Teaching in Thailand for a year has been one of the best decisions of my life. I have grown professionally as a teacher and personally as a global citizen. It is a life choice I would recommend for many people looking to be better teachers and experience new parts of the world. All of that being said, I know it is not an easy choice. Picking up and leaving a world you are comfortable in for a world of unknown can be scary. For those of you who have decided to make this leap of faith, here is some advice to think about as you head over to a new country.
I was a teacher before I moved to Thailand, so I honestly did not think too hard about the dress code. I figured as long as my knees and shoulders were covered I would be fine. I am used to teaching younger kids so clothes I can easily move around in are my norm. I was a little surprised when I showed up to my Thai school and every single woman teacher was in very professional pencil skirts and almost business formal attire. Yes, my shoulders and knees were covered but I felt a little silly in my tshirt dress and flats, while they all looked like business professionals in heels. While dress codes vary from school to school I would recommend showing up those first few weeks in conservative and professional clothing. It is always better to overdress than underdress, especially at your new job.
Only speak English in the classroom
My students are 13 years old and came to me with some knowledge of English, enough to express themselves but only with little detail. However, something I have noticed all year long is that when something is hard or they get confused, they stop talking to me in English and turn to talk to one another in Thai. I now have a rule that they can only speak English in the class, pushing them to try and speak English even when things get hard. I wish that I had started the year with this rule. It is way harder to implement and enforce halfway through the year, because they have grown used to giving up and speaking Thai when it gets hard. If I had started the year off with only speaking English in my classroom they would have grown to be problem solvers and I do believe they would be even stronger at speaking English today.
Be prepared for schedule changes
One of my biggest challenges in moving to Thailand in general has been the lack of schedules. Restaurants open and close as they please, stores won't always follow the hours posted on their doors, and worst of all (for me) school does not always follow the schedule you think it is going to. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have walked into school only to be told no classes that day because of a meeting, or no classes all next week because of sports week. At first I found it infuriating. How can a school function with no schedule?! But as my time here went along I got used to just taking a deep breath and figuring how to rearrange what I was teaching. As an American, this was definitely a challenge, but learning how to let go of my intense desire for a schedule has allowed me to be a little more go with the flow. Thai people are extremely relaxed about time frames and scheduling, and being in a school has really let me experience this calmness of their culture. I am not saying I totally let go of that American side of me, but I am no longer pulling out my hair when I hear there is a meeting during what I thought was supposed to be math.
Get to know the students and their families
The number one thing I would recommend, and has been the ultimate highlight of teaching in Thailand, has been getting to know my students and their families in and outside of school. I started by asking my students what their parents did. I quickly learned that several of them owned noodle shops that were nearby. By going to these eateries for dinner I got to know the parents of some of my students. Thai people are some of the most hospitable people in the whole world, so it was not long before my students families started sending in presents (mostly food!) to school and inviting me to their houses for home cooked meals. Spending the weekends getting to know my students families have helped me learn an incredible amount about Thai culture. Not only did these families cook me incredible Thai meals but they have also helped me to explore places in my town I might not have been able to get to on my own, experience Thai traditions I might not have known about on my own, and shown me some love while I have been far away from my own family. These people will be the number one thing I miss the most about Thailand when I leave.
Moving to a whole new country with a very different culture can be scary, however it is worth it. Follow the tips above to help you get started on an amazing adventure!