Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side?

Our Sergeant-at-Arms, Jonathan Moh, is a full-time English teacher by day and Toastmaster at other times. He recently undertook a work trip to Suong, a city in Cambodia to teach English to young students at a kindergarten and discovered a few things he had been unprepared for. Here, he shares his experiences with us:

I was very excited about going to Cambodia when my team mates approached me about the trip. The younger members of our team (myself included) did not know what to expect so we approached this trip wondering what we could gain and learn from it. The only information I got was that I should expect students from low to intermediate proficiency level in English. I spent my time preparing various materials and teaching aids to bring there. All I could think about was how much I could contribute to the students there. How wrong I was.

When I reached Suong, I was assigned to teach the English classes at the school. That was when the culture shock finally sank in. All I could do was to give the people there my biggest grin and silently pray that I would last the week. I shared my classes with a kindergarten and I taught my students in the open air. Soung is different from my idea of a “city”. Firstly, there was a lack of infrastructure such as tarred roads, streetlights and telecommunication. I had to watch my step whenever it rained and I was cut off from the outside world for a week. Apart from that, the weather drove me out of my mind as it was hotter than Malaysia which caused me to sweat buckets throughout the entire week I was there. Furthermore, the mosquitoes gave me nasty bites which itched incessantly. I scratched and swore as I had not thought to bring a tube of Mopiko for relief. Mosquitoes back in Malaysia feared me but the mosquitoes here were of a different kind, the more vicious and tenacious kind. However, despite these difficulties (at least to a city kid like me), it was balanced out when I looked back and saw those gems of goodness I picked up over there.

They say money isn’t everything. On the other hand, I believe that money influences everything but it cannot buy the opening of my eyes during my stint in the Kingdom of Wonder. Despite the condition of the classroom and other shortcomings, I saw a burning desire within my students to learn what I knew of the English language. At that moment, I knew I cannot do them injustice by going through the motions of teaching. They gave me their all and full attention despite their low proficiency in the language. Furthermore, I found bright flames within some of them who showed a good command of the language despite growing up in an environment which does not provide adequate opportunity for them to practise the language. If only my students back home had just half the desire and interest to study the language. My students opened my eyes that week. I finally found my calling as a teacher in this land. I am called to teach, to stand against the darkness of ignorance as a teacher of the English language. I found there was not much difference between my Malaysian and Cambodian students once we look closely. We all have our own set of problems to face but we share the same hopes and dreams of getting a good education, raising a family (although this is the last thing on my mind) and making a good life for ourselves. Apart from that, I learnt to be content with what I have here in Malaysia. Our country may not be perfect but at least we have good infrastructure, a promising economy and a myriad of working professionals from different walks of life working to contribute to the development of our nation. Furthermore, I got to know my teammates better as I barely talk to them in church. I was heartened to know that there were 3 active Toastmasters on the team including myself and a former Toastmaster from Pharmaniaga Malaysia Toastmasters Club. Furthermore, all 3 of us are currently serving on the Executive Commitee of our respective clubs. We had the Vice-President Public Relations of Friendship Toastmasters Club, the Treasurer of HELP College Toastmasters Club and the Sergeant-at-Arms hailing from D’Utama Toastmasters Club (no prizes for guessing who) on our Cambodia team. We learnt of our different strengths and limitations and we helped and assisted the school in our own way, be it organizing the kindergarten graduation day, being the official photographer or just teaching English. We got useful tips too from our former Toastmaster on crafting humorous speeches and he was a mentor to all fo us as he had been helping this school from time to time.

All good things come to an end though. The week was over quickly and with a heavy heart, I bade all of my students goodbye before leaving for the airport. As I sat in the plane, I reflected on the times I felt humbled by my students’ simplicity and refusal to give in to the challenges they face. When there is a will, there is a way they say. I now see my country in a different light now. I shall choose to be content with what I have and I shall strive to make a stand for what is right. With that, I saw a rainbow among the clouds from the window of the plane, a symbol of God’s promise. The grass is not so green on the other side after all. And will I go back to this Kingdom of Wonder? You bet I will and that is a promise within sight of that rainbow.