By: Kirsten Iverson
Ryou stared into my blue eyes with his big brown eyes and petted my blonde hair curiously. He touched my earrings, counting softly in Japanese. Ichi ni san. Cocking his head while doing this, he spoke seriously in his language. I smiled as the words entered my ears sounding like “blah blah blah.”
For the last five months I have been teaching English to squeaky, polite, nose-picking adorable Japanese Kindergartners at an International School in Thailand. My days are a mesh of konnichiwa, sa wa dee ka, unchi and “Good morning Teacher Kirsten.”
Five months prior, during the last week of my International TEFL Academy course in Pattaya, Thailand, I started searching the Internet for jobs in Bangkok. I knew I wanted to teach kindergarten and that was pretty much it. I found several postings that interested me and I was firing emails out left and right: attach document, attach document, send. The best thing I did was come prepared. I had everything I needed in my teaching portfolio: copy of passport, resume, cover letter, TEFL certificate, background check, degree, and transcripts. But, I still wasn’t getting any responses. I finished my program and set off for Bangkok with no job and no place to live.
After about a week in a hotel, I was ready to settle down and find a place to live in this giant city. I still didn’t have a job but I had found the area I wanted to live in: close to public transportation, fresh fruit and vegetable market, along with a night market with beer and live music down the street. The neighborhood had the feeling I had dreamed about before moving to Thailand. And the apartment was wow! Equipped with a pool, a gym, a balcony and a washing machine. No more searching for coins, no more excuses of why I can’t go to the gym (cough cough Chicago winters.)
Since I did things backwards (apartment before job,) it was really time to find one. I added my local address to my resume and the interviews started trickling in. I was offered a few jobs but they weren’t perfect; the location was bad or they didn’t pay for visa expenses (which can add up). I was anxious but I told myself to be patient.
And thank god I was.
As soon as I clicked open the email, I knew I wanted to work there. A Japanese International School for 2-6 year olds. Two days later with my palms sweating and fifteen minutes late, I showed up at the school for my interview and demo. I had prepared a lesson on action verbs with the knowledge I learned from my TEFL course. The head teacher and leaders of the Japanese and International section were present as I taught a class of rowdy four-year-old Japanese students English. Twenty minutes later I was in an office being asked questions about the weather and if I had made any friends in Thailand, and then before I knew it, I had the job! I skipped down the street; newly employed, dazed and overloaded with all the information they had just told me. I have a job in Thailand, teaching Japanese students?
Are you confused? Yes you should be, I still am. I teach Japanese students in Thailand. Culture shock times two.
The school is an International school, which puts it at the top of the food chain for schools in Thailand. Said to have the best standards for education, best teachers, and most resources available. The school caters to Japanese expats. Parents who have been transferred to Thailand but still want their kids to get the same education they would get in Japan send their kids to this school. Their teachers teach them in Japanese and the Assistant Teachers are Thai. I go into their classrooms daily and teach them English lessons. Oh how I wish I went to this school. Learning three languages before grade school?! They follow the Japanese school year, celebrate Japanese holidays, and try to keep it as similar as possible, so when they return to Japan, they fit right in.
The school is exceptional. They helped me with the visa and work permit process (and paid for everything). I have health insurance, accident insurance and a savings account that they match each month.
Every day brings new challenges and with so many languages being spoken there are many misunderstandings. Hence the surprise of parent evaluation day- a teacher’s nightmare. My class was filled with 11 three year olds and their mommies. Their stern faces did nothing to ease my nervousness and the class could not have gone worse. Sho (a forever problem student) took over my class. He put on a show for all the moms who could not help themselves from giggling. He rolled around on the floor pretending to be an animal, mimicked me, and led all the other students in mimicking me. As a last attempt, I asked Sho to go to the board and circle the right word. He approached the white board on all fours purring loudly like a cat and refused to stand up. Meow.
Teaching children (and animals) in a culturally diverse environment has been a rewarding experience. I am in the office from 8:30-4, have a max of five classes per day, leaving lots of time for preparing materials and lesson plans. I get to go on field trips, plan camps, attend meetings, and brainstorm ideas. I am learning about two very different cultures and languages, trying Thai and Japanese food and learning about their customs while comparing and contrasting their education systems. There are lots and lots of class cancellations, public holidays, and amazing breaks. Best of all I am getting a big taste of Japan in Thailand, two for the price of one.
Kirsten is an ESL Kindergarten Teacher in Bangkok, Thailand. Sick of freezing winters, short summers and an office with no window she moved to Asia to teach and travel. She can be found on the back of a motorbike taxi hanging on for dear life, trying to order coconut shakes in Thai or lounging by the pool.
For more on Kirsten's adventures, check out her other writings:
- Teaching English Abroad: A Second Chance After Not Studying Education in College
- International TEFL Academy Alumni Meetup in Bangkok, Thailand!
- Bangkok, Thailand English Teaching Q and A with Kirsten Iverson
- The Difference Between Studying Abroad and Teaching Abroad