We had the privilege of catching up with 5 expats, all from different regions of the Western world and all currently Teaching English in Thailand. Be it South Africa, the USA, or Canada, male or female, all of these teachers have been fortunate enough to embark on the unique cross-cultural experience of life as an English teacher in Thailand.
Karissa, Lauren, Richard, all from the United States, Samantha from Canada and Alex, a proud South African, have all been teaching in Thailand since November 2014 and share with us the highlights of their time in Thailand so far, from highs to lows with some epic first-hand advice for others about to come over to teach English in Thailand.
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Living and working abroad will always come with it’s highs and lows as one’s comfort zones are pushed beyond belief while the thrill of a new start with new surroundings, new people, new everything is bound to excite every adventurous spirit.
Thailand is no different – in fact it is slightly more injected with the “new everything” as it comes with a local culture, language and community very different to what is found back home.
What makes living in Thailand as an English teacher so special is that you get to fully immerse yourself in the local Thai culture, living in Thai communities, sometimes in quite rural towns and villages, and interacting with your Thai co-teachers and your students on a daily basis.
In Thailand you can expect to be placed at a school literally anywhere in the country from the most rural and isolated towns, the mountains of the north to the beaches of Phuket in the south to the big cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai and each area comes with its pros and cons and its unique characteristics.
When meeting up with the 5 teachers we asked them a number of important questions in the hope of providing people back home, be it in the States, the UK, Canada, or South Africa, with a real first-hand account of what teaching in Thailand is really like. Their answers were truly inspiring.
What has stood out to you the most living as an English teacher in Thailand?
Thailand’s appreciation for English teachers.
Karissa Holland has always had a love for children au-pairing in New Zealand for a year and working as a nanny in Chicago where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Development.
Karissa, or “Teacher K” as her students call her, lives and works in Nakhon Ratchasima which is one of the 4 major cities of Isan in Thailand.
It is also commonly known as Korat and is situated about 4 hours north-east of Bangkok. When asked what has stood out to her the most living as an English teacher in Thailand, Teacher K had the following to say:
“How welcoming and helpful the Thai’s have been. From day one, they have treated me with the utmost respect. The Thai teachers are always inviting me to festivities inside and outside of school.
They make sure to make you feel like a part of their culture and teaching community. Thai people value English teachers greatly and personally have always been there for me if I need anything.”
The selfless generosity of Thai people
Richard Hall made the decision to leave the corporate world to which he belonged in Colorado to explore a more enriching and fulfilling career teaching English in Thailand. To Richard, it has been the selfless kindness and generosity of the Thai people that has stood out to him the most. One moment stood out to him the most however when en route to school one day:
“One typical day I was cruising on my motorbike towards school and was about half way (in the middle of nowhere in Thailand) when all of the sudden my chain slipped off the sprocket and my bike essentially shut down.
I looked around and had no idea what to do because all I could see were rice fields and dirt roads. After 5 minutes passing, a very old Thai man slowly approached me on his bicycle with some tools in hand.
This man was unable to speak one word of English but knew something was wrong and wanted to help. He motioned that I follow him to his little home/workshop where he went ahead and replaced the sprocket and chain to my bike then rode around on it to make sure it worked fine. As he came back, he simply said “OK” with a thumbs up and a huge smile.
I couldn’t believe it. Not too many places in the world can you witness kindness and generosity like that.
So if I could summarize, I would say: They call this the land of smiles for a reason, everyone is happy and it is the good being of the community that triumphs any greed or selfishness.”
Lauren Carey, who lives and works in Pathum Thani, shares Richard’s appreciation for the generosity of the Thai culture:
“The culture is so giving and selfless, and they treat me with such reverence and respect. Teaching in Thailand is a whole different ball game when compared to teaching in the States. Even on the worst days, you still feel appreciated and special in this country.”
“I honestly feel like a rock star at times!”
English teachers are worshipped in Thailand, especially by one’s students. The locals and your co-teachers have so much respect for you because of what you are doing for the local community; providing the local children with the incredible gift of being able to communicate and comprehend the English language.
The students are all so excited to learn how to speak English and absolutely adore the English teachers from the Western world. Not many schools throughout Thailand actually have English teachers so it comes with a ton of appreciation.
Samantha Purewal moved over to Thailand from Canada in September 2014 to complete her TESOL training and teach English to Thai children. She reinforced just how much English teachers are respected in Thailand when we caught up with her:
“At school your students just completely admire you, I honestly feel like a rock star at times! I feel valued because of what we have to offer, the chance for them to practice their English with a native speaker.”
To Alex from South Africa, it is the students that have stood out to him the most:
“There are a few perks to being a teacher here, but possibly the one thing that has stood out the most is how every student will tell you two things, no matter how well they know you, and that will be “I love you teacher” and “teacher beautiful/ handsome”. Other than that, the students are amazing, and also so curious about this new “farang”. They will take about 50 “selfies” with you a day as if it is the last time you will see them.“
What have you loved most about this experience so far?
The stress-free Thai culture
People come from all walks of life to teach English in Thailand with great variation in their specific backgrounds. There are too so many different aspects of this experience that one can grow to cherish. Born and bred in South Africa, Alex first moved to the concrete jungle of London to live and work which he left behind once the land of smiles started calling his name.
“Coming from the fast-paced hospitality industry of London where it is all about making money and having no time for anything, to a city in Thailand where I will get a smile from every single person I meet. I could be going for a jog, and the next thing I know, I have been grabbed by the arm, sat down on a mat and handed a beer by a complete stranger. After 5 minutes his entire family will be there feeding me sticky rice and some meat that is burning my face off. There is no stress in Thailand, unless you create it for yourself.”
This is no lie. Thai people are so hospitable and welcoming that you can expect to be welcomed in to the community with open arms. The local teachers at the school you will work at will do their best to make you feel at home and don’t be surprised when you get invited to lunch and dinner with them on a daily basis.
The friends you will make
Then there are the friends you will make while teaching in Thailand, both locals and international expats much like yourself. Many of these friends could quite possibly stick with you throughout life as it is the like-minded approach to life that will bring you together. This has really stood out to Richard:
“I could talk about my experience in Thailand for hours on end but what stands out the most is the friends I have met, fellow teachers, from day one. They say that great minds think alike and I believe that is why I have made many friends who I will call friends for the rest of my life. The quality and sincerity of the people I have met trumps most I have met in my life. The people you will meet on this journey will be a part of your life forever.“
Thai students are an absolute pleasure to teach as Karissa explains:
“They have been so much fun to teach. Don’t get me wrong you will come across your fair share of naughty students, but they are the ones that make it much more rewarding when they start comprehending English.“
The English proficiency of your students can often be extremely low but this merely makes it that much more rewarding once your teaching takes effect on them and they begin to communicate with you in English. It’s quite difficult to explain but you will know exactly what Karissa is talking about when you experience this for yourself.
“Teaching in Thailand is a wonderful mix of work and play”
With the high salaries that English teachers in Thailand earn coupled with the extremely low cost of living, it is significantly trouble-free and affordable to travel over weekends and the many holidays that teachers are rewarded with in Thailand. Lauren shares with us just how easy this has been for her:
“I love the balance that my life has. During the week, I’m teaching and participating in school/community activities and that is extremely fulfilling. As the weeks go on, I’ve created bonds with my students and I really do enjoy being in their presence. On the weekends, I’m able to travel. Living as close to Bangkok as I do keeps the door wide open in terms of travel opportunities. It is two months in, and I’ve already been to Bangkok several times as well as visited a few islands. Teaching in Thailand is a wonderful mix of work and play.”
The easy life in Thailand
Getting around and finding your way around a foreign country is never the easiest thing and even more so in a country like Thailand where minimal people can speak English but as Samantha puts it, everything just seems to work in this country:
“Even though there is a language barrier (no one speaks English in my town) I am still able to communicate to people and always get directed in the right direction. People are genuinely kind and helpful here.“
What advice do you have for others wanting to go over to teach English in Thailand?
“Soak it in. This will be one of the best experiences you will have decided to undertake in your whole life. You will experience the highest of highs and frankly the lowest of lows, but when you look back on what you experienced, while your friends and family are caught up in the “bubble” back at home sitting behind desks and in cubicles, I can surely say that you will be patting yourself on the back.” – Richard
“To have very low expectations. Nothing is ever guaranteed in Thailand, especially in the education system. Everything is always changing last minute. You really have to just go with the flow and take whatever is thrown your way. Unexpected occurrences will happen all the time at your school for example: classes getting cancelled, schedules changing constantly, lesson plans switched last minute..etc. My biggest advice is to not stress over the little stuff and just roll with the punches.” – Karissa
“Being in a foreign land and taking in the way of life they live has definitely taught me a lot in just the two months I have been here. If you are nervous and afraid it’s okay. It’s feeling those feelings and overcoming them that is the best part of your adventure! You will be a great teacher and you will adjust to life here. It’s the same as anywhere; people just want to live and enjoy life!” – Samantha
“You might not get a beach, or mountains, or even another westerner for that matter, but appreciate that. We need to be taken out of our comfort zones to truly appreciate the beauty of the Thai culture, to understand that it’s not all about what you want to put on social media, but instead about the experiences and the joy that the kids give you. We are so caught up in this rat race that we need to spend time with kids, we need to see life from their innocent and care-free perspective, you can learn a lot more from the kids than you think, so keep an open mind and if a 8 year old pretends to shoot you – you sure as hell pretend you got shot.” – Alex
“Do not have expectations and learn to take things as they come. Be flexible. Thai culture and Western culture are so vastly different that you have to learn to just roll with the punches. Planning is quite useless as things tend to happen very last minute and without warning in Thailand. It has been a great life lesson for me to let go of control!” – Lauren
Thanks for sharing your wisdom, passion, and advice guys. You are all making one hell of a difference to the lives of your students!