Teaching Abroad Series | Part One Thailand & Cambodia
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
In this Series, Teaching Abroad, Travel For Change Founder Cherie asks expatriate teachers working in Southeast Asia some questions on their experience within the education sector. Teaching abroad is a great way to work in destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and more, but it is important to remember that you should also have the appropriate skills, training and intentions for working with students or desire to do so as they advance in their role.
This series is focused on travellers who gained paid teaching positions with a school faculty and advocates for each individual to participate in sustainable and ethical work in this field. Travel For Change does not support short-term volunteer work with children in care facilities.
Teaching Abroad Series Part One
Teaching in Bangkok Thailand & Siem Reap Cambodia
Why did you choose to teach?
Initially I chose to teach because I wanted a way to sustain my simple lifestyle in Thailand and it seemed like a great opportunity at the time. I was volunteering with local community programs working with refugees and wanted to be able to stay in the city to continue my projects. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I fell in love with teaching and believe it is the best way to develop a clearer understanding of the local community and its culture. As a teacher, you can work not only with your students but with teaching faculty and their families to create a better working environment. I had already visited Thailand many times and lived in Bangkok for almost five months prior to accepting a job and to me it just felt like the next step in my journey. I love working with kids and appreciate a job that is constantly challenging and different.
Do you love what you do?
Teaching is hard work. Anyone who says it’s an easy job has probably not given their role as an educator it’s required attention or taught a classroom full of kindergarten kids who don't speak English. I have always worked in the field of community service with various roles in foster care, disability care, nursery and kindergarten teaching, social work and volunteer projects abroad. If I can partner work in which I am skilled at with the freedom of travel; it’s a perfect match. Try it out, but if it isn't for you, don't stay just for the pay check. The students deserve to learn from teachers who want to see them thrive and achieve their dreams!
Is this your first job? If no, why the career change to Education?
As a University Graduate, education was my first job and it was also my first job outside of Australia. I was completing my Degree in Human Services whilst travelling across Thailand and a friend who was teaching at an International School provided me with the chance to go for a job interview and this eventually led to a teaching contract. I had previous experience teaching at a Performing Arts School in Australia for three years and around four years of work experience as a Youth Worker in Youth and Community Programs. Once offered the job, I decided it would be an amazing experience in a city that I fell in love with from the start. I spent 18 months teaching in Thailand and 5 months in Cambodia.
What do you like to do on your days off? Is there a good work-life balance where you are based?
Teaching in South East Asia at an International School is a Monday to Friday job, making it the perfect career whilst living abroad. On weekends, I would visit friends, cook, explore the city, take a boxing or yoga class. I would also volunteer at local projects with children less fortunate than those at private schools. Teaching a full working week can be exhausting, especially in the tropical heat so the weekends are always a good time to recover. Daily life in Siem Reap Cambodia was wonderful because I lived so close to the school, I could walk everywhere and I enjoyed the simple life in a small town. In Bangkok Thailand, the city was fantastic because I had a good network of expatriate friends and there was always an exciting event to attend or a cheap backpacking trip not too far away. If you work full time on a contract you will get paid vacation so you can either visit home or take a few weeks off to wander around a new destination.
If you teach English to second language speakers, did you learn their local language?
In Thailand, I studied conversational Thai at a language school in the city. I spent almost two years in Bangkok so it was highly beneficial for me to speak the local language. As a teacher, it is not a requirement to speak the local language and the school will want their teachers to speak English at work. In Cambodia, I did not learn the local language, though I have some basic conversational skills in Khmer from travelling to the region so often.
Do you have a memory in your teaching experience that you are proud of and wish to share?
It was always exciting to see my students develop their conversational English skills with one another. Students under the age of five need to develop basic life skills so seeing them learn to tie their shoelaces or write their own name was very rewarding. On the holidays, all the students and teachers would have fun dressing up, celebrating and sharing food. The students always have fun bringing gifts and sweets for their friends and their classroom teacher especially on their local traditional holidays.
Do you have any starter tips for those wanting to teach?
Approach teaching as a career where you never stop learning. Teachers learn every day in their jobs just as students do. It is important when teaching abroad to listen, be humble and take advice from others. It is important that you love what you do because even when we have our bad days, teachers must show up for their students. My advice would be to take the time to look after yourself. Once you start to feel burnt out, communicate this to your faculty and plan so that you don’t bring your stress into the classroom. A large sized calendar is very helpful for the students and parents and it can be displayed out the front of the classroom so everyone is aware of the routine. It is also important to assess your pay and visa situation when working in a foreign country to ensure that you can cover your costs of living from your income and the required travel period when you leave for visa purposes. I also suggest investing in comprehensive travel insurance and renting close to school to save time and money. Be sure to have someone translate the contract for you to ensure the local copy matches the English copy as if there are any disputes the faculty will refer to the copy in the local language.
Do you think education is important to the local community?
Education is a vital part of every society and a place where children can create opportunities for their own future. Students learn all about their world, themselves and how to treat others kindly. Education decreases poverty within society and reduces the percentage of children participating in the labour force and underage marriage. Students develop an awareness of health, hygiene and safety from a young age and can take the information that is taught in the classroom and transfer it to their home environment.
Contributed by Cherie, Founder of Travel For Change.
For further information and stories on teaching abroad you can check out my articles on Teaching in Thailand and Teaching in Cambodia here!