Orientation and Off to Host Families

Breakfast at the Frangipani

The last 24 hours have been exceedingly full for the Cambodian SSTers, with ongoing recovery from jet lag (switching their nights and days, with a 12-hour time difference from Goshen), a whirlwind orientation at the Hotel Frangipani, going home with their host families, their first night with their Cambodian hosts, a visit to the Graber Miller home (P’teah Goshen), and then an afternoon event known as Edutainment, with about 20 Cambodian students who want to learn English and half of our group (tomorrow the other half will go to Edutainment).

Students weathered these transitions remarkably well, thanks to the 19 very gracious host families and students’ own resilience and flexibility. Keith and Ann did a couple of hours of orientation with students on the Hotel Frangipani’s rooftop Friday morning, and then local assistants Sen Marya and Neang Nana offered input on cultural cues in living with host families and gender expectations within Cambodian culture.

Some of the students are sleeping on thin seagrass mats on tile floors, while others have floor mats and even beds in some cases. Most are sleeping with a host sibling. Some needed to learn how to take dump showers, or how to use new forms of toilets, and all are learning to eat new and exotic foods. Host families have been wonderful in helping students figure out new ways of living and being.

Several students (Seth, Maryn, Corey Sarah T) are being hosted by new forms of Cambodian families — groups of young adults living together in a home, often with several different sibling groups within the same household and parents living in the countryside. Many students have a number of young adults or teenagers in their homes. Some (Jacob M and Sarah L-R, for instance) have only small children. Some have tasks to do each day — helping Mom open up the market stall each morning and close it each evening (Brett) or helping his household run their small canteen below their living quarters (Seth). Renae, an American Sign Language student at GC, is living with a family with a deaf sister, so she has been communicating in sign as much as in Khmer, and is loving that sub-culture within a culture in her non-English-speaking family.

For the first time in leading nine SST units involving more than 200 students, the Graber Millers inadvertently sent a student home with the wrong family. Whoops. Lauren initially went home with Carina’s family, and when Lauren’s real family showed up a few minutes later, we discovered our error. Both families included an 18-year-old sister and an adolescent brother, so we mixed up the two hosts. Within an hour, both Lauren and Carina were with their correct families, and Carina’s mother told Laura, “I will always still be your first Cambodian mother.”

Today (Saturday) all of the students have dropped by P’teah Goshen today to check in with Ann and Keith, and most took a quick run by Psaa Tuol Tumpong (the Russian Market) to purchase schools supplies or to see what sorts of items will be available. Sunday will be a free day with families, with some students doing Edutainment in the afternoon with Neang Nana and others.

We are impressed with how well students were adjusting to the many changes they’ve encountered since leaving Goshen Wednesday morning. We told them today they’ve probably made it through the most difficult 24 hours of SST; one said, “If that’s true, this is going to be fantastic!” Some are missing home, but all are making their way around the city, grateful for their host families and peers and eagerly anticipating the coming days of studying and learning in Cambodia.

Photos in this post — and in many of the upcoming ones — will largely be taken by 15-year-old Mia Graber Miller, a budding photographer and videographer, with some supplemental photos by Keith.