There have been many questions in the past surrounding the mystique of Cambodia with one of them being: ‘What is it that makes Cambodia so special?’ Those who have had the chance to visit or perhaps even live there would be quick to answer – ‘The people and the spirit.’ Yes, indeed Cambodia is a special place and once you’ve been there one time, it will remain in your heart and memory forever. Of course there are perhaps hundreds more reasons to visit Cambodia. There are the stunning and awe-inspiring temples of Angkor. There’s the beautiful vast and surprisingly clean countryside. There are the sprawling picturesque beaches on Cambodia’s southern coast, Sihanookville and then of course there’s the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh’s nightlife. But despite everything that Cambodia has to offer, you’ll always be reminded how hospitable Cambodians are and if you’re in a smaller town or village even, you’ll surely become the local celebrity. People will call you ‘teacher’ wherever you go and you’ll likely be wined and dined and shown a good time. So bearing all of this in mind, how does one go about getting a teaching job in Southeast Asia’s hidden gem?
Believe it or not there are numerous foreign expats living in Cambodia and teaching English as a second language. There are your qualified ESL professionals who have all the right paperwork and then there are your backpackers who’ll volunteer a few of their weeks or months in local Cambodian orphanages in lieu of a bed to sleep in. There are many foreigners, who are serious about working in Cambodia; however, many have also discovered that working in Cambodia’s neighbouring countries is still more rewarding. The average salary for foreign ESL teachers in Phnom Penh is approximately $10-14 USD per hour. Unfortunately, the pay doesn’t get any higher than this and ESL teachers in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville are said to earn even less.
So, if teaching English in Cambodia isn’t really financially rewarding, why do teachers still flock to its sandy shores? One of the reasons why teaching in Cambodia is popular is because there are fewer restrictions on entry. Also, unlike other countries around the world, it’s possible to pick up an ESL job in Cambodia without having a university degree. And even though it may sound discriminatory, those who are good-looking have a better chance of getting hired as an ESL teacher in Cambodia with or without a degree because a lot of business in Cambodia is still based on a superficial form of image.
However, if you do wish to increase the odds of getting a better paying EFL job in Cambodia, it does pay to have a TEFL qualification and some previous EFL teaching experience.
It’s true that Cambodia is a poor country. It’s also true that the majority of Cambodians can’t afford language lessons, however, knowing English is the future and many Cambodians save hard and put aside part of their hard-earned earnings until they can afford their English courses. There are a few schools that do not care about your qualifications, but the majority of Cambodian English language schools know what students sacrifice to learn English and see it as really unfair to give them mediocre students, therefore, if you do want to work at a reputable and reliable school that will pay you fairly and on time, you ought to have some sort of TEFL certification from an accredited institution.
If you don’t have the right experience or TEFL qualifications, you could always try your hand at volunteering for a few months to see if this is the right career path for you. There are a number of children’s and women’s organisations in Cambodia that are eager for more volunteer teachers. This is a good way of testing the waters to see if being an EFL teacher is really the right thing.
By nature, Cambodian children can be quite energetic and therefore the ESL classroom in a Cambodian school can be sometimes rather raucous and lively. You’ll need a lot of patience, but most children are excited to learn English and you’ll most likely develop good relationships with your students if you have them for long enough.
It’s also essential to remember when applying for an ESL job in Cambodia that the majority of teachers (ESL/EFL included) only ever get paid for the hours they teach in the classroom and not their preparation time. It’s also a good thing to remember that despite your salary being quite low, you’ll still be taxed on it at approximately 15%. In saying all of this, for the average foreigner in Cambodia things are still really cheap. Some of the average prices include:
- Please note that the local currency is the Cambodian riel, however, the US dollar is widely used and accepted.
Cheap meal for one: $3.20
A pint of local beer: $1
A regular coffee: $1.80
0.33l Bottle of water: $0.60
One-way ticket on local transport: $1.40
Starting tariff for a taxi: $2
Modern one-bedroom apartment in city centre: $396
One-bedroom apartment outside city centre: $220
Cambodia is great if you’re up for a bit of adventure. You’ll need to exercise a lot of patience at times as things can take a while to get done, especially paperwork. By far Phnom Penh, the capital is the place to go if you’re looking for a more reputable English language school in Cambodia, however, standards of schools and living in other major Cambodian cities such as Battambang, Siem Reap and Paoy Pet are also pretty high.
So, in short Cambodia is a place for the adventurer and intrepid traveler. Its tourism has flourished in recent years and as it’s known to many as the “Land of Smiles,” it’s true what they say – Cambodian locals are some of the friendliest in the world.