Kink Bundy

My experiences of working at a college in Bangkok (part 1)

Swapping Korea for Thailand

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.

A lot.

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.

Dream girl

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.

At last!

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.

Read all parts of the blog

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From what you and a few others have said, Korea sounds awful! I haven't heard many good things about it there at all.. I don't care about the money, I'd happily take a pay cut to be in a place I'm not hated for the way I look.

By JD, Vietnam (14th January 2020)

I think your description when looking for a job in Thailand pretty much defines this place, "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".

While there may be good schools out there it seems they like youngsters, even if they have experience or they don't. And being over 50 seems to be the key age. I wouldn't hold your breath getting a good job and harder to find all the time with more and more people coming to work at low paid schools where they are treated like cannon fodder.

I think your best bet would be to stay in Korea where you get higher salary. more respect and come to Thailand for a holiday. I think Thailand is sliding sideways or going slowly downhill. I don't think it is getting any better.

By Johny John, Bangkok (12th January 2020)

Nice read.

While many Catholic schools deliver some of the best education in Thailand I can't think of any decent Catholic universities. So, strikes one, two. I'm guessing it's St John's but it's sorta central BKK as far as sprawl goes these years. I could see them paying 40k for 20 hours including faculty support. Working outside BKK, strike three.

I've only known one university in Thailand to pay over 50k and that's Chula. Most uni jobs are notoriously underpaid perhaps 20-40k. Usually filled by Filipinos and drunks upcountry.

Good, well positioned HS teachers make far more. You really missed the boat there if you're a good teacher. In six years and five schools I've only taught in three months AC classrooms. In fact 2 units per classroom. Broken shit??? New Epson LCDs and JBL speakers more like it.

MBA, well unless it's from a T10 it's worthless as the author has found out.

Drunks on life support can make low 40s so I hope that 40-60 is more 60 than 40. I'd bet beer at happy hour you signed for 40k at best.

Welcome to BKK. Just don't complain about the heat, pollution, spicy food or secondary teachers. We'll get along fine.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (11th January 2020)

What happened? I was just getting keyed up, and then you just stopped...........Your description on government schools was spot on . Although you do realise that Lord of The Flies is about a bunch of English Public/Prep School boys stranded on a tropical island during a war don't you?

By Rory, Udon (11th January 2020)

Wow, bit of a cliffhanger there.

What happens next could be interesting.

My situation is unique, nobody could wish for it, but that's another upcoming blog, I hope

By Tony Rob, Chiang Mai (10th January 2020)

It sounds like you didn't research Thai schools very well. There are plenty of options other than teaching in poorly paid government schools and their lack of aircon. You're not qualified for the international schools but you are for the private bilingual schools that pay quite well and employ many foreigners.

As for your choice of country, I'm not sure which I'd prefer out of Korea or Thailand. The first is too cold, expensive and hard-working for me, and the second is too hot, poor and lazy for me. That's why I chose Taiwan, which is a happy medium between the two, economically, climatically, geographically and culturally.

I often read of teachers in Japan and Korea craving Thailand's tropical heat, and of those in Thailand craving Korea or Japan's snow. Living on a subtropical island half way between both, I crave neither. I have year-round warm sunny beaches only a short drive away from cold 3000 metre mountain peaks that often get snowed on. And should I want more cold or heat, I'm very close to Japan and the Philippines.

By James, Kaohsiung (9th January 2020)

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