Erin Ormsby graduated from Siena College with a degree in English Education in 2015. She spent a semester in Siena, Italy where she studied Italian language and culture and taught English in an Italian elementary school. Now she lives and teaches in Thailand. This is her story, in her own words.
My decision to move to Thailand to teach English after graduating from Siena College is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I remember dancing with the idea in December of my senior year. All of my housemates were applying to jobs and grad school, and I had to ask myself: what next? I knew I wanted to do something a little unconventional. I knew I loved teaching and I loved traveling. A few Google searches later, I was in touch with a program, and I moved to Thailand in September 2015.
It’s funny that I chose Thailand because I actually was looking into jobs in Italy (where I had studied abroad), but somehow I clicked my way to Thailand. I’d always been fascinated by the rich culture and beauty of Thailand. Buddhism is a religion that I’d only learned a little bit about through core classes, but was interested in seeing how it worked. I’ve learned that it’s more of a lifestyle than a religion, and it’s really an essential part of Thailand. While I wasn’t looking forward to the heat of Southeast Asis (in April and May it gets to be about 110 degrees with full humidity), I was looking forward to the rich travel opportunities, Thai food, markets, elephants, and of course, the teaching. Thailand isn’t all elephants and beautiful beaches, but it’s an amazing place to be, and I’ve fallen in love with the food, people, language, and culture. It’s also really nice that everything is so inexpensive. The average Thai dinner (a full meal) costs about 40 baht, which is about $1.11. Rent at my last apartment was just $110 per month. While the average salary for teachers here is only about $830 per month, it’s about three times what Thai teachers make, and if you have money saved and can manage a budget, living comfortably is easy. Teaching in Thailand is such a rewarding experience. English truly is a skill that can change the lives of people here. The tourism industry is one of the biggest, highest paying businesses, so it provides Thais with better work opportunities, as well as the chance to travel the world and communicate with anyone. Though I’m not a miracle worker, it is so fulfilling to see the progress of my students.
Initially I planned on staying for only 6 months, after which I would return to the States. I went through my culture course and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course in Hua Hin alongside about 150 other likeminded native English-speakers. Then, I set off to Ubon Ratchathani (the biggest city in the most rural and poorest region of Thailand) to teach high school for six months. At Siena, I studied education, so I felt more than prepared to take on this role. I came to find out, however, that I wasn’t exactly as prepared as I thought. I think many people really romanticize the idea of teaching in Thailand with the misconceptions that every student is excited and willing to learn and that all places are crawling with elephants and beautiful sandy beaches. While there are places like this, the fact is kids are kids, regardless of country, and school is not the most exciting thing for them. I taught 18 classes of up to 50 students each (for a grand total of over 700 kids) for about 50 minutes per week. It was really challenging. Many of my kids never came to class or showed up 20 minutes late. Thailand is a very relaxed place, and this behavior is not uncommon and rarely punished. At first, I took this really hard. But I knew I had to be up for the challenge, and to just do my best with what I was given. When I adopted a new mindset, everything changed. I put so much effort into my lessons, teaching my students topics that I thought would appeal to high schoolers while trying to also accommodate the many students who spoke zero English. At the end of the day, I wasn’t able to turn them all into English-speakers; but, with a mere 50 minutes per week and massive class sizes, I’m pretty proud of what they accomplished.
Teaching in Thailand has been great for my ego. My students all loved me. They would scream my name across campus and waved frantically when they saw me at school or around town. I miss them all to this day. Other than teaching, my biggest responsibility at my job was to be the face of the school. Every Monday I had to stand at the front of the school and wave to parents and students. During school events, I was often made to speak, and on holidays, I would be dressed in Thai dress and put in parades where I posed for countless pictures. Initially, I felt like this was kind of an insult to my intelligence, but the more time I spent in Thailand, the more I realized that this is simply the culture. When you have something nice, you show it off to the world and “show face.” I realized how proud the school was to have me as a foreign teacher, and that made it easy for me to accept this cultural norm. At the end of the school year, while I loved my students, I wanted something new, so I began searching for a new job in my favorite city: Chiang Mai.
I landed a job at a private international school in Chiang Mai. The pay is much better and the school provides a lot of support. The city itself is absolutely beautiful and is in the mountainous, cultural heart of Thailand. Living here is certainly an adjustment because there are a massive number of foreigners (English-speakers like me), and I’m used to being one of the only foreigners in my city, but I’m loving it so far. This time around, I’m teaching first grade—something completely new to me. Unlike my other job, I’m not teaching English as a foreign language. I have one class and I teach them almost everything: math, science, English, social science, and health. It’s really nice because I’m with the same students all day every day, so it’s easier to track their progress and get to know them. I haven’t been in the job long and it’s slightly overwhelming because it’s a lot of work, but I absolutely love it and I know it’ll get easier with time. I work all day and then plan for hours at night, but when the lessons come together and I see the kids getting excited to learn, and really absorbing what I’m teaching them, it makes it all worth it. I’ve signed a one-year contract at this school, but who knows, I could be here even longer!
Want to know more about teaching in Thailand? Contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org.