Ever since middle school French class, I have had dreams of living abroad. I romanticized my life overseas, eating baguettes, and drinking tea. I dreamt of weekly trips to the Louvre, weekends away in Spain. Oh, what a life it would be!
After I graduated high school, I had a challenging time deciding what to do with my life. I was a talented artist, I had work published in a local newspaper, my artwork was touring state buildings and I was in countless art shows. Since I dreamed of big-city living, I applied to a school in New York City. I attended the School of Visual Arts and later transferred to Savannah College of Art and Design. However, I did not graduate because tuition was getting expensive and I was deep in debt.
While in college, I planned semesters abroad and had a deep desire to travel. But it never worked out for me. I later went to school to become an esthetician and later became a personal trainer, but still, something was missing. Through my journey of countless career options, I finally made my first trip across the pond. Can you guess where it was? Paris, France. I was 26, on my first flight (ever!), heading to one of the biggest cities in the world.
Stephen and I have been married for almost five years and it was when we first met that I traveled to Paris. In the past five years, I've been to France, Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Czechia, Hungary, Greece, back to Ireland again and now I am in Cambodia! Our daughter Finley, who just turned 3, has been traveling internationally with us since she was one year old.
When I got married to Stephen, we discussed living abroad. We wanted an easy life, a low cost of living, and to not have to work a 60-hour week. I spent many hours researching, reading blogs, watching videos, and emailing people I met online who were from the US, and had moved abroad. Many of the people I reached out to were teaching English. Naturally, I wanted to know how to get TEFL certified and start traveling! Which one would offer part-time hours, online, so I could still work and take care of our newborn? International TEFL Academy was one of the first I looked into. I read reviews on anything and everything before I buy anything, so this was no different. ITA had so many success stories and I wanted to be one! It took me almost a year to fully commit to registering for their online TEFL course. I’m so glad I did!
My husband and I both decided on the online course that I took in April of 2019 and my husband took in August of 2019. It was a long 11weeks but so worth it! They gave us a lot of support, the tools to find jobs in almost any country we desired, and the hope that me not having a degree wasn’t a deal-breaker.
We had set our sights on Prague, Czech Republic, but a friend told me about her trip to Cambodia and Vietnam and how much she loved it! I'm a huge fan of House Hunters International, I've probably watched every episode and I record every one! It just so happened that Cambodia was an episode on my DVR. It was truly a sign! It was mystical, beautiful, and raw.
It took a lot of convincing to get my husband to approve since it was a drastic difference to Prague, but he finally agreed. We started our search for jobs in Cambodia right when COVID-19 was forcing the closure of businesses in the USA, including mine. It was absolutely a difficult time. What did this mean for teaching abroad? I had zero hope I would ever be able to teach let alone travel again.
I wasn’t going to let it stop me - I persisted. I continued my search and broadened my criteria to almost any country that would give us a job. We used Indeed, Dave's ESL Cafe and good old Google maps to search for schools and started sending out our resumes. We had to have sent well over 200. We both had interviews in Poland, Slovakia, Albania, Sweden (yes, Sweden!!), and Cambodia. This was all during a pandemic and all through Skype.
Since most countries were stopping visa applications or not allowing anyone in without a visa, it made it challenging to accept any position. There wasn't anything we could do. The position in Sweden was going to supply it for my husband but he didn't have any teaching experience, so maybe that’s our next adventure!
A missionary school in Cambodia, Asian Hope International School, reached out to Stephen about an interview. Everything went well, the benefits were great, our 3-year-old could go to school for free there, they would supply all of us with visas, and they communicated with us as a family from day one. We prayed heavily about this decision and everything worked out! We were supposed to be in Cambodia!
Cambodia has one of the strictest, if not the strictest requirements to enter. They are not allowing any tourists in and you must already have a visa. Luckily, we lived close to the DC Embassy and got our visas in four days, not without some hiccups of course! During this time, the Cambodian Embassy introduced a requirement of a $3,000 USD deposit per person to enter the country. My dreams were shattered at that moment, but Stephen's school reached out and said, “Don’t worry, we will handle it." Wow, God was moving mountains!
Prior to leaving the US, we all needed to be COVID tested. We did four tests in a matter of 5 days prior to our flight leaving (three were saliva tests, one nasal). Our daughter did just fine considering the nasal one was just like picking your nose! Everything looked great, paperwork in order, packed, and ready to go!
Throughout the journey of interviewing, I had made an acquaintance on a Facebook page whose husband worked at the same school Stephen was hired at. She did all the leg work for us, finding an apartment, getting our electricity and internet set up, buying us groceries, and even stopping by to do a little birthday surprise for our daughter, who turned three during quarantine. She certainly saved us from a stressful situation with a toddler during a pandemic!
So, after 22 hours of traveling, we arrived in Phnom Penh where we were tested again. We had to quarantine for two weeks and get tested yet again before we could finally leave our apartment. Freedom!
Schools in Cambodia have been closed since March, however, recently the government decided to reopen about 20 International schools, my husband's included. Classes were virtual at first but now there are some in-person classes. Our daughter, Finley, does her PreK classes virtually and I homeschool her.
As for me, I teach English online with Palfish and have been steadily getting some classes. I will continue to keep my schedule open in the hopes that I can work from home full time, since our daughter is doing virtual classes and homeschooling at the moment.
It has been a long journey to get to this point, almost four years of planning, saving, paying off all debt (student loans not included), and continuing to ask ourselves if this is the right choice. My husband sacrificed a good job, a comfortable life and home, all to fulfill my lifelong dream of living abroad. The credit goes to him for approving of this crazy adventure with a toddler! You can do this, even with children! It is hard, it is daunting, but it’s rewarding. We left behind our family, friends, jobs, and church. It wasn’t easy and it’s not easy.
During this chapter of my life, I always say to myself “I will regret not going. If there is one thing in my life I need to do, it’s this. I have to do it, and if it doesn’t work out for me, my husband, or our daughter, we will come home. But I need to do this.” If you have kids, if you have a spouse, and this is on your heart to do it for your life, to enrich your children’s lives, to experience the world, then I’m here to tell you that you can do it!