Meet Alyssa – on her TEFL Journey in Cambodia

Tell us something about yourself.

Hello! Alyssa is my name; I’m 22 years old and half German and half French. Hence, not a native English speaker. I began working in sales after completing my education in business. I did, however, recognize that there was still a lot to learn about this universe. Thus, I decided to apply for a TEFL internship in Cambodia, and here I am!

Have you always enjoyed travelling?

I was raised in a multicultural setting; I was born in Strasbourg, France, and attended French schools, but much of my homeschooling was German. I’ve always been surrounded by people from many cultural backgrounds, hearing various languages and practising multiple customs. Mom tried to take us on short trips around Europe, including Croatia, Greece, Italy, England, Austria, Tunisia, and Turkey, and she always encouraged me to travel the world. I told my mother I wanted to move to the US and have a prom when I was 16. Mom just gave me a quick nod and said, “Go ahead!” Since then, I have become obsessed with travelling. I spent a year in Maine when I was 16, 2 months in Mexico when I was 20, 2 months in Peru and two months in Japan when I was 21 and spent the past year in Ireland. So doing TEFL in Cambodia was an easy decision for me. 

When did you first learn about teaching abroad? What excited you most about it?

One day, a close friend and I went out to lunch. We visited Buns, a Dublin restaurant serving my favourite burgers and sweet potato fries. The future, our plans, dreams, and aspirations are our favourite subjects to talk about. I told him about my desire to own a business, either a school or a hotel, but it would have to be a social enterprise enabling me to assist others. He then mentioned one of his acquaintances who works as a TEFL teacher to me. I researched it online and read everything there was to know. What most thrilled me was the prospect of travelling to another nation, where I could educate, interact with locals, and learn about the local way of life. I love to travel, but it is so much better and different when you live the local life. Spending time in hotels and beach resorts is not travelling, but teaching abroad is! 

TEFL teacher exploring Cambodia

Tell us about your decision to do a TEFL internship in Cambodia.

I discovered many companies when looking for TEFL certifications and teaching positions. I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity because the person I was in contact with was so kind and encouraging. The internships involved working with regional Organizations. Since I didn’t speak English as my first language, my options were somewhat constrained. Although I didn’t know anyone who had visited, I thought Cambodia was the most genuine nation on the list. Also, the school is part of a regional charity with other TEFL initiatives around Cambodia. Even though the school is where the NGO gets most of its funds from, it still offers affordable English courses for Khmer people compared to other schools in Phnom Penh.

What was it like to move to Cambodia solo? What was the most exciting thing about the country you first noticed?

Before travelling to Cambodia, I visited Thailand. The first thing that shocked me in Cham Yeam as I crossed the border was the cows wandering the streets. I also wanted to withdraw money from an ATM. My second surprise was that the ATM asked me if I needed American dollars or Khmer riels. I was very perplexed!

Nonetheless, everyone here is extremely polite, cheerful, and courteous. Seeing a smile on someone’s face makes you feel pleased. The nation is relatively underdeveloped, yet everyone—including mothers of young children—works very hard. This is perhaps one of my favourite aspects of Cambodia. A staff member could be seen holding a child in any store, restaurant, beauty salon, or hair salon, which is perfectly acceptable. Children don’t seem to be thought of as annoying people. Every day I learn a lesson about life and optimism from this country.

What does a typical day of teaching English consist of for you? What’s your favourite aspect of TEFL in Cambodia?

I teach from 3:30 pm until 8:15 pm, Monday through Friday. On Mondays and Tuesdays, we also get a 90-minute workshop to assist us in becoming better teachers. Around eight in the morning, I typically get out of bed, get ready, get a coffee, and begin planning my lessons. I instruct two conversation classes and one class for young learners. The young learners’ style is the most difficult to prepare; it takes me approximately an hour or two. Considering how easily those children become bored, you must have many activities ready. And it would be best if you always kept them occupied.

I get up at 8 am, start lesson planning at 9:30 am, print everything I need at noon, eat lunch at 1 pm, and get to work at 3:30 pm, to put it briefly. We always go out to eat after school with other instructors before returning home around ten o’clock. It was only the first week of classes, so lesson preparation should go more quickly in the coming days. As a result, I should be able to swim in the morning.

Being able to teach in Cambodia is one of my favourite things to do. They, indeed are incredible. I enjoy going to class so that I may talk to them. They are excited and eager to share some facets of their culture with me. Even though I am the teacher, they also teach me so much!

Will you share a funny/cute/hilarious story from your TEFL classroom in Cambodia?

After my first week, I polled my students to find out what they liked and disliked about the class. I was hoping for some input to help them have a more enjoyable and engaging time in class. They told me that the course was fantastic and that they loved how I taught. I was thrilled because of how lovely and kind they were in stating it. One of my kids also asked me, “Teacher, why are you so cute?” This was also an adorable and amusing moment!

TEFL teacher in Cambodia with a group of friends

Describe the fun you have when you’re not in the classroom. Did you have time to travel around Cambodia?

About nine teachers make up our group, and we frequently work together. For instance, we visited the province of Kampot to see one of the NGO’s initiatives and spent three nights in Siem Reap during the water festival. On Fridays, though, we always visit a pub, and we like to try new things on our days off. I attended a culinary festival, an aerial yoga class, a singing bowl yoga class, a bike tour, the Pétanque World Championship, etc. There is a ton of tremendous do.

Are you planning on travelling and pursuing teaching in the future? Any tips or words of encouragement for future TEFL-ers?

I want to spend some time in Laos when my internship ends in January. Potentially secure another teaching position in South America after that—possibly in Brazil. I don’t intend to be a teacher forever. But I enjoy that I can teach anytime I feel like going anywhere. It’s similar to a joker card.

I would advise aspiring TEFL instructors to go for it! You won’t ever look back; I guarantee it. You may have never had such pleasant students if you are a skilled instructor. Becoming a teacher for the first time will force you to leave your comfort zone and teach you a great deal about life. You will learn many abilities that you can apply in everything you do after teaching, even if you don’t want to do it forever. The other educators I work with range in age from 22, 23, 27, 32, 45, 47, 57, and 60. It’s for everyone; it’s not just for kids. Some teachers have been travelling for pretty much all their lives, but two of them have never travelled before, and Cambodia is their first country!

In general, you don’t need a degree to teach English abroad or online. Our certification stands alone and you can get employment without pairing it with a degree. However, some TEFL employers do prefer their teachers to have a degree. More importantly, for some countries, it’s a visa requirement. This means you can’t obtain a work permit without a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some of these countries include China, Japan, UAE and Vietnam. 

Our advice is if you have your sights set on a certain country, look into the visa requirements first before putting time and effort into finding a job there. This will save you time and disappointment. If it’s a school preferability, and not a visa requirement, there’s sometimes some leeway. 

You do not need any prior teaching degrees or experience to teach abroad. Once you have your TEFL certificate, you can secure work as a TEFL teacher. A BA in Education would enhance your CV, but it’s not a necessity. Completing a TEFL course that includes teaching practice, like our Hybrid TEFL Courses, will also help your CV.

If you want to experience different cultures and see the world, teaching English abroad is for you. Not only will you get to explore new places, you’ll also meet new people and get the chance to make a difference to the lives of language learners. A TEFL certification lasts a lifetime. So, you can dip in and out of teaching abroad whenever you feel like it. 

It is not necessary to speak any other languages. You’ll be able to find a job and work comfortably without knowing the language spoken in your chosen country. Of course, it is always an advantage, even if it’s just the basics. We recommend learning a few phrases before you move abroad like hi, thank you, goodbye and sorry.

You’re never too old to gain new qualifications! Some TEFL employers do have age restrictions, but there are ample opportunities for more mature teachers. There are also the options to teach English from home as a private tutor or online tutor.

The accredited courses are the quickest way to get TEFL certified, and are accepted by schools and institutes worldwide. Choose from a 120, 180 or 240 hour accredited TEFL course depending on the level of training you require. 

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