Mike’s story: How I got a TEFL job in Thailand… 5 years later I’m still here
My friends were shocked when I told them I was moving to Asia. A lot of them probably thought I was joking at first.
I told them I wanted to live in another country and experience a new culture. There was no way I could afford to live in Europe and South America was an option but I felt Asia would be a safer and more affordable place to live.
So Asia was the only viable option, but wait… I’m black and Asian people don’t like black people, right?
The Journey Begins
I first came to Thailand in August 2012 to teach English at a government school in a town called Rangsit. At the time my mind was dead-set on South Korea, mainly because of the money.
I had read stories of teachers saving nearly all their salary and using that money to pay off their student loans. Sounded like a great idea to me so I was applying to jobs left and right.
It wasn’t until my good Thai friend from university (Temple University baby!) convinced me that going to South Korea couldn’t give me the thrill that he knew I was looking for.
He told me Thailand is super-fun and the lifestyle you live there beats just about anywhere in the world. So I was left with a choice to either pursue the paycheck (Korea) or the adventure (Thailand).
Why I chose Thailand
The decision was quite simple actually. I chose Thailand because my friend assured me that his family and friends would look out for me. I’m very big on assurance and knowing he already had an established network made me feel confident I could make it work.
Traveling to the other side of the world with little money in my name was scary enough. It felt good knowing that if something went wrong I could have people to rely on.
The struggle continues
Apart of the reason I tell everyone they should get a TEFL certificate is because of this experience I’m about to share. I personally didn’t have one at the time and as you can imagine it wasn’t easy finding a job, let alone finding one while still in America.
I had read online that you shouldn’t accept anything less than 35,000 baht per month. Well, I found a job in Lopburi, Thailand only offering 25,000 baht per month. I figured this was the result of not being fully qualified. They promised me airport pick-up and free-housing so I thought it kind of evened itself out.
So it was settled! Contract signed and terms agreed on. My hiring manager, who was Thai said to forward my flight details and when I landed someone would come get me, sounds good! So now the adventure begins right! Not quite yet my friends…
Being the skeptic that I am, I decided to e-mail my would be boss one more time before purchasing my air-fare. Usually, she responded the same day, but this time it took unusually long.
About 3 days later I got an e-mail saying that they found someone else and didn’t need me anymore.
All after the fact that we signed a contract and agreed on all terms! So glad I doubled checked!
I had almost given up on the dream of living in Thailand. Instead I enrolled in an online TEFL course and started applying to jobs at the same time.
Trust Thy Fellow Foreigner
Fortunately, I had another interview via Skype. This time I was interviewed by a super laid back Englishman. I got a much better vibe from this guy and I genuinely felt I could trust him even though we never met.
He told me, “The job is yours mate, just get here”.
He also promised to pick me up from the airport and help me find accommodation too. When I landed in Bangkok he was there like he said he would be and that’s when I knew the adventure had finally begun.
This is another reason why I tell people to try to work for a agency managed by foreigners. They won’t leave you high & dry and when worst comes to worst they’ll help you out.
Traveling to Thailand first and getting a feel seemed ideal, but the fact of the matter was I had no money. I came to Thailand with about $500 in my bank account and after the down payment on my apartment I was left with about $120 to last me the next 20 days.
Lucky for me my company offered cash advances for new teachers and I asked for enough to be able to survive until my first pay day.
If you’re interested in coming to Thailand don’t be like me. I had this stupid thought in my mind that if I didn’t travel now then I would never do it and forever have this regret.
I could have easily put everything off for another 3 or 4 months and came well prepared.
What an embarrassing first day! I sweated through my shirt before class even started because I was so nervous. I finished the lesson 20 minutes early and just ended up giving the kids free-time.
I had no idea what I was doing, but hey I was doing what I set out to do. Live and work in Thailand.
The students and teachers were convinced I was from Africa even though on several occasions I told them I was from the USA.
I couldn’t believe how respectful the kids were though. When I walked into class all the students stood up and said “Good morning teacher, how are you?”. I thought to myself, “This is so weird, but awesome at the same time.”
If I’m being honest, I never had a problem at school because of my skin color. Maybe some people avoided me or probably even hated my guts, but I wasn’t paying those thoughts any attention.
That negative thinking is counter-intuitive and is a good recipe for a bad time.
After about a week I got used to the way of things and started building rapport with my students. We would play games, joke around and find common interest. The girls liked to talk about K-pop music and how dreamy Korean and Japanese men are while the boys were in love with English Premier League football.
I was eventually approached by some older students who asked me if I wanted to play football (soccer) with them after school. This immediately peaked my interest.
The opportunity to play a sport I love and further build that bond with the students would only further establish me as a positive role-model.
It wasn’t before long my name (Teacher Mike) was becoming well known throughout the school. Students who weren’t even in my classes would come up to me, say my name and wai (Thai greeting were you offer a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion).
It made me feel welcomed and I was finally starting to feel comfortable in Thailand.
I won’t lie. I didn’t come to Thailand because I wanted to be a teacher. I became a teacher because I wanted to live to Thailand.
The nightlife is just out of this world. I experienced an immense sensory explosion of pure enjoyment. Colorful foods, cheap drinks, bizarre but tasty meals, heck I even ate a scorpion.
Meeting people from all walks of life whether tourist or expat was just amazing. That’s the real beauty of traveling to Thailand. I was meeting people who made their living by eCommerce, blogging, backpacking and most commonly teaching English of course.
I even made a few Thai friends who showed me another side to Thailand. A side that most foreigners who visit as a tourist probably won’t ever experience.
After about my 2nd year in Thailand I started to get good at speaking Thai. I was nowhere near fluent but I could get around, order food and even converse at times.
I became the designated Thai speaker when all the teachers and I went out on weekends. I didn’t mind because I got better with each conversation.
It’s only happened about two or three times and to be completely honest it never happened in Bangkok. One time I was in a nightclub not far from my school and one of the security guards called me over to give me a thumbs down gesture.
This club was majority local Thais and from what I found out later was kind of a roughneck bar. I should of figured that since it was in the middle of nowhere and seemed pretty dirty in there.
I came with two other teachers and as you can imagine when we walked in it was like “Whoa! Foreigners!! Everybody stare!”. Some may ask how I know it was the thumbs down gesture was because I was black. Being the only black guy in the club I don’t know what else it could have been.
Maybe my limited edition fresh Nike’s? Who knows, but you can’t stop the kicks!
That’s really as bad as it got. One time a taxi was being a complete jerk because he thought I was from Africa (here we go again…). He finally mustered up the courage to ask me where I was from instead of assuming. When I told him I’m American his tone completely changed.
He even apologized and told me he likes Will Smith (Really bro?). I consider myself as African as I am American so it really didn’t help me feel better.
I started farangdam because I wanted to smash stereotypes that had been on teaching forums for years about finding a job as a black teacher. Most of it was from non-black perspectives and as you can imagine most of it was pretty uninspiring.
I share my insights and experiences first hand and offer guidance to anyone who wants to come to Thailand but feels a little apprehensive because they fear they’ll experience racism.
Racism exists all over the world. The only way to hide from it is to stay in your little comfort bubble somewhere between your bed and covers.
Maybe I don’t get certain jobs because I’m black and maybe everyday people don’t like me because of my skin color but for every 1 racist Thai you meet there are about 9 non-racist Thais who will welcome you with open arms. For every 1 job that won’t hire there are about 9 others that will.
Racism is a cancer and it only grows if you feed into it by giving it attention. There’s a whole world out there guys don’t let fear stop you from experiencing it.
It’s 2017 now and It’s been 5 years since I made the decision to come to Thailand. I visit the USA once a year for about 1-3 months to catch up with family and spend the rest of time out Teaching English in Thailand.
I’ve come a long way from being the fresh graduate with only $500 in his name. Now I have my network of expat and Thai friends and I live comfortably. I can say from the bottom of my heart, I’m truly happy to live here.
The moral of the story is once you can assimilate yourself into a culture and start to learn the language it will all come together for you.
Don’t ever assume that you can’t-do something just because others say so. Create your own story and share it.
Hope this story helps you get out here! Mike