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Jen on Back to School Night in her classroom

Since my current job keeps me pretty rooted in one place, I recently interviewed a series of professionals in diverse careers whose jobs let them earn a living and see the world at the same time – the goal is to provide some information and inspiration to all the cubicle dwellers out there who are feeling restless. 

My first interview is with Jen, who left the U.S. with her partner, Stevo (a stand-up comic!) in 2011 and has been teaching and traveling around Asia ever since. Says Jen, “I get the best of both worlds, putting down roots and immersing myself in a new culture, and exploring and traveling during long school holidays.” You can read more about her and Stevo’s expat adventures on their blog Two Can Travel.

Jen Joslin in Cambodia

Jen enjoying a coconut in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Name: Jen Joslin

Job: First Grade Teacher at an International School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

What motivated you to pursue this career? How did you find the job you’re in now?

After graduating from university in 2009, I went to Cambodia to volunteer as an English teacher in the countryside. I studied Speech Pathology in school and had worked with kids as a babysitter, but I had no formal teacher training. I fell in love with teaching, and when I went back to the USA, my partner and I both got certificates in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) so we could go teach abroad together. We taught in three different cities in China over three years, and in 2015 we moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My teaching experience in China enabled me to get a job teaching first grade at an international school. I moved to Phnom Penh without a job and found the position through connections in the expat community. My class is made up of students from all over the world. The school is supportive, well-resourced, and in a great area of the city. I love it!

What are the perks of this career?

Admittedly teaching English in Cambodia doesn’t pay the big bucks, especially compared with the salaries we made in China. That said, my partner and I are much happier living in Cambodia. The tropical climate, friendly people, great food, active expat community, and opportunities to travel on weekends and holidays around Southeast Asia make this a fantastic place for us. The cost of living is quite low as well. Since I work at an international school, my salary is on the higher end compared to other teaching jobs in the city. I make enough to live comfortably and to save towards travel. I also get two months off in the summer, and though they are unpaid, I’m grateful for the freedom! This summer I plan to do a yoga teacher training in India, travel to new places, and focus more on my blog.

What are some of the challenges?

The biggest challenge, which most expats can attest to, is being far away from family and friends. It is especially hard when we can’t be there for big events like weddings or births and video chatting just doesn’t cut it. Other than that, we don’t feel too challenged living in Phnom Penh. In fact, life here is easier, more exciting and more fulfilling than anywhere else we’ve lived! 

Like anyone who has been bitten by the travel bug and is working a 9-5 job (or in my case 7-4), staying put can be a challenge. I feel incredibly lucky to work for a school where I am growing my skills and feel appreciated, so that makes it a lot easier to love where I am. Phnom Penh is a chaotic and lively city. The traffic can be horrendous, especially at rush hour, and the air gets dusty and dirty from all of the cars, tuk-tuks and motorbikes. We make it a point to get out of the city and into nature at least once a month. There are beautiful coastal and riverside towns within a few hours of Phnom Penh, so it’s not too tough to make that happen.

Do you have any advice for others considering this career?

I wouldn’t have guessed five years ago when we got our TESOL certificates that I’d be able to work at an international school in a major city in Asia. Experience counts for a lot in this part of the world. Strong recommendations from bosses and colleagues have also gone a long way, enabling me to find better jobs each year. If you want to teach abroad and potentially turn teaching into a career, here’s some advice: Work hard and go above and beyond when possible for your students. Crappy schools and horrible bosses can and will happen, but the students are what make the job worth doing.

When applying for jobs, talk to current teachers at the school and find out what they like and dislike. Don’t sell yourself short and take your time to find a school that seems like a good fit for your talents, where you will also learn new skills on the job. Hard work and punctuality can set you apart from the crowd when teaching in Asia. Network with other educators and always keep your eyes out for bigger opportunities. The world is literally your oyster.

What’s one lesson that you’ve learned in all of your work-related travels?

Slow down and enjoy where you are! Yes, if you teach abroad then work is a huge part of your life, but it isn’t everything. Don’t get caught up in the same grind you were in at home of work, eat, sleep, burn out. Make it a point to explore the city you live in and travel around the region. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, eat weird foods, shop at local markets, drink the locally made booze (maybe just once!). Living abroad is a big adventure, and one that my partner and I have become rather addicted to. No two days ever have to be the same, and there is nuance around ever corner if you look for it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

If you have questions about teaching in China or Cambodia feel free to send me an email (Jen@twocantravel.com) and I’ll do my best to help. 

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Banner image: Jen on Back to School Night in her classroom in Phnom Penh

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