Hot Seat

Olivier Vilayphiou

He's a Frenchman, except he's 75% Chinese and 25% Laotian. He teaches English. Oh and he once lived in Runcorn. We've truly gone international here on the ajarn.com hot-seat.

Q

Olivier. Welcome to the hot seat. Laos, France, China, Thailand? - Can you put this into some kind of perspective for the ignoramuses among us? I'm confused for one.

A

Well, to simplify things, one might say that my situation can be compared to those called ABC – American Born Chinese – except that in my case, I’m not totally Chinese, and not an American citizen. My mother is Chinese and my father is half-caste (50% Lao and 50% Chinese), that’s the origin of my mix-blood percentage ratio. They got married in Vientiane, Laos but I was born in Nongkhai, Thailand, which is the closest Thai town to the Thai-Lao border. After two years waiting for an authorization to immigrate to the USA, my parents finally got the opportunity to catch a flight to France, and they decided to give it a shot. That’s how I arrived in France in 1979 and finally became a French citizen in 1983. I know it’s a bit hard to remember, so just remember that I’m a Frenchman able to speak some Thai with a Lao accent

Q

When people actually meet you for the first time, what nationality do they think you are? From your black and white arty photograph I would say you look French.

A

150% of the time Thai and Lao people that I meet in the street think that I’m Japanese. But since I can speak a little Thai because of my Lao background (Lao and Thai languages have a lot in common), I often tell them they’re wrong and a very brief game starts to get to know where I truly come from. No need to say that they never believe me when I say that I’m French. Neither do they believe me when I say that I was born in Thailand but can’t speak nor read or write Thai correctly.

But it sure is trouble to define accurately and briefly who you are when you have my background.

Q

You've lived, worked or studied in a number of countries. Is Thailand just another stop on the Olivier world tour or is it the place you call home?

A

So far I’ve been in 11 countries (Thailand, France, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, England, Quebec/Canada, Laos, Taiwan) and even if I do feel like home in Thailand since my arrival here in November 2003, this is definitely not the last country I’m going to live in. I do intend to visit and live in Asia for the next 10 years (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, etc…), and after that I’ll move to the Australian area. I know that I might sound really fool to think it as it could be that easy to do, especially when put like that through a keyboard, but I sure know that I’ll have to work hard to achieve my dream. I have enough people around who remind me that everyday.

Q

Obviously I'd like to focus on what it's like being a non-native English speaker looking for work in Thailand. Firstly, do you find the expression 'non-native' English speaker a bit derogatory given that you obviously communicate in English so well?

A

Thanks, but I don’t find it a bit derogatory at all. Because even if I studied English seriously during 7 years (I studied 10 years, but the last 3 years were kind of joke now that I seriously think about it) I still don’t consider myself as fluent as a native speaker. Mainly because I stayed like 7 years without using regularly my English. I did keep watching English speaking TV shows or movies and reading some English speaking books, but still, I think my English is really far away from what it used to be in my prime. Maybe am I too demanding? But how can’t you be when it comes to something as important and serious than education?

Q

You worked briefly for Volunthai in Thailand. How was that experience?

A

That was really a wonderful and rewarding experience!! Michael Anderson does truly know his stuff. The organization of the camp was simply perfect. It gave enough freedom to volunteers to bring in new ideas to improve the English Camp, and yet enough existing framework to guide all newbies like me to make sure the kids enjoy the camp while learning English. Because of that, Volunthai is unique and brings a lot to the Thai countrysides.

The last good thing to know about Volunthai is that when you work for them, you know you won’t ruin yourself when helping people. That is one rare thing enough to remind it.

Q

Looking at your resume, you didn't stay long in your first 'proper' teaching job. What happened there?

A

Well, let’s say that I didn’t read quite well all the articles available on Ajarn.com and that I thought I could live in Bangkok with the salary they first offered me. But after the first month, I soon realized that I needed more than that to be able to save money to prepare my next steps in Asia. As the school couldn’t afford the raise I asked for, they finally found someone else to replace me. I was then free to look for another job.

Q

I get quite a number of French 'English-speakers' asking for advice on living and working in Thailand. Is it better to concentrate on teaching English or teaching French full-time?

A

If you're French and consider yourself as good as an English native-speaker, you can get through all difficulties by calling directly the schools and let them judge if you’re good enough to work for them. That's as simple as a phone call and still is a really good way to prove how fluent you are in English. I’ve done that two times, and both times the guys thought that my accent was American and that I could fit the position.

Regarding the language one should focus on, English is definitely the best choice, even if I hate to say that (as a French, no offense). Right now there are a lot more opportunities to work as an English teacher than a French teacher. Unless you get the chance to become a French teacher in any Thai university or “Alliance Française” you should always first consider your potential to fulfil an English teacher position, because being a full-time French teacher in Bangkok is quite a challenge for there aren’t that many positions available.

But I seriously lack of information to give accurate advices to French people who want to come in Thailand. I think I need to spend some more time before I can come out with solid advice.

Q

Is there really much demand in Bangkok for French language lessons?

A

There is, and a big expanding one. It’s just that the French lessons market isn’t that much developed here except for the “Alliance Française” and the normal French Course available in the Thai educational system. There are so many Thai students who study or used to study French who are willing to speak French and yet are unable to keep practicing their skills that I believe the market is still not developed at its best.

We sure need something like Ajarn.com to help teachers to find students and to help students to find teachers or at least speaking partners.

Q

Your resume is a beautifully-crafted thing (one of the best I've seen) With your background and knowledge in computers, might it not be easier to find something in the computer field?

A

Thanks, but which one are you talking about? The one page version or my whole curriculum vitae document? Because the one page version is sometimes really difficult to adapt to apply for vacancies.

About my computer background, I just want to say that I really love more teaching children and students than working in front of a computer all day long. It’s decreasing my sight, which is already very bad, it gives me headache, and it’s not as rewarding as transmitting knowledge. I will never feel better than when I see my students understanding what I teach them and watch them being able to use that knowledge. And even if a computer can do lots of things and can be very, very helpful in many ways, it still can’t smile to you the way a human being does.

Q

So let's ask a Frenchman. What do you make of all these changes going on? - visa issues, minimum salary requirements, etc. Is Thailand really becoming the most unwelcoming country in SE Asia?

A

I haven’t really paid attention to those changes (I know I should have) to be honest. Written like that Thailand does seem to become the most unwelcoming country in SE Asia. But are the schools really going to follow those changes? Not sure about that.

Anyway, I don’t think anything is going to change in the next few years and that visa runs will still remain as common as they are now. And it seems like you wrote in your column that nothing changed much since the 10th of July.

Q

A Berlitz teacher once rated your English ability as 'five out of ten'. That must have hurt?

A

LOL. Maybe it should have... Though other people I met after this incident had a rather good impression about my English, which helped me to think that grades weren’t so important. Besides, he rated me after only 2 or 3 minutes of conversation, while I haven’t spoken English regularly in the last 7 years. So I didn’t really pay attention at the time.

Q

Do Thai students generally accept you as being 'as good as a native-speaker'?

A

My students only can give the best answer to this question. So if any of you guys happen to read this interview, you’re welcome to rate me. Don’t be afraid to be as honest as the Berlitz teacher. J

Till then I’d just say that I didn’t feel any strong doubt from my students.

Q

What are your short-term and long-term plans?

A

Get the equivalent of TEFL for French teaching, improve my Thai, learn Korean, Japanese and Chinese Mandarin and all languages I can learn. Make a living of my photos, promote open-source software and free knowledge resources (like the MIT distant courses available on its website) Hmm… and many, many, many other projects.

Q

Going back to your resume, I've noticed that there's a section on health information, in which you list your sexuality as 'straight'. I'm just intrigued as to why people would divulge this on such a document. Is this a French idea? I mean could I write 'basically straight but with a fairly harmless rubber fetish'?

A

In fact, the document you refer to as my resume isn’t my resume. It’s only the document I use to establish the resume I usually send to apply for positions. And no, it’s not a French idea. J I was so surprised that Thai people were so concerned about my faith and my favorite sport that I was wondering what other kind of information I might need to provide in other countries, and then I listed all I could think about. But you can be sure that I would never mention it on my resume if not required. J And no, I don’t think that you could write your fetish on your resume, unless you want to apply for some totally other kind of jobs.

Q

Good luck to you Olivier in the future. Don't be too brutal with me but how can ajarn.com be improved?

A

I’d say that a new layout would be really nice. But you already made some good improvements in that area. I also think the structure needs some review as the content is getting richer and richer, and as it still is so difficult for me to find the information I’m looking for each time I want it. I’m pretty sure a CMS would be a very good option to consider if you want to improve Ajarn.com. The best way to convince you about that would certainly be to show you one on your own computer. ;)

One other way to improve your site is to list the website that you love to visit the most and to notice why you like it so much, and how you can make your visitors feel the same way about yours. So? Was that too brutal?

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