Interview with Domhnall teaching English in Thailand
Tell us about yourself. We would love to know about your background and what drew you to teaching English in Thailand?
So this is how my journey to teaching English in Thailand started! Last October I graduated from Maynooth University with a degree in English and History. In my final year, I was still unsure of maybe doing a masters or going straight into a job somewhere so instead I decided to take a year out and travel a bit while I had the chance. I had known about TEFL courses for a while and when I started to look at the best place to do one, TEFL.ie seemed to offer the widest choice of courses and possible locations.
South East Asia had always been a place that interested me and I spent a lot of time looking at both the Thailand and Vietnam internships. During this time I was in touch with the Tefl Institute of Ireland and Ola was great for giving me any info I wanted and answering any questions. One thing that hugely drew me to these two internships was the one semester contract they offered with the option to renew if you wanted. Ultimately I chose Thailand because the start date suited me better but luckily I got to travel while I was there and visited Vietnam anyway. I booked the internship in February of 2019 for a September/October start date and that gave me loads of time to research and prepare for where I was going while doing the 120 hour online TEFL course that accompanied the internship.
Tell us about your TEFL experience, do you feel it prepared you to teach in Thailand?
When I initially booked the internship I was still in my final year of college so I was slightly worried about not having the time to do the course but once I started, it was so easy to just log in and keep chipping away at it without being under any pressure. I was worried at the beginning about not being prepared for being in the classroom with no previous experience but I was surprised at how detailed the course was, considering it was one of the shorter courses available, and when I finished it I was definitely more at ease. It’s still a huge jump from an online course to a classroom environment though and our agency in Thailand were very good at bridging this jump.
We had an orientation course after arriving in Thailand with other ‘new’ teachers where they gave us classroom-based scenarios and walked us through anything and everything we needed to know. I was actually late in arriving to Thailand and missed the initial orientation but there was another smaller one for myself and other late arrivals so nobody was left in the dark. With all this preparation however your first time in a classroom will always be your first time in a classroom and I found this was actually as good a way as any to get used to it. Everyone has a different style and methods and the best way to find yours is just through trial and error. Having met other teachers at orientation and having other foreign teachers with you in the school was a help in this way as we could compare our experiences and give each other tips.
Describe a typical working day in Thailand? How many hours a week are you teaching?
I taught 23 classes a week which is quite a manageable load and gave me plenty of time to finish lesson plans and grading, however even if we weren’t in the classroom we still had a full day in school. We had to sign in by 8.15 every morning and couldn’t leave before 4 in the afternoon. Any time we weren’t in the classroom teaching, we spent in the office where we were based with all other foreign language teachers, most of whom were Thai. Here we had our own desks where we did our lesson planning and grading and if any student wanted to come to us with any questions or work, we were available. We had an hour for lunch everyday during which we could leave the school and eat in one of the places in our town which we often did but the school’s canteen was delicious and cheap too so I used that most of the time and either ate in the teacher’s lounge or back in the office.
Weekends were always free, apart from one or two times where we had to represent the school at different events and there are a lot of Buddhist holidays which meant no classes and were usually celebrated by the whole school in some way which was really enjoyable. So overall we had full school days like all the other teachers but during that our workload was really manageable so I concentrated on getting planning and other things done during this time which left my evenings and weekends free. Obviously at certain times the workload got heavier or lighter but as long as you’re on top of things you’ll never be under too much pressure.
What was life like outside the classroom, did you have time to travel around Thailand?
All in all, it’s a very chilled lifestyle living in Thailand. We mostly spent our evenings after school relaxing, going to the gym, watching movies or playing basketball. We went out for dinner about once a week with fellow teachers and had a few favourite restaurants. Even for a lot of weekends we didn’t go too far and just explored our local area on our bikes. I was quite lucky that I was actually only 2 hours from Bangkok which is nothing in such a big country. Compared to some other teachers who would almost have to fly to get there. So I took advantage of that a few times and spent the weekend there and got to know the city quite well.
With there being so many of us teachers there at the same time with the same agency we all knew each other and had similar work calendars. During long weekends we had trips away and travelled a bit or just visited each others’ hometowns which was a nice way to see more of the country. I saved a lot of my travelling until after the school semester finished just because I was more free then and felt I could take my time more and a lot of other teachers did the same. In the 5 months I was there I don’t think there was much that I didn’t get to see and I definitely don’t regret missing anywhere because that gives me a reason to go back and visit it another time.
What were 3 things about your time in Thailand that you did not anticipate before you went?
Well the celebrity status you’ll have as a foreign teacher is definitely one. I had read about it myself before arriving there but until you’re subject to it you don’t really think about it. Obviously this probably varies based on where in the country you are but it’s nice to know that you’re known by people and teachers are well respected too.
Another thing I didn’t really anticipate was not being able to cook or make your own food. Again this definitely varies from person to person but our house had no sort of oven or cooker and we just always ate out. This wasn’t a burden at all because the food there is so nice and so cheap. The supermarkets there were not all that different from here either. Certain things were more expensive though, like dairy products and bread isn’t something they use as much as here. I think I must have had rice almost every single day there as it accompanies almost every meal but there are home comforts too which is nice to have every now and again.
I also didn’t anticipate meeting the people I was going meet either or making the friendships that I did. Like I said, almost all of the teachers who arrived at the same time with the agency knew each other and we visited each other quite a bit. I was very lucky too in that I was living with 3 other guys who I just clicked with and we did everything together for the 5 months. There’s something about having a shared experience like that that brings people close and it’s nice now that we’re all still in touch and we have other places to visit now in future. I knew before arriving that I’d meet people and we even had a Facebook page months before we left to kind of get to know each other a bit but it’s not until you’re there that you kind of get to know people properly. Sooner or later you will be thrown out of your comfort zone when teaching abroad but it’s nice having people who are having the same experience to compare it with so you’re never really left on your own.
Can you share with us a favourite story from your time teaching in Thailand?
It’s hard to choose one particular story as a favourite. There were so many but there was one long weekend we had. Myself and the guys living with me just decided to spend it in Bangkok because we hadn’t really gone there as a group before. We stayed in a party hostel and a few other teachers we knew joined us. I just remember that being fun as a weekend away together where we enjoyed ourselves and had a couple of nights in one of the coolest cities around.
What’s next for you? Can you see yourself teaching in the future?
Personally I don’t really have a concrete plan for what’s next. I’m thinking of going back to college to do a masters but I’m not in any hurry at the same time. I don’t know if I would go down the path of teaching as a career but that’s simply because there are other things I want to do. I would absolutely consider having another teaching abroad experience though. It’s such a good way to travel and experience other cultures and you’ll always learn something from doing it.
What advice would you give to someone considering teaching abroad?
As clichéd as it is, I’d say just do it. I know I absolutely loved it and am glad I did and I’m sure anyone I did it with will say the same thing. It does not have to be a long, thought out thing either that you’re overly prepared for. I have a friend who went to Vietnam just after Christmas to teach and he decided only a few weeks before to do so and is loving it over there now. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic will have changed things for a lot of people so this could be as good a time as any to move away and try teaching for a while. If you’re thinking about it, you’ll regret not doing it way more than you’ll regret doing it!