A friend recently sent me an article about language in The Economist. It focused on the idea of “What makes a language difficult?” The concept of this piece was very interesting to me because it seems that any time I delve into learning a new language, there is a question that always arises about its difficulty. Friends and family members want to know if the language is “hard.” Each time I am asked this question, I usually respond with no, and then attempt to explain why.

Languages are different for a reason. Learning Khmer may show me more challenges than learning Spanish, but that does not make the language more difficult. Each one has its own set of rules, alphabet, grammar, and vocabulary and as I drift into languages outside the Latin-based family, there will be more challenges. These differences are what makes the language interesting, and oftentimes unique.

When I first started studying Hebrew, it took me so long to remember that I needed to read from right to left. I grew up reading left to right, and so it felt uncomfortable to what I was used to. However, someone who grew up reading right to left would say the same thing if he or she needed to switch. One is not more difficult, they are just different.

The same is true of my time in Cambodia. At first, I was very frustrated with how slowly I was learning this new language. But then, I thought about the facts of my study: I was learning the language by immersion instead of classes, it is my first language with a Pali/Sanskrit background for pronunciation, and I was learning a completely new alphabet. When I put all of these reasons together, I realized that instead of getting frustrated with myself, or labeling this language as “hard,” I should give myself some credit.

I am now many months into my journey here and I would probably not label myself above beginner level Khmer, but I am learning. Speaking, reading, writing, and progressing every day. Not because this language is more difficult than others I have learned, but because learning takes time. And that seems like an easy thing to comprehend compared to another alphabet.

Keep Shining,



Word of the Week Wednesday 4/26/17


This week I have a very important word that I should have learned months ago, but have learned it this week!


Languge: Khmer
Part of speech: Noun
Pronunciation: Chom Nai
Translation: Snack

Now, let me tell you that in the US, I am a snacker. Since coming to Cambodia, I have found that there seem to be two cultures embraced on this front. First, whenever I visit friend’s houses out in the provinces and in villages, snacking is definitely a thing. There is always some snack or dessert or fruit around to munch on. This usually means I can eat more because it is over a whole day and not only three meals. The second snack culture is what I have found in the city. Snacking is not as much of a thing here. Sure, we have fruit every once in a while, but it seems that just having a little snack is not as much of a habit as in the village. Part of me wonders if the busier lifestyle of the city ignore some of the possibilities like snacking. Another factor could be that I live with hostel students and it is rare to have I am eating a snack allows me to explain why it may seem like I don’t eat a lot at one time. I am better with smaller snacks all day. Still, no matter how many snacks I may want to eat, nothing can replace sharing dinner with my friends at the hostel around a big pot of rice.

Keep Shining,

Word of the Week Wednesday 4/19/17

Last week there was a hiatus for Khmer New Year, but we’re back with more word wonders this week! This week’s words is…


Language: Khmer 

Part of speech: Noun

Pronunciation: Bayd

Translation: Biological sex
So, I returned to my sitelpes this week after a week at a friend’s house in Kampong Chhnang and got right back to events. I was invited to help with a training for the LWD Learning Center because it is in Phnom Penh. The training is for the staff at an NGO about 5 blocks from the LWD office and it covers Gender Mainstreaming in the Workplace. Now, this training is in Khmer so I honestly cannot understand most of it, but while talking with the trainer over lunch and snack breaks, she helps me get the gist. 

One of the first sessions was about the difference between the words sex and gender. When she told me that I asked for them in Khmer so I could listen during the session for those words. She told me the word for sex, which is our word of the week, and then said they do not have a word for gender so they use the English. This is something I have become accustomed to with Khmer. Sometimes there are just not words in the language so they say it in English. Either way, it is so interesting to hear a training on this topic with many words that just do not translate into Khmer. I look forward to learning more!
Keep Shining,


Word of the Week Wednesday 4/5/17

Hello…it’s me…

Welcome to another week! This week is full of anticipation in Cambodia because next week we will have Khmer New Year! And that ties into this week’s word:


Language: Khmer

Part of Speech: noun

Pronunciation: Gohn-sigh-ng 

Translation: towel

So, yesterday after our all-hostel time, many students decided to play some Khmer New Year traditional games! Of course I excitedly joined in! So I think the night went in about ten parts:

Part 1: Cat and Mouse

This game had a circle of people holding hands with two inside the circle. The middle people have blindfolds and one hits a water bottle in his/her hand. Then the other person tries to find the one hitting with the water bottle. 

Part 2: King/Queen of Love

This game had two teams with one person on a chair between them (the king/queen). Someone from team one would go to the Queen and whisper “who they love” in her ear. This is really just a person from the other team. Then a person from the other team stands to do the same. If the person from team one said the name of the person from team two, that person is out. If not, that person whispers a name of a team one member and play continues. Sadly, the boys won this game. 

Part 3: Coke break

Because none of our parties happen without drinking Coca-Cola.

Part 4: Steal the Bacon

I don’t know what this game is called here, but at camp we called it Steal the Bacon. Two teams, each person had a number and a small piece of rope is between them. The moderator says a number and the player for each team with that number tries to get the rope back to their side. If they do, they get a point. But, if the other team player tags them before they reach their side, the other team gets the point. All about reflexes and strategy. Although we fought valiantly, the boys also won this game. By a super slim margin though. 

Part 5: Baby Powder

I just found out today that this part is actually a Khmer New Year tradition, but we had baby powder everywhere! Clothes, hair, face, all over! 

Part 6: Partner Tag

There are many lines of two in a circle and one runner and one person it. The person that is it tries to tag the runner and tiles switch if they do. The runner avoids being tagged by standing in front of a line of two, forcing a back person in line to now be the runner. This one was really funny when the line suddenly changed directions now and then.

Part 7: Towel- Duck Duck Goose

So, this game is the reason for the word of the week. Almost duck duck goose. With a towel. A person with a wrapped towel round the circle and drops the towel to the left of someone. That person now runs after the person to their right and tries to hit them with the towel as much as they want. Here is the different thing, if you get hit or do not get hit, there is no difference other than you got hit with a towel. The runner gets back to their seat and sits (with sore spots from being hit with a towel or not.) Whoever got the rope then continues and the cycle goes on. 

Part 8: Couple- Duck Duck Goose

This one was all of us standing in a circle holding hands. One couple (also holding hands) runs around the circle and hits one pair of hands. Those two people keep holding hands and run the other way around the circle. Whichever team makes it back to the opening first stays and the other team continues as before. The funniest part of this was if the teams tried to switch partners as they passed outside the circle. It was usually a mess and always left everyone laughing. 

Part 9: Group Pictures

Hot, sweaty, and smiling we took a few group pictures. One with the standard “feeestyle” shot. 

Part 10: Clean up and bed

Sweeping, stacking chairs, and finishing Coke bottles took a very short time and then we were off to bed, happy with the fun night we just had together. 
So, hopefully this gives you some fun games you can play. Or reminds you that sometimes life turns out the same, whether you get hit with the towel or not. 

Keep shining,