Reaching out overseas

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Upon arriving to the school in Battambang, TASSEL members introduced themselves to the student body. Standing alongside junior Rohail Mistry, senior Surya Vedula introduces himself to the onlooking crowd of students. (Photo/Claire Tyler)

As students, most of us sit in desks to learn. However, nine TASSEL members had the opportunity to swap roles for a week and act as teachers in a foreign language class. 

The Teaching and Sharing Skills to Enrich Lives Club, more casually known as TASSEL, is a statewide organization that works with high school students to teach Cambodian students in elementary school the basic components of the English language. Class of 2019 Heritage alumnus Claudia Bermudez started the Heritage chapter as well as the state organization two years ago, and this is the second year Heritage students have partaken in the annual trip. 

This year, TASSEL members travelled to Phnom Penh and Battambang, Cambodia from June 25 to July 9. According to Bermudez, the Heritage TASSEL chapter is the largest branch and has the most students attending this annual trip and raising the most funds for it. 

In order to earn a spot on the trip roster, TASSEL members across the state have to go through an admission process. After aspiring student teachers fill out an application, state officers filter through those submitted and decide who they will recommend to attend the trip to the CEO of TASSEL International. 

Alumnus Claudia Bermudez and seniors Aarohi Talati and Yujia (Vivanne) Liu, accompanied by their students and a Cambodian schoolteacher, ride in the back of a pickup truck through the rural mountainside. TASSEL members and some students took a break from teaching to go on a bonding excursion. (Photo/Claire Tyler)

After TASSEL International approves certain students to add to the trip’s roster, the state officers work with the new roster to prepare for their journey. At meetings, state officers review a variety of subjects, from training the students how to teach to reviewing behavioral standards. Additionally, all TASSEL branches come together and combine their respective clothing donations for the schools where they will be teaching. 

Once the preparation was complete and the plane landed in Phnom Penh, the students visited the Killing Fields and torture prisons created by the Khmer Rouge. 

“A big part of what we do on the trip is learn how the atrocities inflicted by the Khmer Rouge are still impacting Cambodia today and how they are linked to the service we do through TASSEL,” Bermudez said. 

After spending a few days in the city, the group drove six hours to Battambang, a province in rural Cambodia, where they would find their students for the next week. There, they distributed the clothing donations, visited families who were receiving financial or emotional aid from TASSEL and, of course, taught the Cambodian children English. 

Senior Kamila Kynazeva has attended the TASSEL Cambodia trip two years now. Taking a break from teaching her students, Kynazeva takes a photo with some pupils to commemorate their time together. (Photo/Claire Tyler)

Junior Claire Tyler serves as the state president alongside senior Alex Yang. This is Tyler’s second year attending the TASSEL Cambodia trip, and she is excited to see what the future of TASSEL holds. 

“I joined TASSEL in my freshman year because I received an email about the new club and thought it was something I’d like to get involved in,” Tyler said. “I will return every year as a part of the TASSEL family, ready to fulfill the promise I made to return to the children, families and teachers in Cambodia.”

With Bermudez beginning her college life in the fall, she leaves behind the club she started and watched grow. 

“It feels weird to not be state president anymore,” Bermudez said. “I just hope that TASSEL becomes as well known in South Florida as Key Club, for example. I also hope that more and more dedicated volunteers go on the trip and continue to teach and volunteer past high school.”

Seniors Aarohi Talati, Kevelya Koppa, Surya Vedula and junior Rohail Mistry stop for a group photo at the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. Koppa and Mistry will serve as TASSEL co-presidents during the upcoming school year, and Vedula will serve as the state education director. (Photo/Claire Tyler)

Joanne is a senior at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. As a third-year staffer and second-year editor-in-chief, she loves immersing herself in the journalistic field and writing for her publications. Outside of newspaper, Joanne is also co-president of the English Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta math honor society, where she also serves as the student delegate state secretary. Among the other clubs she is a part of, Joanne is also secretary of the linguistics team and Chinese Honor Society, as well as treasurer for Quill and Scroll. In her free time, Joanne loves practicing her photography and going to concerts.

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