Diego Ambrosio Becomes a Professional in Thailand

Diego AmbrosioDiego 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.

Diego as a professional in Thailand.

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.

Diego as a professional in Thailand.

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.

Diego learning to be a professional in Thailand.

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.

Diego and his M3 students

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.

Diego and his wife posing together in front of a traditional umbrella.

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… :) 

Diego and his wife in front of the ocean.

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.

by Dreams Abroad

Six Awesome Places to Teach English Abroad

What are your interests? What do you want to do in the future?  Have you made a five-year plan for your professional goals? People probably ask that a lot, and it’s okay if you don’t know yet. A great way to find out what you want to do is to travel. Traveling while you teach English abroad is both an exciting and terrifying adventure, but it certainly does open up new horizons and opportunities for just about everything.  Even in the pandemic, with all its troubles and uncertainties, the world is still full of possibilities. Most of the destinations that you would love to visit would still love to have you. Education and life will continue! 

Here are six awesome places to teach English abroad

The first three on the list have always been popular destinations for English teachers abroad, and they pay well. Plus, they provide living accommodations and travel reimbursements. In addition, teachers are respected and appreciated. They look for different levels of experience from teachers but don’t worry if you are new to this career.

China

Schools in China require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and some experience in teaching English. If this is you, there are many opportunities for English teachers abroad, and there are a lot of exciting things to learn about. Complete immersion into language and culture makes it even more awesome. English teachers abroad in China are able to work with all age levels (from kindergarten to university) and in public or private institutions. There are many placement cities, too, including Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. On average, the monthly salary is between 6,000-16,000 CNY ($900-$2,400 USD). Since most programs offer furnished, rent-free apartments or an accommodation allowance, English teachers abroad are able to save a lot of money. 

City street lit up at night, Shanghai, China. A potential nighttime view while on an adventure to teach English abroad
City street lit up at night, Shanghai, China.

Japan

Japan has all climates. There are mountains, icefields, beaches, and rainforests here. It’s an exciting destination for English teachers abroad who want to travel and become immersed. Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka are available for placement, as well as smaller towns like Shiojiri. In Japan, English teachers work alongside the Japanese classroom teacher, and they are immersed in the community. Japan is an awesome location for English teachers abroad because of the adventure. The pay is great, averaging 215,000-280,000 JPY ($2,075-$2,750 USD) per month. Nonetheless, the cost of living here can be high.

South Korea

Here also, teachers can be immersed in a comfortable, exciting culture, and in a well-developed, modern economy. English teachers abroad have the opportunity to work in public schools and private language institutions throughout the entire country. The South Korean government does require, however, that teachers complete a criminal background check. The benefits of teaching in South Korea are fantastic. Teachers receive furnished, rent-free living accommodations, medical coverage, paid holidays, plus bonuses. Paige Miller highlights why South Korea is an amazing country for English teachers abroad in her interview with Dreams Abroad.

South Korea is a great place to teach English abroad, especially for city skyline views.

Thailand

Thailand is a gorgeous location. English teachers abroad love the beaches and the many ocean sports. For most, Thailand is an awesome location because it is so unlike anything else. Teachers can find themselves working in kindergarten all the way up to high school. Compared to other countries, however, the pay is very low. English teachers abroad make about 25,000-40,000 THB per month. That equates to roughly $800-$1,300 USD. With that being said, the cost of living in Thailand is very low. Check out Leesa Truesdell’s interview with Beth Young to get a first-hand look at what life is like for an English teacher abroad in Thailand.

Students holding a bicycle in Thailand

Spain

Spain has a very exciting culture with great food and wine, wonderful weather, and a rich history. English teachers abroad are able to work all over the country; from its beautiful coastal cities to its picturesque towns in the heart of the nation. Spain is a little more strict than others for those wishing to teach English abroad. Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and be under the age of 36. The average monthly pay is between 350-1,000 EUR ($430-$1,220 USD). However, English teachers abroad in Spain are able to live with a host family. Alex Warhall offers an excellent summary of what life is like as an English teacher abroad in Spain. From here, travel easily around Europe and find everything you are looking for. 

A classroom full of students in Spain. Spain is a popular destination to teach English abroad

Colombia

This country is also a Spanish-speaking location. It offers a relaxed atmosphere and a great history, along with beaches, great coffee, and sunshine. Most positions are available in private schools throughout Colombia’s major cities, although public schools and the vocational SENA National Training Service also have positions. English teachers abroad make about 15,000-30,000 COP ($4.5-$9 USD) an hour for roughly 20-40 hours of instruction a week. Assistance is also available for finding suitable housing, but only if you’ve landed a job with an international high school. In his interview with Leesa Truesdell, Lamon Chapman describes his experience teaching English at a university in Medellin. 

A photo of a school in Colombia

There are many great locations in the world to entice English teachers abroad. Choosing a place to go isn’t easy, and it depends mostly on what the traveler wishes to get from the experience and take away into the future. If you are looking for a great destination and a great living and working experience, you will find all that at any one of these locations and more. Visit We Teach for more information on teaching abroad. 

Please note: exchange rates and program benefits are subject to change.

Written by the Dreams Abroad Team

Source: Oxford Seminars

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.

Laos: The Sleepy Sister of Southeast Asia

Harold Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Welcome to the Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), a land-locked and less-traveled nation in Southeast Asia. The population of the country has yet to reach 8 million. Most first time visitors to Southeast Asia concentrate on the Vientiane-Vang Vieng-Luang Prabang corridor. Perhaps rightly so, as Luang Prabang is truly a wonderful UNESCO world heritage site. But Laos has plenty of other less publicized gems located in the far southern and eastern Champasak region, hugging Vietnam and a small northern border section with Cambodia. Join me as we take a look.

Pakse, Laos

Pakse (population around 75,000) is the hub of the southwestern corner of Laos. It is located along the confluence of The Mekong and Se Don rivers. The backdrop contains a series of rugged hills. The riverside sunset views are spectacular. Mother Nature used a masterstroke when painting this scene.

What is there to actually do in Pakse? Surprisingly, I found the city has a decent selection of satisfactory eateries. The Panorama Restaurant on the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel provided a 360-degree view of the entire city. It offered optimum sunset gazing with cool, clear air in a relaxed setting. Makeshift restaurants pop up along the riverside in the late afternoon. This is an ideal way to mingle with the locals over some Beerlao. If alcohol is not your cup of tea, there are numerous excellent coffee shops in Pakse.

I rented a bicycle during the day to get around. This is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place. I get a bit of exercise and I can cover more distance than I would simply by walking. If you want a less tiring activity, watch or ask to join a game of pétanque. This French-introduced boules game is very popular in Pakse. 

Not impressed with the excitement factor yet? Read on.

Corner Cafe

Spread Your Wings

OK, so you’ve wound down for a couple of days in Pakse, Laos and now you want to become a little more active.

The nearby Bolaven Plateau is the country’s coffee-growing region. The French introduced the production of coffee in the early 20th century. Presently, Lao coffee is renowned and appreciated worldwide. Other attractions and curiosities in this area are numerous waterfalls and the villages of ethnic minorities.

The Bolaven Plateau is wedged between the Annamite Mountain Range. The Annamite straddles the Vietnamese border on the east and the Mekong River on the west. During the American-Vietnam war, the area was strategically important to both sides. The US heavily carpet-bombed the Bolaven Plateau. To this day, UXOs (unexploded ordinance) riddle the dense jungles. Sticking to marked trails or hiring a guide when hiking is advised.  

Been There, Don Det

Finished with your jungle trek and want to relax again? Head further south to Si Phan Don, a 50-kilometer region just east of the Mekong barely on this side of the Cambodian border.

Si Phan Don translates to approximately 4,000 islands, half of which are submerged during the rainy season. This is the widest area of the 4,350-kilometer-long Mekong River system, offering stunning views of lush jungles and scenic waterways. 

I caught a skiff in Ban Nakasang and settled on the island of Don Det.

Don Det gives an entirely new definition to the term ”laid back.” If you want to get your travel budget in order and slow down beyond belief for some time, Don Det is the haven for you. 

Pace of Don Det, Laos

Two Tribes

Two distinctly contrasting tribes coexist on the island of Don Det — the TVs (travelers, tourists, visitors… take your pick) and the DTs (permanent Det dwellers, locals, natives… take your pick). The TVs are a curious lot and a constant source of amusement for the DTs. I wonder what the DTs did for entertainment before the arrival of the TVs.

TVs come in all ages and from various nations, but all seem to share a fondness for lassitude. The biggest decisions of the day lie in the answers to: “Where to eat next?”, “Where to go for the next beer?”, and “Do I want to eat regular food or ‘happy’ food?”. The more adventurous of the TVs have been known to vacate their hammocks long enough to engage in the rather boisterous activities of floating down the Mekong on inner tubes, lounging on the small beach, or perhaps renting a bicycle to escape the hustle and bustle of the north end of the island. The favorite expression of the average TV is ”chill out.”

The DTs, on the other hand, are also a relaxed tribe, but in a much more traditional way. Their days are spent fishing, repairing fishing nets, playing pétanque, caring for their chickens and gardens… and of course, being amused by the behavior of the TVs.

Don Det Beach

Is it on Your Bucket List Now?

Some travelers have limited time and feel that hanging out and simply enjoying a place wastes too much of their travel time. Although true in some cases, remember that you won’t see the world in one trip. Stick around a while and enjoy the place you are at. 

If you like Vegas-style entertainment, 5-star accommodations, or piña coladas by the seaside — well, Laos might not make your bucket list.  

If you want something much simpler and want to take a step back in time for a while, then this is your ticket.

I hope to share my experiences in a different part of the world with you again soon.

Back to School in Thailand Post Quarantine

Beth Juanita YoungBack to School

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. 

A picture of a graffiti mask and COVID-19

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.

Disinfecting the classroom before students return back to school

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.

Some preparations for students to come back to school

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. 

Preparations for back to school in Thailand.

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.

A picture of colored pencils

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. 

New Opportunities

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!

Picture of school books and an apple

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? 

by Beth Young

Cooking Italian Cuisine While Living in Thailand

Diego Ambrosio
Diego Ambrosio

Thirty-something Diego Ambrosio was born in Catanzaro, Italy, located in the southern part of the country. He is passionate about wild nature, cooking (especially Italian cuisine), singing, and playing different musical instruments like guitar, piano, and bass. Diego considers himself an extrovert and talkative person, but he also likes to listen to people.

While now living in Phuket, Thailand with his father and partner, Diego cooks on a regular basis. He enjoys mixing the local fresh ingredients and produce with his Italian recipes. In addition, he learned to create new fusion recipes that he enjoys just as much as his native dishes. Read on to find out more about his favorite southern Italian cuisine and his homemade Thai-Italian fusion.

What is your favorite Italian cuisine?

This is probably one of the hardest questions you can ask an Italian since they would immediately begin thinking of multiple answers. Why? Because there are so many favorite Italian dishes! If I really had to choose a dish by type, I think my first answer would be tortellini with cream, peas, and ham. The second would have to be parmigiana di melanzane with fried potatoes and peppers on the side. Finally, for dessert, tiramisu… all, obviously, homemade.

What is your Italian hometown’s signature dish?

‘NdujaAs in most countries, Italy has a rich list of excellent regional products. Many of these are even exported abroad, as they are delicious and appreciated by various European and non-European countries. Without a doubt, the best product from my region, Calabria, is ‘nduja. ‘Nduja is a particularly spicy, spreadable pork sausage typically made with pig parts such as the shoulder and belly. Producers combine the pork with tripe, roasted peppers, and a mixture of spices. ‘Nduja originates from the small southern Calabrese town of Spilinga. Italians mainly serve it with slices of bread or with ripe cheese. My hometown, Catanzaro, also has its signature dish. It’s called Morzeddhu alla Catanzarisi. This is prepared with tripe and beef offal, tomato paste, chilli pepper, salt, a bay leaf, and oregano.

Traditional Morzeddhu

Morzeddhu, a Calabrian staple

Morzeddhu must be eaten while hot, perhaps with a further splash of spicy sauce. It also must be eaten in the pitta, a typical Catanzaro bread shaped like a flattened donut and with little or no crumb inside.

According to legend, Morzello, or Morzeddhu in the local dialect, was born from that mother of invention, necessity. An impoverished widow was forced to accept odd jobs to support her hungry children. On Christmas Eve, her boss asked her to clean a slaughterhouse and dispose of the waste in the nearby river, Fiumarella.

Worried about what she would serve her hungry children for Christmas dinner, she saved the meat, cleaned it, and prepared a meat soup. And thus, Morzello was born.

What is the most famous Thai dish in Phuket, Thailand?

Without a doubt, Pad Thai is one of the country’s most iconic dishes and is easy to find all over Phuket. There are two main types of Pad Thai, Pad Thai Gai and Pad Thai Goong. Gai includes chicken and Goong, shrimp. Pad Thai is a stir-fried dish typically made with rice noodles, chicken or shrimp, tofu, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. The ingredients are sautéed together in a wok, which creates rapid heat distribution. Once finished, chefs serve Pad Thai with peanuts, sugar, chili peppers, and a lime wedge on the side.

And just for the record… Pad Thai is my second favorite Thai dish. I prefer Pad See Ew which is similar but has a sweeter sauce.

Pad See Ew Goong

What types of Italian cuisine do you cook in Thailand?

When I arrived in Phuket, I thought it would have been impossible to reproduce typical Italian recipes at home for various reasons. The first challenge was surmounting the impossibility of finding all the authentic Italian ingredients. Next, we had to overcome the lack of an oven in the house. Ovens are critical for cooking different Italian dishes such as the famous Lasagne al Forno or pizza. Over time, we have fortunately managed to get almost everything we need to taste a bit of home. In fact, after a whole first year of researching, we managed to find a house that had a professional oven inside.

Homemade bread, a frequent Italian cuisine at Diego's house

Now, we can cook any type of Italian dish. In fact, we have become so accustomed to making Italian food at home that we’ve eaten out very few times. Both my father and I are able to prepare any type of Italian recipe — first courses, main courses, side dishes, and delicious desserts — that enrich our daily meals all the time. Finally, we also make our own homemade bread.

Where do you source Italian ingredients from?

Fortunately, it is not difficult to find Italian products in Thailand. There are various shopping centers and supermarkets like Makro and Villa Market, offering imported products. However, you have to be very careful when selecting your products. Everyone can easily find products of apparent Italian origin, but some of these  are actually not from Italy at all.

For example, an Italian knows very well that if he has to buy pasta, he can trust brands such as De Cecco, La Molisana, and Agnesi. All of these brands are available in Thailand, so we can avoid other little-known brands of dubious origin. The same goes for Italian mozzarella. Clearly the prices for authentic Italian products are higher than in Italy. For example, Italian fresh and aged cold cuts and cheeses cost at least 40% more. However, for some products (such as pasta), I can find similar prices to Italy.

If you were to pick a favorite Italian cuisine to make for us that you make on a regular basis, what would it be?

I practice making real Italian pizza for my loved ones frequently. Every two weeks, typically on a Saturday evening, we will get together and eat Italian pizza. My father is a great teacher, but I will obviously be his heir sooner or later and am determined to perfect it.

The preparation process has almost centennial origins, handed down from generation to generation. It has been perfected even more over time by generations of Italians.

The "Mother Yeast" Diego uses for Italian Cuisine
The Mother Yeast

The extraordinary thing is that my father created the so-called “mother yeast.” It is a natural yeast capable of regenerating itself eternally. It certainly has significantly improved the quality of the pizza. Additionally, you can vary the outcome by using different types of flour. Each flour has a specific protein intake capable of creating a unique gluten shield of its kind.

Spread the dough in round and rectangular trays. Follow that with a long process of rest, maturation, and fermentation for about three days in the fridge. At the end of this period, the pizzas are removed from the fridge, covered with a cloth, and left to rise for several hours. Finally, we move on to stuffing and baking. The oven must be at a maximum temperature of around 250 or 300 degrees Celsius. First, bake the pizzas on the bottom rack without ingredients in order to cook the bottom of the pizza. Then, add the ingredients. Put the pizza back into the oven. This time, put it on the top shelf to finish cooking.

Do you have to substitute the ingredients for the dish you are making with Thai ones? If so, what are the differences in ingredients that you see in Thailand vs Italy?

We managed to obtain all the Italian products we needed to make the pizza without having to resort to any Thai substitute. However, we have added a dose of creativity by trying to prepare some pizzas with typically Thai ingredients. For example, we made Tom Yam Goong Pizza. It is an Italian-made pizza with Thai seafood and Thai chili peppers.

While we were able to find all of the ingredients necessary to make the pizza, I can say that the Thai culinary culture is very rich in strong and contrasting flavors. Many of these flavors would seem absurd to mix together if cooking traditional Italian cuisines. This is because Thai food is actually based on a balance between different flavors, including spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter.  Sometimes, chefs combine these flavors together. For example, the famous Thai dish Som Tam is both intensely savory and insanely sour — in short, the flavors of southeast Asia mixed on a plate. Every Som Tam dish normally contains garlic, chili, fish sauce, lime juice, and dried shrimp. All these flavors fit with the direction that Som Tam should “taste sweet, sour, hot, and salty.”

Do you get creative and make Thai-Italian dishes with both themes or cultures in the dishes?

My culinary passions obviously led me to the preparation of typical Thai dishes. My Thai girlfriend likes to say that one of the Thai dishes that I like to prepare, the famous Khao Pad Goong, “comes out better than the original.”

After studying and reproducing the original version of the dish, I dedicated myself to experimenting and mixing the two cultures. I managed to propose a unique and delicious Italian-Thai version of Khao Pad Goong.

I added some anchovies, dried tomatoes, sweet pepper, celery, and Italian parsley to the traditional recipe. Furthermore, I also replaced the classic rice oil with extra virgin olive oil instead. The result tastes fabulous and the multitude of flavors generated in the mouth tastes literally sublime.

What is your favorite Thai ingredient to mix with Italian food?

I think that soy sauce is a very interesting ingredient I discovered in Thailand. Chefs in Italy rarely use soy sauce in Italian cuisines. This type of sauce goes fabulously with fish dishes such as salmon. It also tastes wonderful when added to typical Italian salads with a Romaine lettuce base.

Diego is an extrovert and very sociable person but enjoys eating Italian cuisine while living in Thailand. He prefers making pizza for his family and friends. However, when he is not baking homemade pies, he recommends trying these three pizzerias in this order:

1) Pizzeria Da Moreno in Patong (probably the best ever, since it follows the authentic Neapolitan recipe)

2) Pizzeria Agli Amici in Chalong.

3) Trattoria Pizzeria Cosa Nostra in Chalong.

In his next article, Diego will share more about Italian cuisine. Be sure to stop by and check it out. To discover what other recipes Dreams Abroad members are learning about, read about Edgar’s experience making traditional paella!

A Teacher in a Thai Government School During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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

our knowledge of colour theory and the element of line
Our knowledge of colour theory and the element of lines.

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. 

My online teaching schedule COVID-19 Pandemic
My online teaching schedule during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We usually have nine periods during the day, but we had to extend them to accommodate for online teaching.

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!).

The view from the dive boat on Saturday June 27th. It was wonderful to get a chance to be in the water again
The view from the dive boat on Saturday, June 27th. It was wonderful to get a chance to be in the water again

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. 

A quick snap between classes
A quick snap between classes.

Looking Forward

Artwork by a stundent, refreshing our knowledge of colour theory and the element of line
Artwork by a student, refreshing our knowledge of colour theory and the element of line

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. 

COVID-19 Pandemic art work
Students’ artwork from last school year; aren’t they brilliant?? I’m getting ready to take these down and make a new display in July.

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! 

My set up for online class
My set up for online classes. The background photo on my laptop is of me and my two Fine Art tutors in college, on the evening of our exhibition before graduating and going off to university. These ladies inspire me every day to be the best.

 

by Beth Young

Introducing 2020’s Mid-Year Most Popular Travel Articles

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. 

Traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodi Travel Articles

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

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

children being creative

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

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

Moulin Rouge in paris

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.

by Leesa Truesdell

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

 

Life in the Time of COVID-19

 

Harold Michael CarterApologies to Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez for borrowing from his book titled Love in the Time of Cholera.

Dreams Abroad is all about living, working, and traveling abroad. So what’s it like to do all of these things during these current pandemic days? I’ve been doing all three during the past month or so. First, a bit of background information. This is the first piece I’ve written for Dreams Abroad, but I have been interviewed in several articles about teaching abroad recently. Check two of the three boxes, as I live and work in Cambodia. I recently took an eight-day trip to Thailand during the third week of March, from March 14th to March 21st. Check the third box. Here is my story.

The news and casual awareness of COVID-19 first surfaced here in late 2019. The first reported case in Cambodia was announced on the 27th of January. Fast forward to the 7th of March when they recorded a second case in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is Cambodia’s top tourist draw, as the small city is only 12 km from Angkor Wat. When this happened, the government ordered all schools in Siem Reap closed for two weeks.

Closer to Home

Samae Beach, Koh Larn, Thailand COVID-19
Samae Beach, Koh Larn, Thailand.

I live and work in the capital city, Phnom Penh. Everyone at our workplace knew that when the inevitable — cases reported here — happened, our schools would get closed down as well. I had signed a new contract at the beginning of February and still had a week of holiday owed to me from the previous contract, so on about the 9th or 10th of March, I booked a flight for Bangkok leaving on the 14th.

On the 13th of March, they recorded a few more COVID-19 cases. Cambodia now officially listed seven cases. The writing is on the wall for the teachers. The school announces a meeting for the Saturday morning of the 14th to discuss a contingency plan. I do not attend as I am safely buckled into my Air Asia flight to Bangkok by 9:00 a.m. Later that day, the government announces the closing of all schools until the 20th of April (at least).

A Hauntingly Empty Airport

My one-hour flight to Bangkok was only about 70% full. There were no crowds to speak of at either airport and expedient processing through customs and immigration. I spent a night in Bangkok and then went to visit friends in a nearby coastal town. I spent a day on a small island called Koh Larn. Everything was business as usual — although with reduced numbers of people — for the first four days or so. I remember paying respect to my Irish heritage in fine fashion on the 17th for St. Patrick’s Day. 

airport thailand COVID-19

Around 6:00 p.m. on the 18th, the police came around to a number of places to request their closure. The government of Thailand had decided to close entertainment places, cinemas, and bars, but restaurants could remain open. Life was significantly quieter during my last three days in Thailand. Borders around the world were closing up faster than windows during typhoon season. Part of me hoped I’d be marooned in Thailand for an extended holiday. But, I wasn’t loaded with cash and my family was waiting for me in Cambodia, so the other part of me was glad the borders between Thailand and home hadn’t buttoned up. 

Flying back just eight days later from my departure, the plane was now only about 30% full. Air Asia doesn’t serve alcohol on short flights. Too bad, as with those low numbers, I could have had a cart of wine to myself.

Returning Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ferry to Thailand mainland
Ferry to/from Koh Larn (Thailand) to the mainland.

 

Returning to Cambodia by air is always a breeze for me as I have a one-year multiple entry visa in my passport. This arrival was especially quick. I had to fill out an extra form on the plane which asked which countries I had visited in the previous 21 days. I gave it to one of the ladies wearing masks and gloves upon arrival, and off I went through immigration. 

pier on Koh Larn
View from the pier on Koh Larn.

I spent a relaxing Sunday (March 22nd) with my family in Phnom Penh and by now I am aware that I won’t be teaching the following day. So what about this job? What do I do? What did I miss? The devil on my shoulder who represented the half of me that wanted to be stuck in Thailand nodded and winked at me, saying “See, I told you so.”

 

Monday the 23rd — students can’t go to school, but they left school open to teachers. In both the students’ and my absence the previous week, teachers were busy learning the tricks of online teaching using Google classrooms — something which was new for all but two or three of us. We used next week to make practice lessons for the students to help them adjust as well. The school had collected the necessary contact information so that at least the older students could do this. The new school term didn’t actually begin until April 1st. So, we conducted online teaching from then up until the 10th. At which point — enter a nine-day break for Khmer New Year.

Khmer New Year Break

celebrate Khmer New Year every April
Cambodians love to decorate their houses and prepare plenty of food to celebrate Khmer New Year every April.

Khmer New Year officially lasts from April 13th to April 15th, but when factoring in travel days, the country closes for at least a week. It is based on the Buddhist calendar, so we were celebrating the incoming 2564 BE (Buddhist Era). People celebrate with traditional games, heavy drinking, and gambling. They also spend lots of time with extended families and make frequent visits to pagodas. The capital empties out as the masses head for the provinces.

There was a bit of a twist this year though, because on April 8th, the government announced the holiday will be postponed this year because of COVID-19. They want people to keep working and avoid a mass exodus to the provinces for the holiday. Nevertheless, we respect the holiday and stopped online teaching from the 10th to the 20th of April.

Epilogue: Life Goes On in the Time of COVID-19

The 20th arrived and the government still had not given the green light to reopen schools because of COVID-19. In our case, we are informed we will no longer be paid a full salary and are offered 50%. The teachers held a closed-door staff meeting to decide how much work we should actually do to earn these reduced financial rewards. The new hope/projection is that the schools will open again in early May. If this proves to be true, all of this will be a mere bump in the road. If not, the better schools will survive — but other schools will likely be bankrupt within three or four months.

COVID-19

by Michael Carter