Sitting at my desk, overlooking the beautiful Thai coastal landscape and enjoying the warm sun shining through the window, I wondered why it had taken me so long to become an ESL Teacher in Thailand. I was in the land of smiles, and I certainly had a big smile on my face. I was excited to be starting my new job, and to embark on this new challenge.
Teaching ESL is a job like no other. It is a fantastic way to combine travel with a unique cultural experience. Some do it to learn about the culture, some to gain teaching experience and others to help fund their travels.
After three years of teaching in the UK, I decided to leave my steady job, for a more international experience. I did my TEFL training (a necessity to become an ESL Teacher in most countries) in the run up to my departure, I studied English grammar and teaching practices, and researched the local area, traditions and customs. This wasn’t just a new job, this would be a new way of life.
Although I was a qualified Teacher in the UK, I had never done anything like this before. My first concern was ‘how do I teach, if we don’t speak the same language?’ But surprisingly, the language barrier was not as great as I had anticipated. I quickly learnt a few basic essential phrases in Thai, learnt to slow down the pace in which I spoke, and to use hand gestures more than I normally would.
I organized the job through a company called TEFL Heaven. They sorted out everything for me, from TEFL training, to visas, to a job out in Thailand and accommodation. This made the process a lot less stressful. Moving abroad and doing something new like this could have been a very daunting and scary experience, but they reassured me and helped me to feel confident throughout the whole process.
There were a group of us that were all doing the TEFL training together, before we would be sporadically placed in schools across the country. TEFL Heaven had their own social media site that enabled us all to share our excitement and enthusiasm and to get to know each other before we left. That was great and I made some friends for life during the lead up to the trip.
Upon arrival we completed our practical TEFL training and gained teaching experience in a real Thai school. This was a great opportunity to practice, and helped me to feel more confident for when I started my job. We also completed a Thai language and culture course, which was really insightful and prepared me really well for the experience I was about to undertake!
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job in any country, but in Thailand I felt this especially. The children, and their parents, were so grateful of their education. They worked so hard and classroom management (my least favorite part of the job) was practically non-existent.
The job was wonderful, the students were great, the staff were really supportive and the location was fantastic (I was in Chonburi, on the coast about two hours south of Bangkok). However there were a few challenging aspects to the job.
At times I felt quite lonely, and a bit homesick. I was the only Western person living in the town and although the Thai people were very kind and hospitable, I did feel a bit lonely sometimes. Also, I was used to teaching in the UK and having the UK school holidays. The school dates were completely different out there, and in six months there were only two long weekends to look forward to, I found this quite tough.
The money was good for Thailand, but sometimes I was a bit bored at work. There were no computers, no admin work and hardly any preparation and marking. This might sound like heaven to any Teacher in the UK, but actually I found that I was a bit bored. I had gone from the hectic, non-stop life of a Teacher in the UK, to a chilled out ‘do it tomorrow’ Asian approach.
It was wonderful to be able to teach in Thailand. I learnt so much about their way of life, and about their culture. Lots of my friends were hoping to become teachers on their return back to the UK, and were there to gain teaching experience. This is most certainly an excellent experience for any prospective teacher.
Now I am back in the UK, and teaching here once again, I like to sit and reflect on my time as an ESL Teacher. When I come home with an evenings worth of marking, or I have an OFSTED observation, I look back at those times of teaching in Thailand, and wish that I could have just a little bit of that relaxed approach. Living and teaching abroad is a life changing experience, and I feel that by teaching in Thailand it has given me a more open outlook on life, made me appreciate the resources we have here in the UK, and improved my teaching practice. Definitely an experience that I would recommend.
Thinking of volunteering? Check out my recommended organisation!