I followed the usual interview protocol, sent in my CV and cover letter. A few days later, I had a request to set up a Skype interview.
The interview started with a stressed out looking middle-aged lady from HR asking me a few basic questions, probably just gauging whether or not I was sane, didn’t have a speech impediment, a thick regional accent or that I wasn’t too old or disabled (in Thailand, there aren’t the same age, racial, handicapped discrimination laws as there are in Western nations, at least ones that are regularly enforced)
Talking to the president
Stressed out lady then asked me to hold on, while she got the school’s president to come speak with me. I was made to wait for nearly 10 minutes. To me, as a Westerner, this would normally be considered rude, inconsiderate, waiting so long; however having spent much vacation time in Thailand, I knew they often operated on “Thai Time,” where things are done at a slower pace. People walk slower, are usually late for anything (unless direct payment of money is involved, then they’re generally quite punctual!) so I didn’t think much of it.
When the president arrived, we had a positive chat and shared a good chemistry, and I liked her idea of creating an international school, a college, with teachers from around the world, providing the students an English environment, where they could not only learn and enhance their English, but could concurrently enrich their knowledge of the world, being exposed to teachers from a venerable UN Council of Nations.
There were around 20 countries represented at the school, she said.
She was an elegant, charismatic woman, I must say, the president. She was a tad older than me, at 46, and slightly chubby, but she presented herself well, wore heavy makeup and an exquisite aqua blue taffeta dress. Moving her hands as she spoke, I saw she was donning hefty gold rings, and her pearly necklace and diamond earrings sparkled prismatically, like lightning off my laptop screen. Her smile too, was high-voltage, electric, and as she spoke, in near-perfect English, I could envision her being a keen, shrewd businesswoman.
I wanted to work with her. I wanted the job. It’d been exactly what I’d hoped to find for some time and with alacrity, I told her I’d be happy to work there.
Our interview ended well and I figured I’d passed the test and might have an offer. But nearly a month passed with no response. I considered contacting them to inquire before I sent off any additional resumes.
An unclear contract
It wouldn’t be necessary. A couple days later, I received an offer from the school and was elated. I still had a semester remaining at my college in Korea though, and I promptly informed the Korean school I’d be leaving and emailed the school to tell them that I’d take the job and signed and returned their contract. Their contract, like my school in Korea, had vague, legalese language, as most contracts do.
A lot wasn’t clear. There was nothing in it about office hours, which I didn’t have at my school in Korea. There were similar contract-breaking penalties as my Korean contract, but those are fairly standard in ESL jobs.
The only thing I didn’t like was that the plane ticket, visa application fees were to be covered entirely by me, whereas my previous college and many other colleges and schools will reimburse that or at least a portion of it, and that the school's probation period would last four months and during this time, I’d have no health insurance.
But nothing’s perfect and I was ready to sacrifice financially to an extent, to be in a less xenophobic, warmer, friendlier place. The school was also to provide an apartment close to campus, plus a shuttle bus, daily. I’d been living on campus, and preferred that, but I figured that I’d be close enough to school that it wouldn’t be a big deal.
The school had sent me a picture of a nice, sunny, big furnished apartment with a king-sized bed, fridge, and big screen TV. My current place, as is typical in Korea, was super small, though clean and upscale, so I looked forward to having more space. I looked forward most to living in Thailand and being around friendly, fun, kind people, getting lots of sun and not having to return to frigid air and cold faces.
The whole term, I prepared for arriving in Thailand. I began studying rudimentary Thai. I learned about the history, culture, do’s and don’ts. I researched the area I’d be living in.
Craving some contact
Soon enough, my arrival date approached. Aside from a holiday greeting I’d received from HR, I’d not had regular communication with anyone. The time to collect paperwork from the school for my visa came, and I fired off a few emails requesting basic, crucial documents. I also emailed the Thai consulate near my hometown.
Neither the school nor the consulate returned any of my emails. I phoned both places. Nobody answered the phone.
I emailed the school again. Again, no reply. I wasn’t sure what to do. Perhaps the lady from HR, the one who’d sent the holiday greeting, was gone? On vacation? Left the job? Who knows. But someone should have responded to such serious requests for visa documentation. Not that I expected an instantaneous reply, but two weeks went by and there’d been nothing, and I was getting worried.
Since I wasn’t receiving any replies, I decided to search the school website and email several other addresses, practically begging for a reply, clearly stating my situation, hoping a kind soul would be charitable enough to answer. (My Korean visa was about to expire and I needed to vacate my Korean apartment. Time was becoming thin)
It was a day or two after my email carpet-bombing campaign that I finally received a reply and got a couple of the documents. But not all of them. I emailed back but didn’t have any response for a week until I again carpet-bomb emailed various departments to finally get the documents I required.
Although this was disheartening, all throughout I never took it personally, got angry, or sent all-caps emails or anything of the sort. I thought this to be more of the “mai pen rai” “sabai sabai” sort of commonly Thai attitude that maybe “Thai Time” included emailing too.
My term was to start in the fall, and over that summer I came by the school for a visit, to collect a few documents and provide the school documentation they’d need to process my visa and residence permit.
Most international schools, at least in Asia, when a foreign teacher arrives, will send someone to the airport to welcome and bring the teacher to the school. Arriving in a foreign land can be nerve-racking for novices and first timers, especially coming to countries as diametrically different as those in Asia, where many nations are developing, in flux and chaotic. Additionally, a foreign teacher will probably have spent ten to twenty hours on a plane, be terribly jet-lagged, so any postulant arriving into that sort of situation would likely necessitate such procedure from a practical standpoint, if not a moral one.
Most international schools in Asia do take responsibility and ensure a teacher who has just travelled fifteen thousand miles has at least a ride to the school and basic accommodation upon landing. However, no offer of pick up or anyone meeting me at the airport was provided from the school. Since I was already in Asia and had been to Thailand many times, this wasn’t a big deal for me. But for others, it could have been. The school not offering a simple pick up at the airport was though, a massive red flag.
Along with the red flags raised in how little info about the school there was online and how I had to carpet-bomb email them and beg for critical visa documents, red flags were now popping up everywhere, like a beach before a storm. And I began to see myself as a surfer standing under a molasses of dark clouds, on a windswept beach - about to jump into the maw of a swirling, angry ocean, somewhat nauseous when I clicked “confirm” to purchase my plane ticket.
But what the hell, it was only a one-year contract.