Making the Most of Your Time Teaching in Thailand
Teaching in Thailand can be a rewarding, life-changing experience. It can be a springboard for adventure, an opportunity to build your resume, or a place to make your stand. However, you’ll never know Thailand, much less Southeast Asia, if you stay surrounded by Western co-teachers and friends hanging out with Western tourists eating hamburgers and pizza. As James Michener once wrote, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” In that spirit, here are some ways to make the most of your time teaching in the Land of Smiles.
Take time to learn the language!
Even learning a little bit of Thai can be very important, especially if you find yourself in more rural areas where very little English is spoken. Learn to communicate with taxi, tuk-tuk and song tauw drivers (Also, carry a card written in Thai that has your address just in case). Learn to order food and know what you’re ordering. Plus, your classroom management experience can certainly be enhanced if you learn a few basic commands, like sit down (NÂNG-LONG) stand up (YEUN-KÊUN) raise your hand (YÓK-MEU-KÊUN) and be quiet (NGÎAB-NGÎAB). Also remember that there are some great smart phone apps that can help you in a pinch, but if you start relying on them you’ll find yourself in trouble if you can’t find WIFI or cell service.
Be sure to travel!
You didn’t travel all this way to stay within a couple square kilometers. Travel from Thailand throughout Asia is surprisingly cheap. Make the most of your experience by seeing as much of Thailand and Asia as you can. Teaching affords ample free time between sessions or during long holiday weekends to move around. Try buses, trains and planes to have real Thai experiences. Or get a motorbike and hit the road. Used bikes can be found very cheap, especially if you’re not in a hurry. Check Facebook to see if there is a local group of Westerners in the area where you are teaching. If there is, there’s always a fire sale when someone needs to leave the country in a hurry.
Don’t overlook your new neighborhood for adventure!
Be sure to get out and explore your local surroundings. Step out the door and pick a direction and walk that way for 20 minutes, then walk back on a different road, or at least across the street so that you can discover local businesses that you may need to know about. Find the nearest copy shop, that may come in handy now that you’re teaching. Try to find a favorite local restaurant or food stand by being an adventurous eater. Find your Thai comfort food. That definitely will come in handy on your tough days.
Remember when you’re walking around your neighborhood, especially in more rural areas, you are being watched whether you know it or not. You are a Westerner. You are the new teacher. Everyone is checking you out. Walk lightly. Be humble. Learn and show respect for local customs. And if you’re so inclined, try to party far away from where you teach. It’s worth an extra 100 Baht song tauw ride not to be seen whooping it up by a parent or fellow teacher.
Be sure to get to know your students and fellow teachers!
And don’t be afraid to let them know about you. These relationships can be very rewarding and last a lifetime. As you get to know your students and their families, you may be invited for dinner. What better way to learn about Thai culture than sitting in someone’s house and sharing a meal? Say yes! Don’t worry if the family has limited English skills, it will still be a rewarding cultural experience. If you say yes to every invitation, you won’t have to worry about showing favoritism. Be sure though, if that does happen, never arrive empty-handed or stay too long, especially if alcohol is involved.
As Lawrence Block once wrote, “Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” That’s what teaching in Thailand offers those willing to take the challenge, the ability to stumble upon so many wonderful experiences that you’ll have a hard time remembering them all. Whether you’re coming to teach in Thailand in order to travel, build your resume, or stay; be sure to approach it with an open mind, a smile, and the spirit of adventure.