-by Nathan Gorvett
The SALT term is supposed to be a learning experience, a time to learn more about ourselves and a time to learn new skills. For me it has absolutely been just that. From the moment I took my first jetlagged step off of the plane, I have not stopped learning. I’ve learned (a bit of) a new language; I’ve had to get my head around new grammatical rules, about hierarchy taking place in language – Khmer has more words for eat than I can count depending on the subject’s place in society – and new ways to be rude without meaning to do so. I’ve learned a new culture; I’ve learned how not to talk to older people, I’ve learned how not to maintain eye contact. Although I speak in a sarcastic manor, I’ve absolutely loved how my term has gone so far. My host family has been amazing, my job has made me feel involved and being away from home has given me the chance to reflect more on the direction I want to take with my life.
A month or so in to my SALT term, I was placed in a Khmer host family, something I’ve never experienced before. I’ve only ever lived in a dorm or with my own family in Canada and suddenly I was thrust into living with a family I met once before. Between the speed of speech I was in the habit of maintaining and their inexperience with talking personally in English, communication was at first very difficult. As time has past, I have slowed down and spoke more clearly, and they have gotten used to hearing me speak – I believe that although some of the family has a decent English vocabulary, most of the bilingual members of the family had little experience speaking outside of a professional environment.
I’ve even gotten the chance to speak French a few times, something I haven’t done much of since Grade 6 when I left French Immersion (half the school day speaking French, the other half speaking English). Cambodia used to be a French colony, and although many Cambodians who spoke French were killed during the Khmer Rouge period, some older people who would have probably learned French in the same way Cambodians now learn English can still speak the language. My host father maintains a limited vocabulary from his time in the military that has come in handy when the host family is unable to find words for some topics. One of my most interesting experiences has been going out to the countryside to meet my host family’s relatives and finding that although one of the uncles is completely unable to communicate in English, he has maintained himself for many years (even though English and Khmer are the only two common languages in his area) as a very capable French-Khmer bilingual, his French undoubtedly better than my own.
I have felt a revival of my own use of radio as it is an easily accessible feature of the cellphones most people have. While internet news has been easily accessible, I’ve had a great time listening to BBC and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) as well as RFI (Radio France Internationale, which has a Francophone nightly radio broadcast, something I’ve had fun trying to keep up with).
Many of my evenings have been spent watching East Asian Television with my host family, recently there has been a Korean drama that has piqued my interest. Unlike a lot of Cambodian television, it feels like it has a lot of depth while keeping itself otherwise lighthearted. I’m sure I’m missing a huge amount of the plot because it’s dubbed in Khmer language, but even just following along with my limited ability to hear, and from what I can see, it’s very enjoyable. During the advertisements when we aren’t talking about things, I’ve tried to learn how to play the harmonica – my host family had one laying around that nobody knew how to use – having had a little success.