My involvement with TASSEL began four years ago when I learned about it at a freshman club
fair in Bronxville, New York. I had previously lived in Singapore before moving to New York,
so I was excited to see a club that supported a country in South East Asia. I knew that I wanted to
join TASSEL as soon as I heard about the opportunities offered by this club. More specifically, I
was attracted by the prospect of teaching students in Cambodia directly via video calls.
The people I met in TASSEL were extremely welcoming and kind. In my first year, I taught
phonics at Banan. Phonics was a very enjoyable class for its high level of energy and enthusiasm.
Moreover, I was instantly moved by how motivated the students were to learn. It was very
refreshing to see students who cared so much about learning, and even more rewarding to teach
them. Teaching a class is always fun because the students show so much passion and enthusiasm
for learning. The games and quizzes are especially fun because the students become so excited
that they cheer when they get an answer right. Even at level 1, the students communicated kind
messages to us and sent “hearts” through the computer screen.
At the end of my first year in the Bronxville chapter, I learned that the chapter needed a new
leader as almost all the members were graduating high school. Despite our loss in membership, I
was deeply motivated to make TASSEL a strong part of the Bronxville community. So, I
partnered with my current co-president Sabrina Mellinghoff to rebuild the chapter and raise
awareness in our school.
In my second year, I had the opportunity to teach a Khmer teacher named Phyrom. As part of the
speaking lessons, we were able to discuss topics from his experience at university, to his
childhood memories of a still war-torn Cambodia, to his favorite things about the Khmer New
Year. Teaching Khmer teachers is amazing because you really get to know the teacher. This year
I am teaching Teacher Sophea with Sabrina. The three of us are all 17 years old and have a
surprising amount in common. We and the Khmer teachers are highly driven to help
underprivileged children through TASSEL. We each take advantage of every opportunity to
learn and help our communities through teaching.
While so much of TASSEL is a bright and exciting experience, I also learned about the struggles
of the people in Cambodia. It is difficult to see the hardships that afflict the students we teach
because the excitement they show during our lessons bely their day-to-day challenges. Many
students go through class distracted by hunger, poor health, and unstable family lives. I
eventually learned more about the issues that Cambodians face when I was fortunate enough to
visit Cambodia over the summer. There, I visited families who were suffering from disease,
abandonment and hunger. It was very moving to hear the stories of the families (some of which
are on the website) and get a better perspective of the TASSEL students’ lives.
Fortunately, teachers and classmates in Cambodia treat each other like family. Through my
experiences in TASSEL, I learned that teachers don’t just correct grammar, but also encourage
students to keep studying, help them through difficult times, and form close relationships with
them. In the end, I felt welcomed into the lives of the students, teachers and other volunteers who
care so much about each other.
TASSEL has had a transformative power at my school in Bronxville. It has attracted over 100
members to our club over the past three years. This year, TASSEL became the largest club at our
school. TASSEL is such a great club because there are so many ways for our members to get
directly involved as a VSEE teacher, writing instructor or fundraiser. Ultimately, I believe that
TASSEL attracted so many people at my school because our members can actively engage with
students and teachers in Cambodia. It is a rare opportunity to learn about life and education
outside of our immediate community and more importantly to see the direct and beneficial
impact of teaching students throughout the year.
In Bronxville, the TASSEL community is contagious. When I look at our club, I see so many
people eager to help, no matter their other commitments or responsibilities. The more involved
members become, the more they love it and are touched by it. TASSEL has changed our
members’ perspectives and challenged our existing world views. TASSEL has become a
powerful force in our school, but it is also a global community in which our members constantly
meet people from different countries and cultures such as the U.K., Japan, France, South Korea,
and Singapore. Of course, the most central part of the community is the Cambodians. I will
always be in awe of their unrelenting kindness and dedication towards improving Cambodia
through education. For me, TASSEL started out small, but now it is a family that I want to
continue to strengthen and serve.