You might not know it from looking at her fabulous, adventurous life, but Tanya van Enter actually loves to spend lazy days at home. Originally from South Africa, this TEFL teacher landed her first teaching gig in the gorgeous kingdom of Cambodia.

Don’t worry—it’s only the first of the many places she hopes to have the privilege of teaching in over the course of her life. Learn more about Tanya’s path towards teaching abroad and get inspired to start YOUR own journey!

Tanya posing outside a temple in Cambodia

What was your path to teaching abroad?

I used to work in an office job – accounting department. I did enjoy my job, but always felt I was meant for something more. Then I had a medical scare and realized that I need to follow my feelings and find out what I am meant to do. I have always loved to travel and help people, so why not combine the two? 

A friend of mine told me about TEFL. I looked into it and, well I am now Teaching in Cambodia.

Elephant statue

What TEFL course(s) did you decide to complete? What were the three most helpful things that you learned/practiced throughout your TEFL training?

WOW! It was really different from the English I learnt in school. It was amazing doing the course. With each module I learnt something new myself.

What drew you to Cambodia? Any fun stories to share—from both the classroom and life outside the classroom?

Cambodia – honestly I think Cambodia chose me instead of the other way around. They were the only place that would give me a chance with no experience. Once I was accepted with the Premier TEFL program, I started researching Cambodia.

Temple in Cambodia

There is not much people know about Cambodia, so going through the history I was amazed at how the country went through a terrible time, but never gave up on trying to make life better for them. And of course the pictures of the temples were absolutely amazing.

What advice do you have for individuals considering getting a TEFL certificate?

My advice to anyone thinking about doing the TEFL course – do it! No matter how old you are or what experience you have or don’t have. Ask yourself “what better way to experience new culture and see the world, while changing the lives of individuals?” And definitely learning something new about yourself along the way!

Temple in Cambodia

Describe your first few days abroad. What was it like? What were your biggest fears? How did you handle/manage them? 

On arrival, the first thing was the heat that said “ Welcome to Cambodia”. Then it was off on my first Tuk Tuk ride. Which was exciting and a little scary, but I made it to the apartment in one piece. Next was to catch up on some sleep and then off to meet some of the teachers that already arrived.

What a mixed bunch we are, American, Irish, Canadian, English, Indian and of course me, South African.

The first two weeks consisted of orientation – exploring and learning how to teach the Cambodians.

We went on a tour around Phnom Penh, as well as to one of the organic farms that they are a part of. We also had a lesson to learn some Khmer – the language is not easy! In a way we know what our students feel about learning English!

The first few classes where a ‘meet and greet’ the students. They are very quiet and don’t interact much. But luckily at least one student will interact, which helps the others get more comfortable.

They are really interested in learning English, sometimes they do go off-topic and what to know more about where I’m from and my likes and dislikes. But I just steer the conversation back to what they need to learn. We have a few laughs and some days are really hard. They look at me with blank looks on their faces and I get a little worried, but then I just take a deep breath and change my strategy.

The biggest fear I had coming here was that I was alone and am I going to be a good teacher. It’s a very overwhelming experience and I did burst into tears! I was wondering what I’m doing and why I’m doing this. I was doubting myself.

Tanya posing outside a temple

One thing I learnt was just to let those emotions flow out, don’t hold them back. I cried and cried and questioned myself, once it was out of my system, I pulled myself together and carried on. Took one day at a time. For me knowing that I’m here for a short time and have a job to do, really helped. As well as chatting to my family and friends back home.

If you take this journey for yourself, it will be overwhelming and you will have sad days. But take your moment, whether it’s to cry or write in a journal or to simply have a moment to yourself. Let your emotions flow and allow yourself to experience it all.

Steps up to a temple

Tell us about your favorite student/class and what you love most about them—heartwarming stories encouraged! 🙂

I have a Monk in one of my classes. I was a little nervous at first – there are things you can and can’t say or do around them. But he is such an amazing student! He is funny and interacts with others. He really wants to learn and improve his English language skills. 

The other students respect his boundaries, which is really important in their culture. It’s very interesting to witness and learn more about their culture.

Thank you for taking the time to share your magnificent Cambodia story with the PremierTEFL community. Happy travels!