Just graduated and not sure what to do next? In a rut in your career and want to do something completely different? I had no idea what kind of job I wanted after graduating from college; I just knew I wanted to see more of the world. Teaching English in Thailand seemed like a choice that just made sense, and at the end of summer I got on a one-way flight to Bangkok. Teaching English abroad is an incredible way to get paid while traveling, experience a culture in a much deeper way than one can on a quick trip, and gain valuable skills.
BEFORE YOU GO
Get TEFL Certified
In Thailand, a college degree and a TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) will give you your pick of jobs. Many companies offer either an online or an in-country class. Job placement services usually come with the class and most companies will place participants in a teaching position after completion. While cheaper to take online at home, taking the class in-country helps you adjust to the culture, practice teaching and build a social network of English teachers.
Here are some websites to get you started:
Once you get a job you can expect to make the equivalent of $1,000-$1,500 USD a month, which is more than enough to have a studio apartment or small house, eat delicious street food for every meal and go on frequent weekend trips. However, you will need start-up funds for your plane ticket, your TEFL course and the first month of teaching. Depending on whether you take the TEFL class in country or start teaching right away this can be anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.
Manage Your Expectations
Beaches are often the first thing that come to mind when thinking of Thailand. Many people dream that their teaching experience will include a few hours in the classroom and long days at the beach. If you look at a map of Thailand only a fraction of the country is on the coast. Jobs at schools near beaches or on islands are hard to come by and the cost of living is much higher than the rest of the country. You will most likely find yourself in a small to medium sized community in Central or Northern Thailand, and will probably be one of the few foreigners living there.
WHEN YOU GET THERE
Be ready to be thrown into the deep end
You finished your TEFL course, you’ve written dozens of lesson plans, you have your flashcards ready and you’ve been in Thailand for a few weeks now. You think you are going to be the best English teacher ever from day one. You will not be. Absolutely nothing can prepare you for 35 Thai eight-year-olds running around trying to speak Thai to you while your co-teacher texts in a corner. I left my first class ready to book a ticket home; you probably will too. However, if you are putting effort into planning your lessons and paying attention to what your students respond to, the learning curve is fast. You will quickly become a master at creating games and activities revolving around English vocabulary and grammar and there is nothing better than watching your students trying desperately to win a game that you created.
Use other English Teachers as a Resource
Most of your friends (and some of the only other people you can easily converse with) will probably also be English teachers. It will probably be the only other time in your life when all your friends have the exact same job. Your conversations quickly become focused around what games their students like, how to calm down a rowdy class, and lesson plan ideas. These people will become your family, your taste of home, and the only others who truly understand your day-to-day.
Lose your Ability to be Embarrassed
During your time teaching you will probably be asked to do things like sing karaoke at a big event, give speeches to large groups who have no idea what you are saying, demonstrate “The Macarena” for the whole school, and dress up as Santa at Christmas.
You will say or do things that everyone around you finds hilarious while you have no idea why. Your students will only seem to respond to lessons when they are laughing at you. That’s ok. Embrace being the comic relief at your school and you will become the most beloved teacher, and your students will probably learn a lot along the way.
WHAT YOU TAKE FROM THE EXPERIENCE
Sure, you have a few friends who have spent a few weeks in Bangkok and on the commercialized beaches of the South, but when you teach in Thailand you become a part of the community and see the real Thailand, not the Thailand of “The Hangover II” or “The Beach”. You are invited to your co-workers’ and students’ homes, to weddings, and to holiday events. You gain access to parts of Thai culture no regular traveler would ever see. One of the most over-the-top parades I have ever seen was for a primary school “Sports Week” in the farthest north city in Thailand, and I got to walk in it. How many tourists can say that?
Make a Difference in Your Travels
In Thailand, and all over the world, English is becoming a prerequisite for any high-powered job, and international travel in general. For Thai young people, speaking English means that they might be able to study at a University outside Thailand, work for an international company in Bangkok, or travel to Europe. As English becomes the international language standard, more and more schools need native English speakers to help build English competency. Though it may be hard to see changes in your students’ English skills day-to-day, you are helping them build fluency for the future.
A Skill for Life
As stated above, native English teachers are in high demand all over the world. I see being able and certified to teach English as a skill I will have in my back pocket for life. I know that if I were to choose to take another year off I could get a job in Thailand, Japan, Korea, or China relatively easily. Maybe in retirement I will decide to move abroad and teach in my spare time.
Teaching English pushed me farther out of my comfort zone then I would have ever imagined. It quickly took me from shy girl to extrovert and from cautious to carefree. It showed me how similar people from completely different parts of the world really are. While I don’t know if I will find myself in a Thai classroom again, I know that semester will shape the rest of my life.