Teaching English in Cambodia has definite upsides and downsides. The kids are unbelievably great, funny, interesting and bring utter joy into your life. Unfortunately, outside of the public schools, the schooling system here is entirely 'for profit', lacks a standardised curriculum and many schools are desperately mismanaged. Many teachers are not offered contracts and working conditions can depend entirely on the leadership of the specific school. Because of this, we would advise coming to Siem Reap and exploring the options here in person, rather than signing up to a job from abroad without being able to properly research the school first. Teaching English in Cambodia is an incredible experience and providing you can find a school you are happy at, we would highly recommend it!
In Siem Reap, there are schools that pay hourly (around $10-12 per hour), and schools that are salaried (between $900-$1300). Some schools (like Learn4Life) pay less, but provide food and board for teachers on site. This is particularly good for teachers who arrive alone, and want a sociable and unique experience teaching here. Some schools teach all of the lessons in English (JPA, ISSR) and would be a good option for a qualified teacher in another subject such as History or Science.
The public schools don't tend to employ native teachers, so teaching English here falls into two options. The first is teaching at an international school that offers classes all day (and the students also learn other subjects here) and the second is private language schools. There are dozens of international schools in Siem Reap of varying reputation and quality of learning, so individual research is recommended. Teaching English at primary level is also an option but doesn't pay as well as secondary level unless you are a qualified teacher.
The private language schools in Siem Reap have some of the best working environments for teachers and are the best managed (BELS, ACE, API etc). Students here often go to other schools in the day, and then attend supplementary English classes. This means that their attitude toward learning is often more focused than day time/uniformed students. Classes can take place throughout the day or into the evenings and most of the language schools pay hourly rather than salaried.
Most schools teach English from pre-planned books (Cutting Edge, New Headway, Cambridge Unlimited etc.) This provides a syllabus for new teachers to follow, and frees up a lot of personal time for teachers. This is great for teachers who have other commitments or work, or for new teachers, or those who are teaching while travelling. However, some books/themes are not particularly suitable to the age group, language level or cultural environment. For example, teaching intermediate level, underprivileged, 13 year old students about Management Consultancies and a career in 'Wall Street', seems somewhat irrelevant to their lives, and subsequently creates confusion or disinterest. Many of the books are written for European students and do not account for the massive cultural disparity that might occur while teaching from them in non- western countries. They also provide little scope to really 'teach' as the books have to be followed fairly rigidly to pass their exams. It helps to cover key points and then save some time for open discussion at the end.
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Teaching English in Cambodia is absolutely made worthwhile by the students that you teach. Cambodian students (of varying age groups) are remarkably well behaved. They are also interesting, engaged, love when you make lessons humorous and make every day different. Without meaning to sound cliched, it is genuinely a hugely rewarding experience teaching them! They often find it it hard to imagine themselves outside of the world that they come from. Not because they lack creativity, but because they have rarely been encouraged to think outside a sometimes insular world. For example, in exercises where they have to imagine being in a city, or visiting a place, most of them will choose Siem Reap, or to visit Angkor Wat and shape the exercise around the most familiar things. Because of this, it is extra rewarding to get to influence and inspire them to be imaginative and view the world critically.
Living in the Kingdom of Wonder is easier than you might imagine. The availability of 'home comforts' is greater than anywhere else in the region and life here is relaxed and enjoyable. The people in Cambodia are enormously welcoming and you can get by with only a little (or none at all, if you so choose) of the local language. In Phnom Penh, most expats get mopeds to get about on and in Siem Reap, the bicycle is king. Legally, you can purchase an almost indefinite visa with no complications and a work permit is $100 per year. This makes Cambodia the easiest place to teaching English in Southeast Asia, although the salaries are not as high as neighbouring countries.
Options are varied, in both restaurants and supermarkets and you can live a very comfortable life on even a part-time teaching salary. Siem Reap is technically more expensive than other places in Southeast Asia, due to the large tourist population, but staying away from the upmarket tourist restaurants and trips can keep the costs down. In Siem Reap there are four large supermarkets, and in Phnom Penh many more. There are also hundreds of restaurants, cafes and bars easily accessible from wherever you live. Cambodia has better options for western food than anywhere else in the region and pretty much anything you miss (breads, bagels, baked goodies, cheese, meats, etc) are easily available at generally quite reasonable prices.
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Cambodians have a lot of public holidays, and schools have time off at the end of each semester as well as the potential to negotiate holiday time off with your school. There are a lot of places to visit in the surrounding area (trips to Battambang, Siem Reap/Phnom Penh, Kep, Kampot, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong and Koh Tonsai are all common trips teachers in Cambodia make on their time off). Bangkok, Chiang Mai, the Thai Islands, Luang Prabang and lots of places in Vietnam are also just a short and inexpensive flight away.
Rooms in a shared house and basic studio apartments start at around $100 per month including bills. One bedroom apartments with a kitchen start from around $250 and go all the way up to $500-$600 for luxury apartments with swimming pools and weekly cleaning. In Siem Reap everything is close by and almost all of the surrounding areas are acceptable options to live, all a short cycle ride away from the centre. Around Wat Bo, Sok San Road, Taphul Road, the Royal Residences and out along Sala Lodge road are all good options. Wat Polanka is also a close option but isn't well lit at night time.
Phnom Penh is more spread out and expats tend to cluster around certain areas in the centre of town rather than living on the outskirts, around the BKK1 neighbourhood and around Wat Phnom. Electricity is particularly expensive in Cambodia and is subject to frequent power cuts (less so in Phnom Penh). Depending on how much you use the air-con unit, monthly bills can be $30-100 a month. Internet speeds and reliability is pretty dire in the Kingdom and if you rely on this for work you should consider investing in your own connection.
One of the best things about living in Cambodia is the expat communities in all of the locations you are likely to live. Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Kampot all have lively, bustling communities that appeal to a lot of visitors and also integrate well with the local population. There is an endless amount to entertain those living here, from live music to vintage sales and seasonal events that run throughout the year. There are marathons, film festivals, photography events, concerts, western celebrations and the busy Khmer holiday schedule packed with unique activities to get involved in.
Here are just a few to check out...
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