When, Please, I’m Asking You to Think Long and Hard about Teaching Overseas

Maybe I should have been more specific in the title of this post. Maybe I should have written “When, Please, I’m Asking You to Think Long and Hard about Teaching in Thailand” instead. But I didn’t, so we’re gonna roll with it.

If you’ve been following my blog for some time now, you’ll know that I’ve been living and teaching in Thailand for the past eleven months. (We’re almost upon my one year anniversary, folks!) And what an almost-year it’s been. It’s been OUT OF CONTROL, that’s what.

Then: June 2013 in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Then: June 2013 in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
And now: May 2014 in Chonburi, Thailand
And now: May 2014 in Chonburi, Thailand

Other Out of Control Things:
1. Having culture shock (that I was in denial about) upon moving to the city that seemed to be so un-Thai compared to Chiang Mai, which I’d visited for two months several years ago
2. Mentally giving the Worst Boss Award to my former boss, lots of tears, yada yada
3. Quitting my job after one semester and nailing one at a top secondary school in the province
4. Realizing that even the top secondary schools in the province can be infuriating and messy and illogical. For an American, at least.
Let’s use #4 as a jumping off point, since that’s really what this post is about.

To my American pals: you think a certain way. Not all Americans are the same, I know, but American culture is American culture. Our culture has seeped into our brains and way of life and thought process about everything! Even if we’re open-minded, take-life-as-it-comes kind of people! I just need to put that out there. Because, all the reasons. But also because of this particular one: If you’re thinking about teaching overseas, you need to be aware of what might happen. Your school might run out of ink and paper for your office printer and your department photocopier, and it might not get replaced for weeks or one month or months at a time. Your school director might spend what seems to be an exorbitant amount of money on windmills and ceramic sheep to decorate the outside of the school while failing to pay the school Internet bill one day. She also might not authorize the ordering of your textbooks until well after the first day of school. Which means, remember, that you have no printer, no photocopier, no handouts, no textbooks. But this is one of the top secondary schools in the province.

Yes, obviously that’s a personal rant about my own personal experience. But, based on what I’ve heard from a number of teachers throughout Thailand, this experience is not altogether unique. And that is important to be aware of. Even if you’re not planning to teach in Thailand. Because you can expect things to rock your world, in both good and bad ways, whenever you move anywhere very different from your home country.

I am an American teaching in a Thai public school, and while this is exactly the kind of place where I’d hoped to be working all along, it drives me utterly insane. Unimagined scenarios such as the ones I told you about earlier happen all the time – more than once or twice a week, for sure. Yes, I have to be on my toes; but the point is that I also have to be on my toes about things that I’m not used to and would never expect.

Thai schools are Thai schools. They are wonderful and confusing and screwed up and fun. (As are many American schools.) But Thai schools are not American schools. So, please, think long and hard about teaching in Thailand – or teaching anywhere overseas, for that matter! – because I really, really, really want you to come overseas and teach. But I also really, really, really want you to be as aware as possible of what it is that you really want. Do you want to develop close relationships with your students, see them progress academically over time, feel like you’ve accomplished something over the weeks/months/years, etc.? Those are awesome goals. But please be open to the idea that maybe your goals are aligning with what it looks like to teach in America (or your home country if that’s not America), not with what it looks like to teach overseas. Because if you don’t speak the language of the country you move to, it will be exceedingly difficult to develop close relationships with your students. If the country’s education policy is to forbid the giving of failing grades to students (like it is in Thailand), then you may feel frustrated and dishonest and like your students’ “progress” is not real. If your biggest demon to face at school is the photocopier, so much so that you can barely focus on your students, then you might rarely go home feeling accomplished. Now, this is not always the case! But you absolutely need to be aware that this might be the case for you – and that’s enough cause to make you stop to think about it. So, by all means, come and teach overseas! We all need you! But only if that’s really, truly what you want. You’ve gotta be as prepared as you can be for what’s to come, or it’ll eat you alive.

So, do I love Thailand? Yes. Do I consider it my home? Yes. Do I find it beautiful and marvelous and breath-taking? Absolutely. But do I often wonder whether it’s a better place to visit than to work? Mmhm. Public schools are not private schools, Thai-run schools are not international schools, experiences vary, and so on and so forth. But the reality remains that my culture and the culture of my place of employment are different – very different. From day to day, my feelings about the matter swing from one end of the pendulum to the next. And I’d wager to guess that so will yours if you risk it all to move overseas; and that’s okay. Just know it’s coming. Because new places are wilderness places. It just helps if you know ahead of time. πŸ™‚

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4 thoughts on “When, Please, I’m Asking You to Think Long and Hard about Teaching Overseas

  1. This is exactly how I felt teaching in Thailand too!! I taught for about 10 months with NO textbook or curriculum. No failing grades. Photocopier malfunctions… All of what you said was true at my school as well, a top school in Sukhothai. The culture shock was definitely rough. I do love Thailand so so much but you’re right, it’s a really tough cultural transition. Glad it wasn’t just me having problems πŸ™‚

      1. It’s was worth it though. The kids were amazing and I learned a lot about patience πŸ™‚ I taught for 10 months. Good luck with the rest of your time in Thailand, I look forward to reading more of your stuff and reminiscing!

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