As the midpoint of January fast approaches and the indulgence of Christmas is over, we’re now working hard to maintain our New Year’s Resolutions to get 2016 off to a positive start. The festive food, parties and celebrations all seem a hazy memory, despite only being 10 days ago. Looking back to New Year’s Eve at Happy Chandara School, we were busy preparing a party to reward the girls for all their hard work over the past year. This could only mean music, dancing and a lot of singing!
You don’t have to walk down the corridors of the school for long to know that the girls love to sing. The four Level 10 classes sit adjacent to each other and at any time you might be treated to various choruses as you walk past. And so for the end of year party we English and French teachers were tasked with finding a song in our respective languages for our year groups to perform in front of the other students. Past hit performances included Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ and Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’. So after taking inspiration from these classics and trawling through YouTube, I decided on the disco favourite ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge.
Now, before I’m lambasted for choosing a track that barely scraped into the UK Top 10 and was written over 20 years before the students were even born, there was method to my madness. I chose it for the strong sentiments I felt were shared by the girls, who refer to each other more as sisters than classmates and the school as a big family. The lyrics “high hopes we have in the future… our goals in sight” rang true to them, not to mention it being a popular, feel-good karaoke classic.
I indulged in visions of the girls bouncing along to the music and spiritedly throwing themselves into the activity as they had so often done previously. They would get the whole party dancing and singing along in unison.
Oh how wrong I could be…
I’ve never seen such unanimous disagreement. Smiles sank and the bubble of enthusiasm had been popped, leaving sullen faces and bemusement. What on earth was this music and why had I played it? In the space of 4 minutes I had gone from being a well- liked English teacher to the one who killed Christmas. I desperately sang and danced to try and whip up some enthusiasm but no matter how hard I tried, it was clear that my judgement had skewed well wide of the mark on this occasion.
Knowing I had to rescue the situation quickly, I offered a shortlist of songs which they discussed between themselves, and to my relief, agreed on a winner. The verdict was Jannine Weigel’s cover of ‘See You Again’ by Charlie Puth, a song I knew they liked due to said impromptu classroom performances. Over the next 3 weeks the girls rehearsed and memorised the song by heart as they readied themselves for the big day.
Preceding the party it was a rush of students decorating the school with colourful paper chains and posters, as the anticipation grew. And when the day finally arrived – it didn’t disappoint. The afternoon was a celebration that reflected the vibrancy of Cambodia, with the girls’ performances firmly at the heart of it. Students performed traditional dances with captivating poise and sang popular Khmer songs, both of which were particular highlights of mine.
It was then time for each grade to perform the song they had been diligently rehearsing and enjoy their moment with the eyes of the school looking on. Thinking back to myself as an - at times - grumpy teenager, it was refreshing to see girls of all years cheering and vociferously supporting each other throughout. And never was the excitement more evident than when the year 8 girls were shown video highlights of their trip to Siem Reap - fits of laughter and roars of approval testament to how much the trip meant to them.
Teachers were presented with beautifully handmade cards by the students and then there was dancing. Lots of dancing! I was also ‘dragged’ onto the dance floor - not that much persuasion was needed - and didn’t even mind my weird Western moves being ridiculed: ‘What are you doing with your elbows Teacher?!’
Balloons were released to mark the end of the year, as everyone said goodbye to a successful 2015 which had seen the opening of the new high school and boarding house as well as the continued personal and academic achievements of hundreds of girls. We now look forward to 2016 and there’s plenty to be excited about. Work experience placements, new sports on offer, more school trips and the next group of determined level 9 students visiting Europe for an immersive English learning experience with OISE.
Although as an English teacher the degree to which my students can memorise the lyrics to Rihanna may not be my most primary concern, after experiencing the party it’s clear why the song choice was so important for them. I can only apologise to the disco greats of the 70s, my attempts to resurrect the genre in Cambodia didn’t go to plan. I navigated my way through some rocky moments, but needn’t have worried that the girls would soon been back on my side - I just needed to keep Beliebing.
Written by James