Beth Young and I had a chance to catch up on her plans for this upcoming year. Her schedule is still up in the air due to COVID-19’s impact on the world and the uncertainty of when it will subside. Typically, the Thai school system’s start date is mid-May every year. The start date could be pushed back to July and there is also a possibility that the schools will use an online system.
After speaking with Beth, she informed me that she spent the month of March designing her usual lesson plans for the upcoming year like many of the teachers in her school. March is an administrative month for closing out the previous year and planning for the upcoming year in May. If her classes are online, she will have to make adjustments to her lessons since she is a visual arts teacher. She is still waiting to find out.
She is currently on her annual break and was able to provide us with the following answers to her final living and teaching abroad interview. Here is what she had to say.
What has been the most important thing you learned while teaching abroad so far?
“I’ve thought long and hard about this answer. To be honest, I feel that the most important thing I learned overall would be that I can accomplish things. I can set goals and achieve them. I do have worth. Before moving abroad, I was possibly in the worst place I’d ever been with my mental health. I was still recovering and trying to build myself up again. I hadn’t felt fulfilled, inspired, or proud of myself in a very long time.
Moving to Thailand was something I’d never thought I’d ever do. I’d never even dreamt of it because it wasn’t in the realm of possibilities for me, or so I thought. I feel that success, whatever that may be, starts with feeling fulfilled and truly secure in yourself. How can I be the best teacher to my abilities if I don’t feel that I can achieve that? The number one lesson I’ve learned is that I can do this. I do have worth as a teacher. I do have worth as a person.”
Many Different Lessons
“I have learned many lessons here, some of them small and seemingly humdrum. I’ve also learned some lessons crucial to life and my personal growth while living in Thailand. The ability to relinquish control and not worry is something I have been working on during my time here, not necessarily in the classroom, but in everyday life. Things don’t always go to plan. We cannot change situations life deals us sometimes. Worrying or allowing yourself to feel unnecessary stress is only going to make you feel worse. It won’t help the situation any.
This concept is something that I’ve been working on for a long time. I only really started to grasp this idea and mentality once I moved here. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to, from losing loved ones, to a lesson not going as well as you had hoped it would. It’s important for me to remember to not allow myself to get overly anxious about situations. I know that has stopped me from doing my best in the past. I have to focus my energy on doing what I can do and being the best person and educator that I can be in the moment.”
Finding a Passion
“Throughout my time teaching abroad, I have been able to develop so many skills and learn from the people around me. I’ve learned lessons from my colleagues, my students, my friends, and my Thai family. Keeping up with the demands of everyday work, providing for my students’ needs, arranging extracurricular activities, building relationships, pouring my blood, sweat, and tears (literally) into my job has taught me so much.
Finding my passion in helping and providing for my students has really helped me learn how important it is to be committed to your chosen path and responsibilities. I’m still pretty young — I’m only twenty-two — but I’ll be forever grateful for this experience because I have been so enriched. I received tools to rebuild myself and grow in ways I never thought possible.”
How have you accomplished your goals while living in Phuket?
“I have to say, I didn’t move here with many goals besides to 1) pass the TEFL course, 2) gain employment, and 3) do the best I could as a teacher. Like many people, I’d never taught in a formal school setting before, at least, not as a subject teacher. I wasn’t 100% sure that this would be the right career path for me. Mostly, I felt hesitant. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to successfully teach because I doubted myself so much. Thankfully, I found a school with an amazing environment and a brilliant team which welcomed me very warmly.
My professional goals have been to help students achieve their own goals, whether that may be related to an in-class subject, an extracurricular activity, or something outside of school. After all, I feel that a large part of my job is to help my students develop into the young adults that they are, to guide them in their life, and offer them a helping hand along the way.
Sometimes that means giving extra classes and helping students study after school. Sometimes that means planning and rehearsing a drama performance for an event. Perhaps it’s training for a competition or exam, or just sitting with a student for a chat, to lend an ear, and be someone for them to confide in. Sometimes a student just needs that extra bit of help or support. It could change their entire outlook or mood when they are in school.”
“I’ve already mentioned my personal goals. I really wanted to grow and develop personally. I didn’t really have a great belief in myself before I moved. It was part of the reason why I decided to move to Phuket. I’ve been able to see myself grow in many ways, from gaining confidence to being healthy in both mind and body. I didn’t ask much of myself before moving, besides that I try my best and don’t fall into old, bad habits (allowing my mental health to affect me negatively and not confronting it).
I’ve amazed myself with how well I’ve done. The first few months were difficult. I had a few panic attacks in the shower before going to work some days. However, I gradually began to notice that I was feeling healthier. I felt more productive, and accomplished. The harder I worked at school, the more fulfilled I felt. Being able to spend my free days at the beach or swimming (well, at least after this lockdown), is just the icing on the cake.”
What has been the biggest challenge about living abroad?
“Besides the paperwork (which can be a challenge in itself), I would have to say that the biggest challenge has been just adapting. While I was used to Phuket prior to moving here, there’s a lot to adapt to, not only in terms of culture but in everyday life.
Moving abroad isn’t easy. Wherever you come from and wherever you are going, there is a lot of adjustment that comes with uprooting your life and planting seeds somewhere new. I’ve been lucky to have family and other connections in Phuket prior to moving. Nonetheless, there was still the adventure of venturing out on my own and creating my own life, friends, and connections here.
When you move away from home, especially to a new place entirely, it is a challenge within itself. For me, evening walks through Phuket town to get a motorbike taxi or songthaew (local bus) felt daunting at first. One of my biggest challenges was building confidence in myself while living here, in terms of going out and interacting with my surroundings without my partner.
When I would come to Phuket for a few months during the summer times, I was on vacation. I would rely on my partner a lot because we went almost everywhere together. I had to push myself past the anxiety that built up within me when I ventured out and began my own independent life here. That came in a series of everyday interactions: from ordering a coffee to going to the tax office, to building relationships with my colleagues, and making friends of my own.”
What advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?
“I’m still exploring and getting to know myself. I gain more confidence as my Thai language ability strengthens. Pushing myself into doing things outside of my comfort zone helps a lot. I know that I will never move forward, grow, and experience all I want to if I don’t push myself a little bit. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, not confident, and scared sometimes. However, I won’t allow that to stop me from trying new things in life. I’ve found that I have experienced many brilliant things and gained such enriching and meaningful relationships because I pushed myself to step outside of my comfort zone.”
Challenges Still Exist in Phuket
“Things aren’t always perfect, I have had times where I cried in the toilet at work or cried in my bedroom in the evening for a few minutes. Moving and starting your life in a new place is stressful. It’s not always going to be all rainbows and smiles. There will be hard times. I’ve experienced times that I have doubted myself or my decisions. It’s important for me to remember that I chose this life for a reason. I must put my goals in the front of my mind, my students ahead of myself, and the positives over the negatives.
For every tense, negative experience I’ve had here, I can think of ten amazing, brilliant experiences I’ve had. Most of those vibrant happy memories come from situations where I pushed myself to reach for goals and ignored the inner doubts. I worked hard to push past the uncomfortability. Everyone is different. We all feel differently about new experiences. Despite that, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to push past your doubts, worries, and hesitations. You will never know what could have been, if you never opened the door to it.”
What advice do you have for other teachers who are about to teach for the first time?
“Well! Where shall we start, haha? I could drone on for hours about a million things to think about when you first begin teaching. Fortunately, there are a few specific areas I think all new teachers need to understand.
You don’t have to be amazing. No one is a perfect teacher, especially when they first start. There is truly a lot of learning on the job that happens, especially when you begin teaching in another country. It’s okay if a lesson doesn’t go to plan. It’s okay to make mistakes and to take time to figure out your teaching and classroom management style. You don’t become a brilliant educator overnight. You learn from yourself, from those around you, and most importantly, from your students.”
Listen to Feedback
“Listen to your students. Invest time into getting to know them. Invest time into making your lesson materials and being proud of what you produce. It’s important to get to know your students and to build a relationship with them. It can improve their learning experience when they feel comfortable and at ease in your classroom. Don’t be scared to try new things or to make up your own activities or games for the classroom. It’s part of developing your teaching style and finding your feet as an educator.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have such a supportive working environment. Despite that, I know not everyone finds that with their first job. If that’s the case, try not to allow negative attitudes of other people around you affect your teaching. The students are what is most important at the end of the day. As long as you keep that in mind while you put your full effort and heart into your role as an educator, you’re doing something right.
It’s especially important to try to build relationships with your colleagues, if you can. I’ve found that the support and guidance of some of my colleagues has really helped me excel in my teaching abilities and my confidence as an educator. We have also been able to produce a lot of marvelous activities and events for our students. Our strong sense of teamwork is to thank for this.”
How has teaching in Phuket, Thailand helped with your overall professional goals?
“I came to Thailand to see if teaching was something I could truly do as a lifelong career. I wanted to see if I was ‘good enough’ to do this or if I had what it takes. I’ve always toyed with the idea of teaching visual arts. Unfortunately, I never felt sure about what exact career path I wanted to go down. Taking the leap and deciding to start teaching in a foreign country was daunting, but simultaneously exciting and refreshing.
Living in an environment which makes me feel so happy and grateful helps me to feel motivated to get up and do my best every day. This is something I rarely ever felt when I lived in England. I wasn’t sure that I would succeed in teaching, as I’m sure any new teacher feels. However, by having the chance to begin my career in another country, I was able to learn from facing different obstacles and experiences that I may not have had had I decided to start this journey in my home country.
I feel inspired every day when I’m at school because of where I am living. I enjoy my journey to work because of the beautiful scenery. Incredibly, I look forward to waking up and seeing the sunrise as I shower. Those little parts of my day have a drastic impact on my overall headspace and my motivation. I’ve been able to achieve many professional goals. Despite my achievements, I don’t hold myself responsible for all of them. A great part of my success are my students. They are so devoted and determined in their own goals and dreams, and I assist them in accomplishing them. When they reach their goals, my heart feels happy and I know that I have accomplished mine, too.”
What was your most memorable moment at your school and in class this year?
“Hmm, this is a tough one. We have so many wonderful moments throughout the school year, it’s tough to pick just one, so I have to mention a few! One of my favorite moments was when I saw our drama students achieve their dreams and win the provincial Drama Skit competition for Phuket province. I also saw my student go on to win third place in the regional Impromptu Speech competition for Southern Thailand. I saw these students go from being shy and lacking confidence in these activities to shining bright with pride… so much so that I shed a tear (or two!).
We also held a Christmas Fair where we had many different events students could participate in, have fun, and show off their talents and self-confidence. We always try to plan events where our students can feel proud of themselves afterwards. It’s always such a heartwarming thing to see.
Other memorable moments include every ‘thank you’ a student has ever said to me, every high-five they’ve given me when they have excitedly announced their achievement, every graduating student who came to see me before leaving, every homeroom hour with my wonderful homeroom class and every afternoon spent with the students who decide to hang out in the art room with me. I really do genuinely love my job.”
What parts of your teaching will change next year and what will you keep the same?
“There are some activities I want to reevaluate for next school year, to see if I can improve them to make them more beneficial for my students. I really want to make more hands-on materials for lessons for my students. I especially want to focus on enrichment materials for English lessons, where we can have fun and do ‘out-of-the-box’ activities to help develop their English language competencies. As for art teaching, I’m really looking forward to having an Arts and Design club this academic year. I can teach students more varied techniques and produce fun projects that we may not have had space for during art class.
Another change that I’m looking forward to is our plans to hold a full-length school musical at the end of the school year. This is something that the drama teacher and I have dreamt of since we both began teaching at the school. Now, with each other’s unweathering support and the strength of our student’s love for dramatic and visual arts, we can now make this a reality. It will take a lot of hard work, but I know we can pull it off.
Keeping What I Like
I want my relationship with our students to stay the same. I feel that I have a pretty good relationship with my students overall. Building mutual respect and getting to know each of my students really helps in building their confidence inside of the classroom. I find it’s incredibly beneficial to give them another adult they know cares for and supports them. I would like to improve on what I plan for our homeroom lessons, as I would love to use that time to work on some team building and personal development with my students. Sometimes, in international or English programs, schools can put a heavy focus on English Language. Sometimes, more enriching life-skill based learning is somewhat forgotten about. That isn’t the case in our school, and I want to continue that in our free time as a homeroom class.”
What will you do over the Thai teacher vacation in April?
“I was expecting to spend this holiday going between planning and making materials for the upcoming academic year, and relaxing on the beach, taking snorkeling trips, and spending long days with friends around the pool. Sadly, I know that a lot of us cannot go out and enjoy those parts of life because of the current pandemic situation. That being said, I am still taking advantage of my vacation time and using it to do everything I don’t usually have time for during the school year!
I’ve reorganized my bedroom and the kitchen, I’ve completed all of my course syllabi and lesson plans, I’ve been making example pieces of new projects, reading a lot of books that have been on my wish list, and binge watching a lot of Netflix and YouTube. I’ve been keeping myself positive by spending time stretching in the mornings, cooking with fresh ingredients almost everyday, and enjoying not having to be anywhere but home. I know that once things are semi-back-to-normal, there won’t be much time for relaxing, so I’m taking advantage of that now!”
What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to teach abroad?
“If you want to do it, do it! Just be sure to know that a lot of jobs aren’t super relaxed. Teaching abroad isn’t a way to have a prolonged vacation. If being a teacher is something you really want to do, don’t let any self-doubt stop you. Make sure you research as much as you can. Try to reach out and speak to people who have taken that step and moved to the country you are thinking of. Ask any and every question you may have. Teaching abroad isn’t for everyone. Thailand isn’t for everyone. However, you will never know until you venture out and experience it for yourself.
Don’t let one negative opinion, thought, or experience deter you. If I would have let all of my inner doubts talk me out of moving to Phuket to pursue my teaching career, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it once more. I’m forever grateful for how my life has turned out and I wouldn’t go back and change any of my decisions to move abroad to teach. I’m so thankful that I didn’t allow my nerves and anxieties get the better of me and prevent me from taking the path that led me to where I am today. You are the only one who can push yourself out of your comfort zone. Face what is scary and unknown, put yourself out there, and reach for your goals. Have fun while doing it!”
Wrap Up of Learning and Adapting to Phuket, Thailand
Beth will be living in Thailand for the foreseeable future. Both her partner and his family live in Phuket. She will be writing a follow-up piece to this interview to give us some perspective on where she will be headed with COVID-19 either in May or July, whether in her classroom or online. Be on the lookout for more information from Beth!