Teaching in Thailand: How 6 Months Became 1 Year!
“If you would have asked 18 year old Hayley, “where will you be in 5 years?” I know for certain she would have never said “living alone in a small, Northern Thai town”. I fell in love with this country, the people, and my students long before COVID-19. If anything positive came out of the pandemic, it was the fact that the temporary life I have teaching in Thailand has become more permanent and became home.”
In this blog post, Hayley shares how teaching in Thailand changed her life and describes why she decided not to leave during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of our TESOL / TEFL graduates end up staying much longer than they originally expected. Read on to find out more about how Hayley’s 6 month adventure has turned into an almost year long lifestyle… and counting!
Just over a year ago, I decided to leave my first “adult” job, my family and my friends behind, and move to another continent. When I first made the decision, I desperately needed a change in my life. I was stuck between feeling “too comfortable”- being so close to my childhood home and memories- whilst also feeling really uncomfortable with how the beginning of my adult life was playing out. So after an eye opening series of events leading up to my 23rd birthday, I decided it was time to pack my bags and escape my problems by teaching in Thailand.
It sounded like a dream! All of the websites, programs, and blog posts advertised that I could teach for 6 months, live in a beautiful place, eat delicious food, and make some memories along the way. But what ended up happening was so much more than the “short-term escape” I had originally planned. 11 months later: this is my home. A home that I have no intentions or interest in leaving for a while.
Teaching in Thailand is better with friends
I started my cliche-sounding “journey” in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand surrounded by mountains and forests. Through XploreAsia’s 120-hour TESOL / TEFL certification, my classmates and I stayed in a hotel in a part of town that allowed for a culturally immersive experience, but close enough to the “fun and comfortably westernized” area. I can remember the first night like it was yesterday as we set out to a large night bazaar with curious eyes— strolling along as we checked out the piles of low priced clothing, exquisite art on display and for sale, and countless sizzling skewers of various meats and scorpions.
XploreAsia’s TESOL program was a jam packed 4 weeks of learning how to teach in Thailand, whilst also gaining cultural insights during orientation week. My favorite highlights include visiting a Buddhist monastery where we learned from a traditional monk, going to teach kindergarteners at an English camp, and even all of the hours spent squished into a red songthaew with my classmates who became like family. All of the XploreAsia staff were extremely kind and experienced in helping us adjust to Thai life and culture, but I’m exceptionally thankful for our amazing teacher and role-model, Mariam.
The adventure in Mae Sot starts here!
After completing the course and XploreAsia’s placement process, I was excited to get a job teaching in the Northern province of Tak. My agents were thoughtful about my placement and kept my preferences close in mind ( although when considering teaching abroad, I HIGHLY recommend coming with very few preferences). Following a night of anxious goodbyes, I was on my 6 hour bus to Mae Sot, Thailand with a couple of my TESOL classmates.
I could write a novel about the laughs, learning, and sights of each day. Every single day at school was a new experience that has made me into the English teacher and curious farang I am today.
Mae Sot is a small yet bustling town on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Due to its close proximity to neighboring Myanmar, Mae Sot draws a diverse group of people from Thailand, Myanmar, China, and many western countries. It seems quite isolated by mountains and forests, but has many “western amenities” such as comfortable (and affordable) housing, a Robinson’s (essentially a small shopping mall), an airport and other easily available transportation, as well as an active English-speaking community. Almost immediately, I felt confident that I would be comfortable for my short-term, one semester stay. What I didn’t know was how much I would fall in love with this town and more importantly MY SCHOOL.
First days teaching in Thailand!
Our first stop in town was our school, Ratwittaya School. After a long night of travel, I was exhausted and terrified, but the nerves settled almost instantly when our new principal Ajarn Oye gave us a tour of the school and insisted that we call her Mom. We were scheduled to start working the following Monday (1.5 days later) and would only have one working week to settle in before being tossed in the classroom with 700 students eager to meet us. The teaching in Thailand adventure was about to begin!
At school, I was assigned to work with primary grades 1, 2, and 3 which consisted of 700 students aged from 5-9 years old. Although there were plenty of bumps in figuring out lesson planning and classroom management, I quickly learned to love my time in the classroom. At Ratwittaya, a Kindergarten to Grade 12 private school in Mae Sot, the students learn all core subjects along with a heavy focus on Chinese language. Due to their tight schedule, I only taught each of my 18 classes of about 40 students once a week for one hour. Have you ever tried to remember the faces and nicknames of 700 students? Let me tell you from experience that it’s NOT easy!
Nonetheless, the semester flew by and by half-way, I had decided to extend for at least another semester. I was eager to improve my students’ language abilities and to assist in the development of the English Department. Some personal highlights include Sports Day, the Christmas Festival, Teachers Sports day, and the Chinese New Year festivities!! I could write a novel about the laughs, learning, and sights of each day. Every single day at school was a new experience that has made me into the English teacher and curious farang (term for westerners used by many Thais) I am today.
How the pandemic changed my teaching experience
Around mid-January, I became aware of the coronavirus- later named COVID-19- and watched it evolve into the ever-looming news that it is today. Thailand was actually one of the first countries to have cases of the coronavirus outside of China, but the government provided consistent, ongoing information about the number of cases, new regulations, and protocols. Of course, there was a time when I questioned my plans to stay in the country and worried about whether I would be safe here, but, ultimately, I decided to stay. For me, it was about considering where I would be happiest in times of uncertainty, and where I consider to be “home”. This decision was extremely difficult. Staying meant being unsure of when I would be able to physically see my family and friends back in Los Angeles. But, at the same time, it was obvious to me: I had my own small house and lived near to a close friend, had a reliable income, savings for an emergency, and soon I would adopt the cutest grandma cat in town. The new pandemic was not going to prevent me enjoying my new life teaching in Thailand.
We began feeling the full effects of the new health pandemic around late March, so we began self quarantining and social distancing. At this point, schools were already closed for vacation and were not set to open again until May 15. As Covid progressed in its world-wide showdown, things changed. My family would no longer be able to visit, borders were closing, Thailand’s national Songkran holiday was even postponed, and the new school term was pushed back to July 1st. April and May were long and HOT. I was thankful to have my aircon and the opportunity to tutor some of my students online from the comfort of my quaint Thai-style home. I cooked more than I have in years and I actively sought out social time with my family and friends around the world via video calls.
New normal? No Problem!
In June, our new normal began to blossom. Stores and restaurants began to re-open, the nationwide curfew was lifted, and mask wearing was essential to continue maintaining safety. Never in my life did I think that a mask would become one of my new favorite accessories. Temperature checkpoints and QR scanning were added to my daily routine. Teachers were allowed to begin prep for the year and bit by bit— life seemed to feel normal again! I prepared for the new school schedule which consisted of teaching 200 Primary 2 students for 3 hours a week— a huge development in the English program from the previous school year! Just before the end of the month, I was able to celebrate my birthday alongside friends and coworkers making for one of the best birthdays in my memory.
July 1st came and so did the students! What a uniquely, exciting day. Teachers and students arrived suited up in masks and face shields, waited in line to be temperature checked before entering campus, and were informed of social distancing protocol and guidelines. Although there were challenges in adjusting to new protocols and schedules, we were overjoyed to be teaching in Thailand with our co-workers and students again!
Still thriving in Thailand!
Today, I am happy, hopeful, and excited to be living and teaching in Mae Sot, Thailand. My students keep me on my toes everyday with their mask-muffled shouting “TEACHER HAYLEY/HARRY/HALRY/ HENRY”, ever-improving English skills, and caring hearts. My co-workers keep me entertained and constantly evolving in my knowledge and appreciation of Thai culture and language. My in-country friends keep me excited and full of laughter. My family and friends from home keep me grounded with their endless support and love from afar.
If you would have asked 18 year old Hayley, “where will you be in 5 years?” I know for certain she would have never said “living alone in a small, Northern Thai town”. Even just a year ago, I would have never dreamed that I would be choosing to live 8,000 miles from my family and childhood home with no sight of return amidst a global health pandemic. I fell in love with this country, the people, and my students long before COVID-19. If anything positive came out of the pandemic, it was the fact that the temporary life I have teaching in Thailand has become more permanent and became home. With uncertainty still looming, I find myself feeling more and more comfortable within my small bubble of Mae Sot, Thailand.
If you enjoyed reading about Hayley’s life in Mae Sot, why not try teaching in Thailand for yourself? We place teachers in towns and cities across the country, but all of our TESOL / TEFL graduates have our support for life– no matter how far! Contact us to find out how to join the international XploreAsia family today! You can also catch up with Hayley’s Thai adventure by checking out her Instagram here.