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Olivia’s Story: Teachers in Thailand Making Local Friendships

Olivia’s Story: Teachers in Thailand Making Local Friendships

The Banksy of Hua Hin

"I couldn't help noticing the beautiful street art and I was intrigued by the mysterious person behind these works."

Moving to a new country can be a huge challenge. Here at XploreAsia, we believe that challenges are what make people grow and that moving abroad can open up a wealth of opportunities. In this series on our blog, our recent TESOL graduates are sharing their stories of the international frienships they made even before they became fully-fledged teachers in Thailand. This week, Olivia tells us about her discovery of one of Hua Hin’s most prolific street artists who she ran into during her time studying in Hua Hin.

 

Since arriving to Hua Hin, I couldn’t help noticing the unique street art, particularly the giant eye that seems to be watching me everywhere I go. As an artist myself, I was intrigued and keen to find the mysterious person behind these works. I’d labeled the artist, in my head, as the “Banksy of Hua Hin”. In our first week here, I’d noticed an alley that had walls decorated with paintings on the road to the night market. A few Sundays in, I was feeling restless and decided to go to exploring. During my walk, I passed the same colorful alleyway, and decided to venture down and check it out.

What I discovered was a space filled with art. Rap music blared as I wandered around the giant room trying to take it all in. Suddenly the volume was lowered,and a tall skinny Thai man with a ponytail and tattoos nodded at me coolly. He became the recipient of my millions of questions. “Did you make all this art?” “How long have you been an artist?” “Do you live here?”

He answered as best he could with limited English, but was quick to show me his sketchpad. When I told him I drew too, he told me that it’s important to do at least five drawings a day in order to really improve. He invited me to explore and take pictures if I wanted to. He even let me photograph him. We hung out and chatted about art. I learned that aside from art, he likes to skimboard every day with his girlfriend, who is also an artist. She makes clothes and bags- one of which I ended up buying. It was a collaboration of her stitching and his drawings, priced at 500 baht, but since I only had 400 on me, he gave it to me for 400. It had one of the mysterious eyes I had seen plastered all over the city. 

Teachers in Thailand get a chance to gain a real insight into the lives of the locals.

I was really fortunate to meet a Thai artist that seems to make his entire living that way, especially because I have struggled for a while to find my own path. His entire demeanor was refreshing, and it seemed like he had found the secret formula to happiness. He was very humble while also being breathtakingly talented.

Teachers in Thailand have the opportunity to explore the most incredible places!

 

From this interaction, but also from the interactions I’ve had with Thai people in general, I felt very welcome. This is a new thing to me as someone who comes from icy New Hampshire, where people are much less ready to chat to strangers. The genuine kindness of Thai people is definitely something I can get used to. I’ve had Thai people help me fit groceries into my backpack when they saw I was struggling, run up to me with a bottle of vinegar when I got stung by a jellyfish, and cram ten donuts into a box for me because I had dropped the ones I originally bought on the street. Creativity also appears to be a common thread through my experience in Thailand so far, and I am looking forward to meeting more creative people in my new community.

What do you think of Olivia’s story meeting a fellow artist? Teachers in Thailand are often surprised by how welcoming the locals are and it’s easy for Thailand to feel like a home from home. If you enjoyed this blog, why not check out Olivia’s classmate Kyle’s experience bonding with a local?

You can also see updates on Olivia’s journey through her blog and Instagram page. If you want to be finding new friends and learning new things yourself, all whilst making a huge difference to a Thai community, check out our TESOL course which will give you all the skills you need to be a great English teacher. Make sure to follow XploreAsia on Instagram and Facebook to see what else our teachers in Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, Vietnam and China are up to.

We Decided to Teach English in Myanmar

We Decided to Teach English in Myanmar

Did you know that in addition to five other diverse destinations, XploreAsia offers the chance to gain an accredited TESOL qualification in Myanmar? We’re always interested in hearing our teachers’ experiences and invited one of them to share their story. Read below an account of one of our TESOL graduates teaching in Myanmar and their first impressions of the country.

The anxiety and excitement leading up to this adventure has been overwhelming. It was scary not knowing what to expect, but thrilling to finally see our plans to teach English in Myanmar coming through after so much hard work and preparation. Upon arriving in Yangon, the first thing I noticed was the sincere display of kindness, warmth and welcoming, a characteristic I expected, but not to such a degree. The next thing I notice is how diverse the place is. With a demographic consisting of over 130 different ethnicities, religions and cultures, it has a very different vibe to many of its neighbours.The city itself has a lot of character; the beautifully unique buildings give clues to Myanmar’s colonial past.

The city of Yangon offers limitless possibilities for exploration.
Explore the streets and find hidden gems whilst living and working in this secluded country.
Get an unincumbered look into authentic Myanmar culture when you teach English in Myanmar.
Teach English in Myanmar and create lasting bonds with local people.
You will be making a difference to the local community if you teach English in Myanmar.
Live like a local. Eat like a local. Shop like a local. Really soak up the culture in Myanmar.
Explore the city via public transport.
"They were regilding this building."
You never know where your journey will take you.

As soon as we arrive, Liam and I are curious to know more about the people and how they live in Myanmar. So, we take the circle line train around Yangon and engage with the local commuters. The train itself is old and rickety, moving at slow speeds. It has no doors which allows us to stand half way out the train and watch the daily life of Yangon roll by. Yangon is a very unconventional city, which allows for travelers to really gain a brand new experience, and allows for some unique inner-city adventures. It’s not difficult to find your way around and the public transport is very cheap, which means you can explore the city without fear of getting completely lost. It’s great to be able to hop on and off the circle line train at any platform and just walk in whichever direction you feel like exploring.

Teach English in Myanmar and experience life like a local.
Explore the fascinating landscape of Myanmar.
Immerse yourself in the culture; teach English in Myanmar and become part of a new community.

Coming to teach English in Myanmar has been a fascinating adventure. If this is any indication of what the rest of the journey holds, it’s sure to be memorable. Throughout our time here, we’re looking forward to finding out out what the people here are all about and discover all this country has to offer.

Does Yangon sound like the place for you? Here at XploreAsia, we offer training, lifetime placement support, and an orientation week to prepare you for life in a new culture so you can teach English in Myanmar with confidence. You can also catch up with XploreAsia and find information on all our programs through our Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Kyle’s Story: Teachers in Thailand Making Local Friendships

Kyle’s Story: Teachers in Thailand Making Local Friendships

The Jersey Boys

"He wanted to know about my home as much as I wanted to know about his."

Making the move to a new country can be difficult. It’s daunting to leave friends and family so far behind to start a new adventure. However, moving abroad is just that- an adventure- and there are lots of new friends waiting to be found. In this blog series, some of our teachers in Thailand who’ve just graduated from our most recent TESOL course in Hua Hin are sharing the most memorable connections they’ve made with Thai locals during their training. Read on to find out about Teacher Kyle’s chance encounter with a musical couple.

Teachers in Thailand get the chance to make lasting international friendships.

One day, as I walked to explore Hua Hin and find a new place to eat, a friendly Thai man exclaimed “New Jersey”, the state I come from, as he passed me.  I was confused and turned around to see him looking at me and telling his wife something but I only understood “New Jersey” and “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons”.  I didn’t even realize the shirt I had on that day was of the summer camp I worked at called Camp Nejeda.  I tried to start a conversation in Thai with him and they laughed with me before he started speaking above average English.  The man told me his name but said to call him “Ant” because I’d have trouble anyway, sure enough I forgot both him and his wife’s Thai names.  I am pretty sure the man was more eager to talk to me than I was to him.  He asked me question after question about my state and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, his favorite musical group.

I sat with him and his wife for a half hour over breakfast. He was ecstatic that people in my generation had a sense of adventure and an open mind to work in his country. Ant told me he spent a few months working in Washington DC but was never able to make it up to New Jersey which always disappointed him.  I tried to reassure him there was nothing special about it.

Ant, his wife and I were only together for about an hour and a half and I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time. I have never even felt so welcome, even in my own home. The generosity and curiosity was new to me and it was shocking in the best way.

Kyle- TESOL graduate

After sharing music from our home countries, we were heading in the same direction once we left breakfast and he asked if I had ever tried khanom khrok (a Thai dessert made with coconut milk).  I said no and he bought some for us to try. I loved it and tried to offer him money for the share he gave me. His wife and him both laughed at me as I insisted. Then I realized how American I was being. Local’s kindness can be a surprise for new teachers in Thailand.

Ant, his wife and I were only together for about an hour and a half and I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time. I have never felt so welcome, even in my own home. The generosity and curiosity was new to me and it was shocking in the best way. He wanted to know about my home as much as I wanted to know about his. However, what stuck out the most was that he’d drove four hours to Hua Hin that day to replace a car battery for someone in his family. My family care for each other too, but instead of making a 4 hour drive we would probably help them over the phone. Ant, on the other hand, was excited to make the journey to help his family. It was an excuse to come see them and have dinner. He also was fine taking time out of his day to hang out with a stranger from America. I truly could not see anyone doing that in the States. Unfortunately, I forgot to get any contact information and now that I’m writing this I wish I could stay in touch. He was my first Thai friend. At least I got a selfie, though!

What do you think of Kyle’s story? If experiencing a different culture sounds good to you, head over to our website to learn more about our TESOL course which we offer in six amazing locations. Teachers in Thailand can earn a living and make a huge difference in your community. Who will you meet during your time abroad?

Keep an eye on the XploreAsia blog to hear more stories from our teachers in Thailand and the cross-cultural friendships they have made. Also, head over to XploreAsia’s Instagram and Facebook pages to see what our teachers all over the world are getting up to after gaining their TESOL with us.

Teaching in Myanmar- Noah’s Experience

Teaching in Myanmar- Noah’s Experience

Teaching in Myanmar: Noah’s Experience

“This country offers the adventure of a lifetime. Everyday will be different from the last; you truly never know what lies around the next corner in Myanmar.”

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is among the most recent countries to open its doors to westerners. Due to being untouched by western influence, it offers a unique chance to dive into a completely different culture. Additionally, the eagerness of the locals to learn English and better themselves makes it an ideal place for TESOL teachers. Check out our interview with current teacher Noah about his experiences in the city’s old capital city, Yangon.

What made you decide to start teaching in Myanmar?

After teaching in China in 2017, I moved to Australia for a year and whilst I was there, I had the longing to go back to Asia and teach. My girlfriend and I looked into the available programs and found we were extremely curious about Myanmar.

The thought of being able to witness a country that had only recently opened its borders grow, and knowing the people of Myanmar really needed English to help them with this, was just too enticing to miss out on.

Q: What’s a normal school day like?

A: Monday to Wednesday I teach pre-school classes in two different schools.  My school day starts at 9 o’clock with gate duty. It’s a fun way to start the day by standing at the front and greeting all the students and parents as they walk in. Myself and the other teachers help the students with their school bags and lunches whilst guiding them to their various classrooms. After this I begin teaching; every day is different with this because I rotate between every class the school has to offer. While the levels change every day, I have the same amount of teaching each day. Once I have taught the children and had my lunch at my favorite little tea shop down the street its time to see the students off.

As the students wait for their “ferries” or parents to pick them up I begin preparations for my last class of the day. Once all the students have been safely sent home the teachers and assistant teachers all meet in one class and I begin my lesson for them. In this class we work on different aspects of English such as speaking, writing, grammar and various other learning points the teachers feel they need help with. My day finishes around 5pm. Then, on the weekends, I teach young learners, the students ages range from 6-16 year olds. I start earlier, at 8am, but I also finish earlier, at 2pm. I teach four classes a day rotating through the various levels; due to the children being older they don’t require the constant attention/care the pre schoolers do, so my weekends are more focused on teaching. 

Q: With already having taught before, how different have you found teaching in Myanmar?

A: When I taught in China I was teaching University students, so coming to Myanmar and having the complete opposite was a challenge. Adjusting to teaching pre-school students took it’s time and even though I still prefer teaching older children/adults, I have built an amazing bond with my students and I have so much fun teaching them.

Q: How was finding an apartment in Myanmar?

A: Finding an apartment in Yangon was a very simple process. There are many ways to go about it but the best I’ve found was using Facebook’s Yangon Connections page. I placed an ad for myself asking if anyone was looking for renters. Immediately, I received a ton of listings. It took me no time at all to find the perfect place to call home in this awesome city. My land lady is a very kind woman who is always asking if I need any help and is very quick to fix anything that happens in the apartment.

I live in a very cosy modern loft. The apartment came fully furnished and even had a TV. It’s not hard to find a perfect new home in Myanmar like I did.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: The teachers have a great community built up in Yangon, so there is usually always someone willing to hang out and go on an adventure.Whether that’s going for a bicycle tour around the village of Dala across Yangon river, taking a boat and then a 45 minute tuk tuk to see a snake pagoda (a pagoda that is home to over 30 pythons) exploring the abandoned amusement park, going bowling, or simply meeting up for some BBQ, beers and a good old chat. I have also recently got involved in playing volleyball with a group of expats and locals on Monday and Wednesdays, it’s nothing too serious we just meet up for a few games and a laugh, hopefully soon we will start up some training sessions for beginners that want to learn.

Q: Any advice for someone coming to Myanmar?

A: Myanmar is an amazing country that has only recently been opened up to the rest of the world. My advice for someone who is looking to start their adventure here is that this is not like any country you’ve ever been to. There is next to no western influence and should not be seen as an easy country to live in.

With that being said, this country offers the adventure of a lifetime. Everyday will be different from the last; you truly never know what lies around the next corner in Myanmar. So my advice is this; for anyone looking to make the commitment to live and teach here you must come with an open mind and a determination to not be frightened by the unknowns but take it all in stride as just another day another adventure. This county and its people can give you the experience of a life time, you just need to be ready to accept everything that it offers.

If Noah’s story has inspired you, then check out our in-country TESOL course including a cultural orientation week that will give you all the tools necessary to start an amazing new journey teaching in Myanmar. We also offer placement assistance as well as lifetime support following the course.

Don’t forget to check out our Instagram and Facebook pages to see more from our teachers in all six of our placement locations.

A Day in the Life of an English Teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam

A Day in the Life of an English Teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam

English Teacher Living in Vietnam

Ellie graduated from XploreAsia‘s accredited TESOL course in August 2018. Learn more about her experience as an English teacher at an English Writing Center outside of Hanoi, Vietnam!

Over the last few months I have lived and worked in Hanoi as an English Teacher for a Private Language Centre. My day to day routine is very much dependent on the hours and responsibilities that come with my position at the centre. My schedule can switch and change depending on team meetings, training and teacher cover. Generally, however, it does stay the same. In just a few months I have managed to build a routine that allows me to pursue hobbies, travel and explore the vibrant city of Hanoi and beyond. As I work for a Private Language Centre, I’m required to teach 25 hours over the evenings and the weekends, with two days off during the week. Initially, I thought I might find this schedule hard to regulate. And as someone who’s been used to having weekends and evenings for quite some time, this schedule felt somewhat strange. However, I have grown to love it! I have found time that I never thought I would have.

Average Weekday Working Schedule

07:00 – Wake up, go to the gym (normally)

My alarm goes off. Slowly I’ll drag myself out of bed and to the gym. My local gym is just around the corner costs around $12 a month. Or (300,000 VND). At this point I appreciate the luxury of being able to snooze for another 30 minutes if needed. After my tiring 9-5 routine back home, time is for once on my side in the morning.

09:00 – Head back home

We arrive home and prepare a delicious and colourful plate of fruit for breakfast. Brew a coffee and watch the news. Once I’ve had a chilled breakfast I’ll get myself ready for the day. I’ll start thinking about any errands that need to be run and which of Hanoi’s many incredible coffee shops we’ll be heading to.

English Teacher Living In Vietnam
10:30 – Set out to our coffee shop of choice.

One of the most appealing things about Hanoi is its endless amounts of cafés and lunch spots. It would take you a very long time to discover Hanoi’s entire extensive coffee scene.

Once we’ve found our spot, we will spend a couple of hours enjoying one of Vietnam’s many delicious coffees. My favorite being the coconut coffee and Eddie’s a traditional egg coffee. Here we will work on various different things. Generally I will write about our experiences in Vietnam, travel plans and teaching for our blog.  

Eddie uses this time to write for a second income. As an experienced content writer he is able to earn money by writing for others online and for his own websites. We try to be productive as we can!

Most of our friends also use this time to pursue various different hobbies and side jobs. Some English teachers choose to tutor in the mornings, others learn to play guitar and a couple even rock climb. It’s precious time most of us are not used to having, and something that is greatly appreciated by most teachers here.

12:30 – Lunch time

Decide what we fancy for lunch. Again, the choices are endless.

Eating out in Vietnam can be as cheap as $1 for a delicious meal. It is arguably cheaper than buying and cooking in. Depending on how we are feeling, we could go for a western brunch or a street side Pho.

Western food is much more expensive, but cheaper than home. It’s generally a treat we allow ourselves once a week.

14:00 – Naptime

With full bellies from lunch, we head home to get an hour of chill time before we set off for work.

During this time we usually take the opportunity to have a nap like the locals or to watch some TV.

15:00 – Commute time

Set off on our 30km commute to work. Don’t worry, a 30km commute isn’t the norm for most teachers in Hanoi.

Eddie and I were placed in a center 30km outside of Hanoi. We made the decision to continue living in Hanoi and to commute by bike to work. It usually takes us about 40 minutes depending on the traffic.

Most teachers can expect up to a 30 minute commute, sometimes even longer if traffic is bad. Generally a job in a private language center will require you to travel during rush hour, which means commute times can vary greatly.

16:00  – Arrive at our English Language Centre

Lessons in our center don’t start until 17:30 during the week, which allows us plenty of time to review lesson plans and prepare for the evenings two lessons. Each lesson at our center consists of two blocks of 45 minutes, with a 5 minute break in between. Every English teacher is different. Some teachers like to carry out all of their planning and printing on one day, others prefer to arrive early to prepare before their lessons. I personally prefer arriving an hour before class begins each day to prepare lessons. This is mainly because it keeps things fresh in my mind and I don’t end up with brain fog in class.

17:00 – ‘They’ arrive

The evening starts to get into full swing.

I start to hear feet pattering in the corridors and the squeals of excited children ringing in the air.

At this stage I find it very difficult to actually get anything done. The kids seem to know few boundaries and I find them running in and out of my classroom as they please. As I teach the younger ages, it is very hard to ignore them.

I quite enjoy this period of madness. As I teach the younger ages I use this time to try and tire them out as much as possible before they have to stay relatively calm during my class.

English Teacher Living in Vietnam
English Teacher Living in Vietnam
17:30 – First class

We do our best to calm our students and line them up for class before teaching begins.

At this stage every day is different. Some days classes are a dream, others are a nightmare. It all really depends on how prepared you are for lesson, what sort of mood your students are in and what sort of mood you’re in.

“Teacher fit” is a term I have heard used to describe a certain fitness level that can only be obtained through teaching. At first I didn’t really understand what it meant, but after gaining experience as an English teacher, now I certainly do.

Teaching has you running around, dancing, singing, jumping up and down, shouting words and generally pacing. It is a term that is particularly appropriate for kindergarten teachers.

Two classes in a row can really take it out of you.

20:45 – Home time!

The bell rings for the end of the day’s final lesson.  We say goodbyes to our students and send them on their way home. Once all of our admin is completed, we aren’t far behind them. It’s time for us to reflect on the evening’s lessons and think about what we might do differently in the future. As teachers I believe we learn something new from each and every lesson. I always leave the classroom feeling as though I have gained something.

21:45 – Arrive home

We throw together a simple meal, such as a stir-fry or omelet and appreciate some well deserved peace and quiet. Depending on how we are feeling, we may stop in at one of the street food stands for dinner.

During this time we will wind down with a book or some TV. It’s often quite hard to shut off after being so active for the last few hours, so allowing ourselves this time is necessary.

Weekend Workday Schedule

As I mentioned before, if you are an English teacher in a Language Centre it’s likely you’ll be working long hours over the weekend. For us we teach 3 lessons on Saturday mornings and 3 lessons on Sunday afternoon/evening.

It can be a challenge sometimes getting in for 8am on a Saturday morning, but I quite like it. I don’t know whether it’s the time or whether the kids haven’t been at school all day, but I find they are somewhat more chilled.

Around those hours we stick to a similar routine, with a few beers with friends thrown in on a Saturday evening.

Days Off

Days off in the city are my favourite. Simply hopping on a bike with no plan and no particular place to go is a great feeling. Hanoi is full of interesting things to do and some wonderful things to see. If we’re feeling more adventurous, we might even hop on our bike and head to Ba Vi National Park or Tam Coc. Both a straightforward 2 hour drive from Hanoi.

In the evenings we will normally meet up with our pals from work and go to an open mic night or to a karaoke bar. We definitely work hard, but the reward is so worth it. 

English Teacher Living in Vietnam
You can follow Ellie and Eddie’s journey over at www.idiotsteachabroad.com!

Ever considered becoming an English teacher in Vietnam? With XploreAsia, you could be living and working in this diverse country, gaining a deeper insight into the culture, interacting with local people and making a real difference in the community through teaching English. For more information on this program, visit Teach in Vietnam!   

My First Week Teaching in Thailand: Elizabeth Collins

My First Week Teaching in Thailand: Elizabeth Collins

Elizabeth Collins graduated from our accredited TESOL course in Hua Hin in July. Below, she writes about her experiences following graduation and adjusting to life in her placement town, Lat Krabang. To hear more about Elizabeth’s journey teaching in Thailand, make sure to head over to her personal blog.

When I first decided to start teaching in Thailand, I knew there would be a period of adjustment. Aside from the initial challenge of adapting to living on the other side of the world, I’ve also had to challenge of getting used to life in my placement town.

I live in an industrial area and there is not much close by in the ways of food; I remember initially feeling fairly isolated from everyone and everything. There is not a night market within walking distance and the closest food vendors seem to close before 5pm.  Those first couple of nights I survived off 7-11 grab-and-go food. This only compounded my feelings towards my new town and increased my feelings of homesickness. One thing that helped me feel more settled in Lat Krabang was establishing a routine.  My first task was conquering the transportation system around town.

Elizabeth exploring Lat Krabang.

Elizabeth out exploring her new town.

One thing about me, I am pretty directionally challenged. I grew up in San Diego and I still get lost going places. The idea of taking a songthaew (and there are three colors to choose from, all going in different directions, and instructions are only written in Thai), to the Airlink, and switching to the next train system, was daunting to say the least. Fortunately, another Teacher was kind enough to spend about an hour with me showing me the ropes. I spent my first weekend here taking different songthaew’s and trains in and out of the city. Not only did this build my confidence, but it also allowed me to see more that this little town has to offer- and there is actually quite a bit!  By Sunday I found myself slowly falling in love with my new home. I found a gym, a night market, and a nice area to eat every night. I still get pangs of homesickness but spending time getting to know my new area and some of the people in it was the best thing I could have done.

There are very few Westerners here, so hearing and speaking English is limited. But I walk by the same people every night and we smile, I buy food from them, and we share a laugh as I practice my Thai and they practice their English. There also happens to be an amazing coffee shop below my apartment where I spend a lot of time chatting with the owners. These are the moments I feel most at home; having a cup of coffee and chatting with new friends.

Making connections in Lat Krabang has helped Elizabeth feel more settled in Lat Krabang.

One of the most incredible things that I continue to be in awe about, is the kindness of complete strangers. There are times, especially when I first got here, where I had no idea how to order something, or I was clearly on the wrong songthaew, and a stranger stepped in to help. It can feel overwhelming in some moments to be surrounded by people who don’t speak your language, to not understand basic instructions, to have a bathroom situation that is nothing like home (side note, never leave home without toilet paper…you’ll thank me for that one day!), and in addition it is 90 plus degrees out with 88% humidity. All this whilst you are crammed on a vehicle, and the driving leaves you closing your eyes as you pass a bus with only inches to spare.  The random acts of kindness do not go unnoticed. They have brought me to tears at times with gratitude that someone who doesn’t know me is willing to let me know “hey, time to get off the bus!” It’s also great to hear a stranger striking up a conversation with me because they want to practice their English. Those are the moments, tough as they can be, that help you grow, and Lat Krabang has started to feel more and more like home. These moments also remind me that wherever I am in the world, engaging in random acts of kindness is always worth it.

Elizabeth receiving her TESOL certificate at XploreAsia.

Elizabeth receiving her TESOL qualification following completion of our in-class course held in Hua Hin, Thailand.

However, the biggest adjustment so far has been taking on the role of Teacher. My first week teaching was both nerve wracking and exhilarating. I had at that point, months of emotions built up about the first class. I had never taught before (with the exception of the two-day English Camp in Hua Hin) and this was a bit of a career change for me. I am a Therapist back home and will one day return to the field, but over the last several months I felt a tug on my heart to try something new.  I felt like I was not living life to the fullest.  I wanted to find another way to give back but I didn’t quite know how. The inspiration for this career change came after a lot of soul searching after the death of my best friend. I did some research one day and it feels like the rest is history. Everything seemed to fall into place perfectly.

My first week teaching was a whirlwind.  I teach 22 classes per week and about 20 of those classes have 50-55 students. I see all but one class, once a week for 50 minutes. And truth be told, 50 minutes is more like 40 minutes because there is no passing period.  The proficiency of my students varies greatly. Some can carry a small conversation, others struggle to understand what we might perceive as simple instructions. One of the benefits of not understanding Thai and living surrounded by it is that I now have such a greater understanding and appreciation of my students struggle with learning English.  How many times have I, like them, not understood a simple command or instruction, or not understood that something costs 20 baht when I hand over 40 baht…or even worse, I give 10 baht and they patiently try to explain I owe them more.

Something that helped me a lot during that first week of teaching, was to check my expectations at the door. With the large class sizes and the variability of proficiency levels, as well as my own fears and doubts about being successful as a teacher, I took a moment to myself before every class. I reminded myself why I was here, I took a deep breath, and focused on making connections with my students. Whether that was through sharing a smile, a short conversation, or laughing with students about any number of things that I didn’t yet understand yet. For example, where do you turn on the AC? Don’t worry, the kids will let you know.  Why do some white boards require special chalk and others a pen…and which is which? Again, the kids will let you know.   Remembering to tell the kids they can sit down after they greet you in the morning… yes, I forgot and yes, they will certainly remind you!

Elizabeth teaching in Thailand.
Teaching in Thailand

Elizabeth making connections with her class.

I reminded myself to keep my sense of humor. It is so true, if you don’t laugh you might just end up crying, so when the choice is yours, laughter is always the best medicine. There were times- there still are times (every day, actually)- when the students are talking in Thai, and no one is listening to the lesson plan I’ve worked so hard on, and someone appears to be looking at me and possibly laughing (is there something on my face??!) and that is when I take a deep breath, remember my goals, and focus on connecting with the kids. I use those tough moments, because they will come, to remember why I’m here, what my goal is, and I channel that energy into practicing English with the students that are engaged (don’t worry there are plenty of students who are very eager to learn). I do my best to reign in the students that are off task, and then I remind myself to smile and laugh with the kids.

I won’t say that the first week of teaching or living here was easy, because it wasn’t. There were moments where I doubted myself, moments I had to throw what I learned out the window and just experiment with what worked best for me and my students. But there were also countless moments where I can’t remember the last time I had laughed that hard, moments I felt such intense joy that I hadn’t felt in a long time, and excitement over being on this journey and truly feeling how this experience is changing me from the inside out.

So, if you are thinking of coming and teaching in Thailand, take the leap. It’s not perfect, and there are difficult moments, but those are the moments in which we grow. When we don’t shy away from the fear, when we face our insecurities and then prove to ourselves we can do it, that is where the growth happens. And at least for me, that is why I am here. To grow as a person, to discover a little more about myself, and to build trust with my students to ensure they can learn as much as possible from me. It can all start with just sharing a smile.

Elizabeth's class graduating from XploreAsia.

Elizabeth’s TESOL class graduating in July, 2017.

If you’re interested in starting a new adventure teaching in Thailand, check out our accredited TESOL course.

First Month Teaching in Thailand: XA Alumni Hannah Church

Hannah graduated from our in-class TESOL program in Hua Hin in July and has already been teaching for a month in Minburi, a district of Bangkok about 45 minutes from the dynamic city’s center. Hannah teaches a mixture of ages, having kindergarten, first grade and fifth grade classes, and was more than happy to share her experiences teaching in Thailand with us. Check out the interview below to hear about how she’s doing after graduating:

How was your experience with XploreAsia? Did it prepare you to move away on your own to begin teaching in Thailand?

Hannah getting her first taste of teaching in Thailand at the English camp in Hua Hin.

Hannah getting her first taste of teaching in Thailand at the Hua Hin English camp as part of her TESOL course.

I LOVED every single day with XA! Orientation week was a blast, all of the people in my group were funny, brave and kind; we just had a great time together! The TESOL training was difficult but we all learned a lot, especially teaching at camp.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to feel fully prepared going out on your own to a city where you don’t know anyone, but I had the confidence that I could give it my best shot. XA gave us multiple pep talks about how difficult it would be, which I think helped prepare us mentally.

What was your first day arriving at your placement like?

Oh goodness! Someone picked me up from the bus station and we went to my apartment to sign all the papers which were completely in Thai. There were some kinks where I was paying more than I’d thought but I was so tired from the early morning van ride that I just went with it. It was still less than $125 a month! Then he took me to the nearest supermarket so I could get things like bedding and toilet paper and he helped me bring it all the way up to my 7th floor apartment room! It was an awkward first day; he even asked if he could use my bathroom. So, a total stranger was just pooping as I was putting the sheets on my bed! But again, I just rolled with it. In the end I was thankful for his help!

I did get lost getting to and from school on day one, but if you just embrace it and don’t freak out and know you can always ask for help, you will get home eventually!

What have your first few weeks of teaching been like? What has been your favorite moment?

They are long days for me. 7:30am to 4pm with only an hour or maybe two hour breaks a day. I’m teaching between 7 and 9 classes a day so it’s a lot of energy.

I arrived in time to be here for their Mother and Father’s Day celebrations where they dressed us all in traditional Thai outfits and it was absolutely amazing! The teachers are always very nice to me, the kids are very sweet, and I just dove right in and I feel like part of the school already!

My favorite moment was during the Mother’s Day celebration. I got to sing You Raise Me Up with 300 three-to-five-year-olds on stage for their moms! It was a moment I will never forget and I am so happy it’s on video! All those little voices singing with me is the cutest!

Hannah with her students during their Mother's Day celebration

Hannah dressed up with her students for their Mother’s Day celebration.

What were your biggest fears about teaching and/or living abroad and how did you overcome them?

Just being brave enough to go outside my comfort zone has been the most challenging. When you’re here, it’s just you. No one can fix the problem for you and that’s hard to fully comprehend until you’re in a situation. I’ll get lost, or get food poisoning, or get thrown into teaching a class I wasn’t scheduled for, and I have to just take a deep breath and figure it out. But every time I try something new and overcome a challenge I feel my comfort zone expand, so I can keep pushing it further and further which is really awesome!

Have you traveled to anywhere else in Thailand yet whilst you’ve been here?

Playing with elephants in Chiang Mai.
Relaxing in Phuket.

Yes, I’ve been to Chang Mai with some TESOL classmates and we played with elephants (no riding!). We got to play in a mud pit and bathe them in a lake and it was incredible! We also took a cooking class there which was delicious and fun.

We also went to Krabi and Phuket and did some island excursions where we went snorkeling and canoeing in caves and lagoons and the views are breathtaking!

But Bangkok itself is actually really underrated! It’s an amazing city! Every weekend, I go and explore a new neighborhood and I am always surprised at the adventures I find myself in.

I’m hoping to go to Ayutthaya next weekend to see some ancient ruins.

What is the best thing about living and/or teaching in Thailand?

Just knowing that I am helping every day to give these kids their best chance and they don’t even know that, it is incredibly rewarding. They only think of you a teacher, but I know that every word they retain might help them as adults to have a better life.

Sometimes it is difficult meeting people that are just here on vacation, and you know you have to go back to work on Monday, but traveling for a purpose is the ultimate good feeling. And I get to travel everywhere on the weekends and get paid to do it, so there’s nothing to complain about!

What advice would you give to new teachers thinking of coming over to teach in Thailand?

I want to say “do it”, but be prepared: it can be scary. Try to save up before coming so that you don’t have to limit yourself. A lot of my friends ended up scrimping until their first pay-day so, even though I still had money saved, they couldn’t come with me on trips. I would also advise you to start preparing yourself at home. Go to new places, try new foods, and perhaps leave your phone at home so you can see what it’s like to not have google to solve a problem right away. It will give you confidence for challenges you face here.

Hannah getting her TESOL.

Hannah was happy to receive her TESOL certification from XploreAsia, Hua Hin!

Hannah high-fiving a student at English camp.

Thank you to Hannah for taking the time to answer our questions! At XploreAsia, we love to hear that our alumni are doing well and embracing life teaching in Thailand. If you’re interested in starting your own adventures in Asia, check out our in-class TESOL courses in Thailand and our brand new course in Vietnam.

Teach English Abroad: Samantha Sundermann’s Story

Teach English Abroad: Samantha Sundermann’s Story

For more info on what Samantha is currently working on, head over to www.shinecentres.com

Samantha Sundermann completed her training at XploreAsia and spent 6 months teaching in Myanmar before returning to Canada. Despite returning home, she was able to use the connections she made whilst being an XploreAsia teacher to continue to help children in Myanmar get access to a higher level of education. Read about her unique experiences in her blog post below:

Samantha with her TESOL class receiving her teaching certificate at XploreAsia

After several years of traveling for work and constantly being on the move, I finally decided it was time to stay in one place for a while. When deciding what I wanted to do for career, I thought back to what has always sparked my curiosity. Teaching English abroad is something that I have always been interested in, and now was the time to give it a shot.
 In 2015, I went home, saved up some money and did some research on how to teach English abroad. Through my research, I found XploreAsia and signed up for my TESOL course.  After being granted my certificate, I went on and taught in Tachileik in Myanmar for 6 months.  It was an incredible experience that I wish could have lasted longer but unfortunately, I had to get back to Canada for work.
In Toronto, I have been working for Shine Dance Competitions for the last 5 years.  Shine, is a company that hosts and organizes children’s dance competitions in Southern Ontario and Quebec.  Shine is a great company that lets me travel during off seasons to have new experiences (such as teaching English abroad) and then come back to Toronto when the dance season begins.  For several years, Shine was planning to offer underprivileged kids an opportunity to access a higher education through online learning.  I was absolutely thrilled when they asked me to take charge of this project and I already had my first location in mind!

Assistant teachers with our class in Tachileik, celebrating their last day of Nursery 1

Tachileik is a small but fast paced town in the north of Myanmar with lots of stories to tell.  One of the most loving places in town is a small orphanage.  Some of the teachers who were teaching before me would go on the weekends and teach the kids English.  They invited me along one weekend and I was absolutely moved by the experience.  It was my first-time meeting kids in an orphanage and experiencing their way of life.  We arrived while the kids were in the middle of mass.  Hearing their voices in song was beautiful.  They saw us come in and knew it meant it was time for their English lesson.  They quickly finished mass and were ready to be taught.  Their enthusiasm was infectious.  They laughed and shouted throughout the lesson on animals.  It was so inspiring to see a young generation so eager to learn.  Although, I didn’t make it back to the orphanage as often as I would have liked, I was motivated to bring Shines’ project to these kids.
I contacted my friends in Myanmar who were equally as excited by this project.  They instantly started researching how to get internet to the orphanage.  Our company, Shine Dance Competitions, in partnership with Response I.T., arranged to provide all the computer equipment for the project, among other things, and I started researching how to get the computers to the orphanage.  After months of researching different methods to send the computers to Myanmar, I reached out to Mike (XploreAsia’s Managing Director) for help.  With some luck, Mike happened to know the easiest route to get computers to Yangon.  From Yangon they were then sent on a bus to Tachileik.  We are so grateful for the team of people who helped get this project off the ground.
Teach English Abroad: Mass at Orphanage

Mass at the Orphanage

Teach English Abroad: kids at the orphanage ready to learn!

Orphans during class time

Currently, the orphanage has internet access and 2 teachers who go on the weekends to teach the kids how to use the computers.  For now, the kids are using websites to improve their English.  As the children become more proficient, we will start talking to them about what other topics they are interested in learning. One of the teachers at the orphanage is a native English speaker, and the other is a native Myanmar speaker.  This is convenient because when the kids don’t understand the programs on the computer, they can ask in their native language but still have an opportunity to speak English as well.  Through many education oriented websites, the kids can learn anything they want. In countries such as Thailand, where these websites are offered in the primary language, the children can start taking any courses they want.  However, due to there being less options in Burmese, we encourage the improvement of their English language skills to give them more choices in what they want to learn online. Learning English will also help to create more career opportunities for them in the future.
The goal for this project is to let the kids learn new skills to help their community.  They can learn anything from Tree Planting, to Rocket Science.  We want to encourage these kids to enjoy learning and improve their current living situations.  Currently, we are looking to expand the project within South East Asia, targeting a few different countries.  Once we have a few solid facilities, we will begin to expand in each country where our project has proved successful.

First time students see computer set up

Students on the bus home from school in Tachileik

At the moment, we are building a website to promote this project.  When we acquire sponsors, we can grow at a quicker rate. Additionally, we also need to find contacts in different countries who can supervise the project for us and who also want to teach English abroad.  We will be posting blog updates about how the projects are running and eventually we would like to have the kid’s blogging about their own experiences!

I am very grateful for the opportunity XploreAsia gave me to meet new people and teach English abroad. I am excited to continue working with Shine to expand this wonderful project.  We are now working with XploreAsia to set up computers for the kids at the Pala-U Orphanage, in Thailand. I cannot wait to see what is to come! For more information please contact me at: sam@shinedance.com

www.shinecentres.com

If you want to teach English abroad, apply here.

Teach Abroad in Myanmar!

If you’re looking to teach abroad, the dynamic Asian country Myanmar can offer something truly unique. XploreAsia has been sending teachers to Myanmar for the past couple of years and we recently caught up with one of our graduated TESOL course students Kai Hallberg to talk about his adventures in the country’s former capital Yangon.

Myanmar

The Kids Learning About Winter Clothes

Hi Kai. After finding out about XploreAsia, what made you decide that Myanmar was the right place for you to go teach?

I had my heart set on Myanmar for a number of reasons. Mainly, I knew it would be an interesting time in history to come, and I wanted to experience the rapid social/economic/cultural changes that are occurring here. I wanted to explore a new place where the culture and society would be far removed from what I am used to.

When I arrived in Yangon, I found that the city is stuck in the past in some ways but leaping into the future in others. This juxtaposition seems to apply to everything. Fashion, transportation, music, technology, infrastructure, you name it.

What have been the highlights of your experience teaching in Yangon?

The staff and teachers at my school really helped make it a great experience. They were kind, welcoming, and supportive from the very start.

Some of the best times for me were with my adult classes. I really enjoyed our conversations about how things are changing in Myanmar, and what young people care about/are concerned about here.

Another highlight for me was morning assembly time with the preschool. It’s too cute watching a bunch of 4 to 5-year-olds try to stay still for 5 minutes during “meditation time”.

Teaching in Myanmar

What does a typical day as a teacher in Myanmar look like?

I started work 9:00 am and I would usually grab breakfast at a nearby tea shop on the way. The day ended at 5pm, but my schedule changed based on the time of year. For the first several months, I spent the morning with the preschool, which usually consisted of a morning duty (e.g. gate duty or assembly duty), followed by an hour of lesson time. After lunch, I taught two adult classes: one at Aung Tha Pyay, and the other at NELC. During this period, I had some downtime between classes to plan lessons.

My schedule during summer school (March to May) was very different. These three months busier as my school was flooded with young-learners from government schools. I had 5 or six almost back-to-back classes every day and it was definitely my most challenging period as a teacher. During this time, lesson planning had to be done outside of work hours as I had many more classes to teach.

What do you do in your free time here in Myanmar?

Eat, play soccer, go drinking, watch movies; pretty much what I would do anywhere else. I also travel outside of the city as often as possible to see more of the country.

Teach abroad Myanmar

Experience a unique Christmas in Myanmar

What would you say to people who are looking to teach abroad and are considering Myanmar?

Do it. But if you come, you have to learn how to roll with the punches. One piece of advice given to me during my orientation week has particularly stayed with me: “things aren’t always as they seem.” There will be miscommunication, mistakes, and stressful times, for sure. However, if you learn to be flexible, understanding, and patient, I promise the experience of being here in Myanmar is well worth it.

Check out our website to find out more about teaching in Myanmar. If you’re looking to teach abroad, find out more about our internationally accredited TESOL course and the other locations you could be heading over to soon with XploreAsia.

Catch up with our current teachers by checking out our Facebook and Instagram pages!

Teach In Thailand: The Spider Chronicles

Teach In Thailand: The Spider Chronicles

Former XploreAsia participant, program coordinator and current teacher Simone Salerno describes her experience moving into her placement town, in Northern Thailand. Settling in to your new home and adapting to life in a new town can be a challenging experience but one full of opportunities to grow and become part of a community. 

I share my shower with about five spiders. I say “about five” because one of the spiders is a master at hide and seek. The spiders really used to freak me out. I’ll never forget my first shower experience in my teaching town. I was in the midst of shampooing my hair, when I turned around, opened my eyes, and saw a huge, spindly spider staring back at me. Let’s just say that shower ended quickly and I never finished washing my hair that day.

Over time the spiders and I reached an agreement. They ate the unfriendly bugs, and I left them alone. I never thought I’d share a shower with spiders, especially spiders as big as my palm, yet here I am. You may be sitting in your seat, shuddering to yourself and thinking, “NOPE! That will NEVER be me…” Well friend, allow me let you in on a little secret; living abroad has a beautiful way of changing the rules you live your life by.

Before moving to Thailand, I had set a strict list of rules for myself. After everyone had shared their extensive “Do’s and Don’ts” for traveling, along with their personal horror stories, I thought I knew what I could and could not do in Thailand.

Based on their stories and advice, I could not ride a motor scooter, walk around at night by myself, walk around during the day by myself, walk around at all by myself, eat ANYTHING that I couldn’t peel myself, eat anything I couldn’t see prepared, eat anything that didn’t come out of a pre-packaged container, go ANYWHERE that was a malaria zone, go into the ocean alone, go into the ocean at all…. And the list went on.

 I’m sure in reading that list, you can remember being told at least one of those “precautionary” bits of advice.  It’s hard for me to look back now and see how rigid I was about traveling to a new country; and how if I would have followed those rules at all times, I would never have truly experienced the country I have grown to love.

Living abroad has an incredible way of helping you understand preconceived notions are just unnecessary limits; created out of fear before having enough evidence to know if what you believe is true or even useful. You can’t live your life on preconceived notions. Prejudging a whole country based on advice from a few weary travelers was the biggest mistake I made before embarking on my adventure.

Teach in Thailand Pad Thai

It only took a short time after arriving in Thailand to realize how off my judgments were, and how quickly I would change my set of “strict” rules. Within a day of arriving in Hua Hin, I was already eating fresh cut fruit from a local fruit stand, swimming in the ocean, enjoying fresh Pad Thai on the side of the street, and walking around alone to explore new places. Putting an end to my preconceived notions is the best choice I have made in my travels.

Teach in Thailand

After living in Thailand for many months, I can say that I really enjoy 7/11 sushi (don’t knock it until you try it), sharing my home with a few lizard roommates is actually a plus, the best fresh fruit comes from a stand, a freezing cold shower is actually something to look forward to, strangers can easily become family, and every situation has a silver lining.

Don’t let precautionary tales of travel keep you away from living abroad. “If you listen to people, and if you allow people to project their fears onto you, you’ll never live” (Taraji P. Henson).  If I had listened to everyone who told me no, in some form or another, I never would have truly experienced the place I now call home.

Simone Salerno

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

To begin your adventure in Thailand, follow this link:

https://www.xploreasia.org/teach-in-thailand/

Teach in Thailand

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