SamesamebutDifferent in an International School

We might all speak English but clarifying questions are essential.

Cover teacher, supply teacher, temporary replacement teacher, relief teacher (all one and the same).

Assessment: in some countries the focus is on summative assessment, so plenty of clarifying needed around the assessment of learning (summative), as learning and for learning (formative). Everyone needs a reminder that a tree doesn’t grow just because you measure how tall it is.

We all eat three meals but what descriptor is used for which meal: breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, supper…… and ‘in betweens’ called snack, morning tea, recess. And remember, the main meal of the day is very different in different cultures. Furthermore, the time we eat is different. Everything is earlier here in Cambodia. White tourists may still eat out after 7pm, 5.30pm is more standard for locals to eat.

’This year and next year’. Australians refer to the calendar year but  most in the HOPE school community refer to the school year which now means for me next year starts in August (problematic when I am thinking I’ll have things in place for next year…..time is running out).

Seasons: in Australia, Summer is a clear and evident season. Cambodia only has two seasons: wet and dry (currently…. hopefully…the start of the wet season). But with so many northern hemisphere connections school will go on Summer break in late June and return for the new year in August. As for Spring and Fall, they are talked about but make no sense to me at all in this context.

Dressing for work: while I aim for SMART, I don’t always achieve it. There are some practical considerations: riding a motorbike to work doesn’t lend itself to pencil skirts, heat and humidity means one layer  is enough and gravel, mud and water (in the wet season) make heels impractical. Makeup is minimal as sweat takes its toll. And currently I am a swimming teacher for 6 lessons a week so happily PE gear is quite appropriate.

I live in the world of testing and examination acronyms! ISA, PSAT, WIDA, IGCSE, IB, CAT 4, GPA … name a few. What is important depends on your pathway. Some of our Year 12 students receive unconditional offers based on internal school results, for others the transcript (with a grade point average calculated from year 9, 10, 11 and 12 results) that is key. Timely and valid assessment is critical. And if you happen to be returning to Korea it is likely they will ask for your primary school reports also!

I continue to learn that I must speak slowly and clearly. Whilst our language of instruction is English, for many staff and students this is their second or third language. Current teaching staff come from America, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, England, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Korea, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Venezuela.

Our student body comes from more than 30 Passport countries.

BUT there is so much that is ‘same same’. Children are children. Mostly nice, some more conscientious than others, occasionally naughty, sometimes unkind, but largely enjoying school and wanting to do their best.

A difference relates to their thankfulness. They have a clear and evident understanding that education is a gift and an opportunity that is still not available to everyone. They understand that their teachers have made personal sacrifice to be here and that their parents make a sacrifice to access a HOPE education.

It is their open and regular expression of this that becomes part of the encouragement our staff need to keep going when the going gets tough. Our staff here are clearly ‘called’ not ‘careered’ but they are still human beings who need to be affirmed.

CHERYL FLIGHT.                                                                                 SECONDARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL                                                   HOPE School                                                                  

STAFFING AT HOPE UPDATE                                                                  We have had some successful staffing interviews and have now filled our Primary School teaching position, one middle school specialist, an English/SOSE teacher and an ELL support teacher.

We are still without a Siem Reap Principal, a Phnom Penh Primary Principal, a music teacher, a PE teacher, a Business Management teacher and a Maths/Science teacher. We also have two maternity leave positions: High School Art for three months and a teacher/librarian for 6 months.




So how do things look different: Year 2 in Phnom Penh

  • We no longer take running water and electricity for granted. The Prime Minister has just announced daily power cuts for at least the next three months. Selfishly we are not so concerned if they happen during the day while we’re at work (where we have a generator) but imagine the plethora of small businesses whose livelihood will be compromised. The plan is 6 – 12 on day one and 12 – 6 on day 2, on rotation. Overnight it is not so great. Last night power was off (for unknown reasons) – not part of the scheduled cuts.
  • About 70% of our staff have no running water in their houses, and haven’t had now for more than a month. A drought year and poor infrastructure have combined for the ‘perfect storm’ (no pun intended) to ensure that without a household pump you may have water to your front yard, but not into the house. Fortunately for us the situation in our Borey at present is OK. No great pressure, but we can still shower and flush inside!
  • We don’t talk about the weather much. There is an element of wondering when the rain will come, but otherwise each day is simply ‘hot’ so there is little point commenting on the temperature otherwise. Temperatures didn’t go below 32 degrees in the December/January cool season!

From the Phnom Penh Post.                                                                      ‘The statement, which cited a government directive on water preservation from last Thursday, said Cambodian weather is set to be heavily influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a weather event involving a cycle of warm and cold temperatures impacting the tropics and subtropics.                                                                                                  During El Niño, temperatures can rise to highs of 42 degrees Celsius, with very little rain. This will result in the government issuing a cautionary statement on Thursday which raised concerns about the possibility of a drought in the Kingdom in April and May’.        

                                                                                                                          This of course has significant implications for the many rice and other agricultural producers here in Cambodia.

  • We are enjoying improved access to some local facilities. There is now an Aeon 2 Mall (named after the original which is located  in city central) within 15 minutes’ ride of us. This brings all the trappings of a western style mall with an Asian flavour. There is a supermarket, many small stores; from designer to the equivalent of ‘cheap as chips’ (here called the 7900 riel store i.e $1.90); a cinema where we were fortunate to see ‘the Green Book’ recently; and numerous coffee and eating options. In addition ‘Global House’ has opened and is something like Bunnings and Home Hardware with some Myer and David Jones thrown in for good measure.                                          Who would have thought that wandering in a mall could become a chosen pastime…… but the air-conditioning is a drawcard!
  • Work continues to bring new and interesting opportunities. David has continued to make further facilities improvements: netball court marked and posts made; new preschool play area built, fenced and equipped; cladding around the external courts…. and new role as ‘art assistant’ while the Middle schoolers recently worked on a wooden toy project in Art.          I am working with our staff to finalise our transition to a more effective reporting system, upskill people in working with students with various learning needs and facilitating sessions to look at more progressive pedagogical approaches.

Our biggest work stress point is a lack of staff applicants for the new school year starting in August: we are still seeking a Primary Principal: a Principal for Siem Reap: three primary teachers: a Business teacher: middle school maths/science/English/SOSE – two positions: Music: drama: English Language Learner coordinator and teacher and a Learning Support coordinator…. and two maternity leave replacements in Art and for our Librarian. Oh, and our IT Manager is leaving!                                                                                    If anyone has any interested contacts, please share or pass on my email ……                                                         otherwise life may be a little busy for any blog updates for next year.


Cheryl Flight                Secondary School Principal                                                         HOPE School        Continue reading


Keeping it ‘Riel’ (currency of Cambodia 4,000 riel = $US1)

So, we are one year on and as David and I reflected over Brunch this morning we thought it was important to be real in terms of what living in Cambodia means for us.

What is hardest?

Not being with our family and friends. It is challenging to be distant as people at home continue ‘doing life’ and we miss being part of it. The incidental conversations, time to ‘be’ in one another’s space, sharing in the highlights and lowlights, just journeying together. We have lovely people to live and journey with here……but it is not quite the same as those who know you so well that you don’t have to share conversation to be on the same page.

What is easiest?

Not much to be honest, but it is ‘easy’ in that we know that we are in a place and space where we can contribute in a real and useful manner. Having said that, things are only not ‘easy’ because many things are just a bit different from home. In reality we have a comfortable place to live; a fantastic workplace; access to good food; transport; a lively church community, opportunities to get out and about, a skilled hairdresser; someone who comes to clean our house; someone who will not only cook for us, but deliver the meals hot to our door for a fair price; and we are surrounded by caring co-workers and school families.

Highlights of the past year

  • Hosting family and friends to introduce them to our school community and our home town of Phnom Penh. Seeing our kids at Christmas was a particular highlight!
  • Seeing some good progress in various areas at work. David has made some amazing progress in different areas of the facilities,  building on (pardon the pun) the work of those who have gone before him. I have had the chance to refine various areas of our schooling approach, and I am pleased to see a stronger consistent focus on good teaching and learning. Student voice in the school is growing and care for the health and wellbeing of students and staff is at the forefront of decision making.
  • Travel opportunities:  we have had the opportunity to spend extended time in Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka this year. For the first time in our working lives our holidays align. I have also attended professional training in Singapore and Malaysia. It is wonderful to expand our understanding of this part of the world.
  • Working with students, families and staff from around the globe.We are so much richer for the multicultural community we are in; we have learned new education language – task, cover, set… and the fact that I inevitably use Australian colloquialisms that draw blank looks; new food – river snails were not a highlight, new cultural traditions – Water Festival, Pchum Benh; new expectations and new things to laugh at!

And finally, keeping it ‘riel’ we continue to live a relatively wealthy existence. While we work at a mission school and receive a living allowance rather than salary, when I checked on the Care Global Rich List calculator this morning, our combined income continues to put us in the top 4% of income earners globally. We know that we are living far more comfortably than many of those in our immediate community as our life includes so many elements that are still inaccessible to many here in Cambodia:  we have electricity (and air con.), running water, a home which does not flood, access to health care without needing to pay before receiving service, access to three meals a day, and enough income to take holidays, eat at restaurants and pay for recreation.  We are indeed fortunate!



Cheryl Flight

Secondary School Principal

HOPE School.     


So what is it like to live in a country with rainy season? (especially for an expat. who lived in the driest State on the driest Continent!)

  • The rain is REALLY impressive. It is like someone is upending a bucket for sometimes hours on end. No light sprinkling here. I think the expression is ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’.
  • We wish we had a car (a moto is a challenge on the best of days)because getting soaked isn’t fun.
  • We are grateful that when we are soaked we come home to a dry house and a shower. Many of our dear neighbours do not have either of these luxuries. We have a whole new appreciation for town planning, gutters and storm water drains….. which are still noticeably absent in so many of the outskirt areas of Phnom Penh.
  • We are grateful that when our Borey was built some thought was given to these things. School staff living in another area quite close to school (an area considered somewhat more upmarket than ours) quite literally need to wade through water knee deep (or wear their gum boots) on afternoons after the down pour.  And it’s NOT pleasant as it collects all refuse and sewage.
  • Initially we were making decisions to ‘not go out’. We’ve now realised that, short of becoming house bound, this simply isn’t an option. Instead, we don the rain gear (my 2000 riel Poncho (69c Aus) has served me well) and get on the bike!! Just occasionally we book a Passapp – the local Uber like tuk tuk option …. but chances are we’ll still end up pretty wet.
  • The road to school is even more treacherous. During the dry season it is a dirt road full of pot holes, made worse by the cement trucks that use it as a cut through. During the wet season it is now muddy and full of pot holes…. which, after about half an hour of rain, become invisible. This meant that one morning we were part way to school when David hit an unexpected ‘hole’ and in one of those ‘slow motion but not slow enough to do anything about it’ moments we both ended up in the mud. On many other days we arrive at school with a liberal muddy decoration as passing vehicles are no respecter of those who are walking or on bikes. Two classic quotes from recent visitors:  A visiting book rep., an older lady, arrives and says ‘your undercarriage certainly needs to be intact to manage that road’, and a visiting girlfriend from Canberra tells me ‘You should have mentioned that I need to wear my sports bra when I come to visit your school’.
  • My walking to school days are over for now. I can’t jump puddles as big as the ones on the road. Some days a boat would be a better option!
  • I’m not sure of the origin of the expression ‘like a drowned rat’,  but the rain brings out the live ones, and we seem to have to clean up the dead ones more often. Thankfully, the closest they have come to our house is in the front entrance area; none inside to date.
  • The level of the nearby affectionately named ‘black stream’ rises and, with the higher levels, the fish and crabs ‘plop’ out on the road. David’s theory is that they’re using it as their chance to escape, but of course, they just become a more readily available dinner for someone!!

Mercifully the rain brings the temperature down somewhat. It is actually quite nice opening the window and using the fan to draw the air in.

As this is our first year, we are still not sure how long this season lasts but most tell us it could rain through until the end of October. Like the quote says ‘life is not about waiting for the storm to pass….. it’s about learning to dance in the rain’.

Here’s to the Flights learning to dance!

Cheryl Flight

Secondary School Principal – HOPE School


EXPAT REFLECTIONS: Same same but different

We eat out  – but we don’t have the variety we had in Australia. Our favourite local is Jars of Clay, a local NGO (non-governmental organisation)but we are slowly building our ‘favourites’ list and look forward to sharing if anyone wants to come to visit us.

We get take-away – in fact even more often than before. We have worked out that it is cheaper to buy meals prepared for us by a local – LIM – who is trying to establish a catering business than to cook for ourselves. We love her eggplant lasagne or chickpea curry, or fish amok and, at $3 per serve, we’re not cooking. (Amok is a traditional classic Khmer dish, a curry of chicken, fish or vegetables steamed in banana leaves topped with coconut milk). Noy Noy’s noodles has just opened so $2 for a dozen dumplings is going to be added to our menu.

We exercise…. but walking isn’t an option. It is hot, sticky, and somewhat dangerous with no footpaths in our part of town. Hence exercise is at the gym two or three times a week. It’s very western except that the clientele is mostly Chinese and Korean and it’s hot because the air-conditioning is set at about 28 degrees.

We go to work…..but now that we work together the work meetings continue over the dinner table. Our hours are also somewhat different. We usually arrive at about 6.45 and leave between 4 and 5 pm.

We watch AFL……on Australia Plus and enjoy having others over to watch with us. Last Friday we had an extra 7 adults and 4 kids to watch the Sydney game – a mix of Australians, New Zealanders, Cambodians and Canadians!

We watch Netflix (same same) and can recommend ‘Money Heist’, a Spanish series we have just finished.

We have friends….but miss those who have been such a regular part of life for such a long time. Our friendship group is diversifying, both in age and nationality. We have even managed to connect with some Americans:)

We have a social life….. but are usually home by 9pm.  This week we went to a Charity Concert at the Sofitel and we didn’t get home until 10! A VERY late night. Late because days start early and late because we are so far from the centre of town that drivers don’t want the fare to bring us home at that time of night. Our area is not perceived as being particularly safe. (And it’s not just us. Even the younger staff members are ‘done’ by this time).

We drink Cider…..Brunty’s is the brand of choice.  And David still drinks Coke.

We communicate with those around us…. but I am ashamed to say that for me if it is not in English, it is often limited to single words, or maybe three word phrases. I’m working on it.

We work with lovely young people….no difference there. Young people are young people the world over.

We work with young people in transition….bigger difference there, as kids have to learn to cope with different countries, living conditions, education systems, lifestyle, food and climate.

We drive places ….on a moto. This means we get hot, wet (it is now wet season so SOAKED is closer to the point) and have helmet hair.

We are getting to know our neighbours……. who, like at home, love karaoke. Unlike at home, many social events are held in the street so people are very quick to invite us to join. Last week it was a four year old’s birthday party.

We get to go on holiday…. but now, working together, we have longer holidays and at the same time. This means that in the coming ‘summer break’ (an ironic name because it is not summer here but it is somewhere in the world) we can spend a whole month exploring Sri Lanka together.

We miss home and friends and family, but there is enough ‘Same  Same’ in our life to keep us sane and here!

Postscript:  for those who keep in contact on Facebook. Due to a recent theft I am now without a phone and cannot remember my Facebook log in. We love to hear news from home so either ‘friend’ David Flight or email me (Cheryl) on  





Living life as a ‘Barang’

This is the name that Cambodians give to Westerners. It goes back to the time of the French Protectorate. It is still used as a respectful way of addressing a person, as opposed to the quite pejorative ’youn’ used for the Vietnamese.

While we try to learn from those who have gone before; aka the Chinese proverb ‘Others’ experience is a lantern one carries on one’s back’ we have learned that expatriation is a game with no written rules. We try hard to not have “binary vision” leading to a view of two worlds, ‘ours and theirs’, but often we seem to fall unwittingly into the trap that ‘we know’ and we are constantly checking ourselves for perhaps harmless, but nevertheless insensitive, comments like commenting on the driving here ‘where Cambodians do everything against common sense’. Like the children I teach at school, there are some thoughts that are better staying inside our heads!

As Phnom Penh ‘Barang’ we are only partially integrated. It is still not unusual to see us head to a fashionable downtown cafe for a Saturday brunch treat.

While we do not live in an expat enclave, we are clearly in a middle class Cambodian Borey, as is reflected in the number of cars, home helpers and air cons! We love mixing with the locals at the market and happily spend our days with our Cambodian co-workers, but the reality is that most of our recreation time is still spent in the company of those who speak English as their mother tongue.

We have tried to learn some language, but I don’t think my string of random phrases cut it! For Cambodians, a foreigner who speaks Khmer is a person who is attempting to integrate into the community and therefore must be congratulated, hence I persist. One of the many complications learning the language (aside from a middle-aged brain that is over full at the end of a work day) is that you need to think Khmer to speak it. As a whole, Cambodians don’t call objects after their brand names, e.g. if I wanted to buy a can of Red Bull (unlikely, but serves as my example) I need to know that it is referred to as ‘Kor chul’ two bulls hitting each other… as that is the image on the can!

We live in a world of discrimination. There is clearly a ‘two tiered pricing system’ and we pay a higher price for looking like (and, in fact, being) foreigners. Our electricity bill is multiplied up to triple the rate of our neighbours, regardless of our consumption level, and we are charged more for rubbish collection. (All because they come in person to read the meter so know we are not ‘local’). Even our rent is inflated even though we rent from a Cambodian staff member at school. Our neighbours pay 40% less for an identical property. My only way to ameliorate against this is to build relationship at local stores and ensure that I continually go back for repeat business. ‘thly klang Nah’ – that’s too expensive, just doesn’t cut it.

Precision and time are notions perceived differently here. Time is there for one to take. As simple as that. It is time which is at the mercy of events, put on hold if needed and not the other way around. Therefore ’cham bontich’ (meaning – wait a little) does not necessarily suggest, as I initially thought, wait a few minutes. It may indicate a meeting has been cancelled, or, when at a restaurant, that they may have run out of what was ordered … but never fear, we will send a staff member out to find it elsewhere. At the local laundry it may mean they have given your clothes to another customer (not my current experience, but on a previous trip I did get back to my hotel to find that I had received carefully folded men’s underwear). In this instance it is a matter of avoiding a perceived conflict, which could lead to a serious and unforgivable case of ‘losing face’.

Australia meets Cambodia at a wedding – 

– Somewhat more Cambodian

Cheryl Flight





Today, rather than go to the Gym, we went for a stroll …. I took some photos to introduce you to our surrounds!

How fuel is often sold. While there are petrol stations…. where they always serve you, they are always surprised when David says ‘fill it up’, which for our bike is around $3US, because most moto riders buy only a dollar at a time. There are many roadside stalls like this one. They are selling fuel which has been ‘brought in’ (illegally) from Thailand. Not sure what happens to fuel when stored like this! Their price is about 400 riel less than the petrol station – a saving of about 10c a litre


Traditional Khmer Houses  –   Cambodian wooden houses are made of wood and on stilts, traditionally the breezy area under the house was used for hanging hammocks, lounging and keeping livestock safe.

Khmer-style shophouse – The Khmer-style shophouse is one of the most common Phnom Penh property types. They are usually three or four floors high, and are rented either as individual apartments or the entire house. They are long and narrow and have windows only in the front and back, so the bedrooms may only have internal windows. Kitchens are basic, with a gas burner stovetop and very little, if any, kitchen storage. Bathrooms are similarly basic, with no separate shower and often no windows.

Renovated shophouse – This type of apartment has been renovated to offer Western touches to the standard Khmer-style shophouse. Like the Khmer-style shophouse, they are long and narrow – 13 feet by 52 feet, with updated floors, lighting and modern kitchens. They will always have air-conditioning and are usually quite affordable. Many will come with a washing machine and a fresh coat of paint, as well as Western style furniture (no wooden couches).

Modern apartment – New build Western-style apartments are diverse, covering a wide range of sizes and styles, with features not usually found in shophouses like built-in cooktops, kitchen cabinets and bathtubs. Most are larger and feel more spacious than shophouses, and are of a significantly higher standard. (While not an apartment, this is the description that best describes our accommodation). We pay $550US a month for our partially furnished place. There is a property for sale in our street for $135,000US. (Only Cambodian’s are allowed to own ground floor property).

Full-service apartment – Also called luxury apartments, full-service apartments in Phnom Penh have everything that you’ll find in a Western apartment, but with the addition of a gym and pool, security guard, parking, elevator and included services including cleaning and Internet. Luxury apartments are usually designed to look as Western as possible, and are completely furnished with all necessary (if sometimes tacky) decor and appliances. Full-service apartments are designed for the sort of expat who has a lot of money and won’t be in Cambodia for more than a year or two (think embassy employees). Getting a Modern apartment is almost always a better deal, but they are less likely to have a pool.

Villas – In Phnom Penh, freestanding houses that are not shophouses are always referred to as villas, and usually have at least a small garden. Villas are found in various neighbourhoods in Phnom Penh and are just as often used to house businesses and NGOs as expats. They are usually significantly more expensive than shophouses (some available for rent near us are $1300US a month …. and we are NOT in a central location).

Continue reading