Alex Cattle is something of an ajarn.com icon. He was the inspiration behind the ‘teachers looking for work’ page on the ajarn website and like so many other foreign teachers in Thailand, Alex was struggling to find work without a degree certificate. However, good things always come to he who waits. Alex’s story is one of personal triumph. It’s a story about overcoming the odds.
Alex, thanks for having a chat with ajarn. Firstly congratulations on your new job. What's your new school like and what kind of students are you teaching?
Thank you Phil, my new school is a private school of about 2000 students, I'm teaching K2 and K3 and also P1 to P6. I've only just started of course but the majority of them seem like really great kids.
You were originally a self-employed carpenter in the UK. It sounds OK that. Calling on single women and whipping out your steel rule to measure up for a set of shelves. Drinking cups of tea with eight sugars. It can't have been that bad?
Being self employed was great although I never managed to whip out my rule to any single women. I had a pine shop making bespoke furniture and fitted kitchens for about eight years when pine was highly fashionable. When it went out of fashion the business slowly went down the pan. I then went on to being a handy man, mainly carpentry, with an advert in the local paper to try and drum up business. I didn't enjoy that so much and some customers started to do my head in.
I'm guessing that like so many of us, you originally came to Thailand on holiday and fell in love with the place?
Yeah who wouldn't love it here, I came here about five times before I met my wife about 4 years ago. I managed to get her a visa (after one failed attempt) to live in England, married and stayed there for three years. In December, her mom died so she flew back. I had already been planning to come to live in Thailand for a couple of years and my canal boat which we lived on was almost refitted out and repainted. By the end of June she was sold and I flew out here straight away.
"She' is the houseboat and not the missis in case anyone's confused. So you pretty much made up your mind that your carpentry days were over?
I couldn't wait to stop cutting and smashing my hands up. I enjoy carpentry but not making things for other people.
You've lived in a few other countries as well though so you knew what being an expat abroad was all about?
I did a few years in the south of France (Antibes) working in a paint team on massive motor boats and yachts. I did the same in Italy although I didn't enjoy it there. Then I had a relationship with an Austrian girlfriend I met while on a skiing holiday and ended up living in Krems An Der Donau for nearly two years. While I was there I ended up working on and off as a DJ. I also picked up the German language pretty quickly
When you first researched work opportunities in Thailand and found out that teaching was pretty much all you could do, did you fear at the time that a lack of degree might hold you back?
I did a lot of internet research into what my possibilities in Thailand were. I considered renting or setting up a bar but heard too many stories of them failing and didn't want to risk losing the money I had got from the sale of my canal boat. When I looked into teaching without a degree, many people were saying it was possible and that demand always outstrips supply. I knew I had enough money to take a gamble and at least get a TEFL certificate and give it a try.
You live in a village called Kong Pai, Nongnamsai, in Khorat. Mate - that sounds terrifyingly rural? What do you do on Friday nights?
My wife was left with the house as her dad died years ago. The village is great and so are the people. Its in the middle of nowhere and the view from the back of the house is fantastic. It's quite a poor area and many of the houses are just metal or wooden shacks but I love the countryside and can live like that. Friday nights? 6 bottles of Archer and a few mosquito bites.
So what's your actual living accommodation like?
The house is a breeze-block construction with a metal roof. The floor is bare concrete. There are two bedrooms with mattresses on the floor and mosquito nets, a separate kitchen with one of those bottle gas cooking stoves, a squat n go toilet with a water vat for showering, and a massive doccere (don't know how to spell that) lurking about the house.
Do you mean 'dok care' - the white flower that grows in a lot rural areas? Never mind. Alex, you're obviously a guy with few needs and that's great. But you must wonder exactly how long you can live that?
My clubbing and illegal substance days are over and at the moment I don't mind not going out. If we really wanted to, we could get on a bus for about 40 mins and go to Korat Town where there are a few English pubs and stay in a cheap hotel for the night, but so far we have only done that once. I could go out here where I work but I don't bother.
Let's talk about looking for a teaching job with no degree. How many jobs did you apply for before you eventually struck gold?
I applied for about 50 jobs from Ajarn and from other job boards. I also made about ten cold calls on schools in the area.
Was it the lack of degree that ruled you out every single time?
Yes and also having no experience. I think if I had at least had some experience, I would have got a job sooner. I went to a fair few interviews, some quite far away, only to be asked about my degree. If they had read my CV properly, they could have saved me the bother. From then on I started confirming this fact beforehand.
The distance and travel involved with this new job means you can only go home at weekends. Is that putting a strain on the relationship with your wife?
Not really. She has to stay at home to look after her son, but she will be coming over to where I work for a couple of days each week and her sister will look after the kid. And then I get to go home at the weekends as you said.
Since I started the 'teachers looking for work' page, I've had some truly heartbreaking e-mails from guys in their 40's and 50's who are struggling to find work here and have nothing to go back to in their homeland. What would be your advice?
I think just apply for every single appropriate job you can and cold call schools. I'm not sure I can really give these guys much advice as they should be doing that already. I know there are jobs out there not being advertised as my wife knows a school MC in Udon Thani who works in several schools and could have got me interviews. But the money she was offering was only about 10 to 15,000 baht a month so I held out for a better wage because I had my savings to live off.
But I think eventually I would have taken a job like that as it's certainly better than nothing.
If living in Thailand suddenly falls apart for you, where would your next destination likely be?
If it all went tits up I would spend a school year in Austria. I've looked into it and schools there do not require a degree and you can earn up to 19 euros an hour. I could certainly save enough money to return to Thailand with a wedge and try again.
When I lived in Austria and was looking for work I used their job centre service and they kept my details on file. A local school approached me and asked if I would be interested in teaching. I thought I would give it a go so I went for interview, was shown around the school and told me they wanted to employ me. I accepted but a day later I was called to be told the school board would not accept me as I had no experience or training.
It still amazes me to think that I was nearly a teacher back then with absolutely no idea about lesson plans, PPP or anything. Of course I'm still a newbie teacher but doing the TEFL has given me the tools I need to hopefully become a great teacher.
Good luck to you Alex. Stay in touch.
Thanks a million Phil and you're the dog's nuts for sorting me out.
Certificate (2), Diploma (1)
Filipino (female, 42 years old, native Tagalog speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Certificate (3), BSc (1)
British (male, 28 years old, native English speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
American (male, 30 years old, native English speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Certificate (1), Diploma (1)
French (male, 29 years old, native French speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Certificate (5), BA (1)
Australian (male, 39 years old, native English speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
BA (1), Diploma (1)
Syrian (male, 50 years old, native Arabic speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
BA (2), Certificate (1)
British (male, 47 years old, native English speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Certificate (4), MA (1)
Russian (male, 52 years old, native Russian speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Certificate (2), Diploma (1)
Canadian (male, 55 years old, native English speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Filipino (male, 23 years old, native Tagalog speaker). Currently living in Thailand.
Ajarn.com was started as a small hobby website in 1999 by Ian McNamara. It was a simple way for one Bangkok teacher to share his Thailand experiences and pass on advice. The website developed a loyal and enthusiastic following. In 2004, Ian handed over the reins to Phil Williams and 'Bangkok Phil' has run the ajarn website ever since.
Ajarn.com has grown enormously and is now the most popular TEFL site in Thailand - possibly even South East Asia. Although best-known for its vibrant jobs page, Ajarn has a wealth of articles, blogs, features and help and advice. But one principle has always remained at Ajarn's core - to tell things like they are and to do it with a sense of humor. Thailand can be Heaven or Hell for an English teacher. It's always been Ajarn.com's duty to present both sides of the equation. Thanks for stopping by.
Renting an apartment?
Before you go pounding the streets, check out our guide and know what to look out for.
Hi, I’m Tony Dabbs
I was a licensed life and health agent in the USA for many years and now I'm ajarn.com's health insurance expert.
Fancy teaching freelance?
How easy is it to cut out the middlemen and rake in the cash teach students at their own homes?
The Region Guides
Fancy working in Thailand but not in Bangkok? Our region guides are written by teachers who actually live and work in the provinces.
Find out how employable you are in Thailand as an English teacher. Is it a case of 'welcome aboard' or "Mom, I need you to send some money again"
The cost of living
How much money does a teacher need to earn in order to survive in Thailand? We analyze the facts.
E-mailing for jobs
E-mailing potential employers in Thailand can be a very frustrating experience. Teacher Chris is on hand to give you some top tips.