Why Thailand is perfect for first time TEFL travellers

If you want to teach English as a foreign country in a safe, entertaining, and exotic country, meet TEFL teachers from all over the world, and live like a king, then Thailand is an excellent choice. Thailand was probably my most memorable TEFL experience; for good and bad reasons. I taught in Bangkok for seven months. I can’t say I loved every minute, but I learnt loads and my time there changed my life. This post is as seen on the i-to-i TEFL blog.

Koh Samui
A bit of background
To fully understand the madness of my situation I have to tell you about my arrival. I found the job on the internet while I was teaching English in Australia. I read up about the school and everything seemed fine, but Thailand is full of surprises. I was expecting to meet a man at the airport; the name was Siriluck, which sounded manly to me. When a tiny Thai woman came up and asked if I was Barry I was a bit shocked, but even more so when she introduced me to my new boss; Sister Leonora. The following day the 5ft nun, who had seemed so pleasant and welcoming, interrogated me about reasons for coming to Thailand and told me to get my hair cut, watch my drinking, and stay away from Thai women. (Photo by mcbarnicle)

My Favourite Class
Life in the classroom
Once over the initial shock of working in a catholic school, and the fact that most of the farang – foreign - teachers hated the Sister, I enjoyed my time working for Our Lady of Perpetual Health (thinking about it now, I should have sussed out something about the school from the name).

As opposed to the standard TEFL role of teaching grammar and vocabulary by following an English text book, my job had a CLIL approach; teaching English through maths, science, art, dance club, and swimming. The day was long; I had to be there to get my class in line for assembly and prayers at 7.30am, and rarely got away before 5pm. During the day I had a couple of hours free to plan, and lunch was provided.

It took me a while to cope with 23 hyperactive Thai 8-year olds, but they turned into my favourite class ever. They were great fun and enthusiastic about everything. My Thai assistant was brilliant and they all loved her. The Thai kids were so respectful compared to the sprogs I teach in Spain. Each morning they lined up outside the class and bowed as they went past. When I entered they all stood up and said “Good Morning Mr Barry.”

Everyone was scared of the Sister and a few farang teachers walked out, some in tears. There was tension between the Thai and farang teachers too. This was hard to comprehend at first because I found Thai people so gentle and friendly. When I discovered it was because the Thai teachers were paid almost three times less, I could understand their frustration.

The best parts were the shows we did for the parents. The Sister was obsessed with putting on performances so the Mums and Dads could see their little angels singing in English while dressed up in funny costumes. The teachers did most of the hard work and the Thai teachers even made the costumes. The shows were fun; seeing my class jump about to dance routines I’d taught them was a laugh.

Unfortunately I was in Bangkok the year of the Tsunami. I had actually planned to visit my uncle in Phuket for Christmas but the Sister cancelled our holiday at the last minute. “God has saved you,” she said the day after the Tsunami. Being in Thailand when the disaster struck was emotional and made me realise how short life is. The sister actually volunteered to help down in the south and gained a lot of respect. In the end I could see that she wasn’t as bad as everyone made out, she just wanted to make a difference in the world. 

A word of warning
Do research, find a decent school, and beware of dodgy agencies. A few of my friends were made to work in tiny, dull villages where they had to teach several groups of fifty students. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about teachers in Thailand getting stitched up, so it’s worth planning ahead. The visas are a bit of a nightmare too, you have to get a Non-Immigrant B working visa, but you need official papers from the school before you can get this.

Life in the real world
You can live extremely well in Thailand. Eating out, renting, travelling, and shopping is amazingly cheap. My basic wage was 35,000 baht, (about £700), which may not sound like much but rent would have only been 3,000 baht a month (the school paid for mine), a decent meal in a local restaurant 50 baht, and a large beer in a bar in Bangkok for 70 baht.

If you are a first time TEFL teacher with no experience then you might not start on a high wage, but it’s enough to live on in a wonderful country. An experienced teacher could earn between 50,000 and 80,000 baht a month, working in an international school or for a university.

The most popular destinations for TEFL teachers are Bangkok, Chang Mai, and Phuket.
Bangkok is not everyone’s idea of paradise, but most of the work is there. If you can put up with the heat, traffic, and stinky canals, then you’ll be rewarded with great nightlife, tasty cuisine, and plenty of things to see and do.

Songkran down Khao San
My favourite parts of Bangkok were visiting the Wats and museums, seeing Thai Boxing, shopping in Chatuchak, the world’s largest outdoor market, and just getting lost walking about. There’s so much to see and each day out is a different adventure. Bangkok is a great hub to travel. If you have a few days off you can get to the islands in the Gulf like Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, full moon party, over to Phuket, and also up to Chang Mai. You can also bus it or fly to the surrounding countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, or Singapore.

Don’t miss the Thai New Year, Songkran, from 13th to 15th of April. The country turns into a giant water festival. Best place to see it is in Bangkok down Khao San Road. Absolute madness! There is a massive expat community in Thailand. At the start I tried to mingle with Thais, but I missed the British banter. However, by the end of the time there I’d had enough of the farangs too. (Photo by robbie_shade)

Thailand is a great choice to teach English as a foreign language if you do plenty of research. You can have some real fun and the Thai students are top. Are you thinking of going to Thailand? Any questions? Let  me know. 

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