Teaching Traveling: Curious what it’s like to teach abroad in Thailand? Let’s get the scoop from Casey O’Connell! Tell us about yourself, Casey.
Casey: Hi, I’m Casey! I’m 24 years old, and I’m from gorgeous Colorado. (How did I ever leave?) I went to school at the University of Northern Colorado for a degree in elementary education. Three days after my graduation, I was on a plane to teach in Thailand! I’ve had wanderlust since I was a little girl, and I’ve always known that I wanted to spend a few years of my life living abroad. One of the many reasons I chose teaching as a career is because it meshes so well with traveling. Teaching has given me many opportunities around the world, especially as a native English speaker. I’ve been teaching in Thailand for almost 3 years now. I teach second grade at an international school in Bangkok, and I have 32 adorable Thai English language learners in my class.
TT: Nice! What’s it like to teach in Thailand? What are the pros and cons?
Thailand is a great place to teach. Everyday life is enjoyable here; I love spicy Thai food, the availability of fresh fruits, ease of public transportation, and Bangkok in particular is a very trendy, happening city to live in. I’m lucky enough to work at a reputable international school, where I’m able to save money while still enjoying a relatively high standard of living.
There are several pros and cons to teaching in Thailand. As for pros, I enjoy a stress free lifestyle! There are several Thai and English classes during the day, so when I’m not teaching, I have time to create lessons, grade, and do everything I need to! I rarely take work home. I experience freedom with curriculum and lessons, as there is not pressure of standardized testing. I enjoy perks like, plenty of vacation time, a flight home once a year, and a monthly housing allowance.
As for cons, a schedule is never fixed; there are always last minute changes! Lack of curriculum in subject areas can also be a challenge for many teachers, though many quality schools do have curriculum in place. Lack of support from administration is a common complaint from teachers in Thailand. Additionally, Thailand has low levels of English, so it’s often hard to communicate with Thai coworkers, administrators, and the parents. Corruption can be evident in private schools, as Thailand is a country that sometimes experiences corruption. This is partially why Thailand’s political situation is unstable. I worked in Thailand during their most recent coup, and we missed several extra weeks of school due to protests.
Teaching situations really vary here! It pays to do research before coming to teach at a school to make sure that you’ll have all the resources and support you need to be successful. A reputable school will provide a quality curriculum, a good salary, additional benefits, and visa/work permit assistance.
TT: Excellent advice. What travels have you taken, amid your travels?
C: I have made some of my most memorable travel and teaching experiences while volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to travel deeper for cheaper and meet new people.
In Vietnam, I spent one week in a classroom at ‘Vietnam Friendship Village.’ I worked with students mentally and physically affected by Agent Orange, a chemical used in the Vietnam War, which has had lasting effects on generations of Vietnamese people. This was a powerful travel experience.
Another one of my favorite volunteer experiences was being a summer camp leader in Haiti! For one month, a few other volunteers and myself lead fun activities during the day for a little school that had been damaged by the 2010 earthquake.
I also enjoy taking vacations for relaxation and pleasure. One of my favorite vacations was Bali. (It’s as amazing as Elizabeth Gilbert describes it in Eat, Pray, Love.) I absolutely loved it there! A friend and I spent 2 peaceful weeks on the island walking through the rice fields, drinking coconuts, and doing yoga.
TT: Wow! How do you find your travel opportunities?
In Haiti, I volunteered with Volunteers For Peace. I’ve done several awesome volunteer projects with them, including work in Peru, Costa Rica, and Haiti. They have a huge volunteer project list, and many of their projects involve working with children and/or teaching.
TT: So great. How do you fund your travels?
C: I’ve funded all my travels completely with my own savings. To be honest, I don’t spend my money on much else! Every month, I put at least half of my paycheck into my savings, and that’s money I can use for future travels. Plus, it helps that I’ve been saving money for travel since I was a little girl. I do believe the adage that says, “Travel is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer.”
TT: Amen! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly interesting.
C: Three words: Pipe cleaner earrings! When I was helping to lead the summer camp in Haiti, the other volunteers and I had brought a lot of crafting materials like beads, glue, construction paper, pipe cleaners, etc. The kids went crazy over pipe cleaners! They had never seen anything like it. One afternoon, we did a project with pipe cleaners, and the kids took their projects home. A few days later, we went to the market in our small area of town, and we saw several elderly women wearing earrings that had been crafted out of pipe cleaners! I was so amazed at how quickly the materials had spread and morphed into a fashion statement. It really showed me how resourceful people can be; little goes to waste in places where people don’t have a lot.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your career?
C: A big part of my teaching background is focused on culturally and linguistically diverse students. When teaching abroad (and at home) a majority of my students have been English language learners. I now believe I can relate to my ELL’s more. I have the experience of living in a country where sometimes I can’t understand what is happening, and it’s so frustrating because I can’t communicate! I have more patience and empathy for those students learning a second language.
In general, I can bring broader perspectives and cultural awareness to my entire classroom, and I have a greater respect for all backgrounds and experiences. (Embracing diversity is a HUGE priority in my classroom.)
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
C: Travel has impacted my life so much. My travels have made me a more open and grateful person. I’ve lived in India and worked in a school in the slums, and that experience alone has given me so much gratitude for everyday life. Even just turning on the shower and having hot water is something that I am still thankful for every day.
Travel has also disproven the stereotypes that I grew up with. In the U.S., media instills in us a huge fear about traveling to places like Colombia or Middle Eastern countries, but travel is one huge way to combat the prejudges we are led to believe. Travel has given me friends and family all around the world, and everywhere I have traveled, I have found a new home.
TT: Love it! What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
C: I believe there is no better time than now! Go anywhere! Say yes to any opportunity that comes along! Traveling and teaching can be challenging and frustrating individually, and also when you mix the two together, but it’s these two areas of my life where I have had the most rewarding, fun experiences and where I have been able to create my most memorable moments. I hope to inspire others on my personal travel blog, Words of a Wanderer.
I have had success using TeachAway. This website lists reputable schools and companies with great teaching opportunities, and you can apply to jobs here if you make a profile. I also love Volunteers for Peace. They have a huge list of amazing projects, which include teaching at summer camps!
Follow your heart! If you’re drawn to a specific location, start there. So many opportunities can be found at your fingertips; you can even try to Google: teaching opportunities in _______. I’ve found some great programs just by Googling specific destinations I’m interested in paired with teaching keywords!
I love this quote by Erin Hanson: And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly? Travel has given me wings on so many occasions, but before you discover your wings, you have to be willing to take the leap!
TT: Thanks so much, Casey! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?