Wat Domrey Sor or White Elephant in Battambang

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Tourists to Cambodia are curious about how locals practice Buddhism, the beautiful temples found throughout the country, and the peaceful and modest monks.   Buddhist temples in Cambodia play a variety of roles – a religious place for monks to live or a place of worship for people to celebrate their religious traditions and ceremonies.  In Cambodia, Buddhism and the temples are closely associated with Cambodian daily life and culture. These temples often also play a role as a school and a culture preservation area for the country. Here, I am happy to share with all of you about my experience in a Buddhist school in Battamang and how these schools support young people in my country. 

The foundation of knowledge in Cambodia is in the temples. In the past, young Cambodian men needed to be ordained as monks so they can access education - only provided at the Buddhist temples. If any man didn’t join monkhood, people would treat him as a poor man. He would be isolated from society. For example, he wouldn’t be allowed to marry because he would be perceived as irresponsible and would not be able to manage a family due to his lack of education.

Today, Cambodia has developed a lot. There are schools across the country, specially in Battambang allowing young Cambodian people to access school easily. However, Buddhist temples still play an important role in providing education. Buddhist monks are teachers. They have great language skill since they are ordained to study – every year, many Buddhist monks get scholarships to study abroad every year. They have been trained and use English in the international communities. Those monks come back and give back to the communities that sent them abroad to show their thanks. Often, they do this by starting language schools at the local temple.

Studying is still challenging for students, even though the country is developing. There are only high schools in the city and it is expensive to stay in the city.  Buddhist temples offer free accommodation to students to help Cambodian students access education.

My name is Mony. I am going to give an example of a Buddhist temple playing role as a school in Battambang – White Elephant temple or Wat Domrey Sor. The temple has played role as a school for many years. Wat Domrey Sor, White Elephant temple, is one of the central Buddhist temples in Battambang. This temple was built in the late 18th century. It is where the Buddhist University is located as well. Wat Domrey Sor has a reputation as a great language school and provides lessons in English, French, Thai, and Korean. 

The classes are set to be week day classes and weekend day classes allowing students to choose. The English classes focus on grammar and newspaper translation. My teacher focused on sentences structures and vocabulary to assist students in writing and building sentences. Often, my teacher bought an English newspaper to class and delivered copies to the students to translate.  Doing this, students can improve their writing and reading. For me, translation was not as hard as listening and speaking at once as we did not often practice these skills.  My teacher was a Cambodian Buddhist monk with a Cambodian accent, so students only got a sense of the native speaker’s tone. I was poor on pronunciation when I started to practice.

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There are a variety of class times offered at the temple. The regular class is started at 6am to 7am. This class is mostly taken by monks, since it’s so early. There were also classes offered from 2pm to 8pm. These classes were provided back to back on the different subjects. For example, I took the class translating Khmer newspaper to English from 2pm to 3pm. I took an English grammar class from 3pm to 4pm, and I took my last class from 4pm to 5pm, translating from English newspaper to Khmer.

The classes are not free to students.  Students pay a donation to support the Teacher Monk of .25 USD per class. That money is used to maintain the classroom and purchase supplies like markers and copies. The rest of the money is used by the teacher for maintaining.  

The monks are great at inspiring and encouraging the students and create a great learning environment in the class. The students respect the teacher because he is a monk and teacher. Teachers always talk about Buddhism concepts so the students can learn a little bit about Buddhism as well.

I was studying in the Buddhist temple for two year before I start work for Soksabike. It really helped me. It didn’t only bring me knowledge, but also Buddhist concepts bring all students, dignity, ethical virtue, and morality. I believe that studying in the Buddhist temple is more efficient than any other language center. Most of the students who study English in Buddhist temple can use their English very well. The skills help them to get jobs in the future.