Thursday, December 2, 2010

HE IS GOD, and He is Good!

So I realized today that the entire month of November went by without a single blog post on my end. Sorry about that. When I left for Cambodia, I had this great plan to write every single week, maybe every single day. As most plans usually go, that changed.

Culture shock + starting school + becoming a Principal + meeting a lot of new, wonderful people = no time to write a blog. I wish that I could recap all of the things that have happened here over the past two months, but that would be virtually impossible. You probably wouldn't really want to read it, and frankly, I don't want to write it. Just because it would be really long, not because I don't want to share what has been happening.

But what I do want to do is give you a little picture into Life International School. I continue to be amazed at the sheer number of really wonderful, sweet children that God has allowed me to interact with in my short 25 years. Each and every face at LIS means so much to me, and each day that I get to spend with them, and see their smiles, is a great day.

Every morning we have a time of devotion, where the K through 4 classes come together to pray, listen to bible stories, and sing praises to God. We have been learning some new songs, and one of the crowd favorites is a song called "He is God." One of the reasons that kids love it so much is that the words are simple and the song repeats itself:

He is God, the one true God
There's no doubt, I'm going to shout it out
He is King, the one true King
There's no doubt, I'm going to shout it out.

Come and see what God has done
All the wonders under the sun.
Come and see what God can do
He's alive, in me and you.

There is so much theology packed into this one tiny kids' song, and it does my heart so good to hear all 120 of my students singing this at the top of their lungs each and every morning. In a part of the world where the predominant "religion" worships many false gods and idols, these children are singing the truth that there is ONE true god. In a country where a human king is revered above all other people, the voices of these children are reminding us that there is only ONE King who rules the Earth. They are reminding us not to doubt in God's goodness, and God's greatness. They are reminding us that this amazing truth and this amazing gift is something that we should be shouting out, all the time. They are reminding us to always be in awe of what God is done, and to always be looking for ways that God is at work in our lives. And finally, they are reminding us that through the amazing gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ, God is alive. He's living in me, and in you, and each one of these precious children.

I know that I personally need to be reminded of all these things daily, and so I am thankful for the gift of these children's voices. I hope that it moves something deep in your heart, as it does mine. I also know that right now, to these children, this song is just a song. But it is my prayer that as they grow older and mature, and hopefully come to know God more, they will understand the beautiful truths that they sang about when they were in elementary school. I hope that you will join me in praying this also.

Here is a video for you to enjoy. Please ignore the poor video and audio quality, as it was shot on just a mere digital camera. But the message is still there.

"And the Lord will be King over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one." Zechariah 14:9

video

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cocktails

"Teacher Megan, I like to drink cocktails."

Now, I am in no way a newbie when it comes to dealing with absurd comments from five year olds. And now that I teach a room full of English Language Learners, the risk for adorable, hilarious comments greatly increases. But the above sentence is something I was not expecting.

The statement was uttered by a precious little Dutch boy who speaks English, a little French and Khmer (Cambodian). His father owns a beach hotel here in Sihanoukville and apparently my student has been frequenting the bar with the guests, maybe when Mom and Dad aren't looking. All jokes aside, I seriously doubt that he is actually drinking real cocktails. He assured me that there was no alcohol in them. But don't worry, he could still describe them to me in full detail (for a Kindergartener). He really likes the pink ones and the green ones.

He is quite the chatterbox, and usually tells me about many things, but usually his conversation pieces include legos and computer games. As inappropriate as it probably is, I actually enjoyed the fact that he is taking our conversations to a more "adult level." But if he all of a sudden learns the name of certain gentlemen such as Jack, Jim, and Jose, we may need to have a parent-teacher conference....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Same Same But Different

"Same same but different" is one of my favorite sayings that I have picked up from the kids who sell bracelets on the beach. That and "Open your heart, open your wallet."

When they are trying to get you to spend money on what is essentially string they have braided together, they like to use their best English and marketing skills to make the sale. They tell you this bracelet cost $2, and then you say, but I only paid $1 for this one, its the same. And then they inform you "same same but different." Yeah, its the same but it's different, but mostly it's the same. I have been pondering this little phrase and have come to realize that it applies to a lot things here in Cambodia, especially at the school. Allow me to elaborate on some things I have observed:

1) There is still that one little girl in class who immediately decides on the first day of school that she is also the teacher, and will then commence to repeat everything you say and boss all the other students around.

2) The person who works the hardest and often gets recognized the least is the lady who works in the office. I'm just gonna go ahead and give a shout out to Romdoul (here in Cambodia), Ms. Wendy, Ms. Kidd, and Ms. Donna. All the greatest office staff I have ever known!

3) There is a general sense of mayhem and confusion the first two weeks of school.

4) Power outages are just as inconvenient and infuriating, even when you can pretty much expect a couple a day here. One major difference with this is that the power outages I dealt with in the states were a result of either hungry or bored squirrels. Here, they are just something else that happens during the day.

5) The school has one "passionate" (to put it nicely) parent who has many opinions about many things.

6) Meetings can dictate your day, whether you are planning around them or waiting for them to happen.

7) When children don't understand what you are saying or what they are supposed to be doing, they misbehave. Holding their attention, even when they don't understand a word you are saying, is a refined art.

8) Bakeries are wonderful and happy places that just smell like comfort. In Cambodia, and actually Asia in general, you may find some unexpected ingredients in what you may perceive to be a delicious pastry. Savory is often opted for over sweet.

9) The support and friendship of the people you teach with is crucial. It is more interesting and fun when you all come from all over the world.

10) People are nice. Especially when you take the time to get to know them. Once you do so, it doesn't matter if you are the same, or different, or the real truth: "Same Same but Different."

And bonus, they sell t-shirts here that say "Same Same." I'm hoping that I will maybe find one that says "Same Same but Different."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Extreme Makeover Classroom Edition: Cambodian Style

In this post you will find some visual aids as I regale the transformation of my classroom. This first picture is the view from where I live, the dorms of Life University. The small building with the red roof is Life International School. The larger building is Life School (a public primary and secondary school) and also house Life University Language Institute:

This is a close up of Life International School. My door is just left of center on the bottom level. Nursery, preschool, and Kindergarten are housed on the lower level, and Grades 1 through 4 are on the upper level.


Here are the "before" pictures of my Kindergarten classroom. I have to be honest, a few tears were shed at the prospect of having to completely redo and set up a classroom, especially since I spent the last 3 years at Center Point perfecting my classroom. Also, I made the mistake of looking in a lot of the other rooms of the school before looking in mine, and mine definitely needed the biggest face lift. The biggest obstacle was the large white circular desks, which we call offices. They were designed for the students to take tests in, but my room seemed to have become the dumping ground for all of the left over ones. It seemed like there were hundreds of them in there. I didn't foresee using them, but there was no way to get them out. I had to get super creative, as you will see in the after photos.



The above shots were taken this past Monday. After five days of moving furniture, and with the help of a pack of construction paper, a laminating machine, and $10 spent at the local book/office supply store, here are the results. I am pretty pleased with how things turned out. More importantly, I realized that there was no need to get worked up about being planted in a classroom with little to no materials and that isn't organized the way I want it to be. I've made it work twice now, and I can do it again if I have to. God is good, all the time, and I just need to remember that he will never ever give me anything I can't handle, as long as I am relying on Him.

Enjoy the after shots!
This is the view from the door. The "offices" pushed together on the right have hooks stuck to them and will be where the kids hang their backpacks. Notice the lovely birthday balloons on the back wall.

The front of the room and my desk. The desk in the other picture belongs to my partner teacher, who will be teaching the kids the Khmer language and will help me with translating, etc.

Renovated teaching area. More mats to come soon to create a large area where the kids can sit.

More renovated teaching area. Days of the week, months, and numbers were all made by hand. Other stuff is just bits and pieces I found in the room.

This piece of furniture, which was trapped behind a bunch of the offices, will be cubbies for the students to keep their books, home of the future classroom library (once it gets shipped from the states), and storage for materials.

Word wall (above) and behavior management system (below). Both mounted on the wall space that I created by pushing the white offices together. One bonus to this set up is that everything will be at the kids' eye level, which is ideal.

It's a definite improvement in my mind, but there are still several things I want to do. This will take patience though... but as I'm here for the next 2 years, I will have plenty of time to exercise that gift! I truly am excited about what the Lord will do in this room over the next two years.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Day in The Life...

Life in Sihanoukville is so different, and the things I so often took for granted in the states have become completely redefined here. However, at the same time, I am encountering new and wonderful ways of doing things. Here is usually how my day goes:

1) Wake up the sun blaring in our room. Normally, this wouldn't bother me so much, but when you don't have AC, it can get quite toasty before 7AM. In the week I have been here, I have definitely gotten used to it. I am usually amused by roommate (from Singapore) though. While I am sweaty, she is sniffly and blowing her nose. It's all about what you are used to and grow up with.

2)After waking up, I usually have to make a decision between showering, eating breakfast, or traipsing down to the lobby to use the Internet. Since my morning is evening in the States, it's a good time to talk to friends and family. I sometimes can accomplish all three if I wake up early enough, but it's not as simple as waking up, getting ready, and being connected to the world. It takes a little bit more effort here. As far as showering goes, its kind of a necessity due to the aforementioned night sweating, but most days I figure, "What's the Point?" I will just get all sweaty and gross again in a couple of hours. This argument usually continues for a good five or so minutes in my head. The outcomes vary.

3) Walking to work: I am thankful that pretty much everywhere in Sihanoukville is in within walking distance from my dorm. The school is literally at the bottom of the hill no more than 20 or 30 yards away. The real fun starts when it's time to go back up the hill, though.

4) Working at Life International School: This past week has been our "in-service" week, so I have been toiling away trying to get my classroom ready for the year. Stay tuned for another post with a more in-depth look into my classroom....

5) Lunch Break: This concept is completely foreign to me. At the school I taught at in America, I got a total of 20 minutes to take my class to lunch, make sure all my babies got their food, spend 5-10 minutes cooking my own food in the microwave, and eating. Here, lunchtime is much, much more valued, and I love it. Pretty much the whole country shuts down from 11:30 to 1:30. It's so relaxing and wonderful to have such an extended lunch break, and it totally fits with the laid back vibe I have gotten from Cambodia thus far. Aside from climbing the hill and 800 stairs back to my dorm room, my lunch break is absolutely glorious.

6) Afternoons: As of now, I am not quite sure what my afternoons will look like. Kindergarten students only come to school in the mornings, so I have the afternoons free for lesson planning, cleaning, or helping out in the office. Since we have no principal at our school, I am hoping to spend a lot of time in the office helping out and learning how the school operates. The school day goes until 4 or 5 o'clock, so afternoons will be busy, busy. But since we have such a luxurious lunch break, I'm OK with that.

7) Evenings: After a long day of work, and climbing the hill/stairs for the 2nd or 3rd time (depending on what transpired that day), it's time for another shower. We have been alternating between going out to dinner and cooking in our room, and both are quite nice. After dinner, the choices range from going to bed early (which happens a lot since the sun sets at 6:30), watching a movie/TV shows on the computer, or going to use the Internet. And then pretty soon its time to wake up and start it all over again.

This has been my routine for the past week, but I'm sure once school starts and I get more acclimated to the country, things will change a little bit. Overall, the way of life in Cambodia is much simpler and slower than life in America, and so far I like it. Occasionally I will feel rushed in doing something or getting things done, but then I just remind myself that no one else is freaking out, and if I hurry and get it done, I won't have anything to do later. Slowing down is an adjustment, but its a good lesson to learn. It has given me time to really focus on what is important in life.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not a Tourist

One thing that is kind of a problem in Cambodia, especially in the places where there are more tourists, is children that persistently beg for money and food. When I was in Siem Reap (the town where are the ancient temples are located), children there knew exactly when and where to be to bombard tourists and foreigners. They also knew exactly who to ask and what to say and how to manipulate people into giving them money. Begging is a lifestyle and a job for them, and many have perfected their art.

Everything I had previously read before coming to Cambodia talked about exactly what I observed almost instantly. They also consistently said that it was not a good idea for foreigners to give these children anything, because it just perpetuates the culture of begging. When I was in Siem Reap, I immediately took on the role of a tourist and avoided giving these children money or buying things. Not only that, but my heart was super hardened, and I wasn’t even kind to victims of landmines who also beg for money. It’s so easy to do in the US: when you see a homeless person on the street, you just walk on by. When you see the war vets that sit on the interstate and highway exits asking for work or a ride, you very tactfully look the other direction. At least, I know I do. And apparently I brought that terrible attitude with me to Cambodia.

But then I realized something. I’m not a tourist in this country. I didn’t get on a huge airplane to come here and ignore the people who need the most help. The next two years are not about me having all that I want and need, but are more about me sacrificing all that I have to help the people of Cambodia, and more importantly, sharing, AND SHOWING, the love and light of Christ.

When I really, really think about it, the task becomes daunting. There are millions of people in this country, and the majority of them are extremely poor. How, in two short years can I help them all? As much as I would love to pack every single street child I see in my suitcase and bring them home with me to take care of them, I know that’s not realistic. As much as I would love to just throw all my money out in the streets like candy in a parade, again, not very realistic. As much as I would love to buy 5 or 6 little bracelets every time I go to the beach, is that really the best thing to do? Ultimately, I want to be able to help these children, but not just by giving them money every time I see them, but by giving them a friend, praying for them, and hopefully being able to tell them all about the awesome gift of our Savior. THAT really is the best thing I can give.

I’m writing this not because I have found the solution to this problem that I want to share with everyone, but because I really am having a hard time getting my head and my heart to communicate on this issue. Thankfully, it is only day 7 here. I have like 728 days to work it out. If anyone has any practical suggestions or ideas to help these kids, please share!

Angkor What?



The very first thing I did once I got to Cambodia was to take a little mini-vacation to the town of Siem Reap. It seems a little ironic that I would start my two year stint in a third-world country on vacation, but that’s just they way things worked out, and it was definitely for the best. The most notable thing about Siem Reap is the ancient temple ruins of Angkor Wat and various other temples. Some of these Hindu/Buddhist temples have been around pretty much since Jesus walked the Earth, so it was really cool to see how they have stood the test of time. There are approximately like 87 temples (Ok, maybe not that many, but there are a lot) in the area, so there is absolutely no way to see them all in one day. I will most definitely be back, but for now, here are some of my favorite pictures from the day:







Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thank You!

The Date of Departure has arrived and I just wanted to let everyone know how thankful I am for the past two months. I have certainly felt the loving arms of the Lord through each person who has encouraged me, supported me and been excited for me as I have prepared to move to Cambodia. For all of you who are reading this who were able to make it to either the party in Birmingham or the service in Nashville, thank you for taking the time out of your lives to be a part of my journey!

I am so unbelievably excited that the time has come for me to finally get on that plane! Yes, it may cause a little bit of anxiety, but overall, I can't wait. Right now, I am completely running on the adrenaline that is created by the thought that in two days, I will be in a whole new place where I have never been before. I am longing for all of the new experiences and new people that I will encounter, and I long to share them on here. Stay tuned, the next broadcast will be coming to you from Cambodia!

Monday, August 30, 2010

20 Day Countdown Starts Now

I have approximately 480 and some-odd hours before I board that large jet plane that will take me around the world, thankfully in just two days and not eighty. Weirdly enough, as I literally and emotionally prepare to leave, I feel that I am here, and yet already gone at the same time. There are so many logistical things to do such as pick out the right luggage and get the right shots and pack the right way and say good-bye the right way and at the right time. Focusing on all these things and doing them "right" has had the alarming effect of somewhat isolating me from the life that I am living. I'm still here, but everything I do is in preparation for over there, which has somehow made me feel a little bit invisible and a little bit like I am already gone. I know this is silliness, because both places encompass my life right now, and I am not any kind of super-hero or magical being that can be in two places at once. I just wanted to express this weird feeling I have of being split between opposites: being here, but also being there. Staying, but still leaving. Being present, but also being gone.

On a more specific, and logistical note, things really are coming together. Flight is booked, packing has commenced, and preparations are being made in Cambodia for my arrival. I have had a little glimpse into the school through the never-ending wonders of Facebook, and I can honestly say that working there, and working with the people there is going to be wonderful.

My friends and I have a fun little habit of "Top Whatever Lists." Such as "Top 5 favorite moments of a trip" or "Top 3 things you love about your job." This past weekend, my roommate asked me what the Top 3 things were that I am most excited about in this new adventure. And here they are for your reading pleasure:

1) Getting to teach again. While my extended summer vacation has been great, I miss seeing little faces every day and the joy and laughter that comes with teaching young children. I will be so happy to be surrounded by 5 year olds again.

2)Meeting new people and building new relationships. If you had asked my parents 15 years ago if they thought their painfully shy daughter would actually be excited about meeting and talking to new people and strangers, they might have said "No way, she won't even call her friends to ask about a homework assignment." Well, I've come a long way since 5th grade and I actually do look forward to meeting new and interesting people and getting to know them.

3)Seeing what amazing things God will do for His kingdom through this job. When I took my first job straight out of college, it was just a job. Yes, God blessed me with it, but I wasn't really thinking about how his kingdom would be advanced through me and the work I did every day. Clearly, I have a new perspective now and I am just overflowing with anticipation of what God will do at Life International School over the next two years.

Those are all my random thoughts for now. 20 days to go!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Miss Kindergarten Goes To...

CAMBODIA.
That's right. Who knew that my love for kindergarten and my love for travel and other cultures would some day be combined into the ultimate adventure, taking me all the way to the other side of the world.

Ok, honestly, teaching overseas has always been something that I felt called to do, but I never ever imagined that my destination would be Cambodia. Mainly because most people don't even know where it is. I'm not going to lie, I had to look it up. Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia on a small peninsula with Vietnam and Thailand. See Map below:
So, that's where it is. Not to be confused with Canada, which I am about 90% certain is the country my hairdresser was envisioning when we were discussing this at my last appointment a few days ago. Bless her...you can't drive there.

I am so thrilled for this adventure that God has set before me, and I can't wait to share things on here. My hope is that the hilarity that so often infused my every day life at Center Point Elementary will carry over, and hopefully translate well, from Cambodia. I can't wait to meet my Cambodian Kindergarteners and share my life over there with all of you who either stumbled across this by accident or voluntarily chose to read it. I'll take either one.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Diva

For the past couple of weeks we have been preparing for our Kindergarten "Spring Musicale" (thanks High School Musical) and it has some developed some interesting characteristics in some of the five year olds I see every day.

First of all, they think they are just fabulous (which, of course, they are). I mean, your first time standing on stage in front of hundreds of people, singing at the top of your lungs, trying your best to get those adorable choreographed moves? Point to the audience, hands on your hips, snap in the air, bouncing back and forth. That is all a big deal.

In preparation for the big night, we have been practicing in the classroom. While the majority of them took it as an opportunity to be ridiculous, some of them took it very seriously. I wish I had this on videotape, but even if I did, I couldn't put it on here for ethical and legal reasons, although You Tube might pick it up. But one little boy is so devoted to the quality of the musical performances of Center Point Elementary, that he has decided to add his own improvisations to the end of each song. Think Whitney, think Mariah, think Beyonce, and even a little Jennifer Hudson. All from a little five year old boy voice. He even has the hand motions down and everything. And the best part is, he is channeling his inner-diva at the end of songs such as "My Backpack," "I Like School," and "The Months of the Year." I told him I would get him his own dressing room and bedazzled microphone.

When the performance night actually got here, they all arrived in their very best outfits. We the teachers quickly learned that little man vest outfits (pretty much the components of a tux minus the jackets) are all the rage. And they come in all different colors! Silver, gold, purple, you name it! I haven't seen that much synthetic material disguised as formal wear since I was in a department store in South Korea. But they were adorable. As we started to line up, the stage fright definitely set in. While walking my class into the gymnasium, one of my little boys took one look at the crowd, grabbed my head and said "Ms. Teegarden…." in the most worrisome and apprehensive voice I have ever heard him use, as he nervously eyed all the mamas and grand-mamas that he was about to perform for. I was more amused than anything, and of course just put him up on the stage with the rest of them. He eventually warmed up to the crowd.

And then, once all the kids were in place, ready to sing, the real fun started. For a good five minutes straight, all the mamas and aunties and daddies and uncles came up and literally stood right in front of where their child was standing, and just took pictures. It was like our own little version of the paparazzi or the red carpet. And even when the music was cued, and our precious music teacher began directing above the heads of the photographers, they didn't budge. Forget concert decorum. They were getting that close up picture of their baby. And the kids ate up every minute of it. They had their game faces on. They knew they were stars. And as entertaining as it was, it makes me wonder about this generation we are raising. Maybe a generation of divas.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stuck

This actually did not happen to a student of mine, but it was so entertaining I felt like I had to share it with the larger Internet community. Or the six people that actually read this, half of which are my immediate family members.

A little bit of information before the story starts: the school that I work at is a Title 1 school, which means we, the teachers, are privileged (or required, depending on who you talk to) to do many, many hours of professional development. This often requires us to leave our precious little angels with substitute teachers anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. You can imagine the kind of shenanigans that occur, especially when us leaving for said meetings has lately become like a bi-weekly occurrence. . .

Side note to this story: The principal came in my room to observe me teaching the other day, and some of the kids automatically assumed that she was there to teach/watch them while I left (they told me this afterwards, thank goodness). I actually think they were a little disappointed that they had to put up with my teaching for the rest of the day.

So, imagine a room full of 5/6 year olds with someone who is not their regular teacher. What would you do? Of course, you would try to get away with everything you KNOW you would not be able to get with if your beloved, regular teacher was present:

Dance in line and in the hallway instead of walking? That's a given.

Steal glue sticks and pencils and anything else you can find that is somewhat inconspicuous and take them home? Why not? Maybe you can sell them to your siblings and friends.

Tell the sub that you ride the bus when you actually are supposed to stay in the after school program? And then end up wandering around your apartment complex by yourself? That's a really good one.

See if you can climb through the hole between the back and the bottom of your chair? Absolutely.

And that is exactly what happened.

To a kindergartener, that small foot of space is apparently THE place to be. If you were of a certain size, wouldn't you want to see if you could fit in such an appealing hole? Wouldn't you want to see if you could actually wear your chair like you wear your clothes? Wouldn't you want your teacher to come back and be absolutely amazed at the feat you just accomplished? Wouldn't you want for all of the custodians and the computer teacher to come in and see if they could figure out a way to get the chair off of you? Because, bonus, it's a really old chair that simply won't come unscrewed.

Maybe other teachers and maybe even the principals would come by to see what you have done! Maybe someone will take a picture of you! Hopefully, if you're lucky, a first grader will stand outside the door and tell everyone who passes by your story—that you have defied the odds. And then, if you are really lucky, perhaps all of the adults in the room will finally come to the conclusion that they are going to have to cut the chair off you, much like victims of car accidents are pried from their vehicles with the Jaws of Life. How cool is that?!? If I were 5 years old, and had my whole life and career in front of me, getting stuck in my chair at school would be a pinnacle experience that I just would not want to miss out on.

One of my favorite sayings is "It's funny because it's true." And all these things are funny, because all these things are 100% true. I love my job.