Looking Back: How to Teach English in Thailand

Looking Back: How to Teach English in Thailand

Eric Haeg Course Director of TEFL Campus

Interview with Eric Haeg

The first time we met Eric Haeg, TEFL Campus Phuket Course Director, the world was a very different place. It was July 2nd, 2019, and the pages of The New York Times weren’t dominated by COVID-19. Instead, they were going big on the USA beating England in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to reach the final (spoiler alert: they went on to win that too). 

Another good news story from the UK’s The Guardian.  They gleefully shared the news of the German defense minister becoming head of the European Commission and French politician/lawyer Christiane Lagarde assuming the presidency of the European Central Bank. “Women to head top EU institutions for First Time” splashed across the headlines.

Eric himself has changed since our initial meeting, at least in terms of appearance. Gone is his distinctive bushy beard. He’s now as fresh-faced as a schoolboy. Eric’s debut article was all about teaching English in Thailand, so let’s find out what else has changed since July 2019. 

The last time we spoke you were in Phuket, Thailand. Where in the world are you now?”

My family and I left Phuket for a one-month vacation to the States back on March 3rd. More than eight months later, we’re still here in Minnesota because Thailand closed its borders to international travelers in April. While we are now eligible to get back on repatriation flights chartered by the Thai government, we have to stay here due to the US$12,000 price tag. We’ll be able to return once our airline can honor our return flights, and the cost of mandatory quarantine accommodation goes down. It’s ultimately put a pause on my ability to help teach English in Thailand.

When heading to teach English in Thailand, you'll be met with the age-old departure sign

How have you adapted to relocating while waiting to go back to Thailand?”

I’d like to think I’ve adapted well. Most of the credit to my wife’s unofficial sainthood, and my children’s ability to adapt to major life changes like little champs — including having to enroll in US schools! I also feel my 16 years of living in Thailand has helped me deal with accepting things that are well outside my control. An added benefit has been my new-found appreciation for living in the West. My time away has provided a much-needed perspective, allowing me to appreciate just how good we have it here in the States. 

What are you missing most from not being able to teach English in Thailand?

I miss being able to interact with TEFL course trainees the most. I’ve always loved exchanging ideas with the cosmopolitan groups of trainees we used to train every month. Unfortunately, I haven’t had those exchanges for quite some time now. I also miss our Thai ELLs and the laughs they provided during class. 

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

Following your own experiences, what advice would you give your others about how to teach English in Thailand?”

My best advice now is the same as it has been for years: do not come into any school and start thinking you’re going to change anything when you come to teach English in Thailand. There’s no shortage of things that desperately need to change, but trying to affect change as a foreigner is never going to work out well. When you’re met with challenges, decide if it’s something you can accept or not. If you can accept it, stay where you are and make the best of it. If you can’t, remember that no one’s making you stay.  

What effect do you think the pandemic has had on teaching English abroad in Thailand?”

Because Thailand has had virtually no COVID cases since mid-June, everyday school life is pretty much back to normal. However, there have been major changes affecting air-travel restrictions, entry requirements, and visas. Those hoping to teach English in Thailand in the near future need to conduct extensive research into these changes and ensure they can afford the added expenses associated with new regulations. As just one example, foreigners need to prove that they have insurance with COVID coverage of at least US$10,000.

TEFL in Thailand

To what extent will this lead to new remote teaching positions for foreigners?”

Based on what I’ve seen from our trainees, there are those who want to teach in a classroom, and there are those who want to teach online, with very few in the middle. Perhaps there’ll be a spike in online teaching until borders open, but once they do, there’ll be a flood of teachers into Thailand from those who’ve been waiting to get in. 

A laptop and tablet on a video call

Why teach English in Thailand or abroad? What are the pluses?”

The pluses are largely down to each individual and what they want to get out of it. For me, the plusses are prolonged, meaningful, and rewarding exposure to foreign cultures. Living abroad forces one to challenge so many of our culturally-ingrained assumptions, and I think that those challenges help us build a better understanding, or better perspective, of how other cultures see the world. A lot of people, certainly not just Americans, could use a bit of this perspective. 

And the negatives?”

I think the negatives are related to the positives. So many of the new teachers I’ve met since 2004 simply cannot adapt to, or accept the cultural differences to which they’re being exposed. They experience culture shock and can’t deal with it, or they’re stubborn and refuse to make basic compromises. I’ve also seen cases where prospective EFL teachers simply didn’t do enough research on their host country and found themselves living in a place for which they were never ready. We all have to learn from our mistakes, but some mistakes prove more costly than others. Moving abroad, only to relocate or return home, isn’t cheap. 

A plane taking off into the sunset. Take the leap to teach English in Thailand.

What has been the biggest single influence on your career and why?

When I come across tough situations at work, I often ask myself, “What would Pete do?” He was the Course Director of my TEFL certification course back in 2004. He believed in my abilities and offered me my first position as a course trainer in 2008. In all the time I interacted with him, he was unflappable, and probably the most patient supervisor I’ve ever had. I don’t always do what he would have done, but when I don’t, I usually wish I had. 

Old Phuket is one of the many perks of going abroad to teach English in Thailand

Finally, you previously revealed to us that you chose Phuket because it sounded like f*ck it. When was the last time you uttered this expletive and why?”

Ironically, it was probably when I decided to buy tickets for my family vacation back to the US. Both decisions had me staying far longer than I had anticipated. My “Phuk-et” approach to world travel has proven to be a vicious cycle — and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

At Dreams Abroad, we treat our members like family. It’s always great to catch up with them to see what’s been happening with their lives. If you’d like to join, drop us a line.

31 thoughts on “Looking Back: How to Teach English in Thailand

  1. This was such a great read. Teaching like this must be so fulfilling. I think it’s very wise to work within the confines of what you’re given, as well.

  2. This was a great read. I think the culture shock factor is very interesting. It’s amazing that people just can’t get over those things sometimes.

  3. you seem to have learned a lot from this experience! it’s great to realize, that by teaching, we also take a lot of learning as well. <3 how I wish I could also experience the same in other countries. 🙂

  4. So great to see how much living in a different culture has expanded your outlook on the broader world. You are definitely right in observing that many could benefit from similar experiences, provided they have the ability to keep an open mind. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer before these vaccines start to roll out and things start to return to (relatively) normal where travel is concerned. Best of luck.

    1. Thanks so much, Nicole. All of it has been a massive life lesson in personal growth…at least that’s how I see it. Fingers crossed we can get back in early 2021.

  5. I’ve always thought doing something like this would be interesting and fun. Plus, it allows us to enjoy other cultures and learn as well.

  6. Hello Eric, I am sorry to hear what you went through and I wonder sometimes what would have happened to me if I had been stuck in Italy for the same reason, cause I use to go back and visit my family around March…so saved by just a couple of months. I hope you’ll be able to come back soon and this time I really look forward to seeing you and spend some time together around our amazing Phuk-et! Take care my friend and great teacher:)

    1. Hi Diego. Thanks so much for your note. I’d love nothing more that to catch up with you and your lovely father over an authentic Italian meal. Fingers crossed that can happen sooner rather than later.

  7. What an incredible experience this must have been! Have always wanted to do something like this and you’ve definitely inspired me to look into it more. 🙂

    1. I’m happy to hear my story has inspired you.

      It takes a lot of careful research, a healthy nest egg for set-up costs, and determination to get through the initial hurdles, but after that you’re good to go. Get after it! You can do it!

  8. I would love to be able to teach English in another country! I’ve thought about doing it but I am tied down with elderly parents right now.

  9. That was a nice read to know about someone who is able to teach English in other countries and that’s a lot of experience. The culture and the language and the habits etc are different, adjusting to them and then teaching are something to be credited.

  10. Experiencing new cultures is the best way to broaden your horizons. It really changes your outlook on things. I suppose this is especially true if you’re living AND working in a foreign land.

  11. I give you so much credit for taking that adventure. It is so great to have the courage to go and the talent to teach in a foriegn country.

  12. A very interesting discussion and I really appreciate Eric’s perspective. I really like his advice about not rushing in to change things when you are in a foreign country.

  13. That is really interesting. This must have been an amazing experience. I’d be happy just to be able to visit Thailand.

  14. I love your reason for teaching in Thailand! I actually have a friend also teaching in Thailand and I so envy how he has been able to immerse in the culture and get to know Thais firsthand.

  15. What I love about traveling to other places and teaching is that you get to learn plenty of new things as well as immerse yourself in a whole new culture. You definitely had a wonderful experience reading from this.

  16. I hope that Eric and his family can get back to Thailand soon. 8 months is a long time to be away, but it sounds like they are doing well on their extended “vacation.”

  17. Wow! That’s a lot of requirements, especially insurance. This whole year has been strange for a lot of us. I’ve heard this with other people who usually work abroad, and were forced to come back.

  18. I love Thailand, and went there a few years back. The people were great but I had a bit of a difficult time due to the communication barrier because of the lack of English knowledge on both sides.

  19. What an amazing read! I am living abroad as an expat’s wife and have been thinking of joining the school as a teacher since ages. I appreciate your thoughts and advice. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  20. This sounds like an amazing opportunity and it makes me wish that I had a chance to travel abroad. Unfortunately, at this time I’m unable to travel at all due to health issues.

  21. Great read and great lessons on how to adapt when covid alters the plans. I’ve visited Thailand a couple of times and just love it. I can understand why you want to get back there. Thanks for sharing.

  22. I think it’s beautiful to have an experience like this, to teach your language abroad and to know a new different country and its culture!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.