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So that was my, um, experience, in Little Rock. And then, they had to go find schooling, for us. And they figured that I was going to be either in the 4th or the 5th grade. And then my mother said, "No, no, no, no." "Put her, you know, in a lower level." Because I never had school before. So I went to a 4th grade. And, I remember, just, there was only one, other Asian face in the whole, elementary school. I felt, really lonely. And I couldn't understand for the life of me what the people around me were saying. And Karen, and Ellen, and Rose, had assured me, in the Philippines, that my English was excellent. But, I couldn't understand Southern accent. I was like, what are they saying? I was so frustrated and horrified. It took me, a while to get used to that. And I remember being, you know, the only... well, one of the... until the other Cambodian kids got to the school. People were making fun of me all the time. First, I was really skinny and I had short hair. And then, I looked like a little boy. And, B., I didn't understand anything. I had no reference of what school was all about. You know. Standing in line, workbooks, or recess. Cafeteria. I had, no, reference. It was really stressful, to say the least. But, I was, observant, as always. I'm good at that, I suppose. Used to it. And, so, I stay out of trouble. And so, the teacher liked me. Because, not because I was a good student. Because, I was not a trouble-maker. And... I remember another, thing I remember from elementary school was that I, you know, I'm lactose intolerant. Not so much anymore. I think my sister now sort of gotten used to a little bit. But, in elementary school, in Little Rock, you had to drink milk. You only had two choices. You either drink milk or you drink, chocolate milk. And I couldn't, I didn't know, anything about lactose intolerant. I didn't know that you had, a choice. You remember, I was so used, to being told what to do. So, I figured, that, they give you food, you eat. So I was sick, most of the time, that first year. Before I realized, that I'm not supposed to drink milk. Or eat things with cheese, and things like that. And, even though, that part is...wasn't so pleasant. I had, some of the most, amazing teachers, in elementary school. In fact, some of these guys, some of these teachers, are still my friends today. You know, I...I write to them, occasionally and they write to me. And I actually went back to see them two summers ago. They took me aside, they understood, they, they sort of knew, how much I wanted, to study. I just, I just, I...I...I couldn't get enough. of school, I just couldn't get enough. you know and they, and that was something, really, really, special to them. So they took me aside. And they would tutor me aside. Now, I would catch up, really fast. And all of a sudden, Eng...the English part of it, I didn't catch up. As fast. But the other, like the math side, I was... Pretty soon, I would say, after the first year, I actually went beyond what my classmate were doing. And they, took their own free time, after school. Would tutor me and do... and sit with me. And spend so many hours, 5th...6th grade teacher... so believed in me, that, you know, we had to go to, the way the school district worked in Little Rock, you go to your neighborhood school. We didn't live in a very nice neighborhood. So that would've meant, that when I go to Junior High school, I would've gone to a, not so good Junior High school. She thought, I could do better than that. And they wouldn't let me. She took me. I remember this. I will never forget this. Kim Swanson. Her last name is Perkins now. She's remarried. But at the time, Kim took me, and she said, "We're going to the superintendent's office." "And we're not leaving until he sees us." "And I want him to look at you and to see you." I remember going to the superintendent with her and sit and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. And finally, I think they got tired of her. So, I don't know what she did. They said, "Okay." "We'll bus her" "to go to" "the other" "Junior High school," that she had wanted me to go. So I got to go to a, high...a junior high school that was better. Um, in a better neighborhood. And supposedly, had better teachers. you know. So all, my, elementary school career, and Junior High, I'd always people like that, that would look after me. And would tell me what to do. And, by then, my family life, changed. Slowly, but surely. My older sisters get married, and then, they'd move away. My other sister get married, they'd move away with their husband, their family. And, all of a sudden, by Junior High school, well, by 9th grade, right? I was still in Junior High School then, the last high school grade already. I became head of the family. That was really tough. High school was really, really, tough. Because, I, I had to grow up, really fast. And then, I had to take care of my mom. I had to take care of my little brother. And I had to do, all the things, that you probably read about. Bout those immigrant kids who translated for their parents, who went to PTA's with their parents. Mom, wouldn't leave the house. I don't know what happened. Maybe, she was intimidated by the culture, by the people and their language. She was also, sick, a lot. And so, I had, to do all that. And to make it worse, Ty would have, some of the same teachers that I have, and I was, I wasn't like the smartest kid, but I was the good kid. So, the teachers remembered me fondly. And expected that from my brother. And he..he wasn't a bad kid. But, he didn't do his homework. You know, he couldn't keep track of things. And, he didn't really have a positive, school experience that I had. And, going in, that we were so close. You have to remember, we're only a year apart. And going in to PTA's and doing those kind of things, was... I didn't tell my mother this, but, I, absolutely, hated it. I, did not want to do that. But, I didn't know how to get out of it. And I'd always worked, I worked since I was 13 or maybe 14. I've never not, worked. So and I worked for different families. And, later on, as I went into high school, I would nanny for different families. And that's how I earned my money. I never did, the things that, high school kids did. Moderator: Mmhmm. Um, because I had to just come home. And go to work. Make sure I get good grades. So I can go to college. Once in awhile, my very best friend, in high school, who is still my best friend now, Kris, her mom understood, that I didn't have it, so easy. She would invite me...come, to come over her house, and, we would spend, I would spend, the night at their house. And then, she would buy us, like takeout, Chinese takeout, and we get to watch a movie. And that's really special for me. So that, was, pretty much, my high school experience. Moderator: Mmhmm. Moderator: And now, your, your family is pretty spread out, right? Yeah. They're all spread out. Moderator: Umm, Moderator: Is there still a strong sense of family? Yes, I think all of us girls, especially the girls, we, I think, talk to each other, at least, once a day. Moderator: Wow. Yeah. Well, sometimes, we skip, you know, they, but, every week, I, would talk to them. At least once. My 4th oldest sister, Bopha and I, are pretty close. Umm, But, I think all of us girls, are very, very, close. Moderator: Umm, and why did you decide to become an ESL teacher? I sort of, dumb luck, I suppose. Umm, you know, when I went to college, I knew that, being a teacher was not glamorous. Its not... You're not gonna get a business card. You're not gonna have an office. And all these things, I had wanted. Or thought, I had wanted. The thing was, when I, had the opportunity to go to college, umm... I, almost didn't go to college, because, my mother, didn't want me to leave. My choices were, I can stay in Little Rock, Arkansas, and go to the University of Arkansas. Which, I knew, and everybody else, knew also, that I could do better. At the same time, then... I came to the head of the family. And, mom made it very clear that, if, if I leave, she, to put it, in her own words, she would be, handicapped. She wouldn't have feet, she said. You know. And, as you know, I feel very close to my family and my mother, in particular. And, I didn't have the heart, the courage, to say, "I...I want to go away." And I did. I wanted to go away. I just, I didn't want the responsibilities, anymore. You know, I wanted to do the things that my friends were doing. But, I, there is no way, I could say that to her. And, the people that I was working for, at the time, really pushed me. And said, "You know," "we're not gonna let your mother" "starve or die." "She'll be fine." "We'll help," you know. "We'll help take care of her," "And she will be very angry" "at us and you," "if you decide to go away for college." And I got accepted to, two schools. I applied to three, and I got accepted to two. And they said, "Go away to school." And I said, "Oh no, I can't do this." You know? And they said, "No go." "She," they said, "your mother will understand." "She will be very angry at you." "And she'll be very angry at us." "Because," "if you go, she'll know that we," "put you up to it." "But, she'll understand later on." I couldn't. I just couldn't. The day, before the application, was due, at the college, so I got into Wash...Washington University in St. Louis and at Rhodes, in Memphis, Tennessee. The big, application. I remember going to work, cause I, I'd always have to come home uh, put my backpack and then go to work. You know, go to babysit their children. I was, I was their nanny. And, she would say, "Have you send in application?" I said, "No." "Have you send in application?" "No." And then one day, she said, "Have you send in the application?" "No." "And when is the due date?" I said "Tomorrow at noon." She said,"Tomorrow at noon?" Well, A....I...I didn't have the money... Cause.. And this is also new for me. You have to remember, I didn't know that applications cost! I thought, you just fill in lumps of paper And you send it, you know and its the end of the story. But, no. It costs, money. Right? And we had worked on the application, you know, together, and she said, "What?" "Tomorrow?" she said. "Okay." "Give me application." And I had. And she said, "We're gonna Fed... Fedex this." "Make sure that they get there." "I'll pay for it." So she took it, and Fedex it to the school. And I said, "God. This is gonna be really, bad," "between me and my mom," "and her and my mom," and I didn't want that. And it was. I'm not gonna go into detail. It was really bad. But, one of my sister came to the rescue. She's like, "No." "You got into this school." "They accepted you." "They give you money." "You go." And, she, had just had her first baby. She was in pharmacy school in Florida. Her husband was also in medical school. They both were students and they had a baby. My sister drove all the way from Florida, to come pick Ty and mom up. So I can go to school. And I think that, I was okay, with that. I couldn't ask. Cause, everybody was in a bad situation. And, I didn't know what to ask. But my sisters, just understood, she came, and I went. And my first year in college, it was glory. I mean, cause I had no responsibility, and, everything was hunky dory for me. And of course, my grade, went, psshew.. It was so much fun. I didn't have to go to work. know. And class was not everyday. And I thought, "Oh," you know, "I could do this." But, umm, overall, it was fine. But I wanted to become, an ESL teacher, not because I wanted to, it was because, I wanted to be in the Peace Corps. After I graduated, I was going to take the LSAT, and then, I decided, "No." "I don't want to do that." I didn't think I could pass. First of all. And, I wanted to go to the Peace Corps. So, I looked into the Peace Corps, and I found out that you have to have all these medical tests. You know. All these application process. It was a lot more than I had anticipated. And I didn't have the time, or the money. I would have to wait. I think at the time, at least, like several months, before they could say, whether I was gonna be accepted or not. And, I didn't, want to go back home, and be a dependent, on my... My sister, was already, you know, taking care of my mom, and my little brother. And I... I couldn't. And I'm not so sure, after I tasted what freedom was like, I...I...I wasn't so sure, if I wanted to go back and live with my family. So, okay, Peace Corps is not working out. The year before I graduated, or the year after I graduated, 1994, Bill Clinton got elected. And he put together the Americorps. You remember? And part of the Americorps, was Teach for America. The Teach for America folks came, and, I said, "Hmm, this looks interesting." "Let's see what it is." And I figured, I was so naive. And I thought, "Oh. You know." "I can do this." "No problem." So I did read some description, and then they said, "Okay." "They'll send you into the classroom." "And they'll give you training." "And," "you get paid." And I said, "Oh great." You know, I can't travel, outside of the country, but, at least I can travel, within the country. My idea, was, I really wanted to travel. So I went to the training, and I passed their test, and went to Houston and got the training. So they send me to, Washington D.C. When they looked at my, Moderator: Umm... Moderator: So, where were we? Moderator: Oh you had, Moderator: uh, applied for Teach for America, Moderator: And you were going through the training? Umm, Teach for America, picked me because of my application. I had a lot of experience, with ESL. Moderator: Mmhmm. Partly because, I am, an ESL, student. A recipient of ESL. But also because, umm, during high school, and college, I had started and done a lot of, umm, community services, that has to do with ESL. So for example, by the time, I got to, umm, college, I decided to create a new community service. Umm, and I asked the chaplain, we had a chaplain, at school and I said, "Well, what kind of things," "you think you need?" "That you want?" "What kind of services" "you think, we should provide?" He said, "Well, you know," "It's a community service." "So, go out into the community" "And find out what you can do." And I figured, well, what is it that I know, and have a lot of experience, and I felt like being an immigrant, you know, growing up, the way I just explained to you, I felt like, I had something to offer. So, I went out into the Memphis area, cause, we went and had Rhodes, that's what my husband took, and went out to the Memphis area, and Metropolitan area. And went into, different, umm, housing projects where newly arrived immigrants from Vietnam and Laos, and Cambodia, were living. And my friend and I, did, you know, I was sort of like, she was sort of like, "Oh, I can do this." You know? Went out and did a survey. And my intention was, that we were, you know, Rhodes is a... For me, it was a rich college. And I came from a very, poor, family. And so I figured, that, there was so much, that, Rhodes, can offer. And these are the people who don't even want. So my thinking was, you know, winter is coming. Maybe, I can collect winter coats, that people don't want, right? Umm, telephones, whatever, that, that the newly arrived immigrants, might need. That's what I was thinking. Well, when I went into the housing projects, and did my survey, 80% of the answers came back and said, "We want to learn English." I mean, they say, "Yes," they'll take the coats, and the telephone, and whatever that I could collect for them. And that was the beginning of email. I don't know if you know, 1993, and 4 and I asked permission if I could send out, an email to the whole college. Our college is very small. I think, in total, was like, uh, my class was like, 500, so total, bout 3,000. 2,000. You know, its a pretty small college. So I send out, an email to everybody and I said, there is, collection, area of bins, in different areas of the campus. I'm, I'm looking for items so and so. And on the side, I was, recruiting my friends. I, I, was completely naive, about teaching English as a second language. And, and arrogant at the same time. In a sense that, I was in college. I figure, I could teach somebody English because I was in college. I had no idea. So I recruited my friends, and then I said, okay, we're gonna have English classes at night, I'll train you guys, I'll tell you what to do. You know. So we did that and so I put all these things, on the application, on Teach of America application, so they said, "Wow" "You know, she has ESL experience." Not necessarily, formal training, but it's like an informal training. So, they sent me to Washington, D.C. because at the time, Washington D.C. really need ESL teachers. So I went. I worked at a school that was pretty, rough. Umm, pretty close to, One Form Plaza. Umm, Jefferson Junior High School. So I got the ESL kids. And my thinking was, you know, this is great, I get to travel I, you know, I got to D.C., I get to see, D.C. and maybe, the surrounding area. Virginia and whatever. And, I, have a job, so that means, I'll be paid. And also, because I'm doing, umm, an Americorps service, part of my students loan will be forgiven. I had no intention of becoming, an ESL teacher. I was gonna do my thing, two years commitment, and then, quit. I fell in love with ESL kids. Umm... And, partly because, the kids that came through our school, were so scared. And the people at the school, were so, insensitive, culturally. Umm, and I felt like, if, I don't speak up for these kids... If I don't, say something for them, and take care of them, and look after them, umm, and help, the faculty and the school, as a whole to understand why they are the way they are, there's great cultural misunderstanding. For example, being told all the time, they would come to me and say, my, my, colleague would come and say, "Ms. Hourt," "when, when, your children," "speak to me in class," "you need to tell them" "they need to look at me in the eyes." "That's really impolite in America." They didn't know that, that's a sign of disresp... it's a total opposite. You know, things like that, that, I felt like, "Oh my God." These ESL students, they, nobody really, looked after them. So I sort of, got more and more involved. First, it was, classroom training, basically, pure linguistics. And all of a sudden, cultural things, and then I wanted to do cultural training, for the staff, because I felt like, staff was, need to be on board about this, you know.

Video Details

Duration: 19 minutes and 55 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Khmer Legacies
Director: Socheata Poeuv
Views: 96
Posted by: khmer legacies on Apr 30, 2010

Part six of seven.

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