My First Week of ESL Teaching in Thailand: A Test of Emotion, Patience & Resilience
“You’re off to teach in Krabi!” – I’m sorry, WHAT?! Can you repeat that? I couldn’t hear you over the noise my ass made as it hit the floor! I was completely bowled over. Could this get any better?!? I happily accepted and spent every spare minute I had googling the beaches, the views, the lifestyle… I was a pot of joy, gratitude and excitement. I had all my boxes ticked. Xplore Asia really pulled this beauty out of the bag! I was teaching 8 – 12 year old students at a Primary School called Tessaban Khlong Thom Tai School.
My agent kindly purchased a flight ticket for me to fly from Bangkok to Krabi and had organised a teacher to meet me at the airport. By this time, nerves have arrived and was happily settling next to excitement. Said teacher picked me up from the airport and introduced herself as Jeaw. I liked her from the start and she spoke good English. As soon as I arrive in my town – Khlong Thom – I was immediately taken to a meeting in the school with the School Goverment people and the Mayor of the town. Jeez. There are no words to describe what it is like when you walk into a room full of Thai teachers. The room falls silent and you have a 100 pair of eyes scoping you out. I let out a shy giggle and a half-hearted wave and buried myself amongst the stares. 3 hours I sat there. 3 hours of Thai being spoken to me. I came to Thailand to gain some patience. Well, where are you Patience?! Kinda need you right now!
The meeting finally came to an end and I was told I was going to my accommodation. Yay! I can have a wash! If you didn’t know already, Thailand is like one big giant sauna of a country. Sweating is not optional. We get there. It’s not ready. Great.
“Okay, you stay with me!” Jaew says. Awesome! Spending a night with a Thai family in a Thai home. Something you don’t get just being a normal ole traveler. I had dinner with Jaew, her husband and her parents and hit the sack ready for my first day of teaching!
I arrived at the school and just stood there to have a moment and take it all in before I was ushered through the gates by the Thai teachers wanting to show me off to all the students. As soon as little eyes noticed me, I instantly became a celebrity. I was the only foreigner teacher in the school and I learnt later that day, the only foreigner in the town! I felt like that Mr Muscle toy my brother had for Christmas one year, I was being stretched and pulled in all angles! The instant love and attention was overwhelming and incredible. The ‘Annie’ song “I think I’m gonna like it here” resounded throughout my head.
LET THE TEACHING COMMENCE!
My intro lesson was just me basically showing them pictures of my travels, my family, my hometown, my friends, sheep… You know, the usual. I had my Welsh flag on board and they totally digged the dragon. One thing I learnt quickly about these kids is their love for football. All I had for the whole week was “GARETH BALE! GARETH BALE!”
I was tired. Exhausted. Sweaty. Overwhelmed. But I was happy. Content. I survived! I was already building connections with these kids.
I finally moved into my accommodation two days later. It was a two storey house, two bedrooms and two bathrooms for 4000 baht (£80) a month. Paaaah!!
Time to explore! So Khlong Thom is a small town with no foreigners. Which means I get stares, beeps and shout outs. I can feel the almost celebrity-like status but I couldn’t help the feelings of being overwhelmed and the un-comfortableness of it all too. However, a big perk of being the only foreigner? The thai teachers all want to take you everywhere and I gladly went along to the famous Emerald Pool in Krabi which was a 10 minute drive from the town.
The Emerald Pool is located in the jungle which means a beautiful, breath-taking walk to the pools! We got there and was welcomed with crystal blue water ponds in the middle of a jungle! Stunning.
Sunday – I explored Krabi Town and made a Krabi friend (Kelsey!) . Krabi Town itself is a lot more westernized than my small town which is 40 minutes west of the town. Even after a few days of being imersed in Thai life and Thai people, it was a strange feeling being around westerners and English language! There was this beautiful temple off the main street in Krabi which proved to be insta-worthy!
Unfortunately, things took an unexpected twist. Events occurred which resulted in me moving out of my accommodation quickly and back into a teacher’s house. This event spilled into my first week of teaching at my school and I had to balance my emotional state with preparation and teaching. My resilience was stretched to the limit. I suddenly felt extremely unsettled and in a very vulnerable position. Home seemed a very tempting option. After all, I was practically homeless and culture shock had taken over.
However, a sucker for always looking on the bright side – the event and the situation I was in, living with teachers brought me so close to them. They couldn’t do enough for me. It felt like I had my own personal chauffeur, personal cook, personal bodyguards… Especially with one teacher in particular who’s house I took over for a week. Her nickname is Oi and she is one of the funniest people I have the pleasure in knowing. Her english is improving but she often gets words wrong and it’s hysterical! – “Sami! I go eat snake at 7/11! Okay Bye!” (She meant ‘snack).
We made a deal. I teach her English. She teaches me Thai. And it’s working. I’m learning new words and sentences every day and building up my vocabulary. One of my goals was to be able to conversate in basic Thai by the end of my adventure here and thanks to these amazing teachers, I am on my way to reaching that goal. I also acquired a new house right next door to Oi so loneliness is non-existant! My social life is raging right now!
I can confidently say that living in a small town as the only ‘farang’ will give you a more authentic thai experience. You will bond with your teachers on a personal level as well as a professional one. They will immerse you in their life, their culture, their language. Your students will adore you. They will shower you with gifts, hugs and smiles. You will develop aching face muscles from all the smiling you do at school.
Unfortunately, my future living at Khlong Thom is still an unsettled one. But I am determined to stay teaching at my school. I never thought I would build something like ‘a connection’ with a school but I have. The teachers. The students. I have a sense of belonging, gratitude and happiness at the school. I’m not giving up easily with that.
Important decisions to be made. Watch this space…