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.

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.

 

My Top 3 English Teaching Destinations

I’ve seen a lot of other blogs and sites posting their lists of top English teaching destinations and I wasn’t completely satisfied.  Most of their lists are primarily based on how much money you can earn and save. This short list is different because I’m placing emphasis on the overall destination that includes the fundamentals of salaries and saving potential but also delves into the things that matter on a more daily basis.  Things such as food and quality of living.  I should also note that while this is a top 3, I am not ranking them above each other.

South Korea

Yes, I bet you knew this one was coming.  South Korea really does have it all.

Salary and benefits: Starting salaries of 2.1m KRW ($1800USD) are not bad at all. Then you throw in paid accommodation, severance pay, a paid flight home, and pension.  These benefits make South Korea, financially a very attractive destination.

Saving potential: HIGH!  Teachers can save up to or even more than half their monthly salary if they manage their money well.  Not to mention that when you leave you will get your pension and severance pay which combined will be thousands of dollars.  Quite a few people go to Korea to wipe out their student debts, then stay on longer to save up for a post-grad degree.

Quality of living: I talked about this in another post but I’ll say it again.  The life of an English teacher in Korea is very comfortable.  You can afford to eat out a couple times a week, go on a weekend trip or two, have nights out on the weekend, and still save money.  The cost of living may be slowly rising but it is still low compared to neighboring Japan.  There is a vibrant expat scene in Korea which further adds to the appeal to life there.  Korea has tons of opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture, play in rec sport leagues, learn the language, enjoy the nightlife, and generally thoroughly thrive.

Food: Korean food is awesome. Seriously. I am missing Korean food so much haha.  Brilliant BBQs.  Spicy kimchi. Tasty dak galbi.  You will love the food.  An interesting fact about Korea is that it has one of the highest amounts of restaurants per capita in the world which results in a country where there are streets literally lined up with restaurants. One of my favorite is the famous Food Street in Gangnam.  To top it off, eating out is relatively cheap and meals often come with free side dishes to accompany your main meal.  If you haven’t tried Korean food yet, go to your local Korean restaurant and thank me in the comments.

Vietnam

This country is increasingly featuring on more top English teaching destinations and for good reason.

Salary and benefits: Teachers make anywhere from $1000-2000+USD a month in Vietnam.  A lot of teachers have a main job and then supplement it with side jobs in the evenings or on weekends to top their wages up.  Some of the bigger schools offer bonuses and severance pay.

Saving potential: High. Being paid in USD helps a lot.  Having spoken with teachers who currently work there the consensus seems to be that they save on average a third to a half of their monthly income.

Quality of living: Vietnam is VERY cheap.  Teachers in Vietnam can afford to eat out, have a nice apartment, go on weekend trips, party on weekends, and still save a good amount of money.  What I like about Vietnam is that it offers you a similar kind of life to Thailand but edgier due to it being less developed, which I think brings more excitement.  In the big cities there are plenty of expats and lots of social clubs to join and things to do on evenings and weekends.  I have a feeling Vietnam will be my next teaching destination in part due to the quality of life on offer to expat teachers.

Food: Vietnamese food is famous worldwide and for good reason, it is simply delectable! Everyone has heard of pho, the rice noodle soup, but my favorite Vietnamese dish so far is the banh mi! A simple baguette filled with vegetables, pork, sometimes a fried egg, and pate that is simply amazing, and for as cheap as a single dollar!  Street food is another one of my favorite things about Vietnam; you’re never far from it and it is always cheap and diverse. On the other end of the spectrum you can find world class food in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for a fraction of the cost it would be back home.  Simply put, food is one of the highlights of teaching in Vietnam.

UAE

Arguably the best place to teach English in the world, but that is not to say it is easy to find a job there.  Most jobs are limited to teachers who are certified to work back in their home country.

Salary and benefits: It depends on the type of job you have but generally in excess of $2000+USD, tax free.  Benefits include an annual travel fund for flights, severance pay, free healthcare, moving allowance, etc.  At the top end of the jobs in ESL in the UAE, university jobs, I saw salaries of over $5000USD a month!  This, combined with my previous experiences of visiting the UAE, make it my ideal place to work once I have a masters under my belt and can enter the university teaching job market.

Saving potential: High.  If you’re making at least $2000, and most are making more than $3000, you can save some serious cash.  Just a year or 2 in the UAE could set you up financially.

Quality of life: First off I should address the concern some people may have because it is an Islamic country.  The UAE is one of the most liberal Islamic statics in the world.  Woman are not required to wear the veil or anything like that, but you should dress sensibly in most public places.  It is nothing like living in Saudi Arabia or other hard-line Muslim countries.  There are bars and clubs but they are restricted to hotels and a few other select places.  Alcohol can be bough at certain government stores once you have a permit and can be consumed at your apartment.  Expats seriously enjoy living here.  They often end up working there until retirement.  Lots of opportunities to watch world class sporting events like the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix or the Abu Dhabi Open.  Unlimited options for people who love to go shopping at the mall (this country has more malls than you could imagine haha).

Food: The UAE, but especially Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi are very cosmopolitan cities and thus you can find just about any food on the planet in either of these cities.  That said, Arabic and Indian food would be what I would think to be the best choices on offer due to the local specialties and large Indian expat community.  Food is more expensive here because a lot of it has to be imported, but you are being paid premium money so you can afford it.  The UAE also has many large Western supermarkets full of international food and food from home for those of you who love to cook at home.

Other great English teaching destinations

Columbia: More and more English teaching opportunities are opening up in Columbia as it develops more. Safety has improved a lot also. Definitely a place I’d consider going in the future.

Spain: Pleasant climate, living in Europe, easy to adapt.  Those are just some of the reasons that make Spain a great place to teach.

Czech Republic: Teaching in a city like Prague would be a dream.  The students are keen to learn, the locals are friendly, there are liberal social policies in effect, the fact Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and its location in Europe make it ideal as a base to explore other nearby European nations.

‘Top’ destinations that did not make my list

China: A vast and growing job market for English teachers but not somewhere at this time I particularly fancy teaching in.  Reason? Primarily the high level of air pollution and the prospect of big brother always looking over your shoulder…

Japan: High cost of living.  It seems harder to enjoy life in Japan as most things are expensive and so you must be careful with your spending if you aim to save money.

Saudi Arabia: Harsh and uncertain living environment, especially for women.  While the money can be hugely rewarding…I place a higher value on freedom than money at this time.  Not to mention the politics of this country.

What did you think of my top 3 picks? Are there other destinations that I have not thought of that you think I should consider for the future? Did I unfairly dismiss China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia?  Let me know in the comments 🙂

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.

food5

  • 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.

thaistudents

  • 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!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Teaching English in S. Korea

The Good

  • The students: Most Korean students you will meet are fun, well-behaved, smart, and constructive members of the classroom!  While every teacher in Korea will remember a certain naughty student, they will remember countless more students that made their day with their smile and overall good attitude to learning.  I can count on one hand the number of real trouble students I’ve had on one hand and just some many more that I truly miss and wish I could see how they are doing now with their new teachers.  If you can make your classes engaging, the students will enjoy themselves and be more willing to take part in your lessons.  And even if the material you must teach may be dry, the students will for the most part be very well behaved with a few great students who help the others get on track.
  • The food: I had never had Korean food before I came to South Korea, nor had I really done much research on what to expect, besides knowing kimchi is the national dish.  But once I got there I fell in love with the beef and pork BBQ dinners with drinks and close friends before heading out on the town for a Friday night.  Then there is bibimbap, dak galbi, jjim dak, and so much more!  If you haven’t tried Korean food yet but are thinking of going to teach in Korea, go to your local Korean BBQ restaurant and thank me in the comments.  Korean food can be a little spicy, so be warned.  Another thing I love about food in Korea is how affordable it is!  You can quite easily eat out a few nights a week for less than $10 for a decent meal.  It should also be added that I believe Korea has one of the highest rates of restaurants per capita worldwide meaning you will never be far from a place to eat, whether it is a local mom and pop joint, or Michelin star quality restaurants in Gangnam.  I may be spoiled for food here in Thailand, but I definitely get cravings for Korean food.
  • The financial side: Korea is still one of the top places in Asia to make bank.  Wages may have stagnated but are still right up there with the best.  Throw in the relatively low cost of living and it is easy to see how teachers in can quite comfortably save half their salary a month.  Not to mention that all teachers receive a pension and if you complete the contract you will get severance pay which equates to a month’s salary.
  • The quality of life: While still saving as much as half your salary, you can eat out once or twice a week, go out for drinks a couple times, and go on a weekend trip somewhere in Korea each month.  A trip might entail a mountain trek to one of the many peaks in Korea, a weekend sojourn to the bright lights of Seoul or Busan, a tranquil getaway to a Buddhist temple, or shredding it on the slopes in the winter time.  It may take some balancing but it is possible if you’re smart with your money and plan it out.  Korea also has a vibrant and active expat scene so you will never be far from making new friends.  I personally recommend joining a Korean language exchange club, like The Box in Daegu, or a recreational sports league.  I played in the ROK Ultimate Frisbee league for 2 seasons and I loved every moment of it, not just playing but the super people I met, the journeys to the games, the parties, the camaraderie among members of the wider ultimate frisbee community…so much fun, and when I return to Korea eventually I definitely will be getting back on the field again.
  • The location: Korea is an ideal location for vacations across Asia, Japan is a stone throw away and can even be reached by ferry, tons of cheap flights to China and Hong Kong, the Philippines is very close, and Southeast Asia is a very affordable place to spend your vacation time.  If you love to travel, Korea is a real gateway to the rest of Asia and has two three great international airports; two in Seoul and one in Busan making it easy to get out and explore beyond Korea.

The Bad

  • North Korea:  I should get this one out of the way first because I think it scares off some teachers from coming to South Korea.  Yes, the North is a rogue nuclear armed nation ruled by the Kim family dynasty that likes to make big, bombastic threats against Korea, the US, and their allies.  And that although the Korean War ended with a armistice, not a peace treaty, this technically means these two countries are still at war…But the fact is the North has been making these threats for years and while it may be stressful for people considering to come teach in Korea, if you ask S. Koreans and foreign teachers they will tell you they pay little heed to what the North says and carry on with their daily lives.  So while the threat of North Korea remains, it is held in check by the guarantee that any kind of attack would be met in kind by overwhelming power from the combined ROK-US forces. Nevertheless, having a noisy neighbor is never a good thing.
  • Visa paperwork:  Of course it is understandable that the Korean government wants to be careful about who is coming to teach their children but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a time consuming process that may take months.  You need a nation wide criminal record check (clean), transcripts, your degree, and all of these need to be notarized/apostilled attached and sent to the Korean consulate for their stamps of approval.  Then you must gather more documents, along with a sealed copy of your school contract, passport pics, visa confirmation number, and processing fee, and submit this to the consulate and hope they approve it.  If this process was streamlined I think it would be a big help to potential and current teacher in Korea.
  • How and what things are taught:  This one is controversial I think.  I think alot of the English taught to Korean students is purely rote repetition and often in hagwons teachers must follow strict lesson plans following pages from the books that are often outdated and boring.  Depending on your school, teachers have little say on how they’d like to teach the class and thus it often means the classes are dry, boring, and repetitive.  Alot of what is taught in class is designed purely to help them do well on the TOEIC tests and university entrance exams.
  • Increasingly competitive job market, poor economic climate, declining working conditions: with the government seemingly winding down the EPIK program, teachers who worked in public schools are now entering the private hagwon sector.  EPIK teachers are higly regarded by hagwon owners because of the competitive process to teach in a public school so this adds to the pressure on teachers who have only worked for hagwons.  Wages have stagnated and even started to lower in some classes.  Return flight packages in contracts are becoming rare.  Teachers are seemingly being asked to work longer hours with more classes and fewer breaks for less money.  The ‘golden era’ of teaching English in Korea has truly finished.

The Ugly

  • Management:  A big reason hagwons get a bad rap is because of the management and owners who run these schools.  Their primary concern is maximizing profits and keeping parents happy; business first, education second.  Then of course you have the types of directors who are massively unqualified to do their jobs and just do so, so, much wrong.  I had a terrible experience with a director at my last school was a contributing factor to me deciding to take a break from Korea for awhile.  The horror stories usually relate to the breaking of contractual agreements, physical, emotional, and sexual harassment, firing teachers before the last month to avoid paying severance, making teachers do additional unpaid work, treating the children appallingly, etc.  You have to be careful when picking a school, and EXTRA careful to find a decent boss.  The director will make or break your experience at a school.
  • Xenophobia, racism, and other prejudices:  Although it is not as much of an issue as it once was, it still rears its ugly  head.  It is harder for African-American or black South African teachers to find jobs here, and the ones that do can be made uncomfortable by their treatment from the more elderly Koreans.  If you’re a member of the LGBT community, although progress is being made, it is not advisable to make this known to a potential employer or make public displays of affection (this goes for straight people as well).  ‘Attractive’ teachers are preferred also.  This may merely mean they prefer their teachers to not be overweight, to not grow beards, no piercings, no visible tattoos, dress well, and not keep your hair respectable.  I even had a friend turned away from a job, after coming to Korea and going to the school, because they thought he was too short…..he then landed a job teaching adults so it ended well for him, but still, that was ridiculous.

Don’t let the Bad and the Ugly deter you from teaching in Korea, I still think the good far outweighs the negatives, it is just better to hear a balanced view of what it is like to teach in Korea.  Teaching in any country has its good, bad, and ugly sides and Korea is no different.  These are just some things that came to mind from my own experiences and talking friends from my time teaching there.  Let me know what you think! What other good, bad, and ugly sides do you think are worth mention?  I will also be writing the good, the bad, and the ugly about teaching in Thailand once I have been here long enough to make a more informed opinion of things.  I do not have anything against Korea and again stress that I fully intend to return there.

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!

 

 

 

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!

 

Landing an English teaching position in South Korea

Part One: Getting your visa

First off, you need a degree in any field, some recruiters (Gone2Korea) may tell you that you won’t get hired if you’re a guy and/or you don’t have a degree in education but this is BS and just pure laziness on their part and are likely financially motivated to make you apply through the public EPIK program.  Also the Korean government typically only issues E2 visas to English, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand, and South African citizens.

There are two major hiring windows in S. Korea: Feb/March and Aug/September.  So when you know which window you want to start work in then you should start getting these documents ready no more than 6 months away from your intended start date.  This is critically true for having your degree and criminal record check (CRC), these must be no more than 6 months old when you start applying for the visa.

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You should get a national level CRC (RCMP/FBI) and get your fingerprints taken electronically to expedite the time taken to process them.  This could take anywhere from a week or so to get the results mailed back to months or even depending on the competency of your police service – never.  When I went to Vietnam to volunteer teaching English the RCMP simply never sent my results back and never bothered to pick up their phones or send me anything other than an automated email….the second time I got the results back in under 10 days, go figure.

While applying for the CRC, ask your uni to send you two sealed copies of your transcripts.  In this early phase you can go get 5-6 passport pictures as there will not be much more you can do until you get your CRC, most recruiters will be looking for candidates who have their CRC taken care of because this takes the longest to acquire typically.

Once you have your CRC and degree in hand, take copies of them to a notary service (private or public) and have them notarized.  After these two documents are notarized you can then take them (the copies and the originals) to the Korean consulate, along with a sealed transcript and passport.  There should be no waiting time to get these documents affix the consulate seal, i.e. you should be able to go there and get the consulate staff to afix the consulate stamp there and then.

school

With this out of the way, you can feel free to contact recruiters about finding a job.  This is not to say you can not start talking to recruiters before you’ve got the aforementioned documents take care of, but many will give priority to candidates with these items already in hand.  Dave’s ESL Cafe is a great place to find job listings posted by many of the recruiters and they typically repost the same jobs on a nearly daily basis.  Gone2Korea has alot of great information on their website but if you are looking for a hagwon job as a guy without an education degree, they will tell you it is not worth their time trying.  As I said before this BS.  Personally, I recommend Appletree Global Recruiting http://www.appletreeedu.com/ They were fast to respond to my application (basic personal information, resume, professional picture (this is standard for all recruiting firms)) and actually listened to my preferences.  Many recruiters will ignore your preferences (e.g. Daegu, kindergarten/elementary) and repeatedly send you job listings they need to fill.  What impressed me most about Appletree was that instead of sending me school jobs and asking if I wanted to apply, they already sent my resume and information to schools and only sent me their information when the school wanted an interview, if I liked what I saw I would agree to arrange an interview.  Interviews are typically via phone or skype and last no more than 30mins.  I landed my job after only two interviews. For the best results, take a shotgun approach and apply to as many recruiters as possible as you will get so many more interviews and job offers than just sticking with one recruiter.

Once a school wants to give you a job, and you agree (more info on what to look for in the contract in the second part of the post), then you must send a package of documents to the Korean Immigration department, this includes your 4 passport photos, notarized copies of degree and CRC (also sending your original CRC I believe), your resume, job contract, copy of your passport info page, and self-medical form….there may be one or two other things but your recruiter will confirm what you need to send at this time in the visa process.

Next, once you receive your visa number, you will complete a visa application and take this as well as another passport photo, your passport, $72, and your other transcript to the Korean consulate closest to you.  The time to process this varies between 5-10 business days they will tell you.  Be assured that you are supposed to leave your visa there and you come back for it after the processing time is up.  You can leave an express envelope with them to send it to you rather than having to go in personally.  In my case I think they saw how little time I had left before I was to come here and they expedited my application and sent it via the Expresspost envelope I had left with the consulate staff.  After your passport is in your hands you will see it has been stamped with the E-2 visa and you are now golden! You can look forward to working in Korea.

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Part two: Public vs. private

Public Pros:

  • Reliable employers and workplace
  • 4 weeks vacation
  • Contracts respected
  • Co-teacher (could be argued a con depending on your co-teacher)
  • More prestige
  • Just generally a better option to working at a hagwon
  • Orientation period before starting work

Public Cons:

  • Extremely competitive due to the S. Korean government slashing the EPIK program in recent years
  • No guarantee you will work at the location you desire
  • You will probably be the only native-speaker at your school
  • More certifications needed e.g. in class TEFL/TESOL/CELTA, B.Ed, MA, etc

Private Pros:

  • More job opportunities year round
  • Potential to make more money
  • Freedom to choose where you want to work
  • Your school will probably have other foreign ESL teachers
  • More selection in what age group you want to teach i.e. kindie, elementary, middle, high school, adults
  • More variation in work times

Private Cons:

  • Slowly growing more competitive as teachers from EPIK are pushed out and look for hagwon jobs
  • More work (depends on the job)
  • Less reliable working conditions e.g. management, contracts, housing, workload, etc
  • Only 10 vacation days, typically 5 in summer and 5 in winter but some schools spread the days out across the year into glorified long weekends…thus limiting the prospect of backpacking expeditions!!
  • Potentially longer work days

Interview and contract advice:

1) the school should pay for the flight; it used to be a return trip and now due to the poor economic conditions this has changed more to a one-way ticket

2) in an interview dress professionally

3) have questions

4) if they don’t ask for a teaching demo, to really impress them ask to do one

5) have questions to ask the director/teacher who will be interviewing you

6) If they offer the job, ask for the email of a current/former teachers (former teachers are better as they will not be under any duress), ask the teacher what conditions are like, are contracts respected, how long they’ve been at school, how many foreign teachers are there, it is a good sign if teachers have stayed there beyond the first year

7) ask to see pictures of the apartment or similar living quarters

8) have the number of hours a week and month specified in the contract

9) make sure there is a clause including pension; it is illegal for schools to not offer a pension

10) the contract could mention working a few Saturdays/Sundays, do what I have done before and ask that you get an addendum guaranteeing you will only work no more than 5 Saturdays/Sundays in the year

11) make sure severance pay is included in the contract, this is standard to all contracts and should be equal to one month of pay

12) standard starting salary without formal teaching experience is 2.1m KRW.

This is all that comes to mind at the moment but I think even if you did some more research online you should find that I’ve touched on the most pressing concerns when considering signing a contract for a year in a completely foreign land. I should also note there is no guarantee they will keep their word on the contract…but if the former/current teacher doesn’t ring any alarm bells then you can be fairly sure that you will be treated well and given what is stipulated in the contract.

If there are any questions please feel free to leave a comment!