Teaching in Cambodia was just the thing for dedicated and ambitious educator Grace. She has traveled to huge lengths to road-test her new career as an ESL teacher, with the full support of her fiancé. Having overcome all possible challenges, including the Coronavirus outbreak, she shares her positive story with Premier TEFL readers.
Tell us about yourself Grace. We’d love to know more about your background, what drew you to teaching abroad!
Hello, my name is Grace. I’m from Namibia (born in Zambia) and I am a proud young African woman. I always thought after I had my child, I would have to dig my feet into one place until she is old enough to explore the world on her own. But the older she was, the more I was inspired to create the life I envisioned for my little family.
I am engaged to my daughter’s father, and he is nothing but supportive. We are on a journey to discover all that we can do in the world as opposed to the conventional ways we have grown to know. I have a degree in accounting and I’ve always been very corporate-driven. Last year, I decided to work two jobs. I worked as an insurance broker consultant (to pay the bills) and a part-time assistant teacher at a recently established international school back home (to feed my soul).
After a few months of being there I took a leap of faith and decided to start teaching in Cambodia. To really see if I could make a career out of it. It has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.
Describe your path to teaching abroad. Did you always know you’d end up in Cambodia?
It all started when I was back home in Namibia. I was about to buy a house. I was looking at contracts and loan agreements of twenty years was when it hit me! This can’t be it. I’m not saying people who buy houses are trapped, but I felt that would be the case for me. There was always an itch to go outside my norm, to see the world and make a difference. So when I started reading up about teaching abroad, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
How did I choose Cambodia? Well, I didn’t. Cambodia chose me. It never even crossed my mind. I constantly read about more popular places like Thailand, China, etc. Cambodia accepted my country to teach English, even as a “non-native”. And after a few videos, articles and a bit of soul searching – I decided to give it a go!
What was the most helpful part of your TEFL certification? Do you feel like you incorporate what you learnt on your course into your classroom?
The TEFL Certificate experience was quite fun for me. I loved learning everything about what I would be doing. The most helpful part for me was the little voice clips inserts that I had after a module. I got to hear how I could use what I’m learning in a practical way. I feel like the practical experience is always so much different from theoretical knowledge. But I must admit that I definitely stole a few lesson plans from my course and they have definitely gone a long way.
Have you bonded with your fellow interns in Cambodia? Tell us about that and if it has been an important part of your teaching experience.
I’m so grateful to have met Fern and Darcy. We are a like box of smarties in our little flat, all from different walks of life. I don’t think my journey would have been the same if I didn’t have my housemates. We all just get along, we go out together, party together, brainstorm together and we pick each other up when we are down.
We have definitely become a family that I’ll always hold dear to my heart and also have the opportunity to meet the other volunteer teachers. And I can honestly say that I would not trade anyone or any of our experiences for anything! They are all family now.
Tell us three things about your time teaching in Cambodia that you did not expect. This will help future teachers when preparing for their trip.
- I think I underestimated the traffic. I know what busy streets look like, or at least I thought I did. The traffic in Phnom Penh can definitely become overwhelming. But after a while and a mirror pep talk I gave myself, I could get used to it.
- Secondly, I wasn’t prepared for the heat. I come from Namibia, and we are basically a desert. So I know what it means when someone says it’s hot. But the heat here comes with intense humidity that still takes some time to get used to. I’ve been to Thailand, China and Indonesia, but was still caught off guard.
- Lastly, we were probably the unluckiest group ever to come here when a pandemic broke out. It’s like a movie. I definitely didn’t expect that in my wildest dreams. But I don’t think anyone would have. I wouldn’t say how to prepare, because it’s definitely a rare occurrence. But I will say that when you have a new found family in times like this, all the uncertainty and panic almost completely goes away.
What has been your most rewarding experience whilst teaching in Cambodia?
The feeling of making a difference in even just one student’s life and the feeling of having an impact. The joy of watching a student who was once shy and seemingly unable, come out of their shell and interact in ways you didn’t even think were possible in the beginning. This entire experience is rewarding. It’s humbling. I have to admit I’ve probably learnt as much as I’ve taught!
In your free time outside of teaching, have you been able to travel and explore Cambodia?
Definitely, and I wanted to see everything. And boy did I. I went to Siem Reap, Kep, Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. I even took the train to Kep. During my visa run, I had the privilege of going to Malaysia too. Travelling around Asia is so affordable.
What is the most interesting thing that you have learned about Khmer culture or people?
The most interesting thing for me is the way they laugh when they are uncomfortable, uncertain or shy. It’s definitely something that took a while to get used to. But now I must admit. I do it too.
What advice do you have for someone on the fence about teaching abroad in a place like Cambodia?
My advice is what I told my mother when I embarked on this journey. Put yourself out there and learn about different cultures and lifestyles. Don’t listen to what they say. Go see for yourself! Make a difference. You might just learn more about yourself in the process.
We agree! Thank you for taking the time to share your inspirational story with the Premier TEFL community. You rock, Grace!