Work and Travel: An Inside Look at Teaching English in Thailand

Do you have wanderlust but are lacking the funds for extended travel? I’m sure you know that there are many options to work while you travel and have an intensely rich cultural experiences. Check out Maggie’s (USA) story of living in Thailand and teaching English to finance the international travel experiences of her dreams.

Job:  Elementary Teacher

Location:  Bangkok, Thailand

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How did you find out about your job?

I had a friend who was living and teaching in Thailand.  When I knew I needed a change from my current job, I started researching more into teaching options in Thailand.  My first job in Thailand I had secured by going through a program called GreenHeart where they were able to help me find a job and set me up with an agent. However, I got my current job while I was living in Bangkok through a common website for teaching jobs in Thailand called www.ajarn.com

What prerequisites / qualifications did you need to get your job?

Since I am teaching at an international school now, my school did require that I have some sort of college degree geared towards teaching/English.  I have an education degree, but a few of my coworkers graduated college with a TESOL degree.  However, at my previous school, all that was required was a college degree, and it definitely helped to have a TESOL certificate.

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What is your work schedule like?

I usually work Monday-Friday, 7:45 am until 4 pm.  I do have to work an occasional Saturday though from 7:45 am until noon, but this is just my school in particular that does this.  During my work week, I only have about 20 hours of teaching per week.  I do have to stay at the school during the hours I am not teaching, but I get to use this time to plan lessons, so I don’t have to take any work home!

How long have you been working for your company?

I have been living in Thailand for a year and a half, but I have been at my current job for the last year now.

Describe a typical work day (if there is such a thing).

I have a bit of a unique experience because I teach at a Japanese school in Thailand.  Japanese culture is much more organized and structured.   So here, I feel like I am teaching at a school somewhat similar to a school in America, at least more so than when I was at a Thai school.  (Thai schools are absolutely chaotic, but that’s part of what made that an experience I won’t forget.)

While my days are always different, I come into work every morning and get my things ready.  I generally teach 4-5 periods (45 minutes each) a day.  I teach English to ten different fifth grade classes, in which I see each class twice per week.  During my free periods, I spend my time creating lessons for the students.  Since I get quite a bit of time for planning, I am able to make some really awesome lessons.  I eat lunch at the school in the office with my coworkers.  I always bring my lunch that I make at home, but you do have the option to order Thai street food.  At 4 pm, I clock out and get to enjoy my time outside of work.

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Do you feel like you have enough time off to explore your area?

Absolutely!  Since I get free planning periods built into my daily work schedule, I never have to take home work. My time outside of work is my own time to do whatever I please.

Where have you traveled from your new home base?

I have been to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and next week I am leaving for New Zealand for a month! Before the end of this year, I plan on also making trips to Myanmar, Singapore, and hopefully Sri Lanka and the Philippines.  Southeast Asia is so cheap and traveling around is easy to do.

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If you feel comfortable, please share your salary or salary range.

Teaching at a typical Thai school (even with a teaching degree) I made less than $1,000 a month.  However, now I am teaching at an international school, and I make about the same of what my take-home salary was teaching in Indiana.

Do you feel like you are fairly monetarily compensated for your work?

Definitely.  I am getting paid about what I got paid to teach in America, having to do about half the amount of work.  I’m not saying that what I do is easy-breezy, but I am only teaching one subject versus teaching five.  I also don’t have to worry about taking home any work which is such a nice thing!

Do you make enough money to cover living expenses? Enough to save?

Absolutely.  Even when I was teaching at a Thai school and making about half of what I make now, I was still able to cover all my living expenses.  You can live as cheaply or as comfortably as you’d like.  I definitely live on the comfortable side – I currently live in downtown Bangkok in a condo with a kitchen and stove (uncommon for Thailand).  I buy my own groceries to cook, which for Thailand can be considered more of a luxury since it’s actually cheaper to eat street food.  I also still pay off my student loans back at home, and I still have money left over to save for whatever adventures and travels my heart wants to set off to do.

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Are you on a contract or can you leave anytime?

I did sign a contract with my job.  However, if I truly hated it here or an emergency came up, I could just pick up and leave.  You’re not totally bound to something; it’s not like someone is going to come hunt you down for breaking your contract.

Does your job provide housing or help you find it?

Neither of my jobs here have provided housing.  My first teaching job in Thailand, I was hooked up with an agent who helped me find housing.  For my current teaching job, I had to find housing on my own, but my boss gave me names of a few places my coworkers lived.  Finding housing in Thailand is so easy though and can be done in a day of just searching on foot or using various websites to help you get started.

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Do you need a work visa and how difficult was that process?

You technically do need a work visa in order to work in Thailand, but your school usually deals with all that paperwork.  I say technically because at my first job, I actually never got a work visa.  This was a bit of a pain because it meant I was doing constant border runs to get a new ‘tourist’ visa.  On a positive note though, it allowed me to travel to new countries!

Did you learn any Thai before heading to Thailand? Was it required that you learn?

I learned zero Thai before moving here.  Maybe I should have tried to learn some, but it is definitely something you quickly pick up on while living here, especially if you are in more of a local area with not many tourists.

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What about safety? Do you feel any more or less safe in Thailand as you do in the US?

For almost the whole time I’ve been living in Thailand, we have been in a military coup.  Yet never once have I ever felt that I’ve had any real safety concerns.  There has been one time where I actually got robbed.  I left my purse unattached in my bicycle, and someone drove by and snatched it.  However, since Thai people are so kind, and they all did everything they could, eventually I actually got my belongings back a few weeks later.  I truly feel safer living in Thailand then I would living back in the States.  As long as you use some common sense, you are fine.  Not to say bad things don’t happen, but Thailand is a pretty safe country.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to make the plunge into working abroad?

Seriously, just do it!  We are so lucky to have so many vast opportunities like this available to us.  Being a native English speaker allows us an advantage to go almost anywhere to teach.  I think that if it is something you are considering and have had in the back of your mind for a bit now, you are going to regret not making that choice more so than if you just did it and found it wasn’t for you.  Do your research a bit ahead of time to look into cities/countries that would best suit you.  Learn more about the culture so you can be more aware of different customs.  Be open-minded, and enjoy the ride!  I spontaneously decided to move to Thailand, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Have you enjoyed your work / travel experience? Has it changed your life?

I have absolutely loved my time here so far, which is probably a good thing since I still have another year left on my contract.  This experience has been one of the best decisions in my life, and I honestly cannot imagine still living back in America.  Living abroad opens your eyes to a whole new way of life.  You meet the most incredible people throughout your journey, and you learn what truly is important in life.  Fair warning though: traveling/living abroad is definitely addictive.  😉  I am already looking into where I want my next adventure to be.

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What has been less enjoyable? Are there things you would do differently? What’s the hard part?

If I could do things differently, I don’t know if I would necessarily have went through a program.  Seeing how things work now, I could have done it on my own, but it was nice to have that comfort of having help along the way for my first big move abroad. 

I think one of the hardest things about being abroad is having people come and go out of your life.  Most expats don’t plan on living in one place forever, so the friends you meet tend to be temporarily physically in your life, which can be really hard.  I have had to say ‘see you later’ to so many people I have lost track.  The good news is though we live in a very technology based era where things like Skype exist so you can stay in touch with them and all your friends/family back home.  If it weren’t for this, I think things would be much more difficult.

Do you have a blog?

Yes!  I have been pretty terrible with keeping up on it is as much as I would like to, but it something I am working on being more up to date with!

http://sugarmagnoliaxo.tumblr.com/

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Thanks so much to Maggie for sharing your experience!

Do you have a life changing work/travel experience that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear more in the comments!

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