Today, we had the honor of interviewing one of our intern teachers who taught on our Thailand program. Meet Lilibeth! Lilibeth moved from The States to Thailand to pursue her dream job: teaching English while traveling. Let’s hear her teaching in Thailand story!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF LILIBETH! WE’D LOVE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, WHAT DREW YOU TO TEACHING ABROAD, AND MORE.
I am a first generation Mexican-American and so have grown up in a bilingual household. You could say this was my very early introduction to English as a second language. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in English and this is when I met with many professors who had previously taught English abroad, and I realized I could make my dream of traveling the world a reality.
Ever since then, my goal was to travel and teach abroad. As someone from a humble background, teaching English was the perfect way to earn income while seeing the world, and also getting the chance to immerse myself in new cultures while contributing to the community. I think many first-gen kids can relate to feeling like they would never be able to travel because they have to work, I want them to know it’s possible, and that you can do both!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PATH TO TEACHING ABROAD—DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU’D END UP IN THAILAND?
While I knew for a long time I wanted to teach abroad, it was difficult to choose the jumping off point. Not only would this be my first time teaching abroad, it would be my first time in a different country! Teaching in Thailand was a bit of a happy accident. I graduated college in 2019 and was applying to TEFL jobs in many countries for 2020. Of course, the whole world was put on pause due to the pandemic.
During this time, I was making payments for a week-long trip to Thailand that was meant to take place in early 2022, which ended up being cancelled as well due to COVID. During this time, I became very serious about my TEFL journey and earned my Level 5 certification through Premier TEFL to complete the internship program, and so when Thailand was an option for my teaching placement, I took this as a sign. I was finally going to the “Land of Smiles”!
WHAT WERE THE BEST PARTS OF YOUR TEFL COURSE EXPERIENCE? DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT PREPARED YOU FOR TEACHING IN THAILAND?
I greatly appreciated being able to practice making lesson plans during the TEFL courses. The exams were also graded very quickly, and I found the information informative but still very easy to understand. The student dashboard is set up very well, and it is great that we have the opportunity to add additional courses, and search for jobs on the website as well!
WHAT WERE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THAILAND THAT YOU DID NOT ANTICIPATE? (THIS HELPS FUTURE TEACHERS PREPARING FOR A TRIP THERE TO FEEL MORE READY!)
I have worked in high schools in the United States, so I can definitely say that the schools in Thailand are structured very differently! Do not expect to regularly receive memos of what is going on week-to-week or even day-to-day, you will have learn to go with the flow! Also, the students will be VERY excited to meet you. Some schools may be in places that get more foreigners than others, but I was in small town where students got very little opportunities to practice their English with native speakers. The students will shower you with love and attention. It was quite funny the first few weeks of having students that I did not even teach constantly waving and making hand hearts while exclaiming “I love you teacher!” Also, Pro Tip: always have tissues or toilet paper on you even while on campus.
DID YOU GET TIME TO TRAVEL WHILE TEACHING IN THAILAND? TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR ADVENTURES!
Luckily, the October-March semester in Thailand is filled with holidays. So we had so many three day weekends. I took advantage of these as much as possible. Me and the other teachers were able to visit islands such as Koh Samed, which many tourists do not visit but was one of my favorite places in Thailand. We met up with many other teachers we previously met at our orientation and had a great time at the beach, riding jet skis, watching fire shows, and a few of us even got tattoos! Of course other weekends we also went to Bangkok, Koh Chang, and even on regular weekends we visited the nearby city of Khon Kaen, where there is a lot of food and spots for shopping.
For New Year’s we had four days off so I got adventurous and decided to spend that time in Chiang Mai while the other teachers went to Pattaya (I was able to visit Pattaya and Chon Buri in the week between orientation and the start of school) and I had an amazing time exploring Chiang Mai solo and with people I met at my hostel. I got to climb the sticky waterfall, and participate in the lantern festival. In the week between orientation and the start of school I got to explore some of Bangkok, Chon Buri, Pattaya, and visit an ethical Elephant Sanctuary with other teachers I had met at orientation. It had always been a dream of mine to meet elephants!
My town had a bus station and an airport was only an hour away, so it was easy to travel for very cheap. If you want to travel during the semester you can definitely make it happen! Teachers from our department also gave us a ride to a nearby national park which was such a fun experience.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY/HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR TEFL INTERNSHIP IN THAILAND? (IF YOU CAN PICK JUST ONE!)
This question is very hard, as I have so many great memories with my students, and also with my fellow teachers. There were the little moments of just talking outside our apartments after school and talking about our days at school. We also had a hotel near our apartment that we got gym memberships at and were able to use their pool. Often times it felt like we had a small resort to ourselves there! Then there were the bigger moments like flying to catch a ferry to an island, and many teachers meeting up in Bangkok for Christmas.
WHAT ARE SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THAILAND YOU HAVE LEARNED THAT MOST PEOPLE WOULDN’T KNOW?
Thais don’t really use chopsticks, always a fork and a spoon. The locals will always cover up to hide from the sun. Everyone, even the kids, drive motorcycles, you will see whole families, even babies and dogs, on just one motorcycle. The road laws are not enforced, people will drive on the wrong side or down a one-way. Lisa from BlackPink is Thai and so many of my students were obsessed with K-pop, but they love English music too, like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. I also got my students obsessed with John Mayor and Hailee Steinfeld.
Local Buddhists will also bow to temples that they pass, even if they are driving. People will also draw symbols of protection in their cars or in front of their homes. It is normal for a lot of gender norms to be broken and no one really bats an eye. Lots of boys came to school with makeup and lashes and girls will have haircuts that in the US would be considered “boyish”, but it was all very normal which I thought was wonderful.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS ON THE FENCE ABOUT GETTING TEFL QUALIFIED TO TEACH ONLINE OR ABROAD?
This may sound cliché, but just do it. I didn’t sleep for two days before I left because I was so nervous, but now my only regret was not being able to start sooner. Some days may be hard and some people will try and scare you and say it may be dangerous, but you can find danger everywhere. I had a great time with my students even if sometimes classes were difficult, the good memories greatly outweigh the negative. I was so sad to leave my students and many still send me messages.
After my contract, I was able to spend two months backpacking around Thailand and Vietnam and I know other teachers who were able to visit so many other places as well. Right now I am in my home country planning on teaching in Latin America next year. Becoming TEFL certified really opens up the world to you, and you are able to contribute to the communities that you visit.