Is Teaching Abroad Code for Vacation? Hint, The Answer is No.

A teacher demonstrating something in front of her class in Thailand.

I kind of have the feeling that many people back home think that I am in Thailand living the life of luxury, not learning anything important and spending my time doing nothing but traveling/vacationing in paradise with not a care in the world other than what fancy tropical drink I should order next. Furthermore, many parents in specific are not supportive of their children making such a life changing decision because my job is “not a real one.” However, I can assure you that couldn’t be further from the truth and I think it’s time to defend myself and other English teachers out here because of it! Here is the truth about TESOL in Thailand and ultimately whether or not you are up for the challenge!

Teaching English is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life and there is a reason we get paid a crap ton more than our Thai co-workers (to be honest the inequality really bothers me). This is because people from English speaking countries wouldn’t be as willing to pack up their comfortable lives at home just to live and work in a country where they suddenly join the poverty line. As a result, schools have to offer a better salary to attract teachers like myself. However, even with a much higher salary the turnover rate is immense (because people don’t realize how challenging it can be) and this causes a big problem for Thai people who want and need to receive a proper and reliable form of English education.

So now that we know the basics let’s start with the work itself. My work conditions are insanity as I teach in a class room with no air conditioning everyday from Monday – Friday. The sweat literally drips down my face all day and usually burns the crap out of my eyes. Imagine working in the scorching heat where the average temperature is in the mid to high 30s with a humidity percentage of about 70% and to top it off you’re in a hot stuffy classroom with no air circulation. In addition to the immense heat picture yourself not only having to teach your lessons while sweating your butt off but having to manage those students, trying to keep them interested, well behaved and active at all times while knowing they barely understand a single word you say. This includes a shit ton of physical activities which require me to dance, run and jump around as much as possible, all whilst dying in the unbearable heat. It is exhausting and us teachers on this side of the world work just as hard (if not more) than anyone else.

In addition to the tiresome work with our kiddies, we have to figure out just about everything ourselves. Sure, I have co-workers and a school director who try to help out with any questions or concerns I may have but the unfortunate truth is that most of the time no one can really understand me. So in order to explain myself I engage in a game of charades trying to get a message across that usually ends in giggles and awkwardness. If you are not a patient person you will definitely become one with a job like this lol.

Another thing that many may not be aware of is dress code. The dress code for teachers on this side of the world is generally more strict and conservative in comparison to back home. As a result, you must make sure you are nicely groomed and wear appropriate attire, whether that be a uniform provided by your school or for woman a typical professional just below the knees skirt paired with either a collared button up shirt or a blouse of some sort and closed toe shoes (flats become your best friend) and for men dress pants and a dress shirt.

Once you live in Thailand you come to the frustrating conclusion that most if not all of your daily tasks at work are completely fluid, meaning there is no one right way to do something and everything is constantly changing. In addition to that you may never know if you are doing something right because Thai people are so kind and non confrontational they will almost never tell you. Also, random things will and do happen… all the time…and usually you will never be informed of it. Some days you may show up to class with a perfect lesson plan only to find out your classes are cancelled because of a field trip or some school event that requires all of the students on the field dancing…This has happened. Sure, some may say this is exciting because you can do whatever you want (e.g. “WORKPLACE FREEDOM! I’m basically an executive”)…No. Just no. Let me tell you, us North Americans are used to organization when it comes to work and all of a sudden not having a solid foundation to base your teaching on becomes extremely confusing. You find yourself in a constant whirlwind of mistakes, self doubt and towering last minute tasks due to last minute expectations from higher-ups. This in itself is both overwhelming and tiring.

Now that I have expressed why teaching in Thailand is no vacation I do have to admit that this is what makes Thailand exciting. Sure the majority of us came here because we all share the love of travel. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll realize it takes a lot more than the love of travel to make someone want to just pack up their things and leave their friends and family for x amount of time to make another country their home. Curiosity, adventure, self discovery and most importantly wanting to make a difference in this world are more than enough reasons why we are doing what we do. This job actually makes me feel like I am doing something that is having a positive impact on the lives of the people who live in my new home town. There is no better feeling than teaching a lesson and seeing your students finally understand what you are saying. It’s amazing. Moments like those sometimes make you want to cry. For these kids English is the doorway to their future. This is what they need to help them gain a good job in such a competitive world.

Contradictory to everything I’m saying about the hardships, I absolutely love it here even with the complications. Sure teaching has not been a walk in the park and it comes with a lot of uncertainty, confusion and frustration but I wouldn’t change it for anything. You are not babied here. No one holds your hand and gives you instructions on what you need to do and for that reason I have learned so many valuable lessons. For one I have learned that you don’t always need words to communicate with people. As a result, I have met a lot of beautiful people here that I wouldn’t have otherwise back in Canada and I truly feel so blessed to experience it all. I love the fact that I can smile at any Thai person especially at work and know that I will always be greeted with an even bigger smile. A job like this molds you into a completely different person. Working in Thailand is a character builder and has not given me anything less than a whole new outlook on life. I have gained so much patience, acceptance, compassion, creativity, self-confidence, knowledge about myself and most impotantly have learned to work independently with little direction. What excites me most about these characteristics is that they are transferable and I know that I have so much more to offer my future employer when I do return back home and the confidence to go for what I want.

I think this is important information for people who are curious about taking the leap into TESOL specifically for Thailand. The very first thing I was taught in my my certificate program was that “if you are here for a vacation you are here for the wrong reason and may need to reconsider your purpose here.” This is 100% the truth. This is a job just like any other. However, with living and working in Thailand you are blessed with the beauty of its physical geography and as a teacher you will have more than enough time to explore it. Thailand has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in this world with the kindest people.

Next time you are ready to judge us about our decision to teach abroad think to yourself “could I do this?” On the flip side, if you are serious about taking the big jump, buying that one-way plane ticket and want to make a difference this is an amazing way to do it. Just do your research and know what you are getting yourself into. Teaching abroad is not all luxury but I can promise you that if you greet the opportunity with an open mind you will not regret it and will be on the ride of a lifetime.

Xoxo Chaylavie

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