Did you have to get a TEFL Certificate?
Getting a TEFL Certificate for Thailand is (from what I understand) now optional. I decided to take the 12 week course (after paying CIEE $500 to enroll me in it) about 6 weeks before I left. I was freaking out about taking a job in a foreign country I have zero qualifications for and wanted as much experience as I could get before I left. The problem was once I left for Thailand, all my work started to dwindle. I was tardy on turning in the assignments because moving to Thailand and experiencing everything firsthand was taking priority. So I wound up not completing any of the last assignments, because at that time I had already started teaching and understood what my school needed from me. But because of that I never got TEFL certified...
So my advice is if you want that extra amount of experience to help you before you move to Thailand, I would take the TEFL course, but just make sure you finish it before you leave the country, or right around that time. It becomes too much to balance traveling and meeting new people and orientation, with homework every week (due at exactly midnight Chicago time on sunday nights). Looking back, I wish I did not take it, just because it was FAR more intense ESL Teaching material than most of us are doing here in Thailand. The TEFL program shows how to teach grammar, critical reading, pronunciation, intonation, and other material that most of the students probably don't know yet, or they are learning from their Thai teachers. And the best way I learned to teach was from the first couple weeks of trial and error (which we all want to avoid the error part, but it's inevitable). Some of my friends completed the TEFL certification before they left and said the Practicum was the most beneficial part, which is where you shadow an ESL teacher or you practice teach for 20+ hours and write a review on it. It sounds like you would be capable of this pretty much any where and could shadow other ESL teachers to get a better feel for the classroom energy.
Did you do it through CIEE?
I went through CIEE to set me up in a TEFL course, but it took them a while to get everything organized, so I was beginning my TEFL class with 6 weeks left until I left for Thailand (and the program is a 12+ week program). Perhaps it was my fault I didn't contact the correct people in time, but if you want to take the TEFL class through CIEE I would let them know as soon as possible so you can complete it before you leave, or at least be almost done by the time you leave.
Any insight into deciding which country to travel to?
I have always been drawn to Thailand, ever since my brother traveled here 8 years ago through the same CIEE program and taught in Chiang Mai. His stories of the culture and the people have stayed with me ever since. From my understanding, it is a popular teaching destination because of the more relaxed culture and kind students. My friends taught in Korea and said teaching was more like a military regime, they taught for 7 hours a day with one break…and HAD to follow a ton of curriculum, continuing on even if the students didn't understand. Here we have sufficient down time during the day and I teach for a total of 16 hours a week. I can also plan my lesson plans to my liking, so that is another bonus.
Are you actually making enough money that you will be in good standing when you come back to the States?
So before I left for Thailand I made sure to have about $4000 saved up as backup for my return. Teaching here gets me about 25,000 baht a month (roughly $778), which is more than enough to live comfortably. If you go through CIEE you should also get housing taken care of..so most of your paycheck is for traveling, buying lots of beautiful things around the country, and eating all of your feelings, be them happy or sad.
All the food please.
I am doing a really good job of spending almost all of my paycheck each month on miscellaneous things around the city and traveling. I'm definitely thinking by the time I get back to America I will be dipping into my savings. I also plan to travel for a couple weeks in October with my boyfriend around Thailand and that will not be cheap. I am lucky to have a place to move into when I get back, but I am not banking on making a profit working here…if anything I will probably break even with my paychecks or have a couple extra thousand baht a month to put aside for when I travel. Living in Thailand is by no means expensive…but our American mindset sees something for 30 baht and we want to buy EVERYTHING because thats only $1!! But it's hard to shift your mindset to realizing you are only making 778$ a month…and not an American salary. Oof.
Is there opportunity to renew the contract?
From my understanding, there will always be an opportunity to renew your contract. My second day at work I was asked to stay an extra semester, and they didn't even know how I would be as a teacher. Native English teachers are in high demand in Thailand, and most schools are looking to keep the same teacher on for as long as possible. It helps the students a lot too to not have a new teacher every 6 months, but rather the same one they become close with for a year or so. Another position that schools look for are Native English speakers to teach different subjects, like Social Studies or Science. The native English speaker at my school who teaches Biology in English to the older students also makes a little bit more every month. So if you want to stay for another semester or two, it is very easy to do so, and the schools would love it.
Was the application/interview process hard?
CIEE Teach in Thailand only had an application process that I completed through the website. I had to answer questions about where I wanted to be placed, upload my resume and two professional recommendations, and write a personal statement. I think the personal statement was the most challenging part, just because I was desperately trying to avoid the cliche "I want to teach abroad so I can give back to a culture that in turn will give so much to me"… which I think is what I wrote anyway… Regardless, it wasn't as drastically important as I made it out to be, they just want to make sure you are literate and have some recommendations backing up your skills. There was no "interview" per se, I was just assigned to school, showed up on a Sunday and started teaching on Tuesday.
If anyone has more questions, send them my way! AmySkinner05@gmail.com