Meet Alyssa – on her TEFL Journey in Cambodia

Meet Alyssa – on her TEFL Journey in Cambodia

Tell us something about yourself?

Hello! My name is Alyssa, I’m 22 years old and I am half French half German. So, not a native English speaker. After finishing my studies in the field of Business, I started working in sales. However, I realized there was still so much to see in this world. Therefore, I decided to sign up for a TEFL internship in Cambodia, and here I am!

Have you always enjoyed travelling?

I grew up in an international environment. I was born in Strasbourg, France, and had a French school education, but my education at home was mostly German. I have always been surrounded by people with different cultural backgrounds, listening to different languages and traditions. My mom always encouraged me to discover the world and tried to take us on little vacations around Europe, like Croatia, Greece, Italy, England, Austria, Tunisia and Turkey. At the age of 16, I told my mom that I wanted to go to the United States and have a prom. My mom just looked at me and said, go ahead! I have been crazy about travelling since then. I spent a year in Maine when I was 16, 2 months in Mexico when I was 20, 2 months in Peru and 2 months in Japan when I was 21 and spent the past year in Ireland.

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

One day, I went out for lunch with a very good friend of mine. We went to Buns, my favourite burgers and sweet potato fries in Dublin. Our favourite topic is to discuss the future, our plans, dreams and ambitions. I told him about my dream of having my own business someday, maybe a school, maybe a hotel, but it had to be a social enterprise that could allow me to help people. That’s when he told me about one of his friends who is a TEFL teacher. I looked it up online and read everything about it. Being able to travel to another country, teach, meet local people and discover the real culture of the country is what excited me the most. I love to travel, but it is so much better, and so different when you actually live the local life. Spending your time in hotels and beach resorts is not travelling, but teaching abroad totally is! 

Tell us about your decision to do a TEFL internship. What was it about Cambodia that attracted you?

When I searched for TEFL certificates and teaching jobs, I found so many different organizations. But the Tefl Institute Ireland is the one that attracted me the most. The fact that the person I was in contact with was so kind and supportive, as well as the context of the internships (helping local NGOs), convinced me that this was the opportunity I had to seize! Being a non-native English speaker, my possibilities were quite limited. I didn’t know anyone who went to Cambodia, and I felt like it was the most authentic country that was on the list. Moreover, the school is part of a local NGO, that has many projects 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 have first noticed?

I went to Thailand just before coming to Cambodia. When I passed the border in Cham Yeam, the first thing that surprised me were all the cows walking on the streets. I also wanted to get some cash at an ATM. My second surprise was seeing that the ATM asked me if I wanted US$ or Khmer Riels. I was so confused! Anyway, the people here are so kind, always smiling and so respectful. It really feels good to be able to look at someone and see a smile on their face. The country is quite poor, but everybody works very hard, even women with little children. I think this is one of the things I like the most about Cambodia. You could walk into any type of shop, restaurant, beauty salon or hairdresser and see an employee carrying a child, and this is totally fine. Kids don’t seem to be considered as bothering humans. This country gives me a lesson of life and optimism every single day.

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

I teach Monday to Friday, from 3:30 pm until 8:15 pm. We also have a 90 minutes workshop on Mondays and Tuesdays to help us teach better. I usually wake up around 8 am, get ready, get a coffee and start working on my lesson planning. I teach three classes; two conversation classes and one young learners’ class. My conversation 2 classes take about 1 or 2 hours to prepare, but the young learners’ class is the most challenging one. You need to have so much stuff prepared because those kids get bored quickly! And you always need to keep them busy.

To put it in a nutshell, I wake up at 8 am, start lesson planning around 9:30 am, print everything I need around 12 pm, get lunch around 1 pm and start working at 3:30 pm. After school, we always go somewhere for dinner with other teachers and go home around 10 pm. It was only the first week of teaching, so lesson planning should be quicker in the next few weeks, so I should be able to go for a swim in the morning!

My favourite aspect of teaching in Cambodia is definitely my students. They are just amazing. I love coming to class to be able to interact with them. They are very interesting, interested and willing to share some aspects 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?

After my first week, I asked my students what they liked and didn’t like about the class. I was expecting some feedback to be able to make the class more fun and interesting for them. They just told me the class was awesome and that they really enjoyed my teaching. The way they said it was so kind, and cute, and sweet, and oooooh it made me so sooo happy! One of my students also asked me “teacher, why you so cute?” This was quite a sweet funny moment as well!

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

We are a group of about 9 teachers and we often do stuff together. We went to Kampot province to visit one of the NGO’s projects and went to Siem Reap for 3 nights during the water festival for example. Otherwise, we always go to a bar on Fridays and try some activities on our days off. I went to the Pétanque World Championship, to a food festival, took an aerial yoga class, a singing bowl yoga class, went for a bike tour, etc… There is so much to do!

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

My internship finishes in January and I am planning on travelling to Laos for a bit. Afterwards, I am hoping to find another teaching placement in South America, maybe Brazil? I am not planning on teaching permanently. But I like having the option of teaching whenever I feel like travelling. It is like a joker card! 

If I had one thing to say to future TEFL-ers: do it! I promise you will never regret it. If you are a professional teacher, you might have never had such nice students. If you are a first time teacher, it will help you step out of your comfort zone and teach you so much about life. Even if you are not planning on teaching forever, you will gain so many skills, and you will be able to re-use them for anything you will do after. The other teachers I work with are 22, 23, 27, 32, 45, 47, 57, 60 years old. It is not only for young people, it really is for everyone. Some of the teachers have been travelling for pretty much all their lives, but two of the teachers have never travelled before, and Cambodia is their first country!

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