Monday, February 28, 2011

The Best Teacher

The Best Teacher
Cambodia Blog 16
March 1st, 2011

This is an essay I wrote for a scholarship application about Cambodia and how I ended up here. I thought I would post it here.... it shows how I am feeling about life right now pretty well.

Homeschooling has taught me that the best teacher is the road. I learned history in the ruins of ancient Mayan temples and wandering battlefields in France. I learned biology on my belly behind a hill observing prairie dogs.  I have lived a life that counts the seconds until I can taste the air in a new country, until I can begin to pick words out of a new language, until I can throw myself into the arms of a new culture. I have grown up stretching smiles across the globe, and I have found the similarities gazing back at me more glaring than the differences. Because what travel teachers the attentive student is that we are truly human the world over. I cannot dismiss people from beyond my boarders as ‘different’. I have grown up with the world, and I believe the children I have played with around a language barrier, the children begging in the dirt that have haunted me, are my brothers and sisters. I also know, beyond all doubt, how easily I could be them.

The truth that I am no different from children that are dying of AIDS or starvation, or scraping out lives in dusty streets is an unsettling one. It means I am incredibly, inexplicably, indescribably lucky. To be born in a stable country to a family that loves me and supports me in all I do, to be given the gift of seeing and understanding the world from a young age has granted me a life better than any I could imagine. With this gratitude comes the realization that I can never deserve what has been handed to me from the moment of my birth. Why I was not born to an untouchable beggar in India I will never understand, but I do know that I cannot waste this life. I must show my gratitude for every gift I am given by reaching out to those who have nothing. This is the reason for my life, the burning inside my soul that keeps me going, and I have learned this from the road.

Homeschooling granted me the independence and courage needed to follow my dreams. I have always had freedom, weather it is choosing my studies to suite my interests, or being able to take a week off school for an adventure with my family. I have relied upon myself for adventure and entertainment, be it writing a novel in a month or a building fort in the woods in an afternoon. With all of this, taking a year before University to travel and volunteer on my own was no major leap but simply the logical progression of my life.

So I came to Cambodia. I came to teach English, to travel, to learn, and most of all to justify my existence. I came bitter with the knowledge of an unjust world and afraid of the apathy that so easily decays daily life.  I came unsure of my ability to make a difference, still wary of the distance between me and the world’s problems, afraid of the scale of widespread poverty and suffering. I am writing these words from New Future for Children orphanage in Phnom Penh, and I am writing them full of the knowledge that my life has meaning. I have spent the past four months teaching, befriending and being inspired by 50 amazing children. The children I have come to love have survived horrific abuse or lost their families to disease and poverty. They have suffered beyond sense, beyond my comprehension. Yet I have seen them grow and learn and heal, thanks to the efforts of good people who were willing to spend their lives righting injustice. I am grateful and fiercely proud to be a part of this.

Cambodia has given me the greatest gift I have ever received, that of seeing the change I can make. I have seen withdrawn children light up when they suddenly grasp a new concept, punch the air when remembering a difficult word, and surprise themselves with their own creativity as they write stories.  I am in love with going to work every day to know that I will do something that changes the world, even if it is something so small as a passed test, completed homework, boosted self esteem. Without New Future for Children the love and passion I see every day in the eyes of the kids would be crumbling into street dust. Instead, they are going on be engineers and doctors. Their hope is infectious. Living with young ones who have overcome the worst life has to offer I am inspired, and I am driven to keep others from suffering like they have. I know that I will live my life to continue this work. I will be fighting in other places, with other people slighted by a global economy of indifference. But I will be there, I will be loving and living and breathing my work.

My life is built to heal the invisible gashes created by injustice. Cambodia is a country of hidden wounds. You would not guess, passing through, that thirty years a dictatorship slaughtered one in four Cambodians, that behind the eyes of every smiling face is loss. Cambodia has just 20 psychologists for a population of 14.8 million where one in ten still suffer post traumatic stress. I have watched learned helplessness from decades of grief hold Cambodia captive. It is this inherited anger and depression that breeds the abuse, the poverty that has torn the children of NFC away from their families. I want to break down prisons more dangerous than physical walls -- the debilitating trauma ringing through people who have watched their homes razed and families burned alive. I have set my heart on working with refugees and the innocent who have been traumatized by war. This, for me, would be the ultimate success. This is what I breath for.

In a few months I will return to America, and I will launch myself into books to prepare for this life of adventures. I will study psychology and global studies, armed with a love of learning my mother imprinted in my bones, and a determination and passion for my work that I have learned from my travels. I am hungry for the challenges ahead. I am hungry for life, even as I live in Cambodia with more passion and clarity than ever before. Homeschooling has taught me to follow my own dreams  and allowed me the freedom to explore.  I have been given the greatest gift. I have learned first hand my place in the world.


  1. I am so glad that you posted this on your blog.

  2. Wow! This was beautiful and powerful. I really enjoyed reading it and have so much respect for you and awe in what you are doing and the difference you are making in the world.

    As the parent of three teenagers, my husband and I have only recently realized the benefits of removing our kids from the "traditional" system of learning. Reading something like this blog makes our quest to figure out the best path for their futures even more imperative.

    Thanks for your beautiful words. I look forward to reading more in the future.
    Cheers, Jinxi