Having taught English in Europe during a backpacking stint after college and having loved it, I figured I’d try teaching as a career.
But after getting licensed as a high school teacher, I was having difficulty finding full-time teaching positions, even though I had an MBA and prior teaching experience. All I could get was part-time substitute work…
Now or never
A classmate of mine from grad school, in a similar situation, had been teaching English in Asia and encouraged me to try it. Since I’ve practiced martial arts my entire life, I’ve always been fascinated by Asia, Asian cultures, and have always wished to travel there. But the time was never right. It being an expensive, 15-hour plane ride didn’t help either. However, now the time was right.
The divorce was amicable. There were no kids, no debts, and no alimony payments. I’d lived frugally, had money saved. I was still somewhat young. The time had arrived for such an adventure. It was then or likely never.
I found a few ESL, TEFL job websites, posted my resume. With my MBA, business experience, teaching license and prior teaching experience, I found that I was highly sought after.
Korea it is!
I decided on a college in Korea that hired me to teach business courses and conversational English. The thought of being a “university lecturer” intrigued me and was a lot more prestigious sounding than working at a training center, cram school or high school. It’d look sweet on my resume, too if nothing else.
I planned to stay a year or two in Korea, rack up more teaching experience and head back to the States. But that anticipated short stay morphed into a prolonged stint at a public college in Korea. 8 years in all. I’d stayed because I liked it.
I had a fantastic overall time in Korea, enjoyed the teaching, the respectful, hard-working students, helpful staff, friendly deans, and I especially liked and got on well with my perpetually half-drunken, backslapping school president.
I liked most everything, except being forced into working the occasional extra-curricular activity, mostly as a judge for contests, debates, talent shows, and except the excessive weekend drinking culture and casual racism I faced… such as Korean women gasping, clutching their purses as me, a middle-aged white man in a suit and tie, passed by them, being followed around stores by suspicious shopkeepers and refused service at the occasional bar, restaurant or taxi; many NPC, everyday Koreans I encountered seemed genuinely afraid of foreigners.
Aside from those trivial annoyances, generally my time in Korea was an immensely happy one. I learned Korean, learned to love kimchi, and loved my role at the school. Not only did I like the work but the position had its perks too, namely tons of time off, and I used the ample vacation time I had and generous salary to travel the world, hitting Australia, Canada, parts of the States, but the best by far was traversing the entirety of Asia.
The lure of Thailand
My favorite spot was definitely Thailand. The “Land of Smiles” as it’s called. The friendly people, fascinating culture, the food, the kickboxing.
Having been into martial arts forever and seeing movies set there, I’d always been intrigued by Thailand and found myself in love with the place, the fun and sun, particularly the bustle of Bangkok with its crazy nightlife, and the jaw-dropping beauty of the numerous Thai islands, their cerulean waters, white sand beaches, conical, jagged mountains jutting from the seas.
I was instantly hooked and once I’d been to most every country I’d wanted to visit and between visits to other countries, I revisited Thailand at virtually every opportunity.
It had pretty much become my vacation home and I daydreamed of someday working or living there. But in Korea, I had a great job and had been with a great girl, the first serious relationship I had since my divorce. We got along tremendously. She was gorgeous and could have been a K-Pop star, maybe. She worked in administration in my school’s admissions office.
Sadly our ethnic differences would be what doomed us... Her family wanted to marry her off to another Korean family; for racial reasons, they couldn’t accept their daughter married to a foreigner.
Although I was financially secure, had saved money and was making decent cash as a university lecturer, when my girlfriend came out to them about me after us “secretly dating” for years, her parents vetoed any chance of us being together and forced her to marry a man, a policeman she had no interest in.
Due to traditions, filial piety, she had no choice but to do it, and even though she initially offered to “run away with me,” possibly to another country, I couldn’t let her do that. I couldn’t make her choose between me and her family.
So we split up. It was one of the most difficult, gut-wrenching things I’d ever done. Worse than my divorce. From then on, I decided I needed another change.
Teach in Thailand but where?
On a trip to Thailand, I decided to see what was available on the job front there and see if I could use my MBA and over 8 years’ teaching experience to land work there. But it was a struggle to find university work in Thailand.
In fact, due to the rising cost of education and the lower birth rate, many colleges and universities in Thailand had been closing and I’d read in the Bangkok Post that official estimates forecast perhaps up to 50% to 75% of higher education institutions will close throughout the 2020s.
I didn’t wish to teach high school or middle school, especially after hearing first-hand accounts of tiny, crumbling classrooms with no AC, warped blackboards, and Lord of the Flies type atmospheres… the teaching conditions like a zoo, kids running around, going nuts, admins completely inept, often hostile to foreign teachers, teachers having to “clock in” every day like a factory worker, having to ask for permission to leave the school grounds, having to do “gate duty” (stand outside the school’s front gates, in searing heat, breathing in diesel fumes from cavalcades of motorbikes and pickup trucks while waving “hello,” welcoming somnolent kids to school in the morning)
It sounded like hell.
The training center jobs I saw, with their assembly line teaching, dancing monkey duties - literally having to sing and dance for clapping children - didn’t sound much better. The training centers also were corporate operations, chains offering little vacation time, short contracts, and low pay, unsteady, often part-time hours, probably largely due to the plentitude of foreigners already in Thailand, especially the backpacker, begpacker sorts who’d teach for scraps.
I’d seen almost no universities hiring and read that to get a uni job, one needed to contact the schools directly. So I emailed several schools asking about vacancies but didn’t hear anything. The search was looking grim and I figured I’d either return to Korea or perhaps look back into teaching in America as the economic situation there had improved.
Suddenly lo and behold, a job ad graced my phone.
It was from a school on the outskirts of Bangkok; a college, A COLLEGE! It was a Catholic school, in Thailand, about 20 years old, claiming to be a top ranked institute.
The ad listed a decent salary for Thailand, 40-60k baht per month, and the ad’s pictures displayed a sprawling, verdant campus with macadamized walkways, marble statues and palm trees everywhere. They were recruiting university lecturers, particularly those with prior teaching and business experience.
Being a school founded 20 years ago, there was shockingly little online about the school aside from official school promulgated information and school created Facebook groups.
There weren’t many previous teachers’ experiences or reviews posted anywhere, only a handful of positive reviews on Glassdoor and nothing on Dave’s ESL Cafe, ThaiVisa, etc, except a previous applicant asking if anyone had info on the place.
Many advise speaking with current teachers at the school to ask questions, speak with them before you apply or accept a job offer at a school abroad, but the problem with that is schools will only provide well-adjusted teachers as references. (I know because I was asked by my previous school to help recruit!) So I figured whatever, I’d take a shot. It’s only a one-year contract. I might as well apply and see what happens.