Q&A Interview with Alana Ortiz for TEFL Heaven Thailand

Interview with Alana Ortiz, Thailand Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hey there! My name’s Alana. I’m 23 years old and am from the United States. New Jersey to be exact.

What is your education level and background?

After graduating high school, I decided to stay home and save some money by completing my A.A. Degree of Psychology through my local community college. I then transferred to Rutgers University where I graduated with a B.A. Degree of Criminal Justice. I also completed a minor in both Psychology and Sociology.

I applied, was accepted, and planned to continue my education through Rutgers University through their M.S.W. program however, I chose a completely separate path by coming to Thailand!

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

The few times I traveled abroad before coming to Thailand, I was either accompanied by good friends or family. This obviously changes the experience of traveling abroad quite drastically. I have been to both Puerto Rico and Ireland on family trips. Aside from that, I spent one day in Mexico while on a cruise with friends. My traveling experiences are pretty limited!

What motivated you to teach abroad?

There were two main factors that pushed me to finally choose to teach abroad. One was simply that I wanted to travel, specifically to Thailand and Asia generally. The second factor came about during my senior year of college. My degree had nothing to do with education or even working with kids for that matter but after the restaurant I worked at while in school went out of business - I needed to find a job. I stumbled upon a position as a Teacher’s Assistant and after interviewing the hours were perfect with my schedule and I took the job. During the same time I ended up taking advantage of an internship through a class I was taking which also involved spending three hours per week at the campus preschool and early childhood development center.

I’m not sure how these events all came together, but I am grateful that they did. I was so happy to be working with kids and for the first time in my life, I genuinely felt fulfilled after leaving my work each day. I mean, also completely exhausted but mostly filled with gratitude to be able to work with these little humans. I completely fell in love with working in an educational environment and wondered what it might be like to be a teacher.

At the time it seemed like the worst possible timing. I was graduating college at the end of that semester and felt like I had maybe followed the wrong path. It wasn’t until coming here that I realized how wrong I was. I have no regrets about what led to me where I am. If I hadn't of taken those jobs, I may not have come here to teach, something I grow to love more every day.

What did you want to personally achieve with this experience, and have you succeeded?

At the beginning of this trip I set the bar of personal goals pretty low. I had hoped to just get out of my comfort zone by going somewhere completely new, alone, and taking a job that made me nervous! I hate public speaking so I faced a lot of fears in diving in to this experience. I told myself no matter what that I would get through the 6 months however good or bad. I wanted to learn some Thai, travel to a few countries and eat some interesting food.

Now, after being here for a little over three months, my goals have completely changed. I am in love with where I live and the people I’ve met and have decided to stay for the year which was something I honestly did not think I would commit to. I’m not sure if I’ll be as eager as I thought I would be to go home. I tried to push some comfort zones with food but that has proved to be easier said than done. I did eat a scorpion though! I have learned more Thai than I thought I would and am eager to continue to learn more and more each day. I hope to be able to speak more fluently by hopefully by end of this term. I am also planning on traveling to more places alone, which is something I truly never saw myself doing either. Where at one time I would have been extremely anxious before school or before stepping into a classroom, I now have found a bit more of a voice and definitely have grown to be comfortable in situations where I am forced to be at the centre of attention.

I feel that my expectations and what I hoped to get out of this experience has exceeded all of my expectations. I put more effort now into trying things that pushed me past some kind of comfort zone.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

I had a friend who considered applying with me, however she decided to take a job at home instead. Applying to this program solo and thinking about knowing not a single soul in Thailand was quite nerve racking but I didn’t at all feel stressed when initially arriving in Thailand. Thanks to the wonderful web and Facebook, I was able to meet up with another girl who happened to arrive in an hour after me. We actually have remained close throughout this entire experience. Thanks to technology, you have little to worry about in terms of coordinating meeting up with people once you get here if that’s at all a concern, like it was for me.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I did! More of an acquaintance, I reached out to her about which program she decided to use and wanted to ask her for some advice when I was considering all of my options. She really had nothing bad to say and it seemed to me she was having quite a good time living in Thailand. She’s the main reason I decided to book my trip trough TEFL Heaven.

I also have a friend who has been teaching in Spain for almost two years, and another who just spent a year teaching in France. They both have traveled tons since high school and have been huge advocates of me taking advantage of teaching abroad.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

My main concerns about teaching abroad stemmed from basically having such little experience being at the front of a classroom. Obviously I had worries about some other aspects of living and adjusting to a new and foreign country, but mainly I just hoped to be decent at doing job at the very least.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

When thinking about all of the challenges I would inevitably be faced with upon moving to Thailand, I was overwhelmed with thinking about tackling them all on my own. I knew that the best way would be to work with an agency to help facilitate the transition. After doing some research and asking some friends, I choose TEFL Heaven because they seemed to take into consideration the many aspects that moving to a new country involves and I heard nothing but good things about my friend who had worked with them the term prior.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

Just even for my own learning style, I know that I need to be hands on and involved in order to truly grasp, understand, and feel confident in my abilities. I knew that for me personally, there was no other option than to complete a face-to-face course. I also felt that meeting people throughout the course would be an invaluable asset as well.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I completed the Paid Internship Thailand program which took place on Koh Chang. It was an amazing experience and I will be forever grateful for those first amazing three weeks in Thailand.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

The best part of my TEFL training was meeting and bonding with the people I met there. Not only have I made some amazing friendships, I was surrounded by people who were in so many ways on the same page as I was. Making friends here has been invaluable. They are my support system and without them I don’t think I would be enjoying this experience nearly as much.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I felt prepared in a lot of ways but also quite unprepared. I don’t really think there is a way to be fully ready for your first day of teaching because it’s something you can only get better at by doing. Although it was extremely helpful to have all of the resources and tools from the TEFL program, the best way to learn how to teach is to actually be at the front of a class and interacting with the students.

How long have you been teaching in Thailand and how long do you plan to stay?

I have been teaching here officially a little over two months now! I feel as though my time here is flying by and have already spoken with my agent about staying for the next term. I don’t know if I’ll stay longer than than a year but I do grow to love Thailand more and more each day.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

My job was arranged for me through my TEFL program and one of the agencies they work with. It was all pretty simple and we just kind of were told where we would be working and who we were placed with and it all worked out very well! The whole transition hasn't been easy necessarily but I love where I live and TEFL Heaven has been excellent with responding with any issues or problems throughout the entire process.

What type of school or organisation do you work for?

I currently work at a private school in Ayutthaya.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

A typical work week is very laid back. Although I spend a decent amount of time lesson planning and prepping for classes, I have a decent amount of leisure time and enjoy my work days. I always feel like the weeks go by so quickly! My regular work hours are 7:30 - 3:30 and depending on the day, I teach between four to six classes. Some days I do stay later at school to get some work done but my evenings are very relaxed. I have plenty of time to get some dinner, come home, do some yoga, read or watch some Netflix! A work week as a teacher in Thailand is honestly hard to beat.

What age group or range do you teach?

My students range from Annuban (Kindergarten) age, to Prathom 3 and 4 (Elementary). So my youngest students are about 5 and my oldest are 10 years old. These are my favourite ages to teach and I am so thrilled to work with them! They are so fun and full of energy and I am lucky to have really gifted students.

What do you enjoy most about teaching your students?

My favourite part of working with my students is watching them be really confident in having conversations, even if it's very minimal. They get so excited when they learn something new and can apply it when they speak with you! It could even be pronouncing something correctly! Their faces light up. Helping them to have the confidence to speak is honestly what this job is all about to me.

How did you get your work visa?

I was able to obtain my work visa with the help of my agency. They sorted out all of the technical stuff and arranged for our appointments so it was a pretty painless process, fortunately. 

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?

Finding a place to live was initially one of the biggest challenges in adjusting to life here for me. It was the one aspect of working with my agency that I didn't enjoy and it was very stressful to find a place to settle into. We did though, eventually and couldn't be happier about the place! Although our agency found us a place, it wasn't what we were looking for and they weren't very helpful accommodating with helping us finding an alternative. With that said, my apartment now has exceeded any expectation I had about how I would be living. Not everyone is thrilled with where they live but we got pretty lucky after getting past the not so great parts.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Thailand is definitely one of the most amazing places I have ever been and although there is tons of information you can read about what to expect when coming here, you'll never know until you're living it! I have found that everyone takes away different aspects of life here. However, there are some general tips you should take into consideration when coming here!

Try to speak as much Thai as you can. Honestly, just knowing the basics of conversation goes a long way to a local. They are more at ease when conversing with you and most times appreciate the effort although sometimes they like to show off their English, too! Thai's are very concerned with saving face and most times will not be very confrontational even if you have offended them or they are unhappy. Try your best to be accommodating and understand the culture here. Even though they understand you're a Farang (foreigner), they like to see you make the effort.

Food is something you should take full advantage of while you're here! Although ordering and the variation of flavours can be intimidating at times, there are so many good things to try! I can promise you that being adventurous with food here will likely pay off. Sometimes you do end up getting sick from things here and there but that's just part of the adjustment.

Transportation can be tricky and if you think you're ever going to get anywhere quickly, think again. Thai time is very real! There are often delays or sometimes vans and buses just aren't running on a particular day. You learn your way around after doing it a time or two but it can be daunting at times. There is always a way to get where you're going though. The more convenient route, the pricier the cost though. There are tons of places to travel and see whether you only have time for a weekend trip or want to make a long weekend a nice little get away. I've honestly found that even small day trips can be more beautiful than initially anticipated.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 5 000 THB

Food: 4 000 THB

Other Bills: 1 000 THB

Social Life: 1 000 THB

Transportation: 800 - 1000 THB

Phone: 400 THB

Other Costs: Everything is dependent on your lifestyle! Just know that your salary will definitely be sufficient to live as long as you're not trying to live with the same western standards every day!

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

I would definitely say that you can live comfortably, just plan to budget before coming. There can always be unexpected costs and things that happen and you're probably not going to be able to save too much money! If you're not planning on saving then you will be more than okay. If you are, make sure to plan for how much you think you will need before you get paid.

ADVICE FOR ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Thailand?

I would certainly recommend others to take advantage of this experience, either in Thailand or elsewhere. There are so many benefits to being outside your comfort zone and immersing yourself in another culture. The personal growth that takes place throughout the experience is huge and I can assure you that getting to know your students will impact your life only in positive ways. I can't imagine never having gotten this opportunity to meet the kids who have changed my life in such a huge way. There are so many amazing things that happen when you take advantage of this opportunity that are unique to being a teacher and living in another country. Travelling is one thing, but living and teaching in another country is something I can safely say I will never regret.

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