Pros and cons of teaching English in Cambodia
If you’re weighing up the pros and cons of teaching English in Cambodia, you can be comforted in the knowledge that plenty of other people, including me, have gone through the same process. So, despite the ‘Worry Wart’ ribbing from your mates, turning your mind to whether a specific ESL teaching destination will be a good fit for you is the smart thing to do. Among other things, it’s akin to a preemptive strike on culture shock.
In this short blog post, I’ll highlight three ‘pros’ of teaching English in Cambodia and, to ‘balance the ledger’, three ‘cons’. Of course, we know there are many more than three pros and three cons, but I need to draw a line somewhere – akin to a preemptive strike on reader boredom.
Here are my three ‘pros’ of teaching English in Cambodia.
Advertisements in social media, feedback from ESL teachers on the ground and the sheer number of requests for new teachers that my business, AVSE-TESOL, receives from schools across Cambodia collectively point to a massive shortage of qualified foreign English teachers. In a nutshell, there are more ESL teaching jobs on offer in Cambodia than there are TESOL/TEFL qualified people to fill them. This is good news – an obvious ‘pro’ – for anyone who has Cambodia on their ‘teaching jobs abroad’ radar. Degree or no degree, quality, government-regulated TESOL certification is essential – check out the Australian Government-accredited TESOL programme in Phnom Penh at AVSE-TESOL.
The lifestyle you lead in your home country is almost certainly driven by your work hours (including time spent commuting), your financial circumstances and the weather. Sure, other factors influence a person’s lifestyle, for example, geographic location, hobbies, and socialising, but work, finances and the weather are the big three. Sensible work hours, high income (relative to the cost of living) and a tropical climate – ‘the big three’ – that come with teaching English in Cambodia afford a lifestyle that most people can only dream about. The 60-minute commute to work on the London Underground will be a thing of the past. Forget about paying AUD $12.00 for a beer in Sydney. Building sandcastles in Sihanoukville while walking around in a bathing suit will replace building snowmen in New York, dressed in a woollen beanie, earmuffs, gloves, and thermals.
Relaxed visa rules
Rules and regulations related to obtaining a visa to enter Cambodia and staying there for an extended period are arguably more relaxed than in other ESL teaching destinations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. In Cambodia, with minimum paperwork and fuss, it’s possible to obtain a twelve-month visa (multiple entries) and a related twelve-month Work Permit sponsored by an employer (a school in our line of work) or as a ‘self-employed’ person. Interestingly, you don’t need a company structure in Cambodia to be eligible for a twelve-month work permit and visa because you’re self-employed. A twelve-month Work Permit, sponsored or self-employed, costs in the vicinity of US $330.00. The cost of a visa is around US $200.00.
Here are my three ‘cons’ of teaching English in Cambodia.
You can’t skirt around it; Cambodia has a war-torn past and ongoing governance issues. History tells us the local people are the first to bear the brunt of war, poor governance, or both, closely followed by the nation’s infrastructure. Basic infrastructure in Cambodia is either second-rate, dilapidated, or non-existent. Accessing the internet will frustrate you no end. Finding the health care you need if you get ill, will be challenging, especially if you don’t have medical insurance. Not all schools have air-conditioning, whiteboards, projectors and the like that teachers take for granted in more developed countries.
Here’s a quick task for you: think about how you will manage: 1. the problematic internet, 2. finding health care if it’s needed, and 3. delivering ESL classes without basic resources. Whining is one option. I think there are more productive things that you can do to minimise the inconvenience.
Witnessing abject poverty (and its consequences) is confronting. As an ESL teacher in Cambodia, you will have abject poverty in your face daily. In Phnom Penh, beggars and street kids of all ages are seemingly on every corner. You’ll see whole families, mum, dad, and kids living rough on the pavement. The garbage from businesses and households that’s left to rot on the street is a magnet for vermin. With abject poverty comes the need to make ends meet by whatever means, and in Cambodia, many people do precisely that. Almost certainly, you’ll be shocked. How will you respond?
I heard a young ESL teacher describe his time teaching in Cambodia as ‘too vanilla’ for his liking. Then and there, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, which provides an insight into my age and social circle. Thanks to a Google search, I now understand that he meant ‘conventional’, ‘same-same’, and lacking variety. I can see why some folks teaching English in Cambodia might think that way. There’s not a huge difference between schools ‘A, B, C and D’ in Phnom Penh on a number of fronts, including their target customers, the curriculum, pay scales, architecture and suchlike. Anecdotally, 90%+ of the teaching work in Cambodia is with young learners, 4 to 17 years of age, who attend Private Schools. Company classes are scarce. Occasionally a teaching position at a university or college will pop up, but you could go weeks without seeing a job advertised at this level.
There is an upside and a downside to every aspect of life if you were inclined to look, and teaching English in Cambodia is no different. It comes with pros and cons. The number of available jobs, the lifestyle and the relaxed visa rules are good reasons for ESL teachers, newcomers, and seasoned campaigners to make their way to Cambodia. Equally, the poor infrastructure, abject poverty and the ‘same-same’ nature of the teaching work in Cambodia are all reasons why ESL teachers may choose a different destination. It comes to personal choice, and in my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons – and in the main, the cons can be easily managed with a bit of forethought.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director and owner of AVSE-TESOL in Cambodia and Vietnam. AVSE-TESOL delivers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme in Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. Check out the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.ed.vn
Teaching English in Cambodia – ESL ‘pioneers’ needed…
There’s a substantial realignment happening at the present time in terms of preferred destinations for aspiring English as a second language (ESL) teachers. While interest in Japan, Korea and even Thailand seems to be waning, teaching English in Cambodia is becoming more than a faint blimp on the radar of both newbie ESL teachers and seasoned campaigners alike.
Last frontier for ESL teaching
Cambodia is arguably the ‘last frontier’ in Asia for ESL jobs and like every other ‘frontier’ the world has known, ‘pioneers’ are in high demand. If you fancy yourself as an ESL pioneer, if you’re up for an adventure or perhaps you just want to make a positive difference in the lives of local people who have been doing it tough for generations, teaching English in Cambodia may well be your calling.
While students of all ages – young learners through to corporate high flyers – have been marching off to English language classes in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, China and in other Asian countries for the past couple of decades, it’s a relatively new trend in Cambodia, becoming more popular by the day. Why, you may ask, especially given that studying English as a second language isn’t ‘sexy’ like training to be a sports star or swiping pages on an IPad? From what I’ve witnessed first-hand over the past few years, the current generation of Cambodians see English language skills as a pathway to a better future. Moreover, the parents and grandparents of the current generation know how dangerous a lack of education can be. By any measure, Cambodians are resilient and they won’t allow a tragic past to repeat itself, or dictate what the future holds.
Privately owned ‘International’ schools and English Language Centres are sprouting all over Phnom Penh and there are even a few up north in Siem Reap and down south in Sihanoukville. The Westline International School is one of the largest ‘K1 through to K12’ institutions in Cambodia with 16 campuses and well over 20,000 students. There are a number of other International Schools of similar size.
Huge demand for English teachers
With the demand for English language classes in Cambodia going through the roof, there’s a corresponding demand for people with the qualifications and skills to take on jobs teaching English in Cambodia. Internationally recognised TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certification, such as the Australian Government accredited Certificate IV in TESOL, is the minimum academic qualification for teaching English in Cambodia. Those people who hold quality ESL certification and a university degree (in any discipline) are in strong demand. Rightly or wrongly, being a native English speaker is also looked upon favourably, but non-native English speakers shouldn’t be deterred; there are plenty of jobs available.
It’s fair to say the hourly rate of pay for teaching English in Cambodia is quite a bit less than what’s on offer in neighbouring countries. Moreover, the hours that ESL teachers in Cambodia are required to work, tend to be more. Having said this, the salary at the end of the month and even more important, the savings capacity through teaching English in Cambodia (around 50%) is not dissimilar to what’s on offer in neighbouring countries. By way of example, a native English speaker with a degree and TESOL will typically work 30+ hours a week teaching English in Cambodia and receive a net monthly salary of around US $1,300.00. In comparison, if the same person was teaching in Vietnam, he (or she) would typically work 20+ hours a week for a similar net salary.
One of the more obvious differences between teaching English in Cambodia and teaching in a neighbouring country like Vietnam is when most of the work hours occur. In Cambodia, English language classes mainly occur during the daytime, Monday to Friday and rarely in the evening or over the weekend. In contrast, English classes in Vietnam mostly take place in the evening, Monday to Friday and anytime over weekend.
Sure, the net monthly salary, hourly rates, savings capacity and suchlike that teaching English in Cambodia affords, are important considerations before diving in head first. I’d like to place another important consideration on the table – lifestyle! If I had to choose between: 1. living in an exotic country, working a handful of hours each week, saving money and getting ahead; or 2. the 9 to 5 grind in my home country while trying to make ends meet, the decision is very much a ‘no brainer’.
Cambodia can be confronting
Those folks who turn their mind to teaching English in Cambodia need to be realistic about what’s on offer, or perhaps more important, what’s not on offer in a developing country. Basic infrastructure in Cambodia is either non-existent, ‘patchy’ or in both a literal and metaphorical sense, ‘in the pipeline’. Vermin are commonplace, garbage is dumped in the street (later taken away – mostly), the climate tends to be hot, very hot, or very, very hot with an occasional downpour that leaves whole neighborhoods submerged and local people tend to be unorganised and work at a pretty slow pace. Food choices can also be confronting; barbequed ‘creepy crawly’ things are not my idea of snack food. There’s an ‘arachnid-looking’ thing, a Cambodian delicacy, that bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Daddy Long Legs’ that lived in my old pop’s outside loo when I was a kid.
The ‘negatives’ you’ll surely see first-hand if it happens you embark on an odyssey teaching English in Cambodia are part of the reason I love the place. It is stunningly different to any country I’ve visited – and I’ve been to a few – and the ‘unexpected’ prevails. You will smile more often than you’ve ever smiled before. You might even break out in an audible chuckle when you see something like a local person transporting two full size fridges in a ‘T formation’ on the back of a motorbike. I saw it on my last trip and I certainly broke out in an audible chuckle. Most of all, you will be taken back by the overt hospitality and friendliness of the local people. Cambodian people have every reason to be a cranky lot, but they’re right up there with the loveliest folks you will ever meet.
When it’s all said and done
So, would I recommend teaching English in Cambodia? Yes I would, without hesitation. If I had my time over again, I’d start with teaching English in Cambodia. Just now there are plenty of terrific teaching jobs available in Cambodia for people with the right qualifications, but things are changing – see my earlier ‘faint blimp’ comment. There’s an expat lifestyle on offer that will allow you to get ahead and save money. The 9 to 5 grind that’s commonplace in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and in most other developed countries will be a thing of the past. Give it a go!
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE-TESOL) in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. TESOL certification through Peter’s company, AVSE-TESOL, is all about providing aspiring ESL educators with the skills, knowledge and quality certification they need for jobs teaching English in Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere. Check out the AVSE-website: www.avse.edu.vn
Teaching English in Cambodia – professional conduct matters
Foreign English teachers in Cambodia are highly respected and with this esteem comes many responsibilities. As a role model, you should endeavour to display a professional demeanour, use appropriate language and portray a positive attitude in all your dealings and interactions with students, parents, the broader community, colleagues, staff and administrators. Demonstrating professionalism during your time teaching English in Cambodia doesn’t begin and end with assisting students to learn or following school policies and procedures. Please remember that you are also a representative of your school, country of origin, and, more broadly, the ESL teaching profession.
Teaching in Cambodia is important work. It deserves your complete care and attention. It’s noteworthy that AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh include ‘professional conduct’ as a stand-alone unit in their four-week, Australian Government accredited TESOL programme. In stark contrast, other TESOL providers in Cambodia don’t touch the subject.
Serious problems can arise if you behave ‘inappropriately’ in a country like Cambodia; actions have consequences. At the very least, unprofessional behaviour could lead to a reprimand by your school, dismissal, and in extreme cases, deportation or time in jail. As a professional, you should always be aware of the standards required. Discharge these in a manner befitting the profession and ensure you do not breach the trust afforded to you.
In many ways, professional conduct while teaching English in Cambodia is simple, common sense. You should aspire to retain the respect of your students and colleagues, provide your students with the best education possible and demonstrate professionalism in all aspects of your career. Folks who are professionally-minded operate within a schema of accountabilities and responsibilities; there are certain lines that should not be crossed. True, the lines might be blurry on occasions and subject to change without notice; such is life in a developing country like Cambodia.
Professional conduct tips
From my own experience teaching in Cambodia, here are 16 professional conduct tips, that I’d encourage you to reflect upon and, if you share my view of the world, act upon.
1. Teacher-student relationship
Honour the sanctity of the ‘teacher–student’ relationship. First, the teacher should endeavour to forge a relationship with students built on a foundation of respect, empathy and the preservation of individual dignity. This can be achieved by setting a good example and deploying a genuineness that would never make students feel embarrassed, stupid or ashamed, especially if they are brave enough to speak up. The second facet of this standard hinges on respecting personal boundaries. As a teacher, you hold a position of trust. These trust levels are further heightened when you are working with younger students. Never behave in a manner that’s unbecoming of your position by making students feel emotionally or physically uncomfortable.
2. Safe and secure environment
Create a safe and secure environment for learning. Teachers should use all of their skills and knowledge to ensure that classroom conflicts are kept to a minimum, that students feel safe coming to class and that bullying or student harassment issues are dealt with immediately. In the very rare situation where there is a real threat to individual or group safety, you should be mindful of your duty of care responsibilities that come with teaching English in Cambodia and discharge these accordingly.
3. Student expression
Promote and encourage student expression, even in circumstances where your beliefs or views may be in direct conflict with those of your students. If you disagree with a student, it’s not appropriate to belittle them or make them feel vulnerable. Lead by example. Require all in the classroom to show tolerance of other people’s rights and beliefs, no matter their source or origin. It’s also essential to make sure that your teaching doesn’t intentionally or accidentally encourage students to break the law or behave in a manner that might be confrontational or physically aggressive. Instead, create a space that offers a safe forum for discussion, where everyone’s views are respected.
4. School rules
Be aware of school rules when teaching English in Cambodia. Professionally-minded teachers understand that following the rules, policies, and protocols serves as a foundation for productive learning. Furthermore, by understanding the ‘rules’ of the school, the teacher is better equipped to ensure the integrity of the age-old, ‘teacher–student’ relationship is maintained. There are a few basic rules that ESL teachers should always follow: be punctual and well prepared, dress professionally, avoid using foul language, never lose your temper or become aggressive, be courteous and friendly and do not engage in gossip, arguments, and other inappropriate behaviour.
Never give or take money from your students while teaching English in Cambodia – or anywhere else. What might seem like a harmless transaction can easily be misconstrued or, worse, place you in a situation of criminality.
6. Lesson planning
Ensure every lesson you ever take is thoroughly planned. If you stop preparing for your classes or, at a minimum, adjust lessons plans that you have previously taught, it is probably time to look for a new career. If you’re unsure how to respond to a question from a student, it’s best to say nothing and then find out the answer later. If you should give a wrong answer, you could potentially lose the respect of your students.
7. Set up classroom
Make sure your classroom is set up for a productive teaching and learning experience, well before the first student is due to arrive.
8. Friendships with students
Don’t make friends with your students during your time teaching English in Cambodia. Yes, it is important to create a cordial atmosphere in the classroom to encourage learning and build trust, but do not blur the lines of the teacher-student relationship by extending this to friendship.
9. Treat equally
Treat all your students equally. The worst thing you can do as a teacher is to play favourites. Be universally welcoming and ensure that all students are treated equally.
Maintain objectivity. It’s not acceptable to afford assessment or grading leniency to the students you may like, feel an affinity towards or who are simply better behaved in the classroom. You must remain objective and assess any work submitted on its merits.
Avoid taking gifts from students. It is never a good idea to accept a gift from a student. Don’t open the door to the perception that you are complicit in an inappropriate relationship. It’s not worth the risk. If you’re offered a gift, then just make it clear that all you expect in return from your students is good, old-fashioned hard work.
12. Personal beliefs
Don’t enforce your beliefs. Teacher neutrality is imperative in the classroom. ESL teaching in Cambodia requires you to teach English, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t require you to indoctrinate, inculcate or push your personal beliefs onto, or convert, your students.
13. Life story
Don’t bore students with tales about your life. While it can be fun to use personal anecdotes to illustrate certain facets of the course, sharing your personal life should be kept to a minimum. Using individual students (or the whole class) as a personal confidant or therapist is simply ‘not on’.
14. Additional duties
Teaching is a highly regarded occupation in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. Westerners who teach abroad are sometimes taken aback by the reverence they receive from students and the wider school community. Foreign ESL teachers are often paid more than their local counterparts and earn significantly more than the average wage in the country where they’re working.
It is not surprising that employers generally expect a high level of professionalism and commitment from foreigners teaching English in Cambodia, both in and out of the classroom. There is a wide range of duties and responsibilities that fall to ESL teachers beyond the classroom. Depending on your employer, some non-teaching duties will likely be expected without additional pay. For example, it is very rare for teachers to be paid for lesson preparation time. Some or all of the following may be part of your normal days’ work:
- Accurately recording results and attendance
- Attending meetings, work functions and events
- Participating in professional development
- Planning and preparing all lessons
- Writing student reports
- Meeting with parents
- Collaborating and seeking feedback from colleagues
- Observing less experienced (or more experienced) teachers in the classroom
- Conducting demonstration lessons
- Cleaning and tidying classrooms and facilities
- Participating in school open days
In addition, employers may have expectations about maintaining their school’s image. For example, you may be required to adhere to a dress code, remove piercings, cover tattoos and so on. Your employer may also want to take pictures of you to be used in marketing activities.
15. Social media
From my observations teaching English in Cambodia, the local people are curious by nature. With this in mind, there’s a high chance that ‘all and sundry’ in the school community will actively seek out your presence on social media platforms. Have you posted anything that might conflict with your role teaching in Cambodia? If so, delete it before you go to your first job interview.
Who can view your posts? Who can interact with you on social media? I’d encourage you to use all available privacy measures to prevent people in the school community from finding you on social media in the first place. If, by some chance, a member of the school community does find you on social media, you should have a backup plan so they can’t engage with you. Under no circumstances should you add students (or their parents) as friends or contacts on your social media platforms. The reality is that we’ve all said and done things that we wish we hadn’t, and often misadventure finds its way to social media. Deal with it before it becomes an issue for you.
16. Ongoing professional development
Teaching in Cambodia is one of those professions where keeping up to date with best practices, standards, guidelines, research and suchlike – commonly known as professional development – is paramount. If you know what’s going on in your profession, it follows that there’s a better chance that the way you conduct yourself – professional conduct – will be more aligned to what’s expected than it might otherwise be. Understandably, when people hear the expression ‘professional development’, boring conventions, further study and stuffy networking events come to mind. Who has time (and money) for those things? Well, the great news is that it can be fun and easy to keep up with teaching English in Cambodia trends, to the extent that you won’t even know that you’re engaging in ‘professional development.’
Your everyday social life is a professional development ‘gold mine’. Just by chatting regularly with co-workers, setting up regular lunches or coffee meets with like-minded colleagues or staying in touch online, you will be able to share your experiences and knowledge on ‘what’s what’ in the ESL world. It doesn’t all have to be about work, of course, but doubtless, you will find these are great opportunities to share tips and ideas about teaching practices that have worked for you and to learn what has worked for others. Other fun and social techniques for keeping your knowledge on the cutting edge include joining groups on Facebook and, of course, staying in touch with classmates from your teacher training days.
Certainly, more formal opportunities for professional development exist and can add tremendous value to your teaching English in Cambodia journey. If you are lucky, you might find these opportunities being offered by your employer. If not, you may opt to invest some of your time and money to take part. ESL ‘Associations’, Organisations and the like, whether in your home country or abroad, often run courses and events with a professional development dimension. It’s a matter of keeping an eye out for what’s available.
Conducting yourself professionally is central to succeeding as an ESL educator, whether it’s teaching English in Cambodia or another location. In the main, going about your business in a professional manner requires nothing more than common sense. Choosing not to lend or accept money from students, treating all students equally and maintaining objectivity are three examples of professional conduct ‘101’ while teaching in Cambodia. Be mindful that your social media platforms will attract attention if you allow it to happen. Interacting with students and parents via social media is a ‘no go zone’ in my view based on a simple ‘risk versus benefit’ analysis. Lastly, don’t underestimate the connection between professional conduct and professional development. They’re intertwined.
About the blogger: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and founder) of AVSE-TESOL in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) and Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City). Peter and the team at AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh have been helping aspiring educators to land that all-important first job, teaching in Cambodia or Vietnam, for more than a decade. Check out the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.edu.vn
Teaching in Cambodia – reduce your carbon footprint…
Despite the science, it seems to me that many world leaders don’t care about climate change, don’t understand it, or both. While we wait for genuine leadership on climate change, those of us who are teaching English in Cambodia, like so many others, can choose to sit on our hands or proactively seek out opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint. I’ve made a conscious decision not to sit on my hands and I’m calling on the entire teaching fraternity in Cambodia to take tangible action – starting immediately – to reduce carbon emissions.
The reality is that teaching English in Cambodia affords an array of opportunities to reduce carbon emissions. At this point, I am focused on reducing my usage of plastic, paper and fossil fuel (chiefly petroleum). When I’ve managed to ‘put a dent’ in my bad plastic, paper and fossil fuel habits, I’ll identify other areas where I can reduce my carbon footprint through my work as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.
Let’s look at environmental issues relating to plastic, paper and fossil fuels from the perspective of teaching English in Cambodia.
It only takes a day or two in Phnom Penh to realise that local people have a love affair with plastic. Visit any Khmer shop and there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll exit with more plastic bags than the number of items you’ve purchased. Newspaper reports suggest that Phnom Penh generates 600 tons of plastic waste daily including the infamous plastic bag and PET bottles (and containers). “What is a PET bottle”, I hear you ask? It’s a bottle made of polyethylene terephthalate, which is a form of plastic. If you buy water or a sports drink at a local store or a supermarket, almost certainly the bottle will be made of polyethylene terephthalate.
The United Nations estimates that 91% of Cambodia’s plastic waste ends up in landfill, waterways and other places where it’s not meant to be. Anything that’s collected for recycling is shipped overseas, with local people receiving a pittance.
These days, I take my own ‘fabric’ bag when I go shopping in Phnom Penh. It’s true that I get strange looks when I knock back plastic bags to cart away things that I bought, but that’s ok. I live in the hope that one day I will see another person in a store knocking back plastic bags and handing the shop assistant a fabric bag. Perhaps I’m naive, but I do believe it will happen.
Foreigners who are teaching English in Cambodia love PET bottles almost as much as Cambodians love plastic bags. If you’re a foreign teacher in Phnom Penh, I’ve got it pegged that there was a PET water bottle in your ‘Teacher’s Bag’ when you last took a class. Those of us who are teaching English in Cambodia know about the importance of drinking plenty of water when working in a stifling Khmer classroom. As educated people, we should also know that PET bottles are harmful to the environment and potentially harmful to our immediate health. How many people handled your plastic water bottle before you? Did every person in the supply chain wash their hands before handling the bottle that you’re now drinking from?
I’m living proof that removing PET bottles from everyday life is achievable and painless. Buy a reusable water bottle, take it with you wherever you go and top it up when the opportunity presents itself. Investing in a reusable water bottle will: 1. reduce your carbon footprint; 2. save money because you’re not buying drinks and 3. reduce the likelihood that you’ll pick up a lurgy of some kind due to poor hygiene practices by other people.
Everyone loves trees, but we keep chopping them down to produce paper and other products. Chopping down trees is detrimental to the environment on a several fronts. Trees store toxic carbon. This is good news. When a tree is chopped down, the toxic carbon stored is released back into the atmosphere. This is terrible news. On top of this environmental merry-go-round where carbon is stored and then released again, deforestation typically includes a burning process and extra toxic gas finds its way into the atmosphere. This is also bad news. Adding insult to injury, land that was previously a forest is often used for agricultural pursuits, which account for 20% (+/-) of carbon emissions worldwide. This is horrible news. No matter how you look at it, chopping down trees for paper and other commodities beckons an environmental catastrophe.
Through my work teaching English in Cambodia, I’m making a concerted effort to minimise my use of paper – and you should too! I can honestly say that I don’t know any teachers in Cambodia or elsewhere who have a ‘moonlight’ gig chopping down trees. Having said this, most teachers may as well have a side-job as a tree-lopper because they’re ‘big-time’ consumers of an end product – paper. Whether you physically chop down trees or use copious amounts of paper, the poor environmental outcome is the same.
From my observations, here’s a random selection of ways that teachers squander paper day-in and day-out: single-use flashcards; back up tasks printed in huge quantities; a box of tissues on the teacher’s desk; newspapers, magazines and circulars that are read and discarded or just discarded; paper planes in the staffroom (it does happen); paper cups in the staffroom; sticky notes; memorandum after memorandum; paper hats at staff birthday parties; and the list goes on and on.
Changing the mindset when it comes to excessive paper usage by teachers won’t happen overnight, but every journey starts with that all-important first step. I’ve taken that first step and I’d like to see others in the teaching profession doing their bit. Here are some strategies that I’m following right now, directed at minimising paper usage and reducing my carbon footprint.
- Only buy recycled paper
- Use both sides of the page
- Say no to paper (and plastic) straws
- Unsubscribe from junk mail
- Communicate by email
- Avoid printing emails
- All notes and reminders are electronic
- Use my own ‘clay’ beer coaster
- Be creative when wrapping gifts
- Use a ‘bum gun’ rather than toilet paper
- Use a handkerchief rather than tissues
The reliance on fossil fuel, petroleum and alike, is not unique to Cambodia. It’s a worldwide issue. Moreover, plenty of countries rely on fossil fuel (per capita) to a greater extent than Cambodia. I’m focused on the ‘here and now’. While I’m teaching English in Cambodia, reducing my use of fossil fuel as I go about everyday life in Phnom Penh – and encouraging others to do the same – is where I can make a positive contribution. Heaven knows there’s a lot of work to be done!
In 2016, only 16% of the population of Cambodia had access to clean fuels (and technologies) for cooking. Statistics suggest that in 2020, more than 50% of electricity on the grid in Cambodia was generated by coal and oil. While neighbouring countries have set targets for moving from majority fossil fuel to majority clean energy, Cambodia hasn’t. Putting aside for a moment the harmful impact that fossil fuel use has on the environment in Cambodia, the way petrol, coal and gas are manually handled by many local people (note the image above) often leads to injury and death. It’s a topic for another day!
Even the most avid global warming deniers accept there’s a connection between fossil fuel and carbon emissions. The deniers don’t see the connection as being a problem for humanity. On this point, I have two questions for you. Firstly, do you believe there’s a connection between fossil fuels and carbon emissions? Secondly, do you believe that carbon emissions are the root cause of global warming? If your answer was ‘no’ to one or both questions, it’s fair to say that we’re on different sides of the barricade. If your answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then surely, as an educator and role model, you must take tangible action to minimise your use of fossil fuels. How?
Teaching English in Cambodia comes with a range of benefits including – in many instances – the opportunity to walk or ride a bicycle to school. This is possible in Phnom Penh because it’s a relatively small city. In regional and rural areas of Cambodia, teaching jobs often come with accommodation within walking distance of the school. By choosing to walk rather than automatically jumping in a TUK TUK or on a motorbike, you’re reducing your personal use of fossil fuel – it’s that simple. Walking or riding a bicycle to get from Point A to Point B comes with a range of additional benefits including physical fitness, mental health and assimilation, to name only three.
Next, if you put your mind to it, your accommodation in Phnom Penh or elsewhere in Cambodia offers plenty of opportunities to reduce your fossil fuel footprint. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Choose not to burn coal when cooking. Thoroughly read the label before you buy a household product. Why? Cleaning agents, soap, insecticide and many other everyday household products contain petroleum derivatives – opt for a natural or ‘green’ alternative. Say no to chewing gum – the elastic properties in chewing gum come from petroleum derivatives. Move away from non-stick pots and pans – the non-stick part is made from petrochemicals. There’s a lot that you can do in your household with minimum effort.
Science tells us that climate change is real and that we need to take action now to have any hope of turning things around. Those of us who are teaching English in Cambodia – and elsewhere – are well-placed to take immediate action in a range of areas directed at reducing our carbon footprint. Right now, I’m focused on plastic, paper and fossil fuel. I’m making subtle changes in my consumption habits including saying no to plastic bags, taking a reusable water bottle with me when I’m out and about, using a handkerchief rather than tissues, printing on both sides of a page and walking at every opportunity rather than jumping in a petrol-powered TUK TUK. I’ve even stopped chewing gum. What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director and founder of AVSE-TESOL in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE’s core business is delivering Australian Government accredited TESOL training for aspiring English language teachers. AVSE-TESOL has training centres in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. Vist the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.edu.vn