Scott Hipsher

The power of positive thinking

A positive attitude can make a teacher's life in Thailand much happier

While at the risk of sounding like a simplistic wannabe self-help guru, it is felt making a conscious effort to having a more positive attitude can make a teacher's life in Thailand or other country more successful and enjoyable.

Psychological research shows individuals tend to underestimate the impact of the internal factors affecting their behavior while overestimate the influence of external factors, although humans tend to reverse thoughts when attributing the factors influencing the behavior of others.

This is especially true when attributing negative behaviors or attitudes. For example, when asked why one is happy, a person may attribute it to an external factor (The weather is beautiful) or an internal factor (I am a happy person). On the other hand, when asked why one is unhappy a person will almost always come up with an external justification (I just had a fight with my spouse) and almost never come up with internal factors (I am a grumpy person).

While blaming failures or negative emotions to uncontrollable external factors may help one to maintain one's short-term self-esteem, it may be less helpful in creating long term benefits.

Human behavior is the interface between oneself and the external world. While a single individual has limited ability to change the external environment, one has some influence on the internal factors within oneself and how one sees the world. As foreign teachers, changing how we see the culture around us, our students and our career can have a major impact on our behaviors.

Our environment

A culture or country is neither good nor bad. Good or bad are subjective terms and are dependent upon the perception of the individual doing the judging. For example, some foreign teachers love engaging with Thai culture while others find each day a struggle to overcome culture clashes. All the teachers experience the same culture, so why such different reactions?

The answer is the different internal factors and attitudes within the different foreign teachers. It is assumed those who enjoy engaging with Thai culture are more likely to be successful and happy teachers than those who don't enjoy engaging with Thai culture and therefore a more positive attitude towards the culture one works in would seem to be of benefit.

An example, a few years ago I took a job up north with an NGO. The headquarters for the NGO was in Mae Sot alongside the Thai-Burmese border. Around the same time I was starting I had a couple of disappointments/irritations. I has just interviewed for another job which I thought was my "dream" job, I thought my interview for the other job went well but I didn't get the job, therefore my new job in Mae Sot seemed like a consolation prize and a bit under the status and income I would have had with the other job. And then my car's engine had a blowup during my move from Bangkok, and the hotel I first stayed in was a bit dingy and dirty. Add to that, the people of Mae Sot seemed very unfriendly and unhelpful.

One about my third day there, I was not very happy and started taking a walk through the town with a frown on my face and not surprisingly no one was making eye contact with me. Something happened while walking, I guess I was remembering a joke or something and a smile came across my face, next thing I noticed a couple of people I encountered smiled back. So, I made the conscience effort to smile during the rest of my walk and I began to realize the good points about my new job. People started smiling back and even a few engaged in conversations with me. After I made the conscious effort to take a more positive attitude, the town seemed much nicer, the job better and the town's people much more friendly.

I went in a few moments from being unhappy, ineffective and disappointed with working in Mae Sot to being happy with both the job and the surrounding environment. Neither the job nor Mae Sot changed, but my perception of my situation changed from being negative to positive. I made a conscious choice to change my attitude and this choice made a major difference.


How a teacher perceives the students will have a major impact on how one teaches. A teacher who believes his of her students are bright and willing to learn will take a far different approach than will a teacher who thinks his or her students are lazy, dull and unmotivated. It is proposed having a positive attitude about one's students will generally lead one to be a better teacher than would having a more negative attitude.

A personal example, earlier in my career I once took a job teaching young people at a Thai bilingual school. It was not what I wanted to be doing and it did not take long to realize teaching young people was not my calling; but I needed a job to keep the wife and kids eating so I stayed until something else came along.

I had this one boy in one of my classes who was nothing but trouble. I hated this kid, I yelled at him everyday and treated him very poorly and spent most of my time in the teacher's lounge complaining about this kid. He wasn't learning anything in my classes and I was spending so much time disciplining this boy that it was taking away from my ability to teach the other children in the class.

One week we had a mandatory camp of some sort at a resort, where the teachers had to stay and act as camp counselors to the students. One day, I was taking my turn watching the boys in the swimming pool and I was in the water swimming. Pretty soon this young boy, the one I hated, swam up and wrapped his arms around my neck and rode on my back. Pretty soon we were playing and splashing each other and suddenly I saw this boy in a whole different light. Yes, he was still a poor student but he was also a normal good-hearted boy who enjoyed playing and being a boy.

This experience changed the way I approached him in the classroom later on, my attitude towards him changed and I saw his positives attributes and not only his negative ones. Later in the year I think this new attitude helped me reach out to the boy a little and give him some positive feedback instead of only relying on negative reinforcement and I think he gained some benefits and knowledge from my new approach to teaching him. My change of attitude towards the boy allowed me to become a better teacher for him.

Career and profession

Some individuals enjoy teaching, others don't. Some teachers develop a career which progresses through stages while others seem to drift from one dead-end job to another.

It is suspected teachers with a more positive approach to their work will take a more proactive approach to skill and career development and therefore will have more successful careers.

It is felt having a positive attitude has influence my taking a proactive approach to my career which has resulted in a career which has included progressions in financial compensation, status and enjoyment of the work itself.

An example, it is felt having a positive belief helped motivate me to create my first book proposal which let to the publication of my first book.

Without trying to be overly simplistic, it is proposed making a conscious effort to take a more positive attitude toward the environment and culture one works in, the students one works with and the opportunities within one's career can help a teacher gain a variety of tangible and/or intangible benefits over the course of years.

Smile, and try to take a positive approach to one's work and life, it can't hurt and who knows, it might help.

Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,

The Nature of Asian Firms: An Evolutionary Perspective,

Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries

as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.

The author has also written about entrepreneurship in the book, Contemporary Microenterprise: Concepts and cases publish by Edward Elgar 


Scott, very nice article.
You are a man who knows what he is doing.
We need more guys like you here.

By KD Eryarar, Bangkok (28th July 2011)

They said, " Smile and the world will smile back at you".

What if they don't? Just keep smiling especially in this Land of Smiles!

By Mayen, Bangkok, Thailand (28th July 2011)

Thank you so much for this post. I felt that all I read was negative things about teaching in Thailand and the teachers not feeling compensated. I felt that no one had a good attitude in the land of smiles. I just didn't understand what was the purpose of them being there if they were going to be so negative. Again, thank you. I feel better knowing that not everyone feels the same way.

By Rei, U.S. on my way to Thailand. (26th July 2011)

If you are looking for some additional reading material, check out the following journal which includes an article that I wrote.

By Scott Hipsher, Bangkok (26th July 2011)

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