Dedicated and ambitious educator Grace has traveled to huge lengths to road-test her new career as an ESL teacher, with the full support of her fiancé. She’s overcome all possible challenges, including the Coronavirus outbreak and shares her positive story with Premier TEFL readers…
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF! WE’D LOVE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, WHAT DREW YOU TO TEACHING ABROAD, AND MORE.
Hi! My name is Grace. I’m from Namibia (born in Zambia)… A proud African young woman. I always thought after I had my child, I would have to dig my feet into one place until she is old enough to explore the world on her own… But the more she grew, the more I was inspired to create the life I envisioned for my little family.
I am engaged to my daughter’s father, and he has been nothing but supportive. We are on a journey to discover all that we can do in the world without the conventional ways we have grown to know. I have a degree in accounting (I know… I’m way off)..and I’ve always been very corporate-driven. Last year, I decided to work 2 jobs. I worked as an insurance broker consultant (to pay the bills) and a part-time assistant teacher at a recently established international school back home (to feed my soul).
After a few months of being there I decided to take the leap of faith and see if I can make a career out of it. This is turning out to be one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.
DESCRIBE YOUR PATH TO TEACHING ABROAD—DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU’D END UP IN CAMBODIA?
It all started when I was back home in Namibia, about to buy a house. I sat there looking at contracts and loan agreements of 20 years.. And it hit me! This can’t be it! I’m not saying people who buy houses are trapped.. But I just felt I would be. There was always an itch to go outside my norm.. To see the world.. To make a difference.. And when I started reading up about teaching abroad – I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
How did I choose Cambodia? Lol, I didn’t. Cambodia chose me. I honestly never even thought of it.. I constantly read only about more popular places like Thailand, China, etc. Cambodia accepted my country to teach English, even as a “non-native”… And after a few videos, articles and a bit of soul searching – I decided to give it a go!
WHAT WAS THE MOST HELPFUL PORTION OF YOUR TEFL CERTIFICATE EXPERIENCE? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU DRAW FROM YOUR COURSE EXPERIENCES REGULARLY IN THE CLASSROOM?
The TEFL Certificate experience was quite fun for me. I loved learning everything about what I would be doing. The most helpful portion for me was the little voice clips inserts that I had after a module. I got to hear how I could use what I’m learning in a practical way. I feel like the practical experience is always so much different from theoretical knowledge. But I must admit that I definitely stole a few lesson plans from my course and they have definitely gone a long way.
HAVE YOU BONDED WITH YOUR FELLOW INTERNS? TELL US ABOUT THAT & HAS IT BEEN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF YOUR EXPERIENCE?
I’m so grateful to have met Fern and Darcy. We are a box of smarties in our little flat. From different walks of life. I don’t think my journey would have been the same if I didn’t have my housemates. We all just get along. We go out together, we party together. We brainstorm together. We pick each other up.
We have definitely become a family that I’ll always hold dear to my heart. We also have the opportunity to meet the other volunteer teachers. And I can honestly say that I would not trade anyone or any of our experiences for anything! They are all family now .
WHAT WERE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOUR TIME IN CAMBODIA THAT YOU DID NOT ANTICIPATE? (THIS HELPS FUTURE TEACHERS PREPARING FOR A TRIP THERE TO FEEL MORE READY!)
ONE: I think I underestimated the traffic… I know what busy streets look like…well, I thought I did. The traffic in Phnom Penh can definitely become overwhelming. But after a while (and a mirror pep talk I gave myself) I got used to it.
TWO: I also wasn’t as prepared for the heat. I come from Namibia, we are basically a desert. So I know what it means when someone says it’s hot. But the heat here comes with intense humidity that still takes some time to get used to. I’ve been to Thailand, China and Indonesia… but I still was caught quite off guard.
THREE: Lastly, this is probably highly unlikely, but myself and my colleagues were one of the most unfortunate bunch to have come here and then a pandemic broke out into the world. It’s like a movie. I definitely didn’t anticipate that in my wildest dreams. I don’t think anyone would have. I wouldn’t say how to prepare… Because it’s definitely a rare occurrence. But I will say that when you have a new found family in times like this… All the uncertainty and panic almost completely goes away.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE AS A TEACHER ABROAD?
That’s simple… The feeling of making a difference in even just one student’s life. The feeling of having an impact. The joy of watching as a student who was once shy and seemingly unable, come out of their shell and interact in ways you didn’t even think were possible in the beginning. This entire experience is rewarding. It’s humbling. I have to admit I’ve probably learnt as much as I’ve taught!
IN YOUR FREE TIME, HAVE YOU EXPLORED CAMBODIA OUTSIDE OF PHNOM PENH?
Definitely. I wanted to see everything. And boy did I. I went to Siem Reap, Kep, Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. I even took the train to Kep. During my visa run, I had the privilege of going to Malaysia too. Travelling around Asia is so affordable.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU LEARNED ABOUT KHMER CULTURE OR PEOPLE?
The most interesting thing for me is the way they laugh when uncomfortable or uncertain or shy. It’s definitely something that took a while to get used to. But now, I must admit. I do it too
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE ON THE FENCE ABOUT WHETHER TO TEACH ABROAD OR NOT.
My advice is what I told my mom when I embarked on this journey. Go out there and find out about different cultures. Different lifestyles. Don’t listen to what they say. Go see for yourself! Go out there and make a difference. You might just stumble across yourself in the process.
We agree! Thank you for taking the time to share your inspirational story with the Premier TEFL community. You rock, Grace!