José G. Carrasco Updates on Teaching in Miami

Jose taking a selfie in his car.José G. Carrasco is a cool teacher. He is the one that all the students in the school look up to. José is friendly with his students, but they respect him because he exudes authority. He wants to inspire disadvantaged youth to transform their lives by providing them with a good education.

Are you teaching in Miami at the same school we last spoke to you about?

Yes, I am. On top of that, I teach adults ESOL three nights a week. This is a program where they learn trades and prepare for citizen tests. Those extra 10 hours of work are one way of keeping me out of trouble, I suppose. I always do private lessons here and there. This is to help kids who have a problem with math and science.

Following a divorce, you changed jobs to be closer to your two daughters. Do you still live near them?

My eldest daughter is no longer living in Miami. She is actually residing in my old Brooklyn apartment. Keeping her company there is a creature that used to be a pet of mine, Beyoncé the snake. Her younger sister, who just turned 22, still lives close by. She is in her final year of nursing school.

What do Florida schools need to do to narrow the gap with those in New York?

They need to be stricter. Florida schools need to fail their students who are not progressing. By the time of fifth grade, there should be progression. If there isn’t, it’s because they didn’t fully understand what was covered in the fourth grade. Sometimes, there are fifth graders making third-grade mistakes and that shouldn’t be happening. In third grade, you need to show you can add and subtract. If you can’t, you need to repeat the year until you can. Without this noteable progression, then students aren’t prepared for middle school. This is the biggest concern I have about teaching in Miami.

Jose posing with a student.

What advice would you give to prospective teachers?

Follow your heart. Learn your craft. You will find happiness. With these kids, from a low economic stratum, you have to be a teacher, a parent, and a psychologist. You have to do a lot of things for them to support their growth. It’s tough, but it’s a calling. Make sure you have empathy and put yourself in the same place as the kid. Be a facilitator. Believe in inclusion. Set the standard high. I’m the head guy in my school, and I tell my students that the limit is in their heads. They’ve got the same physiogenic tools as everybody else. They got 3s and 4s and kept their levels. We float together or sink together. It’s a family. I even go watch their games.

How do you get your students to memorize mathematical concepts?

You have to be inventive. What’s three times three? Use your fingers to show the students. Not everybody has the same launchpad. Some of them are subterranean. Some you can’t slow down. Don’t dumb it down. Make the classroom a level playing field.

I think when it comes to learning, you have to rationalize your teaching methods. I meet the requirements and want to make sure my kids use rationale. Why do you do this? You have to ask them a lot of questions. Teachers need to be inquisitive with their students.

What do you like to do away from school?

Travel. I went to Angola, a country in central Africa. While there, I was hanging out with my former students. They showed me around, and I even made it in the newspaper. They speak Portuguese which was handy for a Brazilian like me. I was chilling and may have caused some damage. I had a good time.

Previously, I kept pets, such as guinea pigs and snakes. My last guinea pig, Jiyma, I gave to one of my students. Her grandmother had cancer. She lived with her grandma, and looking after the guinea pig became something they did together. 

How painful was it for you to watch this year’s Copa América final? (Argentina beat José’s Brazil 1-0 in Rio’s Maracaña stadium)?

You can’t win them all. Kudos to Messi, though. It’s about time he won something on the international stage. We celebrated with gold medals at the Olympics. Dani Alves was immense in Tokyo.

It has been a while since we caught up with José. It was so reassuring to hear his warm, playful voice again. We could sense the same old, irrepressible José on the end of the phone. You can’t keep a good man down. He’s a credit to the teaching profession. We’re excited to see how teaching in Miami has gone for him.

by Dreams Abroad

Distance Learning Tips for Teachers

caroline hazelton we teach memberI’m writing to you from the epicenter of the pandemic in South Florida. Within two weeks of the beginning of March, my adult education school morphed our familiar evening class “communities” to virtual meetings. “Get your sea legs, we’re in this for the long haul!” we were cheered on. And it worked. We rose to the challenge. Our students did, too. We all succeeded, a bright hope in the dark days we live in.

After hitting the ground running the last four months, I’m finally able to reflect on my experiences of how to succeed in the distance learning classroom as an adult education ESOL teacher. Think in terms of simplicity, connection, and taking advantage of the situation.

Simplicity: Distance Learning’s Best Friend

Technology itself will likely be taking up too much of the students’ mental energy. Keep your class to the basics. It is your best bet for students’ motivation to return when things seem complicated. You don’t want to lose students because they don’t know how to use all of the buttons, icons, etc. on your platform. Less is more… and less is even better if you use what students already know.  

Keep in mind the limits of your own devices. In face-to-face language classes, I liked to show a lot of culturally authentic videos and websites to supplement curriculum. However, when we tried distance learning, my favorite YouTube videos just slowed down my WiFi… and therefore, my lesson. I kept it simple with just our curriculum and PowerPoints. My mantra is: “If it’s not working, keep moving!” 

A photo of an Apple computer, which can be used for distance learning

Connection 

Our opportunities to connect in the physical classroom are usually plentiful but are so fewer over Zoom. My teaching mantra is “Students don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care.” I used to teach students that I cared about them through our daily interactions. But when the pandemic came, I had to find ways to make up for those interactions. I made a class WhatsApp group to talk to students every day… sometimes even on weekends! We found things to talk about related to class and built on relationships to rebuild those connections. 

Meeting with students one on one helped make connections with them. I made appointment times of twenty minutes each one night a week. Students could come into the virtual room and practice either a designated activity or have a free conversation. This helped me build a relationship and rapport with each student. I learned more about their English abilities, goals, and even their lives. They felt as if they knew me personally and were more likely to come.

I found that while distance learning, contacting students was more important than ever. Every day I contacted students who were absent, who had a bad day, or who had some special circumstances going on. Having accountability and people to cheer you on is so important to an education.

A photo of a woman looking at an iPad, which can be used for distance learning

Take Advantage of the Situation

Even though the circumstances that require distance learning are bad, there are incredible advantages to distance learning! This is the one opportunity you can learn from anywhere in the world. Vacations, traveling overseas temporarily, even staying late for work one night are all accessible with a class on Zoom. Families don’t have to worry about childcare because they attend class from their home. Finally, you can multitask-attend class on the bus, fold laundry and learn or even eat dinner-and still attend class.

A New Market

In my opinion, there is a new market schools can attract with online classes, as I learned from a Burlington English webinar. The possibilities are endless. Courses can be offered to anyone in the world. Employers with high numbers of  English as Second Language speakers could arrange for them to attend English classes on-site through virtual learning. I think what you can offer really depends on the rules of your school, but get creative!

Distance Learning can be done from anywhere, like in this photo of a girl next to a canal.

Overall, to my fellow teachers — just be there to check in on your students. Find out how they are handling the pandemic financially, emotionally, etc. We are in this together. We make the challenges simple, we connect to our students, and we seize each moment.

by Caroline Hazelton

How to Teach in Thailand

In our last interview, Diego Ambrosio talked about wrapping up his school year by giving final exams. He was waiting to hear more about the COVID-19 instructions from the Thai government. He recalled his first day of class and how much he had grown as a professional. Diego took us on a typical day-to-day life of a Thai teacher and shared his teaching methods and his overall classroom instruction. 

In our final interview, Diego talks about why Thailand and how to overcome initial and recurring obstacles a teacher might encounter during their first years of teaching. 

What has been the most important thing you learned while teaching abroad so far?

“I would say that the first thing I learned was certainly the ability to adapt to a culture and a way of life diametrically opposed to how I lived in Italy or England.

Hand in hand with this, I have learned to acquire greater self-confidence and greater courage in accepting the “great teaching challenge.” This is not simply teaching, but teaching through a language that is not your mother tongue.”

Diego Ambrosio and his School Director

Have you accomplished your goals while living in Phuket?

“It was not easy at all. I believe that together with a large organizational component, a bit of luck was also needed. I, fortunately, had the opportunity to meet the right people at the right time.”

Planning a new life in a decidedly distant place from your native land requires a lot of preparation.

“First of all, you must consider a minimum budget available to “start the engine,” let’s say. Without an appropriate budget, moving abroad is like trying to start a car without gasoline. Obviously the more gasoline you have available, the longer you can travel before having to refuel. “Refueling” can only be dispensed by a job. Therefore, you need to know how to organize your resources the best you can and have a roadmap calendar for each day of the week, including small or large objectives to complete.

Acquaria Museum

The second really important thing is to be aware of the baggage you are leaving with, which doesn’t just include clothes :). It also, and above all, includes your curriculum vitae and accredited professional skills. Without these, I could hardly have entered the world of teaching in Thailand. So, within the time that was granted to me, I followed all the objectives. I never broke down or became lazy. Whenever I could, I tried to get more and more information. I scoured the Internet and asked people I met every day.

This resourcefulness, together with my “good nose,” was fundamental in being able to slowly plan my future and to transform uncertainties into solid affirmations.”

What has been the biggest challenge of living abroad?

“The biggest challenge has certainly been to find a job in a country with very few job opportunities for foreigners. It should not be forgotten that in Thailand, most professions are reserved for Thai people only. The few remaining opportunities for foreigners are divided between four or five sectors, which fortunately includes English language teaching.

If I had wasted the opportunity to teach English in Thailand I would have had little or no reason to stay in Thailand. The lack of job diversity is one of the main reasons it’s such a challenge to live in Thailand compared to other countries that offer a wider variety of work.”

What advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?

“As I explained before, this challenge can only be overcome by rigorously accomplishing a series of small objectives. Together with a well-managed budget, professional background, and a back-up organization to support you will increase your success rate. No matter what, there’s always a small chance of failure. However, your chances of succeeding will be much higher if you face the adventure with an organized conscience.”

Do you have any advice for other teachers about to travel abroad to teach for the first time?

“A specific piece of advice that I have not yet expressed is to try, at least in the beginning, to not to rush towards opportunities that are too demanding. It’s more appropriate to always start with small experiments. Don’t travel too far. Test your very first experience in a new country somewhere with a similar social system.

M3 students

I tested my endurance and adaptability initially in England, a country very close to Italy. I managed to gather positive energy and the experience necessary for a bigger adventure. That first step into a new country was the one that brought me to live in Thailand today.”

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

“Teaching abroad has certainly helped me a lot in perfecting my professionalism within the teaching sector. Above all, teaching is itself a job that enriches you daily, not only with exciting experiences but also culturally. The countless considerations of the ever-changing English Language and all the new information I receive every day slowly complete the puzzle of my knowledge. Every day I become more and more confident in myself, and therefore, in my ability to teach English.”

What was your most memorable moment at your school or in class this year?

“It is curious to note that my colleague Bethy, a member of Dreams Abroad and a great friend, and I share a similar indelible memory linked to the moments spent so far in school. I will never forget the day my pupils of the Mattayom Four-level organized a surprise party on my birthday.

It all started with an organized false “skit.” One of my pupils pretended to be sick on the floor while another student immediately ran to my office to ask me for help. Once I arrived, I immediately started to give aid to the pupil. I lifted his legs and asked for a glass of sugar water to help him recover. I was in a state of total panic and felt extremely worried.

It was at that moment that a group of students gathered behind me with the cake and candles ready, singing a very excited and emotional “Happy Birthday.” I had tears in my eyes from a double dose of joy. Realizing that the ill student was just a joke and that they had all gathered there and planned this out exclusively for me is a memory that I’ll treasure forever.”

What parts of your teaching will change next year and what will you keep the same?

“The teaching method is generally not subject to change. In this case, I’m referring to the style, the voice, the stage presence, and my way of presenting my lessons.

What normally is subject to change every year are the courses I teach. They may be courses I have never taught before. This variety leads me to constantly organize new projects and new work material. It’s usually a very exciting and motivating task, since teachers are the main actor and director of what will be presented and what will contribute to the student’s educational growth.

I felt particularly interested when I received the chance to create a “Creative Writing & Speaking” course for students of level M5 and M6. In this course, I inserted one of my favorite fairy tale authors, the Greek fabulist Aesop, with enrichment from figurative language (figures of speech). I also assigned a final project that required a theatrical representation of a fairy tale.”

Waterfall in Thailand

What did you do over the Thai teacher vacation in April?

“Unfortunately, as for the vast majority of people around the world, I spent the month of April under lockdown. The Thai government decided to quarantine the nation in order to contain the global pandemic triggered by the then-novel coronavirus. Spending the holidays cooped up at home is not exactly what anyone would hope for. This was especially so in my case, as I was really looking forward to returning to Italy to spend a little time with my family members I only have the opportunity to see once a year.

Nonetheless, we will survive this. The human being is invincible and always finds a solution to everything. I am sure that we will find the strength and the right temperament to overcome even this sad period of our lives.”

What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to teach abroad?

“If you really intend to teach abroad, remember that motivation and planning are the essential elements to undertake this choice. Motivation represents the first real starting point. Ask yourself if teaching is really a main goal in your life, or if it is a fallback to achieve other purposes, such as being able to stay in a country and explore it. The most delicate phase is planning, since it includes the collection of all useful and fundamental information before departure. A few examples of things you need to know about include your itinerary, and all the information you can get about your new home country in terms of work, laws, health, lifestyle, customs, traditions, climate, cost of living, and more.

Finally, you must think about the economic budget required for the first few months. You must plan this in advance in order to cover any surprise situations that may occur. The greater the starting budget, the better your quality of life will be, along with fewer worries to overcome.

Finally… I cannot help but to wish you a lot (and I mean a lot!) of luck! :)” 

thai School Formal

Wrap-Up of What It Is Like to Teach in Thailand

Diego will be teaching online intermittently until July. His regular school year starts July 1, 2020, when he resumes classes. He is waiting to hear more instructions from the Thai government and what actions will occur next due to Covid-19. He is optimistic that the future will allow him to teach in Thailand again. Diego has really enjoyed his experience in Thailand and is hopeful that the coming school year will provide another great year of professional growth and memories.

Krabi sunset teach in thailand

 

The Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus in Our Education System

Bebe BakhtiarNot to state the obvious, but the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped our education system. From school closures to the eruption of online teaching platforms, we may never return to what was our norm in academics. As a current teacher, I am quite concerned about where our education system is going under these conditions. I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of my biggest thoughts during this time. I also wanted to shed light onto what is going through the minds of educators today, both positive and negative.  

The Concerns:

Equality – The closure of schools also meant the closure of access for lots of students.

One of the biggest concerns to transitioning from in-person classes to online teaching is the inevitable digital divide that further widens the equality gap. Households with working parents may only have one computer, one laptop, or none at all. How can our students keep up with the class when these critical means of communication are inaccessible? In addition to the technological and academic downfalls, the resources that school institutions provide have yet to be replaced for many students. Cafeterias provide meals. Libraries provide an escape. Counselors provide guidance. Our students lost these resources once the doors closed. Typically, it is not the fortunate students who heavily depend on additional supports. It tends to be our students who need these resources the most who are hit the hardest.

Social and Emotional Support – When you take away a student’s network, you take away a part of who they are. 

student network Coronavirus

A big part of an adolescent’s identity is directly tied to their social network. Their friends shape a big part of their developmental process. This social circle they create within the walls of the schools is a huge support system. Many times, students confide in their friends before their families. Without these constant supportive outlets, how are they being affected emotionally? Sure, they can readjust through digital chats, starting a diary, or entrusting their families, for example. However, what if they choose not to? How are those needs being met? The mental and emotional states of our students are at risk by being locked and quarantined at home for extended periods of time without their accustomed supports. Imagine the potentially detrimental effects of losing your entire network on some of our students because of the coronavirus. Honestly, I lose sleep over the idea most nights. 

Lack of Skills – Should we expect teachers to possess the skills needed to engage students on these new digital platforms? 

In the past, many teacher programs did not focus on online teaching methods. Online programs have been a more recent addition to the curriculum in education. Unfortunately, many of us educators did not receive any formal training on the methodologies of online education. Sure, many teachers have picked up these skills along their careers. However, we cannot assume all teachers are equipped to handle the shift into digital teaching since the coronavirus. For those teachers, their workload has doubled. They need to figure out how to effectively reach out to students, while self-teaching the ins and outs of online platforms. Now, there is an additional stress to battle. Teachers are actively trying to figure out the best ways to support their students, but is anyone searching for ways to support our teachers?

The Positives:

Innovation – The opportunity to be creative and innovative is unprecedented. 

children being creative coronavirus

As I discussed, a handful of educators have struggled with virtual teaching; however, on the other end of the spectrum, there are some incredibly talented teachers who are succeeding in content delivery, curriculum design, and communication during this time. The videos, blogs, and self-guided materials these teachers create compare to nothing I have ever seen in the field. Many scholars have talked about the gamification of learning and the shift to working online has created the opportunity for many teachers to finally give this theory a chance. Some teachers have created group events with Kahoot, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, scavenger hunts, Zoom activities, and so much more. Considering that the younger generation is keen on using technology, this new innovative implementation of media in our curriculums could prove to increase students’ investment and engagement in education. 

Ease of Learning – A teacher’s dream: learning anywhere, anytime, and however they want! 

In education, we always try to make our classrooms student-centered. Usually, it is a huge challenge to cater the classroom environment and material to meet every student’s needs. Now, for those students who can access technology easily, education can happen however and at anytime they desire. Students can learn while sitting comfortably in their beds, sofas, dining tables, or even in their gardens at home. New material is only a click away. Additionally, they can follow lessons and activities at their own pace. It is remarkable that students are now in control of their pace and space. This new wave of digital teaching can allow students to make their own educational experiences as individualized as they please. This has been one of the biggest hurdles in teaching that can now be solved by remote learning. A student-centered education is the approach we all seek, and it has finally arrived! 

Reflection – When we are not balancing an active class of 30 students, we have time to take a breath and reflect.

active class of 30 students

One of the challenges of being a classroom teacher is multitasking. Any teacher will tell you that teaching while managing a classroom simultaneously is draining. One of the biggest downfalls of actively teaching while balancing classroom behavior is that a teacher rarely has time to sit and reflect individually. Between split-second decisions and juggling the attention of multiple students at once, we are constantly reacting to the environment around us. Now, our environments have changed and our opportunities to be a bit more in-control and proactive have come our way.

Between activities and online class sessions, we can take time to sit in silence and actively reflect and analyze what is happening with learning and how we are participating in a student’s journey. We can problem solve one at a time, rather than trying to put out multiple fires at once. Even though the workload has increased for many of us, we have finally been provided with time to stop, think, analyze, and decide. For me, it has a significant impact on my curriculum and presentation for my students. 

More Thoughts About the Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus

We are currently in unprecedented times. While I am personally trying to stay optimistic and focus on these positives, there are so many more stressful factors to take into account. I could list ten more concerns off the top of my head to elongate this article into a mini book of thoughts. I have only left a fraction of what is on my mind for you to think about. There are so many things we can takeaway and utilize to help reshape the foundation of our future education because of the coronavirus. That will have to wait for my next post. 😉 

What I do want to conclude with, though, are some messages for those of you out there dealing with the coronavirus. 

If you are a student, keep up the good work. Communicate with your teachers and do not forget to stay driven and passionate about learning. You will get through this. 

If you are a teacher, you should be proud. You are doing phenomenal work and I only wish you could be appreciated and celebrated more than what society is giving you during this time. 

If you are a parent, support your teachers by supporting your kid. Step in and take this opportunity to be part of your child’s academics unlike ever before. 

If you are an administrator, check in on your teachers. Many are overwhelmed, worried, and heartbroken to be without students. Be the support they need.

And if you are a politician, you already know we are underfunded and underpaid. Fight harder.

*This post was written by me, a teacher, and is based on my own current experience of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic

by Bebe Bakhtiar

Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio and I had the chance to catch up for his second interview Finding the Perfect International Job. He had participated in a few Thai regional tournaments since we last spoke. He went to Bangkok, Thailand to judge a spelling bee competition and a group of his students participated in a music competition in Pang Na. His group won a gold and silver medal in the competition! He wrapped up his school year and is getting ready for exams. Diego has learned so much about what it is like teaching at a Thai school over the last year. He remembers when he first arrived and how much he has grown as a person and as a professional since that day. 

Read more about what Diego said about his day-to-day life teaching at a Thai school: 

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Each public school in Thailand generally follows the same morning routines before class starts. In my school, students must be present in the main square starting from 7:30 until about 8:10 in order to observe and respect the various routine ceremonies. These include a display of rigorous respect for the Thai National Anthem in a “Stand to Attention” position and music performed by the school band, a Buddhist prayer, and finally a list of ten “commandments” to always remember. The morning ceremony ends with the school jingle played by the music band. Each lesson lasts about 50 minutes (a period) and the school day consists of eight periods. Teachers must stay in the office until 16:30. The school entitles teachers to about one hour of lunch break. There is also a school canteen if necessary.

 

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

 We currently have nine teachers of different nationalities In the Foreign Teachers English department. There is one teacher from Poland, one from France, one from Morocco, one from Australia, three from the Philippines and one from Canada. The Canadian teacher is the coordinator of the English department. This year I received an assigned eighteen hours per week teaching eight classes for a total of five different courses. However, our contract provides for the possibility of having to cover up to 20 hours of teaching per week. In any case, we must cover the hours of the other teachers if they miss class due to illness or personal reasons.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I consider myself a lucky person from this point of view because I was able to immediately establish excellent friendships with my work colleagues.  I consider myself a naturally sociable and peaceful person, as well as extremely empathetic. Sometimes we organized meetings outside of school and ate together on special days of the year. For example, last December 26th, we all had lunch together on Christmas Day.

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

The most pleasant moment of the day is around the first afternoon hours, after lunch. I usually go for a digestive walk around the school campus. The campus has various nature trails. The school has become a lovely place because it sits inside a beautiful natural reserve of mangrove trees.

How is the material being taught to students? Do you use a specific method?

My school follows the conventional teaching method found throughout almost all Thailand English language teaching programs. The lesson plan includes four main phases that we call “warm-up,” “present,” “practice,” and “produce.” 

teacher abroad

The “warm-up” phase is generally short-lived (five to ten minutes) and includes the “call of attendances,” “introduction to the lesson,” a possible “ice-breaker” or “review of the previous lesson.” The second phase, “present,”  is the one in which the lesson is presented. Teachers explain the most important contents in this phase, through the use of projectors, audio-visual material, and obviously, the blackboard. The third phase, “practice,” consists of guided exercises to understand the contents explained, through individual or interactive exercises. Teachers must constantly monitor these activities and assist students the best they can. The final phase, “produce,”  is the final production of the learning contents learned by students. It can take place through the presentation of projects or individual works aimed at the development and improvement of oral skills and content presentation.

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

I always prepare my lessons with care. Preparing ahead helps me feel well-organized. I have everything ready well in advance so that I don’t have to run into unpleasant or unexpected events. As I explained above, I prepare my lessons through a specific template provided by the school which includes the four main processing phases. In addition, I also like to always look for new ideas and materials. Thanks to the Internet, I can always have an endless source of teaching material available. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Does the school teach English as a subject or throughout all classes?


The English language is taught in all the classes. This means my school is ultimately a kind of bilingual school. However, there are several types of classes that have access to different levels of teaching quality. The two main programs of study for the English language are called the “regular program” and the “English program.” The regular program includes the teaching of the English language, but not through foreign native English-speaking teachers. On the other hand, the English program provides for the presence of native speakers, therefore the enrollment cost is significantly higher.

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?


Like any educational institution in the world, Thailand’s school system has parameters for the student assessment during the course of the entire school year. Teachers evaluate students at the end of each semester. My school has two semesters per year. Each student can earn a total value of 100 points. They can earn these with scores from two main units (25 points + 25 points) plus a mid-term exam for a max of 20 points and a final exam with a maximum score of 30 points. Based on the total score obtained, the student will be able to access a grade ranking that ranges from a minimum of 1.5 to a maximum of 4.

I want to clarify an important detail of the Thai school system, namely that students cannot be rejected or repeat the same school year. The school promotes each and every student, no matter what. Whenever a student earns a score lower than 50/100, the teacher becomes responsible for taking care of the student by organizing an extra lesson, project, or exam for the student. The student must complete them as proof of resolution of the low score. Even if the student fails to successfully complete this phase, he will still be promoted. This aspect makes us reflect a lot, since it shows a big flaw in the process of education and growth of the Thai child. There is a very high possibility of an unprepared student reaching the upper levels of an academic course.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

There is always something new to learn with each passing year. I can still remember who I was as soon as I arrived at this school and how, day after day, I managed to improve the quality of my teaching together with improved creativity and constant participation within various school events.

Recently, for example, I learned that the morale with which you start your lessons has a decisive impact on the progression of the lesson and on the learning that follows from the students. So it is really essential to always start in the right gear and have the best intentions.

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, the minister of Thailand mandated that schools in Thailand be shut down until May. Diego wrapped up his final week of classes by giving final exams. He had originally planned to go back to Italy in April for his break. Since Italy is a major epicenter of the coronavirus, Diego will not be able to go home and plans to remain in Thailand for now.

Stay tuned for more on Diego’s Thailand teach abroad adventure.

 

How to Get TEFL Certification in Five Steps

I withdrew from my college’s study abroad program before I even left the country. I wanted to see the world and did not want to do it while in a traditional school setting.

Although I had heard of TEFL as a way to live abroad, I didn’t really know how to get started. Eventually, I decided to take a TEFL certification course in Phuket, Thailand in late 2018 and now I’ve been living abroad ever since.  

How’d that happen? Here’s a step-by-step guide of everything I did before getting on a plane. I hope it helps you better understand how to get TEFL certification and eventually start teaching English abroad.   

Step 1: Be Introspective and Ask Yourself These Questions

Why do you want to take a TEFL course? Maybe you just need a break from your daily 9-5 job or you’re transitioning from one career to another. Perhaps you are in a similar position that I was: freshly graduated and in search of a sustainable life abroad because you’ve never left your comfort zone. There isn’t a right or wrong reason for taking a TEFL course, but you should know why you want to take one.

questions what do you mean

Do you have any interest in teaching? Interest is defined as the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. A more specific question would be, “Do you want to know or learn more about teaching?” In my case, yes, I did (and still do). I have a background in mostly math and science education as well as the scientific study of languages; I figured a TEFL course could help bridge those two things together. 

Step 2: Consider the Qualifications for TEFL Certification

The good news is you don’t need many qualifications for TEFL certification — after all, it’s considered an entry-level training course. When I took the course, I had just graduated from college and had about three years of teaching experience. Based on all the people in my own course, my qualifications and level of experience definitely aren’t the norm. I met people who didn’t have a degree and/or hadn’t been in school in over a decade. Specific requirements vary, but all you really need is a good attitude, willingness to learn, and an open mind.

Step 3: Choose a TEFL Course

map places tour

A quick Google search of “TEFL course” will bring up over 8 million results, so I understand how choosing a course can be overwhelming. I had five requirements when choosing a course: 

  1. Website Do they have their own website? In the age of the internet, it’s rare that a company or business doesn’t have a website, which is what makes having a website an entry-level requirement for me. Other questions I also consider are: Are prices and product laid out clearly? Is contact information easily accessible? Do they link their social media? Does it look well maintained?
  2. Reviews When I shop on Amazon, reviews are what ultimately get me to buy a product. Picking a TEFL course is no different. Unfortunately, there isn’t an Amazon for TEFL courses. There are actually several places to find reviews. The first place is on the TEFL course’s website itself. A good TEFL course will also showcase reviews from external websites, such as GoOverseas and TEFL Course Review. The more reviews you can find, the more accurate representation of the course you’ll get.
  3. Social Media A course not participating in social media was a deal breaker for me. If a course had an active social media presence, it showed me that there’s a human being managing their social media, which instantly makes them more real and personable. You can also now review businesses on Facebook. I went a step further with my social media requirement and messaged a graduate of TEFL Campus on Facebook. 
  4. Accreditation/Validation Be sure the course you choose is accredited or validated by an outside source. There are several TEFL/TESOL accrediting bodies; be sure to do your research on which bodies are legitimate and internationally recognized. Believe it or not, many courses accredit themselves or have simply paid for the accreditation without the company doing any real due diligence.
  5. Job Support This is actually a requirement I added on after having looked at a few TEFL courses. Let’s face it: nothing in life is guaranteed, so “guaranteed job placement” seemed way too good to be true. What drew me to TEFL Campus was that they explicitly state, “We don’t guarantee placements.”

TEFLCampus

Step 4: Choose a Country for the Course and for Work

If you follow my guidelines above for choosing a course, it doesn’t really matter where you go for the course. Choosing where you want to work though is a bit more complicated. Besides personal requirements such as: beaches or mountains, city or small village, yearly weather, etc., some countries have strict professional requirements. For example, in order to teach in South Korea, you must have a bachelor’s degree and be a citizen of certain countries. But to teach in some countries like Cambodia and Russia, you don’t need a degree.  Countries like Thailand and Vietnam list it as an official requirement, but employers commonly turn a blind eye to this. Do some research before hopping on a plane. 

TEFL Certification in Five Steps

Step 5: Prepare to Leave Home for a TEFL Certificate

Have a savings and be financially responsible. Be sure you have enough for the course and to get you through one month after the course ends while you look for a job. The cost of living in some Asian countries are significantly lower. For instance, TEFL Campus suggests coming over with no less than $3,000 after having paid for your TEFL course and accommodation for it.

Check your passport’s expiration date. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months following your course. Getting a new passport can take a few weeks. 

Check if you need additional travel documents to get into a country. Depending on your passport, you may need additional travel documents, such as a visa, to get into a country. 

luggage packing trip abroad TEFL CertificationGet a criminal background check. Most schools will ask for a background check and it is significantly easier to get one while you’re home than while you’re abroad. Depending on what type of background check you get, it can take a few weeks to get results. 

Find your original degree (if applicable). Most schools will ask to see your original degree and some countries may even ask for it to be certified. 

Before Loading the Plane for You TEFL Certification

Buy your plane ticket ASAP. The earlier you buy a plane ticket, the cheaper it will be. It’s not like domestic travel where there’s a magic number of days for the cheapest price. 

Notify your bank of travel plans. Trust me, you don’t want your card getting declined when you’re 13,000 km from home. Banks need advanced notice that you’re planning to make transactions from abroad — be sure they’re aware. 

Start packing. Dig up or buy some suitcases and start sorting your things into,  ‘take,’ ‘trash/donate,’ and ‘keep, but can’t take’ piles. Then go back and make that ‘take’ pile smaller and smaller. You’re looking to live abroad, not take your life abroad. 

Spend time with friends and family. This is the most regretful step for me. I was so caught up with finishing school and preparing to move abroad, I didn’t spend as much time with my friends and family as I wanted. If you have the time, use it. 

Packing your life up to do something you’ve probably never done before in a foreign country is scary when getting your TEFL certification. That is a perfectly normal thought and you aren’t alone in it. Hopefully, these steps have brought you some guidance, reassurance, and courage to follow through with it. Good luck!

 

Finding the Perfect International Job

 

diego ambrosioDiego Ambrosio is from Catanzaro, Italy and is thirty-three years old. He received a master’s degree in foreign language and literature for English and Spanish languages. Immediately following his degree, he volunteered internationally with Worldwide Opportunities Organic Farms for two months. The first farm he worked at was in Denmark and the second was in Norway. Diego described this experience as his first real challenge outside of his home country that helped strengthen his character. 

After, he worked at two international jobs before settling in Phuket, Thailand. The first job was with the Costa Crociere cruise line, where he worked seven days a week for twelve-hour shifts. He did this for two years until he realized he wanted to be a bit more settled on land. Diego enjoyed the hospitality industry, so he decided to seek the “Londoner” life and headed to London.

His second job was at a hotel as a night manager for one-and-a-half years in front of Kings Cross St. Pancras. Then, he transferred to The Royal Park Hotel for seven months. He got a bad case of food poisoning and was very ill. He realized he missed the good quality of food, family, and weather back home in Italy. After he recovered, he moved home, and took a couple of months to roam the wilderness (literally). He soaked up the clean air, ate good food, and then decided to find an international job in education and move to Phuket, Thailand. 

Meet Diego: 

Why did you choose to teach abroad in Thailand?

“During my previous work on cruise ships, I had the opportunity to travel a lot and visit different countries. It was a great opportunity to understand their cultures and lifestyles and was a bridge into a fully international job. 

Once I reached Thailand, and, in particular, Phuket, I felt mesmerized. The beauty of its surrounding nature and its mild weather was almost unbelievable. Above all, though, I felt delighted by the light-heartedness and humble lifestyle of the people, who are always friendly and smiling. I wasn’t wrong at all when I made my choice. Every time my students meet me, I am greeted with a smile and profound respect.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?

“Although my undergraduate and graduate studies in languages and modern literature perfectly fit the impending idea of being a teacher, the process of becoming a full-time teacher in Italy was quite complex. Instead, I bravely decided to start my working career for a period of time volunteering on an organic farm in Denmark on behalf of the international WWOOF Association (World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms). This amazing and enlightening life experience shaped my temper and made me ready to face any challenge in the future. It was also the first real-work experience that marked my first move beyond the Italian borders.”

denmark wwoof world wide opportunity on organic farms

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? Where are you teaching? 

“When I decided to take up the teaching profession, I honestly didn’t think about what it would be like teaching abroad. I had no terms of comparison before teaching in Italy. Nonetheless, I was surely aware that dealing with a culture diametrically opposed to the West would have required a different approach in terms of school organization and linguistic communication.

Right now, I am currently a foreign English teacher in Thailand — precisely in the beautiful province of Phuket.”

How did you prepare for your international job teaching abroad? What steps have you taken? 

“When making the decision to teach abroad it is good and useful to carry out online research about the country of interest. It is especially important to research all the bureaucratic aspects and prerequisites required to perform the job according to the law. 

For a non-native speaker, currently, any government school requires four prerequisites before applying:

  1. Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in any subject
  2. 120 hours TESOL/TEFL certificate (possibly with included OTP – Observation Teaching Practice)
  3. TOEIC examination (valid two years) with a score not less than 650
  4. Recent Criminal Records Check (from within the last six years) from your own country and legally translated into the English language 

Fortunately, when I began to apply, I already almost completed all the prerequisites required. 

Although my degree was in languages, ​​I needed TEFL certification. I did a lot of research to see if there were accredited schools in Phuket able to issue this certification. The great news is that this school exists, is highly professional, and is managed by an extraordinary team of qualified people. Some of the team members include Eric from Minneapolis, a passionate expert in training teachers since 2007, and Simon from London who has been training teachers since 2004.

tefl international jobs

Thanks to these people, together with my constant motivation and commitment, I was able to prepare an effective curriculum and find a school in less than a month from the date of obtaining the certificates. My visa then converted into a work visa through school support and I received the work permit.”

What are your perceptions of Thailand so far? 

“In these first two years, I have been able to notice and understand different positive and negative aspects, as one is able to do in any country in the world. Thailand is a fascinating country, welcoming and full of beautiful people. There are breathtaking landscapes and authentic traditions. However, although my desire for full integration is high (especially seeing as I’ve been with my Thai girlfriend for almost two years now and we currently live together), I currently have the perception of always being “outside the circle.”

I constantly feel like I receive harsher treatment when I have to deal with the strict regulations and laws for foreigners. Although the country has quickly achieved formidable economic goals, quality of life, and welfare, corruption is still very high. More than that, 40-year-old outdated laws remain unchanged but continue to see enforcement. Plus, the government’s support for pension funds is practically non-existent when compared to western countries.”

What are your goals while you are abroad at your international job?

“I believe my main goals are the same as most of humanity, in that there is a constant pursuit of happiness and a peaceful life as far as possible from the stresses produced by the hectic modern society. If, on the other hand, I had to refer to smaller goals, it would certainly be that of pursuing a brilliant teaching career and the ability to travel more often. I really would like to discover and learn as much as possible about this enchanting country.”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived in Thailand? 

“Apart from the classic initial food intolerances and the tropical weather impact, the greatest difficulties I have faced so far were during the initial stress of my first month. I had to stay in a hotel and face numerous expenses. It was absolutely necessary to plan everything correctly to not be in trouble.”

What has been the best experience?

“It is difficult to define the best experience during my two (very intense) years abroad. Fortunately, I was able to live through several beautiful experiences. However, if I had to choose one I’d say the emotions and excitement I felt before my first class on my first day of teaching, which were invigorating. I felt a renewed strength within myself. For the first time, I could finally spread my knowledge. I loved the idea of perhaps having contributed to the success of the future aspirations of the most enterprising students.”

teaching abroad

How do you feel about the culture so far? Do you feel like you have immersed yourself into the culture?

“I believe that I will never cease to immerse myself in this exciting and profoundly different culture. I have new emotions every day experiencing it. The linguistic aspect always remains the most arduous goal to achieve. The Thai language consists of 44 basic consonants that represent 21 distinct consonant sounds. Thai is a tonal language with five tones (and the tones matter!). The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonant, the type of syllable (open or closed), the tone marker and the length of the vowel. As for the social aspect, I must say that it is very easy to make good friends with the Thai people. It is impossible to stop discovering and understanding new life behaviors and habits of these smiling and carefree people.”

A New Life in Asia Because of an International Job

Diego enjoys his international job in education. His new life in Asia has brought him joy both professionally and personally. He explained some of the differences in the school calendar that impact his life. However, overall, he feels very pleased with his life and job abroad.

Thailand has a school calendar unique from the Western part of the globe. They begin their school year in May and finish in April. They have two breaks over the months of October and April. Diego goes back to Italy in October each year. He works for a government school, which is Buddhist. This means that he typically works through the month of December. He does not get the Christmas holiday off if the school is Buddhist. Some schools in Thailand give the holiday off, however, it depends on the school and its religious orientation. Regardless, Diegos’s school gets December 31 and January 1 off for a holiday. 

Stay tuned for his part two interview in January and his final interview before school starts again in May 2020. 

by Leesa Truesdell

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

 

emma schultzEmma Schultz has been a Dreams Abroad member since 2017 and has always had an interest in international education. We took the opportunity to catch up with her about how she’s been doing since moving from Madrid, Spain to Monterey, California. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I was a friend of Leesa’s when she founded Dreams Abroad. She had talked about wanting to start her own website for some time, and it was really great to see it come to life. I was excited to start working with her as a writer in February of 2017 and have enjoyed other roles with the team since then. It’s been a joy to watch the project grow, change, and flourish over time. It has become such a great resource for anyone interesting in international education.”

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was teaching English in Madrid, Spain when I started writing for Dreams Abroad.”

apartment madrid spain
The view from my first apartment in Madrid, Spain.

 

How has your life changed since then?

“My life has changed a lot since then. I started writing for Dreams Abroad when I was in my first year of teaching English as a foreign language, which was also my first year out of college. I continued my time as a teacher in Spain for a second academic year and then transitioned back to part-time study. Furthermore, I was a Spanish student in Madrid during my third year and also worked at an internship. Also, I was a dual nanny/English teacher to a lovely two-year-old boy.

My biggest transition happened this past July, however, when I made the big decision to move back home to the U.S. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

It was a hard decision to make and an even harder transition. A lot went into my choice to come back to the States — what I felt I had gained in Spain, what I thought I was missing there, and what I thought I might find back at home. Ultimately, I decided it was time for me to pursue a master’s degree. I have long known that I want a career in education abroad management. I knew that I needed to get a higher education to make that possible for myself.

Transitioning into being more than a full-time student has been challenging, but it is absolutely worth it. I know I am gaining hard skills that I will use for a lifetime. I don’t think I could have picked a better program for my interests and goals.”

international education management at middlebury institute
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies campus in Monterey, California.

 

What did you learn from your experience living abroad?

international education management college“Living abroad did so much for me. It helped me to understand the world better. It helped me to understand myself better. I was able to explore pre-existing interests and engage new ones; I experienced new ways of seeing, interpreting, and understanding things. After three years in Spain, I can say I really feel that I have a connection to the country, its people, and its culture. The degree of love I feel for what has become one of the many places I can call home isn’t something I would trade for the world.

I loved my life in Spain — the balance between my commitments and my personal life, my incredible friendships, the beauty of the country, the warmth of its culture, and so much more. Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Coming to the decision to leave took me a long time.

When I moved to Spain, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my place in the world to be. In my three years in Madrid, I built something there for myself that mattered. I had a home, a life, and a strong love for where I was in the world. I learned, grew, and changed so much.

Why I Had to Leave

In the end, I think I had to leave Spain because of all of those discoveries. I wanted to stay, but for lots of other reasons I needed to go. I wanted to advance in my professional life. Plus, I needed to feel more stable and grounded. I needed to feel secure in a way that temporary visas didn’t provide. I needed to feel like I was working towards a life that I could make well-rounded.

Even though I loved Spain, sometimes I ended up feeling stunted. I felt like I didn’t have enough to engage my mind or fill my time. It was a limitation I had because of the restrictions of the visas I was able to use while there. It was a reality for me nonetheless.

monterey ca rocks on the water
This all led to the very challenging and definitely bittersweet decision to move back to the U.S. and pursue a graduate degree. I felt that by doing so, I could find my way to more professional fulfillment. Ultimately, I wanted to feel more balanced and grounded in my life. I hope to work towards feeling stable here or back abroad someday.”

What have you been doing this year?

“This academic year, I have been focused on my master’s degree and all of the work it entails. Choosing to go for a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies was one of the bigger decisions I’ve made in my life; I gave up a life in Spain surrounded by people I love there to pursue it.

Although I miss Spain and the life I built for myself there, I can’t say for a second that I regret the shift. I know that I am in the right place doing the right thing and that it will propel me towards the future I know I want.”

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Emma has been in California for almost two months now and may need some more time to feel like it is home too. But she’s hopeful that the skills she gains and connections she makes will help guide her forward to the next step after this. Hopefully, she can find all the things she’s looking for. Be on the lookout for Emma’s next pieces on how her life has changed and follow her journey!

city on the water
Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey, California.

 

by Emma Schultz

Getting a Master’s Degree Abroad

 

kenny obiora Getting a Master's DegreeKenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12.

When we asked Kenny about his parents’ decision to send him “home,” he answered, “they wanted me to have a good upbringing.” He later explained that this meant that his parents wanted him to be culturally immersed in his day-to-day activities and life. They wanted him to be part of the Igbo tribe and learn the Igbo tribal language. Kenny speaks three languages: English (which is the dominant language in Nigeria), his tribal language, Igbo, and French, which he studied throughout his academic career. 

Kenny is currently living in Paris, France on an APS visa. This visa class means that Kenny will have to work in a field in which he studied. Kenny recently graduated, getting a master’s degree abroad in health economics and is pursuing a career in the field. 

What was it like growing up in Milwaukee, WI? For example, your education system. Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school? 

“I had a mixed childhood. Before I was fourteen, I lived in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. I attended a private boarding school. I returned to the United States officially to complete eighth grade and high school. When I arrived, I attended a public middle school in a suburb of Milwaukee, and then a private high school in Milwaukee. 

The education system in Milwaukee is very broken. Most of the public schools are lacking — whether in quality teachers or in funding. Due to this, students are negatively impacted. My parents enrolled me in a program in Milwaukee called “Open Enrollment” which allowed me to be bussed into another school district. This program was only by application and there were selective spots. I was only able to finish middle school through the program. Afterwards, my parents decided to place me in a private high school.”

Boston CollegeDid you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to the university for your undergraduate studies? 

“No, I went directly to the university. I was fortunate to attend a college-preparatory high school, which pushed us to apply to a wide range of universities. I was most looking forward to the exciting majors and clubs at Boston College.”

Where did you study after high school? How long did it take to get a diploma for your undergraduate studies?

“I attended Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s funny that BC is neither in Boston nor a college! It took me four years to receive my diploma. I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in French. College changed me in many ways. I learned independence and what it meant to do things for myself. Laundry was no joke!”

Why did you decide on getting a master’s degree abroad at Sciences Po Paris ? 

“I decided to leave the United States and move to France for a few reasons. After I graduated from college, I spent a year working part-time in a lab in the Boston area doing clinical research and working part-time as a Resident Director and Diversity and Inclusion Assistant Director at Emmanuel College. My goal was to apply to medical school during this time. However, after I was accepted officially to Sciences Po Paris, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn’t studied abroad during my college years, and I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad in Health Economics would be a complement to my bachelor’s studies. The price point of a university in France was also very attractive. With all these decisions I decided to pack up and head to France!”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

Getting a Master's Degree Abroad in france“I’ve always considered myself to be a wanderer. I spent many years of my childhood in Nigeria. When I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as a university student, I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad was a priority. Studies in France are very attractive. For example, schools are much cheaper than they are in the United States and there are many opportunities to do dual programs in other countries.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the   location and what changed after having completed the program?

“I was an International Assistant at Boston College, which was a program that paired together international students and BC students to make the transition smoother. I was paired with a few French students. To be honest, they tended to stick with their friends from their country and thus, I thought the French would be exclusive. While this was somewhat true at the beginning, I did learn that the French value friendship a lot. While they can be closed-off at the beginning, once they opened up, they were very kind. 

I also didn’t expect the amount of bureaucracy in France. I was so used to the efficiency of the United States. You applied for something and you could receive that service in a short period. This doesn’t happen in France. Everything takes so much time to happen and is very difficult for foreigners. Getting an apartment, healthcare, a bank account, and visa are all long processes that took weeks to months.”

What did you not expect about living abroad and getting a master’s degree abroad in Paris? 

“I expected that university life would be similar to how it was in the states. You live and learn in the same environment. I was expecting that I would have classes right next to where I lived and wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. In Paris, the school was just for studying. Clubs and student residences were far and many students lived on their own in the city. In my first year of working on my master’s degree, I lived in a flatshare thirty minutes from school.”

What have you done since you got your graduate degree?

“I am currently looking for a job in my field in Paris. Also, I have been keeping busy giving English lessons to families and companies in the Paris area. I have been applying to pharmaceutical companies in the Paris area in hopes of working in the healthcare field. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in acting classes in Paris. It’s a fun outlet to express myself and meet other expats and students with similar interests in Paris.” 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in Paris?

“I would tell them to go beyond a semester study abroad program. A full bachelor’s or master’s degree would not only be enriching, but it would save them a lot of money and really allow them to immerse themselves in the culture! Getting a master’s degree abroad really changed my life.”

kenny obiora paris france

Starting a Professional Career After Getting a Master’s Degree

Kenny is actively looking for a professional career in Paris in the healthcare field. While looking for this position, he has experienced firsthand how competitive it is in his field. He has also realized how being from a different cultural background has its disadvantages. In this field (Kenny can’t speak for other industries), he has noticed that Parisians tend to work amongst themselves and often exclude outsiders. This isn’t just because of the need for a visa. It’s also a cultural familiarity amongst workers. Parisians tend to prefer working with other Parisians in big pharmaceutical companies in the Paris metropolitan area. Kenny just started interviewing and is teaching private English lessons at his college for extra money. His life is thriving at the moment, and he hopes to break through the cultural barrier during an interview soon. 

by Dreams Abroad

A Faculty Led Trip to Studying in Thailand

Morgan Yearout studied at Washington State University (“Go Cougs!” as she would say) and is a first-generation college student. She is the first in her family to leave the USA for educational purposes; everyone else in her family left the country either for military deployment or for a childhood trip to Canada or Mexico. Taking her first international flight to Thailand, nonetheless during political protests, was a big deal for Morgan and her family. The following interview recaps a few of Morgan’s experiences and suggestions for anyone wishing to pursue studies abroad.

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

Washington State University’s Hospitality Business Management (HBM) program has an International Experience Requirement. It consists of two semesters of a foreign language or studying abroad for a semester. The HBM program also offered a faculty-led study abroad opportunity in Thailand with teachers and students that I already shared classes with, easing my family’s fears. This was especially important since it was my first time leaving the USA aside from when I had crossed into Canada during high school for a Junior Miss parade.

Buddha Thailand Buddha Phuket Buddhism

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed after having completed the program?

I tend to not have expectations so I don’t feel let down. Also, I had nothing to compare what I was about to experience with so I did not needlessly ponder the unknown and simply left with an open mind. I was, however, excited to see how other parts of the world operate, experience beautiful lands, and hopefully make friends with the people studying through my program.

After arriving, I found that deeply-rooted traditions, history, vibrant colors, kind people, and unadulterated natural habitation teemed in Thailand. It was infectious to my soul and transformed my thought processes regarding the western world. I left studying in Thailand feeling more connected to the Thai and renounced material possessions even more once back in the US. This led to my struggles with reverse culture shock after returning to the United States.

Phuket, Thailand

Culture Shock Hits Hard

After returning from studying in Thailand, I was officially three years into my business degree. I thought about quitting to pursue a degree in psychology. I wanted to be more connected and helpful to people. This was not a far-fetched idea for me. It had been something I wanted to do when entering college. I was in a state of mind where I did not want to perpetuate consumerism, capitalism, individualism, etc. with a business degree when I had just experienced so much joy in a poor, communal-based society.

Luckily, I had support from Student Support Services/TRiO counselors to help me grapple with my feelings and life plans. I ended up finishing my B.A. in Hospitality Business Management and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I had decided to volunteer my time trying to improve life for humans and animals rather than throw money at a problem. It took time and a lot of hard work but I eventually cultivated the sense of community I yearned for.

What did you not expect?

I did not expect to feel more connected to the Thai culture than the one I had known all my life. It was interesting to feel like more of an outsider around people I came abroad with than those I met in this new land. To experience the socio-economic disparity while attending a college campus is one thing, but it was even more distinct while studying abroad.

I was putting myself through school — relying on fieldwork in the summers and campus work throughout the school year. I intensely hoarded pennies for three years and applied for any scholarships or grants available to alleviate the financial burden of accomplishing my dream of studying abroad. This was a different experience than the majority of people I knew in college or while studying abroad.

Many came from well-to-do families that provided the financial resources they needed, making lifestyle and upbringing differences very apparent. I spent my disposable time traversing the area by foot. While I engaged in free activities, others often lounged by the pool bar, hung out on the beach getting massages, went out to eat, partied, or shopped. These were all things I could not afford and a lifestyle I was unfamiliar with. This led to feelings of isolation. Nonetheless, I would not have changed anything. This experience and the reflection time thereafter allowed my belief systems to be broken down, reconstructed, and expanded. It forever altered the way I emphasize the importance of people and loving them while disregarding the societal pressure to accumulate possessions.

What have you done since you studied abroad?

Seeing as how I studied abroad in the Summer of 2010, I have lived almost a whole decade since then! Crazy!

Briefly:

  • I moved to Texas with whatever could fit in my Coupe upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in HBM. I lived without the internet for a year and slept on an air mattress for three months
  • Worked corporate for five years
  • Became certified in yoga teacher training
  • Became certified in personal training
  • Taught fitness classes as a side project
  • Mentored high schoolers through Big Brother Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program
  • Volunteered with the animal shelter
  • Taught fifth grade Sunday school
  • Sorted food at the North Texas Food Bank
  • Completed the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX, two half marathons (Valencia, Spain and Austin, TX) and a women’s only Duathlon in McKinney, TX.
  • Competed in a NPC bodybuilding competition
  • Acquired my motorcycle endorsement and logged over 10K miles in the five years of owning my moto
  • Moved to Madrid as an English assistant and lived with the kindest host family for a year
  • Became PADI Open Water Diver Certified in Malta
  • Spent quality time in 27 states and 25 countries
  • Moved back to Texas
  • Re-immersed in my passion for leading teams and supporting peoples’ livelihoods through revenue managing hotels

Trip to Phuket Thailand

What’s your favorite memory from the time studying in Thailand?

Oh boy, I have so many! A vivid one is going to a local market and experiencing the variety of activity, colors, smells, and foods! It was an atmosphere unlike any other. It offered an awe-inspiring inside look at how the locals shop. We collected all of our ingredients from the market and proceeded to make authentic Thai dishes. It was my first “formal” training in how to cook international cuisine and I am still so enthralled by the combination of flavors that Thai food incorporates! Thai cooking is often a quick process, something I can appreciate as well!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad?

If you want to study abroad, then dream big dreams and make it a reality! Studying abroad is a fantastic way to explore your identity. It can foster a deeper understanding of how integrated our world truly is.

Advice For Studying Abroad:

  • Start by weighing the benefits of a faculty-led study abroad program, enlisting a third party,  or going directly through an international institution to fulfill your study abroad wishes. If faculty-led, you may be able to pay in-state tuition as I did. This made it much more affordable than other programs I was interested in.
  • I suggest targeting somewhere with a language you wish to learn, even if at a rudimentary level, since language is deeply entwined with culture. If you have a desire to know the language, it can help you commit it to memory and feel more integrated into the society as well. Also, your classes may or may not be taught in the country’s language so choosing a country with a language you would appreciate knowing could make your studies more enjoyable.

Be Honest

  • Apply for financial aid, scholarships, and pick up extra hours at work while in school or during the summer to minimize the stress of finances while abroad.  You want to be able to focus on the experience. Worrying about funding can detract from being fully present.
  • Be completely honest with yourself about why you are choosing a specific destination. If it is heavily weighted on the Instagram pictures you have encountered and/or envision replicating, please choose elsewhere. If traveling for superficial reasons you will feel the efforts and expenses to get abroad were not worthwhile. Traveling is something to be felt and images are to spark that feeling. Images in and of themselves will not bring you joy.
  • Finally, explore making a “Top 3-5 Bucket List” to accomplish while abroad. This is something I did for studying abroad and still till this day for all my travels. I find that if I have a distinct purpose that’s achievable, I reflect on trips fondly long after it is over. A full-fledged agenda with no room for spontaneity can lead to an inorganic experience.

A Wiser, More Open Person After Studying in Thailand

Overall, studying in Thailand was a defining time in Morgan’s life! Much of her personal growth during college came within that short period of time. It also led to her insatiable desire to understand the world in depth. Her experiences abroad have also benefited her family, especially her siblings, of whom she has taken on several excursions.

Morgan’s siblings now engage in their own travels and continue to evolve their views of the world! You see, increased knowledge is not just about yourself. It can have a ripple effect on your family, friends, and the generations to come. Studying abroad can be a key way to expand your family’s legacy through knowledge building. If studying abroad is in your sites, dream big dreams and make them a reality! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or comments about Morgan’s journeys studying in Thailand.

by Leesa Truesdell