Thailand TEFL intern, Pashka, tells us what it’s like to live and teach in rural Thailand.
Welcome to my pad!
I am currently sitting in my new home for the next 2 months. It’s a Thai style house with a concrete downstairs, there’s an open space with a sofa, fridge, microwave, work desk, television and bathroom. Upstairs there’s a dressing room complete with an iron and ironing board and the bedroom. While it may not be a palace, it’s home and I love it!
I’ve definitely had the luck of the draw when it comes to accommodation as facilities vary from school to school. My first piece of advice – be open minded when it comes to where you’ll be living and be prepared for it not to live up to western standards.
I’ve spoken to some interns who have a spare classroom in the school with a bed and a shared bathroom a few floors down. While others have made a renovated school clinic home that’s “western standard” in terms of structure but not so much in terms of homeliness.
The culture shock is real
The one guarantee is a western toilet (as opposed to a squat) so you can breathe a sigh of relief if this was putting you off signing up!
Now for my second piece of advice – expect to be uncomfortable at times, you’ll endure the odd stomach upset, sleep on a hard bed and take a cold shower. This can be quite a shock for new interns but it’s all part of the experience.
I’m living in Thailand and I live like Thais do. I’m experiencing the true Thai culture, eating and sleeping like the other teachers – something no tourist would get to do.
Adopting the Thai way of life
The Thai attitude towards life is very different to the UK but the main thing you’ll notice is that they’re very laid back. Things only get serious when it comes to respecting elders and upholding traditions. Other than that the pace of life is slow, no one is in a rush to do anything and everything is subject to change. It’s probably the heat!
One thing that was said over and over at orientation was that every single person in the local area will know who we are and this was no exaggeration! When you first think of Thailand you probably picture the throngs of tourists in Bangkok and the famous beach parties but the reality is very different. The TEFL schools are in small, quiet communities, often out in the sticks and cut off from everything else.
For the first couple of weeks, walking down the street turned more than a few heads. The looks I get range from respectful recognition to curious glances that seem to say “what are you doing here!” A foreign face will be a novelty so get ready to be in photos and chat to the locals as they’ll want to try out their English, no matter how limited it is.
The rewards of being a TEFL teacher
It’s such a small community that every time I leave the school I’m bound to run in to a student and their parents. Being respectful and following the social norms goes without saying, and if you play your cards right you might be rewarded.
The other day I went to buy some shorts and after a friendly chat with the owner, in which we told him we were teaching English at the local school, he ended up giving me 50%off and a lift to town. Not bad for a TEFL teacher!
And it’s not just me who’s benefited from these perks. My partner plays football most days after school with the kids, one of the parents, touched by his involvement, gave him a big packet of Emmental cheese (cheese is notoriously hard to get here).
We’ve had a free massage from a teacher who owns a salon and even visited our English teacher’s family for dinner, including left-overs for the next day (or two)!
This sense of togetherness is central to Thai culture, everyone knows everyone, shares what they can and looks out for each other, very different to our home, London.
Making every weekend count
If I had to tell you the “thorn in my side” about living here it would be the noise at night. It might sound like an exaggeration but I have a more peaceful night’s sleep in a dorm room on Khao San Road than I do in Tha Muang, Kanchanaburi. If it isn’t every dog in the neighbourhood keeping me up with their relentless barking and howling, it’s the incessant whoop of a Koel bird that seems to nest directly above my head.
But I’m not completely cut off from the comforts of home. We’re lucky to have a bus stop nearby so we can travel to both Kanchanaburi town and Bangkok. I’m away almost every weekend with the other interns (there’s 30 of us in Kanchanaburi) and we often stay in a tourist hub where the menus are familiar, the showers are hot and the WiFi actually works.
We’ve managed to do it all, from touring the provinces’ famous “death railway” (The Burmese railway), river Kwae and waterfalls at Erawan National Park. To flying to Ko Pha Ngang for the famous full moon party, witnessing the lady boys show, witnessing tuk-tuk drag races and celebrating Chinese New Year in Bangkok. The weekends are usually so eventful that by Sunday night we welcome another “quiet” week at school.
If you’re ready to follow in Pashka’s footsteps and live the dream of teaching English in Thailand why not check out our Thailand TEFL Experience! Got a degree? Take a look at our Paid Thailand TEFL Internship and you can earn a generous monthly allowance too.