Pros and cons of teaching English in Thailand

Teaching English in Thailand will always have a special place in my heart. While I loved teaching the Thai students, at times living in Bangkok was tough and I went through an emotional seven months as an ESL teacher. Watching 'The Impossible' (trailer below) last Saturday brought back a lot of memories because I was in Thailand the year the Tsunami struck the south coast back on Boxing Day 2004. I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears as I watched and remembered that I could have been involved had it not been for my strict boss Sister Leonora, a catholic nun, cancelling our Christmas holidayHere are a few pros and cons of teaching English in Thailand.

The pros of teaching English in Thailand

Who's the lanky freak at the back?
I’ve never taught such a fun and respectful bunch of students as my class back in Bangkok. That group of ten-year old kids was always full of life and had a passion for learning English. They were relatively well off kids compared to some in Thailand, but you’d never have guessed it by their humble attitude (something that wouldn't exist among the rich kids of Seville). I had a couple of naughty students, but generally they were well behaved.

I still remember seeing them the first morning after the Tsunami. When I walked up to my class sitting in the playground most of them were sobbing. I was still in shock after finding out what had happened to such an innocent country. My favourite student, Nam, came up to me.

“Mr Barry, big wave, big wave,” he said in his lemmings style voice. “Many people die,” he added, while spluttering a tsunami style sound effect. It was hard for everyone in the school and it took a while before everyone got over the disaster. 

Teaching them for seven months was a joy. A lot of teachers who I met in Thailand said the same about their students, so if you’re looking for real job satisfaction from teaching then it’s a great place to head.

Check out this trailer of The Impossible. Well worth seeing if you want to experience a real life story of a Spanish family involved in the Tsunami of 2004.    

Standard of living
I’m not sure how much Thailand has been affected by the world crisis (it can’t be worse off than Spain), but while I lived there my standard of living was relatively high. I got paid about 35,000 baht a month, rent free. I ate out every evening at the weekends because restaurant prices were so cheap. You could get a decent plate for about 60 baht back then (I’d be interested to know how much it costs now if anyone wants to leave a comment). Beers were cheap too, and travelling about was reasonable.

If you have a CELTA, DELTA, or P.G.C.E, then you can get good money working in Thailand, especially for the international schools. There are a few dodgy ones though (see below) so do your research.

Range of places to visit
Thailand has a massive range of places to visit. The hectic, but marvellous, Bangkok, with amazing temples to explore, back streets to get lost down, and loads of places to eat out, party, and go shopping is a unique capital. The islands dotted around Thailand have stunning beaches. I managed to see Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Chang and Koh Samet, while I was there, but I wished I’d had time to see more. North Thailand is an interesting and peaceful place too. Chang Mai and its surrounding villages are all worth seeing.

I didn’t make it down to the south west side along towards Phuket and the islands that way, which was just as well considering the year I visited.

If you’re thinking of heading out to Thailand to teach English then I’d recommend it, but there are a few things you should be aware of.

The cons of teaching English in Thailand

Cowboy outfits
I’m not talking about the clothes, but the language schools. There are plenty of dodgy job agencies and nasty directors in Thailand which take advantage of innocent teachers. If you don’t fancy teaching 50 kids at a time or having to work extra hours at the weekend which ‘were hidden in your contract’ then get busy researching. Photo by dizkography  

How can you avoid them? Check out TEFL forums and ask around. Do your research on the schools you are applying for and try to get an idea of how long the teachers have been there. Where I worked there was a high turnover of staff, mainly because of the strict nun bosses and prison like restrictions. Just beware, there are corrupt language schools all around the world, make sure you don’t end up in one.  

Tricky to be a real expat
I found this a problem in South America too. Unless you get married to a Thai person or have Thai family then I think it’s very hard to become a long term expat. I’m talking about buying property and really making a home there. I might be wrong (please correct me if you’ve experienced otherwise), but my impression was that farang - foreigners will always be considered below the Thais in their society. A few people I met while I was there, mostly blokes who had married Thai women, were sick of the system. There is a massive expat community over there though, so you won’t be on your own whatever you decide.

My God do they bite. Just thinking about the times I got bitten by the huge blood sucking cretins sends a shiver down my spine. It wasn't just a quick nip, I could actually feel the blood oozing out of my body. Saying that, we used to have a mean party trick: if ever I was out with other farang and someone spotted a mosquito on someone’s arm they would shout out 'Mosquito'. That person then had to pull their skin tight on either side of the mosquito so the blood whooshed out, making the mosquito explode. It bloody hurt though. Not recommended during class time in front of the students.

I’ve tried as much as I can to make this different from my previous blogs 5 things I loved about living in Thailand and 5 things I hated about living in Thailand but like I say, after watching ‘The Impossible’ last weekend it brought back a lot of memories and I wanted to let you know what to expect teaching English in Thailand. 

Have you got any great memories you'd like to share about teaching English in Thailand? Please leave a comment.

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