Preparing for Thailand

Preparing for Thailand
  • We’d All Ride for Free by Brian Steinbach 2010

    Unfathomable as it may seem, we’re imperfect in our ability to predict and estimate our possible needs and even potential shortcomings.  Yet the most effective defense is that we do our best to anticipate every roadblock and deliver an experience as bump free as possible.  So we plan, plan, and plan some more, but the end result is inevitably that something has gone unforeseen (whether due to our own oversight or others).  Ultimately I can only report on my own missteps during the first one and half months here in Surat.  So use this as a supplemental guide to your own plans knowing that you will have your own list of things that made you go “oh…” in your first weeks in Thailand.

    ***Note: I am a first time international traveler out of the states.  There are moments ahead that prompt a well deserved, “duh” response in this article.  I apologize for those in advance.

    In descending order (most important to least):

    1st- Coffee, Chocolate, Beer (There’s a joke in there)-They don’t exist here.  Well, that’s a bit of a lie.  But the coffee is all instant coffee, often with powdered creamer and sugar pre-mixed in.  Beer options are extremely limited, and chocolate is often not what you’d expect (international recipe to keep it from melting or something).  As far as, “wish I had known advice”, I don’t have any on the chocolate and beer front.  As for the coffee, I did have the foresight to bring my own French press, coffee grinder, and 5lb bag of coffee beans.  Though, be warned on the coffee.  If customs decides to go through your bag, they may decide to dump out your coffee into your bag with all of your clothes (Though irritating, I could think of worse things than reeking of coffee for the first week in Surat).

    They don’t exist here.  Well, that’s a bit of a lie.  But the coffee is all instant coffee, often with powdered creamer and sugar pre-mixed in.  Beer options are extremely limited, and chocolate is often not what you’d expect (international recipe to keep it from melting or something).  As far as, “wish I had known advice”, I don’t have any on the chocolate and beer front.  As for the coffee, I did have the foresight to bring my own French press, coffee grinder, and 5lb bag of coffee beans.  Though, be warned on the coffee.  If customs decides to go through your bag, they may decide to dump out your coffee into your bag with all of your clothes (Though irritating, I could think of worse things than reeking of coffee for the first week in Surat).

    They don’t exist here.  Well, that’s a bit of a lie.  But the coffee is all instant coffee, often with powdered creamer and sugar pre-mixed in.  Beer options are extremely limited, and chocolate is often not what you’d expect (international recipe to keep it from melting or something).  As far as, “wish I had known advice”, I don’t have any on the chocolate and beer front.  As for the coffee, I did have the foresight to bring my own French press, coffee grinder, and 5lb bag of coffee beans.  Though, be warned on the coffee.  If customs decides to go through your bag, they may decide to dump out your coffee into your bag with all of your clothes (Though irritating, I could think of worse things than reeking of coffee for the first week in Surat).
        -Note: Rest assured, the superb food does what it can to make up for that which we’re deprived.  

    1st (seriously)- Phones-

    I didn’t think I would be using a phone while in Thailand. I didn’t think I would be using a phone while in Thailand.  I cancelled my phone service and opted for using Skype as my communication mainstay while abroad.  Two realizations came up in lieu of this plan; the readily available and easily acquired SIM card, easily replenished with credit for purchase at any 7/11 (which are as common as Star Bucks in a large city back home); and the lack of Internet access in Super English housing (See #2). 

    First, if you’re 100% unfamiliar with SIM cards, and buying credit for them, one of the teachers will show hook you up when you arrive (My roommate did).  So don’t’ worry on that front.  For the most part, these phones are for contacting Peter, other teachers, and other friends you’ve met around town. You can chat back home, but it’s a bit steeper at something like 5 baht a minute (I recommend Skype for those calls if at all possible).  Still, for emergencies, your family should be able to contact you in a pinch.

    Have an iPhone?: You can get your iPhone set up with a local Sim card.  But make sure to bring your original Sim card.  I did not, and had to send for it after I bricked my phone (I won’t explain here, but bring the original SIM as a precaution if you fancy using the phone here).

    2nd – Internet in Super English Housing-I knew that Internet was not provided through our housing, but I didn’t know that it was out of the question to work something out through the landlord.  The Internet is a pretty large staple in modern communication.  And when you plan on using Skype to stay connected back home, and considering hour differentials (12 hours for me), it makes staying in touch a bit cumbersome.  There are at least three Internet coffee shops between my house and work, and I knew that Internet was not provided through our housing, but I didn’t know that it was out of the question to work something out through the landlord.  The Internet is a pretty large staple in modern communication.  And when you plan on using Skype to stay connected back home, and considering hour differentials (12 hours for me), it makes staying in touch a bit cumbersome.  There are at least three Internet coffee shops between my house and work, and Internet is always available at the SE. office.  But that means you have to do your communicating/ Internet work during those available hours (ie. If the coffee shop closes at 6:00 P.M…).

    So, that’s a big one to keep in mind.  Communication isn’t impossible, and Internet access certainly isn’t scarce.  It just takes some planning for you, and those you’re contacting back home.  

    Note from Peter: Since we rent all the houses for our teachers, we cannot install internet there.  It is ultimately up to the landlord, since it is their name on the house and address.  They usually say “no” because they don’t want to end up with any problems.  So a landline internet connection at the SE houses won’t happen.  However, some teachers have gone around this hurdle by connecting to the internet via their cell phone.  They have hooked their phone up to their computer and gotten an internet connection from that.  It probably wasn’t fast enough for Skype, but they were able to check their email, watch Youtube, etc.  So internet in SE housing is possible, but it won’t be dsl speed.    

    3rd- Credit/Debit/Banking info-

    Prior to leaving, I visited my bank to make sure they knew that I would be in Thailand for the next Prior to leaving, I visited my bank to make sure they knew that I would be in Thailand for the next year.  The purpose being so that they wouldn’t cancel my cards when they noticed someone 12 hours away from where I normally am bought mass amounts of sweet, sweet macaroni and cheese (rare) at some unlikely place in Thailand.  It’s a good idea, and I advise you still do it.  That said, I have not used my credit or debit card once in the two months I’ve been here (think of them as for emergencies).  I can still pay bills online and, should I wish to, make online purchases with my accounts back home.  However, you will be setting up your own bank account in Surat Thani after you get your work permit all sorted out.  The SE staff basically does this for you.  All you have to do is be there to sign the papers.  This can take a couple months (still waiting on mine to go through).  I did not realize that I wouldn’t be able to put money in and out of my accounts back home with ease (and charge free).  This one isn’t too big a deal; it’s just something I wasn’t aware of prior to arriving.  While you wait for your permit, you’ll be hoarding what money you did bring with you (and any paychecks you earn along the way) in little tin cups buried in the yard.  

    4th- Small things-

    a.“God save the Quality pants!” – I brought exactly two pairs of black pants for work, and on day one, forgot to roll up my pant legs when getting on my bike for work.  The end result was a very unpleasant ripping sound on day one.  I learned my lesson. Still…bring a small sewing kit.  

    b. Arrival/Departure Slip:  This happened to another teacher, but it very easily could have happened to me.  On your flight into Bangkok, or at customs, you will receive a couple small forms that you fill out.  They state you’re arrival, and where you’re staying, as well as your departure info, etc.  You will give the arrival slip to customs, and YOU NEED TO HOLD ONTO THE DEPARTURE ONE.  For Wen’s sake (she’s doing all your work permit stuff).  In other words, don’t throw it away.  You’ll end up having to drive back out to the airport to get a replacement.  

    c. TukTuk Drivers/ Some Venders:  You are a tourist in the eyes of most.  Especially early on in  your stay.  This means that you look like you have gobs and gobs of money to many of the locals.  So, a 10-20 baht TukTuk ride will suddenly be 40-50 baht.  Or that bushel of bananas that was 10 baht will be 40 baht.  Learn some of the Thai lingo early to avoid this occurrence.  You will not be able to convince everyone, at which point you either pay them off or walk away. Note:  I did not realize there would be as much of a teacher/tourist divide when I first arrived.  It’s not quite hostility, but we’re not fond of seeing tourists (oversized backpacks, touristy clothing, etc)  meandering around the night market and other places we frequent.  Surat is mostly tourist free, which keeps our costs lower than the tourist areas.  I didn’t know how to take the weird anti-stance on tourism by fellow teachers at first, but it quickly becomes something you adopt and try to keep your distance from.  

    d. Packing Hindsight, or Things I should/shouldn’t have brought:

    1. I brought too many socks.  A friend told me that good socks could be hard to find, but I think I  went a little overboard.  Seriously, pretty much no one wears shoes here unless they’re teaching.  You don’t have to take your shoes off before going into every building or store, but it happens enough to the point that even my Velcro sandals seem inconvenient at times.  Bring a couple weeks worth of work  socks, but I wouldn’t bring more than a week of casual socks in the event that you go hiking.  Maybe in six months I’ll be glad I brought this many socks.  But right now, all I can think is that I could have packed another book or two in place of the abundance of white socks.  

    2. I wish I had brought a small jump drive (usb memory stick).  I brought my external hard drive, but bringing a small memory stick completely slipped my mind.  You can buy them here, but it’s something small enough, to where there’s no reason not to bring it from back home for just the sake of making things easier.  There have been about a dozen times so far where trading/moving files has come up, where I’ve just been up the proverbial creek until I finally go out and find one.

    3. I wish I’d either brought one more power adapter, or one fewer items that required a power adapter.  The voltage here is 220.  Most high-end electronics will be compatible with the 220 (laptops, most digital cameras, and some shavers, etc).  But make sure you check the power chords on your stuff. If it doesn’t say up to 220, then think about whether it you really need it, or if it’s something you can pick up for a reasonably cheap price over here.  Right now the only things I have are an electric beard trimmer, a coffee grinder, and a wireless mouse.  I’ve only used the coffee grinder thus far, but the converter is kind of an irritating thing to move around the house.  It’s up to you.

    4. I wish I had taken that free motorcycle safety/riding course that I told everyone I was going to take…but then ended up being “too busy”.  Stupid.

    5. I wish I had downloaded more television shows that I had never seen before.  I have a fair amount, but severely overestimated my ability to find stable Internet connections to download more stuff.  Load up your hard drives with music, movies, and television people.***

    6. I wish all of my pants fit.  I was teaching back in the states last fall, and lost a good amount of weight during the spring.  As a result of just grabbing all of my work pants, at least two pairs are too large (this is a duh…). Wasted bag space for the lose.

    7. I kind of wish (though kind of glad I didn’t) I had brought a little more spending money with me for my first two months in Surat Thani.  I arrived one week into July, and didn’t start teaching until August.  This means my first check comes at the end of August.  It will be a full month, but it doesn’t leave much in the way of weekend travel money.  Don’t get me wrong though.  I only brought about six hundred U.S. dollars (about 20-21,000 baht), and that was more than enough to last me for seven weeks.  That includes one four-day weekend to Khao Sok (among tourist options, it’s one of the cheaper, but I dropped about 3500 baht there and back).  So, yeah.  Money goes far.  I’ve had to pass up a few opportunities to travel due to budgeting, but there’s plenty to do in Surat during your first two months getting acclimated.  I also imagine that most people won’t be here for nearly two months  before there first paycheck.  That said; bring more if you fancy traveling a lot in your first few weeks. Otherwise, you’ll probably be fine come first paycheck.

    That’s pretty much on my “Wish someone had told me” list.  If you’re curious about what I did bring (and not just my regrets), see my “Preparing for Thailand” article on the SE website.  And with that, I’ll say good luck, and happy planning.

  • What I wish I had known before coming to Thailand... by John Phelps 2010

    Coming to Thailand, I brought my own fifteen kilogram set of misunderstandings and preconceived notions packed neatly in my carry-on. Slowly over the past year, up to the writing of this completely non-exhaustive article, I have gathered a few bits of info that I wish I had packed.

    First, it is incredibly beneficial to learn the flat-footed squat. If you are working and backpacking in South East Asia, you will find the porcelain trench in the ground at times staring up at you when you are dreaming of a nice white throne. Perhaps some yoga would be helpful to stretch the appropriate muscles, so you don't end up minding your business details in a very nitty-gritty fashion. As a side note, a bathroom with toilet paper is a rarity. An even more extreme rarity is one that provides hand washing soap. You can find luxurious multiple ply toilet paper and hand sanitizer in shops here, so don't be too worried. And in the end, we have all defecated on our own shoes. Don't be too embarrassed when it happens to you.

    Someone told someone, who told me, “say 'yes' as much as possible.” This is definitely true when meeting Thai friends and neighbors here. I initially thought it more polite to say I have already eaten when my neighbors invited me to their table. I assumed they were asking only out of courtesy, but it turns out it is impolite to turn down an invitation to eat or drink when it is offered. Always take a bite or sip (often they offer you a sip out of their own cup, which you are to hand back) to show friendship. Conversely, if you have something to drink or eat, offer it. After sitting on his porch a few nights, a neighbor offered to drive a group of us to the hot springs on the outskirts of Surat. We said yes, and he treated us to an amazing day of scalding hot water and mud bathing. We have been good friends with that neighbor ever since.

    Lastly, a sincere smile will carry you incredibly far in Thailand. I have had a few conflicts with the Thai teachers that I work with in the classroom. For instance, in Thai culture, it is not impolite to talk while someone else is talking. Thus, it is OK in a few Thai teachers' minds to teach some other material while you are conducting your English lesson. Setting the smile to stun and making eye contact, I can do one of two things that I otherwise could not. One, I get in the teacher's immediate space and overwhelm them with the volume of my voice until they give up. Two, I sit down and take a water break. Almost always, the power struggle ends quickly with them handing the class back over. The best part is that everyone walks away happy. On vacation, a smile and a few words of Thai may drop you from the tourist price to the almost-Thai price bracket. Arguing about how Thais pay less will not earn you any points, though they may begrudgingly lower it a little. But smile and be respectful, and you've had a good experience while getting a better price.

  • Preparing for Thailand By Brian Steinbach 2010

    Welcome to the quintessential guide for the eminent traveler to Thailand.  Well, maybe not so “quintessential” as, at the moment of writing this, I myself am just shy of thirty days from departing to Surat Thani.  I have spent the last few months planning for the move, and hope that a lot of what I can tell you here will be useful for your travel plans.  As an aside, if you do happen to enjoy this write up, please look forward to my follow up article, “Hindsight: Things I Should or Should Not have Told You to Do and Bring” or “Sorry, I Guess I Owe You a Pint” (I haven’t decided yet).

    Getting Your Affairs in Order:
        No one can really tell you everything that YOU need to manage before departing. But I can tell you a lot of what I’ve done in hopes that it can at least spark ideas for things you may need or want to take care of.  The obvious ones are picking up your plane tickets and getting your travel documents in order.  Though they are the more obvious ones (and probably the most expensive part of pre-departure planning), I recommend taking care of them as early as possible.  I’ll bullet point them so I don’t kill your eyes with a wall of text:

    •Airline tickets: First talk to Peter and find out when you’re starting, and how soon you can arrive prior to that.  I would say most people would benefit from arriving at least a week before you start teaching/observing.  Moving to a foreign country alone will be a bit overwhelming at first, so if you can avoid stepping right off the plane into your classroom, I would certainly recommend doing so.  Again, check with Peter to see if you can sneak in a few days early so that you can get to know your new home a little bit.  Once you have your date, you’re ready to grab your tickets.

    •Passport and Visa: Here in the states, getting a new passport can take up to six weeks if you don’t have one already.  On top of that, the Visa process can take quite a bit longer.  I recommend starting as soon as possible.  There are various documents you’ll need (which I won’t bore you with now), but you should locate your nearest Thai Consulate.  For me it was a six-hour drive to Chicago.  Hopefully yours is closer, but if it is far away, you may need to make arrangements to stay a night wherever it is that you have to travel.  There are four or five locations in the states that I know of, and I’m sure there’s one in London for any of you across the pond.  

    •Your stuff: Chances are, you currently have stuff.  And unfortunately all of your stuff cannot accompany you on your journey.  This may mean packing away everything in storage, but you may want to see if you have any friends or relatives willing to borrow/use/keep your stuff while you’re away (doing so also means they’ll probably help you move everything, which is nice).  It will save you on storage fees and maybe even end up solving other hurdles on your to-do list.  For example: I knew someone who was going to need a vehicle for a while, and as I’m not going to be using mine, I offered to let her use it.  She gets a car for a year, I ensure that my car won’t idle in a garage somewhere, AND they’ve offered to make the payments.  I felt pretty lucky falling into that deal, but I do recommend that you keep your eyes peeled for opportunities such as that.

    •Your “living” stuff: Pets are bad at rationing their food, so I recommend finding a loving home for them while you’re away.

    •Bills: Figure out how to pay them while overseas, cancel them, or wiggle out of them by the time you reach your reparture date.  I am currently planning on canceling my cell phone service, and I would recommend the same to you if you happen to be bringing a laptop with you.  Skype is an excellent substitute for making long distance chats. It’s also completely free.  

    • Credit/debit cards: This is a biggie.  Go to your bank or call your credit providers, and make sure your card is going to work for you in Thailand.  It probably will.  More importantly, make sure that you go to your bank/provider about a month before you leave and ensure that they know that YOU will be in Thailand using YOUR cards.  Otherwise you can’t really get angry with them for denying/terminating your cards when someone purchases toilet paper in Surat Thani, when their records still show that you’re supposed to be at “Location A.” Don’t be a victim of toilet paper-credit card cancellation; visit your bank before leaving.

    •Bucket-List: Maybe you’re more than ready for a change of scenery, but that doesn’t mean you won’t miss anything while you’re gone.  Go hit your favorite food locales, hang out with friends/family, or go see a movie in the theater that isn’t dubbed.  Whatever your fancies may be, you’ll probably want to bet on the possibility that they may not be as readily available as you’re currently accustomed to.  

    Acquiring/Whittling down your packing list:
        To be honest, I’m nowhere near done with this myself.  I do know certain things I’ll be bringing. There are other articles on the SE site that give recommendations on what to bring, so I’ll be brief.

    •Laptop:  It’s certainly not a necessity, but in terms of size vs. use, and if it’s in your budget, you won’t get more communication and entertainment value out of anything else for the limited packing space you took up to bring it.  You may use it for Skype, music, movies, and all your other Internet needs.  It’s a no brain-er for me.

    •Books: Everything I’ve heard about reading material is that it is available, but your selection will be just that- whatever is available.  I’m dedicating part of my luggage to a stack of books from my “to read” pile.  If you’re an avid reader, then I suggest you bring at least a couple books (ones that may be worth re-reading if you can think of any).  

    •French Press: I like making coffee. What do you like?

    •Shoes: They have clothing there, but my understanding is that bringing your own shoes is kind of a biggie.  Shoes that fit you may be quite difficult to find, so bring what you need for casual, work, really casual, et cetera.  You can always have stuff shipped to you from friends or family, but if you’re like me and have wide feet, then you probably just want to plan to avoid the hassle of hoping what you had shipped to you fits.  

    •Clothing: Bring only what you know you’ll wear.  Remember it’s hot in Thailand more often than not.  So think about the material from which your clothes are made.  That probably means you don’t want to bring your collection of swanky polyester.  For work, I’m pretty sure polo style shirts are readily available near SE, so you shouldn’t need to pack many if you were planning on it.  I did have a friend tell me that she had wished she had brought more long pants to wear while camping (bugs and stuff). She also recommended that I bring a quick dry towel for camping.  I’m pretty sure Douglass Adams wouldn’t object.

    In the Classroom:
        I’ve never taught in a Thai classroom, but I imagine that like teaching in the states, the hardest part isn’t so much teaching the content, as much as it is getting yourself comfortable with being in front of 40-50 kids.  On top of that, every classroom is made up of a completely different set of students, which means that regardless of whether or not it’s the same content, the atmosphere of each class will be greatly determined by the students that make it up.  If you see an opportunity to get up and speak in front of any group of people, I recommend doing so just for the experience.  It will help you. That said, knowing your lesson and its content well is one way of building confidence for being in front of fifty
    sets of eyes.

        That’s about all I can think of for now without going into overly tedious details.  But to reiterate, no one knows better than you what you need to take care of before you set off for Surat.  I hope that this will be of use to anyone trying to plan for the move, or at least helped spark ideas of things you hadn’t thought of yet.  I’m sure most of you have explored the Super English website quite a bit, if not in its entirety upon being hired.  I would recommend revisiting it as you get closer to departing.  There’s a lot of really useful information on the site, and it’s been a pretty big basis for a lot of my planning.  Good luck in your endeavors and all your adventures to come.

  • Welcoming New Teacher by Janet Phelps 2010

    I felt cared for by Super English from the moment I stepped off the plane into the warm, humid air of Surat Thani,

    Wait, that's not right. SE is a company, a school. It was the people at SE, the staff and the managers who made me feel immediately at home here.

    SE Thai staff manager Wen was waiting at the airport with our names on a sign. She smiled and asked us
    how our trip was. Then, she took us out to lunch, brought us home, took us to the grocery store, bought us our phones and our bicycles.

    Our first housemate Emily organized a welcome dinner and showed us around town. She took us
    everywhere with her for the first few days we were here. Got us oriented, helped us learn our way around.

    SE owner Peter took us out for breakfast. He gave us advice as first-year teachers and took us on excursions around town. He offered us training for our first week and made listening to our ideas part of that experience. He picked us up on our first weekend and took us to the bus station, showed us how to take the bus to the beach.

    SE manager Victoria and her partner Vee had us over for dinner or to play cards many times. They
    showed us where to get food and helped us with all of the details of adjusting to a new country. Vic talked us through our first day of classes and helped us whenever issues came up.

    If it wasn't for those people who stepped in when we first got here, my husband John and I would have felt alone and strange in this new place. But because of the intentional kindness of so many people, we were welcomed into a sincerely friendly experience which made us immediately happy to be here.

    John and I are now a year into our contract at SE. We would never have agreed to stay on another year
    if it wasn't for the wonderful welcome we received. And because it meant so much to us, we're committed to making sure every single new teacher has as good of an experience as we did when we first got here.

    When you get off the plane, there will be someone waiting for you. You will have housing waiting for you, and friends to show you around. Whenever you have a question, need advice or want to talk, someone will be here for you. When things get tough, SE will support you and make sure you're being taken care of.

    I've seen it happen over and over again with each new staff member becoming part of the welcoming
    crew. So I know it's true.

  • Expectations of Thailand by Emily Nass 2009

    There are several questions you can be sure to hear within your first few weeks in Surat.  I want to talk about one that continues to come up with every new experience.  

    Is Thailand what I expected it to be?

    To be honest I have a hard time remembering what I thought life would be like here.  I had a small bit of
    teaching experience and some traveling in Europe as my only means of comparison.  I think because of this I had it in my head that I was in for a shock of a lifetime.  My biggest surprise, when I began my contract, was how similar Surat is to the western world.  Granted there are definite differences, yet surprisingly almost as many similarities. The worst thing I did before coming to Surat was reading travel books. The picture they painted for me of Surat was nothing close to what it has been.   I am happy to say that Surat was not what I expected, but in such a good way.  I had envisioned a town that would be hard to integrate into or find things to do.  Surat is exactly the opposite.  It is surprisingly easy to get a grasp on the city and what is in it.

    What I was not expecting when I first arrived was the extremity of the heat and humidity.  I knew it was going to be hot, just not to the point that I would have to send back clothes that just did not work.  A quick word of advice… Avoid polyester like the plague when packing for Surat.  Also, remember that you will stand out like a sore thumb.  I am blonde and stand a good few inches above most Caucasians.  My sharp contrast to everyone around me was what took me the longest to get used to. The worst times are the days, and everyone has them, when you don’t want to be bothered.  For no particular reason, you want to be left alone and just relax in your own little world.  Best of luck doing this when you are as noticeable as a black lab in the snow.  This is something I did not think about before I came.  I knew I was going to an Asian country and would look completely different from my students.  What I didn’t take into consideration was my time outside of the school.  

    As for teaching, I love my students. I left home with what I considered to be a realistic idea of what my life would be like.  I planned to teach, that was my main reason for going abroad.  The travel aspect was a wonderful bonus, but I was going to be a teacher. The classrooms are different from the States, where I am from, but just as enjoyable.  First off, in the States you can fail a student.  This is not usually the case in Surat.  Most of the schools you are not able to fail a student. I was also surprised at the small amount of prep and paper work we have to do. While there are still lesson plans and monthly reports to do, the contrast to teaching back home is amazing.  

    I love teaching and knew that I would enjoy working abroad. I had never been to Thailand and did not know too much about it when I applied for the job.  Even so, it was a wonderful starting point for my teaching career and I am certainly glad that I did it.   There are still times when I get home sick or can think of nothing but bratwurst and sauerkraut for days.  This is something I remember realizing before I left.  I knew I would occasionally miss things from home.  What was a shock was when I went back home for a few weeks during the long “summer vacation”, and found myself missing an abundance of things from Thailand.  When you live somewhere you will always miss someone or something.  The great thing about my time here, is that even though at times I am home sick, I know I will find it immeasurably hard to leave.  My time teaching and living in Surat has surprised and affirmed many ideas I had before coming over.  Is Thailand what I expected it to be? No.  Is that in any way a bad thing? Never in a million years.

  • Advice to New Teachers by Mitch Burbick 2011

    So, you’re coming to Thailand. Good on you. It’s nice here. Rest assured, you will figure it all out pretty quickly once you get here but these are a couple things that might be worth wrapping your mind around before heading to this side of the globe.

    First off, it’s hot here. Like, really hot here. I know people come from all different parts of the world but coming from America’s west coast, the only thing I’d experienced that was slightly even maybe kind of close to this type of heat and humidity was the one summer I spent when I was 10 in rural Wisconsin chasing fireflies around with my Midwestern cousins. I’ve read books that describe hot and humid climates like being wrapped in a blanket, and that’s really what it is. It’s hot, it’s wet, and it’s more than a little bit sweaty almost all the time.

    However, this is merely a fact and the advice that I’d try to impart to you is to not bring heavy clothes over. I brought a few pairs of slacks over here to teach in that were wool and they are a no go. I seriously wore them the first week I was here and never again. (Full Disclosure: There may or may not have been a slightly embarrassing amount of trouser-dampening sweat involved.) Traditional button up shirts work fine if you have anything to cover up (tattoos or the like), but polo shirts are probably the better option because you still look good when they’re not tucked in and short sleeves are better vents than long sleeves rolled up.  A rather unique fact of life is that I am not a girl, so my advice in this realm for women is a little less helpful, but seeing the way that other women teachers here dress, it’s probably advisable to either bring or procure here skirts of a flow-ish nature. This makes it much easier to ride a bicycle or a motorbike to work as well. A certain someone I know bought a selection of really good looking high quality skirts before coming over and never wore them past the first day. Write this equation down and commit it to memory: tight = impractical. Girls are welcome to wear polo shirts as well but can get away with a little bit more as far as tops go seeing that the neckline isn’t too low. The kids like to stare. They like to stare a lot.

    (Anecdote: I half lifted my shirt and scratched my stomach absent mindedly in front of my fifth graders the second or third week I was teaching and I still hear about it from them. A typical thing one of them might say while coming up to me scratching his/her/its stomach is: “Teacher scratch stomach,” while three of them roll on the ground laughing. They think this is hilarious.)

    The second bit of advice I’d dole out is to try packing lightly. I know, I know, you’re leaving for a year. I came here with an individual who is one of those people who will pack a full on suitcase for an overnight trip. Not pretty. Half of the things brought over haven’t been touched since that first week. You can find pretty much everything here. Really, you can. Clothes-wise, bring what you need to teach in and wear around town for a week or two. Really, you’ll need a much smaller variety of clothes than you think. I’d say pick a few things that are really important to you, your luxuries, and bring them on over to make sure you’ll have them. For me it was a French press for coffee, a couple of beer cozies, and a few - even by my standards - oversized books of poetry.

    Now this next piece of advice strikes particularly close to home because, by nature (I blame my Dad), I’m not a patient person. Thai people take their times with things. Thailand takes it’s time with things. Don’t ever expect your bus or train to be on time. Planes, you’re alright with, but bus and train, seriously, give yourself a few hours leeway. When you need them to be on time they’ll be only an hour late, and when you need them to be only an hour late, they’ll be six hours late. If you’re one of those people that needs everything planned out to the moment, someone who needs hotel reservations before stepping foot out of the door and a detailed sight filled action packed plan for every minute of the day, try relaxing a little bit. Things move at a different (slower) pace over here. It really does turn out to be quite fantastic, so just take it easy.

    The last thing I’d advise, and something that I’m sure Peter has mentioned, is to drink as much delicious beer as you possibly can before you leave home. This country has absolute garbage for beer. If this sounds impassioned, it is because about this subject, I am impassioned. Beer here does the trick, but it’s kind of like an eerie reliving of my high school drinking experience, pushing through the taste to get the effect. I’m not saying that it’s always terrible. There are certainly some days I come home from work or have been out in the sun and find a cold Thai brewed lager to be quite the refreshing drink. I’m just saying that it’s usually pretty terrible. As far as other non-Thai beer options go, there are a few. Heineken is the only import available everywhere (for a pretty ridiculous price) but if you’re like me, you’ve always viewed Heineken as Europe’s Coor’s Light so take that for what it is. In Bangkok and Phuket you can find a wider variety, but they’re invariably expensive and seeing as how we’re hours from either of those towns, you won’t be finding them on a weekly basis. So stock up my happy and full beer drinking friends. Stock up and enjoy the sweet taste of delicious beer.

    PS – If you bring me an IPA I’ll be your best friend forever. Forever ever.

  • Visa Process

    More on Visas

     Upon being offered and accepting a teaching position with Super English, we will send you the documents described above which you will take or send to the nearest Thai Embassy or Consulate.  These documents verify that we are a real, registered, licensed school and authorized by the Surat Thani Department of Education to offer a English teaching position to you.  Once the Consulate receives your papers it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several days to receive the Non-Immigrant B visa which we have requested for you.  This is a 90 day work visa, meaning that you are allowed to enter Thailand to work with Super English for 90 days.  The cost of the visa is about US$50.  The applicant is responsible for this cost.

      Once you arrive in Surat Thani, we go to the Surat Thani Labor Department to apply you for a three month labor permit.  This allows you government protection and taxation for three months while you are working in Thailand.  Super English sponsors and pays the cost of this permit.  The permit is only valid for work with Super English.  That means any work not involving Super English  is illegal.

      Immediately after receiving the three month labor permit we go to the Surat Thani Department of Immigration.  There we apply for a one year extension on your 90 day Non-Immigrant B visa.  Once granted, you may stay in Thailand for one year from the date you arrived.  For example, if you arrived on April 16, 2006, then you may stay until April 16, 2007.  This one year extension visa is dependent on the three month labor permit, which is part of Super English.  The one year extension is therefore also dependent on Super English.  Should you be let go or choose to resign from Super English, then your one year visa is no longer valid and you have 24 hours from the time of your visa being cancelled to leave the country.  Super English pays the cost of this one year extension visa.

      Immediately after receiving the one year extension visa, we go back to the Surat Thani Labor Department and apply for a one year work permit.  Once this has been processed, you are allowed to work with Super English for one year.  Not until you receive this permit do you start paying taxes, which are 200 Baht per month (less than US$6).  Super English pays the cost of this one year work permit.       

      Additional costs include a trip to Thaksin Hospital for a Health Check.  This costs around 100 Baht which the teacher is responsible for.  You must also get wallet size photos taken (they must be of a certain size, of a certain quantity, and you must dress a certain way in them so you’ll need to get them here) and these cost around 500 Baht (US$14) for which the teacher is responsible.     

      Again, all official government documentation is dependent upon employment with Super English.  If that ends, then Super English is bound by Thai law to cancel all visas, work permits and licenses.

  • What should I bring?

    What should I bring?
    1.        Your original university diploma
    2.        A signed letter from your university stating that you are an actual graduate of their school
    3.        Your resume
    4.        Your transcript

    1.        We recommend that people bring money with them.  The more money you bring, the more you will have to get started with for your new life in Thailand and have available for extensive or expensive traveling.  Salary isn’t paid until the first of the month so people often have to wait a while after they arrive to get paid.  Also, the first month of a new teacher’s schedule usually includes a lot of observation time so the first paycheck might be a lower amount than all the rest.  Further, people often  like to go out and buy new things for their house when they first arrive, such as decorations, additional furniture, etc.  For all of these reasons, we strongly recommend bringing enough money to feel comfortable for at least one month.  There isn’t a maximum amount which we recommend.  Less than $300 U.S. would make for a difficult month.  It is easy to open up a bank account in Thailand (our staff will help you) so any money you haven’t spent can be saved for later trips, our long summer break, etc.    
    2.        Light clothes are good to bring.  You won’t need a sweater or jacket here.  For work, summer business casual is the best way to describe what is needed.  For more specific info, see our Dress Code.

    3.        Bring dress shoes.  Classes outside of Super English require that we wear dress shoes.  They are available here but it’s best to bring a pair that you already own.  After getting comfortable, then go shopping for shoes.  
    4.        Bring music.  

    More on Packing

    Packing Article by Ember click here to read