by Victoria Biggs (October, 2006 – October, 2010)
I have been in Thailand for just over three months. It has been a whirlwind adventure. Exhausting, wonderful, challenging, and fulfilling. I want to help all potential teachers understand exactly what they are signing on for so the following testimonial will be honest and raw. Get ready…
Teaching in Thailand is an experience onto itself. You need to understand that all eyes will be on you. When I started at Thida I was overwhelmed. Although I had a lot of experience with public speaking, I was intimidated. The classes are huge. Over 50 kids. Remember that you don’t speak their language and they don’t speak yours (yet!!). You have to rely on body language, clever lesson plans and humor. Peter provides you with extensive aid on creating lesson plans. His approach to Anuban’s (kindergartens) is unparalleled and he provides you with a simple weekly lesson plan. There is constant support which I found very helpful because it is easy to become disillusioned with Thida. You only see your Anubans for 30 minutes each week and Thida often cancels classes. It is easy to feel that the odds are against you and in a lot of ways they are. You need to remain positive. If you truly have a love for children, if you can laugh at yourself, if you are willing to give your all even when it seems ‘pointless’ then you will excel at Thida. It may sound bleak but you need to understand that after my classes I generally have a huge smile on my face because the children are so funny, and sometimes all you can do is laugh.
Teaching at Super English is a completely different story. You see your students for five hours each week. You witness the fruits of your labor. There are a lot more direct rewards from working at Super English. You have creative freedom. Peter helps you hone the fundamentals of teaching and then he encourages you to interject all of your personal creativity. I love it. The staff dynamic is wonderful. There is always someone to help with lesson plan ideas or discipline problems. You never feel alone. It truly is rewarding. The students become your students. The class sizes are small. From day one I felt comfortable at S.E. and that is saying a lot considering I had never formally taught English in a school setting.
Living in Surat:
Ahhhhhh, Surat. It is real Thailand. You have access to nearly all the little frills and comforts of home. You can shop, eat foreign food, and even buy English newspapers but don’t let that fool you, Surat is nothing like Canada. You need to prepare yourself (again) for having all eyes on you. There are a significant amount of English teachers in Surat but often you are the only ‘farang’ (foreigner) around. People will point at you. They will shout at you. (hey you!) You will occasionally bring small children to tears with your ‘strange’ appearance. It is a headtrip. Generally speaking the people are very friendly and very interested in you. On a darker note. I have been robbed twice since arriving in Surat. I have also been the victim of one attempted robbery. None of these incidents were violent but they did shake me up. It is a city and you are a ‘rich farang.’ I truly am not frightened in Surat but I think it is important for potential teachers to understand that it is not all safe, kind and cheerful. (Although it predominately is!)
If I had the opportunity to do it all over again I would save more money before coming to Thailand. You do make enough to live in decent luxury but you are here for an adventure and you often want to spend money on going away and the what not. Peter is wonderful about trying to make his teachers lives easier. One month he was aware that all of the teachers were hurting for money so he paid us in the middle of the month as well as the end. (S.E teachers are paid monthly.) You will not be broke but you will not be rolling. You can live very cheaply but most do not. I don’t. Just know that you will not be saving a ton of money.
There is plenty to do in Surat. There are always people going out on the town. Often times it is these little mini ‘excursions’ that suck up a lot of your money. I must say that it is worth it. The bar scene is very different in Surat than most other tourist destinations in Thailand. You see real Thailand. You hear real Thai (cover) bands. You dance, you play. The music selection is limited and I do miss going to see ‘real’ bands, but I have a wonderful time reveling in Surat nightlife. There is other things to do besides go out on the town. Many friends have joined Tae Kwon Do, go running at the island park, play basketball or go to computer shops for games and internet. There is plenty to do you just have to make an effort to find it.
I am a vegetarian. (No meat including seafood) This has been cause for some headaches in Thailand. I can always find something to eat but the options are often quite limited. By asking around I have managed to find at least 5 restaurants with an array of vegetarian options. Three of these places only serve food until the late afternoon which is a bit frustrating but really I always have something to eat and it is generally quite good and cheap. One more thing. Everyone will tell you to watch out because the food is really spicy. It is, but a bashful smile and the request for ‘little spice’ it nearly always honored. One last thing. There is very little cheese. Good for the cellulite factor but still disheartening.
I ride a bicycle. It works. It is good exercise, cheap and you get the smug satisfaction of helping the environment. Some teachers rent or buy motorbikes. Up to you. The traffic is somewhat chaotic but really not terrifying. You catch on quickly.
Surat really is a travel hub. Having been here for only 3 months and working every week I have managed to use my weekends to travel to 3 different islands, one beautiful mainland beach, and one national park. Many of these places I have visited numerous times. If you want to work somewhere where the location affords you infinite travel flexibility, then Surat is perfect.
Thailand is wonderful but you need an open mind. Come here with good health (mental and physical), a sense of humor and a desire to help children learn and everything else will fall into place. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.