I had the pleasure of someone reaching out to me after reading my blog with questions of my experience with CIEE and teaching in Thailand so far. It provided me with the perfect moment to write down my perspective on this trip so far in a slightly lengthy list, pros and cons included.
I hope anyone reading this who is interested in the program will benefit from some of this (I also spent a significant amount of time pouring myself into writing this to my new friend, so I wanted to share it).
How was your experience using CIEE?
My experience with CIEE so far has been great. My only real interaction with the organization was during orientation week. I ran into a bunch of other people teaching at the airport, so we all banded together and were picked up by a representative and taken to our hotel. The week in Bangkok is an overwhelming and amazing experience. It felt like college all over again, lots of exploring and fun with new incredible people who all have that desire to push their limits and try something new.
Orientation gave us a crash course on how to teach and the basics of Thai language, but I'll be honest with you… nothing can really prepare you for when you get to school and start teaching. Most of it you will learn from trial and error and just jumping in with blind faith, but the one thing I've learned (yet still have a hard time practicing) is that it is nothing to stress about… But sometimes, when you are really overwhelmed and pissed off, it's the last thing you want to hear.
What was the application process like?
The application process was fairly simple, I just followed the guidelines on the CIEE website which are very straightforward. I also kept in contact with my CIEE representative (Alex Legere I <3 you) who would answer questions and give advice on whatever we needed. She was a wealth of knowledge, so if you apply, someone will email you and keep them close if you have questions. The website guides you on how to take care of your Visa and all of the documents you will need once you get to Thailand. Thailand doesn't require and interview, but if you have any motivation and drive to do well, you will be a kick ass teacher :)
How do you like Thailand?
I have grown to love Thailand. I've only been here about 7 weeks but it already feels like home. Most people know it's called the "Land of Smiles" and it is more than you can imagine. It is a wonderful energy to be around a culture that encourages inclusion and happiness rather than shaming and judgement. This transcends in the classroom too, sometimes you will have an awful lesson plan that makes no sense or is too easy or is just a train wreck, but the students won't try and make you feel bad. In this culture, if anyone feels embarrassed or doesn't know what to say, they smile or laugh. It really is an incredible way to deal with things that normally stress out Americans. The culture up in the north is spectacular. I am loving the north: lots of temples, waterfalls, and incredible food. Northern food to try: Kao Soy. It will change your life.
How safe do you feel there, especially as a woman?
I feel very safe here. Stealing isn't really a thing, so I feel comfortable carrying my purse around alone. Also the Thai culture is very "polite" in many ways, which means no hollering and harassing women when they walk down the street. You might get the occasional "beautiful lady!" comment, but thats much better than my experiences in Italy where men are grabbing your ass and basically sexually harassing you with inappropriate comments. There was a curfew for a couple weeks that shut down the city early, but now it's over and things are back to normal. The best advice I got was if you don't go looking for trouble, you won't find any.
What is the living situation like? Were you placed with other Americans?
I live on campus which is particular to my school since it's a boarding school. Most teachers are housed by their respective schools, and are in houses nearby campus and normally have a short commute to work. I'm lucky since I walk 2 minutes from my house to get to my office. But, the housing was definitely a challenge when I got here. Thank GOD I have A/C in my room because I do not do well with the heat. If you are sensitive to the heat, October-April is the best time to be here. It's cooled off significantly here in the past month. But the first couple weeks I would get heat stroke and come close to passing out because I overheated too easily. So the A/C in my room was a saving grace, but I also have heard most teachers don't have A/C in the houses they get.
I am placed with two Americans and one teacher from China with good conversational English. There is a good sized foreigner community in Chiang Rai too. Some people are placed in schools as the only white person and pretty much the only person who speaks English for miles. This definitely poses a whole new challenge than being placed in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, for instance, where there are foreigners everywhere and all the restaurants are in English. As shocking as it is initially, it's something that quickly becomes the norm and you will find your Thai language skills improving immensely. You will be stared at everywhere you go because a lot of these people never see any white people roaming around, especially the small villages. But there is no hostility and they embrace when you try and speak in Thai or help them with English.
How do you deal with all the bugs?
Dealing with the bugs is just that: you just deal with them. To be very honest, they are fucking disgusting. Showering last night I had a spider, 3 different kinds of ants, mosquitos, geckos, and flies in there with me, all at the same time. One day, I left a bag of food on my desk in my room, and 3 hours later I had a colony of ants overtaking my room. You will get eaten alive by mosquitos when you get here, but it decreases as time goes on. There are also giant lizards called Tokays who are about a foot long who like to live in our house. Some other people I've talked to have much nicer living accommodations (like not as many bugs and sealed rooms) but it all depends. The thing is, you'll get used to them. They are gross and disgusting, but you just learn to accept it (like most things that challenge you in Thailand).
What is the classroom situation like?
The classrooms vary from school to school on a vast scale. Some teachers have 8 students in their classes, some have 60. Some have little angels who listen to everything you say and never talk in class, and some have little shits who try and light things on fire and hit each other or push you. I am lucky enough to have VERY well behaved students (I think because it's a boarding school). There are 24 students in each of my classes (one with 36) which is a perfect amount. Ideal for pair work, group work, lectures and games. They don't get as easily distracted as my one class of 36 students, which is much more challenging, but still manageable.
Orientation is going to tell you this every time you have a question about teaching, It depends. It will seriously become the most irritating thing you hear because all you want is an answer about what you are going to experience, but it is seriously the only way to effectively answer. You will VERY quickly find out how your school operates. I know a lot of teachers are having issues with their naughty kids being very rude and inappropriate, so thinking of some effective disciplinary measures would be good to have if you need them. I haven't had to discipline any of my kids though, since they are all so well behaved. Thai students do talk a lot in class, but it's not rude like it would be in America…they just talk a lot. And cheating is a big thing in Thailand too that's not really punished in anyway…you basically just learn how different the school system is than America and learn to adapt very quickly. But no matter how awful the students can potentially be IN class, outside of class they LOVE you. The amount of respect and excitement they get when you walk by them and they yell, "HI TEACHA" can seriously make any awful class or day you might be having, into a good one. They will listen to you and respect you, even if you have to punish them if they are really bad. But those smiles and waves everywhere you go will make your heart melt. I don't even want to be a teacher in the future and it's making me very attached!
So in conclusion...
The best advice I can give you is to not have set expectations about this trip. My best experiences so far have been the spontaneous things I said "yes" to and never thought I would have the balls to do in my regular life in the states. Playing volleyball with a bunch of 17 year old lady boys who far surpassed my skills? Sure! Renting motorbikes to find an elusive waterfall that took up 2+ hours to find? Yup! Trekking through the scratchy and buggy forest to find a giant buddha cave? Of course.
All I know is that I am a MUCH stronger women in the short weeks I've been here when it comes to dealing with nearly everything: bugs, anxiety, problems, the heat, transportation, language barriers, food…damn near everything. You really learn, as much as I wanted to deny it, that there is nothing to worry about. The culture really starts to infuse your thinking, and you develop a much more casual, laid back attitude about everything. Really nice to learn because I was SUPER uptight when I got here.
I personally never thought I would be strong enough to do something like this, but seeing myself 7 weeks into this makes me so proud of myself. I definitely recommend this to anyone, for me it is a journey to see what I am capable and push my comfort zone, for some it is an excuse to party in Thailand and teach periodically, and for others it's a transition into full time teaching. So whatever this experience is for you, it will be a good one you won't regret.
If anyone has any questions about Teaching Abroad in Thailand or wants to ask me questions feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Love and light to you all! -Amy