Steve Tainton

A little piece of advice

Starting your teaching career in Bangkok


Never give advice…
A wise man won’t need it.
A fool won’t heed it.
-Unknown

Advice is a funny thing. Even the best of advice, at times, may not be so good. I’m imagining a conversation between a professor and a student.

“So, William you’ve decided to drop out of school?

“That’s correct, sir.”

“Well, young Mr. Gates if you think quitting the most prestigious school in the country to pursue a career in computer software is a good idea then I would advise you of the contrary.”

Bad advice may also prove unexpectedly good.

“Yes, Mr. Franklin. It looks like a fine day for kite flying.”

I have been in Thailand for almost three months now, which makes me a foremost authority on the country, its people and English teaching here. So with no further ado, I give you this month’s entry… My two cents.

By all means, start your ESL career in Thailand if you can. There are more TEFL, TESL, and CELTA training courses available per capita here than anywhere else I am familiar with. Many of these programs offer employment on completion making the transition that much easier. The latest trend seems to be beachside locations for the courses, yet another plus. Thai students are easy-going, friendly and fun, all and all a good nationality to start a teaching career with. Domestic travel in Thailand is quite affordable, diverse and spectacular. I’ll spare the guide book metaphors, but you’ve got your beaches, mountains, elephants, etc. Sure beats Korea, Taiwan or Japan. You will definitely have a great experience in Thailand whether or not you find teaching to be your cup of tea. If I can give someone considering where to embark on teaching English overseas one piece of advice, it’s come to the Land of Smiles.

Whatever you do, don’t start an ESL career in Thailand. Why? I’ll tell you. Unless, you come over on a substantial mattress of financial support you will be behind from the get-go and spend your whole time here figuring out how to make ends meet. Is Thailand a good place to visit? Yes. Cheap? If you are on a developed country pay scale it is. Here you are likely to be on a third of what you get back home. Moreover, Thai employers can be less than scrupulous. Many of them don’t care about visa regulations and won’t support your efforts to get one. Do you really want to start an ESL career as an “illegal”? What’s a border run, you ask. Does it sound good? It isn’t. Many big English schools in East Asia will hire you overseas, provide a visa so that you have it when you arrive, train you at their expense and set-up (if not pay for) accommodation. In addition, these companies will lay a decent size paycheck on you every month. Are you interested in Southeast Asia? Give it a couple years in the Japan, Korea or Taiwan, get your training and some money together, and then come give Thailand a shot. If there is one piece of advice I can give you – don’t start fresh in Thailand.

Upcountry is where it’s at. Life outside of Bangkok is the only way to go. I know it’s hard to get an international flight that doesn’t land in Banger’s, but try to if you can. The capital is polluted, dirty and will shorten your life span. Forget about the air, think about the traffic. The general premise behind roadways is that they are strips of land on which vehicles MOVE, not in BKK. Out in provincial Thailand you are a novelty, not a tourist. People are genuinely interested in you and “stiff the Farang” is a game that is not widely played in non-tourist areas, and of course, the capital. Sure you can make a bit more money in Bangkok, but even if it’s an extra 10,000baht a month that won’t come close to resolving the accommodation situation. In the country you can rent a comfortable house for 3-5000 yen a month. I am sure cramped apartments near the skytrain will easily eat your salary difference, if not more. As for traffic, in the sticks you’ll negotiate some livestock, but otherwise the road is yours. Live long and prosper… upcountry.

Bangkok, Bangkok, Bangkok. A lot is made of the City of Angels, and it should be. Bangkok is a cosmopolitan, international city that is actually affordable to a teacher. Museums, temples, bookstores, restaurants, theater and all of it at a price that a fraction of what you would pay back home in the outrageously expensive capitals of the west. Plus, Bangkok is teaming with jobs for English teachers. If you are keen at working for crumbs somewhere upcountry that makes unfair demands, and can, because they are the only game in town, well suit yourself. Bangkok is an ESL heaven. Got a certificate? OK, come lecture at a University. Try that anywhere else. Miss the niceties of home, a decent coffee, farang food that isn’t fast food? Try finding an Italian restaurant somewhere in rural Thailand. Certainly anyone aspiring to more than teach English should be in the middle of the action. Maybe you’re the kind of person who is interested in befriending the crazy guy down the road because nobody else understands you, but if you want a decent social scene with people from back home, BKK is the place to be. Keep your sanity… Bangkok.

Leave now. Have you been here for a year or two? Are you considering whether or not to head home? Do it. Leave. If you are still enjoying it, all the more reason to head out with sweet memories. Several more years will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. Employers back home see a couple years overseas as a positive, ten years overseas and they are wondering if the statute of limitations has just run out on some crime you committed. All the things that you find slightly annoying about Thailand now are like a rock in your shoe, with the passage of time they will rub, worsening, not disappearing. What do you really hope to gain in the next few years that you haven’t already gotten - another twenty verbs in Thai and an acquired taste for Rice Whiskey? You can always come back on vacation. No time is better than the present…

Where are you going so fast? Off to claim your place at the table in the “real world”? What, you miss your cubicle?! A job without a calculator isn’t really work?! Do the following articles of clothing sit in your wardrobe back home; a raincoat, boots, heavy jacket, hat? If you really think chasing after consumer goods is the meaning of life, then you not only shouldn’t you leave, you should stay a lot longer in Thailand, ideally in a temple. There is a reason all Britons winge, Americans are fat and Australians drink Bunderberg Rum… they are miserable. Why do you think they call it the Land of Smiles? Everything is in the moment…

Well, I think I have set a few things straight and am glad to have the chance to share my knowledge with others. Keep an eye out for my two upcoming articles on The Kingdom, “Thailand: Developing Utopia” and “Lies and Deceit: The Siamese Conundrum”.




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