Interview with Katie Russell, Thailand Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hello! My name is Katie, I'm 24 and I'm from England.

What is your education level and background?

I have a bachelors degree in Fashion communication and promotion from the University of Huddersfield- so no education or early learning experience at all. My mum is an English teacher (she was my high school teacher-so embarrassing) so I've always been around lesson planning and marking, it wasn't ever anything I thought I would be interested in doing myself to be honest.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I have travelled to over 30 countries and caught the travel bug pretty early. I used to be obssessed with travel and wildlife documentaries when I was younger and have always dreamt of seeing the world but never thought I'd have the money or opportunity do so. 2 years ago I backpacked across Europe and visited 16 countries in just over 3 months; after I got the taste for travelling I haven't stopped since- it's a way of life for me.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

Initially, I just wanted to find a way I could earn money whilst travelling so I wouldn't have to go home and get a job in between trips. I am so glad that I did this course; teaching is no longer just a job for me, I adore my kids and I love teaching them, it has turned into a great passion for me and I can see myself teaching across the globe.

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

Before completing my TEFL course, I couldn't see myself being able to teach in a classroom; I had no prior experience, little self-confidence and I didn't believe I had the tools to teach children. My main goal for my course was to boost my confidence enough to feel completely at ease when stood in front of a class full of students. Safe to say, I'm half way through my first term and I couldn't feel more confident, my students respect me as their teacher and I love engaging with them.

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

I applied with my boyfriend Joe; we have travelled the world together so it made sense to embark on this journey together as well. Moving to the other side of the world can be a little daunting so it's been great to have your best friend with you, it's also been amazing to be able to support each other throughout the course. We now teach at the same primary school so we lesson plan and bounce ideas off each other in terms of games and activities; it's been fantastic.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

A friend from university had completed the TEFL Heaven course a year and a half before me; I was following her journey on social media and it looked like she was having so much fun it would have been silly for me not to apply as well.

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

I have never really been involved with children in any part of my career so far; I was really concerned that a three week course just wouldn't be enough to prepare me for teaching English abroad. I didn't think I'd feel ready, I didn't think I'd have the knowledge to do so and I felt I would let the students down as I wouldn't really know what I was doing. There was absolutely no need for me to feel this way; I was surprised just how quickly my confidence kicked in and the trainers are absolutely fantastic. Plus, everyone on your course is in the same boat as you are, so you can all rely on each other for support.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

Originally I was going to complete an online course as it seemed more convenient; I simply wanted to teach abroad so I could earn money whilst travelling. A friend of mine had recently completed her TEFL Heaven training and it looked a blast; she had made great friends whom she did everything with, she got to train on a beach rather than being stuck behind a computer- it just made sense to me to do the same thing.

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

A great benefit of a face-to-face course is that you have trainers on hand to give you instant, real life feedback. The trainers can tell you there and then how to improve; they can show you demonstrations and you can have discussions with them about anything you may be worried about. It is a lot more personal than talking to somebody behind a computer screen. It also feels a lot more real teaching a class in front of your peers and trainers- yes it can be a little nerve-wrecking but it is invaluable and something you just can't get sitting behind a computer.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I did the TEFL Heaven Paid Internships Thailand course in Koh Chang, April 2017.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

I enjoyed everything about my TEFL Heaven course; we stayed right on the beach for 3 weeks in beach bungalows, I was surrounded by like-minded people whom I became great friends with and spent my weekends meeting up with them, I enjoyed getting face-to-face training by my amazing trainers- the experience as a whole was really invaluable to me.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

Short answer-very! I was so surprised just how ready I felt when I was walking to my classroom on my first day of real teaching. We taught and prepared lessons every single day on our course to our peers and after teaching for 2 days at an English camp; bursting with crazy little monkeys I felt 100% ready to stand on my own 2 feet and teach independently. TEFL Heaven provide you with all the tools you need to be a great teacher.

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

I am half way through my first term teaching in Thailand so have been teaching for 2 months now-the time has absolutely flown. I am planning on staying for one more term in Thailand and then plan on moving to Europe to teach there.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

Luckily, my TEFL Heaven programme came with a guaranteed job at the end of it. This meant I had absolutely no hassle, as soon as I finished my course my agency got in touch with me, I moved to my new town and started my new job a week later- it was incredibly easy.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

I teach the most hours over anybody I know- but I love my kids so this doesn't bother me. I come into school at 7:30, begin teaching an hour later, we break for lunch at 11:30 (lunch is provided free of charge at my school and is absolutely delicious). At 12:30 we start lessons again for 2 or 3 hours depending on the day and I usually have a 1 hour free period at the end of the day to plan lessons or mark work. I leave school at half past 3. I teach 25 hours a week to 25 different classes whom I see only once a week. It can be very tiring sometimes, but it is really rewarding.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach in a primary school and split between Joe and I, we teach EVERY single child in our school- that's 650 kids each. We teach all age groups from p1 (5 year olds) all the way up to p6 (11 year olds). I find this great fun, the variety is great- one lesson I will be singing and dancing around the classroom with my little ones and the next I will be having a laugh and teaching more advanced skills with my older students.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

The most rewarding feeling for any teacher is when your students remember what you taught them the previous week- there is simply no better feeling. I get great job satisfaction when a lesson has been really successful; everyone is on a high, the students have had fun, they've learnt something useful and they will remember it the following week. There really is nothing better.

How did you get your work visa?

My agency assists me with my all of my visa's and work permits. She drives me to immigration, hands in all of paper work for me and talks to all of the staff in my name. It really is so helpful and I don't have to worry about anything.

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

As I said previously, my TEFL Heaven course came with a guaranteed job. This meant by the time I had finished my course I had already been placed somewhere. This comes with both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side; you don't have any hassle, it is so easy- your agency does a lot for you, mine drove us to our new town, took us food shopping and gave us a tour of our town, you don't really need to do much. On the negative side; you don't get a choice of where you want to live, our agnecy took us to an aparment and told us that this is where we will be living- even if we didn't want to live there. It also means that you could end up working for a school you don't enjoy or live in a location you really don't like- the latter is the case for me. I live in an industrial estate on a very busy highway which keeps me awake all night. The area is very grey and extremely polluted, there is nowhere to go on an evening as I am surrounded by factories. I am really looking forward to leaving this location and working somehwere completely different next term.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Thailand is a VERY foreign country and its culture can be very different to western ways which can prove to be a little difficult sometimes. You really have to live by the Thai mantra 'Mai Ben Rai'- your plans will never happen as you wish them to, people will always be late, things will always be cancelled BUT, mai ben rai. Thai life is very slow in pace compared to the west, there is no rush here and everyone takes their own time at doing things. You have two options; you can get stressed out and stick to your old ways, OR you can learn to let things go and truly embrace the culture here. Once you've done that you'll soon realise that your worries simply melt away here. Having said that, that doesn't mean you can lack professionalism, turn up late to your classes, give them a wordsearch and not teach because 'mai ben rai'- you can't.

Since being here I've explored the length of the country and go away each and every weekend to see more, my favourite destinations are; Chiang Mai, Pai, Kanchanaburi, Ayyuthaya, Pattaya, Koh Larn and Koh Samet. Make sure you try local delicasies whilst you're out here too- Thai food is simply to die for. Green/massaman/penang curry, Morning Glory, Pad Kapow are just a few of my favourites. However good the main dishes may be, the desserts are simply better. You cannot beat a fresh fruit platter, mango & sticky rice, banana in coconut milk, kanom krok or sticky rice in bamboo. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: My rent is free of charge provided by my agency- so lucky!

Food: I pay around 150 baht on fresh food ingredients to cook with from my local market. I splurge around once a week and go into Bangkok to eat a western meal from a restauruant which can cost anything up to 500 baht.

Other bills: I pay around 1000 baht on electricity, water and my phone bill. You can save a lot of electricity if you buy a fan and don't use your air con that often. Make sure you get a good deal for your phone- I pay 599 baht for 16gb of data with DTAC. This is crucial if you don't have wi-fi at your school or apartment like me.

Social life: I spend anywhere between 1000-4000 baht going away every weekend; exploring Thailand, going on mini holidays or visiting friends. I also like to spend money on going to the cinema (around 250 baht per ticket) and I go to the gym which costs 1000 baht a month.

Transportation: My school is a short walk away so doesn't cost me anything; I can get into Bangkok for 21 baht on an air conditioned bus and I can hitch a ride on a songthaew (think pick-up truck with benches in the back) to my local supermarket for 8 baht.

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

100%. I save half of my monthly salary each month so will be able to travel very easily after each term.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

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

I would say bite the bullet, jump in at the deep end, stop overthinking it and just DO IT! Teaching English in Thailand is such an amazing experience and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. This experience has changed my mind set, given me so much confidence and (as corny as it sounds) changed my life for the better. I am no longer afraid to step outside of my comfort zone, I've made life long friends from across the globe and I honestly could not be happier. Yes there have been obstacles along the way, but it's how you overcome them that matters. Trust me- you will not regret it!

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