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Thailand Teacher Interviews

Ben, Reid, Lea, Oliver & Jack talk to ESLstarter about their experiences teaching English in Thailand. Read on for more first-hand insight and tips about living and working in South East Asia!

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Ben

Ben Kletzer, Sisaket

Where in Thailand was your placement and which age group did you teach?

I lived in Kantharalak, Sisaket in north-eastern Thailand (an area that is referred to as Isan in Thailand). Isan is a beautiful rural area between Cambodia and Laos full of historic monuments and national parks. My town, Kantharalak, is a small friendly town, which had everything I wanted, even a Tesco store! At my placement school, Kantharalak Wittaya School, I taught students who were13-16 years oldin Mathayoms 1, 2, and 3.

Why did you decide to teach in Thailand?

I lived in China during my University studies and after I graduated I wanted an opportunity to travel and live in another culture. I chose Thailand because it is a beautiful, interesting country, and very culturally different from much of Asia. As the only Asian country not to be colonized, Thailand retains a constitutional monarchy, and a rich cultural heritage. This rich culture (and the amazing cuisine) attracted me to teach in Thailand. In addition, I wanted to use my abilities as a native speaker and a teacher to help enrich the lives of the Thai students.

What was the best thing about teaching in Thailand?

One of the best parts about teaching was seeing the impact I made in Thailand. I saw many students transform from shy children who could not utter a full sentence in English to confident English speakers. The best moment for me was watching my Mathayom 2 class give full Powerpoint presentations and speeches in English, utilizing the language they learned in class!

What were the biggest challenges you faced when teaching in Thailand?

My greatest challenge was learning enough of the Thai language to feel comfortable in my new life. After months of practice, I gained enough language skill to speak to many of the people I encountered on a daily basis. Furthermore, the people I interacted with seemed to greatly appreciate that I tried to learn the language, which gave me a richer living experience in my town.

What advice would you give to first time teachers in Thailand?

Be accommodating and flexible. Thailand will be a new experience and culture shock is natural. Have an open mind about everything that you encounter in and out of the workplace. Be accommodating to your co-workers and the school and remember that you are a guest at the school and in the country.

How long did you teach in Thailand and what are you doing now?

I taught in Thailand for one full school term (six months) and enjoyed it immensely. In fact, I enjoyed teaching so much that I am now applying to teach in Korea!

Where were your favourite places to visit in Thailand / South East Asia?

My favorite place in Thailand was Kanchanaburi. It is a very friendly city with a lot to keep you busy. You can rent motor bikes, ride elephants, visit ancient ruins, and hike through beautiful national parks filled with wildlife and waterfalls. Do not forget to visit the night market, I ate some of the best food in Thailand there!

My other favorite place in Thailand was Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city. It is a spacious and laid back city that was almost impossible to leave. Chiang Mai has a rich local culture and the food was incredible. Just south of the city was Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand and a beautiful national park.

Reid

Reid Guidry, Nan

Where in Thailand was your placement and which age group did you teach?

I was placed in Nan. It's in the Northern region of Thailand, near the Laos border. It was a very enjoyable town. Great food, great people, great weather. I taught M.1-M.6 (8th grade through 12th grade), at Strisrinan school for one semester. I then transferred to Nan Technical College.

Why did you decide to teach in Thailand?

I was looking for a good experience and I wanted to travel and see more of the world. Also, I thought it would look really good on a job application later on in life. Also, keep in mind that you're going to be in Thailand... which is a gateway to so many other Southeast Asian countries.

What was the best thing about teaching in Thailand?

The kids... or the food, haha. The children will make you want to go to school each day. To them, you're more or less a celebrity.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when teaching in Thailand?

The language barrier, or the stares. I was located ten hours away from Bangkok. The town I was in was very rural, that being said, the amount of white people that travel through Nan is slim... people would sit and stare for minutes at a time. I found that that was hard to handle from the beginning. However, its something you will get used to. Not to mention that if being stared at is the worst part of your day... you're doing pretty well, haha. As far as the language goes, again being so far away from Bangkok limits the amount of English that people speak. Thai is not an easy language to learn, still if you give an effort, they LOVE it.

What advice would you give to first time teachers in Thailand?

BE OPEN MINDED. Go in it thinking that you're going to be the best teacher in Thailand, then, when reality hits, realize that it's not possible. Not to be a downer or anything, but you need to keep things like that in mind. The Thai peoplesdesire to learn English is not very high, that'sjust the way it goes. Not to be demeaning to them by any means,it's just the facts.Also, don't take things too serious...true, it's education and it should always be taken serious. But the morefun you have, the more they willlearn.Keep it clear, simple, concise and fun.

How long did you teach in Thailand and what are you doing now?

I was in Thailand for one full year. I am now working as a manager at a golf course in my hometown, and will soon be applying to gain my teaching certification in the states. Fingers crossed.

Where were your favourite places to visit in Thailand / South East Asia?

The islands will always be on the top of my list... basically because it's cheap travel, and it's tropical, who doesn't enjoy that? Other than that, I would have to say that Cambodia blew my mind. We went to Angkor Wat, which was one of the Highlights of my entire time there...

Lea

Lea Mason, Nonthai

Where in Thailand was your placement and which age group did you teach?

I was located in Nonthai, a small village within the Nahkon Ratchasima province. The village may have been small but it was very welcoming and had character in abundance. I used to love waking up to the sounds of the bells of the local temple and walking to school as I watched the village come alive in the early morning. The village was built around the local market - a gathering of social activity. Every evening I used to pick up my evening meal there and would always be welcomed and greeted as if I was a local myself. By being located within rural Thailand, I definitely feel I experienced authentic Thai culture and I encourage any potential teacher to grab a rural opportunity with both hands.

My school was a part of a series of private language schools - there were five of them located within the Nahkon province. I taught kindergarten and all grades up to grade 9. This was such an excellent introduction to the world of teaching for me. I quickly learnt how to create and develop appropriate lesson plans in regards to the age and ability of my students. I absolutely adored teaching kindergarten. Every morning, I would be greeted by a sea of beaming faces, pleased to see me and to show me their latest colouring creations. In contrast, I also enjoyed teaching the later grades as I could converse with them, learn about them as young people and help to teach them the relevant English skills that they both wanted and needed to know. It was such a privilege to meet such smart students and to learn of their dreams, goals and ambitions.

This was my first serious teaching job and I received assistance from teachers at all times, meaning I could learn and develop at my own speed.

Why did you decide to teach in Thailand?

First of all, let me tell you a little about myself. After graduating from Uni, I found myself unsure of where to go next. My life was at a crossroads, with a lot of my time devoted to applying to meaningless and faceless graduates schemes. After reading ESLstarter's advertisement, I was amazed. It was such a good opportunity. They were a company that actively recruited novices, provide them with TEFL training / award and secure them an job within the country of the applicant's choice. In particular, Claire was instrumental in swaying me to pursue an ESL career. She handled all of the tricky visa / employment paperwork and provided valuable assistance to whenever I had any queries. All in all, I've been given a top service and I wouldn't be employed now here in China if it wasn't for ESLstarter.

I picked Thailand for plethora of reasons. First of all, who wouldn't want to live and work in such a beautiful country? The chance to leave behind rainy England and pursue a new adventure in the land of a million smiles! Then there is the food. You'll be amazed at the cooking and how varied it is. As mentioned, every evening I used to go to the market to pick up my evening meal. I used to love buying food from the stalls - I could buy fried chicken, Thai omelette, rice and a bottle of beer...and still have change left over! The food is very quick, very delicious and it's so easy to eat healthy! I also picked Thailand as an opportunity to experience the spiritual side of Buddhism. Over my teaching contract, I was lucky enough to attend Buddhist gatherings in the local temple and join in myself with the ritual. One time, I was also lucky enough to be taken to the meet the head monk. That was such a privilege, one I certainly won't forget!

Finally, I picked Thailand because I knew the opportunity would be whatever I made of it. You can go to Thailand and participate in the tourist activities, such as full moon parties. Or you can do what I did - leave behind urban Thailand and head to the country to witness a culture free from Western strains. Whatever you do, it's your opportunity to make fabulous life experiences and I wish you the best of success.

What was the best thing about teaching in Thailand?

It's so hard to narrow down to just one example. I can't as there are many faces to Thailand and so many experiences I treasure. I would have to start by mentioning my wonderful principal. This kind woman did so much for me and I can never pay her back enough. She took care of me whenever I felt ill or lonely, she assured me whenever I felt like a rotten teacher, and she helped to make me feel welcome in my new home and community. Not only was she my friend, she was also very motherly towards me and would often refer to me as her second son. I am still in touch with the principal and I plan to return to my school in January to see her. I can't wait. One of my most endearing memories of my principal is the time we celebrated Loi Krathong together. The day itself brought bad weather and we were unsure whether the full moon would be visible. Thankfully the celebration took place, and both myself and the principal made our way to the river. As I floated my Krathong into the water, I looked up and I saw lanterns floating their way across the night sky, being watched by the moon itself. I looked back at the water to see numerous Krathongs floating with their flames delicately dancing, representing the hopes, dreams and ambitions of the community that had gathered by the river to celebrate. I stood with my principal and just drunk it in. It was magical.

I have been both lucky and blessed to have worked with a wonderful principal and set of teachers. The teachers were so good to me. They loved to practice their English with me, would often give me a lift to the shops, and often invited me to their celebrations. By far, the most touching memory that I have is the time I attended a teacher's wedding. I have a lot of affection for this teacher. He was a great guy and we'd spend hours talking about football - I even played for the local teacher team...we got beat 4-1! Anyway, it was three weeks after I had left school to travel Thailand when I received an invite to his wedding (via Facebook). Immediately I dropped all of my plans and travelled back to the community. It was a wonderful party and I was so touched to be invited. You'll never be alone in Thailand as you will have the support and friendship of your new teacher colleagues.

Oh, I haven't even mentioned the kids yet! The kids were so happy and pleased to meet me. In Thailand, the role of teacher is greatly revered. It commands degrees of respect and esteem within the local community. Upon this, the kids were excellent towards me. They had such a strong work ethic and a desire to work for their futures. The kids will love to speak English with you! Although it might be tempting to try and speak Thai to them outside the classroom, keep speaking English as they love to practice, especially in front of their parents. It's that moment when you see a proud parent beaming at their child that makes you realise just why you wanted to be a teacher!

One thing that I appreciated about teaching in Thailand is the freedom that I was given towards teaching the lessons that I wanted to teach. You are free to create your lessons and deliver them the way you want. Make them fun, make the kids laugh and help them to speak English. My personal ambition was to increase conversational skills. Rather than drill and make grammar exercises, I wanted the children to use their initiative and logic to turn English into a dynamic language of art and expression.

There were so many opportunities for me to get involved within the Thai way of life. I hope you make the most of them as you will make friends for life.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when teaching in Thailand?

There were definitely periods where I felt so alienated within the Thai community. Sometimes I felt so out of place and I also was frequently frustrated with the language barriers - Thai is very difficult! It felt like I was restricted in regards, as if I didn't have the freedom to move about with ease. Living within a small village, I also found myself missing home and friends a lot. It's only natural and a lot of teachers experience degrees of alienation. However, it is also very easy to overcome. If you find the language difficult, use it as an incentive to call a teacher to help you practice. That way you can socialise better and be seen to be actively involving yourself within the community. If you find yourself frustrated with your surroundings, hop on a bus and just see where it takes you! Stay on until the end of the line and sight-see a little! You never know what you might find!

As a foreigner in rural Thailand, you will find yourself to be an attraction to the locals, maybe because they rarely get the opportunity to meet and greet foreigners. Certainly, I was often stared at by the locals. Sometimes it felt so strange but please don't mistake it for malice. They are genuinely excited and honoured that you're a teacher in their community, even they are just staring blatantly at you with their mouths open!

The village also had numerous stray dogs who would love to spend their time chasing me! It is a bit of an issue, especially if you're afraid of dogs, but hey at least I got to school a little earlier.

What advice would you give to first time teachers in Thailand?

Always keep an open mind. Thailand is equally frustrating and rewarding but it needs your toleration and appreciation. If you are prepared to devote time and effort to undertaking the culture, you will be loved. If you find yourself frustrated, just remind yourself that it's a different culture - it's not right and it's not wrong. It's just different. You can't change it so keep smiling and keep patient with your opportunity, and you will be rewarded with affection and kindness.

When you arrive at your new school, buy a small pocket book and ask an English-speaking teacher to write down key phrases in Thai. That way, if you struggling to communicate with a Thai person, you can just open the book and show him / her the phrase in Thai. That's particularly useful if you have food allergies and want to know if certain foods contain nuts and so on.

Start to think about your teaching ideas. Think about how you can introduce your culture to Thai children, and how you can introduce them to their own culture through the means of the English language. Make your lessons as full and as engaging as possible. You are the teacher, it is up to you! The more you teach, the more you develop a magpie-like tendency of mentally gathering up and storing good ideas for your children, even if you're not aware of it! You will find that the lessons soon write themselves!

How long did you teach in Thailand and what are you doing now?

I taught in Thailand for 6 months and now am working at a private language school in China.

Where were your favourite places to visit in Thailand / South East Asia?

In a heartbeat, I would say Ayutthaya. I adore that place. So many temple ruins, good restaurants and sights to see. They also have the sweetest lemonade there too. Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand. Go there and you'll feel an overwhelming sense of history and tradition as you marvel at the ruins of the wonderful city.

Oliver

Oliver Amos, Satun

Where in Thailand was your placement and which age group did you teach?

I was placed in Satun Province in the south of Thailand teaching students aged 12-15.

Why did you decide to teach in Thailand?

For me it was the thrill of the unknown as well as wanting to experience the white beaches of Samui, the bustle of Bangkok and the opportunity to experience a completely different culture.

What was the best thing about teaching in Thailand?

The holidays. The buckets. The people. The beaches. Khan San Road. If I had to choose just one though, it would be the students. They make the job fun and easy!

What were the biggest challenges you faced when teaching in Thailand?

The language barrier. In Satun, most people can say 'hello, how are you?' But that's it. It was a real struggle at first trying to ask basic questions and to get around the town.

What advice would you give to first time teachers in Thailand?

'Mai Pen rai' (no problem) and 'why so serious?' are two of the most said phrases. Just relax and smile - they'll love you straight away!

How long did you teach in Thailand and what are you doing now?

I taught for a year at Princess Chulabhorn's College, Satun and have since moved back to London to start life as a banker in the city.

Where were your favourite places to visit in Thailand / South East Asia?

Nothing beats a crazy weekend in Khao San Road, Bangkok. Other highlights were the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai and Vietnam. If you get a chance to travel to other countries around Thailand do it! Each one is very different to the last.

Jack

Jack Smith, Ubon Ratchathani

Where in Thailand is your placement and which age group do you teach?

I'm currently in Ubon Ratchathani, which is up in the northeast. I teach students from M1 to M4, which is about the equivalent of years 7-10 in the UK.

Why did you decide to teach in Thailand?

There were a few different reasons, but mainly it was the fact that I wanted to travel and go abroad but didn't have the money to do it without working. I'd been thinking about different options and just decided to try it. Out of the different areas where teaching was possible, Thailand really appealed to me - i'd heard good things from people who had been there and it's famous for food and being a fairly laid-back place, both of which were things I was looking out for. Plus, the cost of living here is pretty low so it was a good way to make the most out of the little money I had lying around at the time.

What is the best thing about teaching in Thailand?

Teaching here really gives you an opportunity to do and see a lot of things you wouldn't get to otherwise. Of course you can get a feel for a place when you're just passing through, but when you live somewhere for a few months you can get a proper idea of what it's about. As a teacher you can be a part of the community, especially if you end up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. It gives you the chance to go places and see things with the people you meet, and access to so much stuff you simply wouldn't come across on a holiday. As a general rule, I have found Thai people to be really friendly and accommodating, and if you're game to take part in things when they invite you then it can be great fun. There are some really stunning places around outside of the main tourist trails and some fantastic experiences to be had here, and teaching is a passport to get involved in it. You can do a lot worse in terms of the actual work, too.

What are the biggest challenges you face when teaching in Thailand?

General disorganisation, which can be extremely frustrating, especially when you get activities or obligations sprung on you with anything from two days to literally minutes notice. The occasionally terrible internet. Also, sweat patches, which are a constant menace.

What advice would you give to first time teachers in Thailand?

Be flexible. It can be extremely frustrating to begin with because things just don't run the same way here, and the basic expectations you might have of working somewhere in the west sometimes simply don't apply. The angriest and unhappiest foreign teachers I've seen here have been the ones who have constantly tried to judge everything by the standards they'd apply back home, and have fought against the Thai way of doing things, often misunderstanding or willfully ignoring the way people around them will feel or react. Sometimes you just have to accept that there's a different kind of logic to your own being applied and be prepared to adapt to that - and once you do, everything just becomes a lot smoother. Also, don't bring too much stuff; you can buy everything you need here, especially in Bangkok. I chanced it with just hand luggage coming over and was genuinely amazed how much easier it made things. A Kindle or something is a good idea too if you want to read because finding books in English is tricky in Bangkok and nearly impossible outside of it.

How long have you been teaching in Thailand so far and how long do you plan on staying?

I've been here for just over 14 months now, although it really doesn't seem like that long. My contract runs until the end of April, but as of now I have absolutely no idea whether I will renew it and stay here or bugger off somewhere else. I definitely wouldn't have a problem with staying here for the same amount of time again, if not longer.

Where are your favourite places to visit in Thailand / South East Asia?

My favourite places so far have probably been Koh Tao for the awesome combo of nightlife, diving and mountains, Koh Samet for riding dirtbikes and not being too full of people in fluorescent vests, and Khon Khaen for just being a beautiful city and genuinely nice place to be. Also, Phra Taem national park near the Laos border has some spectacular waterfalls to splash about in and is the place to watch the first sunrise in Thailand from on top of a cliff, with ridiculously pretty views out over the Mekong river and Laos.

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