Meet Steph, a British firecracker that’s making a name for herself as a TEFL teacher in Thailand. Read her interview about life in Asia for English teachers abroad, then be sure to check out her blog to go even deeper!
Tell us about your path to TEFL teaching in Thailand. What was the most exciting part?
I started researching TEFL courses in 2018 and through the help of Premier TEFL I decided on teaching in Thailand. I was completely unaware of the process and was helped so much by the company to make my decision on Thailand. The most exciting part was the build up to moving out here. Once, I had received confirmation of being placed in Thailand I began to start planning my life. Quitting my boring 9-5 job in marketing really changed my life for the better and not even a month after finishing my job in the UK I was on a flight to Thailand.
Had you ever been that far away from home before? What was the move from the U.K to Thailand like?
People think I’m crazy when I say that before I moved here, I had never been to Thailand. Most people in their early 20’s have travelled and seen some parts of southeast Asia. However, I went straight into a full time job as soon as I left university so I never had the opportunity to do this. I’ve never been this far away from home even for a holiday and now I’ve lived here for 5 months.
The move from the UK was different. I was so scared about leaving behind my friends and family. My mum and dad dropped me off in Manchester Airport on the 22nd of October and I’ve never felt panic like it. Stood at the security gates I contemplated running back to my mum and telling her to take me home. Thankfully, I didn’t do that!
As I’ve never been to any Asian country before there was a big culture shock for me when I landed in Bangkok and also the humidity was insane. Now I feel quite well acclimatised and the culture here is so chilled and understanding that I regret being so nervous about moving here in the first place.
Describe a typical day in the life of Steph in Thailand. What’s for breakfast? What’s your day in the classroom like? What do you get up to after work?
I wake up at 6:30, get ready for school and set off around 7:20 to ride my motorbike that I share with another teacher into school, we get there usually for 7:25. Classes start at 8:30 so the mornings are spent planning what we will teach for the day and basking in the air conditioned teachers room. I teach 21 hours of classes a week which is not a lot at all. On Mondays, I have 5 classes, Tuesdays 6 classes, Wednesday and Thursdays 3 classes and Fridays 4 classes. The week is split up really evenly and there’s never a time that I feel panicked about what I am going to be teaching as I have so much time to plan my lessons.
I have lunch in school, there are around 20 different stalls in my school cafeteria to choose from so there’s something there for everyone. Classes finish at 4 and I stay in school until 4:30, we clock out and head home on the motorbike. I then get ready to go for dinner that night and usually head out around 6pm for some food.
The nights are nice and there are so many great street food stalls in my town that we are often spoilt for choice on what to have for dinner. We often go for drinks after this. Friday nights are when we hit the karaoke bar and blast out some Celine Dion and Backstreet Boys at the top of our lungs.
Tell us three things a future teacher in Thailand should know before they go? What are the top three packing essentials when moving to Thailand?
- You will make friends! Don’t ever worry about this as I did before coming here. It’s so easy to speak to people and orientation is so much fun it’s impossible to not make friends there.
- Learn a little Thai! Honestly, I came knowing zero Thai and it’s been quite difficult for me unless I’m in central Bangkok. I’ve picked up things but often I am communicating with people like a game of charades. Even if you can just learn the basics of ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much is this?’ and the name of some foods, you will get a lot further than I did in my first few weeks.
- Have fun with teaching! I’d never taught in my life before moving here and my first lesson was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I grew to realise that the students that I teach are just wanting to have fun and learn a new language just the way I did when I was in high school. They love laughing, playing games and full class activities. If you can gain a good reputation with your students your time as a teacher will be an absolute breeze.
3 packing essentials — sunscreen, bug spray, and light clothing. It really is as hot as they say it is in Thailand.
Describe the fun you have when you’re not in the classroom? Is it true what they say about Thailand and the amazing parties?
Thailand is probably the most beautiful place I’ve been to in the world. When, I’m not in the classroom I like to go on adventures. I’ve swam in beautiful waterfalls where little fishes nibbled at my feet, I’ve hiked what felt like a mountain although it could have been a really big hill, I’ve seen elephants in the wild just living their lives. I’ve partied in Bangkok with my friends on more than one occasion. Thailand is a great mix of everything. It’s not just constant parties, it’s beautiful scenery, temples, giant Buddha statues and everything else in between.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced on the road to living abroad? How did you overcome them—any advice for our readers/future TEFL adventurers?
The main challenge I’ve faced is the language barrier. I live in a small town called U-Thong and the locals don’t need to learn English as they have lived here the majority of their lives and don’t plan on leaving, which is completely fair. Picking up a new language is always difficult but I recommend you try learn the basics as I said above. Life is so much easier when you know bits of the language.
Another thing I’ve learnt is that people stare a lot. They’re not doing it in a malicious way at all, many people in these smaller towns will have never seen a ‘Westerner’ before. Smile and they will smile back, that’s the only advice I can give you. Thailand is the land of smiles. If you look like a lost foreigner someone will definitely try to help you, regardless of whether they speak your language or not.
Do you have plans once your internship is finished? More English teaching?
I moved to South Korea to continue working as an English teacher on the 7th April. I will be teaching in a private language school in a city called Gwangju. I can see myself being an English teacher for a very long time and think it’s quite possible that I make a career out of this.
Thailand has been great for me but as the summer draws in my skin starts to burn in a climate that was not made for ginger people! I will miss my school and students dearly. This whole experience has been a dream.
Are you thinking of going to Thailand? Check out Brianna’s amazing TEFL adventure to the Land of Smiles.