Teaching in Cambodia

Mikayla from Mikayla Jane Travels talks to us about her amazing time teaching in Cambodia – including an insight into a typical day teaching and the cost of travel and living in Cambodia. For those interested, you can choose to take a TEFL Cambodia course to prepare. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work abroad?

I’m 23 years old, from Australia. I’ve always travelled throughout my life, with my family. When I turned 20 I decided I wanted to live and work abroad and what better time to do that than now. I gained a 160hr  TEFL Certificate through the company i-to-i. I signed my contract on the 19th of December and flew over to Phnom Penh on January 1st 2015.

Why did you decide to teach in Cambodia?

I applied for probably over 100 jobs all over the world. I ultimately didn’t mind which country I went to as they’re all on my to-do list. I made sure I did my research and sieved through the good jobs and culled the dodgy ones. The best job that ticked all the boxes for me, happened to be in Cambodia.

How did you apply for a job teaching in Cambodia?

A lot of it was through online advertising sites like Daves ESL Cafe.

Teaching in Cambodia

How did you find the visa process?

Very very easy. Every person entering Cambodia receives a 30 day tourist visa. This is done at the airport when you arrive. There’s no forms, no questions, you just pay for it (When I went I think it was $25 USD, but I know it has gone up since). Make sure you have USD to pay for it , as there is no ATM’s before that point.

Also, bring a few passport sized photos for this visa. They use it to scan onto your visa document. If you do not have any, they will charge you $2-$5 USD (depending on their mood) to scan your passport to gain that photo. This is just a way for the officials to get their lunch money. As they literally have the printer on their desk, It’s an incredibly humorous interaction, giving you a taste test for whats to come in the rest of the country.

Before the 30 days runs out, you head to a visa station (dotted all over the capitol) and buy either a 6 month or 12 month working visa. This was around $350USD for the 12 months. Again, very easy, you just pay the money with your passport and they stamp it. No proof of employment is needed.

Your school then has to organise your working permit (which is a seperate document) basically verifying that they are employing you. This is done by the school. You should not have to pay for this. Though if you work for some of the dodgier schools, they may make you pay for it.

What are some of the perks about living in Cambodia?

Adventure and cheap food.

I found daily life intriguing. Every day there was something that shocked me, angered me, made me laugh or humbled me. Jumping on a bicycle or tuk-tuk and heading out to the remote villages around the city was always a highlight!

My whole perspective on life (especially in the western world) has changed.

Cheap street food is dotted everywhere! Noodle soup for $1 was a staple dinner for me. Delicious fruit and fresh coconuts everywhere to get you through the intense humidity.

What are some of the challenges about living in Cambodia?

The intense confrontation of poverty, human trafficking, injustice, equality, war and dictatorship daily. Travelling to Cambodia as a tourist, you may not see this at all. But living with the people, following the countries events for 12 months, it was hard to hide from it all. Feeling helpless in making any sort of a positive impact as a single human. My focus point was the children I was teaching. I gained strength in knowing I was teaching them values and skills that would make their lives, their generation, better.

Teaching in Cambodia

What does a typical day look like?

A typical day teaching in Cambodia:

Get up at 6am, it’s already sticky hot. Jump in my tuk-tuk at 6:30am. Get to school and wait for all of my kids to arrive in the main hall.

Head up into my classroom for breakfast time. The school supplies breakfast and myself and my TA dish it out to the children. They learn Chinese with a Chinese teacher from 9-10. I teach them english from 10-11. We then dish them out lunch. They then have sleep time from 12-2:30. They then have their afternoon snacks and I teach them English from 3-4:30. They then get picked up at 5pm. Some kids stay back and learn Khmer till 6pm.

Catch a tuk-tuk home and grab dinner from one of the street stalls on my street.

This was my day, teaching in my particular school with 4 year olds. There’s no set curriculum or times for schools. So each one is different.

Also if you are tutoring or doing night classes at an english language school, it would look completely different for you.

Do you get to travel around South East Asia much? Where is your favourite place to visit?

Yes! Cambodia has around 30 public holidays, with some of them going for a few days to a week! I got to travel all over the country, part of Vietnam and The Phillipines! My favourite was visiting the small village of Takeo. I had befriended a Cambodian family in the city, and this was where their extended family lived. I would be invited on visits to the village.

They would cook huge meals from all the local produce and we’d all sleep together on the floor. These are memories I will cherish forever! I was extremely lucky to have experienced such kindness and hospitality.

Are you able to save much money whilst working in Asia?

Totally depends on your lifestyle and how you consider living ‘comfortably’. I certainly was able to save a few months to be able to travel to vietnam and the Phillipines. But if you like going out and drinking and eating out every night, you won’t be able to save as much. Though you will live like a king while you are there.

What is the average cost of living in Cambodia? Can you share some typical prices?

All prices depend on which suburb you live in Cambodia. For example at Russian Market in Phnom Penh, this is where most expats live. The locals know this. So most prices double or triple. If you stay in a more local area, you will get local prices, or at least it will be easier to barter the prices.

Some examples:

Iced coffee from a roadside cart: Russian Market 4000riel ($1USD), My local area 1500riel (25c)

Chicken Noodles: Russian Market $2USD, My local area, $1USD

Restaurant meal: Local restaurant $2USD, On riverside (the most popular tourist strip) $5-$10 USD

As you can see though, everything is still dirt cheap!!! But if you’re looking at budgeting, and extending your stay, this is a way to do it.

If you buy anything from supermarkets, malls or western style restaurants/shops, you will usually pay western prices, as these places are really only there for the expat community.

For bare essentials, be sure to checkout the 2500riel shops dotted all over the city. It’s like our $2 shops at home. These shops carry everything from hair ties, toilet paper, books, jewellery, phone cases, homewares and snacks. And everything is just 2500 riel ($0.50 USD)! Great for picking up odd bits and bobs that you may need on your travels or in your teaching position.

Ultimately, I found it easy to live comfortably for around $500USD a month. ($200 USD rent on top. This $200 covered my apartment rent, water, electricity, wifi, gas, all furnishings and as an agent fee for any issues that needed to be resolved with the school or my apartment)

What are some of your best travel moments?

Although visiting Angkor Wat is an incredible experience, it is amazing to see more of the country. Definitely travelling around Cambodia to remote parts. It was amazing to see the local life and how humble and happy Cambodians are. My visits to Takeo, Mondulkiri and Battambang were my major highlights!

What advise would you give to others who want to teach in Cambodia?

It’s not easy. It’s not always sunshine, smiles and rainbows. It’s not all about the cheap food and lifestyle. If you are going there to work, be prepared to put in the hard yards! But also know that all the hard yards are slowly making a wonderful positive change in this country.

I remember having days of giving up and a child would come up and say something that I had taught them or be asking an intriguing question…. It made everything worthwhile!! To see their little minds and eyes light up, their smiles and giggles… that made every piece of heartache for the rest of the injustices that I ccouldn’t fix, melt away.

Thank you Taylor for sharing your experiences working around the world in local jobs.

Any questions or comments, leave them in the comments below!

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Teaching in Cambodia
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  1. I was so emotional reading this especially that part where the little kid comes up to her to brighten her dull day. I’ve always been curious about the expat lifestyle and I’m glad to have found a nice reading here. Though it’s ups and down, your selflesss service to the kids is what matters most.

  2. To find life intriguing every day is the whole reason I travel too! Working in Cambodia sounds like quite the experience – my sister volunteered in an orphanage here for 6 months, and she had very similar things to say; she was also quite confronted by the poverty, human trafficking, injustice, and war. But overall reported that it was a fabulous experience, a very emotional one at times, but one which she will remember for the rest of her life.

  3. I love this interview! I have heard a lot about teaching English abroad, but I had never had a proper insight of the life there. I am amazed with the food prices! Super affordable! I would definitely love to have a look at Cambodia and the surrounding countries!

  4. What an amazing experience! But I do understand the extreme poverty weighing heavily at times because it affected us heavily while we were in Morocco. But I’m in love that Taylor adopted the local lifestyle and people and reaped the benefits of meeting such loving people.

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