Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Richard Arthur. Richard, tell us about yourself.
Richard: I grew up in Cambridgeshire, England and did my CELTA training straight after graduating from university, with the intention of moving abroad to teach English as soon as possible. I also wanted to travel and keep a diary of my adventures. So at 22, I flew to Malaysia on a one-way ticket to explore Southeast Asia, find somewhere I liked and try to find a teaching job.
I thought a month or so would be enough before settling down. However, it was one year later, having travelled around Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, and done more partying than some people do in a lifetime, that I ran away to China to teach for four months and got a free ticket home at the end of it! I eventually returned to Bangkok where I settled and became a university lecturer, and turned my old diary from that year travelling in Southeast Asia into my book, I of the Sun.
As well as your more traditional travel writing about the region, there’s a lot of the nitty gritty of the young backpacker scene in Thailand and it covers all of the ups and downs of budget travel and partying. There’s also some philosophy, exploring the nature of free will through the means of solo travel.
TT: Neat! Tell us more about your travels.
R: Bangkok is a fantastic base to explore Thailand and all of Southeast Asia, as it’s all a short flight away. Teaching also gives you a good bit of time off to pursue these destinations. I’ve been all over Thailand, and there are beautiful places to be found not only in the more famous parts like Chiang Mai in the north or Krabi and Ko Phangan in the south, but in many less famous provinces too, basically anywhere with some coast or mountains.
I’ve been to neighbouring Laos and Cambodia many times, which both have their own similar yet distinctive and bewitching culture. I’ve visited Burma twice too, the last time just before the recent changes there. It felt so cut-off from globalised modernity that it was like going back in time 60 years.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
R: Living in Bangkok during the two month-long Red Shirt protests in Bangkok was pretty powerful, as were the floods later that year.
I once went to this tiny, remote former-KMT Chinese village in the jungles of Mae Hong Son province on the border of Thailand and Burma, and met a soldier there who paraphrased Tolstoy. “Everyone wants to change the world, but they don’t think of changing themselves,” he said. That was interesting.
Plenty of funny stuff in my book, often involving overnight bus journeys, dirt cheap dorm rooms and the worst hangovers of all time.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
R: Teaching abroad is certainly a great way to quickly assimilate oneself into a new country and culture, and get to know the locals in more depth than as a tourist.
Recently I’ve spent a couple of summers back home teaching English in language schools in London. It was a pleasant change to be teaching mixed nationality classes again. It certainly challenges you as a teacher to adjust and improve your technique, and it’s rewarding to help the students share and learn from each other’s backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints in the classroom.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
R: All of the usually clichés about opening your mind and learning about the world and its people are basically true for most people I think. I love living and working in cosmopolitan environments with people from all over the world. It’s nice to help people I guess. Working on my own at the computer for long periods of time on my book made me realise how much I missed the social aspects of teaching.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
R: I think the world could always do with more great teachers, so see what’s out there and find the perfect job for you. Teaching in a new country is a fantastic way to make a new base to explore a region. I’d recommend travellers who want to teach to do some proper training and get certified so they know what they’re doing. It’s in everyone’s best interests. And try to commit to your job for the length of the course you teach. Fly-by-night backpacker teachers don’t reflect well on the profession! If you’re interested in teaching in Thailand, www.ajarn.com is the best place to start with loads of info and jobs.
If you want a more literary take on travelling Thailand and Southeast Asia then read my book, I of the Sun. There’s a long free preview of the book on Amazon. Thank you!
TT: Thanks so much, Richard! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?