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Top 5 best & worst when living & teaching in Thailand

Top 5 Best Things

1. You get to experience a whole entire different culture up close and personal

Travelling is awesome, but taking on a teaching job in a foreign country will allow you to experience the world on a much more in-depth adventure. Whether your contract is 3 months, 6 or 12 – the country you’re in will start to feel like a home. Their culture will shock and suck you in for all its worth if you allow it. To embrace the new surroundings for all its worth, you need patience, optimistic views and an encouraging smile. Having an apartment in a small, dusty town and eating street food every night will encourage you to communicate with the locals, transcending into friendly waves when they speed past you on their mopeds the following week!

2. Being in a job that allows you to be creative

There’s only so many times you can drill new words in front of a class with a bunch of flashcards before it starts to get entirely boring for you, and your students. Thinking outside the box is a must with TEFL, creating new games that link with what your pupils are studying. Whether it’s playing duck, duck, goose but instead you say new vocabulary or bingo – matching the correct words with objects!

3. Having the freedom and financial stability to visit must-see places

The great thing about teaching in an international country is chances are your wage packet will be more than enough to survive, save and explore your surroundings. Whilst I was constantly organising my financial woes in the UK, I can happily travel to Bangkok every weekend, buy a couple of items in the markets, do a weekly food shop, go away for a long weekend, pay all my apartment bills and have money left over! Don’t get me wrong – you can go crazy and blow all your money in any city, but when you don’t have certain habits (i.e., drinking alcohol and only staying in five-star hotels) you can experience virtually everything!

4. Feeling accomplished when your students speak to you in English

This is probably the most overwhelming satisfaction you will encounter whilst teaching. I get the pleasure of seeing 2-4 year olds every day. Even though 80% of the time it’s hours of nursery rhymes, trying to communicate that running into walls is not okay and picking up play dough off of the floor – it’s all worth it when they say, ‘I’m fine thank you Miss Emma!’ Seeing young children walk into your first lesson as a crying mess on the floor, into energetic, little human beings who are starting to speak two languages from seeing you everyday, is highly rewarding!

5. Travelling and living in a different country teaches you some of the greatest life lessons

There’s no escaping your feelings here by running to your friends with a box of tissues and wine, or burying yourself underneath the duvet (it’s too hot for that….). There are days where your lesson plans go wrong, the children don’t care that B is for bear, and your stomach is still churning from the dodgy chicken the night before. You may visit somewhere for the day and get ripped off in taxi fare, looked up and down by locals or get so lost in an area you don’t know, you’re ready to lay down on the pavement and cry yourself onto a flight home. When things get stressful in unfamiliar territory, you have less security walls around you AKA friends and family. Therefore, you learn to deal with things as an individual and work through your emotions. Sooner or later you’re handling scenarios and situations like a pro, and all on your own!

Top 5 Worst Things

1. 100% health is something but a dream for most people

Since teaching in Thailand, I have yet to have a streak of fourteen days where I have not had a stomach bug, diarrhea, headaches, dehydration, a cough or a cold. Before you leave your home country, you never think about illness and how different environments affect different individuals. If you’re travelling to a developing or third world country, chances are you WILL get ill at some point along the trip. Hygiene is not on the top of the priority list in a lot of places; therefore carrying hand sanitizer everywhere you go is a must! You’re also going to get really good at squats, as most public toilets are stand up urinals and bottomless pits. Yum. If it’s not hygiene and food contamination that gets you, it’s bugs from your students who like to snot all over the play-dough and cough onto your hands when you decide to help them draw a dot-to-dot image of a donkey. The only good thing about this whole situation is, that you appreciate how damn good you had it back in your first world country filled with first world problems.

2. You will get homesick at some point, no matter how much of an amazing time you are having

Before I left the UK, I was raring to leave. Years of education, job hopping and crazy overtime left me haggard at the mere age of 23 and I had to do something about it. So, when I got a job teaching in Asia, I jumped at the chance. Gone were the days of living in a country of credit crunch disaster, £1.20 bottles of water and overcrowded cities with only half the amount of jobs as opposed to people. However, as much as I love Southeast Asia, the food, sunshine, people, culture, teaching…. You do leave tiny pieces of your heart behind. As the months roll and the memories stack up, you can’t help but wish the ones you love were enjoying this all with you. Packages from home form a lump in your throat and depression pays a visit as you see everyone on Facebook getting up to drunken antics and instagramming their Nando’s meal. But, eventually that moment of weakness does pass and you realize these are the days you will remember for the rest of your life and to make the most of it!

3. The language barriers…

No matter how much you bury your head in basic language books, leaflets or sky train pamphlets, it is virtually impossible to pronounce Thai language correctly. Or, so it seems. ‘Victory Monument, Bangkok’ is what I think comes out of my mouth, but according to the Thai locals, I’ve just said something utterly confusing. They then proceed to spend the next ten minutes searching for someone who speaks English, so they can get to the important conclusion of how much they want to charge me for the minibus.

4. You find out who your real friends are

We all have friends who come and go, and some who are in our lives everyday. When you live in the same area/country – it’s pretty easy to catch up over coffee, visit for a long weekend or go dance to some cheesy pop down the local, smelly club. But when you travel to a different country that’s 13 hours away, it’s not so easy. 21st Century technology lets me keep up to date on Facebook at the touch of a button on my Android phone, but so many individuals think social media platforms are enough as a form of in-depth communication. Liking statuses, comments on photo’s and tagging people you know in a video you just KNOW they’ll find funny, are all ways of reminding certain people that you thought of them. However, the brutal analysis of it all is that even though that person may have just posted a picture of a secluded beach and a glass of pina colada, they could be feeling rotten with no one to talk to unless they login to Twitter and make themselves known. Social platforms makes us incredibly lazy at verbally communicating with the ones we love, and you realize who really wants to talk to you if you aren’t in their visual surroundings, and who really couldn’t care less.

5. Scams and Taxi driver's ripping you off

Every time. You say the place you wish to go and know the journey well. They smile, nod and give perfect eye contact. You’re sat in the back of the taxi thinking, ‘Ahh! Finally, someone who understood me and knows where we’re going, excellent’. Ten minutes later, you’re cursing your own name for ever getting into the moving vehicle, for polite, enthusiastic driver is heading down the wrong side of the highway and pointing at an over bridge that’s apparently the ONLY way….The finish line approaches and you’re handing over 200 baht extra because Mr. amateur tour guide thought he’d make a tip out of you and treat his wife to pad thai for dinner. C’est la vie.


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Profile photo of Emma Van Looy

Emma is a mid-twenties Theatre graduate with a wanderlust that lovingly haunts her. She left the UK in April 2014 for a 16 month adventure to Southeast Asia which included teaching English in small organisations as well as international schools. She has returned to her home country to be with her family in the hour of need, but is pretty sure she'll be off again soon!



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