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Thailand - a pleasant dream or a nightmare?

Thailand - a pleasant dream or a nightmare?

My name's Adrian and I'd like to share my story for other people to learn from my mistakes.

I decided to move to Thailand in 2016, after I proposed to my girlfriend and she accepted. We both worked for a reputable airline in the Middle East earning more than 3000-4000$ each as cabin crew. After a series of events that led to her dismissal from the company due to company policy of cabin crew not being allowed to get married we decided to move to Bangkok.

I was skeptical at first, not being fond of letting go of my friends, huge salary and the quality of life I got used to over the years, not to mention moving to the other side of the world, far away from my family, however the feelings of love had won me over. I come from Eastern Europe where life is hard and moving to Asia seemed like a better alternative than to bring over my beloved, where she would probably had to endure worse conditions than in Thailand.

The first six months were difficult for me, I couldn't find a job, foreigners are limited to only a certain type of work and mostly in the education system, however she had already managed to find work in the meantime so things were not so bad.

We lived in her small condo in Chaengwatthana which is quite far from the city. After 6 months i managed to get a job as a swimming instructor with a local company. The pay was average but we managed to raise together 90,000 per month. Of course most of the income came from her side as mine wasn't much. One year later we decided to buy a house in Nonthaburi, she chose the location. I wasn't that fond of the area as there was nothing there for me except that it was close to work. It was hard to find friends, living among Thais all day long is not easy. Not many people speak English there and I was kind of forced to learn Thai.

As time went by I felt as I was losing myself more and more, I hadn't made any new friends here, my social life was missing and I felt I was wasting my potential by coming here. I always had this voice in the back of my head, "am I doing the right thing?" but again love prevailed and I just pushed the thought aside.

Fast forward two years later, I had been in Thailand for 2 years without going home at all and it was all starting to get to me. It was all like a dream, I had a beautiful wife, we had a great house,I had bought a motorcycle in the meantime to get to work easier and my wife had her old car and we even got a cat, however I felt there was something not right. I had given away my airline career, friends and family to be with her. We had a house of which I was not the owner, except I paid for it every month ( we bought it on credit on my wife's name and we split the bills), I was living in a country that didn't have any laws to protect me as a foreigner and no prospect for the future, not to mention no pension plan ( we still took care of her parents as is usual in Thailand). Was it all worth it? Just for love? It shall soon be revealed.

In 2018 around the end of the year, after a few months after she had changed her job, things started taking a dark turn. She had met someone at work and I found out she was cheating on me. Of course my whole world crumbled to dust. Why did I do such a stupid thing to let everything go just for the sake of love? She wasn't my first girlfriend, I had had plenty before but no one as special as her I guess and I was the type to go all in when it came to marriage.

In December 2018 we divorced as she chose to stay with the other guy and let him move into our house (I had moved out in the meantime).

It's now the middle of 2019 and I'm getting ready to leave Thailand for good after settling all my affairs and my question to you is "Do you know what you're doing?" I had learned the hard way what it means to take a leap of faith and fall so please don't do it. I'm sure there are other people who had it worse than me but I learned a valuable lesson. If your gut is telling you there's something quite not right about moving to a country like Thailand even when everything is going great, then you'd better listen before it's too late. Take it as a warning or disregard it completely, maybe you're luckier than me.

Don't get married in Thailand, it's just a fake dream, get out while you can. There are no laws to protect you here, you can't own land, salaries in the education system haven't changed in the last 25 years and your opportunities are limited. There is a reason they say Thailand is for Thais only!

My name is Adrian, I am now 31 years old and I'm going back to Europe. Good luck to you all.

Adrian in Bangkok

Find your niche

Find your niche

30 years ago I first started teaching at a small language centre and was paid just 100 baht per hour. The place eventually closed down and teachers scrambled to find new schools. I went out and bought a nice pair of strides and two quality shirts and then told everyone my fee was 1.000 an hour. My colleagues said it was impossible. My fees soon ranged from 1,000 up to 2,600 baht per hour. I was a good teacher and I got clearly notable results. Rich Thai families were all but fighting over my time and I made well over 100,000 working just four days a week. There’s money out there. You just have to find your niche, or create one.


Twenty five years of low wages......why?

In 1994, the balance of 'power' tilted slightly in favor of the employer. The applicants were mostly older white males desperate to stay, there weren't that many Filipinos and other nationalities hadn't yet figured out how easy it was to con your way into a job here...

Fast forward a quarter of a century and the balance of power is still in favor of the employer but by a much larger margin.

While it's true that there are a lot more schools and businesses that are looking for 'teachers', the number of people wanting to fill those roles has absolutely exploded.

Also, in 1994, there was a lot less enforcement of the regulations and almost anyone could find work of some kind or another. As word of this got out, the pool of (un)talent spilled over from mostly white men to pretty much anyone who didn't look they were from Thailand. This includes a generation of braver women who were willing to 'give it a go'.

Right now there are plenty of jobs all year round, but the competency of the labor force is at an all-time low. Basically, parents are being conned into paying for unskilled people at unskilled wage levels.

The smart ones will have started at the low end and quickly worked their way up through either commonsense, ambition or re-training. But that still leaves a big pile of poo at the bottom which no amount of disinfectant can flush away...

...thus no real wage increases! 🙂


There's nothing wrong with playing favourites

There's nothing wrong with playing favourites

Almost all of the literature and advice about teaching kids says you shouldn't play favourites... and I think that's wrong!

I mostly 'play favorites' because I only see my students once a week, but I do it for other reasons, too. It's a balancing act... I sometimes favour the enthusiastic kids, because I think they'll enjoy the class more and benefit from my extra attention in the long run. I sometimes favour the restless kids at the back, because I think that sometimes, a jolt of attention might flip a switch that makes them keener and more attentive to learn.

I favour girls more than boys when the class becomes restless... because if the girls are talking when they shouldn't be, there's a good chance it's about what 'I' am doing. If the boys are chatting out of turn it's probably because of what 'THEY' are doing!

In Thailand, most large (40+) classes are overloaded with under-performers. When your time is at a premium you have to share it judiciously among the crowd. So you have to make hard choices. Students also have different 'roles' to play which can help you to be a better teacher. Some kids will lead the chorus and some will mouth the words that they don't know!

Like I say, it's a balancing act. Some of the quiet kids can surprise you with how much they've actually listened to and retained, so I try not to overlook these kids... which is hard to do, because the quiet kids are almost invisible to the teacher. Asking questions to kids who you know will answer correctly the first time can often help the unsure kids to raise their hands, because they've seen it done and that's how they would have answered... so they think, why not have a go. There's also a lot of in-class 'mentoring' going on where kids feed each other the answers. I used to find this exasperating, but I've learned that, actually, this can be an awesome tool, if it's managed correctly.

In an industry where we are mostly under-paid, under-appreciated, give yourself a good slap on the back for going against the grain and doing things YOUR way!


Don't accept paltry salaries

I have been teaching in Chiangmai for about 10 years now and my salary is now just above 50 k per month. I started back in the day at 28k a month. I cannot believe that even 50 k can be enough to live in Bangkok let alone 30k.

I agree with other teacher's comments, do not encourage these 'employers' by taking their paltry salaries. I realise that many people are settled here with Thai nationals and have children and these people may very well feel that they do not have a choice in dictating or demanding certain salaries, even if they are experienced esl teachers.

Thailand attracts a lot of very young newly qualified teachers who have had no experience teaching in their own countries they qualified from and many of whom are doing a really abysmal job of teaching their pupils. These qualified teachers are not here to stay but are in fact here to have fun, use their salaries on hedonistic activities then leave. These teachers are not too concerned about how much money they make because they are only here to have a good time. I feel that it is these teachers whom are lowering the basic salaries kingdom wide for serious long term teachers by accepting these low paying positions.

Qualifications certainly seem to come before age and experience and this is to the detriment of the pupils in Thai schools. For those teachers who have been here a while and are doing a good job and have furthered their education by doing a pgcei or a masters in education on top of their degrees, should leave Thailand and work in schools where their knowledge experience and qualifications are valued both monetarily and personally.

Another thing to note is that western teaching qualifications do not have a great focus on English as a second language learner and this too affects the children's education in Thailand as specific strategies are needed to teach them successfully.


Winning severance in the labour court

Winning severance in the labour court

I have lived in Thailand for 14 years and worked in international schools for 13 years. I love my life in Thailand and was awarded Thai citizenship in 2017. I was over the moon with this and it was one of my proudest achievements. Unfortunately this marked the beginning of a long labour dispute with my former employer.

The Private School Act states that foreign teachers can be employed on fixed term contracts but Thai teachers must be employed on non fixed term contracts. The act also removed the entitlement of foreign teachers to severance at the end of their fixed term contract.

At the time I had worked for the same international school for 9 years and 4 months. The headmaster decided to offer me a fixed term contract in December for the next academic year. I pointed out that this was not in line with the Private School Act in the case of Thai nationals. He then offered me a non fixed term contract but removed my bonus, flight allowance and end of contract relocation allowance. I pointed out that this broke labour law but the school simply ignored this point.

To cut a very long story short the case went to the labour court in Chonburi. The school offered 4 months pay as severance as they argued I had only been a Thai citizen for 12 months. I asked for 10 months pay as severance for my 10 years of service. I also submitted the Judgement of the Supreme Court,

This case involved 7 plaintiffs taking an international school to court for non payment of severance in which the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the 7 plaintiffs. As a result the judge sided with me and agreed I was due full severance for my 10 years of employment plus interest.

I hope my story and the case number I have provided helps other teachers who find themselves in a difficult situation as regards their employment contracts. If a contract isn't renewed then severance is due. In addition, an employer can't offer a contract with worse terms than the previous contract and again severance will be awarded by the court.


Thailand doesn't suit everybody

If one Is not living the dream, it is time to change paths in life.

It does not make sense to argue about whether Thailand is “good” or “bad” as we experience the world in a subjective manner. I think one’s enjoyment is primary a matter of alignment of a person’s values and personality with the external environment. I have lived and worked in many different countries, and find Thailand fits me as well as any place, but that does not imply it will fit others to the same extent.

Not everyone is a good fit to live and work in Thailand (or other culturally distant country), so much depends on one’s goals in life, flexibility, adaptability and level of ethnocentric beliefs. For those of us from Western countries, Thailand is “different” and whether different is good or bad depends on one’s opinion and can not be objectively “proven.”

And there are those who are unhappy anywhere and with everything and look to “blame” whatever is handy, and Thailand is a convenient scapegoat for some long-time residents to blame for their unhappiness.


Why older teachers find it difficult to get work here

Why older teachers find it difficult to get work here

A lot of this has to do with energy and enthusiasm and not age - though I do take the point about age and in my twenties in Thailand I found it easy to get work.

What I saw over the years in Thailand though were a number of older teachers who had, over the years, gained a lot of experience but somehow lost their love of teaching along the way and had failed to realise it or, if they had, they were often in denial about it. But this much was clear from the way they conducted their lessons - well structured, linguistically meaningful sessions, as their experience would suggest, but conducted on auto-pilot - as well as their general conversation relating to their profession which lacked passion or was even downright negative.

Students and collegues pick up on this and often, no-doubt unfairly so as regards well qualified, experienced older teachers, this leads to the hiring manager not wanting to make the same “mistake” twice. This is like any hiring situation - it’s risk management and the perception of risk is often rooted in past experiences, whether the fundamentals upon which this belief system is underpinned by are real or imagined.

Let’s also remember that it’s all very well comparing a 20-year old layabout to a 50-year old with a degree in education but I also encountered a lot of 50-year olds without a degree in education - or a valid TEFL qualification for that matter.

Indeed, I remember one such 50-year old criticising me to my colleagues behind my back because I had chosen to go and get my CELTA. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the older teachers saw less value in professional development and had a track record that struggled to point to any - after all, they are native speakers - what possible benefit could they have gotten from a TEFL course?

Also, a lot of older teachers wouldn’t teach if they could get away with it. This, I find is less pronounced in younger teachers, who are still enjoying finding their way in life and collecting experiences - not a bad thing as long as they are doing so in a way that facilitates their learners’ development.

I also encountered seasoned teachers but their enthusiasm had gone or they were wanting to slow down. Trouble is, your audience doesn’t get old with you - it rejuvenates on an annual basis and is always going to be 10 years old or whatever age group you teach. So whilst that combination of qualified, incredibly experienced and enthusiastic does exist - it is less common than you might think.

David Fahey

Don't dismiss Nonthaburi

My wife and I owned our condo in Bangkok for about 15 years. During that time we lived in Korea for two years and China for three years. When we returned from China last year, it was time for me to retire.

We sold the condo in Bangkok and rented a condo in Nonthaburi while we looked for a house in Isaan to buy. The MRT Purple Line made living in Nonthaburii very convenient. We were a two-minute walk from an MRT station. My part time job and shopping centers were one or two MRT stops away. Getting to and from my embassy, the airports, and our prior home was easy. The immigration office in Nonthaburi was an attractive alternative to Chaengwattana.

People were nice. I have early stage Parkinson's and once fell into some thorny bushes and could not free myself. A motorcycle policeman freed me and seemed concerned only about my health. The MRT staff were very helpful on days I used a cane.

We seriously considered moving to Nonthaburi instead of Isaan. We're now settling down in our new home near the Buriram-Surin border but Nonthaburi was a wonderful stepping stone from Bangkok to Isaan.


The perils of the shorter contract

The perils of the shorter contract

11-month contracts usually only work well for those who are fairly confident they don't want to renew their contract, or for those who hope to renew AND are being paid at a higher rate during paid months so as to be able to save for the month without pay.

Do NOT rely on any paid work during the unpaid month. If your employer runs an English camp and pay you well for it, great, but don't assume that's gonna happen.

10-month contracts typically don't pay during October but require the teacher to come back for the second term. Walk away from those employers and be glad you did.


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