Go With The Flow

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is thinking about living in Thailand, or I guess anywhere you are living in life, but especially in Thailand, is to GO WITH THE FLOW. This mentality will save you a whole lot of stress, sickness and possibly tears.

Here in Thailand, there is an expression that I learn while teaching in Thailand – “Mai pen rai” that loosely translates to “no worries” or “it’s all good”. This expression is used for anything and everything. The Wifi at your favorite café is down? Sorry, mai pen rai. The restaurant you are at doesn’t have any toilet paper? mai pen rai, should have brought your own. Your students accidentally smash you in the face with a volleyball as your walking to class one day? Ouch but mai pen rai.

Basically, you have to roll with the punches here, literally. Things are not going to go your way and you’re going to have to learn how to be OKAY with that. The better you can master this way of life BEFORE coming out here, the easier the transition will be.

 The Thai Market

Thai MarketThis go with the flow mentality can be translated into something as simple as walking through a Thai market. There are a ton of people, a lot of intense smells (often times not the most pleasant), and generally a lot of questionable looking things. It’s not uncommon to see a table full of raw meat, flies all around it, with the Thai local just sitting there swatting them away waiting for the next buyer who will ACTUALLY buy the meat.

You will see some incredibly gross options for food like rats on a stick as well as some possibly delicious items that only require a little bravery to try. Needless to say, your first time walking through a Thai market might be a bit alarming. Especially if you’re in a small rural town like me where EVERYONE is staring at you too.

Getting A Lot of Attention

Walking into the market, all eyes are on you. The people are wondering who you are, what you will buy, how you speak, and much more. At times, it can be a challenge to not be annoyed at all the stares. Sometimes I just want to shout, “I AM NOT AN ALIEN!!!” Other times, it’s kind of fun to be looked at like a celebrity. You’re literally getting a taste of what its like to be famous. Regardless of if you enjoy the stares or not, walking through the market is when going with the flow is an important tool to thrive here.

You need to go with the flow in order to maneuver through the masses of people. You need to go with the flow when you’re trying to ask someone the price of something and get no definite answer. You need to go with the flow when everyone is stopping you to take a photo of you. Going with the flow is the best and do I dare say THE ONLY WAY to survive around here.

Everything about living in a foreign country can be an adventure. This includes the small task of walking through a market. Yes, you need patience, but it will only help you grow as a person. After living in a foreign country, you will learn to not sweat the small stuff and focus on what matters about the culture. The one thing that is for sure about living in a foreign country is, you will leave a completely different person than when you entered with possibly a new motto to live life by – Mai Pen Rai

Be Like Oprah

“Why Thailand?” This is a question I get asked daily, and it’s a good question. What made me leave my own business in Southern California to teach in Thailand? The answer lies in the story.

Getting the job was easy: Bachelor’s degree – check, TESL certificate – check, experience teaching – does that two-week English camp count? Yes, then check. The truth is, I was as prepared as possible minus the loads of teaching experience.

Here we go – My First Class

English Classroom in ThailandMy first class, I walked up the old wooden stairs to the outdoor bungalow style classrooms and saw 45 second graders going nuts. They were yelling in a very foreign language, wrestling really rough like unsupervised baby bears, and there were about ten paper airplanes soaring through the air. My throat clenched and I thought, “I am not a teacher.”

Lesson number one, never believe the voices in your head. The greatest part about teaching in Thailand is that the children love to have fun. It’s the “Land of Smiles” for Heaven’s sake. The students are accustomed to working hard and playing harder, so anything that involves competition or games or new people, they’re ready to rumble.

When I walked into that first class, do you know what those little animals did? They stopped what they were doing and cheered. I got a unified class greeting, “Hello Teacher Rose,” I was appalled. They clapped and sat down waiting for what I had prepared for them. Even though I couldn’t understand a word they said and vice versa, communication took place and they saw me as someone that would teach them.

The following classes went the same way. Students yelled in approval as they saw their new white teacher. They hung on every word as I passed out pictures of my home, and they wrote me love notes on the homework I assigned. These kids worshiped me, and all I had to do was show up and have fun with them.

The atmosphere in My Classroom          

Thai StudentsThe classroom can be an intimidating place, but that’s a tiny portion of a teacher’s actual vocation. Every day I hear my students chant in preparation to meditate after lunch, they bring me bugs I’ve never seen to watch me jump ten feet in the air.  They wave to me in the street and bow to me in class, and mostly, their parents will stop me in the store, at the night market or walking down the street to feed me, give me a ride or thank me for teaching their children.

Every day as I ride on the motorbike home from school, children of all ages throughout the city wave and shout to me. They may be from a different school or even a different city but when they see me I might as well be a one-man-band stand; and heaven forbid I’m with other teachers, we might as well be a parade! It’s fun for all of us.

Even the students that belong to the other English teacher come to my office to greet me, practice English and play games.  And vice versa, my students love the other teacher and love to pretend he’s chasing them, when he’s actually just trying to pry them off our door so he can go to the bathroom.

I live like Oprah every day with an audience to applaud me just for walking in a room! I am revered for my role in the community, and that makes me want to give everything I can to all 2,000 students in the school. So why Thailand you may ask because I wanted to be happy, and I am.  

Working with Thai Teachers

Working with Thai Teachers

As part of working in Thailand, you will be working with Thai teachers and the students. I know this may seem simple when you first arrive but, there can be challenges with this, as well. Thai teachers are generally there to help you and show you the dynamics of the school.  The dynamics will need to be figured out as you continue working during the semester.

First Day and Meeting the Faculty

Working with Thai TeachersOn your first day at the school, you will meet so many new people that it will be challenging to remember who is whom but, it will be remembered overtime. The most important teachers that you will want to make a connection with are the ones that you will be working with daily. This includes your foreign department head, your co-Thai teachers and their bosses, and of course the directors of the school. 

The head foreign department head will help let you know what is expected of you.  But in a demeanor, that may not be forth coming and this is when your co-Thai teachers will be extremely helpful. They know about the levels you teach, what classes may be affected due to activities, and may be the ones to observe or cover your lessons if needed. You can usually tell within the first month of how well behaved your students are and if they have a great Thai teacher.

Your co-Thai teacher is a great resource to make a connection with because they can assist if your kids misbehave regularly, are absent too often, and let you know of any important information that may affect you or your teachings.  It is always best to double check with them when a student suggests a change in the schedule due to an activity. I have shown up to class and have been informed that there are no classes for a particular mathoym due to tests, scout day, cheerleading competition, etc. This helps to confirm this with either your Thai teacher or the head of that mathoym so, lessons aren’t missed. At times, it can be quite difficult to get all the information that is needed and how the Thai system works. 

Embrace the Difference

Working with Thai TeachersThe Thai system is quite different than any western system I have ever seen. It has been said that a student cannot fail the education system here. They told me that they can receive an incomplete but, the lowest mark they can receive is a ICT 1, which is equivalent to a grading system of 50-54 points. The student will still pass with this grade and moves on to the next level. In addition to this grading system, we will grade the students from a 1-3 (3 being the highest) on loyalty, believing in the king, patriotism, money and behavior. 

This was outlined for us in a book when we started at our school but, really had to be figured out along the journey of teaching here. This is all part of a system that the government set up and it has been in place for a long time. Just remember to ask a lot of questions if you are unsure about something to ensure that your semester goes smoothly from start to finish and that all of your duties are completed.

Our Daily Tasks

The duties of a foreign English teacher usually consist of gate duty. Morning assembly talk (once a week depending on the school), teaching students, teaching Thai teachers English (if you are approached about it), and the school ICT system and books (pending on how your school tracks grades). These duties may vary depending on the school you reside in and it is best to find out who can help you figure all this out.

Our school outlined our most important duties as gate duty, morning talk, and teaching Thai teachers.  I still think the students are the most important as a teacher.  Overall, teaching in a foreign country can seem overwhelming but with the right help around, it can go smoothly. Just remember to always smile and work with your Thai teachers to the best of your ability.  Do NOT cause any ruckus but, most importantly have fun with what you do.