Ten reasons to teach in Thailand
Why choose Thailand over other TEFL destinations?
Nowadays, when it comes to teaching English abroad there is a seemingly endless list of countries to do so in. South America, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia all advertise and desire more and more TESOL teachers each year.
Now, more than ever, being a native speaker of English (Or even non-native speaker) is a valuable world export and can be an easy, economic, and deeply rewarding way to see the globe.
So, with so many different choices, and with certain countries like The U.A.E., Turkey, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea all proffering more lucrative paychecks than the Thais usually offer... why choose Thailand?
1. The weather
Unlike more temperate and wavering climates, Thailand's weather might drench you now and then in the rainy season but it will certainly never freeze you. Being the change-of-season and autumn enthusiast that I am, even I can get behind living in an endless summer at least for a short period of my life.
Sometimes a change of weather is only fun in theory - the sun is pretty great to have all the damn time. And let's not forget the appeal of being able to plan a trip to a tropical island sitting in your backyard - relatively unhampered by weather conditions- any month of the year.
2. The people
I'm sure you've heard it so often you might be sickened by the cliché: Thailand is the land of smiles. But it is. Even in the moments when said smile feels forced or passive, it is still indicative of one important thing: Thailand is a culture that celebrates a welcoming spirit, friendly coexistence and positive life attitude.
Some countries can be hard to live in because the people are reserved, disdainful, skeptical, or distrusting of foreigners. Thailand is a far cry from being one of them.
Undoubtedly a reasonable and key factor in any career choice, a common criticism of teaching in Thailand as compared to other nations (Like South Korea, or Taiwan, for example) is that the pay is less. The average salary runs at about 1,000 USD per month of teaching at a salaried job.
That can initially seem like very little. But understood in relation to the cost of living and daily expenses, it is more than enough to live comfortably and save for future travels. I put away half my paycheck each month without even planning a budget.
4. A comprehensible infrastructure for TESOL/TEFL teachers
Teaching in Buenos Aires sounds like a dream, so does teaching in Germany or Spain. But, and especially if you are an EU Passport-less American like I am, teaching outside of Southeast Asia can be a lot more of a challenge. Finding jobs, coordinating visas, and arranging affordable living arrangements is almost inconceivably easy to do in Thailand.
My friends that have attempted to do the same in Europe and South America have complained of the frequent difficulties: most of them are working up to six different jobs (As opposed to just one in Thailand) to make ends meet.
5. The food
It's delicious. And cheap.
Eating out is a unique and lovable part of Thai culture. Family-owned Thai kitchens are ubiquitous and food carts are equally so. Each evening around six, large parts of every town, city, and neighborhood turn into a communal eating affair. It makes the area feel alive, neighborly, and aromatic with all the spices wafting through the air.
6. This country is beautiful and there is so much to see here.
Thailand is deceptively enormous; it would take a full day or more of driving to reach the northern border commencing from its southern counterpart.
And in between awaits an endless array of stunning beaches and islands, jungles and national parks, world heritage sites, ancient capitols, golden temples, and majestic ruins. There is so much to see here that I often feel it takes spending a year living here or more to even begin to see it. Those who opt to just backpack through for a few weeks are truly missing so much.
7. Proximity to culturally rich and exotic countries:
Thailand is snuggled between and amongst some of the world's most interesting, exotic, stunning, and rapidly changing countries.
Living in Thailand provides a backdoor filled with nations such as Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, China and Indonesia- just to name some of them.
8. Diversity of location choice
Being the geographically large nation that it is, teaching in Thailand provides a lot of choice when it comes to the type of environment you desire to live in.
There are of course competitively sought after teaching positions on the islands and beaches (For a typically much-lower salary), as well as some considerable choice when it comes to cities and countryside.
Chiang Mai and Bangkok, for example, are the two largest cities in Thailand, and the two couldn't possibly be more different. What kind of environment and city do you prefer to live in? That choice is conveniently available to you.
9. A large and comprehensible network of backpacker culture
Thailand is a mainstay on The Banana Pancake Trail, and so for the young and vibrant who love to socialize (party), meet travelers their age, and keep fresh with the mobile, there is a constant stream of backpackers pouring through the country to meet, network with, befriend, inspire, and be inspired by.
10. A large and comprehensible network of expat culture
If you choose to live and teach in Thailand, that does not necessarily mean that you are going to be living in the jungle next to a wild elephant camp with a bungalow for a home and nobody to talk to.
If you choose to live in a city, you can easily expand your friendship and intellectual circle in the easily accessible expat communities there. For example, in Chiang Mai, where I live, there is an endless stream of events, book clubs, activist clubs, hiking clubs, everything else clubs, and just general expats to keep you busy and social with like-minded individuals.
If you would like to see more of my writing and photographs, etc then please pay a visit to my blog 'Nomadic Megan' and also my Facebook page.
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Is an obnoxious community of trust-fund backpackers with phony dreadlocks a valid reason to teach in Thailand? This transient subgroup of tourists represents the antithesis of a professional teaching community.
By Guy, Bkk (27th October 2013)
Interesting comment by Dave. Not an inspiring response to the article, but an honest one. I have taught at 5-6 schools and experienced positive and negative times. Unpaid, complained about without the chance to challenge or know the source, unusual requests for urgent work that is shelved or cancelled upon completion.
The biggest problem with Thai government schools is the teachers having to produce their own lesson material and curriculum. There may be 4-5 English teachers at each school and each teacher will have his own curriculum with no set teaching or exam standard amongst the entire school.
The positives, having white skin enables you to walk into a school and teach without formal qualification or a visa or work permit. The barriers to entry are extremely low and biased towards people of western countries.
Good experience, but not a sustainable career path unless recruited into an organized school or teaching system.
By Chris, Australia (12th October 2013)
I think both Megan and David are right.
Teaching English in Thailand is a good match for some people at some stages of life and maybe not a good match for the same or different people at different stages in life.
If someone is teaching English to mostly fund travel and live abroad for a few years, Thailand can be a great place for the reasons Megan pointed out. So for younger individuals who want to gain some experience and do something “exciting” before setting down to a career, or for someone experiencing a mid-life crisis and wants to try something completely different, or for someone semi-retired and wanting to live in Thailand, teaching English in LOS might be a good choice if one is ok with the culture and ways of doing things in Thai schools.
Also for those who are looking for a fairly stress-free life and are not too worried about material possessions or career advancement, teaching English in Thailand long-term might be a viable option.
On the other hand, if someone is a professional and life-long English teacher, who wants to have a career (as opposed to a job) and support a family and so on, teaching in Thailand probably is not the best long-term path to achieving these goals, as pointed out by David.
Because teaching English in Thailand helps some people achieve their personal objectives doesn’t imply it is a good choice for other individuals who have very different goals and/or at different stages in life.
I taught English in Thailand for awhile, it was good at the time, but I realized that it was not the right long-term plan for me, so I moved on to attack other professional opportunities. I never regretted the choice to teach English in Thailand or the later choice to move on to other things.
It was a good choice at a particular stage of my life but it would not be a good choice for where I am now, but who knows, I might return to teaching English in Thailand at some future stage of life when the goals will again be different than they are now.
Thinking in terms of teaching in Thailand in plain good or bad terms is probably a little too simplistic to be useful.
By Jack, In front of my computer (12th October 2013)
The things pointed out in this article are the main reasons that attract people to Thailand. The problem is the attraction to Thailand quickly runs out especially on a salary of 1000 USD a month which Megan is correct about. It seems that a frugal person could pocket $6000 in a years time. I doubt it that living on $400 to $450 US a month is sustainable, most teachers will spend more than that. This might drop down your yearly savings to say $4000 US a year.
You also have to consider losses in money between jobs because the students or other teachers didn't like you, so your former feckless school can do nothing else other than let you go. Some schools also will not pay in between school terms, so there is a considerable loss there. Planning for these occurrences requires that you include transportation costs going back and forth between a centralized location and your school, especially at first.
You might have a medical condition which will require treatment. Medical treatment is cheap, but your $1000 US a month isn't very much either, another loss in savings there. Chronic health problems especially those that might occur frequently in a tropical country like Thailand can drain your money.
Another money drainer are the bimonthly visa runs that an illegal teacher will have to make during the course of a year's time. Those runs cost up to $100 US a pop. I don't see how legally becoming a teacher is any more cost effective in this case. Thus another drain on your $4000 a year salary. Are we now down to $2000 US a year yet?
Some school offer free accommodation, lots of luck there. The accommodation I was offered at one of the schools I worked at was unbelievably bad. I was lucky to get fired because the students refused to come to my classes (according to the principle), but that's another difficulty with teaching here in addition to the meager pay altogether. If you're paying for your own apartment being careless in overlooking things like faulty plumbing, bad or noisy airconditioning etc. can force a person to have to look for another apartment and forfeiting their deposit. Still not down to $2000 US a year yet?
The problem with Thailand is that if you don't come with much, or don't have a stipend coming from somewhere else like many of the older teachers, you won't leave with much either. After subtracting airfare are we close to $2000 US a year yet?
By Dave, Saudi Arabia (12th October 2013)