Cambodia is currently Calling to me most emphatically from an NGO in Siem Reap called Learn4Life. A school for adults, it is in Siem Reap (bit sleepier and therefore for me a less scarer prospect than Phnom Penh), only requires a three month commitment, and accommodation provided along with a modest stipend. Cambodia is pretty cheap to live in, another important consideration as I have limited and dwindling savings to fall back on at this point in my life.
Essentially what has happened is this. Having decided to let the germ of an idea see the light of day – about recommencing travel plans that were cut short last year. I’ve started excavating the internet for possibilities that will get me to Cambodia. There are a zillion different TEFL sites out there, but for me, I started my search with the workaway website. This is the same one that led me to my Vietnam job last year. I think it’s a great portal to loads of mouth watering opportunities. You have to be a bit careful, one or two of the set ups look more than a bit exploitative, but it’s fairly easy to work out which. The idea of the site is that it puts ‘hosts’ in touch with ‘volunteers’. Volunteers work up to five hours a day in return for board and accommodation as part of a cultural exchange. Some ‘hosts’ though require payment (perhaps say a charity), others pay either a local salary or an additional rate for extra hours worked. Some hosts want slave labour, others just to meet new people. My experience with the site though has been good. Plus, I’ve met other travellers who have used them loads of times. If you are sensible, do your homework, and always plan your exit route prior to arrival, I think it’s OK. Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere without a return ticket.
Some hosts provide quite extensive profiles on the site including feedback from volunteers (some of which is hilarious and/or alarming) and photos too. Photos sometimes are not entirely representative of the reality, however, my Vietnam host used truthful pictures. They didn’t capture the heat, the fleas, or the rubbish, it’s true but then again nor did their pictures convey the welcome or do justice to the scenery. They say the camera never lies? I beg to differ… Here are some shots from the Learn4Life host profile. Promising I think you’ll agree.
So, the pictures look most inviting, but better yet, good reviews all round. It seems to attract older volunteers too, which at 51 I am. I hate myself for admitting it, but I did inevitably Google to see what came up for this particular NGO. I only found positive reviews which is a first for any opportunity provider. It might mean they are good with social media, but I don’t think so. The testimonials ring true – and I’ve even stalked some of the writers onto LinkedIn (move over Miss Marple) and not seen anything dubious. Some of the reviews are a couple of years old, but still in living memory, and the organisation website is completely up to date with term dates and public holidays for the next year even, which is more than can be said of the websites for many educational providers in the UK.
So I am feeling more inspired and a bit braver, thanks to the following who shared their experiences on line:
- Thanks Gina – I never thought you were having a mid-life crisis, I get the thing about wanting to travel before you are too old to make the most of it.
- Thank you Annette, your positivity is very encouraging.
- Thank you Maria for emphasising you just need to ‘show up’, relax and get on with it.
- Thanks Jenn Rose – more positivity.
Learn4Life you come off well on social media. I know I need to be cautious, but it feels right, it really does. The only complaint seemed to be that the bedroom decor was somewhat eye-watering, which indeed it is. The other teensy weensy cause for concern is that although Maria gave a very wholesome commendation of the support offered by the then principal David Scotcher, this glowing reference has been superseded somewhat. Google tells me that subsequent to her experience, David Scotcher fled the country in fear of his life after a rather odd robbery/ attack at the school premises, which I am trying hard not to think about… It was even in the Daily Mail for goodness sake, it must be true! Worth saying the attack was by other ex-pats by the way, but it did sound very serious.
The job is hard though, five hours contact time, in a lot of heat, with preparation on top and school days that run from 6.00 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. and compulsory planning meetings at weekends. This does scare me, as I found it pretty intense working in Vietnam with much shorter hours. The prospect of no down time is challenging, and sensory overload. Plus in unfamiliar heat, I think just staying awake for all those hours will feel like running an ultra-marathon at times (not that I’ve ever done one, but I can imagine). Even if I manage to stay awake, that’s only a pre-requisite for, not a passport to, success. In Cambodia I’d have to spend at least five hours of that time engaging meaningfully with a class of highly motivated and interactive English Language students. The set up at Learn4Life looks demanding, gruelling even. Then again, it also looks better organised and better supported than my time in Vung Tau – which after all turned out to be very positive, I think all of can do more than we know, it’s about rising to the occasion I suppose. Others have done it before, why not me?
There is single accommodation with wifi, some meals provided (huge relief, that was hard work in Vietnam) and a small salary. There is also a cat. Well there was one a couple of years back, I don’t know if Miffy too had to flee the country following some in-country dispute or other. Their wishlist for teachers is quite optimistic (extensive TEFL experience and qualifications) but I now know that I do have a currency and credibility from my transferable skills and from my experience at Ba Ria Vung Tau University in Vietnam. Being English, female, blonde (outwardly at least) and white – though unfair for others better skilled and more highly qualified than me perhaps – also gives me an advantage. I fit the stereotype of an English teacher. It has to be worth a shot.
On the whole, I was sufficiently heartened by what I read and saw to want to follow up. The classrooms look very much more spacious and cooler than the cramped boiler rooms of Vietnam, and the class sizes certainly much smaller. The requirements for teachers are somewhat daunting, but nothing ventured. I know how to sell myself… So it was I sent a tentative email a couple of days back, and got a positive response within hours. This suggests I meet their criteria at least.
We got your email, and very impress with your qualifications
They sound keen. Now that isn’t the same thing as a promise of acceptance, but it has to be a good start. So what next? Turn the enquiry into an application? This course of action does have a feeling of the inevitable about it already. I don’t know quite why I’m hesitating. There will never be a good time to go away, I just need to decide. If not this opportunity, then what one instead. One step at a time, just one step.
Shh, be quiet I’m thinking…