Teaching Traveling: Ever wanted to volunteer teach in Thailand, even if you come from a different line of work than education? Curious what travel and teaching abroad are like as a Eurasian? Meet Monica, and listen to her story. Monica, tell us about your background.
Monica: My Name is Monica Leslie; I am a graphic designer and also a part-time blogger in my spare time. I am a Eurasian; half British and half Chinese and presently live in the United Kingdom. Travelling is something which came to me naturally, especially being from two worlds and having that clash of identities from a young age while trying to figure out who I actually am.
Therefore, I took trips out on holidays to visit my extended family members in China and that was how my journey to travelling began. I somehow developed a fascination for discovering new places and finding out about new cultures. As regards teaching, I initially took some time off before college to teach English in China. It was an amazing experience and I knew I always wanted to do this in some capacity, but my love for designs would eventually ensure I settle for a career as a graphic designer.
However, a few weeks after my fiancé and I got engaged, we planned a trip to China to share the news with my extended family still living there. During this trip, we decided we were going to make trips around and that was when we decided to visit Thailand. It was my first time in the country but I was truly blown away. The allure of both a modern and civilized world blending seamlessly with such presence of culture and ancient feel was too difficult to resist that we knew we would be returning in some capacity. Thankfully, we made friends with a fine gentleman from an underprivileged community who proposed returning as volunteer English teachers and we grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
TT: Awesome! I also absolutely loved travel in Thailand. Tell us more about your travels.
M: This trip to Thailand was particularly interesting because we did not know what to expect. We knew that travelling only as tourists would be totally different from travelling as tourists, but also volunteering in the process. In my own circumstance as a Eurasian, I did not know if I would be more accepted or frowned upon as a figure or authority to teach English. However, the gentleman who made the proposal in the first place assured us that everything would be fine.
When we arrived at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, the feel of warmth gave us the re-assurance we needed to proceed on our planned itinerary. However, first we must enjoy and immerse ourselves in the beauty that Thailand has to offer and get accustomed to the country before we begin our volunteer gig. We tried out everything from visiting the Grand Palace, several temples, the floating market, The Jim Thompson House and Museum, Amulet Market, Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, Thieves Market and the colorful flower market at Dheves. We even took a short culinary course on Thai cuisine and dared to learn how to tattoo. We also took a trip to Koh Phangan which I will simply refer to as a paradise on earth. Here we visited the beaches with crystal clear waters, visited the waterfalls and took a swim, walked through the jungle, rode on elephants, attended a Thai boxing game, got a Thai massage and even tried out diving. However, we did not get carried away by it all and it was finally time to go to Isan in Northeastern Thailand. There we spent a month teaching English in some of the most difficult conditions, but to kids with the most beautiful hearts and that experience will remain in my heart forever. All in all, we spent a month and 3 weeks in Thailand.
TT: How did you find this travel opportunity?
M: We were introduced to the opportunity by a friend we met in Thailand on our first trip to the country. He comes from the less-privileged region that we eventually volunteered at.
TT: How did you find the money to fund this travel?
M: We funded the trip using our personal savings, and it was worth it.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travel that was particularly funny.
M: One particularly funny thing about the trip was the fact that people automatically assumed I spoke the local language rather than my fiancé, most probably due to my background. Most people will speak to me first before him; even the kids we taught English and he would jokingly tell me that he is jealous they consider me a part of them more than they consider him. By the way, he is British.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
M: This opportunity opened my eyes to the simple things of life which normally I took for granted. Therefore, whenever I am having a difficult day at work, instead of whining and complaining; I only think about some of the experiences I had in Isan. Only then do I realize I worry only about what I now consider as luxuries. To me, they do not matter anymore and I learned to get my job done without lamenting or complaining.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
M: On this trip, I found true beauty in the most unexpected place. I found people who inspired me to seek further on the simple treasures of life which surpasses the glitters. I had to volunteer to teach little kids the English language, but these kids taught me a lot more than I could ever imagine without volunteering. They taught me what a pure soul and compassion means and how the simplest of things could make them laugh heartily. With this experience, I am considering volunteering more in different places as a teacher, and who knows? I might be taking a career break to give this possibility a chance. This, I will be documenting on my blog should I make the decision. I am very sure it will make me happier as a person and also fulfill me in the process. Nothing will give me greater joy than the knowledge I will be imparting knowledge into a generation that have the future on their hands. They are the ones who could shape or mar it and I sure would prefer the former.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
M: One Word: Go for it! While at it, make sure to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Learn about the people and culture. In our own case, starting off the trip as tourists really gave us the strength and energy we needed to hit it off. Before setting off to the region, having stuffs like the Thai Massage made sure we were relaxed and fresh. We were already about used to the food and could even prepare some dishes ourselves as we had already taken a short Thai culinary course. We were even so adventurous that we also took a short tattoo training course at a Tattoo school that we found in Bangkok. Also, we got to know more about the country with tourist trips to Bangkok and Koh Phangan before the actual volunteering in Isan.
One very important advice is also to research extensively on the destination of your choice and plan your trip in total detail. We even considered advice from the state department on Thailand in our case. All in all, it was a good trip and a very liberating experience which made me learn a lot and made me grow as a better person. It is one which will change your perspective and make you realize the things which really count. One thing is sure, it will not only be a trip which will linger in your memory for ages; it is one which will make you count on the days before you take on your next adventure.
TT: Thanks so much, Monica! Readers, what questions or comments do you have? Do check out Monica’s travel blog, too.