From Waitressing in California to Teaching English in Cambodia

July 16, 2014
teaching english in Cambodia

Iforeign-correspondent badge final It doesn’t really make sense that my last article with Pink Pangea will let the story of how I found myself in Cambodia, but for those of you who have read at least half of my articles, I think this 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.

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. In fact, I 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. During that time, 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?”

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.

As I continued my search, I 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. In fact, 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.

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.

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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.

Pretty soon it was the night of my flight and I was hugging my grandparents, parents and brother goodbye.

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. In fact, 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.

Whether this is the first blog of mine you have read or whether you have been a loyal reader I want to thank you for taking your time and showing interest in what I have had to say about my experiences abroad.

If you ever find yourself in Cambodia and have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Thank you again and never stop traveling.


Have you traveled to Cambodia? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Photo credits for From Waitressing in California to Teaching English in Cambodia by Caitlin Werd.

About Caitlin Werd

Caitlin Werd, also known as Caitlin Seandel, is currently living out her life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. To date she has been there for a little over 8 months teaching, writing, and volunteering. She will travel throughout Southeast Asia before returning home. She enjoys the company of dream chasers and limit pushers, as she herself is one. She thanks you for taking the time to read her posts and hopes that you are either enjoying your current adventure or busy planning the next one. To see more of her work, please visit her website at

3 thoughts on “From Waitressing in California to Teaching English in Cambodia

  1. Hendri
    June 29, 2015

    I admire you,such a brave decision you make here. I’m Indonesian Chinese and stay at Phnom Penh for more than 3 years,glad to read your story.
    But I was too pessimistic to be a english teacher since I got no degree or ESL TEFL,do you have any advice for me? Thanks in advance, Hendri.

  2. July 19, 2014

    Thank you so much for your feedback. It is always rewarding to hear that my writing can stir some emotional response 🙂 One of my goals during my time with Pink Pangea was to write to inspire women to travel especially to destinations that make them nervous for me that was Cambodia., which I have to say is a must see. All of South East Asia is absolutely beautiful and a must see.
    I am now posting my blogs on my website so if you ever feel like reading more you should check it out:

    Also feel free to contact me whenever if you need some recommendations when you are over here, I would be happy to help where I can 🙂
    Thank you again, and best of luck!

    Fellow traveler,

  3. Rose
    July 17, 2014

    Caitlin! This made me tear up. This is beautiful, thank you for sharing your journey. I admire you even more now. I will now look into visiting Southeast Asia 🙂 Good luck on any and all of your other travels.

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