With a kid in tow

With a kid in tow

Loving parent Kirsten Jeffrey tackles the parent child issue


In the summer of 2006, my husband and I moved with our young daughter to Thailand. We taught English for 16 months there. I'd like to share what we did and why, in the hope that it will be useful to other families who may be considering such a move.

First, we broke the cardinal rule of ajarn.com: we accepted employment before we left our home country, the United States. While our initial plan was to arrive in Thailand and explore our opportunities in country, we found a great school and an offer we felt was very fair. For us, it worked. It may be better for a single person or a couple to arrive in country, secure housing and employment, and then gain their visas, but for us it would have been very difficult. Instead, we arrived with visas in hand, having received them before we left the U.S.; our townhouse was provided by the school, furnished and ready for our arrival. We found it extremely advantageous to secure our jobs before leaving and never regretted doing so. We felt that it was a good sign when the school proved organized and reliable in helping us gain our visas from the Thai embassy in the U.S., and arranged for us to be met at the airport upon our arrival. Certainly we could have made our own arrangements, but after a cross-Pacific flight with a nineteen-month-old child - we were grateful for the assistance!

We researched the country extensively and put a lot of thought into our location. We had visited the country before and knew firsthand something of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin. We decided against Bangkok because we dislike the pollution, and ultimately decided against Chiang Mai and Hua Hin because of the cost of living vs. earning potential. We lived in Khon Kaen, six hours northeast of Bangkok. While Khon Kaen lacks the thrill of larger cities it was a good place for us as a family: affordable, friendly, small enough to get around, but large enough to offer a few "farang" restaurants and grocery stores with some imported foods. Khon Kaen also has excellent hospitals, which proved important to us: I gave birth to our second daughter in Srinagarind Hospital. My husband had taken two semesters of Thai in college and continued to study the language with a tutor while we lived in Thailand. This was most definitely a plus; while most of the doctors we met could communicate in English, few of the nurses and none of the office staff in doctor's offices and hospitals could speak English.

We chose to work at a small, private elementary school offering a bilingual program. I have a bachelor's degree in English, my husband has a degree in linguistics, and we both have minors in TESOL. We had also spent some time teaching in SE Asia as student volunteers; our backgrounds made it easy to get the jobs we wanted. I taught KG 1 and my husband taught English and math to the third and fourth grade classes. Our school also offered childcare and our daughter was able to attend for free. She quickly learned Thai and was fully fluent within a few months. After the initial school year and the birth of our second daughter, I decided to teach part-time for Khon Kaen University to have a more flexible schedule. I was able to take my baby with me to work, and my co-teachers and the office staff kept an eye on her while I taught (I was very lucky that they needed teachers badly, for they were exceptionally accommodating of me). I was also able to use the nursery at my husband's school part-time. The going rate for infant care seemed to be between 1500 and 3000 baht per month for full time care, depending on the facilities and the child-to-caregiver ratio. Not all facilities had air con, which we felt important because our daughter was not entirely acclimated to the heat. Some facilities had one caregiver for several infants, and they spent most of their time in cribs or infant seats. We were lucky that the school where my husband taught had good childcare available. We were very pleased with the educational but fun activities provided for our older daughter. All of our children's caregivers were loving, patient and kind.

We found infant clothing to be extremely cheap in Thailand, but any imported baby product was prohibitively expensive. Quality toys are almost nonexistent, and what is available is overpriced. A quality infant carseat could easily run 10,000-40,000 baht. I had bought a double electric breastpump in the U.S. for $250; the same model sold for 24,000 baht in Bangkok. Most of the shops selling such products seem to be marketing to wealthy expatriates on corporate or government salaries. English teachers need to be creative, come prepared from their home countries, or learn to do things more Thai-style.

Thais loved our daughter and were exceptionally helpful where she was concerned. She was given food, toys and attention nearly every time we left the house. Her picture was taken constantly, with and without our permission (not that we would have denied it, but it was a little odd). At times the attention was overwhelming for her but she came to enjoy it. Now that we have returned the U.S., I think she wonders where her adoring audience has gone!

There were many ups and downs during our time in Thailand, but we are so glad we did it. It was a life-changing experience for us and our children.




Comments

Kirsten, it is nice to read your article. Having kids and being an English teacher, I have a lot in common with you. However, my spouse is Thai. The struggle for me is that working in a Thai school, sending kids to the right school is the real challenge. I work at one of the upper class schools in the Bangkok area, and the funny thing is that even with my 50% discount as a teacher, it will be more expensive to send my kids to it than it would be going to one of the international schools that have double the tuition. I guess I could take them home to Canada, where the education would be free, but I think the benefits of raising them in Thailand far outweigh the costs - especially at home. I am glad you had a good experience, and I am sure your daughter will have one of those rare educational experiences that will have a life-long benefit.

By Ray, Samut Prakarn (11th January 2010)

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