How difficult is it these days to get a teaching job in Bangkok for someone who is considered a non-native speaker of English? We've discussed this topic before in the ajarn hot seat. but if memory serves me correctly - never with a European teacher. Marek Lenarcik kindly offers to fill us in.
Marek, thanks for the opportunity to chat. You originally hail from Poland. It's a country I've wanted to visit for a long time. Worth a trip?
Definitely! Poland has something to cater for every visitor from the Baltic Sea in the North through 2,700 large lakes, and countless little "lakelets" in the East to the mountains in the South. City lovers can visit Warsaw which has everything which the European capital should have, Cracow which is often referred to as "the cultural capital of Poland" or Wroclaw or Poznan which have more "western" character due to their proximity to the German border.
You should write for guidebooks. Now then, you left Poland to study for a second degree in Ireland. Have I got that right? Poland to Ireland sounds like an unusual connection for a young man making his way in the world?
That’s correct, however, the situation was more complicated. My mother, father and sister moved from Warsaw to Dublin in 2004. I visited them as often as I could and eventually decided to move there as well. Ireland was always on my mind and I wanted to live there. I applied for seven or nine postgraduate programmes in a few different institutions and got a rejection letter from all of them, due to the alleged incompatibility of Polish and Irish educational systems. They did not want to honour my BA degree from Poland. A year later I applied for only one programme at the Trinity College Dublin which happens to be the best university in Ireland. I got accepted on the spot.
You settled down in Ireland and got a job with Microsoft. What were you doing for Mr Gates?
Ireland is a home to Microsoft European Operations Centre serving the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East, Africa). I had worked as a Senior Licensing Representative. It was sort of a business analyst position with a lot of administration and business support for Microsoft’s corporate customers.
You've travelled around a fair bit as well. We'll get on to Thailand in a minute but which other countries have you spent time in?
I have seen most of Europe from Sweden to Spain, France to Hungary, also Morocco and Israel. The most memorable was a road trip from New York to Los Angeles and the dance on "the axis of evil" - two weeks in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Southeast Asia I have been to Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Timor-Leste which is the poorest country in Asia.
But you've ended up in Thailand as a teacher. What prompted that decision?
During my first year in Ireland everything was so new and fascinating to me that I idealized everything I saw - including the weather. Less than twelve months after my arrival, I went for holidays to Thailand. When I came back home nothing has ever been the same anymore. The idea of living in a warm climate was conceived. In May 2009 I was still hesitating between the Middle East which I love and Southeast Asia. Eventually I decided that Thailand has more to offer to a 28-year-old single male than let’s say Iran or Saudi Arabia...
Did you think before you came here that finding teaching work as a non-native English speaker might be more difficult?
Honestly, I have not done a lot of research on this. I’ve read here and there that there are non-native speakers teaching in Thailand and I realized I am going to be all right. I sent about 100 applications, attended 10 interviews, got 5 job offers. All of these happened in December/January which as you know are not the best months to look for work here.
But it seems unfair to class you as a non-native speaker based on the quality of the e-mails you've written to me and the fact that you've had articles published?
If I knew you were going to judge me on the basis of quality of my e-mails, I would probably put more effort in writing them! I don’t like the discussion native vs. non-native speakers, because I think it’s an unresolvable issue. There are probably more non-native English speakers teaching English in the world today than native-speakers. I have formally studied English for 15 years. Out of these 15 years only one was with a native speaker (from Canada). By the end of the day I am able to live and work in the English speaking environment and I believe that should be the goal of every student.
Yes, I do make mistakes, but native speakers do them too. I have completed my TEFL certificate in Phuket in October last year. Two highest scores belonged to the guy from Germany and a girl from the Philippines. Some of the native speakers failed the final grammar test, while all of the non-natives passed it. Sometimes the passport is not everything.
I’ve had articles published in The Washington Times among others. The stories you see in the newspapers are a common effort of the writer and a team of editors responsible for different aspects of the story. The version you submit rarely resembles the one which is published in the end.
You've had an article published in the Polish version of Playboy magazine. I read on a website the other day that Polish women are rated as the most beautiful women in the world. Any chance you could send me a copy....er.....to see what your article was about?
I interviewed Richard "Gambler" La Ruina in London who claims to be the biggest seducer in Europe. He is the author of the book "Natural Art of Seduction" and the CEO of PUA Training - a company teaching men how to pick up women. Richard invited me to take part in a two-day-long training to understand better what his work is about. The story in Playboy describes the training. Richard also answered a few questions. Unfortunately I can’t send you a copy, but the rough translation of the story can be found on my blog - lenarcik.com. Let me know if you want to boost up your seducing skills - maybe I’ll be in position to get you a discount.
Let's get back to the teaching before this interview goes way off track. You've landed a good teaching gig at the Dusit Thani College. Did being a non-native English speaker pose any problems at the interview stage?
The issue of me being a non-native speaker was never rised during the recruitment process. The college educates future hospitality industry leaders. Only fraction of the people they will be dealing with will come from the countries where English is the first language. I think it’s beneficial for them to be familiar with as many different dialects and accents as possible.
What about at other jobs you applied for?
I got some replies to my applications saying that they are interested only in native speakers. One application which I particularly remember reached the interview stage. The interview started more or less like this: "Oh, so you are from Poland...". It ended after two or three totally irrelevant questions. I could clearly see that they wanted to finish it fast.
I just asked my wife about Dusit Thani College and she referred to it as "a cookery school". If it's the college near Seacon Square Shopping Mall, then a college of domestic science and hotel managament might be a better description I guess?
Dusit Thani College offers five management programs leading to a Bachelor's degree, comprised of Hotel Management, Kitchen and Restaurant Management, Tourism Management, Resort and Spa Management, Convention and Event Management, and a Master’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. I am sure though that if your wife wants to learn how to cook, she would find something suitable for her!
My wife learn how to cook? Not a chance! What subjects do you teach there and how's your workload?
They went easy on me in the beginning. I have two Pre-Intermediate groups and one Advanced English Composition and Communication class. It’s 12 hours of teaching a week plus some additional activities. The honeymoon will end in April when I’ll get some additional classes on board.
Yes, it’s a good fun!
What do you plan to do when the Dusit Thani College has outstayed its welcome?
The atmosphere in the college is great. Everybody is very nice and helpful. Students are relatively respectful. I’ve read a lot of horror stories about teaching in Thailand, so I guess I am lucky landing a job like this. I want to stay in Thailand for a couple of years at least to understand the country and the region. I enjoy teaching so I guess I will fulfill my goal. I also have my eyes opened for all business opportunities as I consider myself to be a creative problem-solver. (hint, hint) In the meantime maybe I’ll write a bestselling book and become stinking rich?