Cambodia: Back to the Heart


cambodiaCambodia: Back to the Heart of Youth Work

People have asked me “Why? Why teach abroad? You have everything at home. A support system: family, a girlfriend, a job. Why do it?”

Nowadays, with company cut-backs and layoffs, seniority is no longer a factor. It’s about the business’s survival not yours. Job security is dead. You can no longer rely on working for an employer for 20-30 years and then retiring with full benefits. The economy will eventually recover and companies are slowly starting to increase hiring. But you can’t be fooled into trusting your financial security with another seemingly-reliable company ever again. If the opportunity comes up, of course, take it, but people are learning not to rely solely on income from a job. This recession has proven that companies will not honor their end of the bargain when the going gets tough.

But why did i choose to work in Cambodia? Am I running towards something or running away from it? This really hit home when, during an interview for a teaching position, the school director explained to me that there are three different types of teachers:

-the teacher who failed back home and is seeking a fresh start;
-the teacher who is altruistic and truly wants to give back; or
-the teacher that is only interested in drinking and partying.

It was clear he was trying to size me up, but I don’t believe I fit into a specific category.

I began this journey as a way of gaining a more realistic picture of a culture rather than reading about it in a book or googling it. I wanted to see the world and return home with the satisfaction of having contributed to a community and experienced a new culture as no tourist can. So, I traveled nearly 9,000 miles to sell my brand.

Teaching abroad has allowed me to use leadership skills to conduct a class, pick up a new language (even just conversationally), build an international network and communicate across cultural barriers. Back home, my extroverted personality has always gotten me into trouble but, in Cambodia, it has been my saving grace. I’m more confident in who I am and in my abilities. I may have been selling my brand, but I am getting something much more valuable in return

Cambodia. The new Wild, Wild West.

Practically no police presence. Their transportation system is inadequate. No one practices road safety. Mothers and their infants ride on the back of motorbikes. Two, three, four people on one motorbike. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone wearing a helmet. Pedestrians step into and stroll through traffic as if there are no cars and motorbikes zooming by. They would put a professional New York City jaywalker to shame. You may spot the stray officer attempting to direct traffic but his efforts are in vain.

What is a big attraction for tourists and expatriates is the standard of living. Beers are $0.75. Well drinks are $2.50. A complete meal costs anywhere between $2.00 and $5.00. A standard room at a guesthouse, like the one I stayed at during my first week — Rory’s Guesthouse — costs $11 per night. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $150 per month. But these are luxuries that foreigners indulge in since a large percentage of the population live below the poverty line. Adults and children make a living on the street, begging and stealing and eating food from the trash. They don’t have social security, so a job is essential to survive. The average salary for a full time hotel employee is $95 per month. But a foreigner working as a part-time English teacher (15 hours a week) can make $150 per week. Cambodians treat foreigners very well, often better than they treat fellow Cambodians. It certainly puts one’s life back home into perspective.

My journey through Cambodian culture left a mark on my soul and created friendships that will last a lifetime. And I hope to one day revisit Cambodia. Only fear of the unknown, of abandoning the comfortable feeling of the familiar that one finds in one’s own land, stands in the way of embracing other cultures. Ultimately, by embracing another culture, you may just find your own, your self, as I did.

About the Author: Ruvane Schwartz I am 41 years old, Jewish and grew up in Brooklyn,NY . I graduated from Baruch College with a Marketing Degree but have discovered my passion for travel and trying things outside my comfort zone. I especially love Cambodia. I am sarcastic, easy going but a little neurotic. I am Jewish. Its in our DNA! Follow him at 

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One response to “Cambodia: Back to the Heart

  1. Nice blog entry you got there. We haven’t really considered teaching abroad but we would definitely want to try to work outside of US and feel the culture of another country.We would like to definitely try this but we are wondering what to teach.

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