Angkor Wat Bayon head

Reflecting back on my first crazy year in Siem Reap

On July 15, 2015 we moved from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yippee! Right? Wrong!

First of all, there was no honeymoon phase for me. As you might remember, it was looking for a place to live straight away and starting work.

And work was an uphill slog. Most of it had to do with adjusting to a brutal schedule and a new way of doing things (not to mention being in a different country), but experience kept me climbing, kept me pushing though. Now, it’s rather amusing to look back at how hard it was to learn my students names! Back then it was just another one of those micro-adjustments that made me feel like I was holding the world up on my shoulders.

During my most depressing moments (6 days a week at 6am, anyone?), my b/f would console me with the reminder that the classroom hardships was making me a better teacher, but I didn’t want to be better, necessarily, I wanted things to be easier. I was tired of feeling tired all the time.

Up to my neck in oranges at Phsar Leu.
Up to my head and shoulders in oranges at Phsar Leu.

Despite the challenges though, I recognized what I liked – my colleagues.  I liked who I worked with. I liked working with Khmer staff and teachers, as opposed to just expats which was what I was used to. I know this is going to sound like a contradiction, but I had to admit, scheduling aside, I liked my job. Hopefully, I don’t regret saying that!

I also believed that where we lived, while was the best choice at the time, played into feeling like everything was a struggle. We lived in a light industrial part of town complete with invasive noises from blaring wedding dance tracks to funeral wails, from big rig trucks honking to a metals shop that sometimes started banging and clanging as early as 6.30 in the morning.

It was also incredibly hot in our apt. We cooked in full afternoon sun. I swear you could bake a pizza on the bed, fry an egg on our walls and start a Panini press on our deck.

And even though Siem Reap has city garbage pickup, burning is still a popular form of ‘getting rid of waste’. These are not the fireplace smells of a cold winter’s night, but a, “dear god what are they burning?” Is that a mattress? Are they burning plastic? Medical waste? Why not?!

While it was a difficult place to live at times (frequent power cuts- burning- hot-smoky-dusty-where are the roaches coming from?), we liked our landlord and her family, it was close to work and we felt very safe there. It was a year I’ll not likely forget. I mean, I want to forget it, but it is inevitably tied with our first year here.  No, insulated expat enclave for us!

No expat enclave, just me and my sausages...hammock time.
No expat enclave, just me and my sausages…hammock time.

It was no surprise then that I wanted to leave Cambodia. We had many talks about where to go next, but essentially I just drove my b/f bat shit, airing out my grievances and frustrations. He was having a gentler experience, but we could agree on one thing, neither of us wanted to return to Thailand. No matter how much more convenient it is to live there, day to day, it’s still a visa/immigration nightmare. It’s a political minefield (hello, military junta) and frankly, I’ve done it already! I wanted to try something new.

So, eventually I told myself that I needed to see out my work contract and accept where I was. I had to stop dreaming of the next place. I moved away from gazing longingly at the fence and declaring how much greener the grass was on the other side and stopped fighting over what I thought my life should be, and started to enjoy myself. You don’t say!

We’ve started to discover more places to eat, specifically, cheap, tasty and Thai. We realized joining the gym did more for our bodies than exercise; it helped us feel pampered and got us into a green environment as the pool is surrounded by trees and plants. We did a lot of talking about what we wanted and needed. We explored more and finally, finally, found a new apartment.

The river is not just a block away. Sooo green and nice.
The river is now just a block away. Sooo green and nice.

The latter is really huge. Since moving, I feel like a tourist again, checking out new places to eat, walking along the river with renewed contentment, nesting and spending time just looking out at our new views and enjoying our little space. Initially, we were worried about moving from a two bedroom to a one bedroom, but it is turning out that we don’t need as much space as we thought we did.

The move was also easy because we did go minimal with our big move to Cambodia and I’ve been careful about spending money on frivolous items. I hope living in a smaller space helps us to keep clutter down (down, clutter, down boy!). Because I must say, there is nothing like packing and unpacking to make you appreciate having less crap.

We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m in cautious love with our new digs and neighborhood. Our second (dare I say it?) year should be smoother and a whole lot better.

Life is sweet.
Life is sweet.

What about you? Have you ever lived someplace that took some adjusting and getting used to?

At home in Siem Reap (part 2)

Through the back door...
Through the back door…

I wake up to the sound of our local handyman sawing ice. It’s a slow sounding push, the rhythm, soft, the ice surrendering to Jahb’s saw. His saw appears rusty, prehistoric, with fine-long-sharp teeth. Sometimes he runs the ice through a “shaved ice” machine that was once red, it sounds old and temperamental, but he never crushes ice in the early morning.

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ESL teaching resources and observations about teaching in Thailand

Songkran summer class, Chiang Mai, 2013

I can’t believe I’ve been teaching in Thailand for almost 4 years now. And I’m rather pleased that I have had the experience of teaching in three different cities here: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. I’m not sure if I can count Bangkok since that is where I got my TESOL training, but I did student teach and watched all of my colleagues do the same. I got to experience a lot of observations, so, yeah, it counts 😉 And even though they were all at the same language school, the students, in general, varied in age and sophistication.

Continue reading “ESL teaching resources and observations about teaching in Thailand”

Teaching in Thailand Etiquette

No, I’m not teaching etiquette. I don’t work at an all-girls finishing school. I’m talking about what you need to know as a foreign teacher in the Land of Smiles.

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7 Outdated Stereotypes about Teaching in Thailand

It’s time to debunk the top myths on what it means, and what it takes, to be an English teacher in the Land of Smiles.

Photo by ChrisL_AK
Photo by ChrisL_AK

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Lesson Planning Advice from EFL teachers (part 2)

Here are a few more lesson planning advices from EFL teachers, and a “breakdown” of lesson planning.

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How I got my EFL job: Asian Americans can teach English in Asia

tefl group pic
The best instructors and the best classmates, ever.

In 2009, I took SIT’s TESOL’s course in Bangkok. The month long intensive course was wonderful because the instructors were quality, and my classmates and I got along really well. We were a diverse group from India, Cambodia, France, Belgium, Mexico, the US and Thailand (not including our instructors who hailed from Romania, South Africa and Australia). I wanted to stay in Bangkok, but I had ties in Chiang Mai, so after the course I moved there.

I was unsuccessful at finding what I wanted. I wanted part time, not working all day at a school waiting for the clock to run around so I could leave and do other things I wanted to do. I wanted to work at a good school because I knew what it was like to work for schools that couldn’t decide left from right. I wanted the going rate of pay, too.

At the time, I was very concerned about the way I looked. Would Thai schools want an English teacher that looked kohn Thai? A fellow classmate who stayed in Bangkok and who is also an American Asian couldn’t find work and was convinced this was due to our Asian looks. Thailand is a culture heavily slanted towards outward appearances, and I understood that English teachers needed to not only dress, but look the part.

Would you hire an Asian American to teach English?
Would you hire an Asian American to teach English?

So after 9 months, I left. I made some mistakes (like giving up too easily), but I think it wasn’t my time either. I moved to Cuenca Ecuador and taught at a language school called CEDEI. Excellent people, not as international as Thailand though, a teacher from Ireland was considered super exotic.

Nevertheless, I am eternally grateful to my boss Elizabeth who gave me my first EFL teaching job. The pay was sadly small, and in comparison to Thailand, the cost of living, expensive. The students were typical sassy teenagers and fun to work with, but after 6 months, I returned to Chiang Mai. I had unfinished business (the now ex-boyfriend) – and I missed it a lot.

This time when I returned everything fell into place. Unfinished business, as it turned out was finished (see: now ex-boyfriend) and I got the teaching job I wanted. My friend who was leaving introduced me via email to her boss, so when I arrived back in Thailand, I interviewed. It went well, but there weren’t any positions. All he could offer was substitution which I accepted.

Soon after, I was called in. One teacher was out with his second case of dengue, then another had an accident, and before I knew it, I was taking over her class midway through the term and was offered a position. I ended up teaching there for about 3-4 years.

I’ve seen this time and time again, where something happens to a teacher and a position opens. Expats are a transient bunch of birds, so be patient if you have found a place that you are interested in.

Also, I’ve been teaching overseas since 2010 and I can honestly say, I’ve met many Asian Americans along the way. The school I mentioned in Thailand ended up hiring two other Asian Americans after me. I have a childhood friend who has taught in Japan and Taiwan. And now I’m teaching in Cambodia where I am with other Asian American teachers, as well.

You can do it!

*updated May 9, 2017