Peace Corps volunteer shares experiences with students

Juneau woman spent two years teaching English in Cambodia

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

How do you cook a beetle? How about a cockroach, or a tarantula?

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

When do you catch a frog?

What's volunteering? Where is Cambodia?

All of these were questions posed to and asked by second- and third-grade Juneau Charter School students Wednesday afternoon at a presentation from Juneau native and Peace Corps volunteer Michael Kohan. Kohan was in Svay Chrum, Svay Rieng, Cambodia as a high school English teacher from 2007 to 2009.

She also helped harvest rice with a scythe, developed a school library, lived with a host family, and yes, tried tarantulas, beetles, cockroaches, duck fetus (eaten from an egg) and red ants.

Kids learned about how people travel (many travel on top of vans), how much it costs to live (Kohan lived on less than $3 a day) and what traditional Cambodian three-day weddings are like. They saw pictures of a giant stingray, a Mekong giant catfish, frogs, monkeys, elephants, pigs, water buffalo, jackfruit, a cashew fruit, rice fields, a "spirit house" for ancestors and more.

Third-grader Skylar Cooney said she liked the slide show and "seeing what other people do."

"They eat very interesting things," she said.

Second-grader Harmony Dunlap said she liked the whole thing. "Except the bug part," she said. "It was kind of gross."

Students were already pretty familiar with the concept of volunteering; some said they donate food to the Glory Hole, or help pick up litter.

Two of the students in the class, Ruby Woltring and Sidra Gregoire, are heading to Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage for a month later this year. Another student has traveled to Australia, and another to France, said teacher Jess Page.

Page said presentations like Kohan's allow kids to learn about other countries in a different way. "It's social studies in a fun context," she said.

"They wanted to learn so much," Kohan said of the high school students she taught in Svay Chrum.

Judging by the question-peppered presentation Wednesday, the same was true of Page's "very curious" Juneau class.

The first week of March is Peace Corps Week, in which volunteers are encouraged to bring back what they learned from their host countries. Kohan said she was also interested in talking to kids about volunteerism in general; she was a child when she first became aware of the Peace Corps.

Students told her good-bye by pressing their hands together in front of them and telling her "thank you" in phonetically rendered Khmer, "Acun Cheran."

Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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