Namibia native and TEFL teacher extraordinaire, Eva, has had some amazing experiences since landing in Cambodia and catching the travel bug! ✈️
This girl knows what she’s talking about when it comes to TEFL and travel, a must-read insight of an amazing TEFL teacher who loves both teaching and learning during her travels!
She hasn’t retired her TEFL certificate just yet—we can’t wait to see where she’s off to next
Tell us about your decision to do a TEFL internship. What was it about Cambodia that attracted you?
I was planning on taking a year sabbatical and wanted to explore possibilities to make extra money while I was abroad and at the same time have an opportunity to contribute positively to a community.
I had decided against obtaining my TEFL certificate via an in-country program because of costs and I was not ready to commit to a long-term contract that came with the job placements.
Personally, I didn’t feel confident that only doing the online course would fully prepare me for the responsibilities and challenges of a TEFL teacher. The internship program was the perfect match for me because it didn’t require long-term commitment and offered additional support and training.
I mainly chose Cambodia because of its history and all the amazing things I heard about it from friends who had traveled there. Other factors that helped me make the decision was the timing and duration of the program and also that I did not require a degree.
What was it like to move to Cambodia? What was the most exciting thing about the country you first noticed?
When I arrived in Cambodia it was my first time in South East Asia. Despite having done loads of research prior to arriving, nothing could have prepared me for chaotic yet accelerating energy that fills the streets of Phnom Penh.
I have to admit that I had a bit of culture shock the first few days. But once I met the other interns and we started exploring our new home, it became a lot easier and so much fun.
For me riding in a Tuk Tuk and navigating your way through all the traffic was pretty exciting. Because it seemed like there were no rules yet everyone managed to flow harmoniously. I was very proud of myself once I mastered the art of crossing the road in Asia!
What does a typical day of teaching English consist of for you? What’s your favorite aspect of teaching in Cambodia?
I taught conversational English for beginners, intermediate and advanced. My students’ ages ranged from 17 to 40 years old. The group sizes varied but were small so it allowed me to really get to know each student.
In the beginning, I spent about 60-90 minutes on each lesson plan. That included how to teach vocabulary, games and additional exercises. Sometimes, I had to focus on explaining the content itself and try to localize it before starting the language lesson.
As I became more experienced my lesson planning was reduced to 30 – 60 min per lesson depending on the content. Each class was 1 hour long and started at 16:00 until 19:00. This meant I had the mornings free and would go to school after lunch time.
My favorite aspect was getting to know my students. Each unit covered a new topic and because my students were older I was able to engage on a deeper level. It was interesting to see their perception and hear their opinions. I loved hearing about their individual journeys, dreams, and aspirations. It was very rewarding seeing them being able to express themselves, see their personalities shine through and to see their confidence grow as the term progressed.
Tell us three things a future teacher in Cambodia should know before they travel?
- That in many ways you will be their gateway to the outside world. They have limited exposure to international entertainment, geography and history. So have an open mind and use your platform to not only teach them English but bring the world to their doorstep. I bought one of my classes burritos because they had never had Mexican food before and until that point couldn’t point out where Mexico was on a map. It helped us bond and I used it as a way to practice, they had to identify the ingredients and explain how it tasted etc.
- Be ready to experience compassion and empathy like nowhere else. Cambodia’s history is heartbreaking but Cambodian people are so strong and they are rising above it. They have so many inspiring stories, so be ready to learn important life lessons from them. Make an effort to learn about their history and culture!
- Prior to arriving, save as much money as you can so that you are able to experience the best parts of Cambodia. They call it “The Kingdom of Wonder” for a reason. Make the most of your 10 weeks and make sure to hang out with locals.
Describe the fun you have when you’re not in the classroom?
I like to refer to the capital as the “Play Penh”! Unlike other cities, it doesn’t offer all its treasures on a platter. It takes some digging but once you find the gems, like quirky bars and restaurants, it all becomes worth it. Whether it’s salsa nights at a popular expat bar or karaoke with locals – there’s lots of fun to be had.
There are so many amazing restaurants with all types of international cuisine on the days you want a break from the delicious local food. The nightlife also doesn’t disappoint! Whether you’re looking for something more sophisticated or want to hang with tourist on the backpacker scene – there is something for every budget.
Over the 10 weeks, I tried to alternate my weekends between staying in Phnom Penh and exploring the rest of Cambodia. There are many buses to all the key areas and it was so easy to plan a weekend breakaway.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced on the road to living abroad? How did you overcome them—any advice for our readers/future TEFL adventurers
At times I struggled to adjust to basic living conditions. While this was communicated before it is quite different in the moment. It was not long until I started fantasizing about a warm shower or the luxury of popping something in the oven or even just lazing on a couch after a long day. But it really did put things into perspective as I knew this was a reality for a lot of people and it made me appreciate my privileges back home so much more.
Because I wasn’t going through this on my own it was a lot easier to deal with some of the adjustment challenges. I and the other interns could joke about things or discuss it over a beer and music in our shared apartment.
The only advice I can offer is that you need to be mentally prepared and willing to be out of your comfort zone, which will be challenged daily. You need to manage your own expectations versus the reality of how things operate in your host city/country. Once you accept the new culture and mindset it can be such an enlightening experience.
What have you been up to since you finished your internship and what’s next for Eva?
Since I completed my internship I decided to travel through the rest of Southeast Asia and South America. In the past 7 months, I have visited 11 countries. My original plan was to do another internship in South America but for now, I really enjoy the freedom and being a tourist. However, after my travels, I will consider returning to one of my favorite countries to get a full-time teaching contract.
While there is no way I could ever properly articulate my experiences, I thought it might be cool to see it in numbers:
- 211 days on the road
- 11 countries visited
- 55 accommodations ️
- 35 flights boarded ✈️
- 30 long-distance buses
- 7 ferries/boats
- 7 visas