Learning and Adapting in Phuket, Thailand

 

beth youngBeth Young and I had a chance to catch up on her plans for this upcoming year. Her schedule is still up in the air due to COVID-19’s impact on the world and the uncertainty of when it will subside. Typically, the Thai school system’s start date is mid-May every year. The start date could be pushed back to July and there is also a possibility that the schools will use an online system. 

After speaking with Beth, she informed me that she spent the month of March designing her usual lesson plans for the upcoming year like many of the teachers in her school. March is an administrative month for closing out the previous year and planning for the upcoming year in May. If her classes are online, she will have to make adjustments to her lessons since she is a visual arts teacher. She is still waiting to find out. 

She is currently on her annual break and was able to provide us with the following answers to her final living and teaching abroad interview. Here is what she had to say.

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

“I’ve thought long and hard about this answer. To be honest, I feel that the most important thing I learned overall would be that I can accomplish things. I can set goals and achieve them. I do have worth. Before moving abroad, I was possibly in the worst place I’d ever been with my mental health. I was still recovering and trying to build myself up again. I hadn’t felt fulfilled, inspired, or proud of myself in a very long time.

Moving to Thailand was something I’d never thought I’d ever do. I’d never even dreamt of it because it wasn’t in the realm of possibilities for me, or so I thought. I feel that success, whatever that may be, starts with feeling fulfilled and truly secure in yourself. How can I be the best teacher to my abilities if I don’t feel that I can achieve that? The number one lesson I’ve learned is that I can do this. I do have worth as a teacher. I do have worth as a person.”

Many Different Lessons

“I have learned many lessons here, some of them small and seemingly humdrum. I’ve also learned some lessons crucial to life and my personal growth while living in Thailand. The ability to relinquish control and not worry is something I have been working on during my time here, not necessarily in the classroom, but in everyday life. Things don’t always go to plan. We cannot change situations life deals us sometimes. Worrying or allowing yourself to feel unnecessary stress is only going to make you feel worse. It won’t help the situation any. 

This concept is something that I’ve been working on for a long time. I only really started to grasp this idea and mentality once I moved here. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to, from losing loved ones, to a lesson not going as well as you had hoped it would. It’s important for me to remember to not allow myself to get overly anxious about situations. I know that has stopped me from doing my best in the past. I have to focus my energy on doing what I can do and being the best person and educator that I can be in the moment.”

The main building of my school Phuket, Thailand
The main building of my school in Phuket, Thailand

Finding a Passion

“Throughout my time teaching abroad, I have been able to develop so many skills and learn from the people around me. I’ve learned lessons from my colleagues, my students, my friends, and my Thai family. Keeping up with the demands of everyday work, providing for my students’ needs, arranging extracurricular activities, building relationships, pouring my blood, sweat, and tears (literally) into my job has taught me so much. 

Finding my passion in helping and providing for my students has really helped me learn how important it is to be committed to your chosen path and responsibilities. I’m still pretty young — I’m only twenty-two — but I’ll be forever grateful for this experience because I have been so enriched. I received tools to rebuild myself and grow in ways I never thought possible.”

How have you accomplished your goals while living in Phuket?

I have to say, I didn’t move here with many goals besides to 1) pass the TEFL course, 2) gain employment, and 3) do the best I could as a teacher. Like many people, I’d never taught in a formal school setting before, at least, not as a subject teacher. I wasn’t 100% sure that this would be the right career path for me. Mostly, I felt hesitant. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to successfully teach because I doubted myself so much. Thankfully, I found a school with an amazing environment and a brilliant team which welcomed me very warmly.

The Satix
The Satix, a band made up of students from our school, won the 2019 Hot Wave Music Awards. They were up against thousands of other very talented students from all over Thailand. We were so proud to get to see them perform in our main hall.

 

My professional goals have been to help students achieve their own goals, whether that may be related to an in-class subject, an extracurricular activity, or something outside of school. After all, I feel that a large part of my job is to help my students develop into the young adults that they are, to guide them in their life, and offer them a helping hand along the way. 

Sometimes that means giving extra classes and helping students study after school. Sometimes that means planning and rehearsing a drama performance for an event. Perhaps it’s training for a competition or exam, or just sitting with a student for a chat, to lend an ear, and be someone for them to confide in. Sometimes a student just needs that extra bit of help or support. It could change their entire outlook or mood when they are in school.”

birthday
When my colleagues and students surprised me with a cake for my birthday. This really meant a lot to me as it was my first birthday while teaching abroad, and we used it as an excuse to have a celebration at the end of a three-day dramatic performance.

Personal Goals

“I’ve already mentioned my personal goals. I really wanted to grow and develop personally. I didn’t really have a great belief in myself before I moved. It was part of the reason why I decided to move to Phuket. I’ve been able to see myself grow in many ways, from gaining confidence to being healthy in both mind and body. I didn’t ask much of myself before moving, besides that I try my best and don’t fall into old, bad habits (allowing my mental health to affect me negatively and not confronting it). 

I’ve amazed myself with how well I’ve done. The first few months were difficult. I had a few panic attacks in the shower before going to work some days. However, I gradually began to notice that I was feeling healthier. I felt more productive, and accomplished. The harder I worked at school, the more fulfilled I felt. Being able to spend my free days at the beach or swimming (well, at least after this lockdown), is just the icing on the cake.”

What has been the biggest challenge about living abroad?

“Besides the paperwork (which can be a challenge in itself), I would have to say that the biggest challenge has been just adapting. While I was used to Phuket prior to moving here, there’s a lot to adapt to, not only in terms of culture but in everyday life. 

Birthday celebrations
Birthday celebrations with some of our 11th Grade students. Hearing a group of students shout the birthday song is an everyday occurrence at school.

 

Moving abroad isn’t easy. Wherever you come from and wherever you are going, there is a lot of adjustment that comes with uprooting your life and planting seeds somewhere new. I’ve been lucky to have family and other connections in Phuket prior to moving. Nonetheless, there was still the adventure of venturing out on my own and creating my own life, friends, and connections here.

When you move away from home, especially to a new place entirely, it is a challenge within itself. For me, evening walks through Phuket town to get a motorbike taxi or songthaew (local bus) felt daunting at first. One of my biggest challenges was building confidence in myself while living here, in terms of going out and interacting with my surroundings without my partner. 

When I would come to Phuket for a few months during the summer times, I was on vacation. I would rely on my partner a lot because we went almost everywhere together. I had to push myself past the anxiety that built up within me when I ventured out and began my own independent life here. That came in a series of everyday interactions: from ordering a coffee to going to the tax office, to building relationships with my colleagues, and making friends of my own.”

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

“I’m still exploring and getting to know myself. I gain more confidence as my Thai language ability strengthens. Pushing myself into doing things outside of my comfort zone helps a lot. I know that I will never move forward, grow, and experience all I want to if I don’t push myself a little bit. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, not confident, and scared sometimes. However, I won’t allow that to stop me from trying new things in life. I’ve found that I have experienced many brilliant things and gained such enriching and meaningful relationships because I pushed myself to step outside of my comfort zone.”

school landscape
Part of our campus. I love the landscape of our school, so much natural and different areas to sit and work. I always love when we have art class outside.

Challenges Still Exist in Phuket

“Things aren’t always perfect, I have had times where I cried in the toilet at work or cried in my bedroom in the evening for a few minutes. Moving and starting your life in a new place is stressful. It’s not always going to be all rainbows and smiles. There will be hard times. I’ve experienced times that I have doubted myself or my decisions. It’s important for me to remember that I chose this life for a reason. I must put my goals in the front of my mind, my students ahead of myself, and the positives over the negatives. 

For every tense, negative experience I’ve had here, I can think of ten amazing, brilliant experiences I’ve had. Most of those vibrant happy memories come from situations where I pushed myself to reach for goals and ignored the inner doubts. I worked hard to push past the uncomfortability. Everyone is different. We all feel differently about new experiences. Despite that, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to push past your doubts, worries, and hesitations. You will never know what could have been, if you never opened the door to it.”

What advice do you have for other teachers who are about to teach for the first time? 

“Well! Where shall we start, haha? I could drone on for hours about a million things to think about when you first begin teaching. Fortunately, there are a few specific areas I think all new teachers need to understand.

You don’t have to be amazing. No one is a perfect teacher, especially when they first start. There is truly a lot of learning on the job that happens, especially when you begin teaching in another country. It’s okay if a lesson doesn’t go to plan. It’s okay to make mistakes and to take time to figure out your teaching and classroom management style. You don’t become a brilliant educator overnight. You learn from yourself, from those around you, and most importantly, from your students.”

Listen to Feedback

“Listen to your students. Invest time into getting to know them. Invest time into making your lesson materials and being proud of what you produce. It’s important to get to know your students and to build a relationship with them. It can improve their learning experience when they feel comfortable and at ease in your classroom. Don’t be scared to try new things or to make up your own activities or games for the classroom. It’s part of developing your teaching style and finding your feet as an educator. 

Students artwork
Students’ artwork


I’ve been extremely lucky to have such a supportive working environment. Despite that, I know not everyone finds that with their first job. If that’s the case, try not to allow negative attitudes of other people around you affect your teaching. The students are what is most important at the end of the day. As long as you keep that in mind while you put your full effort and heart into your role as an educator, you’re doing something right.

It’s especially important to try to build relationships with your colleagues, if you can. I’ve found that the support and guidance of some of my colleagues has really helped me excel in my teaching abilities and my confidence as an educator. We have also been able to produce a lot of marvelous activities and events for our students. Our strong sense of teamwork is to thank for this.”

How has teaching in Phuket, Thailand helped with your overall professional goals?

“I came to Thailand to see if teaching was something I could truly do as a lifelong career. I wanted to see if I was ‘good enough’ to do this or if I had what it takes. I’ve always toyed with the idea of teaching visual arts. Unfortunately, I never felt sure about what exact career path I wanted to go down. Taking the leap and deciding to start teaching in a foreign country was daunting, but simultaneously exciting and refreshing. 

Living in an environment which makes me feel so happy and grateful helps me to feel motivated to get up and do my best every day. This is something I rarely ever felt when I lived in England. I wasn’t sure that I would succeed in teaching, as I’m sure any new teacher feels. However, by having the chance to begin my career in another country, I was able to learn from facing different obstacles and experiences that I may not have had had I decided to start this journey in my home country. 

school in Phuket
Observing a national event as school. Here we were paying respect and giving blessing to Thailand’s Queen Suthida.

 

I feel inspired every day when I’m at school because of where I am living. I enjoy my journey to work because of the beautiful scenery. Incredibly, I look forward to waking up and seeing the sunrise as I shower. Those little parts of my day have a drastic impact on my overall headspace and my motivation. I’ve been able to achieve many professional goals. Despite my achievements, I don’t hold myself responsible for all of them. A great part of my success are my students. They are so devoted and determined in their own goals and dreams, and I assist them in accomplishing them. When they reach their goals, my heart feels happy and I know that I have accomplished mine, too.”

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

“Hmm, this is a tough one. We have so many wonderful moments throughout the school year, it’s tough to pick just one, so I have to mention a few! One of my favorite moments was when I saw our drama students achieve their dreams and win the provincial Drama Skit competition for Phuket province. I also saw my student go on to win third place in the regional Impromptu Speech competition for Southern Thailand. I saw these students go from being shy and lacking confidence in these activities to shining bright with pride… so much so that I shed a tear (or two!).

We also held a Christmas Fair where we had many different events students could participate in, have fun, and show off their talents and self-confidence. We always try to plan events where our students can feel proud of themselves afterwards. It’s always such a heartwarming thing to see.

Christmas performance Phuket, Thailand
Our first Christmas choir, practising their performance

 

Other memorable moments include every ‘thank you’ a student has ever said to me, every high-five they’ve given me when they have excitedly announced their achievement, every graduating student who came to see me before leaving, every homeroom hour with my wonderful homeroom class and every afternoon spent with the students who decide to hang out in the art room with me. I really do genuinely love my job.”

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

“There are some activities I want to reevaluate for next school year, to see if I can improve them to make them more beneficial for my students. I really want to make more hands-on materials for lessons for my students. I especially want to focus on enrichment materials for English lessons, where we can have fun and do ‘out-of-the-box’ activities to help develop their English language competencies. As for art teaching, I’m really looking forward to having an Arts and Design club this academic year. I can teach students more varied techniques and produce fun projects that we may not have had space for during art class. 

Another change that I’m looking forward to is our plans to hold a full-length school musical at the end of the school year. This is something that the drama teacher and I have dreamt of since we both began teaching at the school. Now, with each other’s unweathering support and the strength of our student’s love for dramatic and visual arts, we can now make this a reality. It will take a lot of hard work, but I know we can pull it off.

Keeping What I Like

I want my relationship with our students to stay the same. I feel that I have a pretty good relationship with my students overall. Building mutual respect and getting to know each of my students really helps in building their confidence inside of the classroom. I find it’s incredibly beneficial to give them another adult they know cares for and supports them. I would like to improve on what I plan for our homeroom lessons, as I would love to use that time to work on some team building and personal development with my students. Sometimes, in international or English programs, schools can put a heavy focus on English Language. Sometimes, more enriching life-skill based learning is somewhat forgotten about. That isn’t the case in our school, and I want to continue that in our free time as a homeroom class.”

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

“I was expecting to spend this holiday going between planning and making materials for the upcoming academic year, and relaxing on the beach, taking snorkeling trips, and spending long days with friends around the pool. Sadly, I know that a lot of us cannot go out and enjoy those parts of life because of the current pandemic situation. That being said, I am still taking advantage of my vacation time and using it to do everything I don’t usually have time for during the school year! 

Snorkeling
Snorkelling is what I imagined I would be doing during my summer break

 

I’ve reorganized my bedroom and the kitchen, I’ve completed all of my course syllabi and lesson plans, I’ve been making example pieces of new projects, reading a lot of books that have been on my wish list, and binge watching a lot of Netflix and YouTube. I’ve been keeping myself positive by spending time stretching in the mornings, cooking with fresh ingredients almost everyday, and enjoying not having to be anywhere but home. I know that once things are semi-back-to-normal, there won’t be much time for relaxing, so I’m taking advantage of that now!”

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

“If you want to do it, do it! Just be sure to know that a lot of jobs aren’t super relaxed. Teaching abroad isn’t a way to have a prolonged vacation. If being a teacher is something you really want to do, don’t let any self-doubt stop you. Make sure you research as much as you can. Try to reach out and speak to people who have taken that step and moved to the country you are thinking of. Ask any and every question you may have. Teaching abroad isn’t for everyone. Thailand isn’t for everyone. However, you will never know until you venture out and experience it for yourself. 

Don’t let one negative opinion, thought, or experience deter you. If I would have let all of my inner doubts talk me out of moving to Phuket to pursue my teaching career, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it once more. I’m forever grateful for how my life has turned out and I wouldn’t go back and change any of my decisions to move abroad to teach. I’m so thankful that I didn’t allow my nerves and anxieties get the better of me and prevent me from taking the path that led me to where I am today. You are the only one who can push yourself out of your comfort zone. Face what is scary and unknown, put yourself out there, and reach for your goals. Have fun while doing it!”

disinfecting for COVID-19
Our school campus being disinfected during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Wrap Up of Learning and Adapting to Phuket, Thailand

Beth will be living in Thailand for the foreseeable future. Both her partner and his family live in Phuket. She will be writing a follow-up piece to this interview to give us some perspective on where she will be headed with COVID-19 either in May or July, whether in her classroom or online. Be on the lookout for more information from Beth!

by Leesa Truesdell

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.

 

Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand

Beth Juanita Young has been very busy in her second year of teaching English in Phuket, Thailand. I had a chance to catch up with her after our first interview where she spoke about immersing yourself into Thai Culture. Since then, she went on a week-long classroom learning trip and her school hosted a competition for impromptu speeches, and her student won! This was Beth’s first time seeing her student win a competition like this as a visual arts teacher teaching English in Phuket. Her student moved on all the way to the regional championships. What an accomplishment!

At the Impromptu Speech Competition in Nakhorn Si Thammarat
At the Impromptu Speech Competition in Nakhorn Si Thammarat

 

Beth talked about the day-to-day challenges she faced in her second year teaching English in Phuket, Thailand and how she began to overcome them. She is feeling more comfortable as a teacher. Plus, being at the same school two years in a row has helped her adjust even more. Beth is still finding her rhythm as a teacher. As any teacher knows, it takes time to find a rhythm. She’s enjoyed learning how to use her time to plan projects and assist her students. Although Beth works for a government school, she listens to her students’ needs while delivering creative lesson plans set by the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC).

What is a typical day at your school like teaching English in Phuket, Thailand? 

“A typical day at school for me begins with heading to the convenience store across the street from my school. I grab a coffee and some breakfast to start my day. When I get into school, I head straight to the office that I share with 14 other foreign-subject teachers and a few Thai-subject teachers. It’s always nice to greet each other in the mornings and have a few minutes of calm before the busy day starts.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, my teaching day starts at 7:40 AM because I teach enrichment English classes on those days. Normally, we attend morning assembly at 8:00 AM, where the national anthem of Thailand is played by our school marching band, and a Buddhist prayer is observed. On a typical day, we have nine 50-minute teaching periods. I can teach anywhere from two to six classes a day. It just depends on the week and the semester.”

Flexibility Out of the Classroom

“If we are lucky enough to have our lunch hour match up, I eat lunch with my colleagues. If not, I spend my lunch period at my desk eating food I brought to school (new year health kick, haha!). What I do in my free time between classes really depends on what is happening in the semester at the time. Sometimes I spend it making props and costumes for our program’s Drama department. Other times I spend it grading and correcting students’ work. I often spend my free time helping students with their projects outside of class hours. It may all seem a little boring or mundane, but we do have events and celebrations which happen often throughout the year. There is always something to look forward to!

Snapshot from our Christmas celebrations at school
Snapshot from our Christmas celebrations at school

 

During December, my typical days were spent going between my classes and rehearsing for our Christmas Fair Performance. It was a very busy month, but we had such an amazing day full of Christmas celebrations it made all the hard work worth it. I started 2020 by being out of school for a few days. I accompanied one of my students to an impromptu speech competition in Nakhon Si Thammarat (another province in southern Thailand). The week after that, we headed 16 hours north to Samut Songkhram for our week-long annual Outside Classroom Learning trip. We spent the week learning about Thai culture, foods, and agriculture. Every month is something different, so my ‘typical’ day varies so much! It is never boring, that’s for sure!” 

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

A photo with a few students at our-homestay on the OCL trip
Students at our homestay on the OCL trip

“As I previously mentioned, I work alongside 14 other foreign teachers and a large group of Thai teachers and staff. We are a pretty diverse team, with nationalities from American, British, Filipino, Indian, Singaporean, South African, and Thai. I love the people I work with. I feel very fortunate to find such a lovely workplace to not only call my job but also to call my ‘home’. The people and students create that welcoming atmosphere. I work very closely with our Drama teacher, as I also have a history in acting and performing. We team up a lot for our school’s performances and anything in the creative arts department.

The amount of classes I teach depends on the semester. It can range from 16 in-class hours to 22 hours, depending on the workload. In Semester One, I teach Visual Arts to grades 7-10 (10 periods per week). I teach visual arts to the higher-level students in Semester Two.

Teaching English and Art in Thailand

I love teaching visual arts. Inspiring my students to explore the world of creative expression and seeing their faces light up when they achieve something new is the best reward. One of my favorite things to see is when a student discovers an artist, a style, or a technique they love. I also love seeing how accomplished they feel when they complete a piece of artwork. Art is my passion and I am so grateful that I get to teach it!

I also teach other subjects like Core English, Young Guide, Problem-Based-Learning, and English for Communication and Writing. Core English is typically six periods per week. In Core English we focus more on grammar and learning the building blocks of the English language. Young Guide is more of a vocational course, where we focus on tourism, hospitality, and using English for those industries. All our other English courses all have aims to broaden our students’ abilities as well as conversational and written language skills. I like this course best as we have a bit more freedom in our lesson planning and project making, although I like to be creative in all my subjects.

Play Around With Projects

For example, I love using role play and imagination in my students’ projects. I find it really allows them to gain confidence and be more excited about learning and using English. I currently have a project that my grade 7 students are working on. They have to create a video guide about surviving a disaster using modal verbs for rules and obligations, as well as modals for advice and suggestions. Some of the topics that groups have chosen to look at are very creative. Some examples are about surviving a zombie apocalypse, a plane crash, an alien invasion, and a volcano eruption. It makes me so proud when I see my students engaged and excited about a class.

I also teach Enrichment English classes. These are extra supplementary classes to help students with their progression. I have a homeroom class that I go to for our homeroom hour once a week. I also have a club I am responsible for on  Friday afternoons. If we have a competition coming up, a lot of my free time will be used with that. I typically train and practice with students to help them get ready for competing. Like I said earlier, what I do day-to-day depends on a lot of factors.” 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“As I said above, we are a very small team of teachers, so we all know each other well. I am happy to say that I have built a lot of strong working relationships with my coworkers. We all have a common goal to deliver the best possible education and experience for our students. Like with every job, there are people who I am closer to than others, but that comes naturally with life.

I have a brilliant relationship with my boss. She is such a wonderful lady and I am forever grateful for all her support and guidance. I am fortunate to say that I don’t just have working relationships with my coworkers. Some are true friends. You need that here, especially if you’re living on your own and have no friends or family outside of work. Loneliness can be a real issue when you move abroad. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I found my job.  really found a wonderful, supportive environment for my first teaching job. I’ll remember this school and these lovely people forever!” 

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

Visiting the Amphawa Floating Market
Visiting the Amphawa Floating Market

“I don’t think I can pinpoint one single part of the day, as everyday is different! I do have to say, I love my homeroom class time. This is when I get to work and interact with the students outside of our usual English or Art lessons. It’s important that teachers engage with their students and get to know them outside of their class-time. I’ve found that giving students an extra bit of care, an ear to listen to their problems, and a friendly, relaxed relationship helped to build a better bond and grounds for respect inside of the classroom.

Another thing I really enjoy is the end of the day. The last period of the day at school is usually free for most classes. Our office typically gets invaded by students. Students come in to see teachers to ask questions, submit work, and sometimes to sit and have some company. During this time of the day, I usually help some of my seventh-grade students with their homework. If I have a really fun and successful lesson, that automatically becomes my favorite part of the day. I leave feeling so inspired and uplifted afterwards. I try to enjoy the entire day, as that’s what I’m here for: the whole experience!”

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

“As I teach multiple different subjects, the method of teaching can change depending on the subject and the learning outcome of the lesson. Our program works with the Thai curriculum set by the Office of the Basic Education Commission, as it’s a government school. Each subject has been enhanced to meet an international standard while still meeting the OBEC requirements. For English Language, we use the Common European Framework of Reference indicators and those set by OBEC. For content, we use a book series to guide us for each CEFR level. As teachers, we are free to plan, create and make our own lessons and materials, as long as we ensure we are following the set indicators for each subject and semester. We make our own semester schedules as well. I enjoy having that freedom, especially when teaching visual arts.

Getting Creative With the Thai Curriculum

As for methods, I like to be very versatile and deliver content differently every few weeks. I like to keep my students engaged and excited about learning by using multiple different types of activities and exercises. I also use a lot of different media sources (powerpoints, interactive games using the computer, videos, video-based projects, etc.). In the English Language, I like to use games to help my students feel connected and confident about their abilities. Our students can be very competitive when it comes to team games, so they always put a lot of effort and brainpower into game-like activities. I like to elicit as much language from students as possible, limiting my talking time whilst guiding them to strengthen their abilities and build their confidence.

When teaching visual arts, I have found myself using a lot of techniques my own college tutors used to deliver content and teach technique. I love hands-on learning. It is my belief that students must physically engage with an activity, technique, or medium to be able to really learn and develop skills. I always want my students to discover a new technique or material by ‘doing,’ not by listening about it or only watching someone else do it. I want my students to think about art in a different way to what they may normally do. Art is for everyone and creative subjects are an integral part of learning.” 

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

A trip around the khlong-(river) in a longtail boat while Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand
A trip on the khlong (river) in a longtail boat

“I start to plan my semester by making a list of subjects and topics I know I need to deliver, then I brainstorm project ideas for each subject/course. I love planning art courses, as I really like to try new project ideas and building activities for the students. Admittedly, planning English lessons didn’t come so naturally to me. There has been some learning by trial and error when it comes to classroom activities. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to reflect and evaluate those situations in order to make myself a better educator.

Examples of Student Projects

My seventh-grade students are working on the survival guide for a disaster that I previously mentioned. My ninth-grade students are busy finishing their class magazine that we will have professionally printed. The aim of the magazine is for them to produce a collective piece of work that shows the writing skills they have developed throughout the semester. The eleventh graders are finishing up their visual journals and group mural paintings as we are coming to the end of our school year. Although I feel confident in my lesson planning skills, I always aim to improve for the next school year.

I get ready for a lesson by making sure I know my lesson plan and content well. I make sure I have all the equipment and documents I may need for the lesson. Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Activities get extended, exercises take a little bit longer to complete and that’s okay! I try not to be too hard on myself if that does happen, I just make sure I deliver all required content to all of my students, even if it means having an extra class one day (which happens often because of the many events we have at school).”

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or through all classes? Can you describe it? 

“The school I work at is a government school, but we have a private International Program within the school itself. Most subjects in our program are taught only in English. A select few courses are taught in Thai. Those courses are Thai History and Culture, Thai Traditional Dance, Music, Athletics, and Higher-level Math). The courses which are taught in English are English, Sciences, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Drama, Media Studies, Social Studies, Occupational Technology, Computer Science, and Health. Our students all have different levels of English ability, so we do have to account for students who are at an elementary level as well as students who are pre-intermediate and intermediate.

It can be difficult to keep students who are on opposite ends of the skill levels engaged and excited about class. We have to make sure that those students who have advanced abilities don’t get bored in lessons and are still challenged, while ensuring that students who are in the elementary stages of learning the language are still striving and showing progress in their abilities and confidence. Our classes aren’t split by skill level because we have such a small cohort of students in the entire program. We have two classes per grade. One class is learning an English-Math curriculum and the other is learning a Science-Math curriculum. The E-M students have more dramatic studies and vocational subjects using English. The S-M students study additional sciences and math subjects.  This is why we hold enrichment classes for students who need a bit more help and time to develop their skills.” 

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

“When it comes to grades, we use the Thai grading system. We are free to create projects, tests, and exams ourselves. We are trusted to ensure we are keeping to the course description and delivering the content in accordance with our set indicators. Our students must reach a certain percentage in each project and exam in order to be able to pass, and if their grade for the entire semester fails to meet a certain percentage, they must retake the course the following semester.

We use goals and learning outcomes closely tied to the set indicators. We need to ensure we provide students with the correct content so we have regular assessments at the end of each module or topic. Each teacher is fairly free and trusted to create their own assessment schedule, as long as we keep in accordance with the Thai system. Students receive a certificate for each completed school year from the Thai education authority.”

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

Beautiful flowers on our our school's campus
Beautiful flowers on our school’s campus.

“I struggled to find an answer for this question because I really don’t know what to say. I think I could say that I’ve started to realize what my own teaching style is more than I knew at the beginning of the school year. Although I still think I have a long way to go to feel completely comfortable in my skills, I’m trying not to be over critical of myself. I think that a lot of teachers struggle with that, especially in the first few years of settling into the career. I’ve learned more of what works and what doesn’t work for me, in all areas from lesson planning and class activities to behavior management and personal lesson delivery skills.

I’ve also learned to say no. A lot of things can be asked of us art teachers. As the only one in our program, I struggled with finding my voice at first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to help where and when I can, but some requests and expectations do weigh heavy. I can’t allow ‘extras’ to affect my everyday classes and ability to be the best teacher. While I love to collaborate with others and use my creative skills, I know my boundaries and when to voice my concerns.

Keep Striving

I also learned that it’s okay not to be perfect, and that really, every educator has had to make mistakes and have messy lessons in order to learn and improve themselves. So if I have one piece of advice to everyone, don’t be too tough on yourself! We’re all learning and striving to do our best, we shouldn’t allow our own doubts to stop us from reaching our own goals and fulfilling our full potentials.

I look forward to the next school year and discovering a lot more about myself, as well as developing my skills as an educator. I hope I can stick around with the rest of the Teach Abroad and Dreams Abroad team, too!”

Wrap Up of Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand

Beth had an incredible second year teaching English in Phuket. She has a supportive boss and team of teachers, some of whom have become her true friends. She’s encouraging her students “to do” and think for themselves while learning English. Her strategies are apparently working seeing as her students are competing in competitions and winning. Congratulations, Beth! 

Beth’s school break will be from April to mid-May 2020. She will spend the month of March preparing for the next year and wrapping up this last school year. We will check in with Beth in March to see what she has planned before her next school year starts back up in May 2020.

The Cambodia Killing Fields

by Edmond Gagnon

To truly understand the country of Cambodia, one must first understand its past. Forty years after the massive genocide committed by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), more commonly called the Khmer Rouge, I endeavored to do exactly that. Having an interest in the Vietnam War, I’d heard about the mass killings in the neighboring country of Cambodia. It wasn’t until I watched the 1984 movie The Killing Fields, that I had a better understanding of what really happened. 

The Khmer Rouge

Despite the massive bombing campaign by the United States, the Khmer Rouge won the Cambodian civil war that ran from 1970 to 1975. They eventually took political control of the country. Their goal was to maximize production by making everyone farmers. To reach their goal, they eliminated an entire social order that included political opponents, doctors, lawyers, teachers, civil servants, and all other upper-class professionals. 

massive genocide cambodia

Nobody knows the exact numbers, but some estimate the Rouge arrested, tortured, and killed anywhere from 1.5 to 3 million people — a whopping 25% of Cambodia’s population. The Khmer Rouge caught civilians and loaded them onto trucks. From there, they brought their victims to remote areas known as the Killing Fields. Here, their executioners sentenced them to death and buried them in shallow mass graves. 

To save the cost of ammunition for such a large task, executioners used poison, shovels, clubs, knives, as well as sharpened bamboo sticks to get the job done. Some executioners took young children to a large tree where they smashed their heads against it. The idea here was that they wouldn’t avenge their dead parents later in life. 

killing tree

This politically ironic catastrophe happened because China and the U.S. trained and supplied the Khmer Rouge with weapons and intelligence to counter the power of Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Sadly, it took thirty years for the monsters the world powers created to fade and finally be brought to justice. 

victims of killing fields

Learning About the Past in the Cambodia Killing Fields

None of what I’d previously read hit home until I visited the Cambodia Killing Fields monument. It sits about ten miles out of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. I felt overwhelmed by a sense of grief. I felt like I should remove my shoes to walk on the sacred ground. Constructed of concrete and glass, the towering monument contains stacks of human skulls. It was as if I could see the faces of the multitude of victims parading through my mind. 

killing fields Cambodia temple

I felt afraid to speak or ask questions as I quietly explored the marked grave sites. Signs explain to the visitors what exactly professionals found in each mass grave — naked women or headless bodies or children. A knot formed in my stomach; no other place on earth evoked such a strong emotion from me.

victims of mass murder

The result of this mass genocide undeniably set Cambodia back decades. With most of the country’s professionals executed, the financial, educational, medical, and political systems were in chaos, with only young and inexperienced people to fill the void. I witnessed the effects of this first hand. It’s something the country is just now almost fully recovered from. Many still consider Cambodia as a developing country, partly because of its past. Nonetheless, there are many other beautiful things to see and do there.

truck stop cambodia killing fields

The Royal Palace and surrounding grounds are a must-see while in Phnom Penh. Close by, on the river, colorful boats offer a waterside view of the capital city. The passage of time, lessons learned, and experience gained has led to Cambodia entering the 21st century successfully. If you’re visiting Thailand or Vietnam, Cambodia is close by and a cheaper alternative to absorbing the Southeast Asian culture

 

How to Get TEFL Certification in Five Steps

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

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

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

Step 1: Be Introspective and Ask Yourself These Questions

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

questions what do you mean

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

Step 2: Consider the Qualifications for TEFL Certification

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

Step 3: Choose a TEFL Course

map places tour

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

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

TEFLCampus

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

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

TEFL Certification in Five Steps

Step 5: Prepare to Leave Home for a TEFL Certificate

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

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

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

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

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

Before Loading the Plane for You TEFL Certification

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

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

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

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

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

 

Roundup of Our Best Articles of 2019

It’s that time of year, where we post our winter round-up best articles of 2019. If you remember from our summer round-up series, you, our readers, decided our top five pieces.  Some of our writers have made it back for our final review, the best blog posts of 2019.

This year we have seen a variety of ideas from our writers. Some members from our Travel Abroad team wrote about places like Iceland, Mexico City, as well as Kuwait City, just to name a few. Our Teach Abroad members have provided resources on teaching in the USA, abroad, and online. In addition, they have given guidance on how to get abroad through pre-departure tips (do’s and don’ts). We are especially proud of our Study Abroad team’s inaugural year. We certainly have a great group who started this year and they shared guidance on many different ideas pertaining to studying abroad, the steps to take, tips on scholarships, and finding the best study program that fits your goals.

Finally, our community, you, have read a year’s worth of content. Based on what and how many times you read it, here is what you decided as Dreams Abroad’s Best Articles of 2019.

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States

spanish esl teacher teaching in the us

Leesa Truesdell’s interview with Caroline Hazelton made the “best of” list in June. It kept its spot as one of the top five articles of 2019. In this interview, Caroline spoke in detail about the differences in teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) online, teaching English as a Second Language (ESOL), and teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds in the USA. She gave an especially great piece of advice to all learners from different cultures: “Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!” 

This piece covers content ranging from cultural identity to Noam Chomsky’s theory of “universal grammar” that states humans have an innate ability to learn languages. Additionally, she talks about the struggles international students face while in the USA and touches on her own personal development as a teacher. She provides tips and guidance on what she has done differently over the years. This interview is a must read for teachers in any profession. Caroline has been teaching languages for many years and is a fourth-generation teacher. We can see why this interview is in our top five viewed.  

How Did I Get to Thailand to Teach?

Emma Higgins discusses the reasons she chose to move to Thailand after graduation with an English Literature degree from the University of South Carolina. She doesn’t recall what exactly made her think Thailand, but remembers seeing a friend who taught in Bangkok, Thailand and remembered thinking that she could do it. 

buddha statue

In this piece, Emma provides guidance on how she researched teaching in Thailand. She explains that the more she researched, the more it undeniably confirmed her desire to travel abroad and live a life in Thailand. Emma suggests doing the proper research before traveling abroad because of the different visa types offered in Thailand. 

In addition, this article provides guidance on how to book a ticket to get to Thailand and suggests how to prepare before you arrive. Emma explains that the most difficult part about the “how do I get to Thailand to teach” is deciding to come.  

Iceland Travels: A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Iceland Travels A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Amanda Whitten talks about her recent Iceland travels with her friend throughout the northwest part of Iceland. Amanda discusses the unquestionably impressive landscape and epic paths she travels with her friend in their rental jeep, providing pointers for your next trip to Iceland. During her Iceland travels, she takes you on a play-by-play of her trip through the fjords, past the volcanic lava fields and into the next leg of her six-day adventure. Amanda emphasizes things she would do again and things she would not do again. This is a very helpful piece for anyone looking to travel to Iceland and roadtrip in the summer by Jeep. 

Pre-Departure Teaching English in Seoul, South Korea

 

epik teach English Program in Korea

Zoe Ezechiels interviewed Paige Miller in a two-part interview. Paige graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University in August of 2018. While at the university, Paige was an active part of the Korean American Student Association. Her cultural interests both in Korean culture and teaching inspired her to apply to Epik, a Korean (TEFL) recruiter.  

Because of her interests in both Korean culture and teaching, Paige decided on teaching English in Korea after graduation. In February 2019, she began to teach in Seoul, South Korea at Seoul Dongho Elementary School. Zoe’s interview explains her pre-departure process of teaching English in South Korea. She provides insight and pointers from Paige, who is still living in South Korea. 

Top Kuwait Tourist Attractions

Dalal Boland is a Ph.D. student from Kuwait City, Kuwait. Dalal lives in Tampa, Florida. She will return to her home country to teach at a university once she completes her Ph.D. Dalal is extremely proud of her home country and birthplace. In this piece, she explains the top Kuwait tourist attractions. Dalal notes that Kuwait is a small country but lists some of its most dazzling tourist attractions. Check out her recommendations.

Kuwait Towers Best Blog Posts of 2019

Thank You for Reading Our Best Articles of 2019

We thank you for reading, commenting, and being part of our best articles of 2019! We have seen an influx of comments coming in on our content. It’s been particularly great to see the engagement — we enjoy collaborating with our community. Thank you for reading and influencing our best articles of 2019. Please continue to give us feedback throughout 2020 so that we can understand the content and ideas you enjoy reading most. Thanks again and may you continue to live your dreams abroad!

by Leesa Truesdell

Finding the Perfect International Job

 

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

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

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

Meet Diego: 

Why did you choose to teach abroad in Thailand?

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

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

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

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

denmark wwoof world wide opportunity on organic farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tefl international jobs

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

What are your perceptions of Thailand so far? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been the best experience?

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

teaching abroad

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

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

A New Life in Asia Because of an International Job

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

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

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

by Leesa Truesdell

Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

 

fireworks Kin Ja FestivalWhat is Kin Jay? Kin Jay (pronounced ‘gin jay’) is the popular name for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival held in October. The festival, also known as The Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a nine-day Taoist celebration that takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The vibrant event derives from the belief that abstaining from meat, animal products, and other stimulants (such as alcohol and cigarettes) will help ensure good physical health and peace of mind for those who partake in the ceremonies.

While the festival is famous for the thrilling celebrations, and somewhat gruesome traditions, it is a deeply spiritual experience for both participants and spectators. The origins of the Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival are still somewhat uncertain. However, generally, many believe that the festival was first introduced to Phuket by Chinese immigrants (performers and merchants) who later became sick while living on the island.

Nine Emperor Gods

As the tale goes, they adopted a strict vegetarian (more comparable to vegan) diet and prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods to ask for cleansing of their mind, body, and soul. In the telling of the story, after doing this for nine days, the community made a remarkable recovery. They astonishingly healed quickly from what was then a life-threatening illness. The people held a festival to honour the gods and express their gratitude. Over the years, the festival blossomed and progressed into an annual extravaganza. Thousands of participants and viewers from all over Asia and other western countries flock to it.

The Events and Ceremonies

The Kin Jay vegetarian festival is filled with several (and occasionally macabre), ceremonies that are believed to appeal to the gods. As well as the abstinence of meat products and stimulants, participants also take part in fire walking, body piercing, and other acts of self-mortification. They believe they are acting as mediums for the gods, or for spirits that they have a sacred ancestral connection to.

These events have only become more astonishing and audacious as the years’ progress Those who participate speak of being ‘possessed’ by the gods and spirits during these ceremonies. This is what allows them to feel no pain or harm from their acts of self-mutilation. It is believed that the Chinese gods protect them from physical and mental harm, as well as ensuring minuscule bleeding and scarring, during these times. This allows the vessels to go to great lengths to show their commitment. Puncturing skin (often cheeks) with various items (including knives, swords, skewers, and other domestic items – even bicycles!), wiping themselves with leather and rope, and even bathing in hot oil in past years are just a few of the ways in which devotees show their gratitude to the gods.

spiritual expression Experiencing Kin Jae

Hitting the Streets

The celebrations take place all over the island of Phuket but are concentrated around the area of the six main Chinese temples, which are dispersed around the island. The first event that takes place is the raising of the Lantern Pole. It is believed that this deed informs the nine gods about the onset of the festival. It acts as a means of calling them down to earth. The pole itself is around ten meters tall. Its erection is believed to mark the descending of the Hindu god, Shiva, who brings spiritual power to the festival. For the duration of the festival, Chinese-Thai families will bring their household gods to the various temples. They give offerings of food and drink. According to legend, this helps bring positive spiritual energy to the household.

Street processions are some of the main events during the Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival. It is in these events where participants will be embodied by the gods/spirits and take part in the body piercing and other self-disfigurement. These processions take place on the main roads in Phuket, often taking very long and somewhat illogical routes. Visitors can observe the participants in a trance-like state, while they are devoting themselves to their beliefs. These processions and events take place in the early mornings (6 AM and onwards) as well as in the evening.

fireworks Kin Ja Vegetarian Festival Thailand

Kin Jay Food and Cuisine

Aside from observing the spectacle and immersing yourself into the atmosphere, a big part of Kin Jay is the food! Many local restaurants will shut down their usual service and provide only Jae cuisine. Furthermore, many street food stalls solely provide Jay items throughout the festival period. To spot one of these stalls, look for yellow flags with red Chinese or Thai letters on them. Phuket displays these flags leading up to, and during, the festival. The vegetarian food and snacks are tasty, I must say.

Kin Jae Food and Cuisine

One of my favorite dishes is sticky rice and coconut grilled inside a banana leaf. It is so cheap and so delicious! A lot of dishes use meat substitutes, like soybean protein and tofu. However, don’t be afraid to try these items, as they surprisingly resemble meat. Upon first experiencing the events, I felt intrigued to learn more about the spiritual beliefs of the festival. It is fascinating to me to not only observe the participants during such a celebration but also to try and understand the mindset behind the festival itself.

The purity of the sheer devotion to their spiritual beliefs is something I admire. Admittedly, the events may not be everyone’s taste. They are not to be witnessed by the faint-hearted. I know many people who have felt physically ill from just watching the acts — and some have even vomited! Nonetheless, I love to observe and try to understand the surreal atmosphere and ideas behind these acts of self-mortification.

Experiencing Kin Jay for What It Is

I try to always remember that I shouldn’t disrespect the beliefs of others, especially in something like Kin Jay. Who am I to decide what is or isn’t real, to a culture and community I am not part of, or for events I have never experienced first-hand? Sadly, I do know of some people who make fun of the participants and the beliefs behind Kin Jay. It makes me feel irritated to hear comments of such attitudes. The festival itself and the beliefs behind it are some of the most beautiful forms of spiritual expression I have even witnessed or learned about.

While I acknowledge that I felt taken aback when observing the events for the first time, I also felt entranced. Watching the participants, I admired their devotion. I am someone who is somewhat into body-modification. It is very interesting to see the act used as a form of spiritual manifestation and as a means to communicate with our gods and/or ancestors.

Kin Ja Vegetarian Festival Thailand

While I have only witnessed the festival twice, I look forward to observing the event again. I can’t wait to learn more about it in the future. I will warn you though, if you have a soft stomach, perhaps the morning processions are not for you! That doesn’t mean to say that you cannot experience any part of Kin Jay. There are plenty of events that do not involve body piercing. For example, prayers and offerings, which take place at the many temples and shrines. Visitors can take part in lighting incense and candles around these temples. They can also give offerings themselves to the participants during the firewalks and more subdued processions. 

Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

So, does the Thailand Kin Jay Vegetarian Festival sound like something you would want to observe? If so, make sure you head to Phuket for the first two weeks of October next year! I will be more than happy to escort you to some of the events (and show you some of the best vegetarian/vegan foods around!). What are you waiting for? Why not check Phuket off your bucket list while being able to experience one of the biggest spiritual celebrations in Thailand, at the same time?

Interested in learning about other travel destinations perfect for vegetarians and vegans? Check out our guide to dining as a vegan in the Canary Islands next.

Immersing Yourself into Thai Culture

beth youngBeth Young was born in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Teesside, United Kingdom at a young age, where she spent the remainder of her childhood. She grew up in a small town where she went to school. Beth, like most of her generation, experienced first-hand the rise of social media. As a young teenager, she felt the negative impacts of what hiding behind a screen had on young adults both inside and outside of the classroom. Beth had continuously been cyberbullied and was seeking shelter away from the known. In 2013, she left her secondary school at 14 and decided to attend an art college. Beth wanted to get away from classmates who had been bullying her. In 2015, when she was 16, Beth completed her studies at the art college. She headed away from Teesside, UK in order to experience a different way of life.

Beth went to Northumbria University and earned her Bachelor of Art (honors) in Fine Art. She didn’t know it at the time, but her soulmate and partner from Phuket moved to Newcastle, UK. He would attend the same university where they would eventually meet. Beth’s life has been forever impacted by her decision to attend this school. Ultimately, she made the choice to teach abroad in Thailand. Her partner’s family lives in Phuket. She is, each and every day, learning more and more about Thai culture.

Meet Beth:

Why did you choose to teach abroad in Thailand?

I chose to move abroad to teach because I had always felt that there was so much more in life than what is outside of your front door, so to say. I’ve always had the drive to see and experience new things — to learn from the differences of others. I love being enriched by immersing myself in new situations. Ultimately, I decided to come to Thailand specifically because I’d heard about the atmosphere, lifestyle, and cultural values. I knew these were things I could learn from and use to evolve myself for the better.

I had visited Thailand a number of times before I took the plunge and moved here properly. My other half is Thai (born and raised in Phuket) so I had come to visit several times. Over the years I had visited Thailand, I realized that I was a better version of myself when here. I acquired the tools to make myself a better person. By taking the time to learn about the philosophies, people, and the Thai culture, I was able to step back and look at things objectively. This, in turn changed my opinion and understanding of a lot of aspects of my life.

thailand culture abroad

I wanted to live somewhere where I actually felt like I was living. I wanted to live somewhere where I could enrich myself in all aspects of my environment. Somewhere where I would genuinely be happy. Thailand offers me all of that, and even more. I am discovering new, wondrous things about this country every single day.

Have you ever taught before? 

I had never taught professionally before moving to Thailand. However, I had previously accepted leadership roles when attending weekly groups and clubs. I guided younger people in selected activities (such as dramatic arts, visual art workshops, and as an acting coach).

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

I decided to move abroad once I graduated from university. This decision to relocate was taken almost a year before graduation. Even before moving abroad, I knew that I always wanted to teach. Specifically, I wanted to teach visual and creative arts.

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

At first, I had built my expectations based upon the few blogs and video diaries of fellow TEFL teachers. I didn’t truly have any solid expectations. I knew that every experience is individual and different, depending on your own mindset and approach to the situation. Also, I knew that I would have a learning curve. I’d have to learn to be an educator and a person living in a new country and cultural environment. I was very fortunate to find a position with an International Program teaching Visual Arts and English Language. It is something that doesn’t come often to new teachers, especially to someone as young as I am.

I am teaching at Satree Phuket School with the International Program. In my school, I have received the utmost support and guidance by the management and my colleagues. We all learn from each other and work together to create a positive learning atmosphere for our students. I think it’s important that we don’t have any real expectations set in stone. Without expectations, we can only build an honest opinion from own our experiences, rather than those that we hear from others.

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

Firstly, I signed myself up for a TEFL course in Phuket. The TEFL Campus in Phuket provides prospective teachers with the tools they need. Their goal is to prepare teachers for the real classroom environment. With this course, I was not only prepared to teach, but also to work in a professional environment. The support from the trainers at the TEFL Campus was brilliant. They have experience in the career as well as teaching/living in a new country. They really go out of their way to provide a solid foundation for you to start your teaching career.

thailand teachers abroad

Blogs from Other People Living in Thailand Are a Great Help

Personally, I prepared myself by reading a lot of blogs from other people living in Thailand. I also searched for groups of teachers and expats in Thailand. I was able to connect with people already here and ask them any questions I had. Additionally, I researched all of the legal requirements for living and working in Thailand. I felt fully prepared for the visa process, a critical aspect of moving abroad. Though, I feel my experience may have been different from others. I already had connections to Thailand and the Thai people before moving here permanently. I already knew what to expect in terms of culture and climate. Nonetheless, the professional teaching atmosphere was something I was completely new to, and I can say that being able to interact with people who can share their experiences and what they have learned is very beneficial.

What are your perceptions of Thailand so far? 

I honestly see Thailand as a stunning country with beautiful cultural values. There are aspects of the culture and daily life which I needed to adapt to, and some that I still don’t fully understand all of the time. It is important to remember that I am living in a land very different from that of my own. I am grateful and so fortunate to be able to enrich myself and broaden my horizons in such an amazing environment.

The sheer kindness and welcoming nature of Thai people is something that I admire. While you may not feel this in every circumstance, I have learnt that if you approach everything which a good heart and a smile, you are a thousand times more likely to receive the same back.

What are your goals while you are abroad?

In the long run, I would like to create a foundation for my partner and myself. I want to start a future and build a family here in Thailand. At the moment, my aims are to develop my own professional skills as well as to continue to evolve personally, learning from everyone around me. I want to enrich my students and allow them to know that they can achieve anything in life, no matter what tools they have or where they come from. It’s important to me that I am making a positive difference in the lives of the youth that I have been entrusted with. I want to inspire my students to be the best version of themselves and to reach for the stars!

What has been the most difficult thing since you arrived? 

I have been thinking about my answer to this question for a while, and I honestly can’t think of one thing which I would consider as the most difficult. Of course, whenever you move somewhere so far away and so different from your home, there are adjustments and things to overcome. Adjusting to the distance between myself and my close family members was something that I knew I would struggle with. However, I have come to understand that the distance is only physical — we don’t have to let that affect our hearts. Another aspect that was challenging was learning how to adjust to how I deal with and respond to certain situations. We cannot always act or speak like we would in our home countries, as something that is perfectly fine at home could be taken or misunderstood as rude and insensitive elsewhere.

Living and Working in Thailand

While there are aspects of living and working in Thailand that some foreigners may find difficult to accept or adjust to, I don’t think that resisting change helps anyone. It’s important to ask questions about the culture and social interactions so that we are not inadvertently being rude or offensive to those around us. Having the willingness to adapt and listen to other points of view is a priceless characteristic to have.

thai culture walking on a bridge

What has been the best experience?

My best professional experience are probably the school trips I have been invited on throughout my time at Satree Phuket School. Every year, all of our IP students go on a five day trip to different parts of Thailand. We call it ‘Outside Classroom Learning.’ On the trip, the students learn about the culture, history, and needs of the community which they are visiting. We also have an annual camp which we arrange for our younger students, aimed to target leadership and team building skills.

The aim of these trips is to provide students with critical life skills, while learning in a fun and engaging environment. I love school trips because we get to see our students tackle new activities and working together to grow. We also have a teacher’s retreat trip coming up soon, where we will be working together to build our teamwork skills so we can be the best foundation for our students.

Experience New Parts of Thailand and Thai Culture

Personally, my best memories include getting to see and experience new parts of Thailand and Thai culture. Some favorites include swimming in waterfalls and trekking through mangroves, learning to make Gapi-Goong (shrimp paste) from scratch, and attending the wedding of one of my friends or family members. I cherish every new experience I have. I consider myself very lucky to be able to see so much, at such a young age

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

eating thailand foodAs my partner is half Thai, I feel that I have had a ‘head start’ in learning about the culture and beliefs of Thai people. I have spent the best part of four years learning about the culture, the history, and the lifestyle of Thailand so I can understand their way of life. I think the culture is beautiful: the philosophies of life and spiritual beliefs are something I love to discover. The sense of family and belonging is something that I have never experienced anywhere else in the world, and I wouldn’t want it to be any different.

That being said, some aspects of the Thai culture took me a while to fully understand at first. However, remaining open-minded and willing to see things from another perspective is crucial to being able to adapt and evolve with the culture. Especially as someone with a Thai partner and family, it is so drastically important to me that I do all I can to learn about, understand, and respect the world that I am living in.

Ask Questions and Educate Yourself on Thai Culture

Taking the time to ask questions and educating yourself on the culture is important. No one is expecting you to change yourself if you don’t wish to, but it’s important to respect and be open to the culture of where you are living.

I have tried my best to immerse myself in the culture and spirituality. One of my favourite aspects of that include helping and spending time with my partner’s family when we go to visit them in Krabi. We help them to get the fish or fruit ready for their market stalls, help prepare dinner for the family, and finally sit together and learn more of each other’s languages. It’s the best when we are able to just sit and chat. It gives me that true sense of being a family.

I love when we visit them because we are able to shut off from the busy Phuket life and rewind for a few days in the relaxed atmosphere of Grandma’s house. It is beautiful to feel fully accepted and part of a family here. I cherish each and every one of my family members. It truly makes Thailand feel far more like home.

Immersing Yourself into the Thai Culture

Beth has started her first year as a visual arts teacher at a public school in Phuket, Thailand. She knew before she graduated from her university where she wanted to live and what she wanted to teach. She took the chance to move to Phuket and is thriving alongside her partner and his family. Some of her best memories so far are experiencing Thai culture and learning about it with her class.

Over our conversation on the phone, her desire to learn more about others and especially other cultures was apparent, especially considering her experiences of being bullied. She spoke about being bullied throughout her studies in Teesside and the root cause of why she was bullied. She explained that when she moved to the UK after living in Baltimore with her dad, that her classmates used to tell her to go back to the US. They told her she was different and did not belong.

She didn’t specify how exactly the bullying occurred other than that it was on social media and that the children were even crueler behind the screen than to her face. Ultimately, Beth chose her profession based on her previous struggles and what her teachers did not do for her. She wants to be a mentor and positive role model in her students’ lives that she never had. Stay tuned for more on Beth’s first year of teaching English in Thailand!

by Leesa Truesdell

 

How Did I Get to Thailand to Teach?

When you first hear about Thailand, you probably picture the flowy elephant pants, Leonardo Dicaprio in “The Beach,” or dengue fever. Maybe you’ve even seen pictures of your freshman roommate’s brother’s trip to Thailand where they went to Full Moon Parties and slept in cheap beach bungalows. I get it — there’s a certain stereotype found with the word, one of cheap beer and Pad Thai. And I, like you, once pictured Thailand as a Party-Goers’ Lawless Paradise with a large amount of “Different” and “Other.” But after living here for over a year, I can’t tell you how much my perspective has changed. While I still see a good bit of elephant pants (enough’s enough, tourists), Thailand’s history and culture goes so much deeper than that.

In all honesty, I don’t totally remember when or how the idea of Thailand came into being for me. I remember seeing a family friend that had just spent time as an English teacher in Bangkok, and I remember thinking “… Huh, I could do that…“ I looked at her beautiful pictures of tropical islands and cheap beer. I decided that Thailand would be my next move after graduation. After a little (a lot of) research on travel blogs, what started out as long-shot “One Day” dream, quickly became a solid plan.

The Research Days

After days of research, I started discovering tons of reasons why Thailand seemed “right.” For starters, it was beautiful. Every picture I saw, even the crappy ones on Instagram, seemed straight off of a postcard. Secondly, Thailand is cheap. As in, delicious meals are under $2 cheap. The cost of living is pretty low. If I could finagle a job as an English teacher, I would be making more than enough to support myself and my travel lifestyle. For a broke college grad, this was reason enough. Third, every person that I cyber stalked and interrogated who had done this before, had nothing but positive things to say. Reviews ranged from the best experience of their life, to wishing they could go back. The more research I did on living in Thailand, the better living in Thailand sounded.

And after months of living here, these reasons still ring true. But, I found the truly amazing aspects of Thailand go a lot deeper. For me, the true beauty of Thailand is not in the white sandy beaches, or the sunrise mountain hikes. The best parts of Thailand are the hospitality locals show foreigners, like when your motorbike breaks down. I see it in the family-owned restaurants with plastic chairs, and their excitement when you’ve learned your favorite Thai dish’s name. It’s the palpable honor and amazement that can be felt when you walk into a Buddhist temple. The best parts of Thailand can’t be calculated in a budget. They can’t be written about on the back of a postcard. The best parts can only be witnessed once you get here. But, how the heck do I get there?

Where Do I Start?

Okay — so you’ve decided to come to Thailand, but you have no idea where to start. The most expensive part of coming to Thailand is probably booking your ticket here. If you live in the US, tickets can be pretty expensive, even booked in advance. If you live in Europe, it can be a little cheaper. And, if you live in Australia or Asia…  it’s nothing. But, what I can say, is that once you’re here, the most expensive part is over. Look forward to cheap food and cheap accommodation.

The most strenuous part of coming to Thailand is deciding what it is you want to do here and following through with that. I would say that a majority of travelers that come through here are English teachers. While it’s not an easy job, it is a common one, and one that almost anyone with a Bachelor’s degree can do. You will have to complete a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course that allows you to teach English anywhere in the world. There’s all sorts of programs, with many ranges of difficulty, including ones online that you can do from home or programs at the heart of the city where you want to be. Once you’ve achieved your certification, finding a job here is much like any other place. There are applications, interviews, and waiting for calls back.

If teaching is not your thing, you’re not limited to grammar and vocabulary lessons with eight-year-olds. I’ve seen people come through Thailand with all types of careers: muay Thai fighters, students, online marketing, or hospitality. Your options are only limited to the visa paperwork you’re willing to do. If this is something you’re interested in, though, I would highly recommend doing lots of research in your home country before coming. Thailand is very welcoming to foreigners, but you can’t stay on tourist entry forever.

How to Prepare to Go to Thailand

A lot of people ask me things like “What should I bring when I come?” or “What do you miss most?” My first response is always that Thailand has everything you have at home just with Thai words on them. And it’s true – there is very little that is strange or different about the supermarkets. All pharmacies have anything you might need. Airports and train stations in Bangkok work exactly like they do in New York City. Malls in Chiang Mai have the same stores and McDonalds that they do in London. Hospitals in Thailand are probably even better than hospitals in the western part of the world. When it comes to being prepared, you don’t have to be all that prepared.

The most difficult part about coming to Thailand is making the decision to come – and even that is not hard. There are all sorts of resources online, and not many questions Google or Pinterest can’t answer. Find someone who has lived in Thailand, and I’m sure they would be more than happy to help (or have a reason to talk about how much they loved it). Thailand has something to offer to everyone, and amazing experiences for those looking to find ones. I came here expecting a vacation lifestyle with ease, but I’m so glad that I got so much more than that.


by Emma Higgins