Internships in Thailand

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The Land of Smiles has limitless offerings, making it the perfect place to intern for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ll come to enjoy authentic curries and pad thai, gems in the treasure chest of Thai cuisine. Or, are you discontent with magazine pictures of stunning Thai temples? A stroll through Chang Mai will reveal hundreds of wats (temples) containing saffron-robed monks and awe-inspiring Buddhist statues. The lover of culture will be overwhelmed: in architecture, art, music, and dance, Thai culture is unparalleled.

As the only Southeast Asian country to never be colonized, it offers interns amazing cultural and historical richness. More the outdoors type? Nature lovers will be excited by elephants and growing country-wide conservation efforts. Is it people that fire you up? Social activists from around the world can team with Thais to combat injustices and health challenges of a developing country. After a crippling economic crash in 1997, Thailand is continually strengthening its economy and aid programs, but there’s still much to be done. When interns are ready to kick back, there’s no end to entertainment in Bangkok and Chang Mai.

There’s never been a better time than now to intern in Thailand. This newly industrialized country is modernizing at a breakneck pace. The tourism industry is drawing more visitors every year. This boom has birthed ecotourism and an urgent conservation movement. The healthcare system is a leader on the world stage, drawing medical tourists from around the world. However, despite rapid development, Thailand is very much a developing country. For the past two decades the government has addressed community and medical needs with inspiring innovation. There’s no better place for interns who want to make a difference through social justice and public health. The following are the most popular internships in Thailand:

Hospitality/Tourism:

Since the influx of American soldiers in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, Thailand has been a premier vacation destination. Its tourism industry is the 11th most successful of any country (UNWTO). Interns interested in hospitality positions can gain experience at 4- or 5-star hotels on Phuket, called the Pearl of the South for its exquisite scenery and idyllic beaches. Take your pick of international hotel chains throughout Thailand where you’ll work alongside professionals in business administration, management (hotel and restaurant), and marketing. Learn from the best in some of the most beautiful places in the world!

Environmental Conservation:

Though it comes in many forms, there’s an exciting conservation push sweeping the Kingdom of Thailand. Green-hearted interns can experience any of the following fields: ecotourism (revolutionizing tourism to lessen negative impact on local communities and ecosystems), elephant conservation (rehabilitating and caring for elephants of all ages), aquaculture (responsibly farming and maintaining fish hatcheries) coastline management (influencing public policy with data from interns’ dives or lab research), avian conservation (preserving habitats plus conducting field and lab research), and sustainable agriculture (improving one of Thailand’s most essential industries). Be a different kind of tourist: enjoy Thailand to the fullest while leaving it better than when you came.

Teaching English:

Don’t tell your mother you’re considering this one! Many a tourist has visited Thailand only to return later to stay permanently as an English instructor. While paid internships are rare, native English teachers are in high demand throughout the country. Why the high demand for native English speakers? Thais learn English in school, but often speaking skills suffer from want of a native instructor. Plus, teaching English is easy! You don’t need to know Thai and the "teaching" is often conversational: Thais practice English and you make a friend. You can teach novice monks at Buddhist temples, refugees from Myanmar and Burma, or children in hill villages. An English internship is a people-intensive intern option that just might charm you back someday to The Land of Smiles.

Social Services/Community Development:

The most plentiful internships in Thailand, social services are a rewarding way to experience Thailand while changing lives. Schools in Chang Mai welcome interns as English teachers for hill tribe children and Burmese refugees. Interns at the Thai Freedom House empower women who develop and produce handcrafted products. Thailand is sadly notorious for human trafficking of men, women, and children, in which migrants and nationals are shipped and received for prostitution and unpaid labor. As an intern, create change by raising awareness and helping rehabilitate trafficked victims. Or, spend your internship at one of the many orphanages that house refugees and AIDS orphans. Your energy will delight the children and encourage the staff. In light of the 2004 tsunami, 2009 economic crash, and current flooding, there are countless options for a service internship that will change you forever.

Medical:

Thailand’s healthcare system commands growing respect from countries across the globe. Expert medical staff, hospitals with cutting-edge technology, and affordable prices draw millions of Westerners. Interns can assist and observe in fields like physical therapy, dentistry, and general surgery. Thailand is also a top location for public health internships. An HIV/AIDS epidemic threatened the nation in the 1990's as it spread through the booming sex industry. In response, the Thai government launched a massive campaign that became one of the few AIDS prevention successes in history. Yet there’s more to be done. Tropical diseases, water contamination, recent flooding, ever-present AIDS, and increasing obesity call for interns with a passion for public health. International internships are gold stars on your resume, but participate in one of these fields and you’ll find lifelong rewards.

Arts:

One of the most splendid heirlooms of Thai culture is its art, and interns can gain skills in several different forms. Dancers will learn about East performance traditions, choreograph with professionals, and teach young dancers at the Bangkok City Ballet School. Whether by producing concerts or taking center stage in theater and puppeteering, there’s an opportunity for every artist. For those who perform on paper, use drawing or painting as tools for helping heal and empower orphans and disadvantaged women. Take on responsibilities at a museum or art gallery. Intern in the healing arts of massage with Thailand’s holistic healthcare. Or, take on one of Thailand’s most famous art forms: Muay Thai boxing. This martial art originated on the battlefield where boxers would use their bodies as deadly weapons. Enjoyed by soldiers in WWII and popularized throughout the West since, Muay Thai was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1998. Interns looking to broaden their martial art skills while experiencing a classic part of Thai culture will be well met in the Muay Thai art.

When and Where to Look for an Internship:

How can you snag one of these incredible internships? Most interns come through placement programs. While they cost more than finding an internship on your own, it’s worth it: the program will help with visa and legal paperwork, pick you up at the airport, coordinate cultural excursions, provide accommodations, and host an orientation that usually teaches basic Thai language. You and your caregivers will sleep easy knowing you have a reputable organization on call if ever you need assistance. Shop around to find the perfect fit for you, and then prepare to be amazed as they pave the way for an outstanding internship experience.

Internships are available throughout the year, but climate can be a big factor in deciding when to come. Thailand has three seasons: hot, rainy, and cool (though some say it’s "hot, hotter, and hottest"). The hot season, from March-June, has temperatures between 91°F -118°F during the day. Rainy season, from July to November, is cooler but accompanied by torrential downpours and flash flooding most evenings. Cool season, from November-March, is the most popular and most expensive time to come, hosting daytime temperatures less than 89°F with nighttime temperatures reaching down to 60°F. But don’t write off hot season yet! It’s bearable with air conditioning and plenty of water, and prices are lower. Plus, you’ll get to experience the most fun Thai holiday: Songkran.

During this Thai New Year celebration April 13-15, cool off in a nation-wide water fight. Or, If you come the beginning of November you can release a lantern during Loy Krathong, Thailand’s most beautiful holiday. Whenever you decide to visit, secure your internship at least 2-3 months prior to leaving.

Most internships take place near Bangkok or Chang Mai, Thailand’s two largest cities. Bangkok is a throbbing metropolis recently named the World’s Best City by Travel & Leisure magazine for the third year in a row. It is also the most important city politically and economically. Chang Mai, though still full of interesting opportunities, is more relaxed than Bangkok. This bastion of culture is less steamy and urban, and its vicinity to hill tribes and surrounding villages makes it a prime location for social services and teaching English. Find hospitality internships on the gorgeous island of Phuket or elsewhere in the country.

Visas for Interning in Thailand:

Visa requirements differ depending on your internship length and activities, but your program will help navigate the process. Most interns apply for a tourist visa. To do this, you’ll need a completed visa application, $40 fee, two photographs, a copy of your itinerary, and a recent bank statement. If you’ll be staying for more than 60 days, you may need to apply for an extension at the Thai Immigration Bureau.

Cost of Living in Thailand:

Low cost of living in Thailand is a huge draw for travelers. Since housing costs will be included in the program fee, your main expenses will be food and transportation. Enjoy incomparable Thai cuisine for $2-3/meal or a Western meal for $4-7. You won’t spend more than $4/day on public transportation, and prices for everything are lower outside the cities. Throw in some outings and expect to spend around $225-$350/month (7,000-10,000 baht).

Work Culture in Thailand:

It’s important to honor Thais by adopting cultural norms that might not come naturally. Though the younger generation is relaxing some traditions, every Thai will appreciate your efforts with the following. And have fun with it! Laugh often at yourself as you learn an entirely new way of life.

Non-verbal Communication:

You can deeply honor or offend Thais with your actions. Some may seem awkward, but by the time you head home you’ll want to smile at wai at everyone. The wai is equivalent to a handshake. To do it, press your palms together and bow your head to your fingertips. Hold your hands higher for elders, and wai everyone except children and those of lower social standing. Avoid pointing at people since it’s calling them a dog; instead, gesture with a flat hand. For signaling "come", stretch your hand out flat, palm down, and wiggle your fingers back and forth. The head is the highest part of the body, so never touch or pass an object over someone’s head. The feet are lowest, and showing your sole to someone is like sticking your tongue out. Last, slip off shoes before entering a house. Don’t fret if it takes you a while to get these down; Thais are exceptionally gracious so smile when you err and you’ll be immediately forgiven.

Saving Face:

Thais always communicate indirectly. Instead of "I don’t like that", they might say, "It’s interesting". Conflict is avoided and any criticism will be very subtle. Speaking softly and smiling is always proper. It’s all in pursuit of "saving face", of keeping yourself and others from looking bad or being embarrassed. It’s fascinating to note how deeply this principle affects Thai society. And who knows – maybe you’ll discover your communication style is more Thai than you realized.

Respect for Elders:

This principle is as old as Thailand. Family is the nucleus of Thai society, and the male head of the family is always given tremendous respect. This now applies to all seniors, whether fathers, instructors, or business-people. Hierarchical relationships are foundational in Thai society. As such, don’t be surprised if you’re asked very personal questions by a Thai person; they’re just trying to figure out where you stand in the social standing ladder so they can treat you accordingly. The last respect topic is also the easiest way to get yourself imprisoned. Never, ever speak poorly of the king or a member of the royal family. In fact, many play it safe and just don’t speak of them at all! As a rule, you’ll be fine if you follow the cues of your Thai companions with a smile and a wai.

Prioritize People, Not Tasks:

As in many developing countries, Thais value relationships above efficiency. For example, if you meet with a Thai to work on a project they may want to chat beforehand to establish a relationship. America is one of the few countries where we define success more by accomplishments than people benefited. Slow down and get to know the people you’re privileged to meet.

What to Wear:

Dress should be reasonably modest, neat, and clean. Unless you’re soaking in the sun on the beach, women should cover shoulders and avoid short shorts at all times. Between capris and airy Thai pants, it’s easy to keep cool while respecting the Thai people. Sorry to spoil your tan, but men should keep their shirts on. Slip-on shoes are best since they’ll often be removed when entering buildings.

Language:

Thai is known for its singsong tones and ornate script. The five tones (low, middle, high, rising, and falling) can be challenging for Westerners, but you can get by with minimal Thai since English is widely spoken in cities and tourist hotspots. Your internship program will usually provide some language training to teach you the basics, and studying before you go is a great idea. Be bold in trying out what you learn; Thais will appreciate even botched attempts at this exquisite language.

Work and Labor Laws in Thailand:

Thai internships are designed to fully immerse the intern in the learning experience. As such, working on the side is rarely encouraged. The 2008 Alien Working Act places tight restrictions on jobs available to foreigners. If an intern was set on making money in Thailand, they would need an application to the Immigration Department verifying that it is not work a Thai national could do, a Non-immigrant “B” visa, and a work permit issued by the Department of Employment. Contact your internship program to see if making extra money in Thailand might be an option for you.

Contributed by Emily Lloyd

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