Interview with Siobhan Wetzel, Thailand Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

My name is Siobhan, I’m 24, and I’m American.

What is your education level and background?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and I graduated from UC Santa Barbara.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I have!  Previously I have been to Namibia and Italy.  I went to Italy for a high school band trip when I was 15 and to Namibia for a film fellowship immediately after graduating from university.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

I have always wanted to travel.  My trip to Africa after college just made me want to travel even more.  I also wasn’t sure what type of job I wanted to pursue after graduating, and decided that now was the perfect time to travel!  I actually had a friend who did TEFL Heaven before me, and I looked into teaching abroad myself.  It really is a great way to see the world and get paid at the same time.  

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

I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, try something new, and go to a completely different place that I would probably never live in or maybe even see otherwise.  I also wanted to try out teaching and see if I would like to continue to do it in the long run. Along with teaching, I wanted to improve my confidence and public speaking skills.  

If you choose to teach abroad, you will no doubt find that all of these things will happen.  I am so far out of my comfort zone I can’t even see it anymore.  I’ve definitely tried something new and explored a place very different from anywhere I’ve ever been.  As for teaching, I have found that although I thoroughly enjoy teaching my kids right now, and I will probably continue to teach English for at least another semester, it’s not something that I would want to do forever.  However, being a teacher has dramatically improved my confidence and public speaking skills just by being in front of a class everyday.   

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

I applied for TEFL Heaven with my boyfriend.  We were both ready to move on from our jobs and location and were looking for an adventure. We found one!

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I do!  As I mentioned, I have a friend that did TEFL Heaven the semester before I signed up.  My dad also taught abroad in Japan in his twenties, which may have subconsciously encouraged me to do it myself!

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

Some of my concerns before teaching abroad were being scared of the Southeast Asia heat, scared that I would have a health problem abroad, scared that I wouldn’t like teaching; the list goes on.  But, the nerves are normal and make it more exciting.  I finally got used to the heat (I’m even wearing jeans today), it’s easy to get healthcare here, and teaching is going well.  Of course there are good and bad days while abroad, but overall my concerns were unnecessary.  

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

I wanted to be prepared to teach English and wanted to take classes and receive a certificate.  I chose TEFL Heaven off of the recommendation of a friend, and I thought they had an excellent website.

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

I don’t believe an online course can adequately prepare you for teaching a class of thirty (or more) kids, even more so after completing the TEFL Heaven course.  We got experience that we wouldn’t have gotten online. We had to do mock lessons in front of our class everyday, we learned games and played them with each other, we got personal advice from our trainers who had been living in Thailand for at least six months, and we participated in an English camp during the last days of our training. Face-to-face is 100% worth it!

Which TEFL program did you do?

I did the TEFL Heaven Thailand internships program on Koh Chang.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

I loved that it provided a community of future teachers and friends.  I also loved that the trainers had experience teaching in Thailand and could answer the many questions that we asked.  And like I mentioned, we received experience that we wouldn’t have gotten in an online course.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for a first day of ESL teaching, but I think I was as prepared as possible!

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

I have been teaching almost two and a half months in Thailand.  I only plan to stay for one semester, because I want to travel to other countries, and possibly teach elsewhere.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

TEFL Heaven placed me with an agency, and my agency placed me in my job and school.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

Everyday I wake up at 5:55am to get ready to leave my apartment by 6:40am to walk to the van that takes us to school. I am at school by 7:10-7:15.  I usually sit in the teacher room until 7:50 when assembly starts, unless it’s Tuesday and I have gate duty.  Gate duty is when I stand at the front of the school with other teachers to welcome the students into the school.  At 7:50am, all the teachers go to assembly and stand while the students sing the national anthem, meditate, etc. Assembly ends at 8:30am and I have my first class.  

My first class is from 8:30-9:20. I have three fifty minute classes each day, during the periods 8:30-9:20, 9:20-10:10, 10:10-11:00, and 12:00-12:50.  I don’t have my own classroom so I go to each classroom to teach and go back to the teacher room during my breaks.  Everyday at 11:00, I go with a few other teachers to the food place next door to get lunch.  

I usually have a break in the afternoon until 2:00.  From 2:00-3:30 I lead Speech Club with one other teacher, everyday except Thursday.  We are teaching them to talk about themselves (hobbies, family, etc.)  

During my breaks in the teacher room, I lesson plan.  We have to turn in lesson plans and summaries of each class every week.  I sometimes have to lesson plan at home if I don’t finish at school.  

After club, I go back to the teacher room until 4:00pm.  At 4:00 we leave to the van, and I am home by 4:30.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach P1-P3, or 6-8 year olds.  Very cute, but also crazy!

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

All of my kids are very cute, and it makes me so happy when they run up to me to say hello everyday.  It’s exciting when you teach your students new words, and you go to review them the next day and they remember what you taught them.  It’s rewarding to see them learn new things and know that you taught them something.

How did you get your work visa?

My agency arranged all the paperwork and helped me get the work visa. It’s mostly just turning in the right paperwork on time and going to immigration.  

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

My agency helped a great deal in finding where to live, and basically found an apartment listed that we liked.  They also dropped us off at the apartment.  I live across from a university and they are nice apartments! We have a pool and a gym. It is definitely more expensive, but I live with my boyfriend so we have two people to pay for it. We pay 9500 baht each month, so it’s a great price to split!  We also have tons of places to eat across the street. Many places pop up at night!  

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Thailand is a wonderful place and I don’t think there’s anywhere else like it.  First of all, the food is delicious, assuming you like rice and noodles! I still learn about new dishes everyday; there’s always something new to try! There’s countless street food stands that have $1 meals.  

Transportation is easy in Thailand.  There’s the BTS skytrain in Bangkok that makes many areas of the city accessible in a short amount of time. Outside of the city, there are vans that can take you to places all over Thailand for cheap.  I live forty minutes outside Bangkok, and I can get a van that goes directly there for $1.  

There are endless places to visit in Thailand.  I feel that even after spending six months here, I still will not have visited all the places I want to see here. There’s several national parks, gorgeous beaches, and temples, etc. Lots to explore!

The nightlife in Bangkok is in abundance. There’s many clubs, bars, you name it. Bangkok is famous for its skybars, so you have to visit one if you come here! Other cities and towns can be quieter, but there’s a good chance there will be some local bars around.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 4750 THB

Food: 4000 THB

Other bills: 750 THB

Social life: 2000 THB

Transportation: 1000 THB (this depends on where you go on the weekends, can be expensive)

Phone: 400 THB

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

Definitely! You can 100% live comfortably on an ESL teacher salary, especially if you are not trying to save money.  But it’s possible to save if you try hard enough.

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 definitely recommend teaching English in country!  It’s a wonderful way to experience another culture. It is hard work, though, but it really is worth it to be able to explore new places on the weekend. Be prepared for anything. It will be a wild rollercoaster ride, but it’ll all be worth it. But most importantly, do it!  

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