Week 1 – In country orientation

We’re one week in and have just completed our in country orientation (ICO) training , which took place in Kampong Cham. All 80 volunteers (half Khmer, half English) that will be working with VSO this summer stayed in Leapviksar Hotel to take lessons in language and development work.

The Khmer volunteers are all studying in university [only 10% of Cambodians who enroll in primary education reach higher education], many majoring in sociology and social work. The level of English they hold varies whilst the level of Khmer held by English volunteers is consistently awful, and so conversations are filled with mime and paraphrasing.


A temple in Kampong Cham


The highlight of this week was most definitely learning Khmer and meeting all the volunteers.

Khmer is not an easy language to learn as an English person because of the various sounds that are not present in the English language – the converse is also true, and we’ve found the phonetic ‘f’ is something they find difficult.

To give you an idea (spelt phonetically):

How are you?                                    Sok s’bai dtey?

Belt                                                        K’saekraawat

I am a volunteer                               Khnyom chea nek-smaak-chiat


It’s very difficult to learn, and as I’m in Stung Treng many people will speak Lao rather than Khmer, however everyone loves it when an English speaks Khmer so I’m trying hard even if it’s just for the comedy value. It should still be useful in the host home, where they won’t speak much English, and it is also great for bonding with our counterparts.


Mona and I

My counterpart is Mona – counterparts are national volunteers we are paired with to live together in the host home. Mona is very kind, and calls everyone brother and sister; She would like to own her own business one day and studies English every night very hard. Today I tried to teach her to sing ‘1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive’ and the resulting disorder was entertaining.


All sorts of vehicles can be found on the roads

As a part of the social side of ICO we explored Kampong Cham town, visiting pagodas and taking tuk-tuks; the roads are absolute chaos and there are two markets which feature a multitude of colours, smells, foods and smells. People generally stare at us as we go past, most likely because there aren’t many white people in the area, but will return your Khmer greetings with a smile if you make the effort. Children often wave and say hello when they see you, and are delighted when you do the same.

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I’m actually enjoying the humidity (my hair isn’t) which is a surprise, and I don’t find the heat too bad except at midday when the sun is at its highest. A common phrase amongst the English volunteers is ‘I blame it on the heat’ whenever we’re making silly mistakes – mine at the moment is confusing everyone’s names (even though I knew them before). When it rains it’s excellent: the temperature drops to 28° and you get soaked to the skin by fresh feeling water.

Rain rolling in

Today the group divided into our individual teams and headed out to the provinces where we will be working, so I am now in Stung Treng town for a night before I head out to stay with my host family!