Teaching culture: from bucket showers to the backstroke

Posted on: June 30, 2009 Posted by: Kaia Smith Comments: 0

Teaching culture: from bucket showers to the backstroke

by PEPY Teacher Trainer, Kyla Solinger

Tickets are finally booked and 4 Chanleas Dai students and 2 PEPY staff are going to camp! Now we come to the preparations… Where do you begin when preparing four children from rural Cambodia for the USA? They’ve never even been outside of their province before, let alone the country!  Asked to help prepare them for the differences in culture they might encounter, I went back to the beginning:

For those of you that haven’t seen a Cambodian shower, it’s not what you might imagine as a shower. You use a pump and a bucket, wear a sarong and you are, usually, clearly visible to the rest of the household, if not the village.  The kids looked at me with horror as I told them that hot water would fall on them like rain as they stood naked in an enclosed space! Imagine the further confusion when I showed a picture of a western toilet and gave details of where to sit and how to flush. I even explained to the boys how to be little gentlemen and always lift the seat.


Possibly the look of upmost dismay came when I broke the news: “There won’t be rice at every meal.” This crushing statement was met with incredulous eyes that prompted me to plan another workshop based solely on classic American cuisine. The objectives of this workshop will be, ‘How to make, and enjoy, a delicious P&J sandwich’.

If you’ve ever been swimming with Cambodian children you’ll know that although some are fearless and fast, most cannot swim and have no knowledge of different strokes (not in the water, nor on the TV). What fun we had as the classroom became our swimming pool and we tried out backstroke, free style, and dead man’s float. 

One of the areas where our kids will have the heads up over the others will be cabin life. Where as most kids would be perturbed by the fact that the cabins are without electricity, these kids looked at me with an expression that said, “No problem! What’s new? I can handle that!”  I’m asking the Chanleas Dai representatives to be patient and understanding of their cabin mates who will be stumbling around in the dark, bumping into things.

Needless to say, they are learning a lot and are getting ready to tackle a strange and wondrous place. My impression is they still view Vermont as another planet with strange habits and even stranger food but they’re looking forward to their expedition!