After studying abroad in Thailand for one amazing, unforgettable summer, I knew I had to find my way back. Like many travelers, I found myself not wanting to leave Thailand, there was still so much to see, do, and eat! So, I began looking, and eventually secured a job working for a University in Bangkok, Thailand. Although one of the best years of my life, I admit, I did not know anything about Asian culture concerning work environments, or what to expect as a working professional in Thailand.
So you ask, “What is it really like teaching in Thailand?” It’s Amazing!
However, here are a few helpful things to know when considering working in Thailand.
The Concept of Time is Not Very Important.
And, I mean this in every sense of the word. My first day on the job, the Dean herself told me that I, (as a Westerner) needed to let go of the idea punctuality and not worry about people being late. She said, “for example, if a conference is scheduled at 9am, and not everyone shows up until 10am, do not think of how rude the late people are, think of how lucky you are to have had an hour to enjoy your coworkers company before the meeting.” Although a foreign concept to me (no pun intended), it was a refreshing perspective for me to experience. Another pro concerning time, is that full time work, most often is part time. With everyone arriving an hour late, taking extended lunches, and leaving an hour early, full time is really not the 9 to 5 one might be accustomed to back home. There is even a commonly used phrase, “Thai Time”, to describe just this.
My amazing coworkers.
Teachers in Thailand are Very Respected
Buddhism and Thai culture go hand in hand. This can be very different for some, especially from the US, where religion in public schools is very inappropriate and teachers often lack deserved respect. The students, and some adults will give you honor by the gesture called a wai, where one places their palms together and bows their head to show respect. Students never put books on the ground or step over others backpacks because items of knowledge also deserve respect in Buddhist culture.
Thailand is Hot and Teachers Still Need to Cover Up
Although pictures of red light districts and bikini covered beaches may not be screaming conservative, Thai culture still dictates that you must cover up. In the work place, this is especially important. No skirts above the knee, no shoulder bearing shirts, and no cleavage are the three musts. Men must wear long pants and a collared shirt, no t-shirts or shorts allowed. This can be a tough one, being that Thailand is extremely hot.
Average Thai Salary and Cost of Living
The average Thai salary for a foreigner working abroad is approximately 30,000 baht or $1,000 USD. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, I will do the cost of living expenditures using $1,000USD to make it easier to compare. Note, with a bachelor’s degree, this is the least you deserve. Do not accept a full time position for any less or your quality of life will suffer. Depending on location, rent on a Thai apartment will cost between $150-$250 per month, with another $25 for Internet and electricity. Food should cost you $5 per day or around $150 a month. You can get by with slightly less but with a beer or tea here and there, this is a comfortable estimate. Entertainment such as movies, clubs, drinking, etc, costs approximately $200per moth if you go out 2-3 times per week. If you are looking to save money, this is where you could cut some activities out. Transportation such as subway tickets, taxis, or buses will on average cost $60 per month depending on how often you go out and or if you are doing some weekend trips. After other miscellaneous expenses such as medical, hygiene items, and clothes, I was left with about $275, with which I would save or use to travel to near by countries or Thai beaches. Despite $1,000 not being very much money back home, it was more than enough to live comfortably and still save about 25% of my monthly salary.
Thai Classrooms are Crazy!
Students with perfectly pressed uniforms, all with clean, short hair cuts, high socks, and matching shoes to boot, yet, Thai classrooms are anything but uniform. First off, they are loud. When teaching elementary school in Northeast Thailand, I was given a microphone so I could shout over the children! How about, “be quiet or else!” When teaching college students, I would literally have to grab cigarettes out of their hands in the halls and keep cell phones in my desk during class. Don’t even get me started on the college girls, with uniforms 2 sizes too small, hair extensions, and heels as if they were about to walk for a fashion show. The best words I ever learned in Thai where the bad ones, so I could catch them and tell them to watch their language. However, all the craziness aside, the students are sweet, kind natured, and generally want to better themselves, even if they look like they are about to go clubbing while doing it. Thai students sure have a sense of humor, and if you don’t, you won’t survive teaching in Thailand.
My crazy fun students
Everything is “Group Work” Even When it’s Not
The idea of cheating is not as black and white as it is in the West. I don’t know if it’s because Thai’s don’t like confrontation or if they truly think working together is better, but either way, there really isn’t cheating as much as there is group work. Even when proctoring exams with my Thai coworkers, I would see kids cheating, report it, and they would only get a slight evil eye or maybe a warning. When I submitted my grades for my Yoga students, anyone with a 60% and up passed instead of the 74% standard I was used to. For English, even students who blatantly failed my speaking class were moved up because they passed their other English composition class. Point being, don’t stress if you feel like the kids are getting higher grades or passing with below par scores, it is just the way it is there. Move on.
Lady Boy Shows, Karaoke, and Lots of Drinking, it’s Not Just for Japanese Business Men
You heard me right. Now, this is only my experience as a University teacher. Every International Holiday Party featured a comical lady boy performance. Karaoke was just something you did to pass the time, obviously. Drinking. Just a way to lube up a good conversation with potential partners. You better be able to hold your liquor, because drinking is to Asians like handshakes are to us. No deal is done, or even spoken of, until everyone is properly liquored and loosened up. Not that I minded this of course.
The Lady Boy and Staff doing Karaoke at Our Thanksgiving Party
You Get to Go on Trips
Depending on the age of students you teach, you will go on field trips, for a day or two. My good friend who taught younger kids had a lot of 1day trips to local attractions. As a university teacher, I was paid a small extra stipend, usually an extra $30-$40 to take students on weekend overnight trips. It was a great way to experience more of the country myself, while getting paid. Not a bad deal. Some professors even got to go to surrounding countries to promote the university. However, most of the time, a male colleague was chosen to go over me, for unstated reasons (which we will go over next).
Fun fieldtrip to Kanchanaburi, but I wouldn’t ride Elphants Again
Men are Ranked Higher Over Women
There, I said it. Thai culture respects, honors, and hold men higher than women. If the school needed someone to woo business partners, show visitors around campus, or attend a local college fair-I was their girl. Need to close deal, have a meeting in China, or submit a serious proposal, chances are the male coworker would be chosen. Because of this, I lost my opportunity to go on a business trip to a Chinese International College for a meeting that I had been really looking forward to, which really bummed me out. No reason given, other than we decided a man should go instead. Its how it is, it hurts, it sucks, but it still is. Again, move on.
Tips for a Good Experience
Take it Easy-They sure do, and isn’t that pretty much why you took this job across the world anyways. Don’t ruin it by stressing about what is different.
Dress Nicely-Thai are very into fashion and dressing nicely. Appearance really matters and you looking nice will definitely have a direct effect on how fast you move up or the job opportunities you get.
Smile-Thailand really is the land of smiles, but it is more than that. Loosing your cool in any way will be a huge loss of face in your work place, one your reputation will not come back from. Smile often, and never become obviously angry.
Make an Effort to Get to Know the Thai Staff-Often times out of comfort, foreign teachers are clicky and only hang out with other foreign staff or friends. Make an effort to get to know the Thai staff, whether it is going to lunch together or just asking about their weekend. Even more so, always be nice to the coffee and front desk staff in Human Resources. They control more than just your coffee, trust me.
What did you think? Have you ever taught/worked in Thailand or abroad? What was your experience?