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Teaching Abroad in Thailand and Ecuador as an Asian-American

Lani in Kuala Lumphur, Malaysia.

Lani in Kuala Lumphur, Malaysia, 2009.

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Lani, a Thai-American teacher who has been teaching abroad in Thailand and Ecuador!

Lani, tell us more about your background.

Lani: Originally, I went to school to be an archaeologist, which I did for a short while. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but it lacked creativity. So I decided to take a break from it with the intention of returning, but I never did.

Instead, I fell in love with working with children at an adventure summer camp in the San Juan mountains of Colorado (not to be confused with Old San Juan, Puerto Rico!). So, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching degree.

At a temp job, I learned about Waldorf education, which is an alternative and art-based pedagogy. I trained for 2 years part-time then taught for 2 years before I left under duress. I wasn’t sure what to do at that point, so I decided to go to graduate school. It was here that I learned about Montessori education.

It didn’t matter though because I kept running into bureaucratic hurdles and became discouraged by both the public and private school systems. As a result, I gave up on teaching for many years.

But I never gave up on my dream of working and living abroad. It’s funny because during this time I was also applying for the Peace Corps and the JET program, looking into TEFL programs overseas, but I never went through with anything.

Then in 2007, my partner and I went to Thailand because my mother told me she was going to see the house she had built and for a temple opening in her hometown. I had wanted to return since my teens, so I jumped at this unique chance. After this special trip, I was determined to live here, so my partner and I made it happen.

In 2009, I received my TEFL through SIT’s program in Bangkok.

Lani on her new bicycle, Chiang Rai, Thailand, 2014.

Lani on her new bicycle, Chiang Rai, Thailand, 2014.

TT: Wow! Tell us more about your teaching traveling.

L: About 8 months or so after I received my TEFL certification, I couldn’t find any suitable work in Thailand. I knew what to avoid. I was being picky, and I was also still cautious about what I would find in schools abroad. My appearance was another concern of mine. Would Thais be interested in learning English from a non-White person?

Since I was barely subsisting through online work, I started to look elsewhere, and decided upon South America because I wanted to be in a Spanish speaking country. CEDEI from Ecuador hired me and so I ended up working there for about 6 months.

I’d highly recommend CEDEI. The only problem for me was, at the time, the pay was too low for comfort. And I was missing Thailand, so I decided to give Thailand another try. (Oh, alright, I also wanted to get back with my boyfriend, but little did I know he was already with another woman. I know, right?!)

A Cañar woman and baby, in Cañar, Ecuador, 2010.

A Cañar woman and baby, in Cañar, Ecuador, 2010.

TT: Yipes! That’s intense. So, how did you find the Ecuador teaching gig?

L: I just did a search online. It was ridiculously easy.

TT: How did you find the money to fund your travel?

L: I sold my car. Once I got a taste of living abroad, I doubted I would ever go back to the US. I know, I’m crazy. It wasn’t even like my life was perfect or amazing, I just knew this lifestyle suited me better.

TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

L: Probably one of the most powerful moments was when I discovered that my mom had been donating money to a local temple here in Thailand in my name. I was already feeling loved by my Thai family, and excited about being back in Thailand after 18 years, but then to discover that my name would be on this temple alongside my father’s for as long as that temple stands, well, that was a moment in time.

Gin Salat celebration, Lamphun, Thailand, 2012.

Gin Salat celebration, Lamphun, Thailand, 2012.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?

L: Teaching abroad gave me a second chance at teaching. It allowed me to go back to a discipline that I loved, but without the big problems that are facing the US. That being said, I’m involved with the fight to keep public education alive in the US. After all, I’m still a US citizen.

Although the longer I have lived overseas, the more I’ve learned about the issues educators face globally. It’s not a picnic in the park because I truly care about teaching and my students, so as a result, there are hard days. Teaching abroad has given me another perspective on the profession.

4th of July with Lani's school, at the US Consulate in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2013.

4th of July with Lani’s school, at the US Consulate in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2013.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?

L: When I was 16, we visited Thailand on a family vacation. It was then that I realized how differently other folks live. That was a life-changing summer, and it has affected my outlook on life ever since. I’m a more grateful and patient person. I feel like I have matured faster, but by no means do I feel worldly. There is too much to see and do and learn.

And as strange as this might sound, I’m extremely grateful to have been born and raised in America.

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

L: Don’t expect things to be the same as they are back in your passport country.

And for those who are considering teaching, I would highly recommend watching someone first to see if it is something you would like. Teaching is a real job, with real responsibilities.

However, if you are already a teacher and want to travel, consider it career development. The world needs good teachers, teachers who care.

TT: Thanks so much, Lani! Readers, what questions or comments do you have? If you want to learn more about Lani, check out her awesome blog.

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