by Brian Steinbach
Update: see Brian’s follow-up post for his reflections on what he wished had and hadn’t brought
Welcome to the quintessential guide for the eminent traveler to Thailand. Well, maybe not so “quintessential” as, at the moment of writing this, I myself am just shy of thirty days from departing to Surat Thani. I have spent the last few months planning for the move, and hope that a lot of what I can tell you here will be useful for your travel plans. As an aside, if you do happen to enjoy this write up, please look forward to my follow up article, “Hindsight: Things I Should or Should Not have Told You to Do and Bring” or “Sorry, I Guess I Owe You a Pint” (I haven’t decided yet).
Getting Your Affairs in Order:
No one can really tell you everything that YOU need to manage before departing. But I can tell you a lot of what I’ve done in hopes that it can at least spark ideas for things you may need or want to take care of. The obvious ones are picking up your plane tickets and getting your travel documents in order. Though they are the more obvious ones (and probably the most expensive part of pre-departure planning), I recommend taking care of them as early as possible. I’ll bullet point them so I don’t kill your eyes with a wall of text:
First talk to Peter and find out when you’re starting, and how soon you can arrive prior to that. I would say most people would benefit from arriving at least a week before you start teaching/observing. Moving to a foreign country alone will be a bit overwhelming at first, so if you can avoid stepping right off the plane into your classroom, I would certainly recommend doing so. Again, check with Peter to see if you can sneak in a few days early so that you can get to know your new home a little bit. Once you have your date, you’re ready to grab your tickets. •
Passport and Visa:
Here in the states, getting a new passport can take up to six weeks if you don’t have one already. On top of that, the Visa process can take quite a bit longer. I recommend starting as soon as possible. There are various documents you’ll need (which I won’t bore you with now), but you should locate your nearest Thai Consulate. For me it was a six-hour drive to Chicago. Hopefully yours is closer, but if it is far away, you may need to make arrangements to stay a night wherever it is that you have to travel. There are four or five locations in the states that I know of, and I’m sure there’s one in London for any of you across the pond.
Chances are, you currently have stuff. And unfortunately all of your stuff cannot accompany you on your journey. This may mean packing away everything in storage, but you may want to see if you have any friends or relatives willing to borrow/use/keep your stuff while you’re away (doing so also means they’ll probably help you move everything, which is nice). It will save you on storage fees and maybe even end up solving other hurdles on your to-do list. For example: I knew someone who was going to need a vehicle for a while, and as I’m not going to be using mine, I offered to let her use it. She gets a car for a year, I ensure that my car won’t idle in a garage somewhere, AND they’ve offered to make the payments. I felt pretty lucky falling into that deal, but I do recommend that you keep your eyes peeled for opportunities such as that.
Your “living” stuff:
Pets are bad at rationing their food, so I recommend finding a loving home for them while you’ re away.
Bills: Figure out how to pay them while overseas, cancel them, or wiggle out of them by the time you reach your departure date. I am currently planning on canceling my cell phone service, and I would recommend the same to you if you happen to be bringing a laptop with you. Skype is an excellent substitute for making long distance chats. It’s also completely free.
This is a biggie. Go to your bank or call your credit providers, and make sure your card is going to work for you in Thailand. It probably will. More importantly, make sure that you go to your bank/provider about a month before you leave and ensure that they know that YOU will be in Thailand using YOUR cards. Otherwise you can’t really get angry with them for denying/terminating your cards when someone purchases toilet paper in Surat Thani, when their records still show that you’re supposed to be at “Location A.” Don’t be a victim of toilet paper-credit card cancellation; visit your bank before leaving.
Maybe you’re more than ready for a change of scenery, but that doesn’t mean you won’t miss anything while you’re gone. Go hit your favorite food locales, hang out with friends/family, or go see a movie in the theater that isn’t dubbed. Whatever your fancies may be, you’ll probably want to bet on the possibility that they may not be as readily available as you’re currently accustomed to.
Acquiring/Whittling down your packing list:
To be honest, I’m nowhere near done with this myself. I do know certain things I’ll be bringing. There are other articles on the SE site that give recommendations on what to bring, so I’ll be brief.
It’s certainly not a necessity, but in terms of size vs. use, and if it’s in your budget, you won’t get more communication and entertainment value out of anything else for the limited packing space you took up to bring it. You may use it for Skype, music, movies, and all your other Internet needs. It’s a no brain-er for me.
Everything I’ve heard about reading material is that it is available, but your selection will be just that- whatever is available. I’m dedicating part of my luggage to a stack of books from my “to read” pile. If you’re an avid reader, then I suggest you bring at least a couple books (ones that may be worth re-reading if you can think of any).
I like making coffee. What do you like?
They have clothing there, but my understanding is that bringing your own shoes is kind of a biggie. Shoes that fit you may be quite difficult to find, so bring what you need for casual, work, really casual, et cetera. You can always have stuff shipped to you from friends or family, but if you’re like me and have wide feet, then you probably just want to plan to avoid the hassle of hoping what you had shipped to you fits. •
Bring only what you know you’ll wear. Remember it’s hot in Thailand more often than not. So think about the material from which your clothes are made. That probably means you don’t want to bring your collection of swanky polyester. For work, I’m pretty sure polo style shirts are readily available near SE, so you shouldn’t need to pack many if you were planning on it. I did have a friend tell me that she had wished she had brought more long pants to wear while camping (bugs and stuff). She also recommended that I bring a quick dry towel for camping. I’m pretty sure Douglass Adams wouldn’t object.
In the Classroom:
I’ve never taught in a Thai classroom, but I imagine that like teaching in the states, the hardest part isn’t so much teaching the content, as much as it is getting yourself comfortable with being in front of 40-50 kids. On top of that, every classroom is made up of a completely different set of students, which means that regardless of whether or not it’s the same content, the atmosphere of each class will be greatly determined by the students that make it up. If you see an opportunity to get up and speak in front of any group of people, I recommend doing so just for the experience. It will help you. That said, knowing your lesson and its content well is one way of building confidence for being in front of fifty sets of eyes.
That’s about all I can think of for now without going into overly tedious details. But to reiterate, no one knows better than you what you need to take care of before you set off for Surat. I hope that this will be of use to anyone trying to plan for the move, or at least helped spark ideas of things you hadn’t thought of yet. I’m sure most of you have explored the Super English website quite a bit, if not in its entirety upon being hired. I would recommend revisiting it as you get closer to departing. There’s a lot of really useful information on the site, and it’s been a pretty big basis for a lot of my planning. Good luck in your endeavors and all your adventures to come.