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Where in the world - Teaching in Thailand

Following on from our Teaching Around the World interviews, our Where in the World? interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we speak to past TESOL graduates about their experience of living and working abroad as an English teacher.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures.

Where in the world is Nina Zillah Bekink?

When did you complete the TESOL course?

I completed the TESOL course at WITS Language School, Johannesburg in May of 2013.

How did you go about looking for your first teaching job?

I flew to Bangkok without a job pre-organized. A friend had told me to join a group on Facebook called NST Good Times where they recruit teachers for the small town of Nakhon Si Thammarat in Southern Thailand. I didn’t want to be in Bangkok as I found it too overwhelming as my first overseas encounter. I got an interview in Nakhon from posting on the Facebook page. I flew to Nakhon, the interview went well, so I took the job and started working the very next week.

How did you go about looking for your first teaching job?

Through recommendations by friends, and on Facebook.

Where did you live and work in Thailand/ How long were you there for?

I lived in Nakhon for a few months.

Hut in rice paddies

Why did you choose to go there?

I chose to go there based on recommendation of friends. The town of Nakhon is situated between the sea/beaches and the national parks/waterfalls of southern Thailand (gulf coast). I wanted to be in a small town while I got used to being in a foreign country.

What was it like to teach in Thailand?

Pay was equivalent to $1000 p/m, but living in a small town in Thailand is very cheap. My rent was only $150, and meals can cost as little as $1. The school helped me organize my working visa and treated me very well. Teachers in Thailand are treated with great respect – akin to doctors/lawyers back home, especially foreign teachers teaching English. The Thai people are very keen to learn English and have their children learn English – so they go out of their way to make sure you are happy and comfortable. Their hospitality is humbling.

What school/organisation did you work for? What kinds of students did you have to teach?

I taught young children (5 years old) for a small private school in Nakhon.

How did the TESOL course prepare you for your first job as a language teacher?

The TESOL course prepared me to teach English, however it did not prepare me to work with children! I would highly recommend doing the ‘teaching English to young learners’ course offered at Wits Language School in addition to your TESOL. However I learnt quickly, and adapted what I had learnt from teaching adults to teaching children. The TESOL course is an integral foundation – but a teacher’s work is never done, with each new job/each new class/you are learning and devising new techniques/strategies for keeping students engaged and excited to learn (which is your number one objective, especially with the young learners).

What was it like to live in Thailand?

Nakhon was a small town with few western conveniences. Not many people spoke English, thus my sign language abilities had to develop quickly. Do not be afraid to immerse yourself in a foreign culture or be away from the comforts of home. It will make you appreciate them so much more, when you do for example encounter a pizza! I missed cheese, but other than that, most places will have everything you need. There was a small expat community, teachers from all over the world, and we formed incredibly close friendships.

What did you love/hate about Thailand?

My favourite thing about Thailand and Asia in general is riding around on a scooter/motorcycle. Just be careful, the roads are treacherous and no one pays any attention to red lights and stop signs. Sometimes the food became a bit overwhelming. I was too brave when I first arrived and ate a variety of unusual things including, shark fin soup, bird’s nest, chicken blood, brain, etc. However, my stomach/mind was not yet strong enough for such as assault on the senses.

I was in a shipwreck a few weeks into my trip to Thailand. Some friends and I, who I had met in Nakhon, decided to go to the island of Tonsai for the weekend. Tonsai is a small island just off Krabi. We took a bus from Nakhon and then a small wooden ‘longtail’ boat to Tonsai. It was 9pm at night, so very dark by this stage. Our boat driver/captain was obviously inexperienced, as we later learnt that a very specific channel was meant to be followed! Anyway, we were travelling full speed ahead (in the pitch dark night) when we struck a rock, and almost instantly the boat began to sink and capsize! He shouted in Thai for us to swim. We all grabbed our bags and started swimming, careful not to get trapped under the capsizing boat – my friend from Ireland yelled ‘I can’t swim!!’ She clutched onto the neck of one of the boys we were travelling with and we all began our 400m swim to shore. All of our stuff was destroyed – cameras, cell phones, laptops (those who had laptops, like myself who had come straight from work!). When we arrived on the shore, the bar gave us free beer and we lay our stuff out to dry. It was a scary experience, but definitely one to remember

Would you recommend Thailand to other EFL teachers?

I would definitely recommend Thailand as a place to teach. If you are interested in a smaller town or being close to the beach – look into Nakhon, Surathani or Phuket. If you are interested in being in the mountains, close to Buddhist retreats or historical sights I would recommend the north – Chaing Mai and Pai. If you want to experience the big city – Bangkok is incredible.

I read somewhere that Bangkok is not the city where dreams come true – it is the city where you can fulfill your wildest fantasies and I will definitely second that. I spent some time there after I had settled a bit, and to mention just one of the many unusual things on offer – google the ‘Flying Chicken’ restaurant.

What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of teaching in Thailand?

Don’t organize a job before you come over and don’t work with an agency. Either chat to friends who are already here or look on Facebook, each town will have a group where they post jobs. Agencies mess you around and steal your money, and often jobs that will hire you online are not the kind of places you want to be working. It is very easy to find work. Just fly over with all your documents in hand, qualifications, police clearance, etc. and you will have a job within a week.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of sticking to ‘your own’, learn the language of the country you are visiting, take an active interest in becoming involved in the culture and soak up as much of it as you can.

Curious children

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I live in the city of Hanoi, Vietnam. I came to Vietnam on holiday and fell in love with the country. I prefer Vietnam to Thailand for a number of reasons, but still think Thailand has much to offer and wouldn’t advise travellers against visiting there. I prefer Vietnam, well Hanoi, because I prefer the style of work. Teaching jobs are not 8-4pm Monday – Friday. You work and are paid by the hour. It is $25/hour for an English teacher and you can design your own working hours. This suits me better as I am then able to holiday when I have enough money and do not have to work on a full year contract basis. It also gives me the time and resources to be able to pursue my other passions and interests, for example, photography and writing. Hanoi is also an incredibly international city. I love how cosmopolitan it is, with influences from across the world, and interest vibrant young people, an energetic live music scene, etc. I would recommend Hanoi in a heartbeat  but keep in mind – it is a big crazy Asian city – and might be a huge culture shock as a first stop from South Africa.

If anyone has any questions you can email me on ninazillahbekink@gmail.com and I will help where/how I can.

Rice terraces