Alyssa Rowley hails from Philadelphia, USA. She is currently teaching in a rural part of Thailand called Chaiyaphum at the school, AnubanChaiyaphum. She is a recent graduate from Shippensburg University where she studied Early Childhood Education.
Alyssa loves getting to experience new cultures and places, she recently started Muay Thai with a non-English speaker (and she loves it!!) Read on to discover more about her amazing time as an English teacher …
Tell us about your path to TEFL teaching. Was it hard to leave your friends and family and move to Thailand?
Where to even begin! Just this past year I graduated from Shippensburg University in PA where I studied Early Childhood Education. From the time I was 16, I always knew after graduation I wanted to move to Hawaii and pursue a teaching career.
In the fall of my senior year, a slight change of plans happened when I was asked to be the maid of honor for my sister’s wedding. Knowing that I couldn’t be around for the planning of the wedding if I were to move to Hawaii, I started googling job ideas I could do in the meantime that still involved some sort of travel, and fell upon teaching in Thailand.
Instantly I fell in love with the idea that I could teach in another country for only a short, four-month commitment and without hesitation, I signed up with Premier TEFL (you could say I’m a bit impulsive).
Leaving my friends and family had to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I didn’t really anticipate how difficult it was going to be. Fortunately for me, however, I have such a great support system of friends in my town in Thailand that have made being away from home a little easier!
What was the move from Philadelphia to Thailand like? Had you ever traveled far from home before? Did you suffer much culture shock?
Moving from Philly to Thailand was one of the biggest culture shocks I have ever experienced. Ever since I was little my family and I would go on vacation to a different place every year. Majority of the time, we stayed in the United States, but I have been to a few other countries as well around the world.
Being that I never actually stayed in any of those places for an extended period of time, adjusting my lifestyle to meet the needs and norms of a different culture was the hardest part. In high school, I participated in the German Exchange for three weeks, but other than that I have only experienced different cultures from an “outside” point of view, which is quite different than being a part of it.
Throughout my travels, Thailand is by far the furthest I’ve ever been away from home, and for the longest period of time.
How long have you been teaching abroad? Describe a typical school day in the world of Alyssa.
As I finish up my semester in Thailand, I am ending my fourth month of teaching abroad. Every day our schedules are different, teaching different classes and grade levels, however, a typical day is similar to the following.
At my school, we have three, 3-hour time slots for classes in the morning, an hour lunch at 12 and then again, three, 3-hour time slots for classes in the afternoon. This leaves a total of 30 potential time slots to teach a week.
Some teachers are only expected to teach on average 12 periods a week, but I, however, have to teach 24. In Thailand, it is all the luck of the draw which you get. It can get hectic at times, but having more classes has only added to my experience in a positive manner.
Here is a little break down of my typical school day:
7:00a.m. – ⏰Wake up (more like 7:30 now as the semester goes on )
7:45a.m. – Drive my motorbike to get coffee/ breakfast
8:00a.m. – Arrive at school
8:30 – 9.00a.m – The whole school attends morning assembly
9.00 – 12.00p.m. – ✏️Allotted Class Time
12.00 – 1.00p.m. – Lunchtime (school provides lunch for $4/ month)
1.00 – 4.00p.m. – ✏️Allotted Class Time
After school, I usually go to Muay Thai and grab food at the night market with friends that live in my town!
Has anything surprised you about teaching abroad?
Oh, what has not surprised me about teaching abroad! In Thailand, there are so many different things that occur than teaching back home. Here are some of the major differences I’ve realized between home and Thailand.
Students coming to class
America: if a student doesn’t come to class, we call their parents and in the case that they are in school and can’t be found, we put the school on lockdown.
Thailand: if the students don’t feel like going to the school or class, you don’t even blink an eye because they’re probably just skipping class and roaming the school grounds.
America: If a student is not doing well academically, you can fail the student and he or she will have to repeat the grade level until their understanding of the topic is mastered. This helps give an understanding of accountability for the students.
Thailand: The students cannot be failed which means, the majority of the students actually do not care to do any work at all and will gladly tell you they aren’t doing their work. You can imagine the difficulty when trying to get students to cooperate and participate.
America: A class is only really canceled for a big event and it is well planned out in advance.
Thailand: Classes are frequently canceled at the absolute last minute. This includes but definitely not limited to: Last-Minute Field Trips, “drinking milk time”, boy/girl scouts, dealing with students who do not show up for various reasons. You start to get used to it, but it is an extremely big difference from what I was used to.
America: (has 26 students in a classroom) Teachers in America: “ugh, I can’t believe how many students are in my class this year!!!”
Thailand: (Has 50+ students in a classroom) Teacher in Thailand: “Wow, we have a few students who are absent today!”
Can you name three things a future teacher in Thailand should know before they go?
1. Be as flexible as you possibly can.
Before I came to Thailand, I always thought of myself as being extremely flexible, but this country has pushed me to my limits for sure. When you’re used to a faster-paced life, coming to Thailand can be a bit of a challenge to get used to because of how slow (I mean painfully slow sometimes) they live life here. “Mai pen rai” is an extremely common saying, which simply means “Go with the flow” or “no worries”.
2. Be willing to adapt to whatever is thrown your way.
The faster that you adapt to your surroundings and accept the school systems, the happier you’ll be. Somedays you may feel like what you are doing is going against your own moral beliefs, but you have to realize you are the visitor in someone else’s culture and you just have to go with the flow.
3. Try to learn as much as you can about their culture.
Depending if you are placed in ECD or MEP, you may be with children who speak minimal to no English at all. The faster you learn key words in Thai, the easier your classroom management will be. It is also beneficial to do your research about the Thai culture.
People from Thailand are really proud of their culture and love it when farangs (foreigners) try to adapt to their cultures. They truly are some of the nicest people, especially when you are making an effort to show appreciation for them.
Describe the fun you have when you’re not in the classroom? Is it true what they say about Thailand and the amazing parties?
Oh, good ole’ Thailand parties. I honestly feel like the whole country of Thailand is a constant party. Whether you are in school or traveling, the people of Thailand always find a way to have some sort of a party for literally anything.
Music is constantly blaring EVERYWHERE, there is always so much food and people just want an excuse to go out. If you are the type of person that loves to have fun and try new things, Thailand is definitely the place to do it.
I love my weekends here in Thailand! I don’t think it matters where you are in the world, everyone equally loves their weekends just the same. I am placed in the province of Chaiyaphum which is a mini city in the dead center of rural Thailand.
This means that there are so many beautiful nature spots but also makes it extremely difficult to travel to the top touristy bits of Thailand over the short weekends. It takes me about 5 hours to get to Bangkok by bus and then I would have to fly to wherever I wanted to travel to after that. Personally, I just don’t think it would be worth it to travel for a short weekend.
Fortunately, I am placed in a town with a bunch of other foreigners. Here in our small town, we have about 40 other westerners, so it was easy to quickly establish a solid friend group and be able to explore without having to go alone. We have one bar here, literally named “One Bar,” that we all go to at the weekends and have plenty of places to explore on our motorbikes.
Do you have plans once your internship is finished? More English teaching?
One of the greatest things about teaching abroad is that it opens so many new doors for travel experiences.
When I originally signed up for teaching in Thailand, I anticipated that I would be home within the four months after my contract ended. Meeting so many people with the same aspirations as I have has allowed me the opportunity to travel with some pretty cool people.
After I finish teaching I will be traveling for one month to see the rest of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chaing Rai, Pai, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan) then making my way to Bali, Singapore, and Malaysia!
Honestly, if time allowed me, I am not sure when I would be home…
There is so much of the world that I have not experienced and being this far away from home has intrigued me to learn more about different cultures and what they have to offer.
As for teaching, I am not sure what my future holds for me right now! I don’t think I am completely ready to settle down back in the USA to teach right away (although my family and friends will probably try to convince me otherwise).
The awesome thing about going through a TEFL course is that it gives you the opportunity to connect with an agency that can help you find exactly what to look for when finding a job overseas.
After that, if you decide to do it again somewhere else, you will likely be able to do the research and planning yourself. I do plan to continue to teach in the future, although I am extremely spontaneous, and Thailand has taught me to go with the flow, so whatever happens from here is up in the air.
Mai pen rai!
Thank you Alyssa for sharing your stories with us. Now get back out there and enjoy your adventures