Teaching in Cambodia

Quite a while back there, I thought that I would somehow broaden my horizons and venture out of the Land of Noodle Soup&Nam Prik and try a stint at teaching someplace else. Firstly, rather unsure on where to try my luck I asked around the ex-pat/teacher bars in Banglumphu before making-up my mind to go to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Being a teacher here in Thailand. I got quite used to having my own abode with all the essential everyday commodities but there in Cambodia, I soon found out that there wasn’t such a thing as an air-con condo at 4 and half thousand baht a month. Most teachers in the end, end-up spending their life there at a squalid guesthouse down by the lake or rent a ghekko-infested house all for themselves.

Next was the job hunt, sporting a shirt and tie I was ridiculed by the other teachers at the guesthouse for wearing such attire and that a scruff pair of trousers and a torn shirt was enough to find a job. I didn’t follow their words of wisdom and after a couple of hours soon had a part-time job at quite a posh school near the Central market. The money was pretty decent but the hours of work were beyond comprehension. My hours for the first couple of weeks were, as was the norm there, one hour in the morning 6-7, then a couple of hours from 12-2 and finally another hour from 7-8pm!

Well, I soon arrived at the job just in time for the 6 in the morning class expecting half the class to be still in bed but was flabbergasted to see that the whole class had arrived at 5:45! In no time, I realised that the standard of English in Phnom Penh was far higher than at any old pvt. school in Bangkok. I had got used to Thais, even with a proper enough education, still not being able to comprehend the difference between ‘I am going to’ and ‘I go’ but I was soon to be even more perplexed when a few of the Khmer students, asked me such mind-boggling questions as “Excuse Mr Steve could you pls explain the zero conditional tense” to which I replied “As a matter of fact I was going to delve into that tomorrow” before rushing out to buy a book on advanced grammar.

The class in the morning, weren’t too bad but the advanced class in the evening was made up of real boring serious stiffnecks. Even a couple of my buffalo and mother-in-law jokes didn’t get the slightest sign of a grin just a question as “What’s so funny about a buffalo?

As for the most of the other teachers in Cambodia, I have very little in the way of much value to say about them. Virtually everyone of them went to work like a scragg, dressed in flip-flops and fisherman pants, thinking this was appropriate working attire. As for their extra-curricular activities, these included just two pastimes: girls and a weekly visit to the pharmacy to stock up on as many ‘catchabuzz’ pharmaceuticals as they could cope with, before ‘conking out’.

As for teaching credentials, I don’t think the whole bunch had even a GCSE between them. I certainly wasn’t the most popular teacher at the school just because I preferred to look respectable, shower twice a day and did not have a fascination for chemicals. I really cheesed the quackwacks off when I landed one of the hottest teaching jobs in Phnom Penh at the country’s most prestigious company, CBL Cambodia Brewery Limited (Tiger Beer) paying a whopping $15 an hour, almost twice what they were getting, not bad at 24 hours a week.. When the scraggs asked me how I got the job, I replied “They were impressed by my tie and black shoes” and that I didn’t have a right greasy ponytail and blood-shot eyes.

I found the students at Tiger Beer a far friendlier lot to the boring stiffnecks at the pvt school. Especially fun to teach were the Sales guys in the morning, who had very little to chat about besides their naughty deeds with the Tiger promo girls in the back of their vans. Thailand has these promo girls now, I’m sure they got the idea from Cambodia as the first provinces of Thailand to have such girls were the provinces along the Cambodia border, now they are everywhere. Teaching in Cambodia was on the whole, trickier than in Thailand not just cause the students were of a higher standard but that some of the language from the book was difficult for them to understand and also for me to teach. For example ‘franchise’, now, not such a thing exists in Cambodia, or one time the book had us discuss the success of Mc Donalds or 7/11, of course most students didn’t have the foggiest to what they were, the closest they got was the song ‘Old Mc Donalds’.

The best thing about teaching at Tiger had to be the monthly party to which everyone had an endless supply of beer to top themselves up with before going home sloshed. One thing I did enjoy about Cambodia compared to Thailand was the working visa, which was of the simplest to get compared to the endless paperwork and time-wasting like you have to go through in Thailand. After 3 months in Phnom Penh and it was time to renew my visa. Arriving at the Immigration a little late I was informed by the guard that the office was closed, however, should I wish the ‘speedy service’ he pointed to a small office round the back.

Heeding his advice I was welcomed inside by an extremely friendly Pol. Cpt who advised me that the usual service at $30 was dreadfully slow, had to show a stack of paperwork and took up to a month to get. However, with his ‘special speedy service’, which cost $80, the service could be done within the hour. Of course his service sounded much more advisable and when I asked him to whether he needed a signature or at least a foto, he replied “Certainly not”. On leaving he handed me a stack of namecards to throw round to any other teachers that I happened to bump into. I returned the next morning and on seeing me, the Pol. Cpt called out “Mr Steve, sir” and simply picked out, from his shirt pocket, my passport and gave me it back. I was very impressed by the efficiency of his service.

Besides the pay and visa regularities, one other thing I liked about teaching there was the chance to really develop my knowledge of the technicalities of the English language as you seldom get the opportunity here, except for the odd TEFL class.

If you are interested in reading a little more about life in Phnom Penh, then do comment and I’ll write another part.


PS: I received a mail yesterday from a Thai student that read “Khru Steve, I enjoy reading your blogs very much but sometimes I don’t understand some your words and neither does my teacher”
So, for those wishing to learn some vocab:

Stint = some time
Abode = accomodation
Ghekko = cute little green four legged animal that enjoys running across your ceiling
Flabbergasted = amazed
The zero conditional tense = a scientific fact,V1+V1, such as ‘A man falls over when he drinks too much ’
Scragg = scruffy looking person: as the likes of that species that can be found along Khao San Road.
‘catchabuzz’ = prescription-only
conking out = falling asleep before you know it
to cheese off = to make angry
quackwack = not the brightest of persons

29 responses to “Teaching in Cambodia

  1. Thanks for that interesting blog. I would be interested to hear of some more adventures as well as some comparisons with Thailand. Did you get to learn any of the language? Outside of school, did you find many people speaking English? Would you go back?

  2. My cousin who lives in Cambodia teaches English & Chinese. When I went to visit, I was amazed at how much my young relatives knew how to speech English (& with only a slight accent too!). In Thailand, I experienced that many know English, but only minimally. I believe most may not feel they need to learn anything more than beyond the simple small talk.

    I think the difference lies in the emphasis placed on learning English between the two countries. It is hard to make a decent living in Cambodia and most of the parents encourage the kids to learn English in hopes that they have a better future (perhaps a chance to leave the country for a better life). As you said, even the luxuries one can find in Thailand cannot be found in Cambodia.

    However, American schools kids are notorious for not really knowing correct English grammar! Many who enter college level classes have to take a remedial grammar course (and waste a semester, essentially) because their grammar is not up to par!

  3. hello, am really enjoyed reading yr story. it really kool. well am from new zealand but my nationality is cambodia. if it all right for u to write more about the time u in cambodia, cuz i really want to know how much cambodia enviroment improve, well the reason i want to know is, because i haven’t been to cambodia since the last 4 year and half. so thank q very much, i look forward to see yr next story.

  4. Thanks for the comments, will write another part on the life there.
    I very much agree with one comment above, that the Cambodians fully realise the importance of learning English and are really dedicated, unlike half my students here. Remember the story about my 6am class, my gosh, the diligence and commitment of them. I also found that many of the Khmers had also a very strong knowledge of the Thai language, i mean – good.
    Two little things i would disagree about the Khmers is that many of them put to high a priority on learning grammar, they are crazy for it! When instead what they need to develop is more listening and conversation skills. Finally, i found that a lot of them feel that English is of the upmost importance and so shy away from learning other skills also very important in the everyday world and that is science and computer etc..

  5. Interesting story.I want to know about Cambodia ,I mean do u like Combodia culture,food,people me too, I like to read your story and pleasure story because i want to learn english .Please don’t angry with me but i don’t agree ghekko cute.

  6. Great idea about the vocab. 🙂

  7. Nice story and interesting blog. If you felt compelled to post the details of how you went about finding your job, you would find yourself with yet another contented reader.

  8. I truly enjoy reading stories about Cambodia, it brings me closer to having the guts to go there some day. My parents are going in April for the New Years, they’re very excited to go back to their homeland for the first time in nearly 20 years. My parents came to America a week or two before I was born and so I am so used to the simple way of life. I’ve seen movies that my grandparents tape while they’re there. I get intimidated with the food, the weather, and speaking khmer. I am not so fluent in khmer, but since you say there are quite a few who know some English, it makes it easier for me. Well, I would be interested in reading more about your wonderful experiences.

  9. Very interesting and entertaining story! Especially the vocab you gave…
    I learned “flabbergasted” only last english lesson and was flabbergasted to see now that it is actally used – I thought our teacher was just kidding us.
    I could guess some of the other words, but still others it was good to have explained. 😉

  10. Don’t feel badly, Thai readers: I’ve spoken my native English over 50 years, and had never heard the words:
    to cheese off,

    Thanks for expanding my vocabulary, Mr. Steve!

    –from an admiring American reader–

  11. Hey, great blog. I am teaching in Korea right now and my contract ends in Oct. I would like a three month contract in Cambodia or Thailand. Can I do this, also, I would love to read more about Cambodia. Thanks…

  12. hi, i enjoyed reading your brief story,i have been to thailand many times ,iam an english teacher in india ,at present iam a director in an international school in india we have many thai students here.i have something to share with you i tried my level best to find a teaching job in thailand but they look for native english speakers,i fail to understand the logic behind this ,i can spesk very good english and also have done my masters in english and a bachelors in education but no luck can you suggest me something.

  13. Steve,

    Great post!! I’m heading to Cambodia in a few weeks. A little bit about my background. I was born in Cambodia, but left for the US in when I was about 6/7 years old. Lived here (MA) ever since. After graduation, I went to teach English over in Japan. Got back early this year.
    Eventhought my trip to Cambodia will be a pleasure trip, I hope to scout out some teaching positions if possible.
    Do you have any recommendation/suggestions? Again, thanks for the post!

  14. Enjoyed reading your article Steve. Are you still there or have you ventured elsewhere? I am hoping to go next year. Any tips or interesting places to work? I am a teacher and have the right qualifications. hope to hear from you soon.

  15. I am a qualified teacher who would like to complete minimum of 6 months voluntary work teaching children and women from the villages and/or poorer urban areas in Cambodia (or Vietnam). My research so far has not left me with much positive information. The majority of organisations who operate from UK or USA seem to be geared towards rich kids in their gap year (needing backup support while working abroad)or people who want to make their CVs look better and are prepared to pay thousands to say they “taught” in Asia. I am not in my gap year infact I’m mid 40s and have travelled enough to know the sorts of people I dont want to be working with e.g the spaced out pseudo hippies as described in your article!
    I am not suggesting for one minute that all volunteers are covered by the description above but Voluntary Organisations seem to attract such people in greater numbers these days because of the of the financial charge they put on volunteering.
    Living expenses or free reasonable accommodation would be welcome but finance is not my real concern. The qualities of my collegues is the issue. Could you give me any advice or contacts to try and get a Voluntary post in Cambodia OR Vietnam, where I would not be expected to pay for offering my services for free? Your comments about accommodation are helpful as I think I have done my share of sharing digs with the world’s wildlife. Could you expand on the accommodation issue any further primarily in Cambodia but also Vietnam?
    Thanks for your help.

  16. georgegollnick

    Hi Steve,
    Iam in Phenmom Penh now, married to a KHMER woman, having trouble getting USA EMBASSEY TO GIVE HER A VISAM SHE IS A HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER HERE.
    I want to stay at least 1 year and teach English, I a advertising sales manager in the states, my degree is in US HISTORY.
    Any ideas for me

  17. georgegollnick

    HEY Guys,
    Iam sorry that the computer iam using skips letters or adds letters, as i said in previous blog, my wife is KHMER, living here in Phnom Penh, and US EMBASSEY doing a administrative review to let her in USA.
    I would like to stay and teach in Phnom PENH

  18. Very nice post…. great detail.

    I have been teaching English in Malaysia for a number of years but am interested in trying somewhere different for a change.

    I am married….I wonder how Cambodia would be for a spouse????

  19. Loved reading your account,
    I’m planning on traveling to Thailand and Cambodia in March to teach.
    I would like to hear more.

  20. Dear Steve,

    I am looking to teach in Phnom Penh and will be there in August 2008. I’m 29 years old and would love to know what my potential earnings could be there. I have a TEFL certificate, 120 hours, but no real experience. The TEFL included 8 hours teacher practise which was based in Bangkok Thailand (even the students arrived late for these classes!) and we were assessed by a real teacher which contributed to our overall grade. In the teaching practise we taught four different levels, Beginner, Elementary, Pre Intermediate and Intermediate, 2 classes for each level. With this I gained invaluable experience so I feel prepared and confident to teach. Any advise would be great. Thanks.

    Kind Regards

  21. For any of you Americans who wish to marry an non-US. I am married to a Russia and this is what you do. Obtain a fianance visa , bring her to the states and marry within 3 months. It’s a piece of cake. Otherwise, you are in a world of hurt marrying in another country.

  22. izuegbu martin obinna

    i really would like to teach in cambodia; be part of the whole that want to create a new face of environment for the cambodians.
    Thank you.

  23. Thanks for that info. I have been teaching in Thailand for 3 years and am thinking of moving to Cambodia. The thing you talked about were visas but you did not mention work permits.

  24. Tony Buchanan

    I read with great interest you blog. I have done much travelling in the past to the extent that I returned to academia to receive the neccessary qualifications so I may one day return there and help in some way. I am now in a position to do so and am coming back to Cambodia in the next two months to do some voluntary teaching but untill I read your blog I was worried about supporting myself.
    It was simultaneously refreshing and dissapointing to hear your comments on the attitudes of some Westeners as far as showing respect to other cultures.
    I was in a remote part of Vietnam last year living with a Khmer family. Certainly when walking around their own premasis the men wore shorts and were often bare chested but whenever they went to visit a neighbour they always put on a pressed pair of trowsers and a clean full sleaved shirt.

  25. Tony Buchanan

    Another brief message first to apologise for a couple of misspelings-great Tony certainly you can teach our children. And also to thank Stephen for also expanding my vocabulary. I am also in my 50s and have a Masters degree but as I told my South African trainee repetativly English is an everexpanding language so I would like to add some other no documented words.

    wonga money
    chuggalug a particularly cute child
    Yowser a salutation often demonstrating an agreement of some kind


  26. Hi.Thinking of moving to Cambodia next year to teach English.
    I dont have a batchelors degree.
    Will this be a problem.
    Thanks Cal

    PS Any feedback on Tefl courses in Phnom Penh would be appreciated also.

  27. Hello,
    I also am thinking about Going to teach
    in Cambodia, I do not have a degree either. I am thinking about taking a class there. I just wanted what info u found out. And if you could pass it on to me.

  28. …just returned from PP and look forward to looking you up and having a few Tigers. I hope to hear from you.
    Just finished my TESOL fr Asian Language
    Corp;and an ESL from crossroads last year in Shanghai I have a two year degree, and I look forward to teaching
    in Cambodia, Vietnam.
    Great site..


  29. …i look forward to any input about teaching in Vietnam(HCMC) and or Cambodia.
    Please follow up.