My Time Teaching English in Thailand

Alison shares the story of her time teaching English in Thailand, learning to speak the language and immersing herself in Thai culture.

In 2005, I was recently graduated and putting off reality. I applied with a programme called ISTplus teaching English in Thailand. I had few expectations: sun, beaches, palm trees, elephants, delicious food, fruit, cocktails...

I had never: taught; been to the Far East; met a Thai person; heard the thud of a coconut dropping onto the sand; swum with the fishes; been told not to go out due to a military coup. The list of things I’d never done, but now have, is endless.

I lived and worked in Chonburi, which a popular travel guidebook denounced as worth visiting only for the annual buffalo run. All advice seemed to be don’t go there. I stayed for two years, so it had something (and it wasn’t the buffalo run). It was an hour from Bangkok. The capital city can be compared to standing in the exhaust of a bus whilst watching an exciting, historical, fashionable, culture show. The city is huge and sky scrapers litter the horizon. It’s surreal; the gulf between rich and poor is enormous. You party with the moneyed as street urchins charm you for your change.

Weekend trips were an indispensable part of life. Parties in luxury Bangkok night clubs outdid the Chonburi nightlife. In the other direction I found another indispensable part of the Thai experience: the beach. On longer trips, I could travel to the more famous islands, Samui, Pan Ngan, Phi Phi, Krabi... You know them from stress relieving posters that read ‘tranquility’ or ‘harmony’. The places you imagine in moments of turmoil as your ‘special place’.

When I was bored of the beach, I could head to Thailand’s national attractions; the splendid Grand Palace, the ruins of Ayuthya, Lopburi and Sukhothai; the origins of Thai culture.  I spent time in the north of Thailand, enjoying the mountains and spectacular scenery. Each part of Thailand proudly asserts its own individual and colourful culture and traditions. These blend to create a diverse and fascinating national identity.

The greatest experiences I had in Thailand were those I had teaching English. It was a tremendous experience, which has furnished me with enough anecdotes and heart warming moments to maintain conversation for life. I learned to speak Thai, which allowed me to really become a part of the school. I loved the classroom and every day was a treat. It was a pleasure to walk to school to be greeted by smiling faces. It was a genuinely rewarding experience.

Today, employers look at it positively. I'm really proud of everything I achieved and it shows. So many of the qualities that should be exhibited in job interviews come from my time in Thailand. To employers, it shows resilience, endurance and an interesting person, keen to get experience out of their comfort zone. I returned in 2007 and trained as a teacher in the UK. I love teaching and I can always return to it, but at the moment I am on the brink of a move to London to work in production. I have done lots of freelance work: teaching, editing, proofreading, writing. And now I am trying something else. I have an unquenchable thirst to be out of my comfort zone! Without my time in Thailand, I might be less confident that the world is out there and to take great leaps. I made great friends, have amazing memories, travelled Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia and found a job I loved.

My expectations were exceptionally exceeded.