By Eva McCloy, Teacher in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
When I first came to Cambodia, I really didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time going abroad completely on my own, as well as my first time in Asia. Not only was I moving to a new country on my own, I was also changing my career to become an English teacher. I had never taught before and I was not even sure if this would be the right career for me, however, I soon learned teaching was something I loved doing. It was a long journey from Scotland to Cambodia with some hurdles along the way. From saying goodbye to my family at the airport and traveling for 27 hours, I had so many emotions and thoughts going through my head. I was questioning if I had made the right choice? Was I ready to do all this on my own? The only real way I can describe it was an emotional rollercoaster (except it was three flights). I was nervous yet excited to be seeing a new place, sad to be leaving my loved ones yet happy to be making my younger self proud by following my dreams.
When I arrived at Phnom Penh International airport it was a hectic scene, just like any airport, of people rushing into queues for passport control and receiving a rapid covid test (which thankfully they no longer require to enter the country). I waited anxiously in huge crowds for my number to be called out to see if I was in the clear to leave the airport. My emotions were still high and the tiredness from the jetlag was starting to hit me, I also really needed a shower!
As soon as I left the airport, it really became all real to me and it was as if everything had fallen into place. Instantly all my stress and worry had disappeared, and a bursting feeling came over me of ‘I’ve made the right decision’. I spotted the happiest smiling face of a man, Ricky a tuktuk driver, holding a sign with my name. I have never been greeted so kindly with so much enthusiasm and happiness. We walked to his tuktuk (I had never seen one before and didn’t know what to expect) and was concerned my large, definitely over-packed suitcase and hand luggage would not fit. I have since learned and continuously see on a daily basis just the number of items and people you can fit into a single tuktuk. It still makes me smile seeing huge items hanging off or through small tuktuks, as if it’s a challenge to see just how much they can carry. My journey to my hotel was mesmerizing, the sun was shining, I saw beautiful temples for the first time, there were street food carts everywhere and I had never seen such busy crazy traffic in my life, yet I felt so safe in Ricky’s tuktuk as he chatted away to me.
As I arrived at my hotel I met SJ, my now good friend, the organiser of the course in Phnom Penh. We talked about my journey and plans for the day. A shower was first on my list. After my shower SJ invited me for lunch where I met some of the people who were going to be on my course and who are still some of my closest friends here. It was amazing to have met people who became my good friends within only an hour of being in Cambodia. I felt so lucky and grateful to be in such a beautiful country with positive and kind people around me.
During my first month in Cambodia I was completing a face-to-face accredited course to achieve my TESOL certification. My choice to complete an in person course over an online one was due to me having no real experience in teaching children. I also learn better through personal explanations and social learning, and I felt this course would better prepare me for teaching in a classroom, which ultimately I felt it has. The course was a lot of work and some long hours to complete it all in 4 weeks to allow us to start teaching and earning money. Despite the intensity of the course work, it was a great four weeks being with people on a similar journey to myself of changing careers and being in a new country. I had so much fun on the course through a lot of interactive learning and group work, my trainer made sure we had a variety of different activities to use and allowed us a lot of practice time to prepare for teaching in a classroom.
Throughout the course I completed some volunteering hours in a local school where I taught beginner level English. In this school I was lucky enough to be able to have the experience of teaching monks, which was such a memorable event in my life. There were certain rules I had to learn to ensure I remained respectful. I learned that if you were handing any items to monks you must do so with two hands and they were not to be paired to work with girls, if there were any in the class. As always in teaching, as long as you remained respectful to everyone and taught with enthusiasm and engagement the classroom was a fun and safe environment for all. My classes at this school were met with great appreciation and rewarded with sugarcane drinks, which was always a pleasant surprise. Some classes only had three walls with an open back facing out to the street and others facing into other classrooms, so at times it could be very noisy. Despite the noise at times, it did not stop the students’ admirable dedication to concentrating, participating and learning in class. I gained so many valuable lessons from teaching at this school. As I was teaching them the teaching was also kindly reciprocated as they helped increase my knowledge of Buddhism.
Moving to Cambodia has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. The kindness of the locals is something I appreciate every single day. I have met so many amazing people and had the privilege of being able to teach such respectful and unforgettable children and adults. I feel so grateful for all the new places I have seen, delicious food I have tried (apart from durian) and experiences I have gained from being here. My eureka moment from the airport has only shown to be true, this was the RIGHT decision.