Introduce yourself! What did you do before TEFL? Why made you decide to become a TEFL teacher?

Hello, sawadee!  My name is Jack and since around eight weeks ago, I’ve been teaching English in this country here in Thailand.  I hear you asking, “How did I get here? ” Actually, it was rather accidental. I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, where I also completed my undergraduate studies in business and law. I rapidly came to the conclusion that I did not want to pursue a career in it. The regular 9–5 office life was not for me. After having a few small (and a few big) existential crises and looking to quit every month, I ultimately made the decision to complete my degree and go on from there. So that’s what I did. I spent the next four years trudging my way through university and traveling just about every break I got. This included backpacking trips, ski seasons, weekend breaks – if I didn’t have lectures, I was leaving the country ASAP. (I feel like I should point out here, I actually did enjoy college a lot overall, just not the learning bit.)

Tell us about your journey to Thailand? Why did you choose to teach in Thailand?

Anyway, fast forward to 2020 and graduation is finally around the corner. I had spent a significant amount of time throughout the last few years planning the big RTW post-college trip, particularly around south-east Asia. However, as we all know, 2020 had other plans . Covid threw a grade A spanner in the works for me. Suddenly all of my trip plans post-graduation slid through like sand through my fingers. College had gone virtual and I was sitting in my bedroom studying for final exams which may or may not be going ahead when I stumbled across an ad for the TEFL Institute of Ireland’s comprehensive level 5 300-Hour course. Due to the Covid chaos, the course was offered at a significant discount. I had always been interested in learning TEFL but had never actually gotten around to it while I was still in school. I figured, what better time to get it done than when I’m under house arrest for the next six months anyway?

And so, after my exams, I cracked on with the course. I spent my lockdown getting qualified as an English teacher. The course itself was great, a bit tricky at times, but comprehensive enough that I actually felt like I learned some useful skills and might actually be able to pull this off. Next, came the tricky part, where do I go? At first, I started firing out applications to just about everywhere outside of Europe. Seriously, I applied to China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the UAE, Oman, Colombia, and Peru… just to name a few. After a lot of back and forth and a few interviews, I accepted a job in Chongqing, China and I was HYPED. 

* Hold up, I thought you were in Thailand? * – I’m getting to that.

So, the next few months were chaos, running around gathering documents and visa bits while dodging lockdowns and embassy closures, etc. Originally, I had signed a contract for a January 15th start date in China. As you’ve probably guessed, that did not happen. Good old Covid yo-yoing back and forth with delta and omicron caused delay after delay after delay. When August 2021 finally arrived, I was in a fairly bad position. I had no idea if or when China would truly happen while working roughly 70-hour weeks in a restaurant. I watched all of my fellow graduates advance in their jobs. So, I did what came naturally to me: I resigned from my position, boarded a plane, and fled from all of my issues. My first plan was for a six-week tour of Eastern Europe, but six months later I was still country-hopping with no particular direction—just waiting for that darn visa.

By December 2021, I was working in a ski resort and it was then that I finally decided to pull the plug on China. I got in touch with The TEFL Institute with my tail between my legs and told them of all my woes. If only I had done this sooner! I couldn’t believe how quickly it all happened. The team at The TEFL Institute was so helpful, put me in touch with an agency here in Thailand. Within a matter of weeks, I had a job in Thailand and a confirmed departure date in May. Even the visa documents and process were so much easier than my previous experience – and I was doing all this from the french alps!

What was your first impression of Thailand? Did you experience any culture shock?

Arriving in Thailand was such a buzz. I have traveled quite a lot of Europe but had never been to Asia and was so excited to finally be here. The sights, sounds, smells… everything was interesting and new. I don’t think I experienced ‘culture shock’ per se, I adjusted quite quickly but the heat and the bug bites were definitely a shocker. I feel I’ve settled in quite well though, now I’ve been here for a while. It doesn’t seem quite so unbearably hot and the hectivity of everything comes across as almost normal now. I think the hardest aspect of life in Thailand is probably the language barrier. While most people speak some English, menus, and signs (particularly in markets) will often be only in Thai so I rarely know what I’m ordering until I’ve tried it. Learning a few pleasantries and basic numbers are life-savers here – prices aren’t always listed either!

How did you find teaching? Did your TEFL course help you feel prepared?

The actual teaching was probably the scariest thing about the whole move for me. I was perfectly fine with moving halfway around the world but the prospect of standing in front of thirty-odd children and having to actually teach them something was daunting, to say the least. The 300-hour course from the TEFL Institute had prepared me well for this but even still I wasn’t overly confident and so, just before coming to Thailand I also took TEFL’s 10-hour virtual TEFL course, as it included teaching practice and served well as a little refresher since it had been almost two years since completing my course.

The run-up to the first class was definitely the hardest part. Thailand is a bit notorious for lack of communication in work settings. On my first day in the office I was told to create four full syllabi in a week and have them correlate to the Thai government curriculum. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it was. I had no idea what any of it meant, but my colleagues were super helpful in getting me through it. Full disclosure, at this point there was a little bit of “what am I doing here?” setting in, and I felt pretty out of my depth. Thailand hadn’t been my first choice. Even within Thailand, I was a bit resentful of not being near a postcard-perfect beach and island-hopping every day. I’m glad to report that this dissolved away very quickly. Once I had completed my first week of classes I felt so much more at home. The kids, my colleagues, and the city, in general, felt so welcoming. I am grateful to get to see ‘real’ Thai life by living up north and the slow life is starting to grow on me.

What has been your favourite thing about Thailand?

My favourite thing here has got to be the food! I’m living up in Northern Thailand and the food is incredible. I think I’ve only had one dish so far that I haven’t liked! It also helps that eating here is insanely cheap. A meal in a restaurant will cost you between €2-4 and if you go market hopping you can get delicious dinners for as little as €0.50!

Tell us about your School in Thailand.

I teach in a private school here in Lampang, Thailand, about two hours from Chiang Mai and I teach Pratham (primary) 5 and 6 as my main classes, but also have one class weekly with each of P1 through P4. I was given a textbook to base my lessons off and there are government guidelines on aspects of the language students should learn each year but other than that I’m free to get as creative as I like with my classes. So far, we’ve undergone treasure hunts, acting classes played video games, and had inter-class debates just to name a few. My school has its own uniform for teachers. Which is unusual for Thailand but the uniform is very breathable and comfortable which is nice. I do have to cover my tattoos when I’m teaching. But that’s pretty standard practice in a lot of Asian countries and there’s no judgment around it, it’s just how it is.

Have you had much time for sightseeing whilst in Thailand on your time off?
Has Thailand been easy to travel around?

With regards to traveling while I’m here, weekdays have been pretty hectic. With eighteen classes a week, there’s a lot of prep work involved. The weekends, however, are mine to enjoy. Being so close to Chiang Mai it’s easy to pop up there for a weekend and Lampang is surrounded by national parks and stunning temples so there are endless options for day-tripping. In October I’ve three weeks off for the mid-year break so am planning to head down south and finally get my island fix then. I also get numerous long weekends and national holidays to explore nearby regions and cities. Next month (July) we have five and four-day weekends consecutively so I’m planning trips to both Chiang Rai and Nan. When it comes to actually getting around, buses and trains are reliable and frequent, but slow. I have rented a scooter which has made life much easier. I use this day-to-day as public transport within Lampang isn’t an option and also for tripping at the weekends, but it’s entirely optional. There is a Thai version of Uber that my friends used because its very cheap.

What advice would you give to people considering making the move to Thailand?

My main piece of advice to anyone considering coming to Thailand to teach is to simply be ready to roll with the punches. You must be adaptable to thrive here, but if you’re easy going and open-minded, you’ll enjoy it! Thailand is a very safe, inviting, and pleasant country, making it one of the greatest choices for someone just starting out in travel or searching for a teaching position. But do spend some time learning about the customs and etiquette. The Thai people are a very proud people and respect and politeness are number one here. There are a lot of things we Westerners do that, although not intentional, can come across as rude or insulting. Also although not necessary it definitely will help to familiarise yourself with greetings and numbers in Thai as well!

Tell us about your plans for the future, will you continue to teach?

As to the future? Honestly, who knows. The past two years have taught me that making plans too far in advance is useless. I’ve spoken to people who arrived in Thailand 10 years ago to teach for a year and stayed there. I’ve also known others who began teaching and discovered within a few weeks that it wasn’t for them. I, for one, have enjoyed teaching thus far and I believe I will continue doing so for the foreseeable future, moving from job to job. I still have my sights set on China because I have a score to settle with them. But I also really want to travel and teach in Central or South America. For now, though, I think I’ll just focus on appreciating that I finally did it. I am living and teaching in a jungle paradise ten thousand kilometers from home.

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