What I Know Now About Teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

Teaching English in South Korea and other Asian markets continues to increase in popularity, especially for Americans due to Europe’s strict visa regulations. Before contemplating the different aspects of teaching English in Taiwan and South Korea, first consider the not-so-romantic facets of what this decision means by asking yourself what you hope to gain by teaching English in Asia.

Many people mistake teaching English abroad for a vacation or gap year before “entering the real world.” Disappointingly, travel influencers and YouTubers continue to perpetuate this narrative with glamorous social media posts. Sufficient opportunities to travel and explore exist, just remember playtime comes second, and moving to the opposite side of the world to rent a motorbike in Thailand during the Lunar New Year cannot provide escapism from general life stressors.

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) sounds easier than it is. Handling a classroom of kids who speak a language you can’t understand, and who may not speak enough English to communicate effectively when problems arise, adds complexities. Most countries require a bachelor’s degree in any field plus a TEFL certification, neither of which adequately prepares prospective teachers. Parents devote hundreds of dollars per kid per month to English instruction, and they expect to see a return on that investment. That responsibility falls on you, the English teacher. 

I taught English in South Korea for one year and in Taiwan for two years. My gratitude knows no end. I traveled to nine countries, learned valuable professional skills through supervising classrooms, and permitted new perspectives to enter my world through the people I met. Teaching English abroad can offer you tremendous personal and professional growth, but only by going in with the right motivation. Here, I’m sharing what I know now after teaching English in South Korea and Taiwan.

Throne Hall at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea

1. Don’t Let Hesitant Parents Dissuade You 

A common struggle for young people thinking about moving abroad to teach English is how to convince their parents. I allowed my parents to dissuade me from spending a summer in Istanbul teaching English at a camp for school kids and still regret it. Watching my friends live what looked like the best two months of their lives through Instagram left me feeling envious.

I don’t fault my parents for their concerns as they felt uneasy and uneducated about the decision, but I wish I ignored their worries sooner. Reassure your parents that you will have full access to communication services (WhatsApp is popular) and compile some of your research to give them copies. Save your money, make the move, and don’t forget to send some postcards! 

Danielle Faviano poses in front of a lake and temples on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea while teaching English in Korea

2. Practice Safe Solo Travel (Especially as a Woman)

Violent and petty crime rates remain low in Taiwan and South Korea, and I felt safer as a woman there than I do in America. However, be prepared for stares on the subway or getting denied a taxicab ride. While annoying to deal with, these occurrences can happen to foreigners anywhere in the world, usually resulting in a bit of an initial shock to someone who isn’t used to being an outsider. 

Well-established expatriate communities exist in most major cities globally. Everybody inevitably runs into crises and veteran expatriates commonly extend their generosity and expertise to newbies. Ask considerately and take the advice given to you, especially if dealing with authorities. 

I recommend the “Taipei Ladies” and “Expat Women in Korea” Facebook groups to all who identify as female. In my opinion, they offer more assistance than co-ed groups and more support for LGBT+ folks. Although these groups don’t allow posts for English teaching jobs in South Korea or Taiwan, you can find plenty of groups dedicated to English teachers hunting for jobs by utilizing the search functions within these groups.

Photo by ⓒKorea Tourism Organization-Woo ChangminPeople Walk Through the Danyang Gugyeong Market - Teaching English in Korea

3. Check a Variety of Places to Find English Teaching Jobs

Locating job opportunities for teaching English in Taiwan or South Korea depends on whether you want to teach in public schools or private businesses. Government programs that place teachers in public schools include EPIK, GEPIK, and SOME in South Korea and TFETP in Taiwan. Global prospects can be found online at Dave’s ESL Café.

I found my first ESL job through my university’s alumni network. An instructor put me in touch with a recent program graduate already working in South Korea. After preparing for an extensive interview process, I met with the program director via Skype and received a “we need you here in February” after about five minutes of verifying qualifications. Acquiring an E-2 visa for teaching English in South Korea took approximately two months as an American. Your employer should handle the visa application, you just need to arrange the specified documents.

To find work in Taiwan, I arrived in the country on a 90-day tourist stamp with documents already prepared. I found a job within three weeks using Tealit, a Taiwan-specific job board for ESL teachers. Processing my work permit took several weeks, but our world looks different in 2023 than it did in 2019. Check with your employer regarding proper documents. 

Before accepting a visa, vet the school through Facebook groups, online message boards, or word of mouth. I worked with fantastic employers while teaching English in South Korea and Taiwan, but not everyone shares the same sentiment. The South Korean government requires foreign employees to obtain a letter of release from their current employer to change jobs, but employers are not under any legal obligation to release you from your work visa. This results in teachers pulling a “midnight run” by departing the country to break a terrible contract. The Taiwanese system offers more flexibility.

Photo by ⓒKorea Tourism Organization-Park Seonggeun, A Leafy Corner of the University of Seoul - Teaching English in Korea

4. There are Big Differences Between Teaching in South Korea and Taiwan

After-school English academies are known as hagwons in South Korea and buxibans or “cram schools” in Taiwan. Kids attend regular school during the day followed by English lessons in the afternoon and evenings. These businesses establish their own curriculum and can be independently owned or be part of a larger chain of schools. Either way, business comes first. Keeping parents happy will always take precedence to keep the money coming in. 

Teaching in South Korea 

My working hours as an English teacher in South Korea fell between 3:00 PM and 10:00 PM with classes beginning at 5:00 PM. Most of my friends worked similar hours. I received a monthly salary of 2.5M Korean won, which was around USD 2,250 in 2017 (USD 1,850 in today’s dollars). In addition to a generous salary, you can expect employer contributions to a pension, a contract completion bonus of one month’s pay, housing, health insurance, paid vacation, and reimbursed airfare to and from South Korea. I saved upwards of USD 1,000 every month teaching in a small township 45 minutes from Seoul. 

Teaching in Taiwan 

As an English teacher in Taiwan, I taught between 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM with small breaks. As an hourly employee, I was paid only for teaching hours. Other than health insurance, buxibans don’t usually offer benefits. Living in the bustling capital city of Taipei, my income of 650 New Taiwan Dollars (USD 33) an hour granted me a comfortable lifestyle and the ability to save a couple hundred bucks each month.

You can find housing on Facebook groups or through Taiwanese websites such as Tealit and 591. I secured my first place, a room in a shared apartment with international students, in two weeks through Facebook and my studio through 591. Some landlords speak great English and gladly rent to foreigners while others decline. 

Pavilion in the lush green Taipei Botanical Gardens, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

5. Navigating English Barriers is Easier Than You Might Think

As they’re from industrialized countries with major international hubs, South Korean and Taiwanese folks value English education to advance their careers. Never presume anyone speaks English fluently, but cities such as Seoul or Busan in South Korea and Taipei in Taiwan offer more robust English services than less globalized cities or smaller towns. Additionally, many doctors study medicine in English-speaking countries and work at large hospitals even in less connected cities. 

Google Translate works well enough to help navigate websites or in-person dilemmas. While the stress of banking, immigration, healthcare, renting, cab rides, or phone services can feel burdensome at times, remember that mutual patience and empathy lead to a resolution quicker. If you feel frustrated by someone’s lack of ability to address your concern in English, then try switching to their language… if you can. 

Leading with “Do you speak English?” spoken in the local language yields better results than demanding English. My friends and I inadvertently turned ourselves into community celebrities in our host township of Dongtan, South Korea, for simply attempting to speak Korean. As only about two dozen English teachers resided in the town, we regularly got recognized. I can recall a few occurrences where overjoyed restaurant owners brought little freebies to our table as a “thank you” for our frequent visits and appreciation for our friendliness and enthusiasm. A server even expressed their gratitude for our encouragement of their kids who enjoyed practicing English by delivering a free round of beers! 

Now, don’t expect free stuff just because you happen to exist, but certainly don’t undervalue just how much power lies within studying the basics of the local language and exuding warmth to your host community.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Taipei, Taiwan, Traveling while teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

Tidbits about South Korea and Taiwan

You won’t find a lack of history or culture in either nation! 

Nothing tastes better than Korean barbeque.

I found learning the basics of Korean much easier than Mandarin, which seemed nearly impossible. 

Air pollution continues to be an issue in both countries, particularly for those with sensitive respiratory systems. 

Both countries boast excellent transportation locally and on high-speed rails as an efficient and cost-effective means of travel. 

Taiwan’s central location puts the island in close proximity to most major hubs, making travel all around Asia easier, cheaper, and quicker than traveling from South Korea. 

Earthquakes and typhoons are quite common in Taiwan. We got hit with both in my second week there. The Floridian in me couldn’t care less about the typhoon, but I never experienced an earthquake jolting me out of my slumber until I moved to Taiwan. I never grew to tolerate earthquakes, even though they’re usually nothing more than a mild inconvenience. 

Gate at Chiang Kai Shek, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea

Making the “Right” Decision

Teaching English in South Korea remains popular for English teachers wanting a high salary and more benefits whereas teaching English in Taiwan remains popular for those prioritizing a more relaxed lifestyle. I find it difficult to compare the two experiences as I view my time in both places as positive, but I preferred my city life in Taipei over the small-town life in Dongtan, even with the lower income. 

All in all, achieving your goals requires two things: doing the scary thing and adapting! As long as you have enough due diligence, arrive prepared with the right expectations, and curate a positive mindset, teaching English in South Korea or Taiwan can grant you the abundance of passion, wisdom, and humility your soul yearns for. Happy teaching!

Interested in learning more about teaching abroad? Check out this article about teaching English in Japan.

Work Experience Abroad: Volunteering in Costa Rica

Alexandra Cintrón JiménezDuring my undergraduate studies, I decided to broaden my horizons by volunteering in Costa Rica. I came upon a scholarship for students in the College of Education at the Universidad de Puerto Rico who wanted to pursue a teaching experience abroad. As soon as I saw this, I decided to apply and start researching for possible opportunities. In the course of my research, I found We Are Bamboo and applied for their teaching volunteering program.

We Are Bamboo had many options for positions in Asia, but I decided to go to a place where I was comfortable with the language. At that time, I barely had international experiences abroad, let alone by myself. I decided to go somewhere close to home, which is why I thought volunteering in Costa Rica would be a good idea. After applying for the volunteer program, I was lucky enough to be awarded the scholarship from my college. I felt very excited about this opportunity and could barely wait to go. 

Arriving in Costa Rica

Even though I applied through We Are Bamboo, the company was affiliated with Maximo Nivel, who were in charge of the program in Costa Rica. I will be honest with you. As I was traveling alone, I was nervous because the communication from the program was vague. They notified me that once in the airport, I needed to look out for a yellow flag held out by the member of staff picking me up. They did not send me information about my host family beforehand. I found out about where I would be staying when I met the staff at the airport. 

Nevertheless, once there everything went smoothly. There were other volunteers who were there for varying projects such as healthcare and sea-turtle conservation. Once all the volunteers arrived, we drove to the main office for check-in and then I met my host family. I stayed with my host mom Cindy, her partner, and kids. They were very friendly and when they found out I spoke Spanish, they felt thrilled. There, I met another volunteer from New Zealand. She only spoke English, so even though she had only one week left, I helped them understand each other better. Below is a picture of me with my host family; their daughter was with her grandparents when we took the picture.

Alexandra with her host family while volunteering in Costa Rica

Teaching

On the first day, I had a training session and found my placement. I met Alice from Alaska who was fluent in Spanish, which I felt very impressed by. We both were assigned the same placement, Fundación la Mujer. After we were assigned, a guide from Maximo Nivel showed us around to familiarize us with the route we needed to take to get there. Our assignment was teaching adults in San José, the capital of Costa Rica. It was an adjustment for me since all of my schooling so far had been at the K-12 level, but I really enjoyed it. The smaller group meant that we could provide a topic they felt most interested in. 

Alexandra teaching while volunteering in Costa Rica

Living as a Costa Rican and Gastronomy

One of my favorite things about this experience was that I lived like a Costa Rican. I took the bus and walked around to get where I wanted to go. Spending time with people gave me first-hand insights into the culture. The program included breakfast and dinner, so I sampled typical homemade food from Costa Rica. 

For breakfast, I tried gallo pinto, a main course that can include rice, beans, eggs, toast, and fruit. As a Puerto Rican, eating rice and beans for breakfast was a new experience. We usually ended our lessons by 2:00 PM and then went for lunch at restaurants nearby. We’d sit and eat while working on our lesson plan for the next day. For lunch or dinner, Costa Ricans love tucking into casado, which includes rice, beans, sweet plantains, salad, and a choice of meat. After finishing my “work” day, I toured the city. I visited museums such as Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and Museo de Arte Costarricense.

The National Museum of Costa Rica, which Alexandra visited in Costa Rica

I took this photo at the National Museum of Costa Rica.

Exploring Costa Rica

During the weekends, I went on a couple of tours. I visited Volcán Arenal, La Paz waterfall, and the hot springs in La Fortuna. Spending my birthday there was so much fun. Although I am not a coffee lover, I still had to try it since I was in Costa Rica. So I visited Heredia for a coffee tour. During this, I tasted different types of coffee beans such as light roast, poás, and tres ríos. They explained the whole process the beans go through while showing me the plantation. 

These pictures show the volcano and coffee tour. The basket and hat is what they use to pick up beans. 

Saying Goodbye

I wish my volunteer program had been longer. The reason being that I believe I could have made a better impact as a volunteer if I had stayed more than two weeks. Volunteering abroad is an experience anyone can have, especially because you can choose the time commitment and it allows exploring another country from a different perspective other than a tourist. You can connect better with the culture and its people. Now that I am writing this, I wished I kept in touch with people I met while I was there. I am longing to go back. There are many places I still want to explore in Costa Rica. 

¡Pura Vida!

Looking Back: How to Teach English in Thailand

Eric Haeg Course Director of TEFL Campus

Interview with Eric Haeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

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

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

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

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

TEFL in Thailand

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

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

A laptop and tablet on a video call

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

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

And the negatives?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying for a Student Visa to Teach English in Spain

Sarah at the Jefferson Memorial while applying for her visa in SpainFor many recent US graduates looking to teach and/or travel, teaching English abroad in Spain as a language assistant is a fantastic way to gain experience, boost a resume, and see the world. There are many programs available to those who wish to teach in Spain, and all of them require obtaining a visa in order to stay in the country for more than the 90 days permitted as a tourist.  

Most teaching programs enroll their language assistants in an academic course so that they can apply for a student visa, which is much easier to obtain than a work visa in Spain. The process of securing a student visa in Spain can be overwhelming and confusing, so to help you better understand the steps, I’ll explain them here. For further information, visit the DC consulate website.

As you’re applying for your visa in Spain, keep in mind that this year some regulations have changed due to the pandemic. For example, you may only arrive in Spain fifteen days before the start date of your program when coming on a student visa. Be sure to stay up to date on these restrictions and any changes to consulate policies before starting the process.

How Do You Get A Student Visa in Spain?

So, what do you need to obtain your student visa?  First of all, the program you’re teaching with should provide a letter verifying enrollment and stating your income, proof of insurance, and the start date. This letter alone satisfies many of the requirements for the student visa and is invaluable. Be sure to make copies of it!

National Mall and Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

Next, you need either a state or FBI background check. Choose whichever you feel is easier, but start this process early! This should be your first step after you’re accepted to a teaching program. After receiving your background check, you will then need to get it certified with an Apostille of the Hague. The apostille proves that your document is legitimate in certain foreign countries (Spain is one of these). 

The background certification process is an easy but time-consuming ordeal. You will need to mail the background check to a government office in order to obtain the apostille. Where you send your document will depend on what state you live in, so you’ll need to look up the appropriate office to send it to. If you’re confused, I recommend emailing a Spanish consulate or the study abroad department at your college or university. If you studied out of state, you can contact a local college or university for help.  

Tip: When arriving in Spain, certain programs will request a notarized and apostilled diploma as proof that you have completed your studies and graduated. It may be helpful to apostille both the diploma and the background check at the same time. To notarize your diploma, simply head to your nearest library! Many libraries have a public notary that can provide this service.

Proof of Health

In addition, you’ll need a doctor’s note on their official letterhead within ninety days of your departure date stating that you’re in good health and not carrying any infectious diseases. This must be completed in your state of residence, or it will be considered invalid. Many doctors have never done this before and some do not have an official letterhead. At the very least, make sure that they include their name and address at the top of the letter. Additionally, the letter must be in both Spanish and English. This seems complicated, but your physician can simply copy the text onto their official letterhead and sign and date in both languages using an official translation service.

Facing the Embassy For Your Student Visa in Spain

You also need to print and fill out two copies of the application for a national visa in Spain. When you turn in your paperwork, you must provide copies of all the above documents, as well as your physical passport, a copy of the picture page of your passport, and a passport-sized photo. Ensure you scan the important pages of your passport, because you’ll be without it for several weeks while the embassy processes your visa.

The embassy requires a fee of $160.00 paid either in cash or by money order made to the embassy of Spain. This is a hefty fee, so check and double-check all of your paperwork before you turn it in to avoid repeating it. Finally, you’ll need a self-addressed and prepaid US express mail envelope from the post office. This is how your passport and visa will be returned to you. As you cannot turn in your application without it, this is a very important step.

Visa Checklist:

  • Apostilled background check
  • Two copies of the visa application
  • A medical certificate in both Spanish and English
  • The letter provided by your program
  • A passport-sized photo
  • Your passport and copy of the picture page
  • A prepaid, self-addressed express mail envelope from the US post office
  • $160.00 fee
  • Copies of EVERYTHING, both for yourself and the embassy
  • (Optional) A copy of your airline ticket

The Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C., which Sarah visited to apply for her visa in Spain.

Follow Up For Any Regional Procedural Differences

Spain has many consulates throughout the US, so check online to find out which one you need to go to. Some require prior appointments, while others, such as the DC embassy, allow walk-ins, so make sure to check beforehand. Certain consulates may accept mail-in applications due to the current situation. Usually, you must go to the consulate in your region and turn in your paperwork in person. Budget for plenty of time for the consulate to reply, especially if the nearest one is not in your state.  

Once you’ve turned in your paperwork, you’re done. Now you just have to wait three to six weeks for your visa to arrive in the mail.  Good luck and see you in Spain!

by Sarah Perkins Guebert

Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

By Amanda WhittenSelfie of Amanda Whitten while abroad teaching during a pandemic.

Catch up on Amanda’s first interview before joining her for the second part of her three-part interview!

This has been one of the weirdest years ever for me, not just for teaching, but in general. I’m sure that the same could be said for everyone else, as well. It’s been transformative in a number of ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. This year has affected my relationships with my students, my co-workers, and even myself. One thing is for sure: the world is changing and we must adapt to it. Read on to find out how I adapted to teaching during a pandemic!

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Pre-coronavirus, I typically arrived 20-30 minutes before class because of the public transportation schedule. As soon as I arrived, I’d head to the English department room, my safe haven, and hideout. Then, I’d check to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing for each of my classes. I’d also make any last-minute necessary lesson plans or preparations and basically mentally prepare myself to go into performance mode. If I had any extra time, I’d go downstairs to the cafeteria to have a coffee and chat with any of the teachers already there.

This year, classes ranged from about 9:25am to 2:00pm, which is a pretty easy schedule, I’d say. Some days, I’d have a planning period, and other days I’d have a constant stream of classes apart from one break from 11:10am to 11:40am.

Afterwards, I’d rush home, eat very quickly, and then rush back into the world to go to my private lessons, academy classes, or whatever else I had going on. Of course, I had to adjust to teaching during a pandemic, so that all changed. I spent more time doing hobbies such as painting, and am really proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist so far! 

Teaching During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic initially began, I’d wake up an hour early, eat breakfast, shower, prepare my headset, laptop, and generally wait attentively to see if any students needed any help or wanted to talk in general. Other than that, I just uploaded their various activities and scheduled them to appear during class time. Kahoot and Educaplay were invaluable online resources for making quizzes about literally anything that the students could complete. 

After a while, other than the occasional video call, I started waking up two minutes before class because I had discovered, much to my lazy side’s delight, that Google classroom could be downloaded on cell phones. Then I could lazily browse and be “present” in class while laying in bed. A difficult and tiresome job, really.  

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

I interact frequently with a nucleus of about four to five teachers, but usually there are many more who actually teach at the school. At IES Pablo Neruda, I had sixteen classes and therefore, had sixteen working hours. 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I considered myself very lucky at what was, until June 30th, my current school. With a good rapport with all of the teachers I worked with, I developed what I would consider actual friendships with at least three of them. I really admire all of the teachers I personally worked with and basically feel that I won the lottery. All I wanted was to feel respected, appreciated, and accepted here in Spain. They did an amazing job of doing that for me. It was and is mutual. Even while teaching during a pandemic, I can honestly say these were the best coworkers I’ve had so far in Spain.

Amanda Whitten and Leganes while Amanda was abroad teaching during a pandemic

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

I would say that I had a few favorite groups that I really enjoyed working with. A bachillerato group I worked with always reacted enthusiastically to my activities whether an introduction to country music (seeing these kids goofily sing Garth Brooks literally made my year) or getting into heated debates, I had so much fun. I also really enjoyed teaching my 1st eso kids, which are pretty much 6th graders. They are still so full of excitement for learning. They loved telling me about their favorite foods and what they did on the weekends. How could I not adore them? 

I have a few favorite students scattered here and there: naughty ones who could make me laugh as well as academic and friendly ones who enjoyed interacting with me. All of these students made my days more enjoyable. While I can’t say that I had a specific favorite part of each day, I can say that I had certain highlights during the week. It makes leaving this part of my life behind all the more bittersweet.

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

It really depends on whichever teacher is in charge. For example, one teacher may prefer to heavily rely on going through the book via a program on the computer. This makes it easy to correct and grade exercises as a group. Others focus on using their book as a guideline, choosing to focus more on activities and conversation. The former may be easier, but it is so much more boring for both me and the students. The latter can be more challenging, but it is so much more fun and engaging, provided the students are interested. 

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

Some classes required no preparation whatsoever. One teacher would give me the page numbers and exercises to correct via the computer program, and that was it. Usually, I was told that I had the freedom to come up with extra activities, but since these instructions were usually given right before class or the day before, I rarely ever knew what we were going to be going over. And for those classes, the activities were meant to “complement” the lesson, not detract. 

For other classes, I would be given a topic to make a presentation on or perhaps a topic to practice conversation around. These practice conversations would be easy enough to research a bit, and perhaps make a PowerPoint if necessary. 

Amanda Whitten pointing at a frog while abroad in Madrid teaching during a pandemic

Still, others would have me go over certain pages in the book, but without an answer key. I usually answered the questions myself before class so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids, teens, or even literal adults. 

Fortunately for me, I never had to worry about teaching actual grammar at this school, thank goodness. The teachers left the listening and conversation practice up to me, for the most part. And if there’s anything that I apparently have a gift for, it is a gift for gab. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes?

I have worked at a bilingual school in the past, but I much preferred working at a traditional school. The reason being is that it’s difficult to teach technical concepts such as art theory or, god forbid, science and math, to even the most academically advanced students. Yes, I much prefer the straightforwardness of teaching ESL English in English classes rather than English through a different subject. I can’t imagine the challenges of teaching during a pandemic at a bilingual school. 

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

If the students managed to speak up at all, they would get a point in their favor in the grade book. This would all add up at the end of the year, and it could hurt or help their grade. It was really all about mere participation, with the exception of when students gave rubric graded speeches. I’m sure that the teachers themselves had more extensive ways of measuring progress. However, in my classes, it was all about showing up and speaking up, no matter how quietly or hesitantly. Honestly, it was good enough for me because, concerning foreign languages, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey is rocky and full of humiliating errors. So if they even dare to take a step, I applaud them. 

Amanda's work station while teaching during a pandemic.
My work station I set up to teach during the pandemic.

 

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

My answer applies not just to our first interview, but also all the way to the beginning of my illustrious teaching career. I have learned to relax, breathe when rattled, not be a hammer, and be a high five. I have learned that having a good time, even if just playing an invigorating game, can be worth fifteen grammar lessons. If a student is laughing and smiling, then they are learning. 

Amanda will share her plans for next year in a follow-up interview. We look forward to hearing what she has to say and where her future will take her, especially considering her success in teaching during a pandemic. Be on the lookout for her third interview.

How to Teach in Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

Diego Ambrosio and his School Director

Have you accomplished your goals while living in Phuket?

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

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

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

Acquaria Museum

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

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

What has been the biggest challenge of living abroad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

M3 students

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

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterfall in Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thai School Formal

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

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

Krabi sunset teach in thailand

 

Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

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

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

What is a typical day at your school like? 

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

 

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

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

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

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

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

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

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

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

teacher abroad

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

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

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

 

What It’s Like Teaching English in Cambodia

by Edmond Gagnon

Michael CarterIn the first part of Michael Carter’s interview, he told us how and why he chose Cambodia as his new home. He targeted Southeast Asia but did not have a particular country when he first decided to come. Then, he visited a friend he’d made from Germany who was living in Cambodia. Seeing Cambodia’s gorgeous atmosphere and rich culture, he immediately applied for a job there and the rest is history. 

Here is the second part of his interview teaching English in Cambodia.

What is a typical day at your school like? 

“A typical teaching day for me begins at 7:40 a.m. and finishes at 4:10 p.m. Many schools run early evening classes as well, but not where I currently work. There is a long gap between morning and afternoon classes, between 10:30 a.m. and 1:20 p.m.). This is mainly to coincide with typical hours of Khmer schools. Most students study for a half-day at Khmer school. Students from wealthy families who can afford English schools spend the other half of their day there.”

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

The place I work employs a lot of people for various duties. There are probably about fifty to sixty teachers on staff. The day is divided into six classes — three before and three after midday. I teach anywhere from four to six classes a day, which adds up to twenty-four teaching hours per week. Most schools here use a twenty to thirty hour teaching week as a base. Notably, the afternoon classes do not have the same students as the morning.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

Teaching English in Cambodia“I tend to work independently most of the time. This is partly because I am the only one teaching the courses I do teach (i.e. sociology and psychology). But for other subjects, there are typically three teachers teaching the same thing and they often share ideas and materials. We also have a computer database where teachers can store and access lesson plans or worksheets that have been shared.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

 “Quitting time — 4:10 p.m. Reasons are obvious I would think.”

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

“I think most schools are looking for similar teaching styles, but I certainly would say it’s student-centered. We are meant to keep the TTT (Teacher Talking Time) to an absolute minimum. Group work and pair work are preferable to independent studying. Encourage learner interaction and incorporate critical thinking into the activities whenever possible. I create a lot of supplementary material and often look for short video segments on YouTube which may add another dimension to the lesson.”

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

One of many city temples“You can’t always stick to a lesson plan to the last detail, but you should have something planned anyway. Sometimes the timing can be tricky, but you don’t want to have flat or inactive moments.”

I always plan some type of warmer (five to ten minutes) to bring the learners on board. This doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the material in the lesson. It could simply be a short competition of some kind. The purpose is to grab the attention of your ‘audience’. Think of watching a film at the cinema — or reading a story. The first few minutes of a film are crucial to catch the interest of the viewer, just as a writer needs a ‘hook’ to make the reader want to continue. Teaching isn’t any different. Get their attention, wind them up, and then let them go.

After the warmer, give brief but clear instructions for the class activities. This is your time to teach any new material… but don’t ramble on for too long.

The rest, and longest part of the class must allow students to interact/practice etc. Depending on what you have taught, give a short (five minute) recap/review of the lesson’s key points at the end and assign extra practice (homework) from time-to-time.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes at the school? Describe the ways English is being implemented. 

“Our school is strictly English only. We don’t simply teach English, we teach subjects in English. Of course, they learn their basics of the language there as well. However, they study social sciences, history, geography, computer, sports, etc. — all in English.

There are other schools which do just teach English language as a class, though. These places usually have early evening classes that cater to young adults after work.

Our school operates a Khmer language school as well and some students study half a day at each.”

What are the standards classroom teachers use to measure the performance of their students?

“Testing mainly. I personally think students are tested too often but this is what the Cambodian parents want and expect. We also make a part of their score based on speaking from day-to-day class activities. Once a month they are given a project or assignment connected to what they’ve been studying. A mark is given for this as well.

At the beginner levels, we stress fluency. Once they’ve attained that, the higher levels base their scores on both fluency and accuracy.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

Stone Masons at work

I’ve probably touched upon these already, but in a nutshell:
  • Critical thinking skills. Students need to be able to both think and express their ideas and opinions. It isn’t about simply remembering a lot of facts and formulas.
  • Social skills. Cambodians tend to have tightly-knit families. Unlike in most western countries, teenagers do not go out or just hang out with friends. They almost always go out as a family unit. Group work at school affords them an opportunity to interact with non-family members. Social media is perhaps changing things a bit, but not necessarily in a positive way.
  • Confidence. Unlike some schools, we do not automatically pass everybody in order to continue collecting their money. Pushing a student to a higher level when they are not ready is wrong. Students will soon realize their skills are inferior to others and this will kill their desire to participate. Getting good grades is something wonderful for younger learners to show their parents. Giving some verbal praise from time-to-time can do wonders, especially for older, less confident students.

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

“I have been teaching for around twenty years and for about the first fifteen of those years, I didn’t teach anyone younger than the age of about seventeen or eighteen. It was almost exclusively young adults under thirty. This was both in Indonesia and Cambodia. I now teach kids as young as eleven and twelve and up to the age of seventeen or eighteen. One thing I’ve had to adjust to was having patience dealing with young, wandering attention spans. My partner is Cambodian and we have three young children together so I have become used to this fairly naturally.

Something I’ve known all along but continue to practice is changing up the way I conduct my lessons. Yes, I could replay what I’ve done in the past, though I would find that boring. Keeping things fresh is a key to retaining job interest. Nobody likes a mundane job.”

What It’s Like Teaching English in Cambodia

As you are reading this, Michael is seeking shelter from the 37°C temperatures that don’t normally come until at least a month from now. If you have any questions about teaching English in Cambodia, or the country itself, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Teaching Trilingual Education in Ontinyent, Spain

 

edgar llivisupaEdgar Llivisupa is halfway through the Spanish school year in Ontinyent, Spain. Catch up on his first interview learning as a teaching assistant. He is feeling good about his work and language learning in teaching trilingual education. Over the Christmas holiday, he decided to travel around Europe instead of going back to New York. He will complete his second year in less than five months. He is achieving his goal of learning Valenciano and practices very hard. His answers to his classroom instruction and school interview were very authentic because he doesn’t have a background in education. His answers are all the more authentic, especially since he is working at a school that is trilingual. Here is what he has to say.

What is a typical day at your school like? Is this different from last year’s schedule? If so, how?

“The biggest difference from last year is that my work hours are more compact. Last year I had multi-hour gaps between teaching two extracurricular classes throughout the weeks. I finished work on Fridays at noon. This year, my timetable is in line with regular school hours. Also, last year at this time I was still adjusting to teaching and finding my role in the classroom. Currently, I am more comfortable in my daily tasks. My role changes depending on which teacher I am working with. With the art teacher, I take a crate of games and activities that include flashcards, charades, bingo and play games with the students. I sometimes have to be creative with the games I am playing in both the rules and explaining them to the students.

Trilingual Education Ontinyent spain

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

I work with the art teacher and the English teacher, who is also my tutor.

I teach 1st through 6th grade in my school. Each class is composed of ten and eighteen students. Each level only has one section, and I see them twice a week. I also have a conversational class after regular school hours for parents with an English B1 and higher certificate.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

Since this is my second year at this school, my tutor and I have a great working relationship. We understand the proficiency of the students so when we have to organize the weekly activities, I give feedback on the effectiveness and difficulty of the activity. 

Regarding other teachers, our school is small, so the faculty knows one another fairly well. Therefore, other teachers, I don’t usually work with may ask for my assistance with other mundane tasks.

What is your favorite part of the day? Why? 

My favorite part of the day is pati, or playground, which is when the students have 30 minutes to play outside. I usually stray away from the classroom and talk to the other teachers. It’s nice to interact with teachers in the school that I don’t usually have the opportunity to talk to. 

My favorite class is with the adults, as I am more comfortable teaching them. Unlike with the children, I can express myself more freely. Since the students have an interest in improving their fluency, I don’t have to deal with children that aren’t interested in the subject.

Teaching Trilingual Education in Ontinyent, Spain

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

“The teaching resources come from Oxford Education which includes a workbook and class book for the students, a smartboard application, and other items like posters and flashcards. In the books, there are songs, quizzes, and stories in line with other textbooks. 

I’m not familiar with different teaching methods, but I can comment that the students sit in groups of four to five, which is the same throughout all their classes. In the case of the English class, the groups can vary in their level of English. Some groups have strong students while other groups can have mostly students who struggle. Usually, classes start with a song followed by a lecture. Afterward, the students work on an assignment in the textbook or on a teacher-made worksheet.” 

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

It is stipulated in our contract that we aren’t supposed to lesson plan or conduct lessons on our own. I’m lucky that my school has maintained that stipulation.

I don’t have to prepare much for the time I am with the art teacher. The children play  competitively with the games I bring. They never tire of playing the same game against one another.

On the other hand, the English teacher and I have a designated hour once a week to prepare for classes. It never takes up the entire hour because of our aforementioned working relationship. We either use the activities in the book or I offer to modify an activity so it relates to the topics being taught in the class.

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes? Describe ways in which English is implemented in class.

valencia art“My school is trilingual, with the languages being Valenciano, Spanish, and English. However, in the main classroom, students use Valenciano and Spanish interchangeably. For instance, the students may speak to each other in Spanish, but the instruction is in Valenciano. The school teaches English as its own subject with its own teacher and classroom. Students and teachers rarely speak English outside that environment. For this reason, in the English classroom, we explicitly avoid speaking any other language. I go as far as to hide the fact that I am a native Spanish speaker and am studying Valenciano so the students are forced to speak English in interactions with me.”

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

“While I can’t speak on behalf of my teachers, my goals are to improve their vocabulary, develop their speaking ability and spark the student’s interest in learning the language. I find it unreasonable to expect more because the students are also learning two other languages. Also, the majority of students are of immigrant descent so they speak an additional language at home. It must be overwhelming for the children, especially since it’s easy to forget that it’s only primary education.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“Growing up, I had a lot of difficulties when it came to language. I started to talk at a very late age. My school enrolled me in speech classes up until middle school to work on my pronunciation of certain phonemes and mitigate my slur. This was on top of dealing with the struggles of being a bilingual learner with parents at home who didn’t speak English. Speaking became an insecurity as people ridiculed the way I spoke both of my native languages.

Now, at an older age, I interact with both English learners and fluent Spanish speakers who continue to point out the peculiar way that I speak. I use that information to improve my speaking abilities in ways that I would have never done otherwise. What used to be an insecurity has become an interest in linguistics and sympathy for other language learners when they stumble on certain parts of a language native learners are oblivious to the difficulty of. In addition, as I’m teaching children, I have to familiarize myself with English grammar that I didn’t have to study previously. I have to consider a different approach to speaking that makes it easier for English learners to understand me. “

Teaching Trilingual Education in Ontinyent, Spain

Edgar is not sure about his future plans after classes end for the summer. He has a few ideas in mind. He continues to travel during every Spanish holiday (there are quite a few) and continues to practice Valenciano. We will catch up with him when his classes end to see what he has planned. 

futbul game

by Leesa Truesdell

How I Traveled to Cambodia and Stayed to Teach

Harold Michael Carter(Harold) Michael Carter was born and raised in Stratford, Ontario. He studied journalism and discovered at an early age his affliction of wanderlust. Michael furthered his education in life by backpacking his way through Europe. The most important thing he learned from traveling was that he needed to do more of it. 

I met Michael through extended family, when we visited Stratford, home of the Shakespeare Theatre. When he wasn’t working as a manager or bartender in town, he shared photographs and stories of his travels abroad. We bonded over beer, wine, good food and tales of far away places.  

He left Canada for Cambodia in January, 2000, using Phnom Penh as a base from which he could explore Southeast Asia. In 2005 he left for Indonesia, where there was plenty of work back then. He managed to travel and visit home in 2006 and then returned to Cambodia in 2007. He still resides, teaches, and travels from Cambodia today. 

I interviewed Michael Carter to offer an insight into how traveling and teaching abroad can turn into a life lived abroad. 

 

Why did you choose to teach in Cambodia?

“I didn’t choose this country in particular, but I did target Southeast Asia. The main reason was that I wanted a base for traveling in this part of the world. I had previously visited Thailand and initially considered moving there. However, I came to Cambodia to visit a German friend who was living here at the time. I applied for a job just for the hell of it and the rest is history.”

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

“This was my first teaching job abroad. After roaming the globe for many years, I decided I wanted to base myself some place other than Canada. I was inspired by a writer from Montréal whom I met in the Czech Republic. He was writing and teaching in Prague. I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I want to do — write and travel and be able to financially support this lifestyle.” I had recently severed a relationship and no longer felt ‘tied down.’ I returned to Canada to work for a few months and by the end of the year I was Asia-bound.”

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

“I thought teaching would be an ideal venue to interact with local people. It was a new venture and was somewhat exciting in the early days. I probably followed the script in the beginning but soon developed my own style. I am currently teaching in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I reside with my family.”

Carter Family

How did you prepare for your teaching job? What steps did you take?

“I knew I would need some sort of certification and so I bunked with a friend in Toronto and took an evening and weekend TESOL course. If giving advice on the matter, today I would suggest taking a month-long CELTA course. TEFL is accepted in Cambodia but the best schools are now looking for CELTA certification.”  

What are your perceptions of Cambodia during your time there?

“Cambodia is an interesting country as it is evolving so rapidly. While many things have improved, many aspects of the country endeared me more when I first set foot here twenty years ago. To be honest, if I just arrived for the first time today, I doubt I would choose to live here. I now have established a family here and so now I will always have one foot here at least. Where would I choose instead of Cambodia? I suppose if I were single and starting over with Southeast Asia in mind, I would choose Vietnam.”

Angkor Wat Cambodia

What are your goals while you are abroad?

“Life long goals continually change. Travel opportunities would have been my initial answer to this. I now have a Cambodian partner and we have three children together. My goal now is to establish a reasonably secure base for them before I retire. At that time, I hope to pick up with my travels again. (With Cambodia as my base — health permitting). I have taught here and in Indonesia and was a whisker away from taking a job in Azerbaijan. However, I no longer have the desire to take a job in another country.”

What has been your most difficult time there?

“Tough question. I really haven’t experienced too many difficulties. I suppose becoming a financial prisoner is the main issue. Teaching pays well in some countries (such as South Korea & Japan), but the cost of living can be high in those countries. The cost of living is relatively low in Cambodia but the average rate of pay for teachers coincides with that. Most teachers can live here comfortably so long as they don’t expect to have any money left over to move on. It’s sort of like collecting a welfare cheque — it pays the bills with not much leftover. The other issue that could become a difficulty is health care. Cambodia is lagging behind other countries in the region in this department. This is not the place to be if one has health problems.”

Royal Palace in Phnom Penh Cambodia

What has been your best experience?

“Although I might not have thought so at the time, I suppose it was when I took on the task of being an adviser to a Cambodian senator who was overseeing the ASEAN conference his country was hosting. That is my best memory from a professional point of view.

From a personal point of view, I would have to say that collectively I have met a lot of interesting people here. This experience has shaped and reshaped my ideas over the years.”

How do you feel about the culture there? Do you feel you have immersed yourself into the culture?

“Cultural differences and cultural sensitivity will always be an interesting, yet sometimes challenging part of the relocation. I lived in Indonesia for a little more than a year and seemed to fit right in. In Cambodia, I found it more perplexing in the beginning. I suppose I will never fully be immersed in this culture because differences always come up with child-rearing strategies for example. My partner and I are often at odds as to how to raise our children. Essentially we have the best interest of the kids in mind but we have very opposing tactics as to how to achieve this. Cambodia is predominantly a Buddhist nation and Buddhism allows for tolerance. It is pretty much live and let live here — even though my ways may seem curious to others and vice-versa.”

Mekong River Phnom Penh

What advice would you give to other participants about their first year? What are some of the things they must do, and things they absolutely must not do?

Bousra Waterfall Cambodia

“My advice may differ from some you might hear, but here goes. Try to find out information about the schools first and then try for a job at the BEST possible school. (Not necessarily best paying, but one with a good reputation and proven record of longevity). Some people might suggest going for any job and making rookie mistakes at a lesser institute and using that as a stepping stone. Bull to that. All you will do is acquire bad habits. Work with the best or don’t work at all.

Arrive with enough money to sustain yourself for at least two to three months. Schools usually pay once or twice a month. Even if you land a job immediately, you won’t see money for at least a month and you will have initial expenses to deal with.

Finding a School

Most reputable schools are not interested in fly-by-nights. Get a place to live as soon as possible — not just a guesthouse address. Many new arrivals have the attitude they will stay in a cheap guesthouse until they find work. My advice is to look like you are serious about staying and provide an address for your potential employer. If you are only looking for a six-month stop-over to collect some travel cash then you could do better looking at a lesser operation with a guesthouse address. But if you seriously want to spend some time in the country, then present yourself as someone who might stick around. No reputable place of employment wants a high turnover rate of employees.

I’ve taught in two countries in Southeast Asia – Indonesia and Cambodia. In both countries, local transportation is relatively cheap but distances between potential employers are often far and quite spread out and transportation costs while job searching will add up quickly. If you have money, consider getting a small motorbike. If not (as was my case), pick up a cheap, used bicycle. You can get one in Phnom Penh for around $35 US. If you’re old school like me, sling a briefcase over your shoulder with your CVs and go from place to place.”

Stay tuned for Edmond Gagnon’s second interview with Michael Carter on how he traveled to teach in Cambodia. They will be sharing more great adventures with his experiences at his school. To find out more about Edmond Gagnon, visit his website.

by Edmond Gagnon