white American family who adopted poor Asians children, we rather buy expensive houses, expensive cars, expesive university tuitions for our children and grand kids. We Asians in USA live in fear of not enough Money. Even our dead ancestors, we burn paper money for them so they can live well in the heaven. White Americans and my children borned in USA think differently. They wanted to go back to help the poors in Cambodia... they want to adopt orphans etc...

It is how we were trained. We are stucked with it. I heard no rich chineses went back to Mainland to help their fellow poor people in the 80's either...

Anonymous said...

It's not that I don't want to go back and hep the poor, first of all, I have to make a living by going to work 5 days a week. I want to make sure I support my own self first. Then comes, family, relatives, friends and so on. I want to explore what there's to explore in US. And believe me, there are so many places to visit. Now, you know why I can't go back and help the poor. I know it's a bit greedy. But that's life and you have to deal with it.
Unlike the poor people in Cambodia do nothing but complaints. They should find better things to do instead of having of a lot of kids. I'm sorry I'm off the topic, however, my question I want to know is, why do poor people in Cambodia keep having a lot of children?

SenBlue said...

The New Collection of Wallpaper
According to construction in Cambodia
construction materials said a collection of wallpaper was created for Italian.
Moreover this wallpaper is hypnotic, and need more energy; this model is full of color and pluri-dimensional.
One more thing this new wallpaper model comes to replace the grey spaces that become part of your lives.
Indeed, it will make you house full of artistic and more beautiful and you will feel relax and fresh to live in.

Eko Dinda said...

The Global Suites Hotel

Now we can come across a hotel with a unique style, which is the second one of the Global Suites chain, leading to furniture shop in Cambodia
construction materials highlighted.
By this way the location of this hotel is in an ancient building, and it has already been used as hotel before being reorganized in 2011.
One more thing this hotel is divided in two ways such as; ground floor, where we find the common areas such as reception, coffee bar and breakfast room; then three floors, where 25 bedrooms and a wonderful platform with a special view are located.