Interview with Kristen Cucinotta, Thailand Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hi! I’m Kristen Cucinotta. I’m 23 years old and from the United States.

What is your education level and background?

I have a BBA in Marketing from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I spent one year of my undergrad studying abroad in Europe. I spent my fall semester of junior year in Paris at the American Business School and my spring semester in Dublin at UCD. I travelled quite a bit while in Europe to Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, England, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, Scotland, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, and Greece. Suffice it to say, I caught the travel bug.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

I wanted to teach abroad for 2 reasons. First, I really wanted to continue travelling before settling down with a ‘real job’ or graduate school. Second, I no longer wanted to work in the business market and wanted to switch to Elementary Education. This seemed like a logical step to take. (Logical to me, irrational to family and friends. I had a lot of convincing to do!)

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

Personally, I wanted to see if teaching was for me. And I have succeeded because I answered my question. I do still want to be a teacher, but I want to teach in a westernized society. TEFL is amazing and I loved this experience, but it's not what I want long term.

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

I applied for this program on my own! I tried to convince a few friends to do it with me, but ultimately I knew that this would be a solo adventure.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I knew one person from studying abroad that had started teaching the semester before I did. She was a lot of help!

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

My concern was that I would be in way over my head. And I was, I think all new TEFL teachers are. But, it’s a steep learning curve. As you’re thrown into teaching, you have two things to rely on: 1. Your TEFL training and 2. Your instinct. Both will serve you well. It gets easier!

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

I had been working with kids for a few years before deciding to become a TEFL teacher, but that wasn’t in a classroom setting. I had no idea what that structure looked like so I thought a TEFL course was a good move. I chose TEFL Heaven because my friend had taken the course the term before and highly recommended it!

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

I took a few online classes in college and I can tell you I did not learn anything in them. It's hard to focus on a computer when there are so many distractions. And its not very fun. A face-to-face TEFL course is so much more useful. I can say with certainty I would have failed as a TEFL teacher if I took the course online. Also, the group of friends that I got from the course is irreplaceable.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I was on the Thailand program in Koh Chang of April 2017.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

I enjoyed the people most. We had such an amazing group of trainees and trainers. We became like a family and I still meet up with everyone all over Thailand when we have time off! They definitely made the course fun and interesting. My fellow trainees have been apart of this experience since day 1. Some of us met at the airport and most of us stayed in a hostel together leading up to training. By the time the course started we were already all friends! So thankful to have them.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I was very anxious for my first teaching position. But that’s because I was told time and time again that all schools are different and I won’t know how mine is until I start. And that is SO true. But I was confident in my ability to wing it and to run my first day of classes, and that is all in thanks to what I learned on the course.

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

I started teaching in May 2017 and I am planning to stay until the end of the school year (March 2018).

How did you secure your English teaching job?

The agency that I was set up with through TEFL Heaven set me up with my school. They also helped me find an apartment nearby and with my visa processes.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

During the working week I wake up at 5 am (I’m a morning person..) and am out of my apartment at 6:40 to get the song taew to school. Morning assembly starts at 8:00 and my classes start at 9:00. I teach 4 different kindergarten classes and see them each 4 times a week. My workload is definitely minimal compared to a lot of other teachers I know. While I only have 3 hours of actual teaching each day, those hours are a whirlwind. Kindergarteners move through activities so quickly that I need to have about 10 activities planned for each class period. Sometimes we get through them all and still have time, sometimes all 10 take one class, and sometimes I only get through a few. It depends on the day. I leave school every day at 4 and am in my apartment by 5. I am usually so wiped out from the day that I plan for the next day and watch Netflix or call family/friends at home before passing out.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach Annuban 2 (5 year olds). My classes have 15-20 students each and I see each class 4 times a week.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

I love how excited the kids get when I walk in. They know we are going to have fun and they enjoy it. When something clicks for them or when they finally pronounce something correctly its feels like a win!

How did you get your work visa?

My school helped me get my visa. First I had to extend my 60-day tourist visa an additional 30 days. Then I switched it to a Non-B immigrant. After that, I got my work permit and I will have to extend my Non-B one more time before the end of semester. My agency did ALL of the paperwork, they just gave me what I needed and told me where to go. I did not have to get my degree legalized and neither did most of the other teachers I know.

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

My agency helped a lot with this. They provided us with a few different options via Facebook. I accepted one and they drove me to the apartment and helped me work out the deposit/rent a few days before school started. To be honest, I wish I waited to book an apartment. I would recommend going to your town and asking around at different places. This way you can see the room before you commit. My room isn’t terrible, just the area is very boring. My room is a basic studio apartment. I have a bathroom, balcony, desk, bed, dresser, and fridge. It's not lavish, but I’ve made it home.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Being placed around Bangkok isn’t terrible. You have lots of options for weekends away. Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park, Pattaya, Koh Larn, Hua Hin etc. In Thailand, it's easy to get places. There are vans that will take you ANYWHERE for super cheap. I can get to Bangkok from my town for 30 baht. It definitely depends on your area (you might have to get a van to Bangkok and then a van from there) but you’ll typically be able to get one to wherever you want. Just note that vans take far longer then flying places so a good chunk of your traveling time will probably be dedicated to transportation.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 4000 baht/month

Food: I usually spend 30-40 baht on lunch and 20-40 baht on dinner. I also spend about 100-200 baht a week at the grocery store on water, breakfast, snacks, etc.

Other bills: Water bill is 100 baht/month. Electricity is 1500-2000 baht/month (I keep the AC on whenever I am in the room).

Social life: My town is pretty boring so I don’t spend much during the week. But I am usually elsewhere on the weekends and spending on that varies. I typically spend 1500-3000 a weekend if I am away (Bangkok, Ayutthaya, camping at a National Park, etc.).

Transportation: I spend 30 baht a day to get to and from school (15 baht each way on the song taew)

Phone: 400 baht a month for unlimited data

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

I definitely live comfortably. But, I am not able to save much. My check is usually gone after a month of bills and traveling. If I stayed put on the weekends I would be able to save for sure. But, I personally came here to travel around and that’s my priority over saving.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

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

My advice would be to just give in to Thai culture. You are probably going to feel confused A LOT. You are not going to know what’s going on. For some reason all your classes are cancelled and you are at an assembly and have no clue what anyone is saying. Just go with it. Being very type-A I want to know what days I have off far in advance. That doesn’t happen. I was told 3 days before that we would have a 10-day break. Also I highly recommend you bring 2 things: 1. A portable speaker!!!! No one told me about this. Make sure it's LOUD! And 2. Bring a pair of track pants. Every teacher I know has to wear track pants and a polo on a specified day every week. If you don’t end up needing them I’m sorry but it's better than having to find a pair that fits (or a pair that won’t rip after 2 washes).

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