Diego Ambrosio has made a new life for himself as a professional in Thailand. He is living his dreams abroad. As he looks ahead to further relocation, this time internal rather than external, we caught up with one of our most personable members. We wanted to know the latest Diego-related developments of fall 2021. How is teaching abroad in Thailand and what’s happening?
You’re taking a new mandatory teaching course. What is it called?”
It is a Diploma in Teaching (a post-baccalaureate degree) for a non-education graduate who wishes to become a professional teacher and pursue a career in teaching. This diploma is required by the TCT (Teachers Council of Thailand),which is responsible for setting professional standards; issuing and withdrawal of licenses; overseeing maintenance of professional standards and ethics; and development of the profession of teachers and educational administrators.
There are various institutes scattered throughout Thailand and abroad that offer the full package of courses required to obtain this diploma. However, it is necessary to be careful and choose among only those institutes accredited by the TCT. This is so you don’t waste time or money when trying to become a professional in Thailand.
Why are you having to take this course to become a teaching professional in Thailand?”
Let’s say no one forces you to do it. It would not be necessary for example for those foreign teachers who intend to work in Thailand for a maximum of four or five years. On the contrary, those who intend to pursue a long career in teaching in Thailand will have to possess it.
When a foreigner decides to start a career in Thailand as a teacher, a temporary teaching permit is what that school will apply for, on a teacher’s behalf, as soon as they begin working there. It’s a waiver for the requirements of the standard teaching license. It is granted for two years and allows the school time to get the teacher to meet the requirements of the TCT to obtain a permanent teaching license from them.
The temporary teaching permit can be renewed a maximum of three times (a total of six years). After that, the school will not be able to grant the job position, unless you meet the requirements for a permanent teaching license. This is why I am studying for this diploma now. I have already completed my first five years as a teacher.
When will you finish the diploma?”
Let’s start by saying that all the courses are online. They offer synchronous courses (courses that have additional interactive lessons with the teacher) and asynchronous courses (courses that offer only theoretical modules necessary to pass the related exams).
There are two semesters that make up the entire academic year. The first semester started in August and will end towards the end of December. Then the second semester should start in January and end between April and May.
What qualification will you end up with?”
The official qualification released will be a “Diploma in Teacher Education (DTE) 30 Units BSEd based” where “BSEd” stands for Bachelor of Education.
How easy is it to renew your passport in Thailand?”
I thought living abroad would make everything more complicated, including renewing a passport. I will have to change my mind since so far it seems that everything is going smoothly. In fact, my passport is about to expire. About a week ago, I went to the Italian consulate in the province where I live (Phuket). I made an appointment with the consul before going, of course. I brought with me what the consul requested, which is two passport-sized photos (5×5), a copy of the passport, and 4,800 baht (which correspond more or less to 130 Euros). Finally, I was issued a temporary receipt and I should receive the new passport within 20 days maximum.
What changes are you finding in teaching in Thailand this academic year?”
This can be labeled as one of the most debated issues over the past two years. Teachers, like other categories of workers, have been forced to change the entire teaching plan. Teaching methodologies have had to adapt to online teaching. The most pressing question remains: how to hide the obvious inconsistency of an online lesson compared to a face-to-face one? The student’s entire learning mechanism is feeble and dissimilar. Online participation drops dramatically, as does attention and attendance at the lessons themselves. Not to mention the assessments, which do not provide the real performance and level of the student at all, as they are mostly copying answers from the internet.
Fortunately, there seems to be some good news on the horizon. In fact, in November we returned to regular face-to-face teaching, after almost four months of ineffective online teaching. As a teaching professional in Thailand, I really cannot wait.
How challenging is it for you to reestablish classroom relationships with students?”
I must be sincere. Perhaps it is due to my extroverted and patient personality and/or my diplomatic disposition in trying to make everyone feel good and happy. I am able to build a relationship of cordiality and serenity starting on the first day. Students are relaxed during my lessons and I always allow time for some funny jokes or recreational activities. Everything needs its time and slowly everything is being restored according to the inevitable adjustments and reorganization.
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. How did you meet your fiance?”
Back in September 2017, I came to the island of Phuket with my father. It was the beginning of an adventure full of many dreams and expectations. After a few months, I started using Facebook. I joined a group where you could share information and ask for advice or support. Among the various posts, I noticed a girl who was looking for a teacher or, in any case, an expert able to provide some private English lessons. Interested in the idea of being able to start earning something, I offered myself available at a cost of 300 baht per hour. Unfortunately, the girl told me that she had already found someone and it all seemed to end there.
But something moved me to ask her another question and from there we started a long conversation that ended with our first date at the Starbucks where she once worked.
How We Met
That morning I was particularly tense. I had no idea what it was like to relate to a girl from a culture so distant from mine. I was afraid she might feel some form of embarrassment. In reality, it was a splendid morning, and her old colleagues even offered us breakfast, sensing that something was rising in the air.
Meeting after meeting, we came to realize that we were meant for each other. It was a very slow path but full of good outcomes. Her name is Jang and today we live happily together with my father in a small villa, in a residential area full of parks and tranquility.
Well, yes, a few months ago I started yearning for the idea of being able to fulfill a desire that, since I was young, I believed to be impossible to achieve. The kind of personality I have has always generally made me focus more on friendship rather than love. But as they say, everything is possible in life and apparently in a little over a year it will also be my moment… 🙂
Where is your final destination after the wedding?”
Regarding the wedding, we will first obtain the certificate from the town hall. Later we will return to Italy for a month and a half during which I will introduce my wife to all my family and the beautiful territory where I was born. Once back in Thailand, we will prepare all our stuff and get ready to leave the beloved island of Phuket (our homeland for more than four years). We’re moving to the province of Sakon Nakhon on the northeastern border of Thailand (the birthplace of my future wife). It will be a long journey of about 22 hours that we will complete in about two days with (surely) two super-loaded cars. Finally, once we have reached Sakon Nakhon, we will also follow the Buddhist ceremony to celebrate our wedding.
What are your future plans once you’ve tied the knot?”
Our future plans are surrounded by a series of great changes and evolutions that await us. Once we get to Sakon Nakhon, we will renovate Jang’s mother’s house and we will use the remaining land to build the foundations of our new home. In the long term, this will also save us a lot of money that is currently being paid for our rental in Phuket.
The first few months will be a bit tough because I will have to find a new school from which to start teaching again. I will most likely be starting on a lower salary than what I had achieved in Phuket. But this doesn’t discourage me. On the contrary, it fills me with adrenaline and enthusiasm. I can’t wait to start this new adventure!
I’ll keep you posted with further updates in my next article, stay tuned. 🙂
Clearly these are exciting times for Diego. We are ecstatic to hear about his forthcoming nuptials. Diego and Jang look like such a happy couple. We wish them well in their new home.
The first time we metEric 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I left off my last piece by explaining how I was preparing for students returning to school. Well, since July 1st, we have had students back on campus every day with no hiccups. It’s been an interesting, and sometimes stressful and trying, time. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to share my experiences through this unprecedented time. I hope some of you may find this piece intriguing, or that it may even give comfort to teachers across the globe who are waiting to return to school semi-normally.
How did we prepare for the return of students?
There are many aspects that went into our preparation. First of all, we needed to clearly understand and adhere to the regulations and restrictions set by the government, the Office of the Basic Education Commission, and the Ministry of Education. Luckily, due to having smaller class sizes in our program, we didn’t have to split classes into two groups and work a six-day week like many government schools across Thailand have had to. However, we have had to cancel all upcoming school events, clubs, and out-of-schedule activities. The school postponed all trips indefinitely.
Before students even stepped foot on campus, we had to clean and disinfect all areas of our school buildings. Thankfully, our program only uses one building. All teachers and staff spent three days mopping floors, disinfecting, and cleaning tables, chairs, walls, windows and even ceilings! Once all items were dry, we had to assemble the classrooms in keeping with the requirements set by the MOE.
New Classroom Duties
We spaced out desks, maintaining a 1.5-2-meter distance between each student. We taped the floors to mark the exact alignment of the tables in case they moved throughout the day. Additionally, we implemented a new walking system throughout the building. This limits the number of people using different exits and stairwells.
The evening before students returned, a professional cleaning company disinfected all the corridors and stairwells again to ensure everything was extra clean! Other duties we have as teachers are our morning health checks and the building checks. These checks are where we take temperatures of students and teachers and observe them washing their hands as they enter the school campus and our buildings.
Adapting and Adjusting
Another part of our preparation meant updating our lesson plans. Many teachers had to amend their lesson plans and/or syllabus for the semester to accommodate the restrictions outlined by the MOE and OBEC. In terms of teaching art, this was frustrating. I had to rework a lot of my previous plans for this semester. I had to think of new projects and stick to materials that could be easily disinfected before and after class. Many projects I had spent months preparing for were now out of the question (for the foreseeable future).
This brings me to another part of preparing for students coming back to school: The mental preparation. It’s a scary and uneasy time; no one really knows what to expect. We’re all trying to stay afloat and do whatever we think is best. Yes, I feel disappointed that I’m unable to do all the things we had planned for this year. Despite that, I try not to allow myself to stress out too much over it. Instead, I think of this period as a challenge of my creativity, ingenuity, and resilience. I still want to deliver the best arts education possible to my students. I remind myself of my focus any time I feel that I may be getting swallowed up by self-doubt or worry.
Challenges in the Classroom
The first few days in the classroom were tough, I will admit. Students weren’t used to all of the rules and restrictions we put into place. Teachers were still getting used to the very rules they were meant to enforce, all while trying to make sure they didn’t forget anything. I taught our 8th-grade class for a double period the afternoon of the first day back; I don’t know how many times I had to stress to students to stay in their own seats, keep their masks on, and stop trying to sneak over to their friends’ desks.
In the end, I understand them. They don’t fully grasp the importance of these rules. It’s a lot of responsibility to put on children. They are adjusting to the new reality just as much as we are. While I didn’t once raise my voice with negativity in those first few days, I did have to raise my voice a lot to be heard clearly through my mask. I really had to exaggerate my enthusiasm to convey it from behind my mask.
All homeroom teachers spent the first morning presenting our new rules and regulations to our homeroom classes. Our students were made aware of what was expected. Of course, there were times when students would honestly forget some of the new rules. Sometimes, students purposely tried to push the limit to see how serious we were about social distancing. If I saw a student questioning the rules, I’d immediately stop. I’d take the time to explain to them why we took these measures and how we wanted to prevent any transmission of COVID-19 or other diseases. It’s important our students know we care about them and want to help them adjust to the ‘new normal’.
Repeat, Then Repeat Again
It was difficult having to repeat yourself (for what felt like) 30 times during a lesson. I lost count of how many times I said “keep your masks up please,” “remember, one person per table!” and “clean your hands before entering the room please.” Before the pandemic began, I used to think that cleaning art materials once or twice a day was tedious. Now, I’ve had to get used to running around disinfecting tables and individual coloured pencils between lessons. At first, I had to keep reminding myself that I couldn’t walk up to a students’ desk and help them with their shading and painting techniques. I couldn’t bend down to their level and help them with their exercises in English class. Unfortunately, I teach very hands-on. I like to move around the classroom, work alongside students during group work, and give real-life hands-on demonstrable examples.
My teaching style has changed drastically during this time. This is something I struggled with in the beginning. However, over the past few weeks, I have been able to find new resources and tools to use in my classroom I would never have found so quickly before. I have been using more digital applications to help my students to complete their assignments and projects in English and Project-Based Learning. I invested more time in creating videos, online resources, and digital media for my classes. This has really made me feel good about myself as a teacher.
I feel that I’ve been given an opportunity to try new things I may have never tried otherwise. I’m choosing to look on the bright side. Additionally, I have been able to introduce digital media into my Visual Arts subjects too, which has been exciting for students. We use Adobe Photoshop to create surrealist-inspired photography pieces, as well as use digital media to create magazines and refine research skills. With the younger students, we have been studying found objects in art and looking at ways they can create mixed-media art pieces using digital and traditional mediums and materials. It’s been a fun and somewhat experimental time in our arts classroom recently, and I look forward to what the future holds!
While we don’t know how the rest of our academic year will pan out, we are currently planning to follow the same schedule with the same requirements until Thailand’s Emergency Decree officially ends. The government have extended the Emergency Decree a number of times now, so we don’t know for sure when the government will officially allow it to end. Until then, things like masks and social distancing are a normal part of everyday life. Look out for my next piece in a month or so keeping you up to date with the situation here! What does it look like where all of you are? Are you also going back to school with students on campus or teaching online for this academic year? What has helped you all during this situation?
I left off my last piece for Dreams Abroad in a place of uncertainty, unsure of a future while trying to reflect on my 19 months here in Thailand. While I’ve had such a wonderful experience since I began teaching in Phuket, it’s hard to reflect on the positives while being so concerned with such an insecure future. I know that many teachers and students around the world have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is something I have been thinking about a lot in the past few weeks.
Additionally, in these past few weeks, I have begun to doubt my abilities, as I am sure many educators have. This current situation is somewhat unprecedented and many of us have never faced the reality we have encountered this year. I have questioned my own capabilities and attributes as a teacher, re-written my syllabus to accommodate online distance learning, and spent sleepless nights thinking about how we can help our students during this time. Although these are trying times, we can get through them together.
School Plans During the COVID-19 Pandemic
For a while, we were unsure of exactly which path we would take for this new school year. In western countries, the academic year begins in August or September. Meanwhile, in the Thai school system, our academic year runs from mid-May to the end of next March. We were fortunate that we were able to complete our school year without much interference from the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, we have had to begin our new school year through online teaching. Our program investigated many avenues for this until we made our decision. Ultimately, we used Google Classroom and Google Meets as our primary platforms for online demonstration. Before student return in July, we will have completed three weeks of teaching fully online.
While I have taught English via digital/online classes one-on-one before, I have never taught a full class of twenty-five students or taught visual arts anywhere besides in a real-life classroom. The thought alone was daunting to me at first. I like to have a lot of personal interaction with my students in the classroom. I wanted to be there with them, physically making and creating alongside my classes, demonstrating and helping students.
Teaching from computer (or mobile) screens as my main platform has made me feel so restricted. I felt deflated after spending hours creating an entirely new visual arts curriculum and syllabus for grades 7 to 12. Most of the projects I had previously created could no longer be used. There was no way of ensuring all students could access materials I planned on using in previous projects. Additionally, I knew that my students would need assistance and hands-on guidance to learn certain techniques and processes. Before I was about to pull my hair out, I stopped and thought to myself, “don’t despair”.
Fighting Anxiety While Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As I have spoken about in previous pieces, I have struggled with anxiety disorders since I was young. One of the biggest challenges in my young adult life has been to manage my anxiety. Trying to restrict its control and presence in my life is my main goal. While I have made a lot of progress with this, disruption to everyday life and routine really test me. Once I was able to get my head on straight and close the door to the illogically worried corner of my brain, I was able to think clearly and brainstorm plans for a series of possible outcomes. Upon opening a dialogue with my colleagues, I quickly discovered that I was not alone in my feelings.
Many knew that the situation in Phuket could change at any minute, as with many things in Thailand (regardless of COVID-19 Pandemic). Our school did not come up with a plan of action for a while. The faculty did not feel 100% sure of just how long isolation and lockdown restrictions would remain in Phuket. At first, we were notified that we would be conducting online classes from our own homes. Sounds great, right?
I prepared a workstation in my house, completely ready to begin online teaching from home. However, one Saturday afternoon on the 30th of March, we received notification that we would be required to return to school on Monday, the 1st of June. Our online classes would commence on June 8th. This lack of notice and last-minute changes is something you must be able to work within Thailand, regardless of your personal feelings.
Thailand’s Go With the Flow Lifestyle
I have met people who grew up in western countries who later lived in Thailand who just could not adjust to this aspect of life here. The lack of punctuality and timely information can really wear thin on some people. If you’re thinking of moving to Thailand to work at all, this is something you genuinely need to reflect on.
Can you accept that situations may change hours before an event? Or that you may receive a message at 9:00pm the night before with information that could change your next-day plans? Then waking up the next morning to a message at 6:00 am telling you to disregard the prior announcement? That happens more than you may like to believe. I have turned up to class before only to find an empty classroom because the students were at an event. I had not been notified of that change beforehand.
These are common occurrences in Thailand, especially in Thai schools. For me, it’s a part of the basic everyday lifestyle here and I don’t get too bothered by it personally. However, I can understand that it could be a real annoyance and frustration to people who need consistency and stability in everyday plans and routines. I believe that flexibility and adaptability are crucially important personal traits to have when living here, especially if you don’t want to be a human stress ball (haha!).
Battling Disconnection Online
Over these past weeks, I have struggled to feel like I am doing my job well while in class together. I have felt the disconnection between my students and I as well as the limitation of a computer screen. These changes in the classroom dynamic have felt very extreme in immense ways. I am used to having highly active and engaging classes, where students are forced to participate either vocally or physically. Many of my usual activities and projects cannot be done via online learning, as there are restrictions with the platform we are using as well as technological restrictions relating to the abilities of our own devices and the resources students may or may not have at home.
Nonetheless, I am grateful that we are able to use this online teaching time as a chance to prepare students. When our semester starts officially, they’ll be prepared with the knowledge needed for their return. Right now, we are not assessing students or giving them tasks which would be given in our normal academic calendar. Instead, we are using this time as a chance to prepare for July when we return to normal classroom teaching… well, as normal as it can be in the given situation.
The Thai government and Ministry of Education have given guidelines for schools to follow in order for them to even have the possibility of allowing students to return to campus. Each school/program must be able to prove that they can accommodate and follow the strict social distancing and hygiene precautions set by the Department of Health and the MOE before students are allowed back into school. As of right now, we will be able to have students return safely starting July 1st. Despite this, the environment in school will be quite different. I am looking forward to documenting our experience when students do return to school, so I can share that with you all in my next Dreams Abroad piece.
I know that the possibility of reopening is not in the near future for teachers in many other countries right now, as situations are different all across the globe. Nevertheless, I think all teachers share similar feelings regarding this situation right now. We can all help each other by sharing our experiences and concerns. Initiating a dialogue amongst ourselves will give each of us support. We could create a platform where we can share tips and tricks with each other. One of the most useful things I have found is joining social media groups of teachers around the world using the same digital learning platform as I am. There is a lot we can learn from each other. Communication and connection are more important now than they ever have been.
Reflecting On My Thai Teaching Experience
So while I have been maneuvering through a messy couple of months, I have also had more time to reflect on my experience living in teaching in Thailand so far. I have learnt many things; some I spoke about in my last interview. One of the things that has become most evident to me is that I am more resilient than ever before. Moving abroad, starting a new career, facing personal challenges as well as general parts of life that someone in their mid-twenties experiences; these all have been testing my character over the past two years.
I’ve had brilliant experiences here in Thailand. One of the most valuable things I have learnt is having the mindful ability to cast away distractions. It allows me to focus my energy on the main goal. I’m sure this is something that people can learn whenever they may be in the world, but I definitely think living surrounded by Thai culture and in the environment of Phuket has really helped me develop and stick to living by that mindset; it is a mindset which has helped keep me motivated during this trying time.
We are currently preparing ourselves, students, and the school campus for the return of in-classroom teaching. We will have to be very strict with our safety regulations. Two days are being dedicated to cleaning and preparing the classrooms. We need to ensure our students are safe on campus. This includes spacing desks and placing markers on the floors, installing plastic screens on desks, as well as making sure that each classroom has enough sanitizer and disinfectant. One thing that students will be doing upon their return is taking part in a collaborative project. They’ll make sanitizers and disinfectants from scratch in their Biology and General Science classes. My art students will be tasked with creating labels for the bottles of disinfectant and sanitizer, as well as producing informative posters to be displayed around the school.
Coming Together as a Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic
I hope that we can come together and create some wall murals to promote the importance of a community mindset as well as equal care and respect for one another during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I hope to check in again soon with an update sharing the experience of our school when students do return to campus. In the meantime, I’m brainstorming plenty of other non-teaching related pieces I would love to share with you all in the future!
We are halfway through 2020! A couple of years ago, we started publishing a mid-year review to see which articles were read the most. This has been an interesting year so far and thanks to you, our Dreams Abroad community, we are proud to release our mid-year review. Here are your favorite articles of the first half of 2020 to remind you which topics were at the top six months ago.
So far, 2020 has been a year filled with backpacking, travel tales, teaching in Cambodia, and the impact of COVID-19 on our team in different countries. We are pleased to share our most popular travel articles with you.
How I Traveled to Cambodia and Stayed to Teach
In this illuminating interview, Ed Gagnon caught up with Michael Carter, a fellow Canadian he met while Michael was working in the restaurant industry. Ed explains Michael’s affliction for wanderlust coupled with his move to southeast Asia in 2000. Michael has been living, teaching, and traveling abroad for 20 years.
If you would like to know more about how to stay and teach in Cambodia, this is undoubtedly a great travel article to read. Since this interview, Michael Carter has joined our team. Be sure to check out Michael’s second interview as well as his own articles.
Why Everyone Should Try Backpacking Southeast Asia
Emma Higgins taught in Phuket, Thailand for a year before deciding to backpack around southeast Asia for three months before heading home to the United States. In this article, she gives 10 reasons why you should backpack around southeast Asia. Emma discusses some of the cultural complexities that transform you into an especially strong traveler. In addition, she points out how you’ll learn new languages, the many different foods you’ll encounter, and how to get out of your comfort zone and discover a new one.
The Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus in Our Education System
Bebe Bakhtiar is a teacher who has been working during the COVID-19 pandemic. She takes a moment to shed some light and share her concerns about the impact of the virus in addition to what its impact will have on our international education system. This article covers the positive and negative effects of the Coronavirus on students and teachers. In this powerful piece, Bebe urges all community leaders to fight harder for our education system and its teachers.
Arriving in Mexico City
Tyler Black read about Leesa Truesdell’s trip to Mexico City and decided he wanted to also visit, too. Upon arrival, he talks about the view from the plane and how large the city is. He arrives in Mexico City and discusses the first day of his itinerary. Tyler certainly enjoys tasting the local food, touring the downtown city center, and seeing the nightlife. He provides recommendations for a taco and churrería in the city — be sure not to miss this article. Anthony Bourdain ate at the same street taco vendor!
My Tour of Paris by Night
Leesa Truesdell shares her tour of Paris by night. She talks about the rippling effects of her canceled flight through a series of articles. In this last piece of the series, she spends a very special birthday touring Paris, living a dream she had had for years. This article talks about the different places she explored with her tour guide and the different ways to approach Paris at night (if you are a beginner). If you enjoy reading about Leesa’s solo travel adventures, then this one is a must-read. It has been one of her most popular travel articles.
Mid-Year 2020 Best Travel Articles
Be on the lookout for our annual review coming in December 2020. You (our readers) decide who makes the top five by reading our content. Each time you read or click on a post, we appreciate it. Thank you so much for reading and being part of our community. If there are other things you would like to know from any of our writers, please send us an e-mail or leave a comment. We will share your feedback with them.
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!
Eric Haeg is the Course Director of TEFL Campus–a TEFL training course provider in Phuket and Chiang Mai. He moved to Thailand in 2004 because he knew he didn’t want to teach in Europe. He had already visited Europe and wanted to explore somewhere entirely new. Eric didn’t know if there was a need for teachers in Thailand back then. His reasons for taking the TEFL course back in 2004 were entirely whimsical. He searched for TEFL certification courses and signed up for one in Phuket because it looked like “Phuk-et”. Eric explained said, “I thought to myself, ‘Eh, f*ck it. Must be a sign. What’s the worst that can happen?’” He also says he has no shame in how that sounds because it was the best decision he’s ever made.
Eric took the time to explain what Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand means today. Here is what he had to say.
What makes Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand different from TEFL in other countries?
There are a few reasons that taking a TEFL course in Thailand is different from other countries.
Low Costs – TEFL courses are cheaper in Thailand because of the lower costs of operation when compared to courses in places like Japan, Australia, most of Europe, or the Americas.
Welcoming Culture – Thailand’s nickname is the Land of Smiles. It only takes a few minutes here to see why. Thais are incredibly welcoming and eager to share their culture with foreigners.
High Demand – It was recently reported that Thailand needs 10,000 foreign teachers. This means that those who come to train and earn their TEFL certification will find jobs after their course rather easily.
What is the application and arrival process for your school?
The process starts with a lengthy and detailed information file that we send out once an applicant has officially enrolled. We include information on how to get visas (if needed), our accommodation options, travel options, and more. We have a long Q&A section that includes information on getting local SIM cards, international driver’s licenses, vaccinations, what to pack, and more.
From there, we then help people reserve their accommodation and schedule a meet-and-greet for the day they arrive. For those who are eligible, we organize our personal driver to meet them at the airport.
We also have unique Facebook groups for each course, where people can introduce themselves before the course to their peers. We send out helpful posts about things to do in Phuket, reminders about the course, information on jobs, and much more.
What’s the most important thing someone should know about TEFL in Thailand?
People need to know that teaching is challenging. While that’s not unique to Thailand, far too many TEFL course providers in Thailand take the “teach-by-the-beach” approach to their marketing. They make people think that teaching is an all-day ball of joy, that finding jobs on idyllic islands is the norm, and that teaching is easy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching is challenging and that’s why new teachers need meaningful training that includes curriculum on building cultural awareness. Most good jobs are in urban areas — but at least in a place like Phuket, the beach is never far away on days off. If you’re not near the ocean, Thailand has endless natural beauty. Nonetheless, you’ll have to work a challenging, full-time job Monday through Friday if you are to enjoy it in your freetime.
How is TEFL Campus in Phuket different than its Chiang Mai location?
TEFL Campus runs the same curriculum in Phuket as in Chiang Mai. Both programs include university-level validation, guaranteed job support and experienced trainers. The main difference is the observed teaching practice. In Chiang Mai, you’ll teach in local schools, with local students in primary and secondary schools. In Phuket, you’ll teach in a language center setting, where students fourteen and older come to learn English voluntarily.
Outside of class, Phuket and Chiang Mai offer rather different experiences. Both are major destinations in Thailand, but for different reasons. Phuket has its beaches, Chiang Mai has its mountains. Phuket has its unique Old Town, and Chiang Mai has its ancient walled off section of the city. Finally, Phuket is always warm or downright hot, while Chiang Mai has its cool season from November to February. Between the two of them, both locations offer something for everyone.
What is the greatest student success you have had for TEFL in Thailand?
Honestly, there are more than I can count. Each student succeeded for different reasons.
There’s Steven, an Australian who met with me back in 2012. He wanted to get his degree before teaching. He went back to university as a mature student, graduated uni, took our course in 2016, got a entry-level job in Bangkok, and now works in the corporate development department of Wall Street English.
Then there’s Bish, a Nepali gentleman who was a gifted teacher. He was going to have trouble finding a job due to Thais’ prejudice against south Asians. After helping Bish find a job at a local primary school, he now works as a coordinator there who’s won the hearts of his students and colleagues alike.
But honestly, as I think through the names of our grads, I can easily think of a dozen or more success stories. They include people who went on to get more credentials to eventually work in high-paying international schools. There were also those who found jobs in highly competitive countries like Maldives, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. So many of our grads who wanted to quit our course because they didn’t believe in their own abilities ended up sticking to it and achieving their goals of teaching overseas.
Why do you think someone should leave their home country and teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand?
I actually don’t think everyone who wants to do it should do it. The only people who should do it are those who are open-minded, ready for a challenge, have a healthy sense of responsibility, and a genuine desire to teach. It’s one of the most important professions on Earth and students deserve dedicated, capable teachers.
Outside of career goals, I think everyone should live abroad for a year or more. It’s the best way to challenge one’s assumptions about “reality,” build a better understanding of humanity, and benefit from experiences those who don’t travel could never imagine.
As of late, the Thai government has been searching for more than thousands of teachers for TEFL. Eric wrote a piece on how to get the most reliable teachers earlier this year. The article discusses three ways schools can alleviate the teacher shortage before having to wait for the foreign government to lend assistance. He is on his annual leave in the USA and hopes to get back to Thailand as soon as it is coronavirus-cleared. For further information about TEFL in Thailand, please contact Eric directly. He can assist with questions and offer suggestions.
Beth Juanita Young has been very busy in her second year of teaching English in Phuket, Thailand. I had a chance to catch up with her after our first interview where she spoke about immersing yourself into Thai Culture. Since then, she went on a week-long classroom learning trip and her school hosted a competition for impromptu speeches, and her student won! This was Beth’s first time seeing her student win a competition like this as a visual arts teacher teaching English in Phuket. Her student moved on all the way to the regional championships. What an accomplishment!
Beth talked about the day-to-day challenges she faced in her second year teaching English in Phuket, Thailand and how she began to overcome them. She is feeling more comfortable as a teacher. Plus, being at the same school two years in a row has helped her adjust even more. Beth is still finding her rhythm as a teacher. As any teacher knows, it takes time to find a rhythm. She’s enjoyed learning how to use her time to plan projects and assist her students. Although Beth works for a government school, she listens to her students’ needs while delivering creative lesson plans set by the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC).
What is a typical day at your school like teaching English in Phuket, Thailand?
“A typical day at school for me begins with heading to the convenience store across the street from my school. I grab a coffee and some breakfast to start my day. When I get into school, I head straight to the office that I share with 14 other foreign-subject teachers and a few Thai-subject teachers. It’s always nice to greet each other in the mornings and have a few minutes of calm before the busy day starts.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, my teaching day starts at 7:40 AM because I teach enrichment English classes on those days. Normally, we attend morning assembly at 8:00 AM, where the national anthem of Thailand is played by our school marching band, and a Buddhist prayer is observed. On a typical day, we have nine 50-minute teaching periods. I can teach anywhere from two to six classes a day. It just depends on the week and the semester.”
Flexibility Out of the Classroom
“If we are lucky enough to have our lunch hour match up, I eat lunch with my colleagues. If not, I spend my lunch period at my desk eating food I brought to school (new year health kick, haha!). What I do in my free time between classes really depends on what is happening in the semester at the time. Sometimes I spend it making props and costumes for our program’s Drama department. Other times I spend it grading and correcting students’ work. I often spend my free time helping students with their projects outside of class hours. It may all seem a little boring or mundane, but we do have events and celebrations which happen often throughout the year. There is always something to look forward to!
During December, my typical days were spent going between my classes and rehearsing for our Christmas Fair Performance. It was a very busy month, but we had such an amazing day full of Christmas celebrations it made all the hard work worth it. I started 2020 by being out of school for a few days. I accompanied one of my students to an impromptu speech competition in Nakhon Si Thammarat (another province in southern Thailand). The week after that, we headed 16 hours north to Samut Songkhram for our week-long annual Outside Classroom Learning trip. We spent the week learning about Thai culture, foods, and agriculture. Every month is something different, so my ‘typical’ day varies so much! It is never boring, that’s for sure!”
How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?
“As I previously mentioned, I work alongside 14 other foreign teachers and a large group of Thai teachers and staff. We are a pretty diverse team, with nationalities from American, British, Filipino, Indian, Singaporean, South African, and Thai. I love the people I work with. I feel very fortunate to find such a lovely workplace to not only call my job but also to call my ‘home’. The people and students create that welcoming atmosphere. I work very closely with our Drama teacher, as I also have a history in acting and performing. We team up a lot for our school’s performances and anything in the creative arts department.
The amount of classes I teach depends on the semester. It can range from 16 in-class hours to 22 hours, depending on the workload. In Semester One, I teach Visual Arts to grades 7-10 (10 periods per week). I teach visual arts to the higher-level students in Semester Two.
Teaching English and Art in Thailand
I love teaching visual arts. Inspiring my students to explore the world of creative expression and seeing their faces light up when they achieve something new is the best reward. One of my favorite things to see is when a student discovers an artist, a style, or a technique they love. I also love seeing how accomplished they feel when they complete a piece of artwork. Art is my passion and I am so grateful that I get to teach it!
I also teach other subjects like Core English, Young Guide, Problem-Based-Learning, and English for Communication and Writing. Core English is typically six periods per week. In Core English we focus more on grammar and learning the building blocks of the English language. Young Guide is more of a vocational course, where we focus on tourism, hospitality, and using English for those industries. All our other English courses all have aims to broaden our students’ abilities as well as conversational and written language skills. I like this course best as we have a bit more freedom in our lesson planning and project making, although I like to be creative in all my subjects.
Play Around With Projects
For example, I love using role play and imagination in my students’ projects. I find it really allows them to gain confidence and be more excited about learning and using English. I currently have a project that my grade 7 students are working on. They have to create a video guide about surviving a disaster using modal verbs for rules and obligations, as well as modals for advice and suggestions. Some of the topics that groups have chosen to look at are very creative. Some examples are about surviving a zombie apocalypse, a plane crash, an alien invasion, and a volcano eruption. It makes me so proud when I see my students engaged and excited about a class.
I also teach Enrichment English classes. These are extra supplementary classes to help students with their progression. I have a homeroom class that I go to for our homeroom hour once a week. I also have a club I am responsible for on Friday afternoons. If we have a competition coming up, a lot of my free time will be used with that. I typically train and practice with students to help them get ready for competing. Like I said earlier, what I do day-to-day depends on a lot of factors.”
Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?
“As I said above, we are a very small team of teachers, so we all know each other well. I am happy to say that I have built a lot of strong working relationships with my coworkers. We all have a common goal to deliver the best possible education and experience for our students. Like with every job, there are people who I am closer to than others, but that comes naturally with life.
I have a brilliant relationship with my boss. She is such a wonderful lady and I am forever grateful for all her support and guidance. I am fortunate to say that I don’t just have working relationships with my coworkers. Some are true friends. You need that here, especially if you’re living on your own and have no friends or family outside of work. Loneliness can be a real issue when you move abroad. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I found my job. really found a wonderful, supportive environment for my first teaching job. I’ll remember this school and these lovely people forever!”
What is your favorite part of the day? Why?
“I don’t think I can pinpoint one single part of the day, as everyday is different! I do have to say, I love my homeroom class time. This is when I get to work and interact with the students outside of our usual English or Art lessons. It’s important that teachers engage with their students and get to know them outside of their class-time. I’ve found that giving students an extra bit of care, an ear to listen to their problems, and a friendly, relaxed relationship helped to build a better bond and grounds for respect inside ofthe classroom.
Another thing I really enjoy is the end of the day. The last period of the day at school is usually free for most classes. Our office typically gets invaded by students. Students come in to see teachers to ask questions, submit work, and sometimes to sit and have some company. During this time of the day, I usually help some of my seventh-grade students with their homework. If I have a really fun and successful lesson, that automatically becomes my favorite part of the day. I leave feeling so inspired and uplifted afterwards. I try to enjoy the entire day, as that’s what I’m here for: the whole experience!”
How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?
“As I teach multiple different subjects, the method of teaching can change depending on the subject and the learning outcome of the lesson. Our program works with the Thai curriculum set by the Office of the Basic Education Commission, as it’s a government school. Each subject has been enhanced to meet an international standard while still meeting the OBEC requirements. For English Language, we use the Common European Framework of Reference indicators and those set by OBEC. For content, we use a book series to guide us for each CEFR level. As teachers, we are free to plan, create and make our own lessons and materials, as long as we ensure we are following the set indicators for each subject and semester. We make our own semester schedules as well. I enjoy having that freedom, especially when teaching visual arts.
Getting Creative With the Thai Curriculum
As for methods, I like to be very versatile and deliver content differently every few weeks. I like to keep my students engaged and excited about learning by using multiple different types of activities and exercises. I also use a lot of different media sources (powerpoints, interactive games using the computer, videos, video-based projects, etc.). In the English Language, I like to use games to help my students feel connected and confident about their abilities. Our students can be very competitive when it comes to team games, so they always put a lot of effort and brainpower into game-like activities. I like to elicit as much language from students as possible, limiting my talking time whilst guiding them to strengthen their abilities and build their confidence.
When teaching visual arts, I have found myself using a lot of techniques my own college tutors used to deliver content and teach technique. I love hands-on learning. It is my belief that students must physically engage with an activity, technique, or medium to be able to really learn and develop skills. I always want my students to discover a new technique or material by ‘doing,’ not by listening about it or only watching someone else do it. I want my students to think about art in a different way to what they may normally do. Art is for everyone and creative subjects are an integral part of learning.”
How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?
“I start to plan my semester by making a list of subjects and topics I know I need to deliver, then I brainstorm project ideas for each subject/course. I love planning art courses, as I really like to try new project ideas and building activities for the students. Admittedly, planning English lessons didn’t come so naturally to me. There has been some learning by trial and error when it comes to classroom activities. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to reflect and evaluate those situations in order to make myself a better educator.
Examples of Student Projects
My seventh-grade students are working on the survival guide for a disaster that I previously mentioned. My ninth-grade students are busy finishing their class magazine that we will have professionally printed. The aim of the magazine is for them to produce a collective piece of work that shows the writing skills they have developed throughout the semester. The eleventh graders are finishing up their visual journals and group mural paintings as we are coming to the end of our school year. Although I feel confident in my lesson planning skills, I always aim to improve for the next school year.
I get ready for a lesson by making sure I know my lesson plan and content well. I make sure I have all the equipment and documents I may need for the lesson. Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Activities get extended, exercises take a little bit longer to complete and that’s okay! I try not to be too hard on myself if that does happen, I just make sure I deliver all required content to all of my students, even if it means having an extra class one day (which happens often because of the many events we have at school).”
Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or through all classes? Can you describe it?
“The school I work at is a government school, but we have a private International Program within the school itself. Most subjects in our program are taught only in English. A select few courses are taught in Thai. Those courses are Thai History and Culture, Thai Traditional Dance, Music, Athletics, and Higher-level Math). The courses which are taught in English are English, Sciences, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Drama, Media Studies, Social Studies, Occupational Technology, Computer Science, and Health. Our students all have different levels of English ability, so we do have to account for students who are at an elementary level as well as students who are pre-intermediate and intermediate.
It can be difficult to keep students who are on opposite ends of the skill levels engaged and excited about class. We have to make sure that those students who have advanced abilities don’t get bored in lessons and are still challenged, while ensuring that students who are in the elementary stages of learning the language are still striving and showing progress in their abilities and confidence. Our classes aren’t split by skill level because we have such a small cohort of students in the entire program. We have two classes per grade. One class is learning an English-Math curriculum and the other is learning a Science-Math curriculum. The E-M students have more dramatic studies and vocational subjects using English. The S-M students study additional sciences and math subjects. This is why we hold enrichment classes for students who need a bit more help and time to develop their skills.”
What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?
“When it comes to grades, we use the Thai grading system. We are free to create projects, tests, and exams ourselves. We are trusted to ensure we are keeping to the course description and delivering the content in accordance with our set indicators. Our students must reach a certain percentage in each project and exam in order to be able to pass, and if their grade for the entire semester fails to meet a certain percentage, they must retake the course the following semester.
We use goals and learning outcomes closely tied to the set indicators. We need to ensure we provide students with the correct content so we have regular assessments at the end of each module or topic. Each teacher is fairly free and trusted to create their own assessment schedule, as long as we keep in accordance with the Thai system. Students receive a certificate for each completed school year from the Thai education authority.”
Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since in the classroom this year?
“I struggled to find an answer for this question because I really don’t know what to say. I think I could say that I’ve started to realize what my own teaching style is more than I knew at the beginning of the school year. Although I still think I have a long way to go to feel completely comfortable in my skills, I’m trying not to be over critical of myself. I think that a lot of teachers struggle with that, especially in the first few years of settling into the career. I’ve learned more of what works and what doesn’t work for me, in all areas from lesson planning and class activities to behavior management and personal lesson delivery skills.
I’ve also learned to say no. A lot of things can be asked of us art teachers. As the only one in our program, I struggled with finding my voice at first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to help where and when I can, but some requests and expectations do weigh heavy. I can’t allow ‘extras’ to affect my everyday classes and ability to be the best teacher. While I love to collaborate with others and use my creative skills, I know my boundaries and when to voice my concerns.
I also learned that it’s okay not to be perfect, and that really, every educator has had to make mistakes and have messy lessons in order to learn and improve themselves. So if I have one piece of advice to everyone, don’t be too tough on yourself! We’re all learning and striving to do our best, we shouldn’t allow our own doubts to stop us from reaching our own goals and fulfilling our full potentials.
I look forward to the next school year and discovering a lot more about myself, as well as developing my skills as an educator. I hope I can stick around with the rest of the Teach Abroad and Dreams Abroad team, too!”
Wrap Up of Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand
Beth had an incredible second year teaching English in Phuket. She has a supportive boss and team of teachers, some of whom have become her true friends. She’s encouraging her students “to do” and think for themselves while learning English. Her strategies are apparently working seeing as her students are competing in competitions and winning. Congratulations, Beth!
Beth’s school break will be from April to mid-May 2020. She will spend the month of March preparing for the next year and wrapping up this last school year. We will check in with Beth in March to see what she has planned before her next school year starts back up in May 2020.
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.
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.
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
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Get 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!
What is Kin Jay? Kin Jay (pronounced ‘gin jay’) is the popular name for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival held in October. The festival, also known as The Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a nine-day Taoist celebration that takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The vibrant event derives from the belief that abstaining from meat, animal products, and other stimulants (such as alcohol and cigarettes) will help ensure good physical health and peace of mind for those who partake in the ceremonies.
While the festival is famous for the thrilling celebrations, and somewhat gruesome traditions, it is a deeply spiritual experience for both participants and spectators. The origins of the Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival are still somewhat uncertain. However, generally, many believe that the festival was first introduced to Phuket by Chinese immigrants (performers and merchants) who later became sick while living on the island.
Nine Emperor Gods
As the tale goes, they adopted a strict vegetarian (more comparable to vegan) diet and prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods to ask for cleansing of their mind, body, and soul. In the telling of the story, after doing this for nine days, the community made a remarkable recovery. They astonishingly healed quickly from what was then a life-threatening illness. The people held a festival to honour the gods and express their gratitude. Over the years, the festival blossomed and progressed into an annual extravaganza. Thousands of participants and viewers from all over Asia and other western countries flock to it.
The Events and Ceremonies
The Kin Jay vegetarian festival is filled with several (and occasionally macabre), ceremonies that are believed to appeal to the gods. As well as the abstinence of meat products and stimulants, participants also take part in fire walking, body piercing, and other acts of self-mortification. They believe they are acting as mediums for the gods, or for spirits that they have a sacred ancestral connection to.
These events have only become more astonishing and audacious as the years’ progress Those who participate speak of being ‘possessed’ by the gods and spirits during these ceremonies. This is what allows them to feel no pain or harm from their acts of self-mutilation. It is believed that the Chinese gods protect them from physical and mental harm, as well as ensuring minuscule bleeding and scarring, during these times. This allows the vessels to go to great lengths to show their commitment. Puncturing skin (often cheeks) with various items (including knives, swords, skewers, and other domestic items – even bicycles!), wiping themselves with leather and rope, and even bathing in hot oil in past years are just a few of the ways in which devotees show their gratitude to the gods.
Hitting the Streets
The celebrations take place all over the island of Phuket but are concentrated around the area of the six main Chinese temples, which are dispersed around the island. The first event that takes place is the raising of the Lantern Pole. It is believed that this deed informs the nine gods about the onset of the festival. It acts as a means of calling them down to earth. The pole itself is around ten meters tall. Its erection is believed to mark the descending of the Hindu god, Shiva, who brings spiritual power to the festival. For the duration of the festival, Chinese-Thai families will bring their household gods to the various temples. They give offerings of food and drink. According to legend, this helps bring positive spiritual energy to the household.
Street processions are some of the main events during the Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival. It is in these events where participants will be embodied by the gods/spirits and take part in the body piercing and other self-disfigurement. These processions take place on the main roads in Phuket, often taking very long and somewhat illogical routes. Visitors can observe the participants in a trance-like state, while they are devoting themselves to their beliefs. These processions and events take place in the early mornings (6 AM and onwards) as well as in the evening.
Kin Jay Food and Cuisine
Aside from observing the spectacle and immersing yourself into the atmosphere, a big part of Kin Jay is the food! Many local restaurants will shut down their usual service and provide only Jae cuisine. Furthermore, many street food stalls solely provide Jay items throughout the festival period. To spot one of these stalls, look for yellow flags with red Chinese or Thai letters on them. Phuket displays these flags leading up to, and during, the festival. The vegetarian food and snacks are tasty, I must say.
One of my favorite dishes is sticky rice and coconut grilled inside a banana leaf. It is so cheap and so delicious! A lot of dishes use meat substitutes, like soybean protein and tofu. However, don’t be afraid to try these items, as they surprisingly resemble meat. Upon first experiencing the events, I felt intrigued to learn more about the spiritual beliefs of the festival. It is fascinating to me to not only observe the participants during such a celebration but also to try and understand the mindset behind the festival itself.
The purity of the sheer devotion to their spiritual beliefs is something I admire. Admittedly, the events may not be everyone’s taste. They are not to be witnessed by the faint-hearted. I know many people who have felt physically ill from just watching the acts — and some have even vomited! Nonetheless, I love to observe and try to understand the surreal atmosphere and ideas behind these acts of self-mortification.
Experiencing Kin Jay for What It Is
I try to always remember that I shouldn’t disrespect the beliefs of others, especially in something like Kin Jay. Who am I to decide what is or isn’t real, to a culture and community I am not part of, or for events I have never experienced first-hand? Sadly, I do know of some people who make fun of the participants and the beliefs behind Kin Jay. It makes me feel irritated to hear comments of such attitudes. The festival itself and the beliefs behind it are some of the most beautiful forms of spiritual expression I have even witnessed or learned about.
While I acknowledge that I felt taken aback when observing the events for the first time, I also felt entranced. Watching the participants, I admired their devotion. I am someone who is somewhat into body-modification. It is very interesting to see the act used as a form of spiritual manifestation and as a means to communicate with our gods and/or ancestors.
While I have only witnessed the festival twice, I look forward to observing the event again. I can’t wait to learn more about it in the future. I will warn you though, if you have a soft stomach, perhaps the morning processions are not for you! That doesn’t mean to say that you cannot experience any part of Kin Jay. There are plenty of events that do not involve body piercing. For example, prayers and offerings, which take place at the many temples and shrines. Visitors can take part in lighting incense and candles around these temples. They can also give offerings themselves to the participants during the firewalks and more subdued processions.
Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival in Thailand
So, does the Thailand Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival sound like something you would want to observe? If so, make sure you head to Phuket for the first two weeks of October next year! I will be more than happy to escort you to some of the events (and show you some of the best vegetarian/vegan foods around!). What are you waiting for? Why not check Phuket off your bucket list while being able to experience one of the biggest spiritual celebrations in Thailand, at the same time?