I spent the last couple of days of my fall break, co-chaperoning a Model United Nations trip to a conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My co-worker Colin and I took 18 students on the trip. I only teach 6 of the students who attended, so it was a good chance to get to know some of the older kids. I have never before chaperoned an international trip, but in the next month, I will be part of the group taking the entire 9th grade (70 students) to Bintan, Indonesia, so I thought this smaller trip would be good practice.
I found the reality of shepherding groups of kids through the process of travel to be much more trying than I hoped. Though our kids are well behaved and fairly seasoned travelers, they are still kids with lots of questions about how to fill out immigration forms and what to pack. They are not well practiced in the art of waking themselves up at designated times or being self-sufficient. They feel the constant need to shop for more junk food and energy drinks, and when they all start speaking Korean, I feel sure they are plotting to sneak out of the hotel and get lost forever in a city where I don’t speak the language and couldn’t possibly find them.
We left school in plenty of time to make it to the airport and check in for our flight on Friday afternoon, but ushering 20 people with various passports and visas through check in and security take a LONG time. We narrowly made our flight, but we arrived safely land were greeted by 2 students and a staff member of the school hosting the conference. They took us to our hotel on a bus and let us check in and change before driving us to their school for the opening ceremonies of the conference. After the ceremonies, the students broke into their committees, gave opening speeches and started lobbying for support for the resolutions they wanted to draft. After a few hours of work, they were done for the night and a few of the students from Phnom Penh offered to meet us at our hotel and takes us to a traditional Khmer restaurant by tuck-tuck. The students really seemed to enjoy the time with kids from another city, and they ate an enormous amount of food. I am so glad that I don’t have teenage sons. I don’t understand how anyone can afford to feed them. Even after eating 3 entrees apiece, they asked me to escort them to a convenience store when we returned so that they could buy more snacks for the night.
On Saturday, the kids had a full day of debating resolutions in their committees after getting their drafts proofed by us, the advisors. They got breaks for lunch and dinner and had a trivia night in the evening, but it was largely a long work day for them. I was able to do a bit of reading and work in between watching the committees and proofing drafts, but mostly it was a day spent learning how MUN conferences work. When we returned to the hotel, a group of kids asked me to escort them to a cafe, but after failed negotiations with a tuck-tuck driver, they decided that I should walk them to the convenience store again instead. I was thankful for bedtime that night.
On Sunday, we returned to the conference for the general assembly and closing ceremonies. It was clear that the students really enjoyed themselves and had made friends that weekend, and that was gratifying to see. I am not sure that our kids get enough social experience in this academically driven culture where half of our students leave school to go spend a few hours in academies and SAT prep classes. I was glad that they had some time to be kids. After the session and before our plane took off, I did take half the group to the cafe they wanted to visit while Colin took the other half to another Khmer place close to the hotel. I wanted to walk through some of the sites after lunch, but the kiddos were pretty walking adverse since they claimed Cambodia was much hotter than Vietnam (felt the same to me). So, while I didn’t get to see much of Phnom Penh outside another international school, I had a good time learning about MUN and bonding with some awesome students.
I am looking forward to my next chaperoning experience where we are on an adventure resort on an island!