Teaching English in Cambodia
There’s a substantial realignment happening at the present time in terms of preferred destinations for aspiring English as a second language (ESL) teachers. While interest in Japan, Korea and even Thailand seems to be waning, teaching English in Cambodia is rapidly becoming more than a faint blimp on the radar of both newbie ESL teachers and seasoned campaigners alike.
Cambodia is arguably the ‘last frontier’ in Asia for ESL teaching opportunities and like every other ‘frontier’ the world has known, ‘pioneers’ are in high demand. If you fancy yourself as an ESL pioneer, if you’re up for an adventure or perhaps you just want to make a positive difference in the lives of local people who have been doing it tough for generations, teaching English in Cambodia may well be your calling.
While students of all ages – young learners through to corporate high flyers – have been marching off to English language classes in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, China and in other Asian countries for the past couple of decades, it’s a relatively new trend in Cambodia, becoming more popular by the day. Why, you may ask, especially given that studying English as a second language isn’t ‘sexy’ like training to be a sports star or swiping pages on an IPad? From what I’ve witnessed first-hand over the past few years, the current generation of Cambodians see English language skills as a pathway to a better future. Moreover, the parents and grandparents of the current generation know how dangerous a lack of education can be. By any measure, Cambodians are resilient and they won’t allow a tragic past to repeat itself, or dictate what the future holds.
Privately owned ‘International’ schools and English Language Centres are sprouting all over Phnom Penh and there are even a few up north in Siem Reap and down south in Sihanoukville. The Sovannaphumi School is one of the largest ‘K1 through to K12’ institutions in Cambodia with 25 campuses and almost 30,000 students. Sovannaphumi is huge, by local standards and by world standards and there are a few other schools in Cambodia of similar size.
With the demand for English language classes in Cambodia going through the roof, there’s a corresponding demand for people with the qualifications and skills to take on jobs teaching English in Cambodia. Internationally recognised TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certification, such as the Australian Government accredited Certificate IV in TESOL, is the minimum academic qualification for teaching English in Cambodia. Those people who hold quality ESL certification and a university degree (in any discipline) are in strong demand. Rightly or wrongly, being a native English speaker is also looked upon favourably, but non-native English speakers shouldn’t be deterred; there are plenty of jobs available.
It’s fair to say the hourly rate of pay for teaching English in Cambodia is quite a bit less than what’s on offer in neighbouring countries. Moreover, the hours that ESL teachers in Cambodia are required to work, tend to be more. Having said this, the salary at the end of the month and even more important, the savings capacity through teaching English in Cambodia (around 50%) is not dissimilar to what’s on offer in neighbouring countries. By way of example, a native English speaker with a degree and TESOL will typically work 30+ hours a week teaching English in Cambodia and receive a net monthly salary of around US $1,300.00. In comparison, if the same person was teaching in Vietnam, he (or she) would typically work 20+ hours a week for a similar net salary.
One of the more obvious differences between teaching English in Cambodia and teaching in a neighbouring country like Vietnam is when most of the work hours occur. In Cambodia, English language classes mainly occur during the daytime, Monday to Friday and rarely in the evening or over the weekend. In contrast, English classes in Vietnam mostly take place in the evening, Monday to Friday and anytime over weekend.
Sure, the net monthly salary, hourly rates, savings capacity and suchlike that teaching English in Cambodia affords, are important considerations before diving in head first. I’d like to place another important consideration on the table – lifestyle! If I had to choose between: 1. living in an exotic country, working a handful of hours each week, saving money and getting ahead; or 2. the 9 to 5 grind in my home country while trying to make ends meet, the decision is very much a ‘no brainer’.
Those folks who turn their mind to teaching English in Cambodia need to be realistic about what’s on offer, or perhaps more important, what’s not on offer in a developing country. Basic infrastructure in Cambodia is either non-existent, ‘patchy’ or in both a literal and metaphorical sense, ‘in the pipeline’. Vermin are commonplace, garbage is dumped in the street (later taken away – mostly), the climate tends to be hot, very hot, or very, very hot with an occasional downpour that leaves whole neighborhoods submerged and local people tend to be unorganised and work at a pretty slow pace. Food choices can also be confronting; barbequed cockroaches are not my idea of snack food. Neither are the ‘arachnid-looking’ things, a Cambodian delicacy, that bear a striking resemblance to the ‘Daddy Long Legs’ that lived in my old pop’s outside loo when I was a kid.
The ‘negatives’ you’ll surely see first-hand if it happens you embark on an odyssey teaching English in Cambodia are part of the reason I love the place. It is stunningly different to any country I’ve visited – and I’ve been to a few – and the ‘unexpected’ prevails. You will smile more often than you’ve ever smiled before. You might even break out in an audible chuckle when you see something like a local person transporting two full size fridges in a ‘T formation’ on the back of a motorbike. I saw it on my last trip and I certainly broke out in an audible chuckle. Most of all, you will be taken back by the overt hospitality and friendliness of the local people. Cambodian people have every reason to be a cranky lot, but they’re right up there with the loveliest folks you will ever meet.
So, would I recommend teaching English in Cambodia? Yes I would, without hesitation. If I had my time over again, I’d start with teaching English in Cambodia. Just now there are plenty of terrific teaching jobs available in Cambodia for people with the right qualifications, but things are changing – see my earlier ‘faint blimp’ comment. There’s an expat lifestyle on offer that will allow you to get ahead and save money. The 9 to 5 grind that’s commonplace in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and in most other developed countries will be a thing of the past. Give it a go!
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of the Australia-Vietnam School of English in Ho Chi Minh City & Australian Vocational Skills & Education (AVSE-TESOL) in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi & Phnom Penh. TESOL certification through Peter’s company, AVSE-TESOL, is all about providing aspiring ESL educators with the skills, knowledge and quality certification they need for jobs teaching English in Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere. Here is a link to the AVSE-website: www.avse.edu.vn