Top 20 Things I Love About Thailand

A list of things I’ve enjoyed the most and will miss once I’ve left the land of smiles….(I will be attaching pictures….it is just that I’m currently working in Myanmar for a couple months (more on that soon!) and the wifi speed here is ATROCIOUS).

  • The FOOD!! Need I say more?
  • My students. At whatever school I’ve taught at, the students have been great and I really enjoyed teaching them
  • Koh Chang, my favorite place in all of Thailand
  • Lonely Beach, Koh Chang; where many days were spent relaxing and partying late into the night
  • Bangkok; I’ll miss the excitement and energy this city has
  • I spent a month here doing muay Thai training and for that it will always have a place in my heart
  • Chiang Mai. The laidback vibe, historical sites, and memories from the Songkran ultimate frisbee tournament
  • The temples….and a girl who .ibe, historical sites, and memories from the Songkran ultimate frisbee tournament own I dated on and off before it ended abruptly
  • Authentic muay Thai training; nothing beats it
  • The low cost of living
  • The women; I’ve dated a few Thai women and two of them were the most memorable women I’ve ever dated, for better or for worse
  • Cheap domestic travel
  • Driving a motorbike on a daily basis
  • The friends I made at camp
  • The cool season
  • Saritdidet public school, I’ve taught at 3 public schools, but this one was by far hands down the best in so many ways
  • My Thai co-workers, besides the Trat debacle, I’ve found them to be super helpful in every way, more so than what I experienced in South Korea
  • The abundance of hidden gems; forget the crown jewels of things to see, there are so many other natural, cultural, and historical sites to see that I’ve only really scratched the surface
  • The sabai sabai vibe of Thailand, this is one mellow country and I applaud it. Sadly, recent events and trends are beginning to change this
  • Low cost of rent, for $280USD you can get a decent sized apartment in a high rise building complete with access to a gym and swimming pool

With the good come the less than pleasant experiences, what I WON’T miss about Thailand:

  • The poor service at restaurants; probably one of my biggest pet peeves is having to wait ages for food with no explanation or apologies offered as would be the case in a Western country
  • The visa process to work here as a teacher is long and overly complicated
  • Tourist scams, foreigner pricing, overzealous vendors; anything that targets foreigners
  • Teaching agencies…..they are bloodsucking leaches who see teachers as nothing more than a paycheck
  • General low pay for foreign teachers; unless you are a certified teacher back in your country Thailand just doesn’t pay enough for most ESL teachers to stick around for longer than a year or two
  • Long bus rides
  • 711 food…..in smaller towns 711 might be one of the only options for quick/late night eating…

So what do you think? Is there something I missed on either list? Let me know in the comments below, cheers!

Teaching in Thailand: Observations

I’ve been teaching and living in Thailand long enough now to make some observations.  Thailand is a good first country to teach in because it offers adventure and an attractive lifestyle.  Equally, Thailand has some major issues  that I believe prevent it from being a long-term teaching destination if you do not have top teaching qualifications such as a PGCE, teacher’s license, B.Ed, or an MA in education, TESOL, applied linguistics, or a DELTA.  Below are my biggest criticisms of teaching in Thailand:

  • Teaching agencies: Most English teaching jobs in Thailand are through public schools, unfortunately most of these schools farm out the hiring of foreign teachers to agencies that find and place teachers in schools across Thailand. I’ve posted about this before but I’ll sum up the major reasons why agencies are a big factor why Thailand can’t compete as a top English teaching destination. Teaching agencies take a big slice of your paycheck for doing very little, they make you pay for your visa and work permit, most don’t pay during the long holiday months, they restrict your ability to go back to a school independently, and worst of all they’re famous for firing teachers without pay.
  • Most teachers working for public schools only make 30,000TBT, back in the early 2000s and 1990s this was good money but the times have changed with rising living costs and inflation. If you live in Bangkok and make 30,000TBT I do not know how you do it and I would not like to try haha.  Living outside of the cities can make that money go farther but if you think you can pay off your student debt in Thailand on that paltry salary, you’re wrong.  If you teach at a public school in a smaller town I think it’d be possible to save 10,000TBT a month which means per semester you could save 40-50,000TBT which is good for a ticket home or a month and a half, maybe 2, of traveling in Thailand or Southeast Asia.
  • Related to the above reason, top level paying jobs for strictly teaching English and not other subjects tops out at about 60,000TBT at private schools in Bangkok. It should also be said that there really aren’t that many jobs paying 50k+ to ESL teachers, 40K jobs are becoming more prevalent though.  While this money is certainly a good amount to live an exciting life in Bangkok and travel around the country, it still isn’t enough to save enough for a life back home.  If you are willing to work a part-time job or tutor on the evenings or weekends, then you could start to make the money to have a really good standard of living in Bangkok but still only really be on the starting money of what you could make in China or Korea
  • Vices: some people get sucked up into a life of cheap booze, easy access to drugs, and prostitutes. There is a lot of fun to be had in Thailand, but with the temptations so readily available it can be easy to lose control and succumb to some poor life chances if you don’t have a good handle on your self-control.
  • Future job prospects: future bosses may look at your resume and question why you spent so much time in Thailand; it is a country synonymous with pleasure after all. They may also question your quality as a teacher if they suspect the schools you taught at were sub-par.  For myself, I’ve made sure that each school I’ve taught at in Thailand has given me a new experience that I previously didn’t have.  By the time I leave Thailand I’ll only have been here for a year or two tops.  My plan is to leave next year in the spring.

Now the caveats; reasons why teaching English in Thailand can still be considered a good destination, though not a place to settle down.

  • If you are interested in a career in teaching English and have no experience, then Thailand is a great place to go, get a feel for it, and make a decision as to whether this is a line of work you are interested in.  My advice, get a job a public school not too far from the big destinations like Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, or the islands down south, then you can enjoy them on your weekends and during the week not pay the prices those places are associated with.  1 or 2 years in Thailand, then get out, and go somewhere like South Korea or even Vietnam where the money is much better than here.
  • If you’re a certified teacher in your home country, then by all means come to Thailand and settle down. International schools pay in excess of $2,000USD a month which goes a long way in Thailand.  You can even find int’l schools that pay $3,000USD+!
  • If you’re backpacking through Southeast Asia and don’t want to go home yet, then teaching in Thailand is a good way to stick around, travel the country more, and experience Thai culture.
  • If you’re an older teacher looking to take a break from teaching in your home country, or a retiree looking to supplement your income, then working at a public school might be a good fit for you.

Thus is my conclusion.  What do you think? Am I right? Far off? Unfairly disparaging of the teaching situation here? Let me know, I’m interested in hearing from you.  For me, I’ll be leaving sometime next year to go somewhere I can earn more for a masters degree and more backpacking trips.

Life at a Thai English camp, part 2

Day 8

I woke up with my sore throat worse, a mild fever, and stuffed up nose.  Thankfully one of the camp coordinators sympathized with my situation and agreed to let me take the afternoon off if I just taught the 3 hour morning class.  The lessons were activity based.  I taught them about morse code and semaphore flag signals.  I put some codes up on the board and in teams the students worked to decipher the message ‘good morning’ and ‘how are you?’ I was actually really impressed by their ability to figure the messages out and then make their own short messages.  While they did that I decorated the class with all the crafts and worksheets the students have put so much hard work into.  After class I spent the rest of the day sleeping and working on my report cards.

Day 9

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SPORTS DAY! Boy, was it a busy one.  The morning began with me serving breakfast followed by the opening ceremony.  This consisted of each team, of which there were three, each doing their chants. The teams were the Blue Bulldogs, the Yellow Minions, and last but certainly not least, my team, the Red Chilies.  After the pep rally everybody was amped and eager to go.

As the camp student ages range from 6 to 15, these were divided into junior, elementary, and senior brackets.  The initial round of events consisted of a rotation between playing futsal (indoor football), chairball (basically netball with a player holding a basket on a bench), and swimming relay races.  While my assigned age group, elementary, lit the other teams up at chairball and futsal, we could not compete with them at swimming.  The lunch break was a welcome respite.

The second round of events were arguably the most fun as it involved us teachers getting to join in.  The first event for the teachers and TAs was chairball.  Unfortunately while I am a tall guy at 6ft 2in, I prove the old basketball saying that ‘white men can’t jump’.  I was the defender but simply couldn’t block enough baskets for our team to go up the other end to score more and we ended up drawing the first match and losing our other one.  Next up was running.

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The Red Chili students showed the teachers and TAs the way with some surprising victories, but alas us teachers could not follow their example in the relay running and sack races.  For the teacher relay race I would have been the first teacher to pass the baton…if I had slowed down enough to hand it to the other teacher without dropping it, oh well.  The sack race didn’t go so well either, with a couple of our teammates falling over, and me just trying to keep going without falling over.  Thankfully, we then had an hour and a half break to recharge and slam back energy drinks for the grand finale; tug of war.

Again, despite some victories in the tug of war we were outshone by the other teams’ impressive performances.  For me I just liked the look on the faces of the other teachers as they put every ounce of their energy into pulling that rope one way or the other!  The climatic contest was between the Red Chilies and Yellow Minion elementary teams, with a couple teachers on both sides.  Everything looked to be going our way as we inched towards pulling them the last foot over the line when the Minions stood their ground and it appeared to be heading towards a stalemate.  At the last second we crumbled and the tide was turned, the Minions emerged victorious.

To wrap up the day there was the closing ceremony and handing out of awards.  For the ceremony we made a huge circle around the gym, intermingling with the other teams and proceeded to go round the circle shaking hands to recognize the valiant effort everyone had put in on the day.  This was followed by an obligatory dance party and limbo contest.  Handing out the awards after dinner was a much tamer event with everyone involved thoroughly tired out.   Still, the Sports Day and Next Top Model events have been my personal favorite days of the camp.

Day 10

A very chill day.  We had to start making our story presentation for the final day of the camp but with my class being so young and hectic, I took the liberty to write our story and act it out while also drawing pictures on the board to accompany it.  I explained to them that they would be assigned parts the next day and they would make a diorama to go with their scene.  The rest of the class we used to finish off worksheets and for those lucky to finish everything, I took them outside to the playground to play monkey in the middle.

Lunch was amazing, Peppercorn pork steaks and massaman curry were the all round favorites among teachers, TAs, and students alike.  With lunch out of the way, we had the final round of rotation English games for the camp.  I chose to play a simplified version of the game mafia and the kids loved it!

Report cards were due at 7pm so teachers were given the rest of the day to finish them off.  Thankfully I had all but one done which made for an easy afternoon and evening.

Day 11

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The boys making their dioramas for the class presentation

I woke up in the middle of the night stressing over how I was going to get my young kids to make their dioramas in a single morning session.  Then to make matters worse, another student dropped out of the class due to illness leaving a hole in the story and a diorama with no one to make it.  Thankfully, my students continued to surprise me.

Not only did they make some superb dioramas but we also managed to go over their story lines and isolate the words they had trouble with.  It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t underestimate your students.  With the dioramas made, one of the stars of the class stepping in to fill the gap, and we are on course to be ready for the final presentation. Albeit still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines.

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After lunch the camp veterans showed us the dance moves for the talent show song they had done last camp and told us we’d be doing it again this tdone last year and told us we’for the still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines. camp.  Myself and the other teachers had no problem with this as the song and dance they did was really quite impressive.   The song was a mix of top recent pop songs with the teachers bustin’ dance moves and interchanging between the guys and girls.  A half hour practice session was enough for me to know that’d simply look to the guy who looked he knew who to do it.

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The kids have talent!

When it came to the talent show itself, it simply rocked. The students, the TAs, and us teachers.  Myself? Ha.  I followed the most in the know teachers and hoped for the best.  If I can post the video you can see for yourself how it was haha.  Still, another great night of camp, not to mention the rest of the night spent at a pizza party with the TAs and other teachers, followed by the after party with the other farang teachers drinking outside of a bungalow.

Day 12

Wednesday, teacher’s day off. For the the past week I had been nursing a sore throat and so I’d only had a couple drinks and wasn’t totally wrecked.  Myself and two other teachers rented bikes and headed out to Khao Yai National Park. Check out the post.

Day 13

A simple day.  I spent the morning preparing for the final presentation, decorating the classroom, and overseeing the kids completing worksheets.

In the afternoon I made some props for a separate TA presentation, and then drove the bikes back to Pak Chong.

The highlight of the day came after dinner when in free time myself and a few of the other teachers played football with the kids. I played in goal and despite going 3-0 down we came back to win 7-4!

To cap the day off I had a couple of beers with a group of other teachers and then came back to my bungalow to write this post.

Day 14

The last full day and another easy one.  Again, we practiced for the final presentation but this time because we had more time I took them outside to the playground to play with the other classes who also had time to kill from having practiced so much.

After lunch we just had to go through a run through of the final day; a practice of the presentation AGAIN, walking over to the main gym, watching the students do their tributes to the King, and then finally handing out certificates.  Once my class had finished I went back to my bungalow to rest; my sore throat was persisting.

Day 15

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The students ran through their presentation to the best of their ability with their parents watching and I felt proud at how far they had come in two weeks.  It was also clear that some of the students had really enjoyed their time in my classes which made me feel happy at having done a good job.  Once the presentation was over, the students had cleared out their desks, and their crafts stripped from the walls, we proceeded to walk over to the gym for the tribute show to the King and award ceremony.

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My students sitting calmly before their tribute to the King

Everything went swell, the students performed songs and dances written by the late King, I handed out certificates and posed for pictures, and the students said their goodbyes to their new friends, TAs, and teachers.  I will miss those kids.  Best of luck students of Team Galapagos Camp C!

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One last picture with my students before they departed home with their families

Life at a Thai English camp, part 1

I previously spoke about English camps and my own experience with finding one of the higher paying camps in Bangkok.  Originally I was to work at a language center in downtown Bangkok but a few weeks later the director emailed me to let me know that the camp didn’t attract as many students as hoped for and so I was no longer needed.  However, the director put me in touch with a friend of his working at an international school who was looking for a camp teacher for 2 weeks.  So, I had a Skype interview with him and I was hired on the spot!  While the camp was going to pay less and be harder work, the upside would be that I’d get to work for a prestigious international school, getting free meals 3 times a day, working near Khao Yai National Park, and my own bungalow for the duration of the camp!  It was a no-brainer really.  Here’s what I got up for the first week of camp.

Day 1

Woke up early to make sure I got to the school early, managed to get to the school with time to spare but not before I was given an unplanned tour of northern Bangkok after my moto taxi got the directions wrong several times leading to me to worry I would be left behind!

After a scenic drive north to Khao Yai, I settled into my wonderful bungalow complete with kitchen, dining area, living area, bedroom, and AC.  Having settled in and eaten dinner, we went over to the teacher’s office and had a brief run down of expectations, followed by last but not least, ice breaker games to introduce the teachers and Thai TAs to each other.

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Standard bungalows for teachers

To finish off the day I had a beer together with some of the other teachers and generally got to know each other better.

Day 2

We started off the day with a good breakfast and then had a more thorough orientation to the camp which included a run through the ‘survival guide’, the allocation of classes, and a Q and A.

After lunch we met the parents briefly, basically just stated our name, our current teaching position, and how long we have been in Thailand.  From there we went back to the teacher’s office and planned our classes for the next day.

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Dividing the students into their classes, followed by name games

Dinner was served at 5pm to the students by myself and a group of other teachers as one of our camp duties.  We then went to the school gym where we were finally introduced to our students and played a game to get to know names.

Capping the day off a small group of us made the trek up the highway to a 711 and liquor store to buy snacks and a couple of beers.  For fun we then played a few games including ‘what are the odds’ and ‘mafia’.

Day 3

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Breakfast as usual, followed by class. 2 hours and 45 minutes later I had gained a good initial impression of my class, including their strengths, weakness, personalities, and the kind of activities they enjoyed most.

In the afternoon we had an hour and a half of games.  As part of group 1 I played the game ‘zip, zap, zoom’ for 20 minutes before having each group of students rotated.  After a short break we had a meeting about the upcoming ‘Next Top Model’ event on Friday and how we should prepare for it.  Should be a fun and interesting day for all!

To finish the day off we had another round of rotation games centered more around sports with classes competing for points to win prize.  While my Team Galapagos didn’t win, much fun and laugher was had by all!

That night we had a quiet night to charge the batteries for the next day.

Day 4

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My Galapagos students and TA

I had an early start to the day to quickly eat breakfast before the hungry hordes of students turned up to eat the food I’d be serving them; 3 meals a day, one day on, one day off rotating with another group of teachers

That morning my Galapagos class learned about habitats, types of animals, and features of animals.  This most revolved around playing scategories and learning the sentence structures e.g. Tigers are mammals and tigers live in the jungle.  After the break we had a more hands on lesson about senses with questions like ‘how does it feel’ and ‘how does it look?’ and answers ‘it feels __________’ and ‘it looks ________’.  To have a more interactive class, I took the students for a walk around the expansive school grounds giving the students the chance to find things that felt rough, smooth, soft, wet, dry, etc.  With time to spare, I let the students have some well earned time on the playground.

Next on the itinerary after lunch we had rotation games again.  This time the game I had was a little confusing so I adapted it to make it more suitable for my younger class, ages 7-10.  Thankfully the changes I made ensured most of the students thoroughly enjoyed the game.

While most teachers were able to go back to the bungalows for their afternoon break, myself and three other teachers had to go to Pak Chong to get a police check for the school.  This turned out to be surprisingly painless, we were in and out of there in under an hour, and even got to see the cells…complete with prisoners languishing inside them staring at us with intrigue.

After dinner the students had free time and number of activities to choose from including football, basketball, ping pong, and swimming.  I chose to play football with the students and had a great time.

With the next day being a day off, a few of the teachers settled in on my porch for some drinks, before it quickly turned into all 11 of us drinking beers and whisky after a long last few days.

Day 5

I literally slept on and off to 3pm in the afternoon before going over to one of the other teacher’s bungalows to watch UFC.  After that we had dinner, and then I went for a walk up the highway to 711 and returned to my room to start writing report cards due for next Monday.  Just the relaxing day and evening I needed before the next 7 hectic days kick off tomorrow!

Day 6

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Today was probably the best day so far!  We had survival themed classes where we made water traps by attaching bags to plants, sun dials with sticks, and even made compasses to put up on the wall to decorate the classroom.  After the break we talked about the things students should bring on an island to survive and why.  Even the problem child of the class was well behaved!

The rotation game we had today was also arguably the most enjoyable yet.  We played guns, bombs, and angels.  Students answered a question, chose a square on a grid and discovered whether they got a gun (to shoot the other teams, taking away one of their 7 lives), a bomb (which took away one of their own lives), and an angel (which gave their team an extra life).  The kids had loads of fun taking the other teams out of the game before being switched on to the next rotation.

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For the late afternoon activity I was placed on the Red Chilies Team for sports day.  For our team we needed to make a tie dye shirt.  I went for a more unorthodox style which didn’t turn out too bad!  Other than that, I went home, took a nap, had dinner, played football with the kids, and then retired back to my bungalow for a quiet night.

It was also a momentous day in Thai history today as the Thai king, the longest serving monarch in the world and widely considered the spiritual leader of Thailand, died at age 88.  How this will affect the rest of the camp and the daily life in Thailand remains unclear as the country embarks on a year long period of mourning.

Day 7

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Despite the previous day’s tragic event, the show must go on.  The day could be summarized in just three words: Next Top Model.  My job was to create badges, wings, feet, and a mask for all 17 of my kids in preparation for the main event in the evening.  It was stressful, getting the kids to behave and work together to make their costumes but we did it.  I have to give special thanks to my TAs who worked tirelessly to make my vision a reality.  When all the pieces were put together, the students were dressed as blue footed booby birds from Galapagos.

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The end result was a wonderful evening put together through the collective efforts of the teachers, TAs, and the students themselves.  Each class took turns to strut their stuff down the catwalk to the music students chose.  My class went with Sugar by Robin Schulz through our game of musical chairs at the beginning of the day.  The finale of the show concluded with teachers and a special student in special costumes strolling down the catwalk.  Needless to say everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  There was even a Kanye West moment when Bill, one of my students, ran on stage to collect the prize for best finale student, won by another of my students, Joogim.  When all was said and done, I was very proud with the work everyone put in to make the evening a great success.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, check out part 2!

Summer English camps in Thailand

Are you a teacher, backpacker, or digital nomad in Thailand and looking for an exciting opportunity? English camps are a great way to try teaching for the first time while also being rewarded for your time. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad thinking about teaching ESL then these English camps give you an idea of what teaching can be like  before committing to a full semester or a full year required for most ESL jobs in Thailand.  Non-native speakers can also apply for some of these jobs if their level of English is high enough and they can speak in a relatively clear accent.  Here’s the rundown on English camps in Thailand and how I fared recently trying to find a job for the holiday in October.

English camps are a part of daily life for English teachers in Thailand and are most often ran by teaching agencies and the schools themselves.  These events typically last for a day or two, or even three days.  The English camps are ran by the teachers and sometimes agency staff who come up with a theme, activities, songs, rewards, etc.  I have done a few English camps here in Thailand and similar style events in Korea and I quite enjoy them as a way to have some much needed fun outside the classroom.

As for your duties, these are quite light with teachers operating an activity station in a circuit with other teachers for one or two hours and taking part in other camp activities that incorporate learning English in a fun and entertaining way. For example, you may run a flashcard type activity for 20mins with a group of kids before the groups switch stations and a whole new batch of students stop by.  But what I didn’t realise until recently is how big and popular English camps really are in Thailand.

Schools and agencies run English camps pretty much all year round.  If you work at a public school directly you will probably do at least one English camp a semester.  However, if you work at a public school through an agency, you might be asked to work additional English camps at other schools, which can include meals, accommodations, and additional payments.  While you can find English camp job ads posted online most months, the most lucrative months are March-April and October as these are the months most public schools close for the holidays meaning lots of teachers are free to work at English camps. Wanting to earn some extra money, I looked online for English camp jobs recently.

Basic English camp jobs start at 1000THB ($30USD approx) a day and often include meals, accommodation, and transport.  I went to my usual spot Ajarn.com and gave Craigslist a try.  Sure enough, there were ads looking for English teachers to work at English camps in September and October.  Pay for those jobs ranged from 1000-1500THB and lasted for two or three days meaning a Friday to Sunday camp could net at least 3000THB ($85USD) which is not bad considering you would have accommodation and meals taken care of.  I thought of applying for them but then I came across the top tier English camp jobs.

Big private schools in Bangkok offer top money for English teachers during the peak months of English camps.  The jobs that I saw were offering 2000-3000THB ($60-85USD) a day for 10 day camps teaching phonics while also playing games and singing with young learners under 10.  20,000-30,000THB ($570-860USD) for a 10 day job, with a weekend in between, is not bad at all especially when the starting salary for ESL teachers in Thailand is 30,000THB a/m.

There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try for the top tier jobs.  With my past and current experience with younger learners as well as the English camps and big school events I have worked, I was able to snag two interviews in Bangkok.  After a long ass day that involved waking up at the crack of dawn for a 4hr bus ride to Bangkok, having the first interview, and then hanging around Terminal 21 in Asok for hours before the second interview, I was pleased to be offered a position at the second school before even leaving the interview.    It just shows how fast you can make an opportunity like that happen if you do a little research and line up some interviews

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V for Victory! At Victory Monument, Bangkok

I hope this post helps teachers,backpackers, or nomads who are traveling or living in Thailand and looking to try teaching and be compensated for your time and efforts.  The work is fun, the days are not that long, and a 10 day job at 30,000THB could cover a month of your stay in Thailand!  Food for thought indeed.

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Teaching in Thailand

As a follow up post to my my recent one, I present….

The Good

  • A great place for new teachers: Whether you are thinking of taking ESL as a career seriously, just want the experience of working in exotic Thailand, or in between traveling and looking to make some extra money for a few months, Thailand is a great choice for people who have not taught before.  All you need is a degree and while a TEFL certificate is desired, it is not a formal requirement for a lot of public schools.  Even then, you can get 120hr TEFL online certificate for a couple hundred dollars.  Also, there is less pressure in most Thai public schools because they realize a lot of the teachers have never taught before and therefore there Thai staff are very helpful and understanding in their efforts to help you teach and settle into the area.
  • Food: Come on, do I really gotta mention how good the food is? Thai cuisine extends far beyond tourist favorites like pad Thai, papaya salad, and tom yum soup.  One of my favorite things about living in Thailand are the local markets where I have almost limitless food options.  For $3USD at a market I can easily buy more delicious food than I can even eat!  Typically I’ll buy a main course, rice/noodles with veg and meat, a side dish, perhaps some sticky rice, and a dessert, my favorite being freshly sliced antelope.  All for $3-4!  The food alone should almost be enough of a reason to come teach in Thailand, it truly is a foodie’s paradise.

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  • Low cost of living: The essentials to life in Thailand, especially living outside of Bangkok, are incredibly cheap.  For example, my monthly food budget is about 5,400 baht ($150) and I spend 3500 baht ($100) a month on rent. On a starting salary of 30,000 baht a month, that leaves you with 21,100 baht ($600) left over to spend how you like!  If saving money is not a priority for you, then you could easily go on a weekend trip most weekends in a month.  But if saving is something you care about, you can still save about half your monthly salary (if you live outside of Bangkok) and still have money left over to have some fun, whether that is a few nights out at the bar or a weekend trip or two.  The life of a teacher even making starting salary is quite comfortable.
  • Long vacation time: If you plan teaching for a full year at a public school, 2 semesters, then you will be happy to know you will get at least 2 months vacation!  Of course, depending on your contract situation, whether you work directly for the school or through a teacher placement company/agent, you may or may not be paid for the vacation time.  My advice, try work directly for schools and they should pay the vacation time, or find a company/agent that pays for the vacation.
  • Some great students: the students themselves will play a big role on whether you enjoy your job.  But from my experience so far I’ve had some wonderful students who have proven extremely helpful in explaining things in Thai to the other students, telling the noisy students to quiet down, and then giving me goodbye gifts after having only known them for a short time.  I even received a hand drawn portrait of myself by a very talent student!  Another teacher who had taught at the school for a year received a handmade book of pictures taken from their classes and each student wrote goodbye messages to her.  Great students make such a difference and Thailand has them in spades.

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  • Location, location, location: Thailand has an abundance of every kind of place to live and work.  From small, rural, idyllic villages out in places like Isan, to towns up north in the jungle near Chiang Mai, big bad Bangkok, or down south near the island treasures of Thailand.  There is a place for every lifestyle in Thailand.

The Bad

  • School organization: Having taught at two public schools here in Thailand, and having spoke with teachers working at private schools, a frequent topic that comes up is the strange way certain things are done at school.  Just as you’re leaving to go home a Thai teacher tells you ‘oh, by the way tomorrow is Open Day at school so no classes!’, or nobody knowing who to talk to to get class outline/lesson planning documents, or going office to office searching for someone and then finally being told that actually that person is not at school that day.  Issues like these are are a reflection of Thai culture in the workplace, which brings me to…
  • Cultural differences: There are always going to cultural differences; it is a part of what makes traveling and working abroad a great experience!  But some differences are harder to adjust to.  For instance, it is common to have lined up at a cafe or have been served at a restaurant and then see that the Thais who came after you have been served first.  For women choosing to work outside of big cities or places popular with tourists where the locals don’t have much experience living around foreigners, women will get a lot of looks from Thai men and women, unfortunately that is a fact of life in Thailand.  The same goes if a foreign man is seen in public with a Thai women, you will get a lot of looks from the locals.  These may not be major issues, but they are annoyances.
  • Visa status: The ruling Thai military junta and prior governments have been changing visa rules for years now so it is hard to know what the rules are for sure, and can often be decided at the discretion of the official.  To get the Non-Immigrant B visa to teach legally in Thailand you will either have to get it before you enter the country, or take a 2 day trip to Malaysia, Cambodia, or Laos to get it sorted.  Some schools will even encourage you to simply work on a tourist visa, which is illegal.  Having said that, it seems a blind eye is turned to those teachers who are on a tourist visa and working but are having their documents processed before leaving the country to get the correct visa.
  • Rowdy students:  Don’t get me wrong, while there are great students, there are also students who are plain rude and aggressive towards teachers, particularly in public high schools where classes can be up to 50 students!  It is mostly the less advanced classes that are rowdiest and they are predominately filled with boys, some entirely.  Those classes can be a drain on you mentally and physically as you have to shout and cajole them into behaving and learning something.   Thankfully, most classes are not like this and since coming to teach in Thailand I’ve only had one class that I dreaded teaching each week; class 4/11.
  • Isolation:  If you are working in a public school out in the countryside, you may be one of the only, if not the ONLY, foreigner in town and thus your every movement will be of interest to the locals as if you’re minor celebrity with less privileges.  It can get quite lonely if you don’t have a support network set up to beat back feelings of loneliness and boredom.  At my school in Chok Chai in Isan I was with 3 other foreign teachers and I still felt bored and lonely at times because there was next to nothing to do besides drink beer and watch Netflix for hours on end.  Do your research before taking a job somewhere out in the countryside.

The Ugly

  • A target for crime and scams:  As a foreigner in their country where most of the people have far less than you, it is unfortunately natural for some of the less honest locals to want to make a little extra money from you.  It can be a taxi driver refusing to turn on the meter or asking for a jacked up fare.  Selling you counterfeit goods while claiming them to be genuine.  The police targeting you for not wearing a helmet while riding a scooter and asking for a ‘fine’, or worse, them asking you to take a piss test for drugs in the street (illegal) and asking for a ‘processing fee’ to make the problem go away.  There are a lot more I could go on about but you get the picture.  As always when traveling or living in a foreign country, it is best to exercise caution and keep informed about news in Thailand.  I’m sure there are more ugly sides to living in Thailand but I think being a target for crime and scams are the biggest ones.

So what do you think? What other good, bad, and ugly sides are there to teaching in Thailand? Let me know in the comments!

Korean vs. Thai public school system

With the school semester in Thailand coming to a close I’ve gained a decent understanding of what the public school system here is like compared to the public system in South Korea.  I admit I have not taught in the public school school system in Korea but I do have a good understanding of it through my own research, talking to EPIK (English Program in Korea) teachers, and having taught in the private system which does have some similarities to the public sector.  So let me break down some of the things I’ve observed when comparing them.  This post will examine what it takes to teach in their system, salaries and benefits, what you teach, the students, expectations, and other criteria.

Teacher qualifications

THAILAND: It used to be that just about anyone could get a job teaching in a public school here in Thailand but those days are rapidly fading and now due to a crackdown by the military junta on unqualified English teachers.  Nowadays a degree and a positive attitude are the bare minimum requirements to get a job teaching at a public school though a preference and more money is given to teachers who have some kind of TEFL certificate.

KOREA:  Qualifications required here are similar for the public system, until 2012 only a degree was required though candidates with a degree and a 100+hr TEFL certificate were preferred.  Nowadays those are the bare minimum and I believe the TEFL certificate must include an in-class section to be considered.  I should also add that the budget for the EPIK program has been repeatedly cut in recent years meaning fewer and fewer jobs so competition is fierce.

Teacher salary and benefits

THAILAND: 30,000 baht is pretty standard thought it fluctuates depending on the location and your qualifications and experience.  In terms of benefits, as I mention in my guide to teaching in Thailand, it really depends.  Quite a lot of teachers are placed in public schools by companies and these companies pay your salary and benefits could include accommodation allowance, health insurance, some paid vacation time, etc.  If you are working directly for the school they may pay you a little more but offer no benefits.

KOREA: Salaries start at the low end of 1.8m KRW and max out at 2.5-2.7m KRW, good money.  Then of course you have your flight to and from Korea paid for.  An apartment is paid for.  Severance pay and pension.  About 4 weeks of paid vacation plus national holidays.  A settlement stipend to help cover the cost of buying things for your apartment.  Hands down the Korean public system has the best salary and benefits.

Vacation time

THAILAND: The school year is divided into two semesters. The school year starts in May and the first semester finishes at the end of August or mid September depending on the school.  So what it equates to is that the bulk of your vacation time is in April and October.  Depending on whether you work with a teacher placement company or directly for a school, you may or may not be paid for the time in between semesters which could mean anywhere from at least a month to almost 3 months without pay.  This lengthy period of potentially unpaid vacation is what prevents a lot of teachers from staying in the public school for very long. Teachers do get national holidays off though….

KOREA:  English teachers in the EPIK program get about 2 weeks off in the summer and 2 weeks off in the winter with quite a few paid public holidays.

School facilities

THAILAND: You can expect the range; brand new in Bangkok to crumbling in some of the more rural areas.  On average I’d say it is somewhere in between having been to a few different schools for English camps.  The buildings are typically a bit worn down though it is not uncommon to see schools spend their money on new buildings rather than spruce up existing ones.  The classrooms will be more like seminar sized rooms you were in during university and filled with old, graffiti covered desks and chairs with a number of fans dotted around the room.  Don’t expect AC in the classroom or even in the teacher’s office.  Assemblies will usually take place out on the sports field or under a big sheltered area used for school ceremonies and other events.  The canteen will be open air but under a building.

KOREA:  Schools facilities are much better in Korea but that is what you’d expect from a developed country.  Most schools are fairly modern, classrooms will probably have AC, some have smart boards, there will be a sports field and an indoor hall used for sports and school events, etc.  In short, public school facilities in Korea are typically not so different from back home.

Curriculum and lesson planning

THAILAND: If you work for a teacher placement company, they primarily deal with new and inexperienced teachers and typically will give the teacher a curriculum to teach but often it is just a guideline and teachers can teach what they like, for the most part, as long as the focus is on speaking and listening because foreign English teachers are responsible for conversational English for the most part in public schools in Thailand. When it comes to lesson planning, teachers submit their lesson plans to the company and the company may opt to accept it or suggest changes.  If you work directly for the school they may have a curriculum they want their teachers to follow as it may supplement the work done by the Thai English teachers.  In the case of working for a school directly your lesson plans may be submitted to the head of the English department or simply given free license to teach what you like within reason.  You will also be responsible for making your own teaching materials as it is likely the students will not have textbooks to learn from.

KOREA: The curriculum and teaching materials will be given to you by the school and when you plan your lessons you will do it jointly with your Korean co-teacher.  You may have more or less freedom to plan your lessons, it just depends on your co-teacher and school.  Any additional teaching materials needed for lessons will be the teacher’s responsibility to make.  It should also be noted that the curriculum is very test driven in order to give students the best chance to get into better universities.

 The students

THAILAND: There are three levels of public schools in Thailand; anuban, prathom, and mathayom (I teach mathayom which are the middle and high school grades).  Class sizes range from about 30 up to 40….but can even be as big as 50+!  With class sizes that big you can imagine how hard it can be to impose some level of order and discipline but you can get used to it pretty quickly like I did, but that is another blog post 😉 Not to worry though, depending on what level the students are half of them may not even show up to class.  There is a big problem with students skipping classes in Thailand.  For the most part students are very polite and respectful to teachers and wai them when you see them at school, greet you with smiles and ‘good morning teacher’ (regardless as to whether it is actually the afternoon!), will rush to make space for you if you are trying to get somewhere at school, and often they will kind of stoop/duck past you as another sign of respect.  Don’t let big classes deter you!

KOREA:  In Korea you have elementary, middle, and high schools.  Class sizes are around 20-30 on average.  But you will share the class with a Korean co-teacher who assists you in maintaining discipline.  Behaviorally I have to say that Korean students are so very polite and respectful, at least that is my experience from teaching kindie and elementary students, it might change a little for middle and high school students.  I’d also say that the standard of English is much higher in Korean classrooms and it is not hard to converse with most of your students.

Conclusion

THAILAND: A great place for people who want to earn some money for their travels and try their hand at teaching with a view to teaching for a longer period of time.  You have a lot of freedom in the classroom to teach what you want and how you want.  Contracts can be for just a semester so you are not required to make a long-term commitment.  There is always a huge demand for teachers year round so it is not hard to find a job. The range of locations from the tropical south, big bad Bangkok, and vast beauty of the north means you are spoiled for choice.

KOREA: A good place to start an ESL career because it is a serious ESL teaching destination and you can save some serious money.  The quality of living you can have in Korea is very high and you can live comfortably.  Most students are a joy to teach. You will have less choice on where you want to teach because the EPIK program is so competitive but that is the price you pay to get a sweet job.

What do you think? Are there other categories you think I should add, what have I not considered?  Leave a comment!

 

 

 

Thai High School Food Porn

So I’ve been a bit busy over the past week; going through the motions for an online teaching job (which now I’m losing interest in due to the fact it is taking so long and my poor wifi connection out here in Isan), making lesson plans and test papers for next week, and I also squeezed in a trip to Laos for a visa run (more on that later!

Instead of writing a long post on the delicacies of Thailand I thought I’d leave you some food porn to drool over while you contemplate your next backpacking or teaching move. Bon appétit!

food1
Sweet fried pork with breaded chicken and steamed rice

 

food3

Above is the typical scene in the teacher’s office; the Thai teachers bring in an assortment of food and we all sit down and share it.  They especially like it when I try something very spicy and need to run to get water!

food4
Sweet pumpkin with curry and rice
food5
A medley of fried pork, green beans, egg, and rice
food6
Sweet and spicy fried pork with chicken and rice

 

food7
Half a chicken with sweet Thai chili and spicier sauce. Grand price: $2.10 USD!

 

food8
Hard boiled egg with chicken and pork with rice and sweet sauce

 

food9
Breaded chicken with spicy fried pork and hot sauce

 

food11
Slices of pork and sausage with cucumber on a bed of rice with sweet sauce

Ok, so this may not be the healthiest food but damn, you come teach at a Thai high school and say no to trying some of these and many more delicious delights for only 20 baht a meal (60 cents)!

What’s the school food like at your school? Great? terrible? Somewhere in between? The food at my first Korean school was awful haha.

My First Week at Chokchaisamakee

(I’m adding pictures I swear!!)

My first week at Chokchaisamakee (Chokchai high school) was rather uneventful.  I had taken the job and been very anxious about what to expect and even once I arrived in Bangkok I still had a few moments of anxiety, thinking about how I was going to deal with the large class sizes of up to or even over 40 students.  Not only that I was a bit apprehensive about getting up on stage in front of over 3,000 boisterous high school kids and introducing myself and on top of that having to run to my first class immediately after.  It turns out, I needn’t have feared too much.

The teaching agency wasn’t aware that in fact the school was having its midterm exams that week and so I wouldn’t actually start teaching until that Friday.  So, instead of the gauntlet of fire I had been expecting I had 4 days of deskwarming!  If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to the times a teacher must be at school even if there is no teaching and no actual work to be done, or least no work that couldn’t be done from the comfort of home!  A lot of teachers are used to this if they are working in the EPIK program in S. Korea and I’ve done my fair share as well at my first teaching job.  You either hate it or don’t mind too much, I can’t think of any teachers who would rather watch movies at a desk than at home.

So I made the most of my time in the office by lesson planning, making class materials, organizing my desk, listening to music, browsing the web, eating, etc.  I also got to know my fellow farang (foreign) English teachers during that time and I quickly was made to feel welcome by them and the Thai teachers who also share the office.  The only thing that made the time pass slower was the heat.  Apparently the ‘winter’ in Isaan lasted a week and now it is regularly high 20s and low 30s.  The office has no AC and nothing but open windows and fans to help cool it down…which the fans mostly fail to do and instead serve to just blow all your paperwork across the office much to the amusement of the Thai teachers.  By the time Friday rolled around I was just about ready to start teaching.

While I may have still have been nervous a tad bit about teaching such big classes, I was quite excited to start teaching again.  But to make the day even more interesting was the fact that it was Children’s Day in Thailand which meant that a lot of kids were unlikely to show up because they’d just finished their midterms and didn’t give a fuck.  Not only that, my predecessor had failed to do all the tests for his classes so my very first class in Thailand was a quick introduction to the class followed by me ordering them out and into the class one by one to complete a quick three question speaking test.  The following class was better, I was just introducing myself and playing games with them because I didn’t want them to be ahead of the other classes.  It was the next class that I didn’t quite enjoy.

On my schedule I’d been told that I had two ‘problem classes’ that the previous teacher had most difficulty with.  As my look would have it I had one of those classes my first day of teaching.  They were one of my older, less advanced classes and entirely without any girls.  As any teacher knows, girls can be your best allies in a class with unruly boys, whether it is them explaining things, having them help other students, or just to arrange the class boy girl boy girl to settle the boys down….even if the girls don’t like it so much since it usually means separating them from their friends (sorry!)  So this class was full of boys who really didn’t care to be taught anything that week, about shouting over the teacher, ignoring instructions, etc.  I just kept going through the lesson plan as best I could and helped the few boys who seemed interested.  The behavior of Thai students vs. Korean students is a post I’d like to do in the future once I gain more experience here.  Anyway.  By the end of the class I was practically shooing them out that was how bad they were and to be fair I had been warned.  My last class after that ended before it even began.

Somewhat anticlimactically not a single student turned up to my last class!!  It turned out it was because there were Children’s Day activities on the field they were most likely engaged in but nobody had told me so I simply sat in the big empty classroom using the wifi on my phone to pass the time.  I wasn’t the only teacher who didn’t have any students show up so I wasn’t too concerned about it.

So that was my first week teaching in a Thai high school.  I’ve started the new week here and writing after my first ‘normal’ day of school and it was pretty much the same.  I think already in just 2 days I’ve overcome my worry about the class size.  Teaching such large classes is challenging, but in a positive way that I look forward to tackling more in the weeks and months ahead.

Have you ever taught in Thailand?  Let me know your thoughts!

 

A Change of Scenery: Thailand

Having been frustrated with the pickiness and unreliability of the schools I was interviewing for jobs in Korea I decided to post a resume on ajarn.com .  A day later I got an email from a teacher placement agency for schools in Thailand asking for an interview.  What the hell, I’ll take the interview, I thought.

A day later, the interview was very straightforward and I felt it was more or less to check my character and comfort level of moving to Thailand. Having backpacked and volunteered there, not to mention having been in Thailand as recently as October, I feel no stranger to the country. I confirmed the next day that I would take the job. That was December 24th. It is now December 28th and I am now in Bangkok preparing to teach high school kids in a small town out in the Thai countryside.

I decided to take the job in Thailand because although it may not compare to South Korea financially, it does offer me a chance to gain experience teaching older children in an age group that is hard to get into in Korea without being in the EPIK program. Not only does the job give me the chance to teach high school children, it also gives me the chance to teach big classes.  Why does the chance to teach big classes interest me? Because it gives me the opportunity to build the necessary confidence, skills, and experience I need to manage classes of similar sizes at the university level. It is my ambition to teach English at universities once I obtain my masters. Thai public high school classes can be up to 50 students!! Pretty daunting. So it is only natural that I’m spending the days before I start teaching (January 4th) reading up on how to manage classrooms of that size and generally preparing mentally for the challenges ahead.

The other positives of the job is that it will give me new opportunities to build this blog as well as to hopefully get back into muay Thai training. I look forward to sharing updates on the teaching and living situation once I start work. Until then, keep an eye out for the improvements I will be making to the blog, namely working on the backpacking guides as well as adding a guide to teaching in Thailand! Thanks for stopping by!