Alumni Spotlight: Leonard Barrett

Leonard is a 28 year old from Alexandria, VA by way of San Diego, CA. Prior to joining the CIEE Teach Abroad in Thailand program, he worked for four years as a property manager for one of the world's largest real estate firms.

Why did you choose this program?

Honestly, I chose CIEE's Teach Abroad in Thailand program on a whim.

I had become really dissatisfied with the corporate world and felt as if I was just spinning my wheels for far too long. As this happened, a friend of mine had just had a similar epiphany and took off to Bali, advising me: "Life's too short, go live it." That same day, I decided that I would be teach abroad.

After some quick research (seriously, like 3 hours worth) about teaching English abroad and the countries looking to hire native English speakers, Thailand appeared to me as the best choice. From my readings on the 'Mai Pen Rai' lifestyle, to the lore of Buddhism throughout the country, I became transfixed on getting to S.E. Asia for my first experience.

It sounds crazy to some to just decide on such a life changing decision so quickly, but I've never been the type to be too analytical about life - it's going to happen one way or the other, it's up to you to make sure that what happens is exciting and challenging to you in order to grow.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

CIEE really held my hand throughout the entire process, from my initial application to participation in my TEFL course. They really do any and everything, save for purchasing your ticket, for you and collecting your necessary documentation from your university.

By far the most helpful assistance I received was with obtaining my initial, non-immigrant B visa, which I've heard is quite costly and very cumbersome to do by yourself.

Figuring out flight information, collecting transcript copies and all other necessary documentation (background check, school certification letters, etc.) was pretty tiring as well, but I think that my frustration with these processes came mainly from my knack to be anxious and worry about every little thing. It really wasn't a 'hard' process per sé, just very monotonous and a lot of the 'hurry-up and wait,' mindset.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

At the point of conducting this interview, I'm still stateside at home in Virginia, four days before my imminent departure. Unfortunately I can't really attest to advice for once you get to Thailand because I'm just as green as those who are reading this now searching for insight.

What I can offer as a bit of wisdom is to remain calm and organized. Getting worked up about the what-ifs and crazy hypotheticals you've concocted in your head won't do you any favors; take your preparation seriously and give yourself time to get things straight - you'll thank yourself as you're staring down the barrel of your coming flight.

In regards to your question of "What do you tell your friends who are thinking of going overseas," I tell them to do it. If you're unencumbered in your life and don't have anything but bills to pay, take the chance. The opportunity to freely take off and fully-immerse yourself in a new culture while earning a living is rare, and if you have that itch or feeling you can't quite put your finger on - satisfy it and enroll. You'll regret NOT taking the chance more than you ever would regret taking it.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

So I think that I was a rare-breed in this program when it came to scheduling and my station in life at the time of my joining. Due to my full-time position, that was really draining, I did not have the luxury of taking my TEFL course when and where I saw fit, I had to be incredibly vigilant in my studies.

A typical day in the 10-week (150 hr.) course went something like this*:

7 AM - 5:45 PM (Work)
5:45 PM - 6:30 PM (Go for a walk or get outside somehow)
6:30 PM - 9:30/10 PM (Fire up my laptop and get to work on the TEFL course-work)

*Some weeks I would get behind and wound up having to dedicate my weekends to catching up on homework and various lessons I may have missed.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

As I stated earlier, I'm still not abroad, but will be soon, so what I can offer here is pretty limited to my limited experience.

My biggest fear thus far in the program was failing my TEFL course and not being deemed an appropriate fit for any schools in Thailand. I quickly overcame this though by setting a schedule for myself in which I knew that I would be able to dedicate the necessary amount of time to complete my work in a satisfactory manner, all-the-while proving my worth to a Thai school and what do you know, I've been hired by a school in Chachoengsao, Thailand to teach 7th, 10th - 12th graders English for an entire year!

Any tip before the trip?

In my lead-up to departing for Thailand, the one thing that I would have done differently is to pay closer attention to the documents needed while you're abroad. I'm referring to your original transcript copies from your college and certification of attendance from college. While I obtained a copy of each of these, I had to submit the originals to the visa company and forgot that they wouldn't be returned. Now I'm in a panic trying to obtain original copies of these vital documents prior to leaving, and let me tell you: it is NO FUN.

Do yourself a favor and get 3 original copies of all of your documents and do it early. It may sound crazy and may be a pain to keep these organized well, but you'll thank yourself when you're calm and collected, hopping on a plane ready to take you half-way around the world.