Getting TEFL Certified: Life in a Thai Classroom

Want to experience a unique culture while teaching english in Thailand? Dara shares five tips to get you started on teaching in Ban Phe.

Photo © Dara

I decided to it was time to take my travels to another level and apply myself to something more than just serving drinks. Working as a bartender in Australia was great fun, but I felt like I needed to start giving back, although some may argue a Bartender gives back plenty!

I researched TEFL International and teaching abroad. There are plenty of different exotic locations available to take the course: Buenos Aires, Phuket, New York City, Paris...I chose Ban Phe, Thailand. This no-name town just two hours south of Bangkok would be my home for 4 weeks. Like I said, I was reaching for a new level and wanted a raw, cultural experience during my time in the course. I also didn't want any distractions that these "oh-so-exotic" cities have to offer.

Thailand Visa Information

Alas, it was visa time again. All travellers know and love that time where we freak out about how, when, and how much a visa will cost, and that it never grants us enough time to stay where we want to stay.  I could have received a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival at the airport in Bangkok, but I decided to look a little deeper into other options.

I was living in Melbourne at the time and was able to visit the Royal Thai Consulate to get more information about a student visa.  Embassies or Consulates are always the best place to ask questions and get answers. Yes, we all live and die by the internet, but, sometimes you can’t be sure where these sites get facts from, and we all know its better to be safe than sorry (especially when you are dealing with a developing or third world country).

Student Visas in Thailand

So, the student visa granted me three months in Thailand and took less than a week to process. I had to contact the TEFL Ban Phe office to have them email me an admissions letter stating the course and dates I would be enrolled in. I simply brought the student visa application back to the Consulate, along with the TEFL letter, a copy of my passport, two passport photos and $90. I received a stamp in my passport that would stand as my visa and voila!  I was ready to start my adventure without the headache of organizing a day-long visa run to Cambodia or Laos during the last few crucial days of the course. 

Living in Ban Phe

I arrived in Ban Phe and was truly introduced to the Thai culture. My experience was not tainted by touristy cafes, bars or shops. I was able to connect with local store owners and build friendships with Thais who lived in this small fishing village. A traditional, hot meal cost as little as $1 US and were in portions that didn't make my stomach feel like bursting. A few of my fellow students and I would eat lunch at a great little place called "SA's" just two doors down from the school. The owner knew us by name and made one killer cheeseburger when we were craving some fatty, American food. There was an incredible night market about 30 minutes by song thao nearby. Ban Phe had a supermarket, pharmacy, stationary store and plenty of other little “mom and pops” that would provide anything I wanted. And if there was any abstract item I may have randomly developed a need for, a larger city, Rayong was not far away. It was also just a short ferry ride to the island of Koh Sumet in case I was in need of a weekend getaway.

You can check out my time in Ban Phe here for a closer look to life in that little fishing village.

Partying in Thailand

After the course I decided it was time to party for a few weeks. I went off to Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. It was high season by that time and the islands were riddled with tourists. I would only have to walk a few feet to find an Italian restaurant or Irish Pub. Where was I?? It was as if I travelled back to America or Australia. I had experienced what I like to call “reverse culture shock.” Having been so accustomed to living amongst Thai people I was annoyed by the overkill of obnoxious Western tourists.  All I wanted to do was crawl back to my little Thai village of stray dogs and cashew chicken.

As far as teaching in Thailand, it’s a different world. There will be situations to be dealt with that are unknown to the Western working world. Your boss will not speak English, you won’t be paid on time, you won’t be able to communicate with parents; the list can go on and on.

If you have a university degree and a TEFL certificate your chances for finding a job in Thailand are great. If you have a degree and no certificate your chances are also great. If you have a certificate and no degree your chances are pretty good. If you have no degree and no certificate you may run into some problems.

TEFL Resources and Advice

If you are looking for teaching opportunities in Thailand there is a gamut of web sites to get you started.  Here is some great advice from my TEFL teacher trainer in regards to searching for jobs:

These are, by far, not even close to ALL of the websites available to job hunting teachers, but it is a good start.  Some sites, like “ESL café,” have additional resources and board posts that can provide supplementary help for those interested.  I definitely recommend you take some time and check out the web sites and the links they include to other sites.  I didn't research agencies or listings that you have to pay for.  It wasn't really done intentionally, but agencies and listings are actually the first type of web sites you find when you use a search engine (money talks).  For some listings you have to pay a fee and some agencies take a percentage from your pay, or get paid when you get hired, so their motivation to place you in a school might not always be in your best interest.  But the possibilities are there and I encourage you to explore every option. Those that actively look for jobs will find them. The key word is actively.”

My personal advice when teaching abroad is to step outside of your box. Be a traveller, not a tourist.  Don’t always go for what is easy, popular or familiar. It’s harder to assimilate into a totally different culture than to go for what you know. But, the gains are more than the losses and you will find that you survived after all is said and done and you’re a better person for doing so.

About the Author

After winning World Nomads' Van-tastic Adventures Tasmania leg, Dara decided it was time to pack her bags and begin her epic adventure around the world. She worked in and around Melbourne until heading to Thailand to become TEFL certified to be an ESL teacher. Her next journey will be back to Asia and then Canada. 

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