2008.05.07: May 7, 2008: Headlines: COS - Cambodia: Asian American Issues: Long Beach Press-Telegram: Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka teaches in Takeo Province, Cambodia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cambodia: Peace Corps Cambodia: Peace Corps Cambodia: Newest Stories: 2008.05.07: May 7, 2008: Headlines: COS - Cambodia: Asian American Issues: Long Beach Press-Telegram: Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka teaches in Takeo Province, Cambodia

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Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka teaches in Takeo Province, Cambodia

Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka teaches in Takeo Province, Cambodia

As a half-Japanese woman who attended racially mixed Poly High, Ishigooka is no stranger to diversity. Many of her closest friends were Cambodian or Vietnamese. In Cambodia, she says she has had no bad experiences because of being mixed-race. Some people think she is part Khmer. "It's kind of nice to blend in," Ishigooka said, adding that it is also comforting to be in a country in which she isn't always the smallest person in a group. Ishigooka's mother, Bridget Dole, says her daughter's heritage has served her well. "Being bicultural, she's always had an appreciation for other cultures," Dole said. "Because of that, I don't see a different outlook from her. But I think it's deepened her understanding. I don't think you can live in a developing country and ever view the world in the same way again." "Being a foreigner, I've never felt like they didn't want me there," Ishigooka says. Many times, she says, her foreignness precedes her. When she gets on a bicycle and leaves the village to meet another volunteer, she says children will often run along and a chorus of "Barang, barang," will ripple down the road. Literally, barang translates to a French person, but is often used for any Caucasian, or in Ishigooka's case half-Caucasian, foreigner.

Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka teaches in Takeo Province, Cambodia

Telling tales of Peace Corps life

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

Article Launched: 05/07/2008 10:02:42 PM PDT

Caption: As a Peace Corps volunteer, Emi Caitlin Ishigooka has partaken of some exotic fare during her mission in Cambodia, including a local delicacy - fried tarantulas

LONG BEACH - She's dealt with frogs in her underwear, rats in her bed and partaken of the local delicacy - fried tarantulas. In other words, Emi Caitlin Ishigooka is having a typical Peace Corps experience.

About 15 months ago, Ishigooka became part of the first Peace Corps group to be assigned to Cambodia. And while she says she is too involved in the process right now to step back and reflect on the experience, Ishigooka has already collected a basketful of stories and memories in the first half of her two-plus-year appointment.

After a hectic, very American-girl-on-vacation couple of weeks home in
Being a Peace Corps volunteer isn't all work. Emi Caitlin Ishigooka of Long Beach takes a break from her job as a high school teacher of English in the Kirivong district of Cambodia.
Long Beach, Ishigooka boarded a plane and returned for her final year in the Kirivong district in Takeo Province, near the Vietnamese border.

Ishigooka says she understands why the Peace Corps mission lasts for two years, because she is only now getting her feet under her and settling in.

"The second year is about things coming together," Ishigooka says. "Now I have the relationships."

The UCLA and Poly High grad will continue to teach English to high school students in her village, but she will also become more engaged in community and social development.

Ishigooka says last year she helped the Swiss Red Cross organize an HIV/AIDS workshop, and this year she hopes to help put together an English library
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and resource center at the school where she teaches.

Ishigooka is the only American in her village and is 20 kilometers from her nearest Peace Corps neighbor. The two will occasionally jump on bikes and meet somewhere between their villages for coffee.

Ishigooka's village has no running water, but she's lucky that it does have electricity.

"You really get used to it," Ishigooka says of the change in lifestyle. "You think it will be hard not having running water and all the nice amenities."

Ishigooka says she now thinks nothing of doing her laundry at the local well, although she admits trying to dry her clothes during the rainy season can be frustrating.

"You just have to resign yourself to things smelling moldy," she says.

As a child, Ishigooka was raised on her mother's tales about Peace Corps volunteers she had met on travels to exotic locales such as Palau, Saipan and other Pacific Islands.

Now she is getting her own stories, like the time a frog made a hammock of her underwear while it was drying on a line.

Then there are the rats.

Ishigooka says on her first night with her host family, she was given a basket of fruit. During the night, a rat chewed its way through the mosquito netting on Ishigooka's bed to get at the fruit. When Ishigooka realized the rat was inside her bed, she said it led to "a mad game of me trying to kick the rat out."

And then there was the rat who stole Ishigooka's retainer.

"Somewhere in Cambodia there's a rat with really perfect teeth," Ishigooka jokes.

As a half-Japanese woman who attended racially mixed Poly High, Ishigooka is no stranger to diversity. Many of her closest friends were Cambodian or Vietnamese. In Cambodia, she says she has had no bad experiences because of being mixed-race.

Some people think she is part Khmer.

"It's kind of nice to blend in," Ishigooka said, adding that it is also comforting to be in a country in which she isn't always the smallest person in a group.

Ishigooka's mother, Bridget Dole, says her daughter's heritage has served her well.

"Being bicultural, she's always had an appreciation for other cultures," Dole said. "Because of that, I don't see a different outlook from her. But I think it's deepened her understanding. I don't think you can live in a developing country and ever view the world in the same way again."

"Being a foreigner, I've never felt like they didn't want me there," Ishigooka says.

Many times, she says, her foreignness precedes her.

When she gets on a bicycle and leaves the village to meet another volunteer, she says children will often run along and a chorus of "Barang, barang," will ripple down the road.

Literally, barang translates to a French person, but is often used for any Caucasian, or in Ishigooka's case half-Caucasian, foreigner.

The Cambodian experience has not been without its setbacks and frustrations.

Not long after she arrived, Ishigooka was stricken with amoebic dysentery and dropped to 83 pounds before regaining her health.

As a teacher, Ishigooka notices the need for education is great, but scheduling can be erratic. Especially when students have to work the fields or go on holiday. Her classes are often large and not divided by skill, meaning she often has to teach remedial and advanced language skills simultaneously.

She has begun holding office hours between morning and afternoon classes. One particularly diligent student has been showing up regularly and has been reading "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

Other students travel long distances to attend classes and spend weeknights at the home Ishigooka shares with her host family, who are also teachers.

In the face of such staggering need, Ishigooka says she maintains modest goals.

"The small successes get you through the day," Ishigooka says. "Some people come (to the Peace Corps) and think they'll change the world. For me, it's the individuals who stand out, the people in the community and the teachers. If I can help them, that's what I'm here for."

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291




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Story Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Cambodia; Asian American Issues

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