Welcome to week four of High Heels & a Backpack’s TEFL interview series! Each week, I’ll be interviewing a different wanderlusting woman who is teaching English as a foreign language in an exotic location somewhere around the globe. This week, I spoke to Elise, the British Blogger behind Travel, Work & Play travel blog who spent over a year teaching English in Cambodia.
What it’s Like Teaching English in Cambodia
Where were you teaching English?
I was teaching English in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap province is home to the famous Angkor Wat temples, but is also one of the poorest provinces in the country. The country’s economy relies heavily on tourism and learning English is now crucial for many professions.
How long were you teaching in Siem Reap?
I taught English here for over a year.
What was your working environment like?
I taught ESL English at an international school. The students had all their other subjects in Khmer and then learned English in specific ESL classes. There are other schools that teach all subjects in English so is also a destination for qualified teachers of a variety of subjects. You teach generally from lesson books so don’t have to come up with the lesson plans yourself (although you do have to do a bit of prep first) and you often have to mark exams in your own time.
What was daily life like in Cambodia?
I taught a variety of part time classes as I also worked for a non-profit in town. Generally a full time teaching day here would mean teaching from 10-11.15 then 2-3.30, 4-5.30 and 6-7.30. I would teach various different classes depending on my availability that term. I generally taught upper intermediate and advanced classes which are more difficult from a teaching and knowledge perspective but much easier behaviourally. I had a few starter and elementary classes over my time here and they were hard work!
Did you have any teaching experience or qualifications prior to making the move?
Yes I was an English tutor in the UK for three years, I have an English Literature degree and I completed 120 hours of TEFL prior to moving there.
Did you experience any culture shock?
Not really! I’d travelled to Cambodia a number of times before deciding to move here so I knew what to expect. Also, compared to Thailand and Vietnam there are a surprising amount of home comforts available in Cambodia. The supermarkets stock western products and there is a big expat community here. Because of this there are lots of western style apartments, events and community gatherings that really help you to fit in here. Visit my site to find out more about how to teach English in Cambodia or about the differences and requirements to teach English in Southeast Asia.
What was your greatest experience while teaching in Siem Reap?
For my birthday, three different classes surprised me with a birthday cake and one group of advanced students made me a jar filled with flowers and little notes about how they felt about me! Definitely had a huge cry that day! The students here are genuinely so magical. Their inquisitive minds and passion for learning is so refreshing and makes you so enthusiastic to teach.
What piece of advice would you give to those considering teaching in Cambodia that you wish that you had been told?
Stand up for your students if you think it’s right. Many of the schools here have really disorganised curriculums and exams. I ended up helping to reform the marking structure of the exams at my school because I didn’t think it was fair on many of the students!
What opportunities did living in Cambodia give you to travel?
Cambodia is a great little hub, nestled between Laos, Vietnam and Thailand with many more a short flight away. They also have tons of stat holidays so there is lots of time to travel. There is also so much to see around Cambodia and we spent the weekends visiting deserted temples, waterfalls, mountains, neighbouring towns, pools and beaches!
What did you love most about the country?
It sounds cliche but the people! They welcomed me into their country in a way I’ve never experienced before. I learned some basic Khmer which was appreciated everywhere and I was able to really integrate into society there.
Any parting advice for working as a TEFL teacher overseas?
You will generally find far better placements securing a job yourself than by going through an agency who will likely take a cut of your wages. There are great facebook groups that have job listings or you can travel around once you’ve settled somewhere handing out your resume – it took us about 48 hours to find a role!
If you want to learn more about how to teach English in Cambodia, including understanding the requirements, costs, living conditions and salaries in the country, you can explore the resources that Elise has prepared at Travel, Work and Play. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram.
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Catch up on the other interviews in the TEFL series here.
Are you teaching English in an interesting location somewhere around the world and would like to be a part of the #TeflTuesday series? If you would like to share your story, please email me at: Melissa@highheelsandabackpack.com