Emma Hughes has come a long way from when she won a stain glass window design competition in her hometown of Reading, UK. When not Instagramming and missing cheese, Emma is teaching abroad at the Uttaradit School in North Thailand. Learn more about Emma’s journey to TEFL in Asia!

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Tell us about your background!

I am probably your stereotypical “English person”. My answer to everything is a cup of tea. I love Harry Potter and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Cheese is my vice (I miss it so much—they don’t really eat cheese in Thailand). Although I am originally from Reading, Bristol was my home for 4½ years before I came to Thailand whilst I completed my degree in Urban Planning.

Having dreamt of building my own house one day, I pursued a career as an architect initially but it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be so switched courses to become an urban planner instead. In my final year, I tutored Maths and English alongside my studies to subsidise my loan (classic student life). I loved teaching my brother when we were younger too.

You’re currently teaching abroad. Awesome! Please share your unique journey to working abroad as a teacher—including your TEFL course experience.

Having tutored, I knew that I enjoyed teaching, but it was the yearning to travel and explore the world that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Premier TEFL provided me with the tools and more importantly, contacts in Thailand, to make that happen. Before my placement, I had never been outside of Europe apart from a beach holiday to Florida!

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My online TEFL course was straightforward and helpful – I completed it with no problems and it gave me plenty of ideas for drilling vocab and improving fluency. Thai partners provided us with a full 3-day training course but I decided to spend two weeks in the country with my boyfriend beforehand to acclimatise to Thai culture and overcome jet lag. As a tourist, I travelled between the islands on the Andaman coast before coming back to Bangkok for orientation.

What made you choose Thailand for teaching abroad?

Everyone I spoke to about Thailand mentioned how lovely Thai people are (it’s true and they love to feed you too!) The year-round sunshine may have also been a deciding factor… Weather severely affects my mood so it was an important consideration.

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Not everyday abroad is a walk in the park (or is it?!). Can you share some challenges you’ve faced, one from the classroom and one from everyday life abroad, and how have you overcome them? What have you learned for future similar situations?

My main challenge with TEFL in Asia has been earning the respect of my students. Being a young blonde English girl with very minimal Thai knowledge makes my classroom susceptible to insubordination because students’ behaviour is harder to monitor. But this can be prevented by ensuring my lessons are engaging and that instructions are explained clearly. Lots of pictures and gestures!

Speaking at a pace that suits your students can be difficult. I teach an entire year group of 14 and 15 year olds, from a basic low level to practically fluent. Being able to adapt lessons accordingly has become a key skill in benefitting all my classes.

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What’s on your Thailand bucket list?!

I still haven’t been to a Full Moon Party on the islands or received a traditional Thai massage (basic, I know). I am looking forward to spending New Years in Chiang Mai with all my fellow teachers. I really want to go to Chiang Rai and Pai at some point during my time here too.

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Did you ever witness a lightbulb going off in a student’s head? We’d love to hear that story.

I have just finished teaching a module on ‘politeness.’ Often, my students mix up “ma’am” and “sir” (and end up calling me “sir” which is NOT polite haha). One lesson I encouraged all of my students to answer the register with “yes ma’am!” (which they found hysterical). The next lesson, I stuck on a fake moustache and insisted they reply with “yes sir!”. I had lots of “aaaahhhh I see” moments that week.

What would you do differently the next time you teach abroad?

I would bring more authentic learning materials (such as menus, newspapers, videos of my family and friends having simple conversations) to show my students. They are fascinated with anything from the UK! 

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TEFL in Asia is SO different to being a tourist. I wish I had introduced myself to the Thai teachers sooner because they are funny, caring and love to experience their favourite places with us.

Thank you for taking the time to share your magnificent story with the Premier TEFL community. Happy travels!