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Teaching English Abroad in Asia as an African-American Man

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as an African-American Man: Bangkok, Thailand.
Darrion with his class in Bangkok, Thailand.

Teaching Traveling: Interested in teaching English abroad…

…and curious what it’s like for people from a variety of backgrounds?

Today we welcome Darrion Willis, aka “Teacher Dee” who will give one perspective on teaching in Asia as an African-American man.

Darrion, tell us a bit about your background.

Darrion: Hello. I’m Darrion M. Willis from Washington, D.C. I am 29 years old, and I’m currently teaching third grade English, Math, and Science in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

I have four sisters as I am the only boy. I have been to five countries so far: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China.

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as an African-American Man
It’s clear from these photos how much Darrion’s students love him.

I am currently making the transition out of the classroom to teach online, and also to become a fitness model.

I received a $170,000 scholarship and graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science & English.

This fall I will attend Harvard Extension School to pursue my Master’s degree in English Language & Literature. I am the first in my family to attend and graduate college, and now the first to attend graduate school.

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as an African-American Man: Thailand graduation
Darrion with a little graduate student in Thailand.

TT: Inspiring! What was a highlight of your travels during breaks from teaching abroad?

D: I celebrated last New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, Thailand. It was an amazing time because it was my first break from teaching in a while.

TT: Lovely. How have you found all of your opportunities in teaching English abroad?

D: I found them through searches on Facebook and Google!

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as a Black Man
Leading students with positivity.

TT: It’s great to know how much is out there. So, how did you find the money to fund your travel?

D: I fund my travels with savings from work at school or online.

TT: Nice! Tell us one moment from your time abroad that was particularly powerful.

D: I attended my first EDM concert in Hanoi Vietnam back in September 2017. Over 20,000 people showed up. The largest crowd for a music event in Vietnam… and I was in the front row! The artist playing was Martin Garrix.

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as a Black Man
A+ for Darrion’s bow ties.

TT: Nice! How have your travels impacted you in your career, and as a person?

D: My travels have impacted me as a young Black man. Being a teacher of color means letting children see the world for what it is: diverse, unique, intelligent and filled with different people from all walks of life.

Teaching English Abroad in Thailand as a man of color
Teaching the next generation of leaders.

Me being a teacher of color teaches my students that a teacher is not validated by his skin color, or anything superficial for that matter, but by his ability to educate people on a particular subject or subjects.

I break the stereotypes, along with other teachers of color, by simply staying true to who we are, and being a positive role model to our students every day. And that is a requirement all parents expect from teachers, no matter which country you are in.

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as an African-American Man
So much excitement in this classroom photo.

TT: Yes! What advice do you have others interested in teaching English abroad?

D: Don’t be afraid to seek help in order to improve your career skills in teaching. It’s about being a team player and seeing that students succeed both in and outside the classroom.

Also, allow yourself to learn and discover new aspects of life each day. This all will make you stronger and wise in the end. Many Thanks!

Teaching English Abroad in Asia as an African-American Man: Jumping for joy in Bangkok, Thailand
Jumping for joy in Thailand.

TT: Thanks for sharing your wisdom and story, Darrion! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

Interested in teaching English abroad? What's it like to teach in Asia as a Black man? Inspiration on being an African-American educator in Thailand & Vietnam!
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Dunn Woods

Thursday 27th of December 2018

I would just caution teachers of color (especially African-American males) to do a lot of research before accepting assignments in Asia. I worked in China for a year and traveled extensively to East Asia. The negative stereotypes about African-Americans abound. I had people run away from me, scream, assume that my English was not as good. I have African-American colleagues with similar experiences. The biggest frustration for many was convincing families that they were good private tutors (where the real money is made), even after being placed at a local school.

Recent advertisements for English teachers in Asia used coded language, such as "preferring candidates who use standard English." Some have even gone as far to say that they prefer Caucasians. While I enjoyed my time in China, it was markedly different than my white colleagues. It was two extremes--fear or having been exoticized.

Nevertheless, I am still grateful for the opportunities to travel and shrink corners of the world for those who are ignorant about African-Americans and/or America.

Lillie Marshall

Thursday 27th of December 2018

Dunn, thanks so much for this important additional insight! I’m curious to hear the thoughts and experiences of other readers. More information is helpful!

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