Teaching in Thailand: Suzanna’s Story
Introduce yourself. Who are you & what did you do before TEFL?
Hello everyone, my name is Suzanna. I’m 26, half Thai, and half Irish. I’m creative in anything I do, and I enjoy working jobs that are unpredictable. Before TEFL, I graduated in Visual Communications back in 2017 from the National College of Art and Design. After college, I continued to work in retail and then landed a job as a creative executive for an experiential marketing company. I then decided I wanted to pursue painting murals and signs full time, so I quit, and then there was a pandemic.
After the pandemic, I continued to create when I could, but there was no inspiration or motivation. I then decided to look down different avenues with my time off, doing small courses here and there. Luckily enough, I was still able to do a few mural jobs. I then moved back to my hometown of Monaghan, where I had a lot more time to reflect and think. I realised that life was short, and everything could be taken away from you just in a split second. With so many travel restrictions, never more had I wanted to travel.
It was always my dream to live abroad, but I never had an opportunity to do so, so I took matters into my own hands through TEFL. I worked on my 180hr TEFL course for a few months so I could at least have it when the pandemic began to ease up, but then I realised that that wasn’t happening any time soon, so I decided to move aboard and teach in Thailand.
How did you find the course? Did it prepare you for teaching abroad?
The course was online, and it was perfect for my schedule. I could take my time and do it at my own pace. It definitely prepared me for the basic knowledge I needed for teaching English in Thailand. As native speakers, we don’t usually think too much about the rules of English because it’s all taught from birth. So the course definitely refreshed my memory of what really needs to be taught. It also helped me prepare for teaching skills that I could use in the classroom. I have never taught a huge class before, so it was a huge help in preparing me for that.
Why did you choose to teach in Thailand?
I have visited Thailand every 2-3 years for my summer holidays. I mentioned at the start I’m actually half Thai; my mother is from Thailand. Therefore I knew quite a great deal about the country. The reason why I wanted Thailand was obviously because I wanted to first-hand experience the culture that is half my blood. I never learned the language, so I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to dive right into it.
Also, I’ve always wanted to move abroad and travel alone, so Thailand, even though it’s further away, it’s a home away from home. I knew it would be an easier country to adjust to.
What was the move to Thailand like? Have you experienced culture shock?
I’ve been coming to Thailand since I was a baby, but funny enough, there was still quite a lot of learning! I always came with my mother, so I had her “hold my hand” a lot. The biggest difference then coming here was how lost I felt without her and faking a lot of confidence (and Thai) to try to get by. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t acknowledge this side of my life, the way Thai people are really explained a lot about how I work and behave. It is still difficult trying to establish myself as a Thai person, as I’ve always tried to fight in a way to be Irish back home; it was quite the reset.
I’m very extroverted, so the move was quite exciting, and I was ready to meet people and dive right into everything. It was quite a shock how much of my life I was starting again, but it was refreshing.
Describe a typical day for you.
I wake up around 6.45, get ready for the school day, aim to be in school by 7.30, and sign in. We are assigned to a class to stand by while they play the national anthem and make morning announcements. Afterwards, I’ll grab an iced coffee with one of the other teachers or on my own. Then I would prepare for my class. I would have four classes a day, an hour each, usually in the morning.
I finish teaching roughly around 1.30 or 2.30 pm latest. With lunch at 11.30 am for an hour. I teach between the ages of 7 to 12. I’m quite high-energy with the kids, so it can be a lot of games and running around. When I finish my teaching for the day, I prepare lesson plans or PowerPoints for the next upcoming class. I might have a moment to go home to maybe rest, but I will be back in school at 4.30 pm to sign out.
When the school day is finished, I go to the stadium across from school to go to the gym or a run, and then I’ll grab food from Grab (Thailand’s version of JustEat/Deliveroo) or go to a local food stall or market. Then go home to watch some shows and start getting ready for bed. I aim to be in bed by 10.30 pm.
Three things a TEFL teacher should know about living in Thailand.
- It is extraordinarily relaxed here. Be prepared not to know how your day or week will turn out. Everything is told to us, pretty last minute. You can definitely use this way of living to your advantage. It will help you take that attitude in your own life, which is essentially not to stress too much and take everything. But if you like a routine, schedule, and a strict regime, it can be something I’ve seen a lot of teachers struggle with.
- Get ready to eat. Thai people are so generous and giving, and they will offer you food constantly, and everything is so cheap it’s hard not to. Remember to give back, and it will get you in everyone’s good books, naturally.
- Respect the culture. Most teachers are placed in rural areas so that it can be more traditional. It can be a quite hard thing to accept not coming from it. However, it really does not harm to show you are trying to understand and be a part of the culture here. It can be small things like not wearing anything too “revealing”, even if you’re walking around the market. Or learn how to “wai” (greet people) properly. Unless you are close, you wouldn’t usually wave at someone.I’ve also seen many people come over and comment on how Thai people work or the way they live in front of Thai people. Just because they don’t speak English to you doesn’t mean they don’t understand you, and Thai people will not usually confront you on these things, but they will remember. Remember you are a visitor to their country.
Do you have any tips for future teachers teaching in Thailand? What to prepare for? Was it hard to adjust to becoming a teacher?
My main tip is don’t stress the small stuff. I’ve really learned to let go and go with the flow. I’m still trying to practice enjoying every moment I have here, no matter where it is. Many Thailand can be the same, so don’t worry if you’re not in a big city. Try to appreciate everything you are experiencing and learning personally. As I have mentioned, I never had taught before, and I really did get thrown into the deep end, but I floated! Every day I’m learning, but I talk to foreigners who have been trained teachers who are still struggling and learning.
Try to talk about how you feel if you can, and get out there! It was a bit hard adjusting to teaching at first, but when you get to know your kids and start having fun with them, it gets easier. The students I have met here really have been the best kids I’ve ever met, and they make me want to be better. When you get them, the holidays are great but do prepare for being on call, potentially working weekends and late days. But remember, the teaching responsibilities and hours we have are significantly less than Thai teachers; in that aspect, we have it seriously good here, but it is adjusting to this way of life.
What do you do in your free time in Thailand?
If I get a long weekend, I usually try to go to a big city like Chiang Mai or Bangkok, and they don’t happen too often. The week can be long sometimes, so I chill out where I’m living and staying. I’ve made a couple of native Thai friends, so they’re great for showing you places you wouldn’t even know existed! If you look anywhere in Thailand, it’s all beautiful. I’ve seen a lot of temples and mountains in my life, and they all blends into one, just like cathedrals back home!
I also have a motorbike, so it’s easy for me to get around. If you’re not willing to ride a bike, it might be more challenging for you, and our town doesn’t have much taxi service. I really just like going for runs or going to the local parks on the weekends. There are cafes everywhere in Thailand, so it’s perfect for chilling out with friends, which I usually do during the day. Or, if I’m feeling a treat, I’ll get a Thai massage at the weekends. I’ve made some great friends here, so usually, someone always has an idea to go somewhere!
Any plans once the placement is finished?
Since being here, I will be eligible for citizenship which is great. I can stay here longer and not worry too much about paperwork. The main thing I want to do is take a yoga course and get a certificate in teaching yoga. I really plan to take time to self-reflect on what I’ve learned here. As stated before, I’m creative! There’s actually an amazing creative community here, so I’m going to be searching for more of that here. Then prepare me to come back to reality and potentially move to a different country. Now that I have my TEFL certificate, it seems more accessible now.