5 Things You Shouldn’t Expect While Teaching in Thailand

Guest Article by Andrea Emerson

This is Andrea Emerson, Bangkok based expat English teacher. I have spent over a year teaching English to hormone riddled teenagers, attempting to photograph fire balloons and generally not going on any dates, and now I would like to impart some of my wisdom from this crazy adventure. If you’d like to learn more about teaching in Thailand, Bangkok specifically, or even if you just want to know where on earth to buy women’s essentials in this land that doesn’t really ‘do’ tampons, you’ve come to the right place.

20100412_1252 Smiles.

Hello! Welcome to the Land of Smiles. As an expat teaching in Thailand, one of the first lessons you must learn is this: take what you think is logical, and forget it.

I don’t say that to be harsh, whether to anyone visiting Thailand or its citizens. I say that to save you a lot of time ripping your hair out. So, let’s work backwards. Before you can decide whether teaching in Thailand is for you, it’s best to eliminate reasons that might make teaching in Thailand a bad fit. This will be done in no particular order. Also I would like to point out that ‘Eh!’ in the context of this post is a very loud and obnoxious wrong answer buzzer from whatever game show you choose.

Here we go!

1) I need to earn a lot of money to pay off student loans!

Eh! Wrong answer. Thailand has a lot of things. Glorious riches to squelch your student loan debt is not one of them. A cautious few can make this work; according to google any way. I haven’t met them yet. Thailand wants adventurers, debtors stay home, or pick a different country to teach English.

2) I’m going to spend every day at the beach!

Eh! Ok well maybe sometimes. There is a lot more flexibility to sneak off to the beach on weekends from Bangkok than say, Detroit. That said, getting to the beach takes some significant transport time. Or, if you’re stationed more rurally, getting to a town with some civilization might. Personally I don’t have the energy to get to a beach more than every few months. Still, better than Detroit. But my surroundings are more concrete jungle than sandy beaches. There are also opportunities to teach ‘English camps’ that take place at parks or beaches. You can get a lot of beach time in this country. But be prepared for the urban jungle time to outweigh it.

3) Asian students are so well behaved!

Eh! I’m going to say this once. A teenager is a teenager. If you have no patience for the K-12 lot in your home country; Thai teens will not be miraculously well behaved in contrast. There are cultural differences in behavior, but don’t expect that to be a 180 degree flip-flop. Yes, true, I said not to use logic. Well here you can use logic. Kids are kids.

4) I have health problems in my home climate, a warmer climate will help.

Eh! Alright, so warmer weather may help some health problems, granted. That said, the air quality in Bangkok is not so hot. I went 6 years inhaler free, and then I moved to Bangkok. Bronchitis, inhalers, and constantly living in air conditioned spaces have not done wonders for me. Not to mention all the lovely germs my Midwestern self had simply not been exposed to before. When I get out of the city, it does wonders for my health. If you are thinking about moving to Thailand and any part of your decision hinges on air quality, read up thoroughly. Your health is important. And regardless, many people take two years to work through the unfamiliar germs if they haven’t been exposed before. Consider visiting once or twice if you can. It’s not a cure all, but it beats cold turkey.

5) I’m frustrated with red tape in education in my home country, but I want to teach.

Eh! This one is a toss up. I am an educator in my home country, and I am quite frustrated by the state of affairs I left. The experience of teaching in Thailand has opened my eyes to new ways of looking at teaching. It has shown me educational problems that I did not know existed. I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I have gained for the world. I would, however, take a time warp and smack some sense into my idealistic, globe trotting new teacher self. Every country has educational problems. Now add language barriers, visas, work permits, plane tickets. Of course, any determined person can handle it. But are you really sure you know what you’re getting into? I don’t mean down to the last detail, you’d never leave the house, but how realistic are your expectations? What research have you done into your school, teaching agency, etc.? My first three months completely deflated my expectations, and I had to build back from scratch. Don’t be blindsided, realize what your job as an English teacher in Thailand is, and what it isn’t, so you can go in with a clear frame of reference and enjoy your classes from the beginning.

Next up: Ok, So Why SHOULD I teach in Bangkok?

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7 Comments
  1. Your first point is very important. I see so many people come over without the means to handle both the higher than expected cost of living in Thailand as well as their obligations back home. Please make sure you’re in financial shape to come and teach. Thailand is a rough place to live if you don’t have enough money.

  2. Yes, I can agree with so much here and a lot of it did make me giggle (with truth, that is). But as long as you take these things into account, teaching in Thailand is a deeply rewarding experience and it has changed me on so many levels. I might not be rich but my quality of life here beats working 16 hour days back home 🙂

    Teaching in Thailand isn’t for everyone but for those who’ve made it work, it makes for an AWESOME life.

    Thanks for sharing (and for the giggle!) 🙂

  3. Hey great article, all so true! I have been teaching here for 3 years now and these are great parts of wisdom for newbies! I am actually one of the rare people who have been able to pay off my student loans while living here in the kingdom. It has taken 3 years of working hard (and playing hard mind you, I love the beach!) at a job I don’t love as well as after school tutoring. But at the end of this year I will have paid off 10,000 USD in student loans. It was not easy, but it can be done in Thailand, it just means you gotta hustle and make it work! There is money to be found here and since you can live on very little it is possible to do. Just wanted to give an example of someone who has done it, even though we haven’t met, I am a real person living in Bangkok 🙂

    Cheers!

  4. Bring at least 5–6000 usd with you, to start. The recommended min of 2000usd leaves u damn little room for unforeseen problems.
    Also, be able to flex in ways that might feel utterly unfair to you. Fairness does not enter th picture. You r on their turf, t put it bluntly. Civility toward you, th guest, is given in accordance to th degree that you recognize you r no longer in Kansas…..
    That said, u can have a swell time here and even make some friends too.

    But be warned…..if u like to cycle, th dogs WILL b waiting….

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