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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia influences Chinese teacher to be more flexible

Cambodia influences Chinese teacher to be more flexible

Cambodia influences Chinese teacher to be more flexible

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Zhou Liyun.

One friendly and high-achieving Chinese citizen in Phnom Penh is Zhou Liyun, 26, a Chinese language teacher at Royal Phnom Penh University.

Born in a small town of about 450,000 people called Nujiang, in Yunnan province, Zhou is here as part of the DHY-RUPP Program, between three Chinese universities (DHY) in Yunnan province and the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).

Nujiang is also a famous Chinese river, one of three major rivers flowing through Yunnan province including the Lanchang River and the Jinsha River, which flows into the Yangtze River or “Long River”.

Like many young Chinese men his age, Zhou, nicknamed Joe in English, is the only child of his parents according to China’s “one child” policy.  He was born in 1985 and both his parents are farmers,
growing rice and corn, beans, cabbages, tomatoes, potatoes and garlic.

“Now my mom has her own restaurant business, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Zhou’s childhood was a happy one, spending his younger years mostly with his grandmother as his parents worked in the fields.

Some of his happiest memories are swimming in a small river with the other kids as a young teenager, eating fresh corn from the fields, either raw or roasted on a fire.

Zhou experienced a big shock when he reached Dali University in 2004. It was his first time away from home by himself and he couldn’t find an ATM machine on the new campus where everything was under construction.  

“It was difficult because I had spent all my cash,” he said.

Luckily, Zhou met some friends from his hometown high school and calmed down. Then a head teacher came to visit in the evening and really made the new students feel comfortable.

“We loved this guy,” Zhou said.

That same evening, through the help of new friends, they took a bus downtown, found and an ATM and Zhou had some cash again.

He found a part time job at the International Exchange and Cooperation Division where he took care of all the foreigners from India, the USA, Korea, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

“I was like a personal assistant and would help them live there and study and work,” he said.

At the end of 2007 we opened a language center, and they needed someone at the DHY, Dali University, Honghe University, and Yuxi University (DHY-RUPP). In 2008, Zhou graduated with a degree in Chinese language and literature.  He arrived in Cambodia on July 8, 2008.  He teaches about 24 to 30 hours per week.

Most of the students are Cambodian, with a few foreigners also who want to learn Chinese, including Koreans and Americans.

Zhou specialises in teaching Chinese to beginners.

“At first they find it difficult to learn Chinese, but once they start, they learn the culture and the background and it becomes easy for them to communicate in Chinese,” he said.

In China, the standard practice in classrooms is for the student to stand up next to his chair if called upon by the teacher and recite the answer.  Zhou was shocked when a Cambodian student could not answer his question.

“In China we ask students to stand up and answer questions and if you do not, you feel shamed,” he said.

“One girl could not answer and she just stood there and smiled. My opinion was changed at that moment,” Zhou said.

On another occasion a female student approached Zhou and said she could not study that day.

“I asked her why, and she said there is would be a party in my home.  I told her in China no teacher would allow a student to leave the class for a party.  I saw on her face she felt sad.  So at that moment I realized this was not China; this was Cambodia -- so I said just go.”

“Several months later one of my students got married and I was invited.  I asked a lot of people and they said you should dress up and join a wedding party.  I felt happy in the wedding, the girls dressed up with makeup and they were beautiful.  In China we don’t do it like this, but in Cambodia it is so beautiful and formal, so the next time if any students ask me for a leave for party, I will say just go.”

“Right here in Cambodia life is life and the party is part of your life, so you should go.  You should not miss the party. You can always make up the class.”

Zhou admits that during his four years in Cambodia some of his ideas have changed.  What has not changed, however, is his love for his home town in Yunnan Province.

“Maybe I will stay two years more.  I think maybe I will go back to China and to open my own language school”.

Zhou’s beautiful Chinese wife Li Yan, 29, also works in the same program and she’s from Dali, the town of his university.  He saved money and bought a Toyota since he’s been here and wants to eventually return to his home town and open a language school.

“I can invite more teachers to do something in my home town.  I should pay them back because they gave me so much. Now, more and more young people are going back to home town after they graduate.  Ten years ago lots of them would prefer to stay in the big city, but right now more and more people know they can create opportunity by themselves in their own place.  We should go back to build the home town. For Chinese people the family is very important.”

“In my hometown it is very simple.  You have no money to find someone to help you do the farming.  I go to help my neighbors and the next day they will come to help me.  

One of his favorite movies is The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise because it shows cross-cultural exchanges and common purposes.

“I asked her why, and she said there is would be a party in my home. I told her in China no teacher would allow a student to leave the class for a party. I saw on her face she felt sad. So at that moment I realised this was not China; this was Cambodia - so I said just go.

“Several months later one of my students got married and I was invited. I asked a lot of people and they said you should dress up and join a wedding party. I felt happy in the wedding, the girls dressed up with make-up and they were beautiful. In China we don’t do it like this, but in Cambodia it is so beautiful and formal, so the next time if any students ask me for a leave for party, I will say just go.

“Right here in Cambodia life is life and the party is part of your life, so you should go.  You should not miss the party. You can always make up the class.”

Zhou admits that during his four years in Cambodia some of his ideas have changed.  What has not changed, however, is his love for his home town in Yunnan province.

“Maybe I will stay two years more.  I think maybe I will go back to China and to open my own language school”.

Zhou’s beautiful Chinese wife Li Yan, 29, also works in the same program and she’s from Dali, the town of his university. He saved money and bought a Toyota since he’s been here and wants to eventually return to his home town and open a language school.

“I can invite more teachers to do something in my home town.  I should pay them back because they gave me so much. Now, more and more young people are going back to home town after they graduate.

In my hometown it is very simple. You have no money to find someone to help you do the farming. I go to help my neighbours and the next day they will come to help me.  

One of his favourite movies is The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise, because it shows cross-cultural exchanges and common purposes.

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