Happy Thanksgiving! Thais obviously do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but gratitude is an important part of many Thai festivals throughout the year. In fact, every Monday morning the students at our school practice gratitude.
On Mondays, the students move into the library mid-way through morning assembly, just as they do on every other weekday. They do their usual morning prayers and wai the Buddha, chants, and meditation.
At this point, the teacher who leads the morning prayers and rituals lights a small flower candle to pass around the room.
Each student, one at a time, wais their neighbor on their right to accept the candle.
The student receives the candle from their right, holds it in both hands, and announces to the room something or someone they are thankful for. They then pass the candle to their left and wai their neighbor who receives it.
After stating what they are thankful for and passing the candle, the students hold hands, close their eyes, and meditate until the candle goes full circle around the room.
I think this is a great way to start off each and every week.
Every morning between 8:10 and 8:15am (we run on Thai time) Jake and I walk over to the courtyard of our school to attend morning assembly.
Before we begin, all of the students line up around the courtyard first by grade, and then with boys and girls separately in height order. They form a square around the courtyard, with one student who will lead today’s assembly standing at the front.
We begin with all of the students and teachers standing at attention and singing the national anthem, while 2 students raise the flag. Next, all of the teachers go to the middle of the courtyard and the students wai and greet their teachers. The teachers then return back to their spots on the outside of the square, and the students wai again.
The student in charge of the music this morning then plays the school song “Lok Nayoo” which is about “our beautiful world”. The students (with the help of one of their teachers–a monk turned musician turned teacher, and an extremely kind man) wrote, produced, and recorded this song all on their own last year. It’s extremely catchy.
During Lok Nayoo the students put their hands behind their backs, sway from side to side, and sing along with the recording (although as expected, the younger the student, the louder they sing).
When the song ends we applaud and the student leader says “Teacher, please”. At this point either Jake or I (we alternate) go up to the front of the assembly area to tell the students a “3 minute story”.
The “3 minute story” is not exactly a story, but more an opportunity for the students to hear some English and practice speaking (we do a lot of questions and answers) first thing in the morning.
Each morning we talk about anything at all, but we come up with a new topic every day. Some of our 3 minute stories are a big hit (jobs and what the students want to be when they grow up was very popular, although so was a 3 minute story about watermelon). Others kind of crash and burn.
We have learned that props definitely help the 3 minute story, or at the very least, actions and motions. Silliness is also encouraged. And we’ve discovered it’s better to make the story too easy and keep it simple, than to have it be too hard where we are left hearing crickets and seeing a bunch of confused faces.
After the 3 minute story, the students line up and head into the library where the activities that follow vary depending on the day of the week. However, they always start with prayer, which includes third level wais to the Buddha statue and chanting, followed by quiet meditation.
After anywhere from 1-10 minutes of lying down meditation, the students are dismissed one grade at a time to go back to their classrooms and start the day.
How does this compare to how you used to start your school day? If you are teacher, in Thailand or elsewhere, how does your school’s morning assembly and rituals compare? Let me know in the comments. And I’m always looking for new 3-minute story ideas!
As other bloggers have suggested (here, here, and here), the best way to find a house, condo, or apartment in Chiang Mai is by using online listings, word of mouth (how some of our friends found their awesome 3 bedroom house in the old city), or to go through a realtor. Jake and I started off searching online listings and ended up deciding a realtor was the way to go. A realtor will bring you to see a number of places in their car, so you don’t have to worry about transportation or directions, and the service is completely free. No realtor fees! We were able to do some online research, see multiple options in person, sign a lease, and move in…all in less than 48 hours.
To find our condo we used Chiang Mai Properties and they were wonderful to work with. We dropped in to their office at about 4pm on a Wednesday and sat down with a lovely woman who pulled up multiple listing based on our criteria. We set a budget of about 10,000 baht/month (~$286) and narrowed down their listings to 4 possible options to see the next day.
The next morning our realtor Get, a small, soft-spoken, Thai man, met us at our guesthouse. Get drove us all over the city from Nimmanhaemin (an up and coming neighborhood near Chiang Mai University that is very popular with expats and students–but about 30 minutes away from our school) to Hang Dong (where our school is located, about 20 minutes south of the old city).
Everywhere we saw had advantages and disadvantages. One was perfect, but too far from school. Another was also beautiful and in a great location midway between the old city and our school, but a bit over our price range. The third was a large 3 bedroom house with plenty of space, roof access, and a yard; but it was a bit old and dirty and only partially furnished.
We ended up deciding on a one-bedroom condo in The New Concept, a boutique condo and hotel building very close to our school. The place is clean, bright, and fully furnished with a kitchen, eating and working area, living room, balcony overlooking a small man-made lake, large bathroom, spacious bedroom with a big bed and a vanity, and two TVs with English-speaking channels (one in the living room and one in the bedroom). We were told the economy package (10,000 baht/month) was not available, but the premium package for 12,000 baht was. The premium package includes room cleaning twice a month, refill of water bottles and some kitchen supplies like coffee, a fully stocked kitchen and bathroom (plates, dishes, utensils, towels, and toiletries), and bedding. The only downsides were the extra 2,000 baht/month, and no second bedroom that we ideally wanted as a guest room and office.
Get drove us back to our guesthouse and after some deliberation we decided this was the place for us. So we grabbed some lunch and walked over to Chiang Mai Properties to sign the lease.
Now, Get is amazing and as soon as we arrived he sat us down and told us we could in fact have the “economy package” the saleswoman mentioned. This would mean the condo would cost us only 10,000 baht/month which was exactly what we were looking for. The only difference is that we wouldn’t have our room cleaned twice a month (we can clean ourselves for free–and by we, I really mean Jake does all of the cleaning every week 🙂 ), and we would have to buy our own bedding, towels, and kitchen supplies (appliances like our microwave, stove, and fridge are still included; but we would need to buy dishes, cups, utensils, and pots and pans). We knew we could buy all of this for less than 2,000 baht, which would pay for itself in just the very first month, before saving us an extra 2,000 baht every single month thereafter. We agreed and signed a 6-month lease on the spot. Get even picked us up in his car the next morning and drove us to move in right away.
Very clean and modern
Fully furnished with comfortable furniture
Western-style kitchen with a stove and hood (no oven–but no one has ovens here)
Large and comfortable bed (many beds in Thailand are very hard–ours is great!)
Big bathroom with a closed off shower (Many apartments in Thailand have “wet bathrooms” where the shower head is part of the bathroom instead of separated by a door or curtain)
Two ACs and two TVs (one each in the living room and bedroom)
Shuttle service to get to the old city or Central Airport Plaza (one of the largest western-style shopping malls I’ve ever seen, and a movie theater) for just 50 baht per person
Free bike rentals
A cute coffee shop and restaurant on site with reasonable prices, and even room service!
We ideally wanted a second bedroom to use as a guestroom or office–but it was very unnecessary
We are 20 minutes south of the old city where most of our friends live and hang out, and what is considered the “downtown” part of Chiang Mai
Our WiFi is not great. We live in the unit at the end of the hallway so we are as far from the router on our floor as we can possibly be, and it shows. I sometimes have trouble with Hulu, connecting to VPN for my US-based job, or with Skype. This is my biggest grievance with our condo.
No pool or fitness room–again, completely unnecessary, but would have been nice. However, they are currently building a pool that should be completed by early 2016–so we’re hoping that it will be finished before our lease ends in March!
Overall, we are very happy with our condo and we really can’t beat our 10 minute commute each day. Or this view:
If you have any questions about the The New Concept, finding an apartment in Chiang Mai, or anything else at all, please contact me or comment below!
Once our course ended we took a few days off to go to Pai (more to come). When we returned to Chiang Mai we spent just one day visiting schools in person handing in application after application all over the city, not speaking to anyone directly; and one day applying online before we got impatient and went to Ying.
Ying is the manager of EFL, the English language arm of SEE TEFL where we took our TEFL course (more on our TEFL course experience here and here). Ying told us during the course that she is an excellent matchmaker–for teacher jobs, and only for teacher jobs. Ying gets to know the teachers who graduate out of SEE and has connections to many schools in and around Chiang Mai. She then matches up the graduates with a job opening that she thinks would be the best fit for both the teacher and the school.
Ying was set on finding us jobs together. She said there was a great school about 30 minutes south of the city that had 2 openings and she would make a phone call to see if we could go visit, and maybe do a demo lesson tomorrow. So we give Ying all of our paperwork (CVs and copies of our passport, transcripts, and TEFL certificate) and leave to go get a quick coffee.
When we come back, Ying runs outside and tells us the jobs she mentioned have already been filled but there is another school that has 2 openings, a better, nicer school, a little closer to the city, and we could go there at 2:00. Today. It is a little after noon now, so we quickly go home, shower, change into interview clothes, grab lunch, and come right back.
Back at SEE, we meet up with Por, one the Thai staff who would drive us 20 minutes to the school. The school is very small, and absolutely beautiful. Everything is traditional Lanna style and the school is built on a farm with big fields on either side complete with buffalo, cows, horses, and beautiful greenery. As we pull up to the main building we see an organic garden, a small playground, and lots of beautiful teak wood. Por walks us through the courtyard and says we can go meet the Director.
We meet the school Director, and the four of us sit down with me, Jake, and Por on a small couch; and the school Director across from us in an armchair. Por and the Director immediately begin speaking in Thai to one another while Jake and I sit and smile. After a while Por turns to us and asks if we could start on October 19th. We answer, “Yes, of course” and continue sitting and smiling.
The two Thai woman continue speaking in Thai to one another until Por asks if we could start a week earlier to lesson plan and prepare. Again, we say “yes, of course”. Por and the Director continue speaking in Thai while Jake and I continue sitting in silence, smiling.
The school Director asks us this time if we could also teach science or math. I answer again with “yes, of course” and that my degree is “like science” and Jake’s is “like math” (my graded language explanation for a degree in human physiology and economics respectively). The Director is very pleased to hear this.
Por and the Director continue speaking in Thai to one another, this time for quite a long stretch of time. Jake and I continue sitting, smiling, and having no idea what is going on. Por realizes at some point that she is no longer translating so she turns to us and explains that they are discussing where we could live. We smile and nod and realize that this interview, that we didn’t even know was an interview until it had already started, was apparently going really well.
After a few more moments of Thai, Por turns to us and says, “Congratulations, you got the job! Can we take a photo for Ying?”. We thank the school Director (and Por for doing all of the hard work!), take a photo, and try to steal glances at each other to indicate what we are both thinking—I don’t know what just happened, but I’m excited.
From there, we say goodbye and go see the rest of the school before driving back to SEE.
When we walk in the front door at SEE TEFL all of the Thai staff at the front desk had clearly already heard the good news, and they all start applauding and cheering. I told Jake as we were walking in that I couldn’t stop smiling, but this sealed the deal. Thailand is awesome. We went from hearing from Ying that there might be a job opening at about noon, to us both being fully employed about 3 and a half hours later. The Thai way (or just knowing Ying) definitely wins.
Our first two weeks at SEE TEFL were spent in the classroom learning grammar, teaching skills, and Thai. We also had a Thai cultural day, and a half day spent visiting a school and observing Thai and foreign teachers.
The second two weeks of the course are entirely spent preparing for and teaching at our six Observed Teaching Practices (OTPs), or student teaching.
The OTPs are a major reason Jake and I decided to take our course at SEE TEFL. Each OTP is in a real Thai classroom, so we get to see what it is like to teach in a real school, with the schools’ real classrooms and facilities, and with actual Thai students of various ages.
SEE TEFL sets up the OTPs at 5 different schools around Chiang Mai, plus a one-on-one lesson at EFL, the English language arm of SEE. The instructors provide us with the lesson, grade level, day, and time we will teach for all 6 OTPs a few days before each one.
On the morning of the OTP, we arrive at SEE TEFL between 7:40 and 8:00am. Usually everyone is very early, but there are always at least one or two people finishing up last minute printing, copying, or other preparations. When it is time to leave, we pile into the back of either John’s truck, or a songtheaw to head off to today’s school.
We arrive at the school towards the end of morning assembly. At some schools we meet the Director and then are immediately shown to the teachers’ room or a common space were we wait for our turn to teach. At other schools, we are brought up in front of assembly and each take a turn introducing ourselves to the entire school.
The first group to teach begin at 9:00am, so they rush off right away to find their classrooms and start preparing their whiteboards. The rest of our class waits in our teacher’s room where the school usually provides us with coffee, water, and some snacks.
There is a real sense of comradery in our teacher’s room. No matter how class went, everyone comes back from teaching either exhausted or extremely excited, eager to tell their story (good or bad!), and almost always dripping in sweat.
When it is my turn to teach, my observer from SEE is either sitting in the back corner of the room, or switching between two rooms next door to one another if they are observing two of us at once. Other than that, the class is mine to teach as if I was already a certified teacher, and they are my regular class of students.
During my observed teaching practices I taught Pre-K (2-3 year olds); Primary 2, 3, 4, and 6; and an adult intermediate level ESL student (an early 20-something intern at EFL).
Each of these lessons follow the “3Ps” methodology–Presentation, Practice, and Production. For each lesson (except for Kindergarten) I prepare a detailed lesson plan, whiteboard plan, whiteboard images to be used during the “Presentation” phase of the lesson, a worksheet for students to complete during the “Practice” phase, and flashcards for a “Production” activity where students practice speaking and producing language on their own, without any support on the whiteboard.
Although we still follow the 3Ps, the Kindergarten OTP is slightly different. For kindergarten (where I taught farm animals), we sit on the floor in a circle, and there are no whiteboard plans or worksheets. Instead I prepare a detailed lesson plan (including “hello” and “goodbye” songs!); big, bright, colorful flashcards to use during the presentation phase; toy animal props to use during the practice phase; and finally a giant, colorful, handmade box with farm animal images on each side. The box is used for a fun production activity where the students take turns rolling the box and saying the name of the image that pops up (obviously to then be rewarded with lots of praise and a high-five). Even the little 2-3 year olds are producing language by the end of class, which is extremely exciting to see.
The students are wonderful, although there are definitely the occasional discipline issues. The only “horror stories” I heard were from a kindergarten class (a student who kept kicking another student in the head–this was Jake’s class), Primary 1 ( students continuously putting plastic bags on their heads), Primary 2 (the trainee teacher had to confiscate some pretty inappropriate drawings), and Primary 4 (a student cut another students’ hair in the middle of class–also Jake’s story).
However, mostly the students are sweet, attentive, engaged, and trying their best. There are lots and lots of high fives, group hugs at the end of class, students giving the teachers cupcakes or stickers, students chanting the teacher’s name after class, or running up to help clean up the board and gather our materials. I was very lucky and I loved every class I taught during the TEFL course.
Teaching practices, at least for me, are usually really fun. It is exciting to see the class learning and producing the target language (even if only slightly). Also, other than 50 minutes of teaching, for the rest of the time spent at the school I am able to relax and hang out with my TEFL classmates; or walk around, explore the school, and look in on other classes.
Once the last trainee finishes their lesson, we say goodbye to the school Director and pile back into the songthaew or John’s truck to head back to SEE TEFL. We meet upstairs in our usual teaching room, Paris, and receive some general group feedback from John and the rest of the observers. We then break into small groups with whoever observed our class for that day in order to receive some personalized feedback. Finally our observer gives us our evaluation sheets with their comments, and our grade for that lesson.
Once we have our feedback, we head out for a lunch break, re-group, and then come back to SEE and immediately continue preparing our lessons for the next OTP!
If you completed a TEFL course, did you have Observed Teaching Practices? How does your experience compare to mine? Were you taught the 3Ps methodology? Let me know in the comments!
Jake and I spent our first four weeks in Thailand (August 31st-September 25th) taking a TEFL course at SEE TEFL in Chiang Mai (TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language).
On the first day of school (which was actually our 20th first day of school), Jake and I leave our guest house by 8am and go to a nearby breakfast spot. I eat a huge breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, and a fancy looking cappuccino —all for about 75 baht ($2.15). We would become regulars here over the next four weeks.
We arrive at school at about 8:45 AM and find about 10 other trainees standing around outside of the building. All of us are nervous and don’t know what to expect, but we begin introducing ourselves around the circle we have for some reason formed. A few others trickle in until there are 19 of us in total. The TEFL courses at SEE are normally a fairly even mix of people from all over the world, but in our course the majority of the trainees are from the U.S. (1/3 of the group actually from the Boston area!), there are three from the UK, a father-son duo from Australia, and one each from Greece, the Philippines, Canada, and France. The majority of the class are just out of college (a few months to a year or two), and although Jake and I are on the older end of the spectrum, it’s not by much, and there are a handful of older students as well to balance it out. We awkwardly stand around and wait for 9AM and to be told what to do next.
Right at 9, John, the Director of SEE TEFL, comes out and brings us all inside. We head up to our main course room, Paris, where we would spend the majority of the next two weeks (all of the classrooms at SEE TEFL are named after cities where their trainees come from).
We start class promptly at 9 AM with introductions. John tells us his very interesting life story and how we ended up where he is today, the Director of a TEFL school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. John is originally from Woking. He was bored of his life in the UK and so he set off on a trip backpacking around the world. John has been to more countries than I could even begin to name here, and has even more adventure stories. He found out about TEFL and teaching as a way to keep traveling, enrolled in a 4 week course similar to the one we are enrolled in, and within a few weeks started teaching. John went back to Woking a few times, but always left again, before finally settling in his now permanent home, Chiang Mai. John tells his story here, and I strongly recommend you read it for yourself.
We begin introducing ourselves and although each story is different, they all have a similar tone–everyone wants to travel, see the world, experience new things, and have a new adventure in a country that is both beautiful and friendly. Many are planning on staying for just a year or so before starting or going back to other careers in their home country. Others are more open-ended about their travels, and still others are not planning on staying in Thailand after the course at all–but have plans to travel and work elsewhere in Asia. As different as we all are, we all have this one very important thing in common–and I think that is why we get along so well–age and nationality differences aside.
After introductions and logistics, we have a 15 minute coffee break before beginning our first grammar input. Grammar inputs are classes to relearn all of the grammar we forgot from elementary or middle school, or that we never really learned in the first place because many of us are native English speakers (NES). John gives us each a grammar book and tells us that if we ever have trouble sleeping, to open up Murphy’s (our book) and start reading. We should be asleep in minutes.
As boring as Murphy’s may be, grammar inputs are very important because we are learning grammar in the way in which we will teach it. Although hopefully we will teach grammar in a way that is as much fun as possible :-).
At noon, we take a break for lunch. Our group ventures down the road to one of the many nearby restaurants or food stands for a 30-50 baht meal (<$1-$1.50 or so) of one of the following: meat and rice, meat and noodles, meat on a stick, or meat in soup. Obviously there are many other options as well (including vegetarian and vegan), but these categories became a running joke as our new food groups.
Eating at restaurants and food stands in Thailand is an interesting experience in and of itself, and is probably best suited for another post. However, my one mention here is to say that Thai food is delicious, varied, and cheap.
After lunch we have our first teaching input. Teaching inputs are the classes where we learn how to teach. Over the next two weeks we would learn the 3 P’s of TEFL—Presentation, Practice, and Production; lesson planning; presenting material in a way that is interesting, and clear to second language learners; grading of language, or eliminating all extra words other than the target language; and other teaching tricks.
We also learned how to teach a handful of sample lessons covering everything from simple Pre-K and Kindergarten vocabulary (cow, dog, horse, pig), to more complex grammatical structures (short actions that interrupt a long continuous action in the past), and everything in between.
After another 15 minute afternoon coffee break, we begin our first Thai lesson with Ying, a very smart lady who is also John’s wife. Ying has a PhD in Education Curriculum and Instruction and she is the boss around EFL (SEE TEFL’s English language school), as well as the person to go to for connections to jobs anywhere in or around Chiang Mai (more on that here).
We have 10 hours of Thai language instruction as part of our course, but we also learn quite a bit about Thai culture and teaching in Thai schools throughout the four weeks, which I think makes this course stand out above and beyond others I researched. In just the very first week we have an entire day devoted to Thai culture, and we learn so much from all of the instructors and Thai staff about how to live and work in Thailand.
We end class at 4 PM and have the evening to ourselves for dinner, hanging out with classmates, working on assignments, or relaxing. Our homework on the first day is to meet up with our fellow trainees at a bar called John’s Place (no relation to the course Director) right near Tha Phae Gate in downtown Chiang Mai.
Almost every single person comes out for a beer, jet lagged and all.
Hello everyone! So it is November 8th. I’ve been in Thailand since August 28th, or about 2 and a half months now. I know I haven’t blogged to date, although I did vaguely mention before leaving the U.S. that maybe I would blog , but I think it’s officially time to jump on the blogging bandwagon and get started.
I should hopefully post at least once or twice a week moving forward. I hope to fill you in on our experiences with our TEFL course, working in a Thai school, and navigating living and working in a new country and career.
I will also provide some “how tos” for living in Thailand in general (based on my personal experience alone), as well as reviews and photos from our travels, attractions we visit, restaurants we try, etc.
I hope you like it! Please subscribe using the form on the right side of the screen, and don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, suggestions, posts you would like to see, or just to say “hello”.
Hello and welcome! My name is Nicole, and my husband Jacob and I have sold most of our belongs; moved out of our townhouse in Boston, MA; and left the U.S. with a one-way ticket to Thailand.
We plan to experience a new way of life and new cultures while teaching English (and science and math), traveling in Asia, and living and working in Thailand.
This blog is for family and friends who want to keep up with our experiences as we begin our new lives as ESL teachers, and figure out all of the interesting things there is to know about living in Thailand. I also hope this blog can be useful to others who will be visiting Thailand, taking a TEFL course, or teaching ESL abroad. I may also occasionally blog about other things of interest to me, and hopefully to you (mostly public health, human rights, running, dance, fitness, etc.).
Please subscribe so you can always stay up to date–and don’t hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!