Expectations vs. Reality of Teaching in Thailand and Tips for Adjusting to Life in the Land of Smiles

Expectations vs. Reality of Teaching in Thailand and Tips for Adjusting to Life in the Land of Smiles

To be completely honest, my expectations of what my life would be like in Thailand have changed since I first began the process of deciding to teach abroad. When I was back home in the States, I thought less about my actual teaching experience and more about the logistical side of getting all of my paperwork together, arriving in one piece, and finally getting settled.

During orientation is when I began to shape my actual expectations of what living and working would be like for the next year.  Here are a few expectations I had about life as as an English teacher in Thailand, and what the reality has been since I have arrived.

Finding Housing in Thailand

My room in Thailand.

Expectations:

My main housing expectation before coming to Thailand is that it would be incredibly affordable. During orientation we were told to have low standards and just expect a room with four walls, a bed, and a basic bathroom.

Reality:

While housing costs significantly more than I expected, everything about my housing here in Thailand has exceeded my expectations. My agent picked me up when I arrived to town and took me to the apartment building where I live now.

I live in a very nice, furnished apartment with a king sized bed, a fridge, hot water, air conditioning and an incredible view. But this is not the case for everyone! I have friends who were completely on their own when it came to finding an apartment and friends who do not have hot water, a fridge or air conditioning.

My room in Thailand, from another angle.

Having low expectations definitely benefited me in the long run because I was bound to be pleasantly surprised wherever I ended up.      

Advice:

  • Bring something small from home for your room. I brought pictures and my teddy bear and it makes my room feel like mine.
  • Don’t settle for the cheapest housing that you can find just because it’s cheap. Live somewhere safe, comfortable, and where you see yourself for your entire time here.

Teaching English in a Thai school

One of my classrooms in Thailand.

Expectations:

On the management side of things, before starting at my school, I learned a lot about how the Thai schools are run differently from Western schools. There is a different communication structure and you aren’t necessarily given all of the details all of the time.

Basically, if you want information you have to ask for it. You also have an agent, who is your actual employer, who is there to help and manage the relationship between you and your school.  

On the student side of things, I was expecting to walk into school and have kids greeting me with hugs and high fives excited to learn from their new teacher (naive, I know). I expected to meet all of the Thai staff and teachers and slowly get to know them and become friends.   

Fellow teacher in Thailand.

Reality:

For management, the director of my school and the head of the English Department are both women, which is somewhat of a rarity here in Thailand. I was given a complete binder with all of the information that I would need for the year, including a calendar with days off, and my weekly lesson topics.  

During my first week of teaching I felt like a rock star. I had the undivided attention of 45 ten year olds because I was new and they were so excited to hear what I had to say. I am very lucky in that I use PowerPoint in all of my classes and have access to every resource possible.

When I arrived at school I was surprised to learn that the foreign teacher’s office was separate from the Thai teachers and thus, I hardly interact with the Thai teachers. There are a few in my classes who are friendly and say hello, but I am still far from making friends like I had expected.

Advice:

  • All Thai schools are different and everyone has different experiences. Don’t compare your school, students, or experience with anyone else’s.
  • Just be yourself and be able to laugh at yourself. No matter the age of your students, they will appreciate you being genuine and real with them.
  • Stay hydrated and well fed while teaching, and don’t forget to put yourself first!

Culture Shock and Cultural Immersion in Your Host Community

My Thai Family (Doctor Daranee’s kids).

Expectation:

Being called the Land of Smiles, I had high expectations when it came to settling down and making friends here in Thailand. I expected to get to my new town and over time, easily be able to make friends with locals and other teachers. I did expect to experience culture shock, although you never know what form it will come in.     

Reality:

Making new friends and settling down takes time. I arrived in the middle of the semester which meant that everyone had settled into their friend groups and routines. Thai people are super nervous to talk to native English speakers because they are shy about their English.

I have had people turn and run away after I accidentally greeted them in English instead of Thai. Once you make a Thai friend you will become a part of their family and they will forever hold a piece of your heart. Even after settling down and making new friends, I experience culture shock in ways I never have before.

Traveling in Chiang Mai with friends.

Recently, I have been getting so frustrated with the people who just stare at me as I walk down the street, workout, or eat in a restaurant. Sometimes I just want to scream “say something to me”. Other times I embrace these awkward moments and surprise them with a smile and wave (it’s especially funny when they are trying to sneak pictures of you). While I am still working on making Thai and Western friends, I am happy with the small little group that I have here.  

Advice:

  • Say yes to everything that fellow teachers or new Thai friends invite you to do.
  • Culture shock is real and it hits you at the worst times. Embrace the emotions and talk to your friends and fellow teachers about it. They can relate more than anyone back home can.

Travel and Free Time

View point in Trang.

Expectations:

When you think of Thailand you think of the busy city life in Bangkok, the temples in Chiang Mai, and the beautiful beaches down south. Well, when I found out that I would be living in Southern Thailand I was thrilled to be able to visit the islands often. I also expected to have a decent amount of free time while at school.

I’m there about 45 hours a week and only teach 23 hours so that leaves a good amount of time unaccounted for outside the classroom.       

Reality:

At school I have a few 45 minute breaks throughout the day and then a few hours at the end of the day. I try to plan and prepare for my lessons during the day so at the end I can read, blog, or watch Netflix for an hour before going home. I also use this time to research places to travel and things to do around town.

One big reality is that travel is exhausting and expensive. Even though everything here is relatively cheap, it is not free. And cheap still adds up quickly. There are so many things to see, and you probably don’t need to travel far from home to see them. In reality I can only afford big out of town trips once every few weeks.  

A view point in my town in Thailand.

Advice:

  • Develop healthy hobbies for your free time. I do Sudoku and read before I let myself on Facebook and Netflix.  
  • You earn in Thai baht and spend in Thai baht, who cares how much is costs in USD.
  • Don’t run off and travel every weekend. Stay in your town and explore what it has to offer because those are what you are going to remember when you go back home. Some of my favorite places in all of Thailand are in my town.

As you prepare for your next travel adventure in Thailand, it is hard not to have certain expectations about what the teaching experience will offer. By keeping an open mind, you will be able to adjust to your new life a bit easier and potentially find that the reality is even better than what you had expected.

About the Author:

Hi! My name is Kelsey, I’m 23 years old, and I am a Colorado Native. I’m a sucker for cute dogs, margaritas, and anything outdoors. I am currently living in Hua Hin, Thailand and sharing my adventures from South East Asia!

Interested in Teaching in Thailand?

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14 thoughts on "Expectations vs. Reality of Teaching in Thailand and Tips for Adjusting to Life in the Land of Smiles"

  1. Letitia Keagle says:

    There are some interesting cut-off dates in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There may be some validity however I’ll take maintain opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like extra! Added to FeedBurner as effectively

  2. Liza-Marié says:

    What are the snakes actually like? I have heard horror stories and I would to know what to expect as I am moving with my 5 year old.

  3. Rich says:

    Hi. Replying to Robert. You said you had retired and lived in Thailand for 4 years. But you are teaching to supplement your pension. I thought it wasn’t legal to work if you live in Thailand on a retirement visa. Please clarify. If I could retire there and work I would be on the next flight!

  4. caro says:

    thank you deeply for the reality-checks, Kelsey. i realize that much may have changed since you posted 3 yrs ago.
    I am over 60 yrs old, look younger but big deal, don’t have the stamina of people 1/2-1/3 my age!
    Still really want to consider teaching english, small town preferred. So how’s the “ageism” index; do you see or hear of teachers over 50 doing OK, not having to prove that they are exceptional specimens, above being creative warm, and of course mature:)))

    1. David Jefferson says:

      Hi,

      I have the same concerns as well.
      I am going to be 50 next year and would love to get out of the west and teach in south east asia.
      Thailand would be my first choice.
      Have you found any good schools? I am struggling with the online search and have sent in my documents for application and have wondered if I have been rejected because of my age.
      60 is the new 40!

    2. Robert says:

      Hi, saw your comment and thought I would give my 2 cents. I’m 62, look younger and am sitting in a hotel in Bangkok awaiting release from quarantine. I applied for a job at the high school in the town where I live to supplement my pension. I retired early and have lived in Thailand for 4 years. The schools are pretty desperate for native speakers these days and if you can handle the culture shock you would be employable these days whereas before, the ageism here probably would have been a difficult obstacle to surmount.
      Pay is sufficient for rent, food, and incidentals. Thailand is more civilized than a lot of people expect. Good luck!

      1. Rich says:

        Robert, I commented separately but meant to reply to you, regarding working while retired. Please clarify.

      2. Deanna Williamson says:

        I am 56 years old. I was certified to teach high school AP Chemistry as well as college track Chemistry and Physical Science. In addition to loving my teaching positions , I was a running coach for twenty two years. As my certification has expired and I am now an empty nester, how difficult would it be to teach any science in Thailand? I have been there several times but only to race. I would appreciate any and all advice you are willing to offer.
        Some pieces of information: I am a single, non smoking very healthy woman, I have a dog, I am an avid cyclist and do not suffer from a lack of curiosity. I have lived in Spain for a year and Shanghai, China for five years. Thank you again for any advice you are generous enough to give.

  5. Joyce says:

    Hi Kelsey,

    Thank you for this very informative article. I am an aspiring TEFL teacher but I am not a native english speaker. Have you encountered any non native english teacher in thailand?

    thanks 🙂

  6. Patti says:

    Hi, Kelsey. I have been looking for the opportunity to speak with someone about teaching abroad. I have been offered a teaching position in Bang Saen, Thailand. I also have been offered an interview for a position in Dubai. I will receive a better income and job package in Dubai, but I really feel that my heart is telling me Thailand is a better fit. What is your teaching job like in Thailand?

  7. Shelly says:

    Hi Kelsey, im so inspired reading this. I am an aspiring English Teacher. Would you mind to share how did you get to work as English Teacher in Thailand? Thank you.

  8. Brendan says:

    Hi Kelsey hope you are keeping well . Really enjoyed reading your blog . I am in the process of studying an online TEFL course and have been given a written assignment that involves the difference in Thai culture and education compared to that of my own which is South African . I have been looking for someone who lives in Thailand and would be able to help me with a few pointers and good advice. Hope you have a lovely day/evening and keep up the cool blog.

  9. Nicole Lund says:

    Hi Kelsey,
    I have a few questions about your experience in Thailand. Do you still live there? You said you came in the middle of the semester. When is that? Did you find and go threw a program? If so, what program. Thank you for sharing your experience and expectations. I found it really helpful. Thank you!

  10. Karen McCrudden says:

    Hi Kelsey – I really enjoyed reading this. You should be very proud of yourself; what an amazing experience. Can’t wait to hear more. Love from Colorado (Karen)

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