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4 Surprises When You Teach English Overseas in Thailand

 

Before moving across the globe to teach English overseas, I researched what to expect from my new educational abode. To quench my inner “investigator” ways,  I turned to the most reliable thing: Google. I spat questions out like a detective at their first interview, “How many students in a class? 15, 20, 25? I needed details here. Okay, now tell me about a stereotypical day… ” Google binging superficially satisfied my nervous jitters. Seeking more substantial answers, I divorced the omniscient search web and sought physical beings. It turns out multiple humans have taught in Thailand and they informed me about the stereotypical elements: nice people, unpredictability, and cheeky children. The dull descriptions forced me to discover teaching in Thailand on my own. The generalities listed above turned out to be true, but they did not encompass the most surprising things about teaching in Thailand. Here are four surprising things about teaching in Thailand: selflessness, respect, spontaneity, and attire.

Thai children working on project. teach english overseas

The dull descriptions forced me to discover teaching in Thailand on my own. 

Selflessness

 

In Thailand, the description of  “nice people” is a complete understatement.

Teaching in Thailand exposed me to selflessness in a different light and now I, in turn, have become more selfless.

In Thailand, the description of  “nice people” is a complete understatement. Nice defined by the Oxford Dictionary reads, “ adj. giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive.” Thai people are not just a “pleasant” group of individuals; they embody a different term: selfless. When a person moves in pursuit of the “teacher life,” acts of pure selflessness welcome him or her with open arms. I witness or hear about selfless acts in and outside of education on a daily basis.

When I decided to teach English overseas, apprehension consumed my soul. Anxiety decided to greet me first on arrival, “What are you doing!? Moving from New York City to rural Thailand? Yeah, great idea. You cannot even speak Thai!” As I entered the doors of my new school, anxiety was forced to wait outside. Thai coworkers immediately welcomed me and began gifting items completely unprovoked. “Here teacher, some lotion. Teacher, do you need anything? Let me introduce you to everyone. Are you hungry? Coffee? You like? Do you want to meet at the night market this weekend?…” the list of compassion and selflessness was/is infinite. The bombardment of positivity and kindness completely shattered any previous doubts. Teaching in Thailand exposed me to selflessness in a different light and now I, in turn, have become more selfless. I find myself voluntarily partaking in English Camps for neighbouring poor communities without a second thought; I credit the constant exposure of compassion to my new found social responsiveness. The contagiousness of selflessness continues to shock me and conjures up a daunting revelation: If more people taught in Thailand, the world would be a more accepting and empathetic place.

Respect

 

Upon embracing the Thai love, another daunting element unveils itself when teaching in Thailand: respect. Students, fellow coworkers, parents, and the Thai population in general all honour and respect an educator. If a child fails to succeed in a class, “teacher blaming” does not ensue; responsibility falls on the student. I have yet to hear or see a parent come barreling into a school questioning a teacher’s credibility. The established respect between a teacher and parents allows for the child to blossom. The lack of ill feelings permits an educator to focus on how to address issues in class instead of preparing for battle with guardians. For example, I currently have a student who continuously engages in undesirable behaviour. Multiple interventions from myself and Thai teachers have ensued but only superficially alleviate the problem. In America, this issue would evoke questions about my credibility as an instructor… “Why can’t you get him/her to focus? Are you purposefully trying to fail him or her? Did you try various behaviour interventions?…etc.” In Thailand, the questioning is presented to the child and why he or she is acting out. This cultural dynamic shift of respect is one of the best surprises when you teach English overseas in Thailand.

author and student working on a project. teach english overseas

Students, fellow coworkers, parents, and the Thai population in general all honour and respect an educator.

Spontaneity

 

 Flexibility becomes a necessity when teaching in Thailand. 

Abandon rigid structure and transform into the common Thai phrase “sabai, sabai.” (relax, relax)

The selflessness and respect provided in the Thai educational system will aide an individual with the next unexpected item: spontaneity. In Thailand, the stereotype of “things changing at the drop of a hat” is extremely accurate. Flexibility becomes a necessity when teaching in Thailand. The constant warnings of “things change” fail to justify how spontaneous situations arise. As I entered the daily morning ceremony on my second day of work, a little girl handed me a microphone and stated “Teacher, can you introduce yourself to the whole school and tell everyone about your life.” Stunned, I clasped the mic, raised it to my trembling lips, and began formulating groans resembling the English language. Parents, teachers, and other groups of civilians were taking pictures and videos of me during the spontaneous presentation. Knowing I sounded like an old man rambling about stories from 12 years past, I looked up and saw beaming faces before my eyes. Everyone clapped and thanked me as if I presented a speech at the Oscars.

Random events, presentations, and more will occur when you teach English overseas in Thailand. This is something not to be feared. The compassion and respect described earlier create a cushion for such unpredictability. After gallantly succeeding the first couple of unforeseen scenarios, confidence and patience erupt. Providing a speech does not feel as scary and the cancellation of class does not mean the end of the world. Abandon rigid structure and transform into the common Thai phrase “sabai, sabai.” (relax, relax)

Attire

 

Upon embracing the “relaxing” mindset, one can wiggle their toes in rejoicement because the “shoes are optional” agenda is in full effect. Surprise! Teaching in Thailand allows an instructor to ditch the uncomfortable footwear for little piggy freedom. All of the students line up their shoes outside of the classroom and the instructor can partake in this as well. Little sock covered tootsies instead of mud encrusted sneakers create the perfect oasis for feet liberation. The unrestricted pitter patter is accompanied with a dress code for teachers. When you teach English overseas in Thailand, male and female instructors need to sport different attire. Men need to model long dress pants and a button up shirt. Women must wear skirts to their knees and shoulder covering blouses. If one does not have the items listed above “mai pen rai” (do not worry), Thailand offers cheap and appropriate clothing.

student shoes lined up outside classroom. teach english overseas

All of the students line up their shoes outside of the classroom.

Overall, teaching in Thailand does come with surprises, like with any other career choice, but they are pleasant surprises. Selflessness, respect, spontaneity, and attire define the unexpected joys of teaching in Thailand. The secret is out. The real question is what surprises will YOU bring to Thailand?

Written by Chelsea Cullen. Follow Chelsea’s adventures here: http://educatedexplorer.blogspot.com/

Have you taught in Thailand? What surprised you the most about teaching there?

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