Back when I was in year 11, I was placed in a neighbouring high school’s P.E Department, where I first experienced school life from a teacher’s perspective, apprehensively stepping foot in to the usually off limits Staff Room. My lasting memory however is being sent on ‘a fool’s errand’ by my supervisor who had asked me to immediately go and fetch ‘Joe King’ (joking) from class. Having searched the school high and low for the elusive, indeed imaginary student, it was the nurse who finally let me in on the joke. Pride dented, I trudged back to the staff room, stepped through the door and was greeted by a cacophony of laughter as teachers basked in the glory of their prank. Although the experience left me somewhat fraught, it did show me one thing - that in fact teachers weren’t always so serious, and that the profession might just be for me after all.
And so it was the turn of the level 10 students to create their own memories and leave their mark on the working world that they will soon be entering. In a process that was months in the making, 90 students set off to 37 locations dotted around Phnom Penh and beyond to see if the job of their dreams would match their expectations.
Though school internships might be a mainstay in Europe, it’s still a fledgling initiative in Cambodia, so not only was it a first for the school, but for the placements and bodies involved too. And while the task of anticipating and addressing every possible eventuality had been considered, there’s always something that can go wrong. And indeed it did – as early as the first morning at 7.00am with the bus on its way to Phnom Penh from Prek Thmey.
It conspired the driver of one bus carrying 50 students had no idea where the placement destinations on his map were. Having been called in late to replace the scheduled driver and not knowing Phnom Penh, he had by now parked up on the outskirts of the city and was refusing to move until someone directed him. With the on board passengers becoming ever more nauseous and bags filling fast, it was hardly the ideal start. Luckily with the help one of the girls’ knowledge of the city, the driver was directed to all the placements - so well in fact that he wanted her to remain on the bus for the rest of the day – a job offer and the internship hadn’t even started yet! Another unprecedented first! To everyone’s relief, students arrived unscathed, if a little late, and were ready to get going hoping for better fortunes.
In fact, when considering the rocky start, the rest of the week went surprisingly smoothly thereafter. The placements themselves were hugely successful in providing students with experiences that transcend the classroom. Across a wide spectrum of placements that reflected the girls’ own diversity of interests, the students were stretched in ways they’d never experienced before, and were full of praise for their supervisors’ support and passion. And if the only negative one student could point out was being laughed at by a group of monks for stumbling down a step, let the monks laugh I say!
At hospitals, students learned how to carry out CPR, give injections and apply dressings to wounds. Another student was given an introductory course on handling camera equipment, the process of making films and turning an idea into a motion picture. Some hoping to one day be tour guides experienced their country’s history through the passionate teachings of experts in the field. While at Sofitel, a luxury 5-star hotel, students welcomed guests and assisted on the front office. Immaculately dressed in their uniforms, students looked completely transformed, and not the slightest out of place in their plush new surroundings.
It wasn’t all luxury hotels and slick agencies however; others were introduced to the realities of working at a poorly funded and resourced free-hospital with patients requiring a diverse range of medical care. With each student placed in demanding situations that brought unique challenges, perhaps their ability to cope and persevere to the end is what stood out most impressively. Students navigated the most challenging moments and displayed characteristics that they will need in the future. Some have decided they want to change careers, which is natural, and part of the reason for the internship programme, but they now have a clearer idea of the tasks they like, don’t like and the new path they wish to take.
There was time to unwind too. ‘Dream Fridays’ at a graphics and publishing agency saw all staff attend work in fancy dress. And of course no visit anywhere would be complete without Selfies – as much a part of the culture as napping during the heat of the day.
The school aims to equip students with all the tools they’ll need to one day be active participants in continuing Cambodia’s growth, and the school internship was one of many steps that are being taken. The students received valuable experience to help understand the rigours of employment, and in turn the hosts acquired the service of motivated young people eager to prove their worth. Many of the companies have already confirmed their involvement again next year, and a couple are already keen for their intern to return on a more permanent basis! But, they’ll just have to wait.
Students discovered new opportunities and did things they wouldn’t usually do, met new people, learnt new skills, and for some, their foot is already in the door. Students were sent to the city and with the experience they received, have already stood out from the crowd, and that might just be the ticket to a future that isn’t a dream, but a reality. The Kingdom awaits.
Written by James