My experience living and teaching in Thailand

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

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Teaching in Thailand was one of the best decisions I have ever made.   This was my first time to East Asia, I have lived in the UK for 2 years and 1 year in Australia but it wasn’t teaching, Australia I did an internship in food & beverage and in the UK I was working in hotels, that was right after high school but coming to Asia is like stepping into a whole new world and yes I have learned that East Asia is not for everyone but its definitely for me.  East Asia is either you love it or you can decide this is not for me.  I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for it living in East Asia but just embrace all it has to offer, the good moments, the funny moments, the challenging moments and even the lonely/frustrating/sad moments.  We all go to places for different reasons and people come also in your life for different reasons and sometimes there are valuable lessons to the learn the secret is you have to be awake and be mindful

Nothing is normal here if you do compare it to the western world.  I mean even the light switches are the other way around, the food is different, the people and culture is different, the strange looking toilets  is different which  I am used to now 🙂  but remember you are in Asia and not in a western country so don’t ever compare it to what you are used to and oh have you seen the cables or the chaos in traffic with motorcycles that even drive on sidewalks ?  You think wow there is no system or organisation here but there is just , just at a way that works for them.  Thailand is unique and after living here it feels like whatever you have learned in your life just throw it out of the window and start over because Thailand will teach you so much more and you can start over but keep in mind this is still your life, don’t run away from where you are from.

Even though I live in Thailand and this is my life I am still South-African and my heart still beats for Africa and one of the biggest lessons i have learned is where you are from its part of who you are.  I went to South-Africa for holidays in April and it felt so good just to eat food that you won’t eat in East Asia or just spending time with family that you haven’t seen in so long.  Timing is very precious and to give your time to someone is one of the most precious gifts you can give to anyone.

I was planning to be in Thailand for a year and then see where it takes me but I came back for more, just to a new town though.  About 2 months ago I have reached my mark of teaching almost one year in Thailand.   I honestly can say this past year has changed my life.  Before Thailand I used to work in the hotel industry (operations and events) and because I always loved kids and also my mom is a teacher for kids with special needs so my whole life she was a big inspiration and I wanted to fulfill one of  my dreams I had and I wanted to work with kids so I did it.  I have resigned from my job in midlands, KZN, South-Africa and took a couple of weeks off and then the next thing I know I was on a plane on my way to Bangkok.    And even when I did resign, one of the hotels in the area offered me a job but I declined it as I’ve felt then i could have stayed at the hotel i was working at.  I mean i have worked all over mostly in hotels or restaurants and even worked on Rovos Rail, a luxury train and I don’t regret anything.  I have a passion for food, wine & people and that is why I was in the hospitality industry but it was time for a change of scenery and it doesn’t mean you’ve studied something you have to stay in that industry your whole life, you can change your careers.  Life is full of choices, you just have to make decisions that is best for you.

I just had this urge inside of me to travel, to meet people from different cultures, to experience something different and even learn a new language so i went to chase my dream even i had no idea what to expect.

Before making the decision

You have to be 100 % sure that is what you want to do as its not always rainbows and sunshine on the other side and agencies sometimes will tell you the ‘glamorous part’ of it all, not the facts and realistic side of things.  You have to be adaptable and independent.  Of course, you can’t make decisions like this if you were married/have kids, etc but it depends on your situation.

Do your research before as there are millions of companies that offer ‘teach English in Asia’ and sometimes they just sell you what they want to hear but in my case, I did it through STA travel back in SA and then I was in touch with Xploreasia.  I was really happy with their service.

I was talking to people that have done it already and I was in touch with Inandi and Luke.  Inandi is a good friend of my sister and she was teaching a few years in Japan and Luke is a friend of hers who was teaching in Japan and then South-Korea.  Its always good to talk to people that have been through it but at the end of the day everyone experience it differently.

So why Thailand?  Well, I wanted to come to Asia and because I don’t have a degree I couldn’t teach in Japan/China/Vietnam, etc so I chose Thailand to start off.  But I just wanted to be in East Asia and I’ve always admired the Thai culture so I will see what happens next as anything is possible.

Telling my family & friends about going to Thailand

Well the main thing I have told myself is this is my life, my time, my dream – do not let anyone let you feel that its the worst decision or it’s going to be a mistake because that’s a little bit what I have experienced in the beginning before Thailand and it is hard.  I got comments like – what is the plan, for how long are you going?  What are you going to do after Thailand?  What about your career and your life here in SA?  What about your friends and family here?  You know you are not getting any younger, what about investments and even some people thought I was joking when I said I’m going to Thailand or I have resigned.  I think my mom was the first person I have told and she was in shock but it was just no one really expected it and after explaining to them why I wanted to do it they were more understanding.  People go for different reasons for different places.

My family has been always my biggest support and I love them unconditionally even though some things I do won’t always make practical sense to them but this is just me.  I have always been out on at an adventure or live abroad and even when I’ve lived in Pretoria I moved every second year to a new apartment just because I like change.  So I think as long as you do it for the right reasons you will be fine and your family will always be there, they are just a call away.

Arriving in Bangkok, Thailand

Welcome to Bangkok, I have made it after a 14-hour flight with a stopover in Doha.  It is an extremely busy airport and its a little overwhelming as firstly you are in Asia.  No one speaks English here so which makes it a bit more challenging.

The journey started off in Bangkok, I couldn’t find my pick up at Bangkok’s airport as the airport is huge and really crowded. I was walking in circles but then I made a quick phone call and eventually found my pick up.  Then all I wanted to do is sleep but there were 2 very chatty passengers in the minivan (both from South-Africa).  We have stayed in a hotel that is down in an alley, at least they had a swimming pool on the top floor and you could see the whole Bangkok from up there.  I got to my room, opened the windows, stared into the view that was just overcast, grey and I burst out in tears for a minute and thought what have I done, I am in Bangkok, I guess it was just reality kicked in for a few seconds 🙂

Then an hour later there was a knock on my door, Doreen, she was from South-Africa a girl that I have met on the minivan and asked would you like to have dinner? – That made me smile and I said yes, of course, its exactly what I needed.  To me, her and Dean went out for dinner at a restaurant close by and I had pad thai served in a banana leaf.  It was really a good evening.

The next day we had a meeting with our agency for arrangements and to meet and greet everyone there were a lot of South-Africans which was unexpected.  Then we all did a 3 week TESOL course in class in Hua Hin, Thailand.

TESOL course in Hua Hin

This picture below was with Annerie, she was only 18 and from South-Africa, she was my roommate in Hua Hin.  What an amazing person and we are still in touch from time to time 🙂

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In Hua Hin, about 2 hours from Bangkok I did an in-class 120 hour TESOL course (teaching English as a second language) at a company called “xploreAsia”, I will definitely recommend them to anyone.   The first week was mainly orientation so you can learn a bit more about Thai history, politics and the culture.  You also do different activities like Thai cooking class, meditation with a monk and a visit to a temple, muay Thai class and to end of the week we had a barbeque on the beach together and we received a small piece of wood, then you had to write something on it that you want to let go of, it can be really anything.  So that piece of wood we threw it in the fire, to let go.  That was a very empowering moment.

After the orientation week, we did an in-class training where we had 2-course instructors and we had assignments to do and then throughout the course and they would give you feedback, etc and at the end, you would do a 2 days of actually teaching at a local school where you would work with another teacher and you will get certain topics to prepare and then you would do a written exam.  I really liked the movie they’ve showed us its called “A teachers diary” towards the end, it was really inspiring.

teachers diary

The Teacher’s Diary was a pleasant surprise. Heartwarming, lighthearted, meaningful, sweet and funny, The Teacher’s Diary has moments that feel earnest, sincere and touches your heart. The tightly-scripted story is simple: Two strangers who have never met before and spent the entirety of the film apart, but walked the same path – teaching rural kids in a remote floating houseboat school with no electricity, phone service or Internet. But a personal diary written by Ann was discovered by Song and this connects them together. It highlights the problems in today’s teaching practices. Education shouldn’t be just for the sake of grades or marks, but for the sake of knowledge and understand the things around you.
You really should watch this when you get a chance, the movie is about 4 years old but I’ve enjoyed it and actually have learned something from it.

The classes were very informative, we had 2 really good instructors that gave you everything that you need but you have to find your own teaching style.  I was really nervous in the beginning as I never have done it before but xploreasia guided me and it was a good foundation. Overall this has been a really fantastic experience but guess what this was only the beginning.

 

Teaching in Thailand

Well before the course ended they call you in for a quick meeting with one of the placement staff members to discuss your preferences of location and ages but this can not always be guaranteed.  I have told them I would be willing to teach anywhere but I would prefer little ones and I got it.

Welcome to your new town, Trang, Thailand

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Dim sums for breakfast, first meal i had in Trang

My agency was really helpful, they were based in Bangkok but they traveled with me and Mariam who was placed in the same town.

I was placed in Trang at a small school that only had 120 kids and I taught 3-12-year-olds.  Trang is quaint, unique and magical in its own way.  Its only a short 40 min drive to the closest beach, I liked it because it wasn’t touristy at all but has so much to offer and it became one of my favorite places in Thailand.

I’ve met the most amazing people, made friends and it has been a really rewarding experience.  One of my best Thai friends I’ve made is “F”, I’ve met him at a language school, he was tutoring part-time and he was also singing at a local restaurant so we became really good friends and he is just a genuinely nice person.  Then there was uncle Pan that owned a Japanese restaurant, he was always so welcoming and caring.  Then Mariam who was my neighbor and a really good friend from SA who was there for me no matter what. T then P Lek who was Mariam’s HOD but she always invited me with whenever there is a barbeque at her house or the one time she took us to an outing to a bamboo village.  I’ll never forget Honey who was my hairdresser even though she did put green in my color the last time but its ok (Mai pen rai/Nevermind).  Pang who I only saw probably 3 times who owned a small coffee shop in town but we are still in touch and hopefully we will see each other soon.  Eiffel who was a 3-year old that I tutored but as little as she was, she had a wonderful personality and the greatest laugh. Her parents were both teachers and they have moved to Krabi.  Eiffel was named after the Eiffel tower as her parents found out that her mom was pregnant when they were in Paris.  The one day they just got back from Hong Kong from holidays and she said ‘teacher guess who I’ve met?” and I said “tell me Eiffel”, she said I’ve met Minnie Mouse, they went to a Disney park in Honk Kong, too cute for words and then the one day I was wearing this green necklace but it has about 10 strings and then she asked “Teacher why are you wearing 10 necklaces?”, she is adorable and I would love to meet up with her sometime.  Oh and then Sai who owned a travel agency but she taught me how to ride a motorcycle, she was a superwoman, always very friendly and helpful.  People of Trang have a very special place in my heart.

The school i was teaching at, well that was really challenging sometimes as Thai people don’t always know how to explain things and sometimes they will just ignore the situation or they will forget to tell you things for example it was mothers day we had wear ‘blue’ as its the queens favorite color so my co teacher forgot to tell me about that, we once had a sports day on a Friday and we had to wear yellow, a color that i never wear, my co teacher was very forgetful so she told me only the Thursday afternoon about 5 o’clock, so luckily I’ve managed to  borrow a yellow shirt from a local teacher and then one Sunday morning she phoned me at 10 o’clock and told me i have to be at a meeting at 1 pm, I’ve told her the day i was leaving , I’ve informed her 2-3 weeks before and almost every day but she didn’t understand at all as it was my last day her reaction was ‘why did you not tell me?’ 🙂 but it was a little things like that i had to deal with but at the end i have stayed 2 semesters there just because i wanted a little bit of stability for my students but I’ve learned so much and I don’t regret it at all.

I think sometimes I just felt a bit out of the loop as they won’t always tell you everything and because all the meetings were in Thai but some teachers did try so I am grateful for and I’ve pushed through and I made it and that motivated me to learn more about their culture and also the language itself.  I have a lot of patience and persistence.  Its also not what happens to you, its how you handle things.

In my first semester, I had a motorbike taxi driver that picked me up every day from my house and take me to work and then in the afternoon he will pick me up again and then take me home, one of the teachers arranged that for me but the second semester I decided I need to learn how to ride a motorcycle and I did it.  At one stage I was considering to get rather a bicycle just because I was a little nervous to ride a motorcycle but after practice and help from Autumn, Sai and Mckenzie I did it and I feel proud of myself.  It also gives you a bit of independence.  So even sometimes you are not aware of things you are learning a lot and I wouldn’t have the same experience back in SA than this.

My students 

They were the best part of my job.  They are full of love and when I’ve walked into school every morning, they will run to you just to hug you, the one day I actually fell in class because there were like 4-5 6-year-olds ran to me and I fell, it was just before lunch break.  555 (hahaha) They were bright, inquisitive and so damn cute.

Well, I taught 9 classes in total (3-12-year-olds) and here in Thailand they go to school from a very young age because they take education so seriously, sometimes I think when does this kids rest because over weekends they go to language schools or they do camps too.

Their level of English was very basic and beginners level but I’ve learned that I wasn’t the only the teacher, the students taught me too.  They were teaching me Thai words, I’ve felt connected to them and even though we didn’t speak the same language I’ve felt that they will never know how much they meant to me.  It was a rewarding and a very powerful year.  These kids are so talented, they can sing, at least 1 out of 5 students can play a musical instrument, they can dance, they can cook and they are just so creative and skills are important when you grow up.

It wasn’t always easy but I’ve grown and I think you just have to be still you, ask questions and you don’t have to yes to everything all the time.  So my last day at school obviously there was this whole communication barrier but at the assembly, I had to do a speech and then a couple of minutes later they handed out red roses to the students so they gave me red roses, they took photos and then about 10:30 that morning one teacher came to my office and said: “Are you ready”?  Ready for what…:)  So we went shopping and I got a Thai traditional shirt and then that was not finished they took me out for lunch and I got small gifts from some of the teachers so that was really special and I wanted to cry.  It was a day I will never ever forget.

Currently

Now I have moved to a new town called Mahachai which is about 45 minutes from Bangkok and it’s been different but I am just taking it all in and embrace every moment of it.  In a couple of months, I will give you an update on how my experience has been in Mahachai

Advice to new teachers or to someone that consider to teach abroad

Do it, do it, you will not regret it !!!!

  1.  Make 100 % sure that this is something that you want to do.
  2. Prepare for it (travel documents, research, etc financially too as you won’t get paid the first month as you will do the course in Hua Hin) but there are options to do the course online too.
  3. Try to get to know the locals, make friends with the locals.
  4. Have fun with your students and get to know them
  5. Explore your town and surroundings
  6. Embrace the moments and take it all in

My experience overall this past year

As mentioned earlier I will never regret it, even though times were tough from time to time, I am strong and my neighbor and good friend, Miriam made it all worth it, we shared a lot and we were looking out for each other.  This past year has been one of the best years of my life and it has changed my life and just my outlook on things too.  I feel I became more closer to my family, I call them often and my journey or moments I want them to see I sometimes put on Instagram.  I absolutely love the Thai culture, I mean they say ‘welcome to the land of smiles’ don’t always expect that.  I just love the food and just how amazing people they are, they have a simplistic life, they work really hard but yet they are so thankful for everything and so caring.  I look back and wow I’ve a year of teaching experience in a foreign country, I did my first marathon in Phuket, I’ve learned some Thai words and phrases and have learned so much about their culture and  I have made lifelong friendships.

“Tell me and I forget.  Show me and I remember.  Involve me and I understand.” – Chinese proverb

 

 

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Hi there! My name is Ané du Preez and I am from South-Africa. I am a teacher, writer and a solo traveler. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. I love good coffee, having interesting conversations and I love traveling. This blog is to share my wonderful adventures with all of you. I’ve been discovering the gems of mother nature and its amazing people. Join me as we venture into the beauty and inspiration that is all around us. I am an advocate for all to live their life to the fullest. To travel is to live!

11 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Happy adventures! My family and I lived in S. Korea for four years, it was an enriching experience. After being home for a few years, we are going back to visit friends. Hope your adventure stays safe and enriching!

    -Pennies

    Liked by 2 people

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