What inspired you to teach English in Thailand with Greenheart Travel?
Jesse: My goal in life is to open my own school, thus, I have taught in quite a variety of different capacities throughout my years; seeking that perfect blend of education systems.
I've taught in a spectrum of settings from formal university classrooms, impromptu lessons 10,000 ft. in the Rocky Mountains with a backpack to numerous occasions of sitting in the dirt, holding a slug and waxing eloquently about gastropods and ecosystems. I cherish those experiences and consequently my educational views have been shaped by them.
Despite the fact that I have some pretty cool 'teacher' stories, in my heart something was missing. I wanted not just a multi-cultural experience, but a true cultural education where I would be just as much a student as a teacher.
I knew a little about Thailand, mostly tourist based information, and realized I was staring down the pipeline of my dreams. So I did a little research, sent out some emails, and quickly discovered the amazing people at Greenheart Travel were more then willing to help. A few months later from myself on a plane bound for Bangkok.
What was the best moment of your trip?
Jesse: That is such a hard question! Islands, amazing food, cultural experiences, open air markets, how do I even choose? The feeling of getting off the plane and realizing that I was in a foreign country felt pretty good. Along those same lines my first taste of Thai street food was sublime.
But I would have to say that the best moments of my trip were the many forays to jungles and waterfalls and the interesting people that we'd meet there.
It's pretty wonderful to walk up to a pool of water in the middle of the mountains and see a group of Thai's swimming and their sheer glee when a foreigner dives in. For an area of Thailand that rarely sees any Westerners, watching their realization that some things are universal and the smiles that bloom on their faces is incomparable.
What was the most challenging aspect of your experience?
Jesse: To be fully honest, the most challenging part of teaching in Thailand is knowing how to handle the Thai's educational system and the total lack of organization present in the schools.
While this is not true for every school in Thailand, I have talked to many other teachers and the vast majority have said this is the largest problem with their respective assignments.
Teaching schedules can change two or three times a day; classes will be moved or cancelled, 80% of students will be missing on a regular basis.
Thai teachers will generally hold their students 10-15 minutes into the next period and all of this happens without anyone notifying the Western teachers, hence you will often go to class and wait for students to no avail.
There is also a large amount of resentment present in some schools towards foreign teachers from the Thai teachers, but again, this is not all schools.
Recognizing these issues and knowing how to deal with them, or at least accept them, is by far the most challenging part of being a foriegn teacher here.
What did you most like about the local culture?
Jesse: I've been placed in a very interesting spot of Thailand called Satun. It is along the islands of the Andaman Sea nestled on the border of Malaysia and has a few of Thailand's indigenous tribal groups in the mountains.
Because of these features, Satun Town, the province capital, is something of a melting pot of Thai, Malay and Western influences.
The culture in Satun is incredibly varied dependent on what section you are in, which is further influenced by a 60/40 spilt of Muslim and Buddhist religious beliefs.
Just walking around the town you can experience bits and pieces of Muslim, Buddhist, Mani (Negrito), Chao le (Sea Gypsy), Chinese and Malay influence or on occasion discover small pockets of Westerners that run restaurants, such as the very excellent Bobbi's Pizza.
The food is a blend of all of those cultures, and more, combined into some truly unique culinary experiences; I have yet to discover another instance of squid or hotdog pizza.
If that doesn't satisfy my traveler's fix for diversity, I can always hop on a long-tail (Chao le boats) and head to international island hot spots like Koh Lipe, where the local areas get an international face lift but are still Thai at heart.
What tips/advice would you have for someone considering this program?
Jesse: Aside from learning the basics of the language, which will help you immensely in getting positive reactions, do not get caught up in the promised perks of teaching in Thailand. There is a lot of unintentional misinformation about what is offered at Thai schools, particularly in terms of salaries, classroom equipment, and school mentalities.
If you find what was promised and what was received to be different, this is by no means the fault of Greenheart Travel or anyone associated with them as they have little control over your final placements. Funding for schools and how those funds are allocated is not regulated and often not used where it is needed most.
Because of this if you are promised an end of contract bonus, accommodations and a Thai co-teacher, do not be surprised if you find that is not exactly the situation presented. Remember, you are traveling to a place that is extremely different from any Western counterpart, even the large cities like Bangkok and Chang Mai.
Likewise, students are absolutely not like their Western counterparts. It is not uncommon to have a group of them playing badminton or talking to their friends while you are in front of the class teaching.
This is not because you are a bad teacher and they are not listening. It is simply the Thai culture, you'll see adults have the same behavior, and it relates to 'sanuk', or an idea of fun in everything you do.
Work with the materials you have, try to be as exciting, flexible and fun as possible, and cherish the experience for what it is.