Want to teach in Chiang Mai? Part 3 (Beth Kopay)
Category : Teach
Part 3 of our series on Teaching in Chiang Mai is from Beth Kopay. Wear a funny hat and make a difference in a small mountain village!
So, I heard that you are interested in teaching here in Thailand. Well, congratulations. It takes a certain type of person to live and teach in another country – one made of steel, love, flexibility, and a marathon pace endurance type style.
Hello, I feel that I should introduce myself. My name is Beth Ann Kopay. I was a teacher in Thailand, with the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences. Overall it was a very positive time, and I would like to share what I learned so that you can be aware. So let me tell you a little bit more. I graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s in elementary education. Before coming to Thailand, I was a teacher in the Marshall Islands. (To get there from California, go straight into the Pacific Ocean until you hit Majuro – a few miles into the surf, and once you hit the capital island, hang a left and head north a few hundred miles or so. And there will be Utrik, the island where I taught, so many coconut trees). In Thailand, I taught at a government school located in the mountains of Chiang Rai. The school’s name was Huainamkhunwittaya School. It was a public government school with grades kindergarten through 9th grade.
I decided to come to Thailand through some interesting circumstances. So like I just said before, I was teaching on a island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and around Christmas we had mid-service training on the capital island (which meant internet, electricity, running water, and cheese). And one volunteer (who I thought was handsome, amazing, interesting, and just so overall cool – I even wrote him a song – he was that cool) found this special center in Chiang Rai that worked with special needs children (Chiang Rai Camillian Social Center, just in case you are curiously wondering). I was headed to the internet cafe, and told him I would print him an application. Little did he know, I printed off an application for me and sent it in. (The dude went to teach English in Chile) The center told me that they didn’t need an English teacher, but there was this school in the mountains that really wanted a native English teacher. And *BAM* that was how I got my job. I ended up staying at that school for a year and a half (when most of the native English speakers who would teach there would only stay for a month or two). I learned many things, both good and bad, and now I would like to share with you – be informed, don’t lose yourself, and what its really all about.
The first piece of the teaching in Thailand information pie I would like to serve is about being informed. In order to make an informed decision, it is best to have all the information. When looking at myself, I did not have all the information, and I think it hurt me a little. You should be informed on where and what you want to teach. Do you want to teach at an international school (its a school where its an American curriculum)? Or at a public government school? Or at a private school, where the families of the school are charged with tuition? Or at a private language academy – where you would mainly tutor after school? There are many different positives and negatives about each. At the private schools in the cities, you will have a higher salary – but keep in mind you will spend more. If you work at a government school, your salary will not be high, but absolutely livable. And with private language academies, your hours area usually going to be on the weekends and evenings. So just be sure to keep all that in mind.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cost of living. Holy cow!! When my parents came to visit, they kept comparing prices for meals – while amazing for them, annoying for me. For example, you can get a good meal for about 30 baht. And for those math money convertors out there, $1 = about 30 baht. So yeah, the cost of living is mind boggling. The dollar here can stretch is many different directions. But there are some things that are more expensive – for example imported food. If there is something from back home that you simply can’t live without, then be prepared to spend more money on it. And I have found that if you decide to eat foreigner food (meaning any food that is not Thai), then it will be significantly more expensive. So just keep that in mind in picking on a school and location.
And one more factor in being aware concerns with current events. While you don’t need to learn and memorize every detail of the whole situation, you will need to know somethings. For example, it may not be the safest to be in Bangkok right now because of the protests. And it may not be the safest to be in the very south of Thailand – where there is fighting, and teachers are being beheaded and shot. Just a thought.
The next piece of the information pie is about maintaining yourself and not losing yourself along the way. That is what happened to me, and it was very difficult to get out of my rut that I created. You need to look out for yourself, the school won’t. Do things that will make you happy and alive – and that was something I forgot to do. An important aspect of this point deals with the fact that you will be different. You will be stared at, you will be talked about, and you will be the object of many affections, just because you are a foreigner. Local Thai people will treat you different and ask you questions that you would be considered rude or offensive. Some people will be downright racist towards you. I hate to say get used to it, but that is honestly the only way I dealt with it. I would like to compare it a museum exhibit, except you will be the exhibit. And the purpose of the museum exhibit is to look, stare, and critique. At some points it was too much for me, and I drew myself in even more. Everyone deals with this differently, my escape consisted on watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episodes and listening to music. But than again, it all depends on your school. I was at a very very rural school and was usually the only foreigner for miles and kilometers. In some cases, I was the only foreigner they have ever been exposed to. And speaking of being a foreigner, at school, you will probably have no say. You will be there, treasured, and prized, but stuck. You can’t move up the ladder into a more leadership position, because you are not Thai. There were many days where I would just sit in the office, bored, offering my help, but couldn’t do anything about it because I was not a Thai government teacher. Just a thought.
But I would like to point out the one positive that should be very in your face and huge and obvious – the kids! That one aspect – my students – made it very difficult to leave. You will make a huge impact and those kids will probably never forget you.
So good luck in making your decision about being a teacher here in Thailand. Here is my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions, and I would be happy to answer them.