My partner Codie and I decided to come to Thailand last year after teaching in high schools and middle schools
in the US for the past eight years, mostly in Eugene, Oregon. We came to Thailand basically looking for a year
off of our stressful lives in the U.S. and a chance to expand our horizons. We are both fairly well traveled and
had lived abroad before in a small coastal town in Costa Rica. We remember it as one of the best times of our
lives and decided it was that time again in our lives to say goodbye to the U.S. and try something new. This
year has definitely been something new and a year off from stress. It has also been a year thinking a lot about
where we want to be in our lives. We are going back to the U.S. to teach at our old schools again but this
experience has taught us a lot of things that we want to take back with us.
One of the things we were worried about when we first came over here was how we would function in a Thai
classroom. Codie and I had been teachers for quite some time but have never had to deal with a language
barrier where we could not really speak to students. This really stressed us out. We came a little early to
observe two teachers and I’m glad we did. Not only did we see good teaching, get a lot of great tips, and see
our school, we also were able to put our minds at ease. Teaching here (and I’ve taught both at Nu Noi and
Suratpittaya) has been really low stress. At first I did experience some scary moments (huge classes of English
chanting students, some students who were a bit of a pain) but overall the kids, 4 years old to 18 years old, are
pretty much like students in the U.S. Maybe a little more polite and less sarcastic than my high school
sophomores, but they like to learn and have fun if the class is interesting. With my EET class, a class I see
everyday, their English is strong enough that I’m able to explain more concepts and make a lot of headway with
them. With the other classes (who I see once a week for one hour) I basically think of a target, generate some
vocabulary, and crank out some crazy learning game to play each week. Whether it’s a basketball game, a
dice game, or Pictionary, games seem to be the best way to get kids hooked, competitive and learning the most
for the one hour a week you see them. Usually after a game we’ll write up a dialogue, do some acting, and
practice in class. Because this formula is repeated throughout the week (I teach the same lesson to 12 classes
and the other to 8 classes) the huge burden of planning takes very little time once you have things down. In
class, it’s a bit different. Because of the language barrier you do, as a general rule, have to be a bit of a spaz,
run around, and freak kids out. The other huge plus from the US is the grading load. Other than my EET
class, there is none! As someone who has sat down in front of 180 five-page essays on the same book. This
Thai schools have been a trip in other ways too. I still love watching the uniform flag raising ceremony each
morning, the Thai teachers constantly passing me Thai snacks, and having kids wai me in the hallways.
Seriously, wai-ing is awesome. Students will wai you everywhere and just last week I had my first knee jerk wai.
I didn’t even think of it but when our director approached I wai-ed instantaneously. Wai fever finally caught me.
One other tip about teaching in Thai schools. Unfortunately appearance is definitely valued over substance.
Your school will love you way more if you show up to the flag raising on time wearing “teacher looking” clothes,
being clean shaven, and having eyes that are not bloodshot. Fair or not, it’s the way to make friends and get
free food from the teachers
Surat Thani and Southern Thailand:
OK….other than the joy of teaching, and the school, Surat Thani is an interesting place to spend a year. It is
definitely not Phuket, Koh Samui, or Bangkok. And I say…thank god! Those places are so fun and interesting
but filled with tourists and the occasional bitter Thai person who is sick of foreigners being rude and un-Thai.
Riding my bike around town I get at least fifty echoes of “Hello!” This city isn’t called the city of friendly people
for nothing. Now, not everyone is friendly; the people around the bus stop will tend to try to rip you off on over
priced tuk-tuks and bus prices but overall people are really helpful. I did get jumped one time on my bike (they
tried to steal my backpack while it was attached to my back) but they didn’t get anything. Granted I was a little
tipsy, it was 3 a.m. and I was riding home in front of a string of unsavory bars.
A typical weekday for Codie and I includes teaching until 2:45, riding bikes home (picking up watermelon on the
way), doing yoga in our house (we listen to a podcast), then going out to eat (we have never cooked a meal in
our house this year. I know. It’s a little sad but Thai food is so good and cheap), and then either hitting up an
internet café, throwing back a couple beers with friends, or watching a DVD from the extensive library that is the
foreign community here in town.
A typical weekend usually involves going out of town to either a waterfall, a beach, or, if it’s a three day
weekend, one of the islands. We have traveled a lot this year and feel like we’ve really seen a lot of Southern
Weird things that have happened to me since being here:
I got dengue fever. It sucked. My body was red with white spots. It’s the kind of thing you get in Oregon Trail.
I want to start a survivor’s support group. Wear bug spray.
As mentioned before, I got jumped on my bike.
I lost a bunch of my hair due to a weird sunburn ocean water thingy. It’s growing back but triggered a
premature mid-life crisis.
I hit my eye really hard trying to scare off a dog while swinging my bike chain.
I get told all the time that my eyes are like the eyes of a cat. By students….at least once a week.
This year has been great. I have loved experiencing another culture up close and living the relaxing life of
Thailand. Thailand is very sanook (fun)!