PEPY Facilitates Student Exchange
By Miyu Inoue, Mayu Mizuno, Luis and Yago Molla, Leila Sakamoto, Shifat Taushif, and Anais Vermare.
This April ten students and teachers from Kyoto International School (KIS) and Kyoto International School Aomori Campus (KIS-AC) joined PEPY for an educational tour of Cambodia. The students and accompanying teachers had a marvelous time.
The students went to Cambodia to learn about a new culture. They discovered that although Cambodia is very different from Japan, there are still similarities too! “The thing that shocked me the most about Cambodia was the heat. It is so hot in comparison with Japan,” said Miyu Inoue, a Japanese sixth grader. “When we came to Chanleas Dai it was about 38 °C; while in Japan, the temperature that day was only 10 °C.“
Even with the heat, the experiences were extremely enjoyable and everybody learned about many aspects of Cambodian culture and its people. The students learned that touching someone’s head was impolite and that people eat with their elbows on the table. Seventh grade French student, Anais Vermare, said, “When we ate lunch with students from the PEPY school, we ate on the floor. It was weird and cool!” Despite the many differences, the KIS students soon discovered that people in Cambodia have the same smile that people do all over the world.
The teachers and students celebrated the diversity of cultures during a unique three-day student exchange at the Chanleas Dai village. Daniela Papi, the founder of PEPY, led the exchange. The first time the KIS students went to play with the Cambodian kids, it was challenging. The main reason was the communication barrier: the Cambodian students spoke English well, but they were still learning and it was hard to communicate sometimes. It’s a good thing Daniela is creative. She saw the problem, and quickly solved it. She made games where we could communicate without talking. We used our hands and some simple English words. These games were fun and easy to learn, and soon we were making friends.
Daniela inspired students as well as teachers on the trip. “I thought she was a great teacher – she always had a poem ready for the right moment, or a quote,” Shauna Fitzmahan, a teacher from KIS, remembered. Daniela especially liked sharing her favorite quote, “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Maria Antonia Perez was another great guide who inspired others to come alive with her passion. She had an idea that during the student exchange they would make a book about all the countries the students and teachers were from. They represented nine countries altogether: Cambodia, Japan, Spain, France, Bangladesh, Scotland, Canada, Colombia, and the United States of America. Maria also coordinated the group painting of the junior high school’s creative learning classroom to make it more exciting and welcoming. Miyu commented, “I liked doing the paintings with her. She taught us different techniques.” Yago added that Maria was always positive and had a great sense of humor.
In Chanleas Dai village, the KIS students stayed for three days at what Luis calls the “PEPY Hotel” on the elementary school campus. At night the students slept outside on cots with mosquito nets. Here they experienced first-hand what life was like in the village. At the “PEPY Hotel,” life was a bit difficult for the students in the beginning because of the different food, the outdoor showers, and the animals hanging around. “It was nice to have cows, chickens, and roosters walking around the school yard and the village,” said Luis, “but for people who don’t like animals, it might be disturbing.”
From the students’ experience in rural Cambodia, it seemed like life was hard and that children don’t usually go to school for very long and must work to help their families. This experience was unique and very different from what KIS and KIS-AC students and teachers were used to. “Rural areas are very different from cities where I used to live,” said Yago Molla, a Spanish ninth grader, “I was surprised to see animals hanging around with no fences and also little kids playing outside naked.” His brother Luis recalled, “This is an experience that I’ll never forget; it was so cool to hear all the animal sounds like geckos, insects, and crickets. The best thing was the next morning when a rooster woke me up at 5:00 am.”
After the student exchange, the KIS group went to travel and learn more about Cambodia. The highlight for some students was seeing Angkor Wat. They arrived near a big tree, where they could see the temple’s entrance with its long old bridge. Behind the entrance they could see three of the towers that make Angkor Wat so famous. The Cambodian people are so proud of this temple that they put it on their flag!
While they were approaching on the bridge, the towers seemed to grow bigger and bigger until they got to the entrance and couldn’t see them anymore. In the entrance they saw lots of stone carvings on the walls, but some of them were destroyed because the tourists touch them when they see them. This is a shame, because the carvings on the walls are one of the things that make Angkor Wat so special. They are handmade and are as perfect as if a machine had made them. One can even see some parts of the reliefs that had bits of red paint on the walls because the temple was painted with red a long time ago. On the way back to the bus, the students saw a lot of monkeys including a mother with its baby that got so close that they could have easily touched them.
Yut was their Cambodian tour guide. He taught them so many things about Cambodia. Everyone thought he was an excellent guide. He taught them about Buddhism and monks. They learned that monks are always peaceful, and they constantly think about the present. His great sense of humor kept the students engaged. They learned words in Cambodian, even how to say “hello” when addressing a monk. Luis said, “I learned a lot about monks through Yut’s experience of having been one.”
Another thing they learned was the many different foods in Cambodia. None of them had ever seen duck fetus before, and some students and teachers ate it. It tasted like a normal boiled egg. Yut also taught them how to eat bugs. Cambodian people love bugs as snacks. Sixth grader from Japan, Leila Sakamoto, said, “I learned that water bugs are like Cambodian popcorn.” They learned so much about Cambodia from Yut – he was nice all the time and kindly welcomed the students and teachers from KIS and KIS-AC to his country. “He taught us many things, and let us try different challenges.” Anais continued, “Yut took great leadership when we were in the cave. He checked if everything was fine. He was really nice.”
An excellent team led the PEPY tour. This team would not be complete without Aileen Cameron who made the trip run flawlessly. She corresponded with the teachers from KIS before the trip and while in Cambodia. She also made sure the rooms were ready at the hotel and that all the meals were organized. The students also felt she was their friend. She was caring and always patient. When they were hiking, she stayed in the back and made sure everyone got to the top.
Now that the KIS group has been to Cambodia, the group wants to share their experience with others. One way is by talking to others. By having a conversation, the group will be able to share what they did in Cambodia and teach others what they learned. Another way is by presenting the many photographs that the students took in Cambodia, so that others can observe what the students did in Cambodia. Yago said, “I want to make a presentation to show my parents what I did in Cambodia. We can share our experiences by talking, showing photos, and also by doing presentations.”
As well as sharing our experience, we want to do more activities. Different people want to do different things. Luis said, “I want to look for more information on Cambodia.” Fellow classmate Anais said, “I want to help the people in Cambodia.” The teachers Shauna Fitzmahan and Will Clowney want to help PEPY find other schools that would be interested in PEPY tours.
Now back at school in Japan, the students continue their studies of Cambodia. They composed this newsletter article to share with the world their experience with PEPY. They are also creating a picture book that compares Cambodia and Japan. They aim to share this book with their community as well as with the village of Chanleas Dai to teach others to celebrate diversity as well as embrace our common humanity.
Luis reflected, “This is an experience that helped me grow. I liked Cambodia so much that when we were going back to Japan, I promised myself that someday I’ll go back to Cambodia.”