Kristen has been a high school English teacher in rural Thailand for one year, and recently taught a TESOL course to new teachers in Thailand. Before coming to Thailand, Kristen worked as a yoga instructor and in development at a local animal shelter. Prior to that, she spent several years in academic publishing. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 2012 with Bachelor's degrees in Journalism and Psychology. Kristen hails from Kansas City, Kansas, USA and hopes to continue living and working around the globe.
Why did you choose this program?
I chose Greenheart Travel because of all the extra bells and whistles. I wasn't intimidated by moving abroad, but it was a huge weight off my shoulders to know I wouldn't have to navigate visas, cell phones, bank accounts, and finding a job all on my own.
The enormous benefit I couldn't have expected was the incredible life-long friendships I made with others in my course. Spending a month with so many others who are adjusting to this new life created a huge support group for me in Thailand.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Greenheart Travel does an excellent job of assisting in preparing all of my initial paperwork, including the all-important visa. They also worked with me to prepare my resume, a professional headshot, and video. I was provided with ample information about the program and recommendations on everything from packing to culture shock.
When I arrived in Thailand, my accommodation and airport pickup was ready. During the week I was given a local SIM card for my phone, as well as step-by-step information on how to choose a phone plan, and assistance in setting up my Thai bank account. After receiving my job placement, my agent helped me to find accommodation in my new town.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
My biggest piece of advice for those coming to teach in Thailand is to open yourself up to the experience, and stay positive. If you say yes, incredibly unique opportunities will present themselves to you. It's important to understand that not all cultures, people, and schedules function the same way you do, and that's okay. Learn when to let go and ride the waves!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
I completed my TESOL certification as well as received job placement in this program. The TESOL course begins with a full week of orientation in Thailand including Thai politics and cultural lectures, Thai language class, Muay Thai, a visit to a local market, rice plantation, and more.
The following three weeks are an intensive TESOL course completed Monday through Friday from around 9 am -5 pm. The program includes accommodation during the course, a coursebook, and access to materials helpful in lesson planning and completing homework.
After completing my TESOL course and arriving at my job placement, my school schedule runs Monday through Friday beginning around 7:30 am and finishing around 4:00 pm. The Thai school year has many holidays throughout the semester, so there are ample three-day weekends to take advantage of and travel. I find the Thai school calendar and schedule to be quite relaxed.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I'm a bit of a natural introvert, and being an English teacher in Thailand has presented me with all kinds of opportunities to talk to strangers, sing and dance in front of 1500 students, and speak on endless microphones. The best thing I've learned to do in those situations is the classic "fake it 'til you make it!" Embrace all of the awkward language barrier moments as part of the experience.
I've also learned how to nurture my introverted side by balancing my professional and social life with plenty of alone time indulging in hobbies: yoga, reading, motorbike rides, writing, painting, you name it! An adventure like this is a great opportunity to learn about yourself, so really dig in.
What is the best way you found to become part of and give back to your new community?
Living in a new place in a new country can be intimidating at first. When I first arrived in my town, everything around me was new and exciting and different (and a bit overwhelming).
I found that one of the most important things I can do is to be out and about-- shopping at the market, exercising at the local recreation area, eating at food carts. This helps people get to know me, chat with me outside of the school environment, see students and parents around town, and generally allow people to see that although I am the special guest foreigner in town, I am not much different from them.
In Thailand, it seems your proximity and availability leads to invitations which lead to friendships, and a million special opportunities that most tourists would never have. Thai people are known for being incredibly friendly and generous, and reciprocating that by engaging in some simple acts of kindness like some free English lessons, entertaining the neighborhood kids, gifting some fruit, or feeding local dogs, can have a major impact.