Teaching in Thailand was definitely an experience that has changed my life. I was in my placement for about a year, a very small town in Northeast Thailand, while there were definitely some struggles (for example that time I didn’t have any access to running water for about two weeks during a drought) I’ve learned so much from them and I wouldn’t have changed anything for the world.
Here’s my advice for living and teaching in Thailand:
DON’T WORRY SO MUCH
When I first got here it felt like there were all these rules to Thai culture that I was worried about remembering, constantly afraid I would inadvertently offend someone. However, at least in my experience, Thai people are extremely friendly, forgiving, and not easily offended. On the chance you do make a cultural faux pas, chances are someone will let you know while everyone has a laugh before moving on and forgetting about it.
I was also very worried that I was going to suck at teaching, the students would hate me, and I wouldn't make any friends at work. Well... I've definitely had lessons fall apart during class, I've made kids cry, and there is a bit of a language barrier with many of my coworkers. BUT IT'S ALL BEEN OKAY! I learned from the lessons that failed and for the most part, my school is just happy that I'm speaking English to the students and can show that I'm actually trying. So maybe the environmental unit I put together for my classes didn't inspire all of the children to become the Greta Thunbergs of Thailand... At least I noticed more students bringing reusable water bottles to school!
And yes, I've had a few students cry in my classes (and maybe even had a few tears of frustration at times myself). But by the next day those same students are over it and back to their regularly scheduled shenanigans. And in general, most of my students liked me most of the time. Some even like me all of the time! And really, that's all I could hope for. I had really connected with my fourth grade students in particular and on the last day of class we were all a mess just crying and giving each other hugs. I miss them so much.
As for the language barrier with my coworkers... doesn't seem to matter! I've had many fun conversations - mostly with lots of gesturing and arm waving on both sides as we both try to use what little of the other's language we know. Most of these interactions have ended with lots of giggling and some confusion but I've still seemed to have built a bond with many of these teachers and I have been so happy to have their guidance and support at my school.
If your school gives you days off USE THEM, and use them for travelling and seeing this gorgeous country. My advice is use regular weekends for exploring your town, long weekends for visiting other parts of the country, and long breaks (for those doing a year) for out of country travel. There is so much to see and do in Thailand use the time you are living here to go and see it!
DON’T COMPARE YOUR EXPERIENCES TO OTHERS’
The age of Instagram makes this a particularly difficult challenge for some. Just remember, social media is curated and most people are just sharing the best moments of their experiences. Which is fine! But it is also not the full story.
The experience you will have will be very different from those of your friends from orientation. It will be unique and your own. If you start comparing your situation to your friends you might find yourself feeling very unsatisfied. Instead try to just focus on the positives of your situation. Focusing on the good things will help keep you in a positive mindset even when things do get hard (and I'm sure they will at one point or another). So much of people's experience is perception so why not try and keep it a positive one.
DO STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Maybe moving to Asia is already outside your comfort zone. I challenge you to push it a little further:
Say yes to plans with the locals. Sure you might have some communication speedbumps but you will figure it out and be better for it! Also you'll get to see and experience the parts of Thailand most tourists don't. I made some great friends around my town doing this. For example, ended up befriending these two sisters who ran a coffee hut near the school. Even though most of how we communicated was through Google translate we were able to make each other laugh really hard, created our own inside jokes, all while drinking Thai teas and exchanging lessons in English and Thai. I also ended up very close with an older couple that spends half their year in Thailand and the other half in Alaska. They welcomed me into their home in Thailand and I already have plans to go visit them in Alaska.
And go on a solo weekend trip! You don't know who you might meet in that hostel or at that festival, but I guarantee you'll have at least a few interesting conversations. And who knows, maybe you'll make a new lifelong friend!
Written by: Trystan Youngjohn
Teach in Thailand participant, May 2019 at Bannakangluang, Khon Kaen