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How to Find an Expat Community While Teaching English in Cambodia
Written by: Kate John
Last Updated: December 28, 2020
While living and teaching abroad I have found connecting with people from back home to be a pleasant surprise. Yes, I moved away to find a new adventure and to seek a career doing what I love while traveling. But, there will always be a place I call home and it’s nice to connect with those who may have had the same experiences as you. It's also a plus to have a social connection with people who understand your political background, religious beliefs, or even just the food you like to eat. To be fair, I am not guaranteeing these places will find you a community of Americans, but you traveled abroad for some diversity so let's try to embrace that as well.
A good place to start is the ITA Alumni Cambodia Facebook Group. There are wonderful people on there ready to help and answer all your questions and even volunteer some of their time to take you around the city and show you some of their favorite spots. This Facebook group is a very important tool and you should try to use it at least once. These are fellow TEFL certified individuals who have probably experienced some of the same things you are going through. It was useful for me before moving to see that other people had the same questions I did.
The next important place to find your new closest friends is your place of work. Whether that be a school, NGO, or tutoring facility where you teach. These people are going to understand your work flow problems better than anyone. Sometimes you just need a place to vent or discuss something work related and who better to reach out to then someone who is also experiencing the same thing. It’s also likely that the teachers who also felt drawn to the school you did have something in common with you.
Work friends are great, but now you want to branch out a little bit and maybe stray away from the teaching or TEFL world. It’s easy. Phnom Penh hosts some excellent events that happen almost every night. The best place to find these is also through Facebook groups such as; Expats and Locals Living in Phnom Penh and Toul Tom Poung Community Group. There are literally dozens of these groups so find the ones you like and jump right in. Most don't require much from you other than the request so it's pretty easy. Phnom Penh is a teacher friendly city so there are many expats that are, you guessed it, teachers! Don’t be surprised if you go to an event and see some co-workers and other teacher-friendly faces. I have met some of my best friends here at beer tastings, or charity trivia nights.
Finally, I would recommend a fitness or sports group of some kind. Now this doesn’t have to be a gym but could be, there are plenty of different types of options though. There are lots of people who have dedicated their time in Cambodia to the fitness community and they tend to get a lot of followers from the expat scene. This is to include local running groups, Crossfit gyms, the climbing and bouldering gym, hiking clubs, soccer teams, Gaelic football, marathon groups, Spartan racers, circus gyms, and the list goes on and on. Find something you like doing outside of work and jump into their local members group. It will feel nice to actually spend your weekends not thinking about the pile of grading you have left. Plus, getting regular physical activity is a great excuse to eat all of the food at your new favorite restaurants without guilt.
All-in-all, Phnom Penh is very easy to navigate when it comes to finding expats like yourself to befriend. There are a number of Facebook groups and organizations dedicated to getting you more active (physically and socially) and feeling like you belong. The best advice I can give is get out there and try a little bit of everything. Especially if you haven’t tried it before. Your time in Cambodia might be more than just teaching if you let yourself explore what else it has to offer.
After volunteering for a year in the Denver Public School System, Kate felt like she needed a change. She and her boyfriend both got TEFL certified and set off on an adventure of a lifetime in the Kingdom of Wonder. Since then Kate has written extensively about her life teaching English in Cambodia as one of ITA's Writing & Content Ambassadors.
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