From Waitressing in California to Teaching English in Cambodia


It doesn’t really make sense that my last blog with Pink Pangea will tell the story of how I found myself in Cambodia, but for those of you who have read at least half of one of my blogs, I think it is an important story to tell.

It was December 2012 and I had just graduated from San Diego State. I was packing up my car, preparing to move back home. I had no job lined up and I was feeling helpless and fearful that after graduation I would be back in my parents’ house and end up working at a local bar where I would see everyone from high school.

With that fear in my head, I left beautiful San Diego and eight hours later was unpacking my car and moving back into my old room, which I had not occupied for the past five and a half years. I was anything but excited and was actively applying for jobs. Each day, I would switch off between applying for “career positions” as well as jobs in the service industry.

Due to my dwindling bank account, whatever job lead bit first was what I would have to take. I was getting really tight on cash and when Stadium Pub, a local bar, called me about an interview, I was beyond excited. I nailed the interview and a few days later got a call asking if I still wanted the serving position. I accepted instantly and before I knew it, what I had feared most had come true. I was moved back in my parents’ house and was working in a bar that was the most popular among my high school acquaintances.

I started at Stadium Pub in January of 2013. I was making friends, making money and making memories. I also continued to apply for “careers,” conducted informational interviews and became a volunteer blogger with a human rights organization, called Ella’s Voice. It wasn’t until six months had passed that I started to get frustrated. I was angry.

How could it be possible that I was not getting a single millimeter of feedback, literally jobs weren’t even responding back with a “no.” I am competent in Spanish, have completed two degrees and two internships, worked 4.5 out of the 5.5 years in college and participated in many student organizations–and I wasn’t landing anything. Not only was I frustrated, I was unsure. Did I really want to plunge myself into a 9-5 job right now, more importantly a 9-5 job in the United States? Ever since my semester abroad in Madrid, my desire to travel was (and still is) insatiable.

I vocalized my concerns to my parents, and my dad’s reply was, “Why not teach English abroad?”

Never had I heard a better idea! From there I was off researching distant and foreign lands. I knew I wanted to go to Asia but I wasn’t sure where. I started looking into South Korea because some of my friends had taught there and really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

After doing some research, I narrowed down my requirements:

I wanted to be in Asia. I wanted to go somewhere where I knew no one, and that none of my close friends had been before (that crossed off South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand) and I wanted my world turned upside down.

I continued my search and found a company called Language Corps. I saw that they offered courses in Southeast Asia, and then I saw Cambodia. To be honest I was scared to even click on the link. I had heard about Cambodia, but I did not know anything about it. I clicked on the link and started doing my own research, reading blogs, history books, watching documentaries. I even looked at their identification cards, anything to make me feel more comfortable with this completely foreign and intriguing land.

Instantly, I was drawn in. I was enticed because the thought of moving to Cambodia scared me. It scared me out of my mind. The first thing that I thought was what if I died there? I researched for a week, skimming the surface of Cambodia’s history, culture, and geography.

Here are a few keywords that repeatedly showed up: genocide, prostitution, pick-pocketing, beautiful beaches, lush jungles, a fairly big expat community, riel, dollars, corruption, adventure, the nicest natives of Southeast Asia, poverty, drugs, US travel advisory, and “The Wild West of Southeast Asia.”

Even though some of what I read made me more apprehensive about the idea of moving, having the knowledge made me more calm. I had conversations with myself, realizing that if I decided to not do this, or if I decided to go to a different country instead, I would regret it, and even, in a weird way, feel defeated. I told myself that no one cares about things that you almost did, Caitlin; people only care about things that you have done. So, I filled out my application.

It was less than a week before I heard back and scheduled a phone interview. My phone interview came and went and in early April of 2013, I received my acceptance email along with my program start date. It was so far away that it felt unreal. It wasn’t until I bought my one-way plane ticket that I realized I was really doing it, I was moving to Cambodia.

September came quickly. Pretty soon it was the night of my flight and I was hugging my grandparents, parents and brother goodbye. I boarded my plane not knowing what was waiting for me on the other side of the world, and 22 hours later arrived in Phnom Penh. To date, it has been the best decision I have made.

My Cambodian experience is something I am thankful for everyday. This country has bewildered and amazed me. I have bewildered and amazed myself. I feel that I have a better understanding of myself and of what I want in life than I ever had before. I have no regrets and as intense as this is, if I were to die today I would die with a list of things I still want to do, but with happiness and fulfillment in my heart.

Traveling teaches you things about yourself that nothing else will. We all have hidden doors within ourselves, doors that we don’t know exist, and it is by putting ourselves in situations that we have never experienced before that these doors are unveiled and opened. As John Steinbeck said, “I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.” Little did I know Cambodia was going to help me find myself.

Travel Tip #7

Now is a better time than ever to plan your first or next adventure. Go somewhere that scares you.

One thought on “From Waitressing in California to Teaching English in Cambodia

  1. Pingback: Workers of the World Weekly: February 12, 2016

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