Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Wilkinson

Matthew Wilkinson is an Earth Science teacher in Buriram, Thailand. He possesses a BA in Environmental Studies with a focus in Environmental Policy.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program after a significant amount of deliberation over which organization to go with. Travelbud ended up not only having everything I wanted - guaranteed placement, guaranteed pay, TESOL on site - but was also the most affordable option that I had found at that point in time. I feel like this was the best program I could have chosen while leaving oneself with the comfort of knowing everything will be taken care of.

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

The local staff were incredible - they are all teachers at one point or another here in Thailand, or they are Thai. This provides you with a staff full of wonderful people that can answer each and every one of your dire needs to the fullest extent. I felt taken care of, and never once a burden. I also found the assistance with visas, legalizing degrees, and placement to be amazing, without which I would have been in agony, annoyed, and likely struggled to accomplish the process in time.

There is a lot of work spent understanding all of the niche rules, and laws regarding legalizing degrees, and especially the ever-changing visa process that is evolving nearly every other week. Because of this, I was incredibly satisfied with the help from Travelbud and the local on-site staff.

While there was a ton of assistance, obviously some things are left to you, such as actually putting your documents in the mail, traveling to, or mailing documents to the embassy, and following through with the directions they give you.

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

While it sounds like a bad thing to do, I think the best thing to do before the program begins is to lower your expectations to the point of non-existence. A lack of expectations allows every opportunity to be a wonderful experience. I feel as if expectations put you into a place in which you are exposed to the risk of disappointment from a still wonderful thing.

Let the negatives just slide off, occasionally bad things happen but look at the big picture. Be prepared to experience culture shock of one form or another was brought up in our introduction to Thailand, and you need to be ready to let it change you. Culture Shock should not be a bad thing, but a development that will allow you to get over nearly any hurdle thrown at you in your travels abroad.

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

A typical weekday during the school year for me has been waking up, and going to my regular coffee shop. I spend the first hour of my morning interacting with my newfound Thai friends. After coffee, it is off to school.

I don't teach until the last part of the school day, so I spend most of my morning planning out the classes. I also spend some time interacting with my fellow Thai teachers as they are a joy to be around.

After teaching my first class, I typically have lunch. The school offers Thai lunch, thankfully for me, so I get to try a new meal almost every day! After lunch I typically teach 2 more classes before the day ends.

After school, I usually have plenty of free time to meet up with friends; if not that, I love to go and explore something new or try out a new restaurant. I have yet to find a restaurant that I despise. I have had a few odd meals, including last night I saw a bottle of red stuff that they put into the soup. It wasn't until the end of the meal that my Thai friend mentioned it was pork blood and it all made so much sense. What can I say, though, it was a delicious meal; I never thought I would say something like that about a pork blood soup.

After this, I typically relax, whether to some local music playing on the walking street, or a movie if there happen to be English showtimes that week and a movie worth seeing, or often it will be a good book while looking out as the sun fades away.

My free time is often spent pursuing my biggest passion, exploration. I love just taking my bike for a ride, driving down new streets or driving out through the rice fields that surround my town and just feeling at one with the greenery. I also love using my free time as an opportunity to plan out the next destination of my never-ending journey.

I also find free time to be a great opportunity to get ahead with school planning, and simply just embracing a slower pace of life. For example, the other day I was trying to plan out my day, the list got to "go buy a bottle of water" and that was just about it. The rest of the day was simply whatever impulse I felt. It is quite a remarkable feeling to be able to pursue any whim and desire that comes up in the moment.

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

While I feel like it is quite cliché to say, but I didn't have too many fears. Obviously getting the documents sorted was stressful in its own way. Besides this struggle, though, I can say I was more excited than anything, not knowing where we were going to end up was quite a change from the typical way life is done in America. But this is part of the experience.

My view now is simply take everything as it comes; many of the Thai schools don't even tell you when the days off are until it is upon you: this is just the way life is here. Take each day as it comes, and you will love it all.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of traveling abroad is?

The impact it has on who you are as a person - often a change into a much more agreeable, and understanding person.

I believe that becoming a global citizen is the biggest benefit of traveling abroad. Gaining an understanding of how to survive, operate, and make friends with people even when you have little to no communication method. But more importantly, providing one a desire to make new memories, and to experience new things, devoid of routine, but rather controlled chaos.