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CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 28 Jul 2019, 12:01
by Bede
Back in February, after a spell of unemployment and semi-homelessness, I decided to sink most of what was left in my savings account into a trip to Phnom Penh to do a CELTA course there. I had previously spent some years working in China teaching EFL and thought it might be a good move.

I had never been to Cambodia before. One of the curses of my life is basically rushing in to a situation with no experience, no research. So it proved this time.

I had to have an online interview with one of the tutors after applying of course, a friendly and seemingly professional American guy. For most of the interview, the connection was terrible, he kept saying he couldn't hear me, but I was doing my very best to communicate, and the result was that I was offered a position on the course.

I at once had to pay a $500 deposit, non-refundable. I was sent a lengthy pre-course study task to be working on and began making plans to tie up my affairs in the UK, and travel to Cambodia in late April, with a view to staying there and working there on a long-term basis. I exchanged emails with the school in Phnom Penh where I would be doing the course, requesting basic info on visas, accommodation, course times and requirements, etc. I let the school know that I would arrive in Cambodia on April 17 in time for the beginning of the course.

After the initial emails about basic info, I didn't hear from the school again until I got to Cambodia. When I arrived I contacted them and asked if it would be OK to visit the school and make contact with the course tutor. I was asked to get in touch with the English Course leader, a person whose name I didn't recognise and with whom I had previously had no contact. He turned out to be a guy from the north-east of England with a strong regional accent I could barely understand.

Just about the first thing he said to me was, "we've been trying to get in touch with you for ages, we weren't sure you were still coming, are you sure you want to do the course?" I was astonished. I had not received any emails from the school for many weeks, there was no other way they had ever got in touch with me. I had paid a deposit, been clear about the time of my arrival, come all the way to Cambodia at the time I had said, I couldn't believe my commitment to the course was being questioned.

He seemed resolutely unimpressed and told me he would have to discuss the matter "with the school" before he could give the go-ahead for my participation. He called again shortly afterwards to say there had been "a communication breakdown" between myself and the school, and that as long as I paid all my fees at once I could still do the course.

I did so of course, and turned up at the appropriate time to begin the course.

I am afraid that I almost at once began to feel I had made an awful mistake. The English "Course Leader" seemed to have conceived a dislike for me which he made little effort to hide. I found I had to endure snide looks and sneering remarks from him, a feeling of being unwelcome. The change of food was making me sick every day, I was ill and weak, (the school denied students the right to use the elevator, and so there was no choice but to climb 8 flights of steps several times a day in tropical heat.)

I discreetly asked the American tutor about the possibility of withdrawing from the course, I mentioned to him I was having difficulty with his English colleague and superior. He somewhat ruefully responded, "well, you wouldn't be the first." He also told me of course that it was unlikely I would be refunded ANY of the money I had paid for the course, which by now added up to nearly $3000. He advised me to talk to the Cambodian admin lady who was it seemed the only native on the staff who had responsibility for the CELTA.

I tried to this the following morning, quietly beginning a discussion with the Cambodian lady only to be interrupted by the Englishman. A few minutes later he reappeared and directed me to follow him to "where we are going to be today".

I was led into his office, where I found the American already waiting. He sat by saying nothing while the Englishman gave me an aggressive 'dressing-down', blaming me for 'bad behavior' and disrespectful conduct. He also told me, "if I had interviewed you for this course, you would not be here." (I was amazed by this, it seemed the very height of unprofessional conduct to me, to say that to ANY student, whatever they may or may not have been guilty of.)

I said that in that case I would be content to withdraw from the course and asked that my money be refunded. "It is not YOUR money," was the gloating reply. "It is OUR money. You agreed from the very beginning that no refunds would be made, whatever your reason for leaving the course."

I reminded him of the "communication breakdown", the many weeks that had passed with no communications from the school, the attitude of unconcern from him when I first got in touch after arrival in Phnom Penh. I suggested that in view of that, and the fact that I was only just beginning day 3 of the course, I should be entitled to at least a partial refund of about 70% of what I had paid.

This just got him literally ranting and raving at me for what seemed like ages, denying that he had ever spoken of a "communications breakdown", denying that he had tried to discourage me from even beginning the course, and refusing to consider refunding me anything. I was humiliated by the situation I was in, profoundly intimidated, and impotently angry.

I withdrew from the course, (I saw no way to continue with it given the circumstances,) and somehow got back home to the UK.

The school has of course refused at every step to refund the money I so foolishly parted with, it has been a truly terrible blow for me, I am now receiving medical treatment for depression and anxiety, my personal circumstances are more desperate than they have been for many years.

You may be wondering what is the point of this story. One thing is of course, I would like to urge caution on any one considering doing a CELTA abroad in any country that you do not have some familiarity with. The CELTA is a money-making racket for these foreign schools who are allowed to cut the cake as they like to suit themselves, I don't believe Cambridge really care about that, it seems there is no way to challenge them.

Another is I would like ANY advice or suggestion about what to do next. Has any one else been in a similar predicament? How to cope with it?

Finally I would like to publicize my story, give it a wider audience. What is the best way to do that?

I really think people need to be warned of the dangers of doing the CELTA. In these uncertain times it may seem like a wise investment, a way forward, even a way out. My advice is NEVER do a course where you are told up front "no refunds under any circumstances", ask yourself why they need to protect themselves with such a proviso.

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 06 Aug 2019, 12:18
by odyssey
That certainly does sound like Hell. What surprises me is that it's a CELTA. Are you sure it's a CELTA and not just a TEFL?

As far as I can see, there is only one CELTA in Cambodia. If this is the one you mean, you really should take it up with Cambridge. I know you say they don't care, but I find that surprising. CELTA is the gold standard of TEFL courses. If what you allege is true, Cambridge should be very concerned. Or at the very least the Daily Mail.

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 07 Aug 2019, 08:20
by Bede
Thanks for your response. In answer to your question, yes it's most definitely a CELTA I am talking about in my previous post. I did consider doing one of the cheaper and less prestigious TEFL courses there, wish I had now.

When I got back from the UK i sent a number of emails to Cambridge describing my experiences with the course provider in Cambodia, and asking for help and support. I had to wait almost 3 weeks just to get a response from them, (all the while pleading with the Cambodia school for a refund, spending hours writing long accounts of my brief time at the school for their consideration, and being basically fobbed off by them.)

When I finally did get some kind of response from Cambridge, it was just basically to tell me what I knew already, that if I had a complaint I was supposed to take it up with the course provider, they were supposed to already have procedures in place for dealing with complaints. Oh sure they do, and the procedure is basically to get to agree (or think you have agreed) right away that any money you part with will not be refunded in any circumstances. And then, if you do have a complaint, you don't have a leg to stand on.

I sent a long report on my experiences to Cambridge after receiving my final rebuttal by the Cambodian school. I have never received a response to it.

I conclude that Cambridge are cool with however these courses are run in countries like Cambodia as long as the money keeps rolling in. Many of the individuals involved in running these courses (or the school admin who in theory share responsibility) lack professional standards of conduct. They game the system and cover up their inadequacies by abusing their positions of power. They are untouchable, as course applicants are compelled to accept from the get-go that their money is non-refundable.

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 07 Aug 2019, 08:58
by odyssey
That doesn't sound too good for Cambridge. I always had a higher opinion of them but maybe it has to change.

You've had a bad experience and let's hope others will learn from it.

Having said that, there really is no reason to fly half-way round the world when you can do perfectly respectable TEFLs (including CELTA) in the UK. The myth that you should do it on a beach in SEAsia to improve your job chances or whatever is put about by TEFL course providers on beaches in SEAsia or wherever...

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 07 Aug 2019, 22:46
by Bede
Yes, I have to agree with you. But specifically I would add that doing research beforehand into the school or country you are planning to study at and/or work in is crucial. Of the 7 students enrolled to do the CELTA course I was on, I was the only one new to Cambodia. All the others had either lived there for a while or had jobs there already.

But even more specifically I will say that never ever again would I consider doing a course that insists from the outset that ANY money you part with is non-refundable under any circumstances. It is just set up that way to be a cheat and a smokescreen for unprincipled, bullying and intellectually mediocre people.

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 08 Aug 2019, 09:39
by marieLLee
Hi. I would like to help you. If you still wish to do your CELTA come to las palmas. I rent rooms for the CELTA students who study at The Irish Academy here. I'm willing to offer you a room for free.

I doubt that the academy will reduce the fees but you could ask.

Let me know what you think

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 08 Aug 2019, 14:07
by odyssey
WOW! The TEFL world has entered the world of Booking.com too! Incredible!^^

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 08 Aug 2019, 14:08
by odyssey
Why don't people just get a TEFL in their home town (or region) and then they are set up to teach English anywhere in the world? That's the whole point.

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 08 Aug 2019, 14:10
by odyssey
If you can teach English to an ESL class in England (12 students, 12 languages), don't you think you could teach anywhere?

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 08 Aug 2019, 14:50
by marieLLee
Because now the CELTA is a requirement. In any case the TEFL cert is not the same as the CELTA, the latter being a much higher qualification.
When I started in 1996 I did the City & Guilds 7307 but everything changes with time so I new have CELTA and ESPbut not the delta, far to hard.

If you want to teach in FE. in the UK you have to have CELTA at the very least

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 08 Aug 2019, 15:30
by Bede
@mariel.Lee
I'm hugely grateful and somewhat touched by your kind offer, but unfortunately there is now no way I can afford to pay for the CELTA again. To be honest I haven't recovered from the bad experience in Cambodia. As well as a huge financial loss, it was actually a trauma that has severely dented my confidence and well-being. I am currently unemployed, but my only hope right now is that I have a chance to complete a degree at my alma mater starting this coming September. If all goes well I should graduate summer of 2020. I worked in China for almost 15 years, I am hoping that experience will stand me in good stead for possible employment teaching EFL abroad, (I have seen advertising by companies seeking graduates to work in Japan for example, which don't always absolutely require a TEFL certificate.)

@odyssey
It's not so straightforward to do the CELTA in the UK if you don't live in a city or town with a suitable school or college offering the course, and with a community of EFL learners. When I got back to the UK from China in August 2018 I had nowhere definite to live. I ended up lodging with a family friend way out in the countryside, miles from anywhere. I'm still in the same area. Liverpool and Manchester are accessible by bus and train, but the travel time is long and of course the travel fares eat up a lot of 'income' when one is not working.

In my current depressed state of mind the CELTA just seems like a racket to me. I doubt that I will have the heart, or the money, to pursue it again. Mainly all I have to say right now is to urge caution on any others who might take it into their heads (as I did) to head off to a country you have never been to, to put your trust in people who you have never had direct contact with and who will really just see you as a source of profit.

I have learned a hard lesson, what I say now is, be extremely careful when you consider doing ANY course where you get told upfront that fees, once paid, are non-refundable under ANY circumstances. To me, this would now be a massive red flag.

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 12 Aug 2019, 12:32
by Safari992
odyssey wrote:
08 Aug 2019, 14:08
Why don't people just get a TEFL in their home town (or region) and then they are set up to teach English anywhere in the world? That's the whole point.
Because it's interesting to teach in a new place? The majority that do the Celta will end up teaching abroad anyway. Doing it in the country you want to teach in also has some advantages too in that it'll familiarize you with those learners and their L1. You'll also likely meet English teachers from that country which is also interesting.

I did mine in an 'exotic' location for the sake of teaching students and experiencing life in a place I wouldn't otherwise teach in, same with a YL extension course.

It seems a bit narrow to say people should confine themselves to their hometown for a qualification that lets you teach anywhere in the world

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 12 Aug 2019, 13:26
by odyssey
Well I guess if you know from the start what country you want to teach in, you may have a point. But if you just want to train to equip you to teach *anywhere*, I don't see the need to train abroad. You get plenty of experience of learners when doing practice teaching in a class with 12 learners from all over the world (ie 12 different languages).

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 13 Aug 2019, 12:48
by Safari992
Even if you don't know where you want to teach though it's still feasible. You can experience a new country while learning a new skill. Eastern Europe in particular has some well known and well run courses that are a lot cheaper than those in the UK or Western Europe. You could fly out, pay for accommodation and the course for the same price or cheaper than home. To me that is more appealing than commuting up and down at home had I stayed at home. Depends on the person I think.

Celta in the Philippines

Posted: 15 Aug 2019, 09:55
by pareko
Anyone have info on the CELTA programs in Cebu City, PI?

Re: CELTA hell in Cambodia

Posted: 01 Dec 2019, 10:23
by John V55
Please, please, don’t keep falling for it. You don’t need a Celta no matter who it’s from and the companies are exploiting you. If you have a degree, a TEFL (no matter who it’s from) and some experience, that’s all you need. Honestly, all this ‘we do cheap stuff’ and ‘’we’re licensed by the government’ is nonsense.