Monday, June 17, 2013

Diary of an ESL Teacher: Learning to Love Thailand

Welcome to another edition of Diary of an ESL Teacher!  Today I'm excited to introduce Jessica, also known as "Miss Adventure."  Jessica has been traveling the globe and teaching English for a couple years now and has had some amazing experiences.  I had the pleasure of interviewing her and she's got some great stories and advice on how to teach English abroad.

1. Where did you choose to teach and why? 
I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe and wasn’t sure I would even like teaching, so when I found a six-month contract in Thailand (as opposed to the year or two I’d seen elsewhere) it sounded perfect. And because it’s a tropical destination, I envisioned myself living on an island and teaching adorable young children, fulfilling several dreams all in one. My adventure turned out nothing like that. It was better.


2. How did you prepare for your trip?  I read a lot of information online and spent many hours at Barnes & Noble flipping through Lonely Planets and photo books, but I’d say I was pretty unprepared when I arrived. I had only $600 and no clue if my job would even pan out or, if it did, when I would start, so payday was at least six weeks out. In hindsight, I think my unpreparedness actually prepared me to become the traveler I have, one with an open and curious mind, willing to accept anything that comes my way.

3. What was the cost of your trip?  I bought a one-way ticket for about $900 from Portland, Oregon to Bangkok, and I managed to survive on that $600 until I got my first paycheck. After my six months of teaching, I traveled Southeast Asia for two months and then a couple months later, I returned to Asia (China, India, and then back to Thailand) for another nine months. At this point, I have no idea about total costs, but I’ve managed to do more traveling than working in the last 18 months, and it’s all due to the income I made from teaching (I also taught in China for four months in between my Thailand gigs. I know, I’m hard to keep up with.)

4. What was your first impression of the new country? Has this impression changed? I think I loved Thailand initially, but that love developed tremendously with each passing day. When I returned after nearly one year of being away, I felt like I had returned home to a family with welcome arms. I went back to the village in Northeast (Isaan) Thailand where I had taught for six months, and the smiles and conversations of remembrance blew me away. I felt so loved and spoiled by my local coworkers and friends in this small community that it will always hold a special place in my memory and in my heart. 

5. What was the most challenging obstacle for you to overcome? 
The actual teaching part was quite challenging for me. I was placed in a relatively poor school in a rural area. I was teaching in battered wooden sheds and old maintenance buildings, and the classroom was the last place my students wanted to be. I had almost no guidance – I was literally pushed into a classroom on my first day, handed a white board marker and told good luck – and had no teaching experience. Day by day, I grew more comfortable with teaching and began to question and understand the (often corrupt) government education system. It was difficult to deal with at times, but the experience as a whole was ultimately the best thing I’ve ever done.


6. What is the most valuable thing you've learned so far? 
If I learned anything in Thailand, it’s to go with the flow. Keeping an open mind and forgetting about the clock are two necessary traits that one needs to adapt to while living in Thailand. I think teaching taught me a lot about myself and a lot about Thai culture, and Thailand taught me to keep an open mind, to always accept an adventure, and to forget about the guidebook and the clock. 

7. Tell me about a favourite moment or story. 
Oh wow, there are so many! One of my favorite experiences with my first school in Thailand was getting to dress up in traditional Thai costume for their annual Loy Krathong festival. My coworker, Jon, and I had no idea what the school had in store for us, but we quickly figured it out when we were whisked away to a beauty parlor run by lady-boys and dolled up with makeup, hair and dress. It turned into a school wide parade down the main street, with Jon and I on display. It’s an experience I never would have had without my connection with the school, and just one of the perks of teaching abroad.


8. Favourite food?  Least favourite? 
My favorite Thai dish is called gao pao gai kai dow; essentially minced chicken and basil leaves with chilies and a fried egg over rice. Add a little sweet chili sauce and it’s mouthwatering. My least favorite is the assortment of meat and fish balls they eat either on a stick or in soup. Every time I bite into one, I taste something hard and I can’t finish it.

9. Favourite thing to do in your new country? 
Explore new things and make new friends.

10. Any advice you would give to someone considering moving abroad to teach. 
Don’t’ get your sights set on a particular area based off of a guidebook recommendation. If, like me, you end up in the part of the country you least wanted to go, it could turn out to be a better, more cultural, more immersive experience than you could have asked for. Keep your mind open and your curiosity high. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from your students. You’re there to teach, yes, but you’ll find that your curiosity about the local culture and language will help develop a bond with your students and in turn give you a first-hand understanding. The students love to be the teachers and, as long as it’s in English, you’re still doing your job.



Jessica J. Hill is freelance writer, traveler and blogger. She writes about teaching abroad, cultural and immersion travel. Find more of her stories here: MissAdventureTravel.com or add like her Facebook page, friend her on Google+ or follow her on Twitter.

Check out the rest of the series here:

Britta in Costa Rica
Ray and Kailin in Russia
Chelsea in Korea
Sergio in Japan
Kendra in China
Sara in Taiwan
Joanna in Korea

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this interview. What an interesting lady.

    ReplyDelete

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