My Journey from English Teacher to NGO Writer in Cambodia

Teaching English in Cambodia

By: Joshua Bottorff

Let's start with a little background information on myself first. So, picture this, spry and young 25-year-old me just finished up a 6-year contract in the military. Bright eyes, and excited to move on into the civilian world and make a name for myself. I was eager for change. First things first, go to college. I enrolled at the University of Colorado and began studying for the degree that opens all those doors in the job world. Years pass, seasons change. Okay well, maybe like two. Two whole years go by, and I’m ready, once again, for a change. Notice a trend? I guess I wasn’t ready to stay put. I needed something new, and I needed it soon. So, like any rational adult I went on online and googled my issue. “Broke college student wants to live and work abroad”, or something along those lines. It wasn’t long until ITA was popping up on all ad spaces on Facebook, Amazon, CNN, and everywhere. The rest is ITA lesson planning history.

Teaching English in Cambodia

After much consideration, planning, and research, my partner and I decided to teach and live in Cambodia. “Cambodia?!?” you say. Yes Cambodia. Choosing this country out of the extensive list that ITA provides wasn’t as difficult as most people may think.

As ultimately selfish as wanting to travel and teach abroad may seem to some folks, my decision was also heavily influenced by my desire to provide some positive change in the world and give back while engaging with some personal growth. Cambodia is very poor country. With a recent genocide and less than formidable economy, it’s understandable.

The "kingdom of wonder" lacks a certain Western appeal that many of us look for when living in another country. Now don’t get me wrong; there is plenty for a Westerner like myself to do in this country. Gyms, bars, a booming nightlife, and the endless traveling. So despite Cambodia’s economic situation, in the back of my mind there is always that selfish feeling about moving to teach abroad.

Teaching English in CambodiaAlright, let's get to the point here. I moved to Cambodia to teach English, but I didn't stay in the English teaching role for long. I worked as a teacher for a local NGO (non-governmental organization / non-profit) teaching English to students and to rural English teachers for a little over six months. I liked this role because I was able to see more of this country than most people who come here to teach at a fancy International Schools in Phnom Penh. I was working with the poorest children in the country, and some of the most dedicated teachers. This was amazing work, and really opened my eyes to some of the larger issues at play in Cambodia. However, the role I was in didn’t allow me to build lasting relationships with students, or to enact change the way I had hoped. I kept running into funding problems left and right; there is just not enough money to operate amazing grassroots movements. There was also the lack in leadership and English proficient teachers. As dedicated as the Cambodian staff were, there just wasn’t enough time for them to teach six days a week and learn English on their own. That’s when I started to look at a switch.

Teaching English in Cambodia

I made the move from teaching and instructing into project oversight, fundraising, and proposal writing. I am still living in Cambodia but now work for a different NGO, utilizing my talents to help them do very important conservation work. Proposal writing is a far way off from teaching English, and it was a wild ride to get here, but I am happy with it. The work I do now enables organizations to make a difference, which is why I moved here in the first place! Funding is one of the most important aspects when it comes to teaching in Cambodia. Most teachers in Phnom Penh work in schools that are either heavily funded by the student tuition fees or foreign governments, which leaves public and rural schools to fend for themselves. Having the right source of income and building relationships with other organizations is where I hope to make a difference for the Cambodian population. The opportunity to teach is always on the table here in Phnom Penh, but I didn’t want to leave this country knowing I could have done more.

Teaching English in Cambodia

Looking back, I know I made the right decision getting my TEFL certification. It has helped me to understand the challenges in education. I make use of teaching strategies in everyday life, whether it’s building rapport with future funding partners, or correcting errors in a gentle way on proposals I look over. I’m also grateful that having my TEFL gave me the confidence to move to Cambodia, despite the fact that I strayed from teaching soon after. Without it, I may not be here in the Kingdom of Wonder!

Joshua Bottorff is 27 from Denver, Colorado, where he studied biology and sustainability. He served five years in the military and now lives in Cambodia writing proposals.

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Teach English in Cambodia, life after teaching abroad, What's Next Alumni Contest


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