Matthew Pape

Go with the flow

Don't come to Thailand if this kind of stuff makes you mad

I've always said that the differences in our cultures is what makes the world great, not to mention leads to some funny stories, ergo the point of this blog.

As westerners, we like to have schedules and we like to know things ahead of time. Stuff like that doesn't happen so much in Asian culture.

If you've never been on this side of the pond, I can illustrate my point with this story that happened in my first school here in Thailand.

A speaking part?

One day a friend of mine had one of his busy schedule days. One of the Thai teachers came up to him and said, "Mr. Paul, this is for you." Paul didn't have time to look it over but politely took it to save it for later. The next day when things weren't as chaotic he looked over the papers he was given. Of course it was written in Thai and even though he only knew a little bit, he had taught himself the Thai alphabet.

When Paul was looking it over it seemed like a script for a play. He went to the Thai teacher who gave it to him and asked, "Hey, is this a script to a play?" The Thai teacher said it was. Then the next obvious question is, "Do I have a speaking part?" The Thai teacher said yes. My friend obviously got irritated and asked, "Well why didn't you tell me?" He worked it out. Some of the Thai teachers wrote out his lines in our Romanized letters and he taped them to the floor of the stage so he could read them.

Asia style

That is a way of life in not just Thailand, but South Korea, Japan, it happened when I worked in Indonesia, and I'm sure some other countries here on this side of the pond.

The miserable people living here who have nothing nice to say about Thailand will probably say Thais do that out of spite or because they're dumb. I've talked with friends about this and I think it all boils down to them assuming you know what's going on and if you don't, you would ask.

It's something you have to deal with in your own way. Honestly, the only thing you can do is laugh about it because everyone is always going to have a funny story.... Like this next one.

One time at that same school I was getting ready for class, saw the kids line up after lunch (I was teaching 5th grade social studies) and while getting ready in class waiting for them one of the teachers came by and asked, "Where did the kids go?" Five other teachers were standing in the hallway bewildered wondering where they went.

One of my girls who I knew was sick came back to get her stuff to go home. I asked where they went and she said they went to the auditorium to offer prayers of gratitude to the people who fought and died for Thailand. Guess when they found out? When they lined up for lunch. Something else you have to keep in mind is a lot of times these are surprises for Thai teachers too. That instance was a surprise for them, and over here in my current school, the Thai teachers get occasional surprises too.

Go with the flow

The one thing you CAN'T do is take it personally. You are going to cause yourself a hell of a lot of stress. It's not something that you can control so relax. You just have to roll with the punches.

One thing you can do, and I can't guarantee its success, is "ethically bribe" students. What I mean by that is when you figure out who the good students are in your class tell them if they find out about classes cancelled for whatever reason before us, come and tell you, and give them 100 baht. I wanted to do that last year but forgot to set that up with a student.

What you SHOULDN'T do is get all bent out of shape about it. That does nothing and makes life uncomfortable for people around you.

Case in point, I worked at a language school in Indonesia. When new management came in, they were under pressure to clean up the records in the system. One of the things they were doing was pulling kids out of class for a few minutes to take new pictures for the computer system.

There were two female teachers at the school that threw a fit about that (along with other little things). I could tell when one of the sales people just finished going to their room because they looked scared coming in to my room asking for one student to get her picture taken. She didn't want to go alone so me, her and the three other girls went down stairs together with her, took the picture, and went back up stairs to continue class.

Wasn't that easy?

These two female teachers were extreme cases because they would stress out and get so angry to the point where they got sick many times. The irony here is they were vegetarians and... wait for it....... Buddhist.

I've been here for three years in Thailand now and I honestly think if they got so stressed at the language school for little interruptions, they would stress out to the point of getting cancer here in Thailand at bigger schools.

Basically, don't freak out too much with surprises. Take it with a grain of salt. Remember, it even happens to Thai teachers, not just us foreigners. If you keep all that in mind, learn to laugh it off, and you will be okay.

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Also please feel free to check out my website for other blog posts and useful information about teaching in Thailand and other useful things too. 


Great piece again Matt.

By Dan, UK (6th February 2017)

I think a more sophisticated exploration into cultural practices would uncover the simple notion that Westerners prefer order and avoid uncertainty to a greater extent than Asians as being not completely accurate, but nevertheless the basic message that being flexible in approaches and having the ability to adjust to different work practices based on different cultural values is pretty solid advice.
Not everyone has the personality and mental outlook needed to successfully work in a foreign environment.

If you do not have the personality and mental outlook needed to work successfully abroad, please do yourself and everyone who might have to someday listen to your inane rants if you come to teach in Thailand a favour and stay at home.

By Jack, Here and there (5th February 2017)

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