by Codie Kostechka (July, 2008 – July, 2009)

I moved to Surat Thani, with my husband Caleb, mainly to have a year of adventure and to immerse myself in a completely different culture. We travel a lot, but miss the beauty of becoming part of a foreign community. The rewards of becoming an insider, instead of a tourist hitting the hot spots recommended by Lonely Planet, are tremendous and cannot be found during a two to three week vacation. We also needed a change of pace. Caleb and I are both teachers in the States; we both love our jobs but they can be stressful. It felt like life was flying by too fast and we wanted a year to change it up and slow it down. Our year in Surat Thani has definitely achieved these goals for us.

What a different year! For the past year I’ve read zillions of books, played music, ridden by bike, played games, traveled, made friends, stayed in touch with friends and family back home, taken naps, snorkeled, explored, attempted to learn a language, gotten into yoga and have eaten the most wonderful food. I’ve had almost too much time for myself (i.e. addiction to Facebook). Teaching here is a full time job, but when it’s done it’s done. I don’t take any work home and I certainly don’t take any stress home. Back in the US, I would make excuses for not exercising, not riding my bike to work, not learning Spanish, not reading books for pleasure, etc. Here there are no excuses (well I guess you could say it’s too hot…it really is hot) There is enough time to learn how to play the guitar, become a Reiki therapist, fall in love, become a dive master, organize social events, cook farang food at a local bar— whatever makes you happy. And there is definitely enough time to travel and explore Thailand and the surrounding countries. Super English teachers have a lot of time to travel throughout the year (the downside being making less money, but personally, I’d rather travel). I think this year, in a culture that has a much slower pace and a different focus on what it means to be happy, will help me create a more balanced life back in the States. For that alone, I’m glad I came to Surat Thani for a year.

There are many other reasons I’m glad I took a break from normal life and spent a year in Surat—too many to mention in this brief note. Probably the main reason I found the year to be rewarding was living in a typical Thai town (I ♥ Surat Thani). Becoming somebody other than a tourist in a foreign country isn’t easy, but completely worth it, and living in Surat it’s a goal that can be achieved. I love having some sort of other status in this community other than a traveler “stuck” in Surat Thani for a night on the way out to the islands. The locals in Surat are overall so kind and appreciative that people chose to spend a year to teach their children and community members. When I speak my very bad Thai to people or when they learn I am a teacher, doors of friendship and understanding are opened. Surat Thani has enough of everything to be a nice home base for a year. There are plenty of foreigners to bond with, but not too many. There are things to do, but quick escapes to fabulous tourist places when the city gets a little stale. The food and night market scene is untopable, and there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t discover a new place to check out.

I recommend checking out teaching in Surat for a year. Good luck!


by Caleb Kostechka (July, 2008 – July, 2009)

My partner Codie and I decided to come to Thailand last year after teaching in high schools and middle schools in the US for the past eight years, mostly in Eugene, Oregon. We came to Thailand basically looking for a year off of our stressful lives in the U.S. and a chance to expand our horizons. We are both fairly well traveled and had lived abroad before in a small coastal town in Costa Rica. We remember it as one of the best times of our lives and decided it was that time again in our lives to say goodbye to the U.S. and try something new. This year has definitely been something new and a year off from stress. It has also been a year thinking a lot about where we want to be in our lives. We are going back to the U.S. to teach at our old schools again but this experience has taught us a lot of things that we want to take back with us.

Thai Schools:

One of the things we were worried about when we first came over here was how we would function in a Thai classroom. Codie and I had been teachers for quite some time but have never had to deal with a language barrier where we could not really speak to students. This really stressed us out. We came a little early to observe two teachers and I’m glad we did. Not only did we see good teaching, get a lot of great tips, and see our school, we also were able to put our minds at ease. Teaching here (and I’ve taught both at Nu Noi and Suratpittaya) has been really low stress. At first I did experience some scary moments (huge classes of English chanting students, some students who were a bit of a pain) but overall the kids, 4 years old to 18 years old, are pretty much like students in the U.S. Maybe a little more polite and less sarcastic than my high school sophomores, but they like to learn and have fun if the class is interesting. With my EET class, a class I see everyday, their English is strong enough that I’m able to explain more concepts and make a lot of headway with them. With the other classes (who I see once a week for one hour) I basically think of a target, generate some vocabulary, and crank out some crazy learning game to play each week. Whether it’s a basketball game, a dice game, or Pictionary, games seem to be the best way to get kids hooked, competitive and learning the most for the one hour a week you see them. Usually after a game we’ll write up a dialogue, do some acting, and practice in class. Because this formula is repeated throughout the week (I teach the same lesson to 12 classes and the other to 8 classes) the huge burden of planning takes very little time once you have things down. In class, it’s a bit different. Because of the language barrier you do, as a general rule, have to be a bit of a spaz, run around, and freak kids out. The other huge plus from the US is the grading load. Other than my EET class, there is none! As someone who has sat down in front of 180 five-page essays on the same book, this is huge.

Thai schools have been a trip in other ways too. I still love watching the uniform flag raising ceremony each morning, the Thai teachers constantly passing me Thai snacks, and having kids wai me in the hallways. Seriously, wai-ing is awesome. Students will wai you everywhere and just last week I had my first knee jerk wai. I didn’t even think of it but when our director approached I wai-ed instantaneously. Wai fever finally caught me.

One other tip about teaching in Thai schools. Unfortunately appearance is definitely valued over substance. Your school will love you way more if you show up to the flag raising on time wearing “teacher looking” clothes, being clean shaven, and having eyes that are not bloodshot. Fair or not, it’s the way to make friends and get free food from the teachers

Surat Thani and Southern Thailand:

OK….other than the joy of teaching, and the school, Surat Thani is an interesting place to spend a year. It is definitely not Phuket, Koh Samui, or Bangkok. And I say…thank god! Those places are so fun and interesting but filled with tourists and the occasional bitter Thai person who is sick of foreigners being rude and un-Thai. Riding my bike around town I get at least fifty echoes of “Hello!” This city isn’t called the city of friendly people for nothing. Now, not everyone is friendly; the people around the bus stop will tend to try to rip you off on over priced tuk-tuks and bus prices but overall people are really helpful. I did get jumped one time on my bike (they tried to steal my backpack while it was attached to my back) but they didn’t get anything. Granted I was a little tipsy, it was 3 a.m. and I was riding home in front of a string of unsavory bars. A typical weekday for Codie and I includes teaching until 2:45, riding bikes home (picking up watermelon on the way), doing yoga in our house (we listen to a podcast), then going out to eat (we have never cooked a meal in our house this year. I know. It’s a little sad but Thai food is so good and cheap), and then either hitting up an internet café, throwing back a couple beers with friends, or watching a DVD from the extensive library that is the foreign community here in town. A typical weekend usually involves going out of town to either a waterfall, a beach, or, if it’s a three day weekend, one of the islands. We have traveled a lot this year and feel like we’ve really seen a lot of Southern Thailand.

Weird things that have happened to me since being here:

I got dengue fever. It sucked. My body was red with white spots. It’s the kind of thing you get in Oregon Trail. I want to start a survivor’s support group. Wear bug spray. As mentioned before, I got jumped on my bike. I lost a bunch of my hair due to a weird sunburn ocean water thingy. It’s growing back but triggered a premature mid-life crisis. I hit my eye really hard trying to scare off a dog while swinging my bike chain. I get told all the time that my eyes are like the eyes of a cat. By students….at least once a week.

This year has been great. I have loved experiencing another culture up close and living the relaxing life of Thailand. Thailand is very sanook (fun)!