Why I Chose Teach Myanmar?
Me busy at work setting up the concession tent in Adelaide, Australia
After traveling the world since 2012 I decided to slow down and stay in one place for a bit longer than usual. As I was traveling with a circus I would always stay in a city for about two months which was long enough to get to know a few people and the area but not long enough to feel settled. Although I loved being on the move and seeing so many new places it seemed like the time to see what it felt like to stay still for a while.
In March of 2015 I quit my job, went home to relax, save up some money, and to plan my next move. After I felt like I was home long enough I booked a flight to Iceland and Germany. I wanted to get into the world again.
The Journey to Teach In Myanmar Begins
Just before I set off I found XploreAsia and decided it was time to truly challenge myself and applied to be an English teacher in Myanmar. To head somewhere I had never been and go in completely alone. While I was traveling for work I was joined by about 120 people each time. Any time I had a vacation there was always someone to take a trip with me. I would always meet solo travellers and find their stories so interesting I knew that I had to give it a shot.
Teach Myanmar: An Introduction!
A downtown street of Yangon. The streets are bustling during the day and beautiful at night
I left Germany after two weeks and headed to Yangon, Myanmar. I still had to go to Thailand to complete my TESOL course but I decided to dip my feet into Myanmar to have an idea of what I would be going back to. As I left the airport a girl from China came up and asked if I wanted to split a cab downtown. Perfect! I had some company for the next hour after a very lonely 24 hours of traveling.
Driving through downtown Yangon was VERY overwhelming! There was nothing that looked familiar. As it got darker I had no idea where I would eat as I couldn’t read any signs!
When I arrived at my hostel there was a small group sitting in the common area talking. They introduced themselves to me and took me out for dinner. They had a local friend who stopped at many street vendors picking up food for us to try. I don’t think I have ever been welcomed into a country so quickly. After dinner we went to the bar street. It was packed with locals all enjoying some music and a relaxing evening. It was shocking how few foreigners there were.
The generosity of the locals is incredible. I have never met such giving, loving and happy people. Everything that happened in those two weeks that I spent in Yangon made it harder and harder to leave but now I couldn’t be more excited to head back to Myanmar. Now that I know I will be placed 16 hours from Yangon I can’t wait to see what this new community is like. Luckily it is only a 4 hour flight to Yangon so I will be visiting often to see the new friends I have made there. Before even stepping into the TESOL course I knew this was the best decision I could have made.
TESOL in Hua Hin, Thailand
Currently I am in Hua Hin, Thailand taking my TESOL course. The XploreAsia team does a fantastic job to push you into the Thai culture and the unique atmosphere of Hua Hin. One place we were taken during our orientation was Rescue Paws. This organization truly inspired our class. Most of us from Canada and the USA aren’t surrounded by stray dogs. If there is a dog on the street at home you assume it’s a lost dog, you take it to a shelter and they will look after them. The last time I was in Thailand I noticed the abundance of stray dogs, but it just seemed liked it was a normal part of life here. It never crossed my mind to help or try to make a change. Seeing so many different cultures I always made the mistake to just accept what was going on as part of the locals’ life and leave it like that.
Making a Difference in Thailand
Some stray puppies we found near a school in Hua Hin.
Jaco who is the Managing Director of Rescue Paws has an entirely different way to see it. The team that began Rescue Paws knew that stray dogs where a problem and they had to do something to help. By founding Rescue Paws they aimed to spay and neuter as many of these dogs as possible, not to harm the current population but to help it from increasing. His team will take in any dogs they see who are really sick or injured. They will take care of these dogs until they are healthy and then they will put them up for adoption or tag them and release them. Rescue Paws takes care of everything when someone wants to adopt one of their dogs. Everyone in the class started talking about who they wanted to phone at home and convince them about getting a new dog.
Seeing Jaco and his teams love for these animals was amazing. There is a pack of dogs who live near their office which they call the temple dogs. As Jaco walks through the street they all come running to greet him. You can feel he has made a difference in the lives of these dogs. After speaking to Jaco I realized he was very much on the same path as me many years ago. Traveling and then decided to try his hand at teaching. Since he began teaching he has remained in Thailand for 5 years. He has started this incredible organization and inspired many people. He told us of his future plans for Rescue Paws and they only need $5000 to make their next big move to build an adoption centre and more kennels. We have started a crowdfunding campaign for the duration of our TESOL course to see how much money we can raise for them. Please follow the link and make whatever donation you can. https://www.crowdrise.com/helpingrescuepaws If you’re reading this blog you have either been through an XploreAsia TESOL course and met this amazing group or you are thinking of heading this way. If you’re reading this article after I have finished TESOL but you still want to donate to Rescue Paws please do so through their website.
Me during my last trip in Thailand at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. I stayed overnight volunteering to feed and bathe the elephants.
Making this jump has been nothing like what I expected. Thailand is the first country I have come back to since traveling. Usually I get somewhere and I’m always on the move. I need to see and eat as much as I can before I take off. I made it from the islands of Thailand to Chiang Rai in 3 weeks and loved every minute of it! This time I feel like I have spent most of my time just talking to everyone I meet and enjoying listening to their experiences. Everyone I have met have been so welcoming and encouraging. I can’t wait to see how the next few months play out. Meeting the XploreAsia and Rescue Paws team has been an amazing opportunity. Seeing all these people who came over to teach and now just haven’t been able to leave. Knowing how I felt after only two weeks in Myanmar I won’t be surprised if you still find me there in two years!
Sam is from Toronto, Canada. She has been traveling for the past few years through 18 different countries. Now she is very excited to begin her adventure teaching in Myanmar.
Keep up to date with her adventures in Myanmar by signing up for our friendly update reminders!
Why Teach South Korea?
Teaching abroad can be a great chance to be immersed in a nation and culture different from your own, and South Korea is a great place to do so. In addition to great benefits including a great salary and free accommodation, it provides an opportunity to experience one of Asia’s most unique cultures.
South Korea is a modern, thriving nation built on a mixture of contemporary consumerism and traditional Confucianism underpinned by a strong sense of national identity. One of the most westernized countries in Asia, South Korea stands apart from many of its neighbors in its shedding of historic Chinese influence (though it still maintains a strong presence). From the cuisine to the technology, the many facets of culture are at once uniquely Korean and drawing from influence around the world. The energetic country has a lot to offer for almost any taste and mindset.
There is a popular folk song in South Korea called Arirang, pervasive to the point where it’s considered the nation’s unofficial national anthem. The song has stayed with Koreans for a long time due to its malleable form, in which the singer can add his or her own words to make it into their own unique expression. In 2012, it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in which they write of its flexibility: “The verses which are sung in connection with this chorus range through the whole field of legend, folklore, lullabies, drinking songs, domestic life, travel and love.” The culture of South Korea, in many ways, follows suit; Koreans have adapted many of their traditions to their new modernized, industrialized nation, keeping up with the world while maintaining their own unique identity.
Teach South Korea: The Food
This tendency is, perhaps, most apparent in their cuisine. While Seoul and other major urban areas offer a host of world-class international restaurants (along with plenty of casual chains), Korean cuisine is a major attraction in and of itself. The fundamental dish to all South Korean meals is kimchi, a spiced fermented cabbage that’s become a national icon due to its immense popularity in the country. Many foreigners come to love the unique taste, while others are turned off by its strong flavor. Regardless, Korean food has a lot of variety; traditionally, all dishes in a Korean meal are served at once and there are generally a generous amount of side dishes. Whether it’s bulgogi, a dish of grilled marinated beef cooked in front of you or bibimbap, a mixed vegetable, egg, meat and rice bowl, there are a great many fantastic Korean foods to try. Places like Seoul’s Gwanjang Market, hosting over 200 food stalls, are great venues to try out all that South Korean cuisine has to offer.
Teach South Korea: The History
Mixed into South Korea’s contemporary cities are vestiges of history, like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace which are both located in Seoul, the first two of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. There are also less grandiose offerings of Korean tradition; Hanok coffee shops are located throughout Seoul, small cafes built in the elegant style of traditional Korean architecture. Of course, South Korea features impressive modern architecture as well, like the N Seoul Tower. Sitting on Namsan Mountain, the tower is the highest point in Seoul and stands as a shining beacon over the city at night.
Seoul is the first city that comes to mind for most foreigners that think of South Korea, but the country has a lot to offer. The port city of Busan is nestled between mountains and the coast and offers fish markets to stroll through, high-end cafes and tent bars to lounge at and a great many opportunities to hike and see Buddhist temples. For those interested in history, the city of Gyeongju will hold a great deal of interest; known as ‘the museum without walls,’ Gyeongju has more temples, pagodas, tombs, burial mounds and various ruins from South Korea’s middle ages than anywhere else in the nation.
Teach South Korea: Xplore
There are many places to see throughout South Korea; wherever you are, the country teems with history and possibilities to be discovered and explored. There are few ways to see the country so completely or in as meaningful a capacity than as a teacher. Getting the chance to educate in this growing nation is a wonderful experience where you’ll meet countless new and friendly people, see locales you’d never dream of, and make a real impact in one of Asia’s proudest nations.
If you’re interested in teach abroad, perhaps South Korea is already on your list. Head over to our South Korea page for more information on how you can get started!
David has recently returned to the States after his internship with XploreAsia. David formed an invaluable part of the research/writing team that you will be seeing a lot more of in future. Currently studying at DePaul University, David hopes to further his career in writing.
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Street Dogs in Thailand
One of the most noticeable and widespread phenomenons in Thailand is the staggering amount of stray dogs. In any small town or big city you’re passing through, you will find dogs roaming the streets and alleyways. In most western countries, there are dog shelters that take in stray and homeless animals that are later adopted or euthanized due to health issues, behavior or age. In Thailand, there are no official organizations that take in unwanted animals, and euthanizing is highly frowned upon by the Buddhist culture. Because certain animal practices do not exist, the stray dog population in this country is constantly multiplying.
A major contributing factor to the growing stray population is the lack of education surrounding animal care. In many countries it seems like common knowledge to have your pet spayed or neutered to prevent any unwanted litters, but that is not the case in Thailand. The absence of this spay/neuter mentality is detrimental with such a huge stray population. Throughout the country, there are an estimated 8.5 million dogs. According to the Bangkok Post, around 700,000 of these dogs are strays, and 340,000 of these strays are female. Assuming that they are not spayed, one female dog can have about 10 puppies a year, meaning street dog population has the potential to grow by as many as 3.4 million dogs every year. This unfathomable statistic is where our non-profit organization Rescue Paws comes in.
Rescue Paws – Making a Difference
Rescue Paws is a non-profit organization for Thai street dogs. Founded in 2013, in partnership with The Global Work & Travel Company, the organization aims to stabilize and then reduce the stray animal population in Thailand over time through vaccinations, sterilization, adoptions, and education. Rescue Paws is based in Hua Hin, Thailand, a beach town a few hours south of Bangkok. In a 68 km radius around Hua Hin there is an estimated 100,000 stray dogs, with that number ever increasing.
In just over two years, Rescue Paws has made a dramatic impact on the stray dog population around Hua Hin. Since opening their doors, they have given over 550 vaccinations to prevent future sickness, provided over 260 sterilizations to prevent future street dogs, and over 1550 parasite and 72 disease treatments that have saved lives of many street dogs.
Rescue Paws has fed over 1500 different dogs – currently feeding an average of 750 a week, and have given 14 rescued dogs new homes. Recently, Rescue Paws took in a small paraplegic pup named Half-Pipe. Through many donations they were able to get him a set of wheels so he can walk, run and play with the other dogs on the beach. This past July, volunteers at Rescue Paws began an online fundraiser to get Half-Pipe to a shelter in Canada that specifically cares for paraplegic dogs. In just a month, the GoFundMe page raised over $1500 to cover the costs of Half-Pipes relocation to his more suitable home in Canada. The success stories like Half-Pipe’s really shed light on the importance and incredible heart of this organization.
If you’d like to donate please click here.
Volunteer Abroad with Rescue Paws
Volunteers are an integral part of Rescue Paws’ day to day operation. Volunteers can come from all around the world to assist the organization in whatever way they can. From cleaning kennels and walking dogs, to raising online awareness and helping with administrative tasks, to assisting in animal wound care, Rescue Paws welcomes volunteers with any level of experience. Whether you are an experienced vet assistant or a first time dog walking volunteer, any help is needed and appreciated! Volunteers usually stay anywhere from 1-3 months.
An average day as a volunteer abroad begins with cleaning the on-site crates and kennels where the dogs are kept. They may be recovering from surgery or sickness to be sent back out to the streets, or waiting for a new home. After everything is clean and the dogs are fed and watered, volunteers will usually take some dogs out for walks on the beach. Rescue Paws is located on old temple grounds just steps from the ocean. Taking the dogs to the beach to run and play in the water is not only great exercise for them but an incredible break from life in the kennel. Feeding runs also occur as often as possible, with volunteers packing up and heading out around the Hua Hin area to feed anywhere from 5-10 dog packs per day. Street dogs are also given vaccinations and wound care when possible. If there is room at the Rescue Paws grounds, they will try and take in sickly dogs to be monitored and treated. Volunteers get to work closely with the dogs, help with upkeep of the clinic and grounds, assist in spreading awareness through marketing, and work on whatever projects need to be completed next. Every day is different at Rescue Paws. If you or anyone you know would like to volunteer abroad, please click here.
Adopting from Rescue Paws
If you are interested in adopting a lovable Thai dog and having them join your family, or you know someone who would be interested, it’s not as hard as it sounds to adopt from around the world. Rescue Paws has been working diligently, seeking the cheapest and easiest ways to place stray dogs in their forever-homes. The easiest countries to adopt a Thai dog outside of Thailand are the United States and Canada. Neither of these countries have a quarantine period for the dogs so it takes less time and is a less stressful process for the dogs. When you adopt one of Rescue Paws’ dogs, they will come healthy and fully vaccinated. Included in the price of adoption is:
– All necessary vaccinations and blood testing
– Health certificates
– Travel documentation
The cost of adopting a Thai dog varies greatly depending on which country the dog is going to, which airline the dog is flying on, and how much the dog weighs. When adding in all these factors, the cost could be anywhere from $200 USD to $700 USD with a flight volunteer. Not only does the cost of sending the dog vary between countries and airlines, but it also depends greatly on if the dog has a travel companion or not. What this means is that the dog won’t be flying alone, but with a person flying with the dog as checked baggage. If an adopted dog has a companion this reduces the price nearly by half, and adds no additional cost to the flight volunteer taking the dog with them.
Rescue Paws faces a daily, continuous challenge in working to accomplish its goals. They are tasked with treating and feeding a seemingly endless amount of dogs suffering from malnutrition, sickness, and abuse. If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about Rescue Paws, volunteering, donating or adopting a dog, please visit http://rescuepawsasia.org. Your support is invaluable, you can help us by spreading the word of Rescue Paws by liking and sharing posts from the Rescue Paws Facebook page.
Amanda came to us at XploreAsia as a marketing intern. She took a huge interest in Rescue Paws and has created a wealth of content to share.
Stay tuned for new videos, interviews with volunteers, and much more.
Thank you Amanda!
Cambodia: A Mini Adventure
Our first long weekend was last week and we jumped at the opportunity to travel. Our first out of country adventure? Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Traveling to Cambodia was the definition of a shot in the dark. We live in such a small town that there are no bus schedules to find on the internet and since we can’t read Thai, we were pretty much winging it. We live relatively close to the border crossing (Chong Chom on the Thai side and O’Smach on the Cambodian side), but since it’s not the passage most people use to cross into Cambodia, we weren’t sure if they would issue visas on arrival. Erring on the safe side, we took the long way around. We took a bus from Suwannaphum ⇒ Surin ⇒ Sa Kaeo to meet a fellow teacher friend and then went to the Aranyapathet (Thai side)/Poi Pet (Cambodian side) border.
To get home, we decided to test out the Chong Chom/O’Smach route and it took less than half the time! Anyone in northeast Thailand traveling to Cambodia should definitely consider going this way. We took a two hour taxi ride from Siem Reap to the border and then took a taxi/hitchhiked to Prasat (beware of a white Toyota with a crazy eyed driver and thank goodness for the kindness of strangers). From Prasat, we took a bus from Surin ⇒ Suwannaphum and made it home in record time!
Border Crossing Tips
- To get a visa, you will need a 4x6cm passport photo. You can get an e-visa in advance on the internet (photo still needed), but it is a bit more expensive, plus I like having physical proof in my passport 🙂
- There are convenient little places around the Aranyapathet/Poi Pet border that will take your picture and give you multiple copies for only 100 baht!
- There will be a lot of travel companies waiting beforPassport Control to try and sell you a visa. They might be legit, they might not. Either way, I suggest going through the official channels (obviously).
- Make sure you have your passport (duh), departure card (because you are departing Thailand), and passport photos and head through Passport Control. It is pretty straightforward and there are plenty of signs to guide you through the process.
- Once you get past Passport Control, you’ll have to go to the visa on arrival office (little building to the right of the giant, pretty stone gate) , fill out a form, pay about $30 (1200 baht), and then you have a visa that is good for 30 days.
- Then head to border control, where you fill out an arrival card and then you’re good to go!
- There is a free bus shuttle from border control to the Poi Pet bus station, and from there you can get wherever you need to go very easily.
There are SO many hostels in Siem Reap, go on Hostelworld and browse to your hearts content. I suggest selecting one that is in close proximity to Pub Street (the main tourist area in Siem Reap). We stayed at The Siem Reap Hostel and it was amazing. The staff at the hostel are extremely helpful and book your tours and transportation for you. You just have to tell them where you want to go!
Our first adventure was seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We were up and ready to go at 4:30AM (yes, I was awake at 4:30AM). You can get an Angkor pass, which allows you to visit all the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. One day tickets sell for $20 or a three day ticket for $40. We sleepily trudged our way to the temple and while it wasn’t the generic orange and red sunrise, it was still beautiful and well worth the early morning pilgrimage.
Next in the circuit was the city of Angkor Thom. The Baphuon Temple in the city was hands down my favorite temple. The view from the top was breathtaking and I’ve decided that I could definitely have gotten used to being a queen back in the day.
Last on the circuit was Ta Prohm. Unlike most of the other temples in Angkor, it has been left alone, resulting in a beautiful interaction between man-made objects and nature. Towering trees that are easily hundreds of years old grow on top of and through the various structures of the temple.
After the temple tours, we went on a walking food tour organized by our hostel to introduce us to Cambodian foods we might not have tried otherwise. We tried a sweet and salty noodle dish, fried bread, veggies, and meats, cow intestines, and a dessert that I have dubbed an Asian snow cone. I would 100% recommend the dessert because it’s delicious, but I did think it was too sweet. Words I never thought I’d utter my whole life. The cow intestines weren’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but definitely not the best. The texture is what really got me. It’s chewy, like squid. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the Cambodian delicacy of fried tarantula was not available (apparently spiders aren’t in season right now…?) and I’m (not so secretly) glad because I didn’t have to decide between my paralyzing fear of spiders and my curiosity to try something new.
The famous reclining Buddha
On Saturday, we visited Cambodia’s holiest place, home of a large reclining Buddha carved right into the mountain top and swam at the base of the amazing Phnom Kulen Waterfall (as seen in Tomb Raider, and sadly, we didn’t see Angelina Jolie).
All in all, seeing Siem Reap was well worth it and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to go to Cambodia. It was a nice change of pace and it was kinda fun to be the tourists again. In the future however, I would like to go back and experience a less Western and more authentic Cambodia.
Shirley is 21 years old and a recent graduate from the University of Richmond. She fancies herself a fish (the water is her home) but her friends call her bird. Well, Shirleybird. Shirley took an amazing opportunity to study abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Now she’s teaching English in Thailand with one of her best friends.
Keep up to date with Shirley and her travels by following her blog!
A Couple Day to Day Pleasures of Life in Thailand
The title says it all, so in no particular order, here are a couple of things that make me smile on a daily basis thanks to life in Thailand.
Yep… that’s about how I look too when baking in the sun. We met this guy at a reptile show in Chiang Mai. He’s not native to Thailand, imported from Mexico
The running joke is that there are three types of weather in Thailand: hot, hotter, and hottest. So if scorching temps aren’t your thing, then this may not be the country for you, but call me an iguana, because in my opinion there’s nothing better than soaking up some tropical rays. There’s never a sunshine shortage in Thailand, and I can count the amount of times I’ve gotten cold here on a couple of sunburnt fingers. When the sun goes down the weather stays warm, and at night it’s the perfect temperature for drinks on the patio, or a game of dominos under the starlight.
Thailand does have a rainy season of course, and it can cause problems with transportation and flooding, particularly in the southern areas of the country. The tropical storms are a sight to behold though. Huge gusts of wind, spatters of rain, and loud thunder cracks batter the country, showcasing the fury of Mother Nature. The rainy season can be exhilarating, and the daily showers are usually a nice mid-day break to the stifling heat. The rainy season can be a test of endurance though, the daily rain showers can really start to wear on you after eight wet weeks.
Life in Thailand comes with many welcome surprises and sweet treats. Sweet Thai iced teas, sugary green teas, bubble teas, blended fruit smoothies, syrupy soda’s, and cold cocoas are just a few of the delicious drinks sold cold on every road here in Thailand. When the sun is beating down on you, nothing beats a sugary iced beverage to lift your spirits and delight your taste buds. For less than $1 American dollar, sweet blended drinks are available on every street corner, making it difficult not to indulge on a daily basis.
Radical Reptiles and Awesome Arachnids
A Tokay! They can average between 7-20 inches long, and are called Tokay because of their mating call which sounds a bit like “TOO-KAY”
Although not everyone will share my interest in these creepy crawlers, there are some amazing creatures lurking on the walls here in Thailand. A foot long neon lizard is not an uncommon sighting on the walls of my apartment. The most common giant gecko here is called a Tokay, and while the first few sightings were alarming, now they are a real treat. These lizards are gorgeous and completely foreign to any commonly spotted wildlife at my home in Seattle. I’ve also seen some amazing snakes, and other large ground lizards outside that I’m glad have never made their way into my room. Fear not though, if reptiles aren’t your thing, there are massive spiders here which are like something out of a nightmare. The Huntsman Spider is one species I have found in my room on several occasions. These suckers are huge, and fast.
Once my girlfriend went into the bathroom, and not ten seconds later I heard a blood curdling scream. When I ran in, I saw the legs of a huntsman sticking out of the middle of the toilet paper roll! The massive arachnid realized it had been caught, and ran out of the roll. Feeling like Frodo, and acting rather erratically, I grabbed the hygiene gun (commonly referred to as the bum gun) from off the wall, and started spraying the spider towards the shower drain. To my amazement, this sucker moved forward through the pressure of the oncoming water blast. My girlfriend ran to retrieve a flip-flop, and like a scene out of 28 Days Later, she bludgeoned the creature to death. Although we felt kind of bad about killing such a large spider, sleep would have been impossible knowing that colossus was still lurking about our room. Talk about freaky. Thailand is also well endowed with massive red centipedes, snails, and giant frogs, so if you can get past the initial fright, these creatures are an amazing sight.
That Thailand Smile
Here’s Boon Boon, our landlord’s 2 year old son, providing the perfect example of a Thailand smile.
Anyone who researches into a life in Thailand will most likely hear about the Thai smile, but it is more than a cultural characteristic, it is a way of life. In Phukieo, Chaiyaphum, where I live, it seems like every passing face has a big warm smile glued to it. People will go out of their way here to be pleasant to one another, smiling, waving, and nodding hellos. While occasionally people in America might greet you with a salting of attitude, here, any attitude away from a positive and friendly greeting is near non-existent. It’s hard not to smile in Thailand.
The wai is the standard form of greeting in Thailand. To wai someone you must of put your hands together in a prayer-like position and bow slightly to the person you are greeting. To me, it seems like there is so much more respect and meaning behind the wai than the standard American handshake. It is truly a humbling experience to really understand the mechanics and meaning of the gesture. As a teacher in Thailand, students and members of the community are constantly giving me wais. As a foreigner it’s really nice to be reminded of how much the town respects your position and what you are doing at the school. Giving wais to other people also serves as a constant reminder to respect those around you.
The Community Park
Group picture after a recreation league game in the park. See if you can spot me. I’ll give you a hint… I’m the only non-Thai person
Almost every town in Northeastern Thailand has a community park at its center, with workout machines and a jogging trail. The park in our town comes alive every night around 5:30 PM. Teachers, policeman, market vendors, students, and everyone else from the town can be seen jogging around the track, doing group aerobics, participating in group sports, and biking around the lake. Besides providing an awesome sense of community, it’s a lot of fun to make your way through the park, stopping to talk to everyone along the way.
I play basketball at the park in our town a couple nights a week, and even though most of the people I play with speak almost zero English, it is one of the highlights of my week. I really love the sense of sportsmanship that Thais have. Even in friendly park games of basketball in America, there is likely to be at least one person who gets overly competitive or aggressive. Americans also tend to only allow certain people to play in community games, excluding younger people, unathletic people, and often girls. I’m not saying this happens every time, but it does happen. It’s just part of American culture, we are competitive people. While people in Thailand want to win, they let anyone who wants get in on the action play the game, even if it hurts their chances of winning. It doesn’t matter if ten people over thirty years old are hustling up and down the court, if a seven year old girl comes up and wants to play basketball, she’s automatically thrown into the game. In the community park, people just like to play sports for fun, and it shows with the way they cheer on the opposing team, and pass the ball to everyone evenly, even the weaker players on the team. Spending some evening time in the community park is a big part of the culture here, and an awesome experience.
Swapping Stories with Other Expats
Some friendly expats and natives I met by happenchance on one of my many travels
Although this mainly happens when I travel outside my town, it’s always interesting to talk with other expats traveling and working in Thailand. Whether they are clean cut and well dressed, or dreadlocked and totally granola, every traveler has an interesting story to tell. Other expats are always willing to tell you about an awesome hostel they stayed at, a great bar they just happened to drop by, or why you should or should not spend a month in Cambodia. Through talking with other travelers like myself, I’ve been able to construct treasure maps of awesome locations, recommendations of random foreigners I’ve crossed paths with at bus stations, hotels, or historical sights. So if you come to Thailand, and you happen to run into a 5’8” (5’10” on a good day) handsome American with striking blue eyes, named Justin, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and share all your awesome adventures with me!
Enjoying a fresh coconut on Koh Chang. Sorry about the terrible view
All kinds of fresh tropical fruit is available everywhere in Thailand, and you can buy a good sized bag for usually under $1 USD. Awesome is an understatement. Fresh Coconuts are no exception, they are plentiful and inexpensive here. Coconut juice is filled with electrolytes and potassium, and I have yet to find a single beverage (well maybe one…) that is as refreshing as chopping the top off a coconut and sticking a straw in it. On a hot day, a coconut is the perfect fruit.
There’s plenty more I could add to this list, spicy food, amazing guitar solos, and opulent temples, just to name a few. But I’ll keep it short and sweet. It’s hard not to smile in Thailand.
Justin is currently teaching a second term at a school in Phukieo, Thailand. He graduated from the TESOL course last October with his girlfriend, Krissy. He’s having an incredible experience in Thailand and is a passionate educator.
Justin is one of our featured writers in the field, keep up to date with his progress on his personal blog.
How about a life-changing adventure teaching across Southeast Asia? See what we have to offer here!
ESL Teaching in Rural Thailand – Nick Zeller
After a month-and-a-half long stint in the North of Thailand getting trained for ESL teaching and hopping around mountain towns, I finally ended up in a small village in Northeastern Thailand called Muang Khong. You might ask yourself where that is and try to google it. You won’t find much information online. Even an hour away from town I’ll tell people where I live an they’ll have no idea where I’m talking about. Oddly, Google already has Muang Khong on streetview if you know where to be looking (google is everywhere!). The town is about 5 hours Northeast of Bangkok in a large conglomeration of provinces in the East that everyone calls Isaan (there are like ten different ways to spell it).
Muang Khong and Isaan
Sunset over some rice paddies from a train just outside Muang Khong
Isaan has a few cities (Korat, Khon Kaen, Ubon), but it’s mostly flat farmland with rice paddies, their farmers, and small towns. This makes for some great sunsets, but doesn’t allow for many activities if one’s passions lie outside the wide world of agriculture. So this region (with a few exceptions) is not an undiscovered tourist destination waiting to happen, it’s a Kansas or an Iowa and only a few of the foreigners ever go outside Miami. Before I arrived, I was nervous that Muang Khong would be too rural, too flat, too small, and too far away from other foreigners for me to be happy. It is still rural, small, flat, and isolated, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised in what I’ve found to enjoy in all of that.
In just about everyone’s experience, Thais are naturally, and sometimes overwhelmingly, kind and generous. This quality is kicked into overdrive in Isaan. As a foreigner (Thais call us farang) teacher here, locals want to give you directions, help you get a good deal, make sure your food is delicious, and are very, very curious about you (although this usually boils down to four questions that I’ll get to later). Thai generosity has gotten me a free bicycle, more fresh fruit than I can count (or eat), dirt cheap motorcycle repair, last-minute rides to bus stations, several rounds of rice moonshine, and a road trip to a 5-hour Muay Thai extravanganza, just to name a few. Trying to reciprocate these favors is futile 99% of the time, which leads to some lingering grateful guilt that I don’t really fight anymore.
One of the fun (and occasionally creepy) aspects of being a foreign teacher in such a small community is that after a few weeks you achieve small-town celebrity status. I imagine it’s a similar feeling to being the new on-site reporter at a small-time local TV station. Regardless of where or when, if you come across a student outside of school, they will wave and yell some variation of “helloooooo teacher!” then giggle as if they have just done something exceptionally clever and silly. This has happened enough that now everyone in town knows I will answer/acknowledge when the word “teacher!” is directed at me. Especially in the evenings after school, my trips to the market or to dinner are filled with “helloooooo teacher!”s at regular intervals. Most of the time, this phenomenon is fun; everyone smiles and is friendly, I like that they want to interact with me, even if only for a few seconds, and it’s a good feeling when you’re walking down the street and everyone you pass wants to say hi! Other times it feels like the locals are those kids at the zoo that poke the glass to try and make the animal move: “If you yell ‘hello’ at the Farang, he’ll say something that sounds funny!”
School and ESL Teaching
Get stoked for directional vocabulary!
Teaching has been the best part of my time here so far. I teach 12-14 year olds for 5 periods a day (a little over 4 hours of actual class time). At the outset, I figured that since enthusiasm comes easily and I’ve been blessed with a 12-year-old’s sense of humor, teaching junior high would be pretty straightforward. My first week in the classroom was revealing. I found out pretty quickly it wasn’t going to be a breeze and my Robin-Williams-in-Dead-Poets-Society aspirations can be put out to pasture. Half of my classes have 35-45 kids in them, all with chairs and desks. The other half are double-classes with 70-90 students, all sitting on the floor. While there are some notable exceptions, 95% of my students have very, very low English proficiency. Kids in Muang Khong get instruction in grammar and written English (there is very little emphasis on speaking and conversation) from their Thai teachers, and those teachers often have poor English themselves. I’ll be the first native-speaker English teacher the M1s (12-13 y.o.) have had. Some of my twelve year olds can’t write their first names in English and even my oldest students have vocabularies limited mostly to nouns involving sports, animals, food, and the movies Frozen and Fast 7.
The smaller classroom
Thais have a deep-seated cultural aversion to the idea of ‘losing face,’ and this makes things harder for them and me. Unless there is candy involved, Thai kids hate to answer a question they aren’t absolutely sure about in front of the class. I’m learning to fight through this with a lot of games, group-work, praise, and goofiness. For instance, if you can demonstrate that your students can answer a question in groups of three students, that they’ll have some time to prepare their answer in their group, and that the class will applaud when they’re done, you might have some volunteers. If you just ask for raised hands, you’re dreamin.’ Buuuuut since the students have such limited English, demonstrating this to them becomes rather difficult. A vicious cycle.
Another feature of the Thai educational system is that I can’t fail any of my students. I know it and they know it. This is rarely a problem, but in every class there are a few students who make it plain that they have no interest in learning English or doing much work. In an American school, I could make it clear that they will fail and be held back if they don’t put in a bare minimum of effort, but in Thailand this an empty threat. I have no little recourse if a student doesn’t want to do an assignment or participate other than making the assignments and activities as engaging as possible. A lot of the Thai teachers simply don’t teach to these kids and leave them to their own devices in the back of the class, and sometimes I do the same so that the rest of the students can keep progressing. However, when we have time the solution seems to be games, games, and games. If you can bring out the competitive spirit long enough for the kids in the back to nail ten or twelve words of vocabulary, that’s a win.
Bicha and his son Bat working on combos. Note the set of dumbbells made of two paint cans filled with cement and an iron rod.
In the second week at school, the janitor/handyman introduced himself and asked me if I like boxing. I’ve never been terribly intrigued by boxing, but I wanted to make friends so I said yes. WIth no other explanation, he told me to meet him after school and drove me to the neighboring town about twenty minutes away. It turned out that his friend Bicha runs a Muay Thai boxing ‘gym’ out of his front yard as a side-gig. This guy is pure rural Thailand: he smokes like a chimney, doesn’t speak a lick of English, and makes dirty jokes about you in Thai when he doesn’t think you’re hitting hard enough. He has two sons, (I think 16 and 17, definitely still in high school), who are both absolute lunatics with a pair of boxing gloves, and Bicha himself was a good fighter in his own right back in whatever decade was his heyday (he could be anywhere from 35-60).
Video of Bat’s kicks. Watch with sound
Muay Thai (thai-style martial art in which kicking, punching, elbows, knees, and wrestling are all allowed) has grown on me and I’ve been going every day after school for the past three weeks. Since no one speaks much English to give me instructions, I fall in behind Bicha’s sons and do what they do. The routine is generally a half hour running session (which is the most brutal part since it’s usually 90+ in the sun), followed by stretching, shadow-boxing, and hitting the punching bags. Then we go into the ring one at a time with Bicha and work through combinations with pads, followed by some sort of conditioning drill on the punching bags. The session always ends with the two boys doing ungodly amounts of situps, laughing at me as I try, sweatily, desperately clinging to my last shreds of dignity, to keep up.
Meeting the local 5:0
We showed up to school one Wednesday and were told that we wouldn’t have classes in the afternoon. Then, a little before lunchtime, we were updated that the reason we were excused from classes was that we were going to be teaching the local police force. The end of the lesson was a question and answer section in which the other English teacher and I were speaking on behalf of Western civilization. Most of the questions were things like “do westerners feel uncomfortable when we call them farang?” and “why is it bad to ask a woman how old she is?” The highlight was “if I meet a French person, will they expect me to kiss them on both cheeks?”
- Thai is a tonal language, so there are lots of words with the same sounds and different tones that all sound identical to me. The word bpaed can mean ‘eight,’ ‘duck,’ or ‘spicy’ depending on the tone you use, which can get very confusing at restaurants when the waiter keeps insisting that they don’t have duck even though you’re just trying to ask if one of their dishes is spicy.
- There are four questions I always get asked, almost always in this order with widely varying levels of very creative Thanglish:
- “Where are you from?”
- “What are you doing in Isaan?”
- “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” (Cue shock and awe noises)
- “Have you eaten rice yet?” (This is akin to asking someone how they are doing, but it translates to “have you eaten rice yet.” I’m still not sure whether people are asking me how I’m doing or whether I’m hungry in different situations).
- I bought a scooter for 3,000 baht (a little under $90). The school janitor helped me pick it out, so I was pretty convinced I had gotten away with a steal when I got it home from the shop without any problems. Of course the next time I tried to ride it, the kick-start snapped right off and had to be welded back on, the exhaust pipe had something stuck in it, and the headlight wasn’t working. But four hours and $3.50 to the mechanic later and she runs like a dream.
Just a man, his switch, and the respect of everyone within a hundred foot radius
I wish I had a better picture to do this guy justice. This man is the head disciplinarian/PE teacher at Muang Khong High. All the young teachers love him and call him ‘papa.’ At any school gathering he can be seen walking around with his bamboo switch, a smile on his face and a whistle in his mouth. I’ve never seen him actually use the switch, but no teacher commands more respect/fear than he does among the students. Every morning the students gather to sing the national anthem and do announcements You can always tell where papa is because the students around him are singing louder than anyone else. In another life, he would have been great as a beneficent dictator maintaining an iron grip over a small, resource-rich nation-state. For now he just whistles at kids for being late and talking during announcements.
- About three weeks into my stay here, I started getting these little bug bite-looking itchy red spots on my shoulders and arms. WebMD had me convinced they were bedbugs, one of the Thai teachers told me I was allergic to the papaya salad we had had earlier in the week, and the doctor at the hospital assured my that he didn’t know so he just gave me some antihistamines. A few days later I went to a clinic with a different doctor and he told me I was just having a reaction to the extreme heat. Turns out I’m literally allergic to this place.
- Thai first names are a mouthful (Nathawat, Panintorn, Durmklang), so everyone has a nice short nickname to make things easy. For an English-speaker, these get pretty funny. There are a lot of Nats, Kats, Oms, etc. My favorites so far (I wish I had pictures) are Boss, a tiny, over-enthusiastic 12 year old with a penchant for asking for high-fives at very inconvenient times and a borderline obese, round-faced, jolly 14 year-old named Turbo. The English program director’s deputy is named Manoon Moonboom, which is also pretty cool.
Here, I’ve been asked to give a lesson on impromptu lesson on “the importance of punctuality” for a morning homeroom. The Thai teacher does not look pleased with my work.
Most of the time, it’s sort of shocking that Thailand has a functioning education system. Everything changes at a moment’s notice, no one ever seems to know the full story, things are at least ten minutes late, and no one stops to think “maybe if we tweaked a few things, this could go a lot smoother.” In this sort of environment, no two days at school are ever the same. We’re often asked to teach some special class or help out with another teacher’s lesson at a moment’s notice. Getting comfortable with freestyling lessons as you go is probably the single most important skill I’ve picked up here.
That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading this far down! Next time: in which Nick joins a small-time Muay Thai entourage.
Nick graduated our Chiang Mai TESOL course in April 2015. Nick is a Colorado native and a somewhat recent graduate of Colby College. He got a little too comfortable living in DC and figured taking his talents to a different hemisphere was a good way to fix that. He likes mountains, rugby, anything with taro in it, students who prefer fistbumps to high fives, and chicken-on-a-stick. He will never understand Austin’s obsession with toasties, despite his best efforts. He’s a big fan of Thailand, the Thais, and being a teacher here and he totally thinks you should give it a shot.
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Moving On to Bigger Things
Monday was working 9-7 in an office. Tuesday was working 9-7 in an office doing coffee runs for survival. Wednesday up until Friday was me sitting in front of a computer screen from 9-7, casually getting interrupted by other unhappy colleagues arguing with the boss. The ratio of week days to weekend never made sense to me. My weekends were crazy and spontaneous, travelling up and down the east coast of Australia. But before I knew it, I was back in front of my computer screen, enclosed in a small room.
I was scrolling through the net one day, (I say the net because you know how you’re on one website and after about fifty clicks on random things and an hour later, you’ve ended up somewhere completely off track?), I came across something along the lines of “Teach In Thailand!” First of all, I had no idea where Thailand even fell on the map and secondly, I was a horrid student. Potentially putting up with someone like me was not on my bucket list, but still I found myself clicking on the link and filling in my details.
It was the next day I received a call from a woman who would help me for the next few months planning my trip to Thailand.
I received my visa, quit my job, turned twenty, gave over half of my wardrobe to my lovely, Brazilian flatmate, and my cute but psycho (no not me) cat, Blaze, ran away which was perfect timing if you ask me.
Sitting on the edge of my bed with my mother who had flown over from New Zealand to say goodbye, life decided then and there that it would throw a brick at me. That brick would be my very first anxiety attack. I couldn’t breathe, every little worry that I didn’t think was there before, or at least hid very well, was screaming at me. Mum throws her arms around me and is repeatedly saying, “It’s ok, just breathe.”
Bangkok, an overwhelming city of discovery.
Not even half a day later I arrive in Bangkok airport. Of all places for a twenty year old girl who has just had an anxiety attack to go, SHE GOES TO BANGKOK? It’s almost like I was begging for another episode.
I meet up with the small group of other people who have given up their lives in other parts of the world to do this. After just one hectic night together on the streets of Bangkok, I can say I honestly felt happy, excited and most of all my mind was free of bad thoughts.
We study, party, learn, explore, meditate and even at times cry together. Then I get the news that I got offered an ESL teaching job, even though I hadn’t graduated with my TESOL certificate yet.
I take it.
I cry as I hug my friends goodbye and jump on board a bus that will drive for ten hours to reach my new home; Trang, located in the southern part of Thailand.
Starting Out as an ESL Teacher
Adventures in Trang
Don’t ever expect something when going into unfamiliar grounds. I thought I was going to be able to chill out, explore my new town, make some friends maybe. Wrong. Oh, how wrong I was. They threw me into the school almost as soon as I put my feet down on Trang soil. Like, Eden, don’t catch your breath just yet. My new job was teaching 6-12 year old, Mini English Program Students English and Art at Anuban Trang School. Mini English Program basically is a segregated part of the school where students learn most of their subjects in Thai AND English, of course at a bigger cost. My agents take me in, I meet a few of the other foreign teachers and then I get given my timetable which shows that I have five classes to teach that day. I’m thinking great, I can go home and prepare lesson plans for these classes next week. Wrong again. So, so wrong. I am told I have to begin teaching straight away, no lesson plans. Just wing it basically. I think I muttered a “Are you being serious?” There I was, standing in front of this class of seven year olds, in a country where Thai is their first language and me not knowing what they even know about English or Art.
In all seriousness, I don’t know where I pulled it from, but I fully aced teaching this class. We’re going over fruits. I’m drawing. I’m asking them what it is. They’re all yelling the answer at me. I say “Are you sure? I think it’s a banana.” They’d respond, “Noooooo, Teacher! Apple! Apple!” We’re laughing and joking and learning. My agents are sitting there with massive grins on their faces. They don’t even stay for the whole lesson. They’re just like yeah, this girl’s got it.
That day a South African woman from my school, whom I would become very good friends with, side saddled me on the back of her bike and we rode to my new apartment. I was shown about five different places that I could move into. One place had a major ant infestation, another was so dark and gloomy I felt like the sun had disappeared. Of course it wasn’t until the fifth one was shown to me that I had decided, yes. This is the one. It was a brand new modern apartment with a huge room already furnished with a king sized bed, table and chairs, television, vanity, wardrobe and fridge. Off from that room was a bathroom with a modern toilet and a hot shower. The apartment building had free parking, 24 hour surveillance cameras operating, big security gates and my favourite; FREE WIFI. Obviously I decided to pay more for the luxury of all these things. I was well aware of cheaper accommodation but I knew that it meant bucket showers and squat toilets which I hadn’t quite yet accustomed myself to.
The best thing about teaching ESL in Thailand? The students.
Soon enough I get myself into a really good rhythm at school. (Wait, do I call it school or work? I don’t know.) I planned my lessons according to the textbooks the students have. They’re great. One topic will generally last a few weeks. One of my favourite topics in English I did with my P4 students was Emergency Services. Teaching them what to do in the event of a house fire, doing role plays with each other with one acting as someone who has an emergency and the other acting as the phone operator for the emergency services. We even did a few classes on Tsunamis, which really interested them because they all knew about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that hit Thailand. At the end of this topic one of the other foreign teachers organised for the local Fire Fighters to come into school and speak to the students, they had the best time.
The feeling you get from giving your own knowledge to someone who takes it in willingly and appreciates it is completely overwhelming. I never realised how extremely lucky I was knowing the English language. Thai’s know that English is the key to so many opportunities and that’s why they’re eager to learn it. No one should be denied the right to be educated, so I think it’s wonderful that there are so many foreign teachers leaving their western lives to pass on their own knowledge to these beautiful people.
Having a great time in Phuket.
When I wasn’t working I was off exploring the country. Like any other twenty year old would do, of course I headed to Phuket. Where of course I partied for days until I literally was lying on the floor of the backpackers exhausted like “Help me”. I got that help alright, helped onto the boat to Phi Phi Island where I partied even more except I had a bloody brilliant beach to fall flat onto.
I got to experience high-end shopping in Bangkok, Songkran in Chiang Mai, blessings of a Monk in Phuket, snorkeling in Phi Phi Island, amazing/endless market shopping in Songkhla, cricket eating in Hua Hin. Just endless amounts of new experiences and fun.
Looking Back at Life as an ESL Teacher
Looking back at Teaching ESL in Thailand
In March 2015 my teaching came to an end. Unfortunately visas can get difficult and you need to make sacrifices. I have returned to New Zealand where I am going to begin university. It was such a hard decision for me, but I know that once I get my degree I can return to Thailand and teach once more. The relationship I built with my students, my 6-7 year olds in particular gave me feelings I had never had before. I left them begging me to stay, crying, tugging at my skirt. I miss them every single day and I love them like they’re my own. Teaching in Thailand is by far the best decision I ever made and it makes me so excited for my life ahead. I mean, i’m almost 21, and I feel like I’ve already accomplished such a huge thing in my life. I will always encourage people to never settle for a life they know is too small for them. Get out there. Try something new. Go somewhere you haven’t been before. Offer all that you have to give to someone who wants and needs it. I promise you will feel richer than the man with the most money in the world.
Eden Le Comte
Eden is Australian born, and lived in New Zealand most of her life. She grew up in a squash orientated family but I broke herself away from it after realising it wasn’t what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Eden has a lust for travel, adventure and throwing herself in the deep end.
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Teaching Abroad – Convenience at your Doorstep
When you first leave your home to move to a place like Thailand, there are several challenges and obstacles that you’ll have to overcome. They’re not all about teaching abroad, they’re also about adapting to a new, fascinating, initially difficult to adjust to, culture. Last time I discussed some of these initial road bumps including the language barrier, eating the local cuisine, and readjusting your perception of cleanliness. However, once you’ve cleared these hurdles and the novelty of your new surroundings begins to normalize, you’ll need to start dealing with the real world problems that we all tried so hard to run away from. “But Austin, how will we pay our bills and set up a phone plan in this new foreign land?” you might ask. Well fear not friends, Thailand has an establishment that will solve literally all of your real world needs. This place will feed you, clothe you, help you pay your utilities, sell you plane tickets, and serve as an armory for the war against the mosquitoes. And they’re on every corner.
7/11. The stronghold of Western life in Thailand. And yes, that’s the same 7/11 that you knew from back home that sold you lottery tickets, slurpees, and gross hotdogs. While the gross hotdogs are still available, Thai 7/11s are so much more than that. As you adapt and get your bearings in your new home, the Seven will become a halfway house between your new life and your old habits. It truly epitomizes the meaning of what a convenience store should be. But before I get into the wonders that Sevs Elevs has to offer, the first thing it will provide? Air-conditioning. In a land of soul-crushing humidity and high Celsius temperatures, a momentary immersion into the crisp, arctic-like air will cleanse your soul and refresh your spirit. Just look at the street dogs who sleep in front of the automated sliding doors. They aren’t just there for the rush of almost being stepped on during a nap. That fleeting breeze from inside makes it all worth it.
Let’s talk about food again. Now while I encourage everyone to try to eat as many new things as possible, most of us take baby steps into this new style of cookery. For the first month or so as you eat your fried rice and learn the names of other dishes to order, you’re going to need something to sustain you. Don’t worry, the 7 is here to save the day. The beginner 7/11 meal is the Toasty sandwich. A Toasty is essentially the illegitimate love child of a Panini and a prison sandwich. The amateur Toasty is the Ham & Cheese, though you’ll have to decide between normal bread or to fork up the extra 2 baht for the croissant bread (pro tip: do it). After a while, once you’ve earned your Bachelor’s in Toasty studies, you’ll graduate to other flavors like carbonara or the chicken pizza one. But whatever you do, just don’t eat the tuna Toasty. Please. (Hey Austin..I like that one! – Jon). In time, as you complete your Toasty Masters, you’ll be ready to move onto the other instant meals they have like chicken fingers, garlic bread, or pork wontons. All of which will be cooked for you on the spot behind the register.
7/11 is also where you’ll put credit on your phone. Since phone contracts aren’t really a thing here, everything is pre-paid. Once you plug in the SIM card that XploreAsia gives you, you’ll need to top that bad-boy up before you can post that picture of a man, baby, and dog on a scooter up to Facebook. To top your phone up, gingerly approach the cashier, point to your phone with a sheepish smile and say, “TrueMove Online?” Tell them how many baht you want, type your number into the keypad, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Snapchat away my friends.
This all sounds pretty great right? Well to quote the late, great Billy Mays, “But wait, there’s more!” Say you wanted to book a plane ticket to Kuala Lumpur for your visa trip next month but don’t want to pay for it with your bank card from back home. Book it online through a cheap airline like NokAir and they’ll send you a code. Take that code into 7/11 and pay for it in cash right there. Convenient right? How about your electricity bill? Yup, the Sev-o will handle that too. It will also serve as a cheap haven for whichever of the 3 varieties of Thai beer you declare your allegiance to. It will however take a couple months and a few awkward encounters of trying to buy beer between 2pm-5pm until you finally remember that alcohol is illegal during those times.
The 7 will also sell you everything else necessary to sustain you until you have time to make your weekly trip to Tesco. You can pick up whiteboard pens for class, toothpaste, bottled water, toilet paper, mosquito spray, purple mosquito coils, cigarettes with a scary picture on the pack, or even a silly hat. I could keep going, but you get the point.
7/11 is a place that you will spend so much time that you abbreviate the name because you just can’t be bothered with all 5 syllables. Regardless of what you call it or how you feel about it, for better or worse, the 7 will be central to your Thailand experience. Embrace it, befriend the employees, and start establishing yourself as not just another backpacker. And if you feel a little embarrassed for going into the store for the third time that day, don’t worry, there’s always the other one across the street.
Austin is our Education Programs Manager. Originally from California, Austin describes himself as a traveler, eager to see everything he can and curious as to how the rest of the world lives.
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Learning English for Thai People: A Path to a Better Life
Before expats come over to teach in Thailand, many assume that Thai peoples’ main motivation for learning English is personal interest or as an extracurricular activity. This idea tends to be founded from our own personal experience as most of us learned French or Spanish for those same reasons throughout our primary and secondary schooling. We studied other languages either because of a desire to travel or to enhance our university applications. However, this assumption of Thai peoples’ motivations for studying English is slightly misguided. While some Thai people do learn English because they plan to travel or for fun, the majority of Thais study English, or pressure their children to do so, in order to improve their material wellbeing or social standing.
English language skills are in great demand in Thailand. One widely recognized reason for this is that they are essential to supporting the country’s burgeoning tourism industry. Last year, Thailand had more than 26 million visitors arriving by plane—an increase of over 200% in the past decade. However, an often overlooked and arguably more important reason that English language skills are in such high demand in Thailand is to support the country’s massive export manufacturing industries.
Thailand competes with many of its regional neighbors to be a top destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). Thai government officials do everything in their power to attract the attention of multinational corporations like General Electric, General Motors, Unilever, and Microsoft to convince them to open a factory or regional headquarters here in Thailand instead of somewhere like Vietnam, Malaysia, or China. While Thailand’s beaches, mountains and the friendliness of the Thai people make a persuasive argument, promoting strong English language skills of the local workforce is the final frontier. As a result, this is something that the Thai government fixates heavily on. Every two to three weeks there’s an article in the local media lamenting that Thailand is falling behind its neighbors in standardized tests of English language capability. With the exception of the agriculture industry, English language skills are in extremely high demand. Unfortunately, throughout the tourism, manufacturing, and education sectors, Thailand is falling behind its regional neighbors in this regard.
There is another important reason that learning the English language is currently in such high demand in Thailand. On December 31st, 2015, the countries of Southeast Asia will enter into a new phase of regional integration known as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Thailand is a member of this union which began an unprecedented era of international cooperation between nations. ASEAN established a regional trading bloc that will lower the barriers to the movement of people, goods, and services across Southeast Asia. Being that there is no common language amongst the countries in the region, communication between nations is done almost entirely in English. As a result, English has been declared the official language of the ASEAN community. Therefore, not only are English language skills in demand in the private sector, but in the Thai government sector as well.
How big of a difference does learning English make to the typical Thai worker or government employee? It really is remarkable. If you take two Thai workers, who are in all ways equal (education, age, experience, performance), but only one has strong English language capability, he or she can earn anywhere from 2-3 times the salary compared to their non-English speaking counterpart. This is why from the national government level all the way down to the individual family, massive financial investments are made in English language education. It is important to not only Thailand’s development as a nation, but also for the development of the individual Thai person and their earning potential.
Thailand is still a developing country. The average salary of a Thai person is roughly USD 5,000, compared to USD 40,000 for someone living in the United States. In fact, the economic and class structure in Thailand looks nothing like that in the United States. Thailand’s middle class is very small compared to the United States and is a relatively new socioeconomic group. A few generations ago, there was no middle class in Thailand. Bangkok is the only area of Thailand where the middle class is prominent and it makes up 50% of the city’s population. This figure accounts for the majority of middle class individuals in Thailand. Outside of Bangkok, the middle class shrinks to a very small percentage. For example, in one of the most populated regions of Thailand, the Northeast, the middle class makes up less than 10% of the population. The vast majority of Thais in areas like these are poor farmers.
Because the middle class is a relatively new social group, the class system in Thailand still largely resembles pre-modern times and is built upon unequal relations between the traditional elites (land holders) and peasants. While we are a long way from those ancient times, this pre-modern class and social structure still exists in many ways, and it represents a huge barrier to upward mobility.
A majority of Thais are born poor, they live poor, and they die poor. Their children end up going to underfunded schools with apathetic teachers and often drop out before they reach graduation. Sound familiar? You could say the same thing about many inner-city communities in the Western world. The main difference is that those communities represent nearly 75% of the population in Thailand. To this day, there is still very little upward mobility for Thais born into a lower class family. Chances are, if you are born poor, your offspring will be poor, and they will in turn raise family trapped in this vicious cycle of poverty that repeats itself generation after generation. There is a way to break this cycle of poverty. This is where English language comes in.
If you can speak English, you can move up in Thai society. You can move out of poverty and provide a better life for yourself and your children. English language skills are an important springboard to the middle class and a way to leave poverty behind. Young Thai kids who you encounter in the classroom might not appreciate this, but their families, their communities and the Thai government certainly do. As a result, Thailand hires more than 10,000 native English-speaking teachers each year. Despite this, the current supply of native English speaking teachers still doesn’t meet the overall demand.
Because of all of this, native English speaking teachers play a very important role in this country. They hold the potential to help a child born to a family of rice farmers to have a fair shot at providing a better life for their children. In my years of training and preparing thousands of native English teachers in Thailand, I think most Westerners coming over to Thailand don’t fully grasp the extent of good they can do. For most of us it seems strange that some language we grew up speaking and taking for granted could be so important to the future of Thailand. But that is the reality. As native English-speaking teachers, we possess an important skill. While I don’t mean to come off as ethnocentric, English language skills truly can be one of the most important skills that Thai people will learn in their years of schooling. I liken the role of teachers as somewhat akin to joining the Peace Corps, a wonderful program with a long history of helping people. In the Peace Corps, volunteers typically go into areas to build homes, wells, schools, and infrastructure to help communities grow. As ESL teachers in Thailand, we have the ability to impart a special skill that will enable hundreds and maybe thousands of young Thai people to improve their lives. They can use these skills to one day improve their homes, their communities, and reinvest in future generations. I imagine that many teachers didn’t foresee the potential impact they could make when they first decided to teach English in Thailand. And on top of it all, you get paid for it!
Michael Volpe is the Managing Director of XploreAsia. He has an extensive educational background in international business and political science, along with nearly 10 years of teaching experience at the university level in Thailand and the United States. He is a Fulbright-Hays Scholar with a PhD in International Public Policy from George Mason University.
How I Overcame Culture Shock as a New Teacher
Ever felt like this?
Culture shock. Let’s be clear from the start. It’s not extreme homesickness, fatigue or frustration with a new diet of foods that we deem unsuitable for our ‘rich’ (bland) pallets. In fact it’s a combination of all of these things with so much more to boot. Everyone who has experienced culture shock will tell you that it’s a real challenge and that it’s something that has to be beaten actively. It won’t pass unless action is taken.
Culture shock is, in a way, a joy to experience. It’s one of the final barriers to truly immersing yourself into a wonderful new culture and surpassing it will enrich you and give you a newfound perspective on all the different things you encounter.
I overcame culture shock in a particularly strange way. It was relatively early on in my experience living and working abroad. I still remember how it happened vividly to this day.
I made some strong bonds on arrival in Thailand.
I spent my first couple of weeks in Thailand relishing the energy of other like-minded westerners all experiencing a new culture. These were really exciting times. Everything was intriguing, inspiring and just so different. I must admit, I found myself thinking ‘this isn’t so bad’ numerous times. I honestly never once truly felt homesick and rarely thought about my friends and family back home. I felt positive and, most importantly, present in every waking moment. I made the decision to practice daily meditation and yoga, enjoy a relatively healthy diet and focus on building close relationships with the people around me. I felt like this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I felt secure, wanted, and happy to be a part of something much larger than myself.
These feelings only lasted up until the day I left to my first school placement in a small market town called Ban Mi. I was incredibly emotional on my journey to this new adventure. I felt like my entire world was falling apart and that everything that I had just achieved was for nothing. I admit, while I am an emotional person, I just didn’t feel prepared and I was afraid that I’d made a poor decision leaving so soon.
When the tears subsided and I felt the warmth of the sun pouring through the van window, I suddenly felt peaceful. I knew that the real challenge was about to begin and that this was my chance to start over. Once again, relatively quickly, I thought that I had overcome culture shock, that my low point had passed and that now I can do anything.
I have a habit of speaking too soon and this was most definitely one of those moments. My biggest challenges were yet to come.
I ate this everyday for two weeks. Same time, same place.
My first few days in Ban Mi were initially rather exciting/terrifying in equal measure. I’m not the traveller type, I’m certainly not fearless and I did thrive from the reassurance of friends & family. I came to Thailand to realise a dream of becoming a teacher in a foreign country. I never thought my first major issue would be plucking up the courage to go and buy dinner from somewhere other than 7-11. I eventually found somewhere to eat that would be my go-to place for the duration of my stay. Still unsure of myself, I ate the same dish every night for two weeks. It was good but hardly adventurous.
I’m the type of guy who thrives from routine, any time I’m derailed it’s a serious setback. Things have to happen on time, when they’re agreed and must play out to all of my many expectations. Having these expectations when living in a place like Thailand is simply asking for trouble. My first few weeks were spent becoming frustrated with everything around me. Nothing was going how I wanted it to, people weren’t adjusting to me and I was beginning to resent everything and everyone. I was feeling miserable, tired, homesick and didn’t really feel like being a teacher anymore. I avoided ‘conversations’ with the locals and just spent most of my days in silence apart from teaching. There were many days where I wouldn’t have a single exchange in English to anyone. In hindsight, I’d begun to alienate myself as I refused to accept anything other than my own way to be the ‘right’ way. This..is culture shock.
Early one Monday morning I woke up with a particularly bad attitude. I didn’t much feel like teaching, let alone going to school. Reluctantly I got myself up, headed out of the door and started the relatively short walk to school in 45 degree heat. This journey took me through a market where I diced with death as a pedestrian amongst a million scooters. After the fifth near accident I scraped through the market and made it to the outdoor gym I often used in the evenings. As I walked up I heard a sound coming from a pile of rubbish on the side of the road. As I got closer I noticed a box. The sounds were coming from inside. I carefully opened the box, expecting some sort of death dealing monster to be inside, but was surprised to find four new-born puppies, most of which still had their eyes closed. Why these puppies were placed in this box and put there to be taken away by the refuse collectors I will never know or understand.
Two of the puppies after a few days of care.
All of a sudden, I had a purpose. I was going to take care of these animals to make sure they had a fair shot at life. I carefully took out each puppy and placed them in a safe place, away from harm, outside of the gym. I covered them up and went to work at the school. On my return after school, I got them out from my improvised kennel and fed them some milk, which they hungrily lapped up. I returned to this place every morning, lunchtime and in the evening to take care of these little guys. They grew so fast and I was quickly becoming a popular sight to see in the local community.
The Foreigner that Cares for Stray Dogs
The dogs showed real improvement after the local community got involved feeding and bathing them.
The locals started taking notice and I would often have local kids come, play with the puppies and help me feed them. Some were a little rough and had to be taught how to treat animals, but we got there in the end. I believe that the efforts I made, especially out in the open to take care of these dogs who couldn’t fend for themselves, helped open up the community not only to me, but also to eachother. People banded together to feed and clean the dogs, play with them and give them love. The dogs became part of the community, as did I. People often approached me to chat, to offer food and many times invited me into their homes. I realised that I wasn’t just giving these dogs the opportunity to have a good shot at life, I was giving myself one too. Before making this chance discovery I had all but given up. Now I had a community that supported me, friends, family and the greatest little buddies by my side. I got through culture shock by not focusing on myself but by finding a way to channel my energy into doing good.
The last photo I have of my little friends before leaving town.
By becoming selfless I had realised that the only barrier to overcoming my issues was myself and my own perceptions. So to all of you thinking about coming over or who have just begun your journey, get out there, do good things for others in your community, forget about your troubles and start living.
Culture shock is a necessary rite of passage for any long stayers. It’s also one of the most humbling experiences I have had in my life and I would live it over and over again.
Check out the video of Jon telling his story on the XploreAsia YouTube channel.
Jon is a former teacher in Thailand. Now working for XploreAsia, Jon focusses on marketing and managing the blog. Jon is a passionate movie and music lover as well as having a keen interest in new cultures and ideas.
For more insights in starting out as a teacher, check out his blog here.