Advice to New Teachers

by Mitch Burbick

So, you’re coming to Thailand. Good on you. It’s nice here. Rest assured, you will figure it all out pretty quickly once you get here but these are a couple things that might be worth wrapping your mind around before heading to this side of the globe.

First off, it’s hot here. Like, really hot here. I know people come from all different parts of the world but coming from America’s west coast, the only thing I’d experienced that was slightly even maybe kind of close to this type of heat and humidity was the one summer I spent when I was 10 in rural Wisconsin chasing fireflies around with my Midwestern cousins. I’ve read books that describe hot and humid climates like being wrapped in a blanket, and that’s really what it is. It’s hot, it’s wet, and it’s more than a little bit sweaty almost all the time.

However, this is merely a fact and the advice that I’d try to impart to you is to not bring heavy clothes over. I brought a few pairs of slacks over here to teach in that were wool and they are a no go. I seriously wore them the first week I was here and never again. (Full Disclosure: There may or may not have been a slightly embarrassing amount of trouser-dampening sweat involved.) Traditional button up shirts work fine if you have anything to cover up (tattoos or the like), but polo shirts are probably the better option because you still look good when they’re not tucked in and short sleeves are better vents than long sleeves rolled up. A rather unique fact of life is that I am not a girl, so my advice in this realm for women is a little less helpful, but seeing the way that other women teachers here dress, it’s probably advisable to either bring or procure here skirts of a flow-ish nature. This makes it much easier to ride a bicycle or a motorbike to work as well. A certain someone I know bought a selection of really good looking high quality skirts before coming over and never wore them past the first day. Write this equation down and commit it to memory: tight = impractical. Girls are welcome to wear polo shirts as well but can get away with a little bit more as far as tops go seeing that the neckline isn’t too low. The kids like to stare. They like to stare a lot.

(Anecdote: I half lifted my shirt and scratched my stomach absent mindedly in front of my fifth graders the second or third week I was teaching and I still hear about it from them. A typical thing one of them might say while coming up to me scratching his/her/its stomach is: “Teacher scratch stomach,” while three of them roll on the ground laughing. They think this is hilarious.)

The second bit of advice I’d dole out is to try packing lightly. I know, I know, you’re leaving for a year. I came here with an individual who is one of those people who will pack a full on suitcase for an overnight trip. Not pretty. Half of the things brought over haven’t been touched since that first week. You can find pretty much everything here. Really, you can. Clothes-wise, bring what you need to teach in and wear around town for a week or two. Really, you’ll need a much smaller variety of clothes than you think. I’d say pick a few things that are really important to you, your luxuries, and bring them on over to make sure you’ll have them. For me it was a French press for coffee, a couple of beer cozies, and a few – even by my standards – oversized books of poetry.

Now this next piece of advice strikes particularly close to home because, by nature (I blame my Dad), I’m not a patient person. Thai people take their times with things. Thailand takes it’s time with things. Don’t ever expect your bus or train to be on time. Planes, you’re alright with, but bus and train, seriously, give yourself a few hours leeway. When you need them to be on time they’ll be only an hour late, and when you need them to be only an hour late, they’ll be six hours late. If you’re one of those people that needs everything planned out to the moment, someone who needs hotel reservations before stepping foot out of the door and a detailed sight filled action packed plan for every minute of the day, try relaxing a little bit. Things move at a different (slower) pace over here. It really does turn out to be quite fantastic, so just take it easy.

The last thing I’d advise, and something that I’m sure Peter has mentioned, is to drink as much delicious beer as you possibly can before you leave home. This country has absolute garbage for beer. If this sounds impassioned, it is because about this subject, I am impassioned. Beer here does the trick, but it’s kind of like an eerie reliving of my high school drinking experience, pushing through the taste to get the effect. I’m not saying that it’s always terrible. There are certainly some days I come home from work or have been out in the sun and find a cold Thai brewed lager to be quite the refreshing drink. I’m just saying that it’s usually pretty terrible. As far as other non-Thai beer options go, there are a few. Heineken is the only import available everywhere (for a pretty ridiculous price) but if you’re like me, you’ve always viewed Heineken as Europe’s Coor’s Light so take that for what it is. In Bangkok and Phuket you can find a wider variety, but they’re invariably expensive and seeing as how we’re hours from either of those towns, you won’t be finding them on a weekly basis. So stock up my happy and full beer drinking friends. Stock up and enjoy the sweet taste of delicious beer.

PS – If you bring me an IPA I’ll be your best friend forever. Forever ever.

…We’d All Ride for Free

by Brian Steinbach

Unfathomable as it may seem, we’re imperfect in our ability to predict and estimate our possible needs and even potential shortcomings. Yet the most effective defense is that we do our best to anticipate every roadblock and deliver an experience as bump free as possible. So we plan, plan, and plan some more, but the end result is inevitably that something has gone unforeseen (whether due to our own oversight or others). Ultimately I can only report on my own missteps during the first one and half months here in Surat. So use this as a supplemental guide to your own plans knowing that you will have your own list of things that made you go “oh…” in your first weeks in Thailand.

***Note: I am a first time international traveler out of the states. There are moments ahead that prompt a well deserved, “duh” response in this article. I apologize for those in advance.

In descending order (most important to least):

1st- Coffee, Chocolate, Beer (There’s a joke in there)-

They don’t exist here. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. But the coffee is all instant coffee, often with powdered creamer and sugar pre-mixed in. Beer options are extremely limited, and chocolate is often not what you’d expect (international recipe to keep it from melting or something). As far as, “wish I had known advice”, I don’t have any on the chocolate and beer front. As for the coffee, I did have the foresight to bring my own French press, coffee grinder, and 5lb bag of coffee beans. Though, be warned on the coffee. If customs decides to go through your bag, they may decide to dump out your coffee into your bag with all of your clothes (Though irritating, I could think of worse things than reeking of coffee for the first week in Surat).

-Note: Rest assured, the superb food does what it can to make up for that which we’re deprived.

1st (seriously)- Phones-

I didn’t think I would be using a phone while in Thailand. I canceled my phone service and opted for using Skype as my communication mainstay while abroad. Two realizations came up in lieu of this plan; the readily available and easily acquired SIM card, easily replenished with credit for purchase at any 7/11 (which are as common as Star Bucks in a large city back home); and the lack of Internet access in Super English housing (See #2).

First, if you’re 100% unfamiliar with SIM cards, and buying credit for them, one of the teachers will show hook you up when you arrive (My roommate did). So don’t worry on that front. For the most part, these phones are for contacting Peter, other teachers, and other friends you’ve met around town. You can chat back home, but it’s a bit steeper at something like 5 baht a minute (I recommend Skype for those calls if at all possible). Still, for emergencies, your family should be able to contact you in a pinch.

Have an iPhone?: You can get your iPhone set up with a local Sim card. But make sure to bring your original Sim card. I did not, and had to send for it after I bricked my phone (I won’t explain here, but bring the original SIM as a precaution if you fancy using the phone here).

2nd – Internet in Super English Housing-

I knew that Internet was not provided through our housing, but I didn’t know that it was out of the question to work something out through the landlord. The Internet is a pretty large staple in modern communication. And when you plan on using Skype to stay connected back home, and considering hour differentials (12 hours for me), it makes staying in touch a bit cumbersome. There are at least three Internet coffee shops between my house and work, and Internet is always available at the SE office. But that means you have to do your communicating/ Internet work during those available hours (ie. If the coffee shop closes at 6:00 P.M…).

So, that’s a big one to keep in mind. Communication isn’t impossible, and Internet access certainly isn’t scarce. It just takes some planning for you, and those you’re contacting back home.

Note from Peter: Since we rent all the houses for our teachers, we cannot install internet there. It is ultimately up to the landlord, since it is their name on the house and address. They usually say “no” because they don’t want to end up with any problems. So a landline internet connection at the SE houses won’t happen. However, some teachers have gone around this hurdle by connecting to the internet via their cell phone. They have hooked their phone up to their computer and gotten an internet connection from that. It probably wasn’t fast enough for Skype, but they were able to check their email, watch Youtube, etc. So internet in SE housing is possible, but it won’t be dsl speed.

3rd- Credit/Debit/Banking info-

Prior to leaving, I visited my bank to make sure they knew that I would be in Thailand for the next year. The purpose being so that they wouldn’t cancel my cards when they noticed someone 12 hours away from where I normally am bought mass amounts of sweet, sweet macaroni and cheese (rare) at some unlikely place in Thailand. It’s a good idea, and I advise you still do it. That said, I have not used my credit or debit card once in the two months I’ve been here (think of them as for emergencies).

I can still pay bills online and, should I wish to, make online purchases with my accounts back home. However, you will be setting up your own bank account in Surat Thani after you get your work permit all sorted out. The SE staff basically does this for you. All you have to do is be there to sign the papers. This can take a couple months (still waiting on mine to go through). I did not realize that I wouldn’t be able to put money in and out of my accounts back home with ease (and charge free). This one isn’t too big a deal; it’s just something I wasn’t aware of prior to arriving. While you wait for your permit, you’ll be hoarding what money you did bring with you (and any paychecks you earn along the way) in little tin cups buried in the yard.

4th- Small things-

  1. “God save the Quality pants!” – I brought exactly two pairs of black pants for work, and on day one, forgot to roll up my pant legs when getting on my bike for work. The end result was a very unpleasant ripping sound on day one. I learned my lesson. Still…bring a small sewing kit.
  2. Arrival/Departure Slip: This happened to another teacher, but it very easily could have happened to me. On your flight into Bangkok, or at customs, you will receive a couple small forms that you fill out. They state you’re arrival, and where you’re staying, as well as your departure info, etc. You will give the arrival slip to customs, and YOU NEED TO HOLD ONTO THE DEPARTURE ONE. For Wen’s sake (she’s doing all your work permit stuff). In other words, don’t throw it away. You’ll end up having to drive back out to the airport to get a replacement.
  3. TukTuk Drivers/ Some Vendors: You are a tourist in the eyes of most. Especially early on in your stay. This means that you look like you have gobs and gobs of money to many of the locals. So, a 10-20 baht TukTuk ride will suddenly be 40-50 baht. Or that bushel of bananas that was 10 baht will be 40 baht. Learn some of the Thai lingo early to avoid this occurrence. You will not be able to convince everyone, at which point you either pay them off or walk away.

Note: I did not realize there would be as much of a teacher/tourist divide when I first arrived. It’s not quite hostility, but we’re not fond of seeing tourists (oversized backpacks, touristy clothing, etc) meandering around the night market and other places we frequent. Surat is mostly touristfree, which keeps our costs lower than the tourist areas. I didn’t know how to take the weird anti-stance on tourism by fellow teachers at first, but it quickly becomes something you adopt and try to keep your distance from.

Packing Hindsight, or Things I should/shouldn’t have brought:

  1. I brought too many socks. A friend told me that good socks could be hard to find, but I think I went a little overboard. Seriously, pretty much no one wears shoes here unless they’re teaching. You don’t have to take your shoes off before going into every building or store, but it happens enough to the point that even my Velcro sandals seem inconvenient at times. Bring a couple weeks worth of work socks, but I wouldn’t bring more than a week of casual socks in the event that you go hiking. Maybe in six months I’ll be glad I brought this many socks. But right now, all I can think is that I could have packed another book or two in place of the abundance of white socks.
  2. I wish I had brought a small jump drive (usb memory stick). I brought my external hard drive, but bringing a small memory stick completely slipped my mind. You can buy them here, but it’s something small enough, to where there’s no reason not to bring it from back home for just the sake of making things easier. There have been about a dozen times so far where trading/moving files has come up, where I’ve just been up the proverbial creek until I finally go out and find one.
  3. I wish I’d either brought one more power adapter, or one fewer items that required a power adapter. The voltage here is 220. Most high-end electronics will be compatible with the 220 (laptops, most digital cameras, and some shavers, etc). But make sure you check the power chords on your stuff. If it doesn’t say up to 220, then think about whether it you really need it, or if it’s something you can pick up for a reasonably cheap price over here. Right now the only things I have are an electric beard trimmer, a coffee grinder, and a wireless mouse. I’ve only used the coffee grinder thus far, but the converter is kind of an irritating thing to move around the house. It’s up to you.
  4. I wish I had taken that free motorcycle safety/riding course that I told everyone I was going to take…but then ended up being “too busy”. Stupid.
  5. I wish I had downloaded more television shows that I had never seen before. I have a fair amount, but severely overestimated my ability to find stable Internet connections to download more stuff. Load up your hard drives with music, movies, and television people.***
  6. I wish all of my pants fit. I was teaching back in the states last fall, and lost a good amount of weight during the spring. As a result of just grabbing all of my work pants, at least two pairs are too large (this is a duh…). Wasted bag space for the lose.
  7. I kind of wish (though kind of glad I didn’t) I had brought a little more spending money with me for my first two months in Surat Thani. I arrived one week into July, and didn’t start teaching until August. This means my first check comes at the end of August. It will be a full month, but it doesn’t leave much in the way of weekend travel money. Don’t get me wrong though. I only brought about six hundred U.S. dollars (about 20-21,000 baht), and that was more than enough to last me for seven weeks. That includes one four-day weekend to Khao Sok (among tourist options, it’s one of the cheaper, but I dropped about 3500 baht there and back). So, yeah. Money goes far. I’ve had to pass up a few opportunities to travel due to budgeting, but there’s plenty to do in Surat during your first two months getting acclimated. I also imagine that most people won’t be here for nearly two months before there first paycheck. That said; bring more if you fancy traveling a lot in your first few weeks. Otherwise, you’ll probably be fine come first paycheck.

That’s pretty much on my “Wish someone had told me” list. If you’re curious about what I did bring (and not just my regrets), see my “Preparing for Thailand” article on the SE website. And with that, I’ll say good luck, and happy planning.

What I wish I had known before coming to Thailand…

by John Phelps

Coming to Thailand, I brought my own fifteen kilogram set of misunderstandings and preconceived notions packed neatly in my carry-on. Slowly over the past year, up to the writing of this completely non-exhaustive article, I have gathered a few bits of info that I wish I had packed.

First, it is incredibly beneficial to learn the flat-footed squat. If you are working and backpacking in South East Asia, you will find the porcelain trench in the ground at times staring up at you when you are dreaming of a nice white throne. Perhaps some yoga would be helpful to stretch the appropriate muscles, so you don’t end up minding your business details in a very nitty-gritty fashion. As a side note, a bathroom with toilet paper is a rarity. An even more extreme rarity is one that provides hand washing soap. You can find luxurious multiple ply toilet paper and hand sanitizer in shops here, so don’t be too worried. And in the end, we have all defecated on our own shoes. Don’t be too embarrassed when it happens to you.

Someone told someone, who told me, “say ‘yes’ as much as possible.” This is definitely true when meeting Thai friends and neighbors here. I initially thought it more polite to say I have already eaten when my neighbors invited me to their table. I assumed they were asking only out of courtesy, but it turns out it is impolite to turn down an invitation to eat or drink when it is offered. Always take a bite or sip (often they offer you a sip out of their own cup, which you are to hand back) to show friendship. Conversely, if you have something to drink or eat, offer it. After sitting on his porch a few nights, a neighbor offered to drive a group of us to the hot springs on the outskirts of Surat. We said yes, and he treated us to an amazing day of scalding hot water and mud bathing. We have been good friends with that neighbor ever since.

Lastly, a sincere smile will carry you incredibly far in Thailand. I have had a few conflicts with the Thai teachers that I work with in the classroom. For instance, in Thai culture, it is not impolite to talk while someone else is talking. Thus, it is OK in a few Thai teachers’ minds to teach some other material while you are conducting your English lesson. Setting the smile to stun and making eye contact, I can do one of two things that I otherwise could not. One, I get in the teacher’s immediate space and overwhelm them with the volume of my voice until they give up. Two, I sit down and take a water break. Almost always, the power struggle ends quickly with them handing the class back over. The best part is that everyone walks away happy. On vacation, a smile and a few words of Thai may drop you from the tourist price to the almost-Thai price bracket. Arguing about how Thais pay less will not earn you any points, though they may begrudgingly lower it a little. But smile and be respectful, and you’ve had a good experience while getting a better price.

Til soon,

John

Welcoming New Teachers

by Janet Phelps

I felt cared for by Super English from the moment I stepped off the plane into the warm, humid air of Surat Thani.

Wait, that’s not right. SE is a company, a school. It was the people at SE, the staff and the managers who made me feel immediately at home here.

SE Thai staff manager Wen was waiting at the airport with our names on a sign. She smiled and asked us how our trip was. Then, she took us out to lunch, brought us home, took us to the grocery store, bought us our phones and our bicycles.

Our first housemate Emily organized a welcome dinner and showed us around town. She took us everywhere with her for the first few days we were here. Got us oriented, helped us learn our way around.

SE owner Peter took us out for breakfast. He gave us advice as first-year teachers and took us on excursions around town. He offered us training for our first week and made listening to our ideas part of that experience. He picked us up on our first weekend and took us to the bus station, showed us how to take the bus to the beach.

SE manager Victoria and her partner Vee had us over for dinner or to play cards many times. They showed us where to get food and helped us with all of the details of adjusting to a new country. Vic talked us through our first day of classes and helped us whenever issues came up.

If it wasn’t for those people who stepped in when we first got here, my husband John and I would have felt alone and strange in this new place. But because of the intentional kindness of so many people, we were welcomed into a sincerely friendly experience which made us immediately happy to be here.

John and I are now a year into our contract at SE. We would never have agreed to stay on another year if it wasn’t for the wonderful welcome we received. And because it meant so much to us, we’re committed to making sure every single new teacher has as good of an experience as we did when we first got here.

When you get off the plane, there will be someone waiting for you. You will have housing waiting for you, and friends to show you around. Whenever you have a question, need advice or want to talk, someone will be here for you. When things get tough, SE will support you and make sure you’re being taken care of.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again with each new staff member becoming part of the welcoming crew. So I know it’s true.

Acclimation Proclamation: Two Weeks in Surat

by Brian Steinbach

The Arrival:

Upon arriving in Surat, you’ll probably be met at the airport by either Peter or Wen. You’ll stand at the luggage carousel nervously hopeful that your luggage wasn’t lost somewhere along the way in the craziness of your long (LONG) journey to your new home. From here you’ll probably be shuttled directly to your new house, where you will be able to meet your new roommate(s). In my case, I was dropped off around noon, and was able to check out my room a little before my roommate came home and took me down the road to buy lunch.

The Overwhelming Euphoria:

The feeling is hard to describe, and I’m sure it’s a bit different for everyone. But whenever you catch that minute to yourself at your house, there is a weird euphoria that might accompany your new surroundings. Your mind will be racing with a million excited thoughts and questions that will probably make relaxing for the first couple of days (reading, watching a show, etc) from being as easily accomplished as it should be. And that’s all pretty much normal. You’re in a foreign country, you’re about to start a new job, have no idea how to get from point A to point B without a guide, and you don’t speak the lingo. More or less you will feel pretty lost for the first week or so. Thankfully, around the one-week mark you’ll squash a lot of the problems preventing you from functioning independently. In the first week and half that I’ve been here:

  • I’ve learned how to order food at local vendors and the amazing Night Market (just outside of Super English).
  • I’ve learned how to get to work and other Super English teachers’ homes from my house (that may not seem like much of a feat, but there’s definitely an awesome on “terra firma” feeling when you get the point of being able to get from A to B un-escorted by helpful co-workers/roommates).
  • I’ve learned how to speak some simple Thai phrases that help me to get by for the time being.
  • I’ve found several Internet coffee shops that are pretty convenient (and air conditioned to boot!)
  • My roommate has shown me a lot of the ropes around town, and helped me to purchase a number of smaller, harder to find items (SIM cards, groceries, kitchen/bathroom supplies, hangers, power strips, water bottles, etc).

There are probably a lot of other things I can’t even think of to add to the list. If anything, that’s a sign of how quickly we learn and start to take advantage of the things we take for granted, like being able to get from A to B.

When you’re immersed in a totally foreign experience, that extreme sense of being lost WILL be countered by an extreme sponge-like absorption of new knowledge. That said, I still have a lot to learn about Surat, its people, and my job. Thankfully, everyone at Super has been unbelievably helpful and friendly.

In Good Company:

Before coming to Surat, I had repeatedly heard about the friendliness of its citizens. But I didn’t expect the Super English crew to be as helpful and outgoing as they have been over the past couple of weeks. My co-teachers have gone out of his way to show me around a lot of the town between my house and Super (different routes, multiple cool cafes, food places, and bars). People frequently contact each other to meet up for cards, drinks, or just to hang in general. As an example; this past Sunday, I didn’t have any plans for the day, and certainly wasn’t expecting a call from another teacher asking me if I would like to go to Monkey College (who could refuse, right?). I ended up having one of the best days since arriving, all because of a phone call leading to an impromptu Monkey college excursion. And this upcoming weekend, I’ve been invited by some other teachers to go to Khao Sok National Park for the extended weekend.

In the way of advice, I’d say that your fellow teachers are your greatest assets to settling into Surat Thani. Even if you’re the kind of person whose idea of relaxing is catching some quite time with a good book, try to take people up on offers to go out and about the town. That’s especially advised during your first few weeks. It’s one of the best ways to acclimate yourself with the town and its many stops (and thus making your more comfortable in the town as a whole).

Everything is Cool:

Keep an open and flexible mind while you’re adjusting to Thai life. Always remember that that discombobulated feeling you have during your first week is only temporary. Soon enough, between your own personal experiences and your joint expeditions with the other Super teachers around the town, you will feel a thousand times better and have a growing confidence about where you are and your many adventures to come.

Some Basic Do’s and Don’ts

by Emily Nass

Teaching is as unique an experience as the students making up the class. Having experience in the classroom is an invaluable benefit. Something to keep in mind, however, is how distinctive each and every school can be. Several of you who read this may already have an abundance of teaching experience and knowledge behind you. That is wonderful. Others may be starting their teaching career with Super English. Regardless of which you are I hope you will find this article helpful on many levels.

Because teaching in Thailand is such a matchless experience in itself, one can only imagine the small nuances that set each school apart. The following are some helpful do’s and don’ts of teaching at Thida and Suratpittaya. Some of them may seem odd while others seem commonplace. The main objective of this piece is the hope that it will help you gain a well-rounded perspective on the teaching environments when you work for Suer English Language School. At both schools teachers are required to fill out lesson plans, monthly reports and hour sheets.

Thida:

Like many schools Thida has several expectations that are written and well known and several that are simply implied. At Thida you are required to sign in and out everyday in the Teacher Book located in the Teacher’s Office. Secondly if you are at the school for morning classes, standing outside of the office for the King’s Song and Flag Raising will show respect and good manners. For the English Program (EP), teachers are expected to assign some type of homework every day. The homework could range from a written assignment to reading a specific passage. As long as the homework is assigned the school and parents will be happy. Having a good working relationship with the Thai staff and Nuns at Thida is not a written rule but it is beyond a good idea. If you want to have a successful teaching experience at Thida it is very important to cultivate good friendships with your teaching assistants and show proper respect to the Nuns. As the Nuns run the school, and thus your job, it is a good habit to Wai them. A secondly important unwritten rule is attitude. Thailand is a very “face value” culture, and puts quite a bit of pressure on appearance and how you present your emotions. It may sound easy, but even if things are going awry keep a smile on your face and a calm voice.

On that note, when plans are changed do not show disappointment or frustration. The only thing you can plan on in Thailand is that plans will be constantly changed. This is expected and will happen often. The best thing to do is to not let it bother you and to simply go along with whatever the school has decided day to day. Do not complain to the Thai staff or others at the school. We are guests in Thailand even though we are teachers. It is extremely bad form to complain about Thai ways and culture. If you need to complain about something you think is unfair or irritating, save your thoughts for your head teacher after school hours. Do not sleep at school. Though at times you may feel that the only thing you need is a nap, the school is for working and home is for sleeping. If you see a Thai teacher sleeping keep in mind that it is their own choice and not a double standard set for the foreign teachers. On a separate note, do not touch your student’s heads. This is a tremendously rude and condescending act, even when done in good humor. Do not step over anyone at any time. Your feet are the lowest point of your body and should at no point be elevated above or pointing at another person. Lastly do not sit on a table or desk. Similar to your feet it is impolite and disrespectful to sit on anything besides a chair.

Suratpittaya:

Thida and Suratpittaya are very similar on several points. The only differences are as follows: Thida is a private catholic school and is run by Nuns. Suratpittaya is not. In place of the Nuns is a school board that should be respected in the same way as the Nuns at Thida. Secondly, because of the layout of Suratpittaya once the flag ceremony begins you cannot get into the school without driving through the ceremony. It hopefully goes without saying that this would be the worst idea any teacher could have. If you do not get into the school before the ceremony you can park your bike outside and walk in behind the ceremony. Never, I repeat never, try to drive into the ceremony.

Since Suratpittaya is not EP teachers do not have to assign homework. If you want to you can, though keep in mind that you will only see your students once a week and will have around twelve sections of each level. The English Improvement Program at Suratpittaya is a special program for the students who want to receive extra help with their English. You must stay in the office for your EIP hours and be ready with ideas for the students who do come in for extra practice. The paperwork at Suratpittaya includes the small amount of paper work for the EIP program. The extent of this is writing a short description of what you discussed, the student’s names and their class numbers.

Aside from the few differences, both schools require very much the same respectful and appropriate behavior from their teachers. If you are ever in doubt of an activity, lesson, action or method of handling the seemingly chaotic manner of scheduling, ask your head teacher. The head teachers know their stuff and are a wonderful tool for new teachers. So whether you are a new teacher all-together or simply a new teacher to Super English, keep these few reminders and warnings in mind. If you do, you will have a successful and low stress experience teaching for Super English. Which is something that any teacher will say is a good thing.

Preparing for Thailand

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:

Airline tickets:

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.

Your stuff:

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.

Credit/debit cards:

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.

Bucket-List:

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.

Laptop:

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.

Books:

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).

French Press:

I like making coffee. What do you like?

Shoes:

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. •

Clothing:

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.