In my last year, I was still undecided between doing a master's degree or going directly into a career, so I decided to take a year off and travel while I could. I'd heard about TEFL courses for a long time, and when I went looking for the best place to take one, the TEFL Institute appeared to have the most classes and locations.
Tell us about yourself. We would love to know about your background and what drew you to teaching English in Thailand?
I received my bachelor’s degree in English and history from University last October. In my last year, I was still undecided between doing a master’s degree or going directly into a career, so I decided to take a year off and travel while I could. I’d heard about TEFL courses for a long time, and when I went looking for the best place to take one, the TEFL Institute appeared to have the most classes and locations.
South East Asia had always sparked my interest, and I spent a significant amount of time researching internships in Thailand and Vietnam. During this time, I was in contact with the TEFL Institute, and Ola was really helpful in providing me with any information I required and addressing any concerns I had. One of the things that drew me to these two internships was the one-semester contract with the possibility to extend if I wished. Finally, I chose Thailand because the start date was more convenient for me, but I was able to travel while I was there and visit Vietnam. I booked the internship in February 2019 for a September/October start date, which allowed me plenty of time to research and prepare for my trip while also doing the 120-hour online TEFL course that came with it.
Tell us about your TEFL experience, do you feel it prepared you to teach in Thailand?
I was still in my final year of college when I booked the internship, so I was anxious about not having enough time to complete the course, but once I got started, it was so simple to check in and keep working on it without feeling rushed. I was concerned at first that I would not be prepared for being in a classroom with no prior experience, but I was pleasantly surprised by how thorough the course was, especially given that it was one of the shorter courses available, and when I finished it, I felt much more at ease. However, there is still a significant transition from an online course to a classroom setting, and our Thai agency excelled at bridging this gap.
We attended an orientation session with other ‘new’ teachers after landing in Thailand, where they offered us classroom-based scenarios and walked us through all we needed to know. I arrived late in Thailand and missed the original orientation, but there was a smaller one for me and other latecomers, so no one was left in the dark. Despite all of your preparation, your first time in a classroom will always be your first time in a classroom, and I discovered that this was the best way to get adjusted to it. Everyone has a unique style and process, and the best way to discover yours is to experiment. Having met other teachers at orientation and having other foreign teachers in the school was beneficial in this regard because we were able to share notes and offer each other advice.
Describe a typical working day in Thailand? How many hours a week are you teaching?
I taught 23 classes per week, which was a manageable workload that allowed me plenty of time to finish lesson plans and grading; nevertheless, even when we weren’t in the classroom, we still had a full day at school. We had to check in by 8.15 a.m. every day and couldn’t leave until 4 p.m. We spent any time we weren’t teaching in the classroom at the office with all of the other foreign language teachers, the most of whom were Thai. We had our own desks where we completed our lesson planning and grading, and we were available to any student who had any questions or needed help. Every day, we had an hour for lunch during which we could leave the school and eat in one of our town’s restaurants, which we did frequently, but the school’s canteen was delicious and reasonably priced, so I ate there most of the time and either ate in the teacher’s lounge or returned to the office.
Weekends were always free, with the exception of one or two instances when we had to represent the school at various events, and there were several Buddhist holidays that meant no classes and were usually celebrated by the entire school in some manner, which was a lot of fun. So, like all the other instructors, we had full school days, but our workload was relatively doable during that time, so I focused on getting planning and other things done during that time, leaving my evenings and weekends open. Obviously, the workload increased or decreased at different times, but as long as you stay on top of things, you’ll never be under too much stress.
What was life like outside the classroom, did you have time to travel around Thailand?
Overall, living in Thailand is a fairly relaxed experience. After school, we usually spent our time relaxing, going to the gym, watching movies, or playing basketball. We went out to supper with fellow instructors around once a week and had a few favorite restaurants. Even on many weekends, we didn’t travel far and instead focused on exploring our local area on our bikes. I was fortunate in that I was only 2 hours from Bangkok, which is a small amount of time in such a large country. In comparison, some other teachers would be forced to fly to get there. So I took advantage of it a few times and spent the weekend in the city, getting to know it rather well.
Because there were so many of us teachers working for the same agency at the same time, we all knew each other and had comparable work schedules. We took vacations away on long weekends and traveled a bit or just visited each other’s hometowns, which was a great chance to experience more of the country. I postponed a lot of my trips till after the school semester ended because I was freer and felt like I could take my time more then, and many other instructors did the same. I don’t think there was much I didn’t see in the 5 months I was there, and I certainly don’t regret missing anything because it offers me an excuse to return and see it again.
What were 3 things about your time in Thailand that you did not anticipate before you went?
As a foreign instructor, you will undoubtedly achieve star status. I’d read about it before going there, but you don’t really think about it until you’re in the middle of it. Obviously, this changes depending on where you are in the country, but it’s wonderful to know that people recognize you, and professors are widely recognized as well.
Another thing I didn’t expect was not being able to cook or prepare my own meals. Again, this varies greatly from person to person, but our residence lacked an oven or cooker, so we always ate out. This was not a problem at all because the meals are delicious and inexpensive. There were no significant differences between the supermarkets there and here. However, other items were more expensive, such as dairy products, and bread was not used as frequently as it is here. I believe I ate rice virtually every day there because it is served with almost every meal, but there are also home comforts, which are good to have every now and again.
I didn’t expect to meet the individuals I did or form the friendships that I did. As I said before, practically all of the teachers who joined the agency at the same time knew each other and we spent a lot of time together. I was also fortunate in that I was living with three other guys with and who I instantly clicked and did everything with for the next five months. There’s something about sharing an experience like that that draws people closer together, and it’s great that we’re still in touch and have more places to explore in the future. I knew I’d meet people before I arrived, and we even set up a Facebook page months before we traveled to get to know each other a little better, but it’s not until you’re there that you really get to know people. When teaching overseas, you’ll be thrown out of your comfort zone sooner or later, but it’s wonderful to have others who are going through the same thing to share notes with, so you’re never truly alone.
Can you share with us a favourite story from your time teaching in Thailand?
It’s difficult to single just one story as a favorite. There were numerous, but we did have one long weekend. My roommates and I ended up spending it in Bangkok because we had never been there as a group before. We slept at a party hostel with a couple of other professors we knew. I just remember it being a fantastic weekend away with my friends when we had a couple of nights in one of the coolest cities in the world.
What’s next for you? Can you see yourself teaching in the future?
Personally, I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do next. I’m considering returning to college to pursue a master’s degree, but I’m not in any rush. I’m not sure if I’d pursue teaching as a career, but that’s simply because I have other interests. However, I would seriously consider returning to teach in another country. It’s a fantastic way to travel and learn about other cultures, and you’ll constantly learn something new.
What advice would you give to someone considering teaching abroad?
I’d say, as cheesy as it may seem, just do it. I know I loved it and am glad I did, and I’m sure everyone else that did it with me will agree. It also doesn’t have to be a lengthy, well-planned event that you are too prepared for. My friend traveled to Vietnam to teach soon after Christmas, and he only decided to go a few weeks earlier, and he is loving it there now. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has affected a lot of people’s lives, so it could be a good time to relocate and try teaching for a while. If you’re thinking about it, You’ll regret not doing it far more than you’ll regret doing it!