In this video, ITA Alumni Ambassador Allison Schmitt talks about her experience living and teaching English abroad in Bangkok, Thailand! From TEFL certification to finding a job in Bangkok and teaching English in Thailand, watch her cover it all!
Here's a transcription of the video:
[Kari] Welcome to International TEFL Academy, live on Facebook. My name is Kari, I'm a student affairs advisor, and also a member of our ambassador department here at International TEFL Academy, ITA. Super excited today! Joining us, we have Allison Schmidt. She's one of our social media ambassadors. And she's gonna share with us all about her life teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand. Allison, welcome!
[Allison] Hello, thank you for having me!
[Kari] Thanks so much for joining us. I know that it's late, coming up to your bedtime in Thailand. So, thanks for taking the time out. Allison, tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what were you doing before heading over to Bangkok?
[Allison] Yeah, so I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor's degree in History and Art History. And that year, I moved to Germany to live for a year as a nanny. And then, when I got back, I was like, "How am I gonna get abroad again?" (laughs) So, I found ITA, and took the online course, and ended up here in Bangkok, Thailand, from a little town in Massachusetts.
[Kari] Awesome, tell us about the most challenging part with getting certified.
[Allison] I would say the most challenging part for me was finding a practicum location. I'm from a really small town. There's only 700 people in my town. (laughs) So, a very, very small area. I thought I was gonna have to drive out to Boston, and spend a few weeks there doing my practicum hours. But there's actually a school in the next town over, for adult English learning. So, I would say that was one thing I was very stressed out about while I was taking the course. And one of the things that worried me about the online course. But it's actually a lot easier to find, there's a lot of schools. If you just put in the time to use Google, and search around your area. Even some public schools will have an ESL program. So, don't stress about the practicum, like I did. (laughs)
[Kari] Definitely. And that's probably the most stressful part of the course, from our students, but also the most rewarding. What are some benefits, how has being TEFL certified benefited you in your classroom?
[Allison] You know, I use things that I learned in the TEFL course all the time. There were games, or activities that I learned from other students. Things that I needed to think about walking into a classroom like this. Because I had some background working in education, but never teaching English as a second language. And, I'd say the most important thing that I learned was the presentation and practice production. And so, every lesson that you have I'm always thinking, "The three P's, "make sure that you all three "in your lesson plan, every day." So, just so many things I took away from that course that I think about every day when I walk into my classroom.
[Kari] Okay, awesome. Allison, if you can get a little bit closer to your phone, I think we'll be able to hear you just a bit better. Very good,
[Allison] Can you hear me now?
[Kari] I think it's better, testing, testing.
[Allison] Testing, testing.
[Kari] Perfect, thank you so much. Alright, so why Bangkok? What made you decide
to head on over there?
[Allison] You know, I actually had never considered coming to Asia at all. My goal was to get back to Europe. Cause I'd spent time there, studying abroad. I had spent time there as an aupair. I wanted to be back in Europe. And I got a job in Spain, but it ended up falling through, and so I called up the job search guidance, or the student advisors, that's who I'm looking for. (laughs) And, my student advisor was so amazing, and really talked me through finding something new, cause very worried about being able to get out. And she had been in Bangkok. And she told me about her time here, and she had spent three years here. She spent an hour on the phone with me, talking to me about Bangkok, which had never in a million years been on my radar to go. And she just really convinced me that this was a great place to come adventure. And it really has been.
[Kari] Awesome, good to hear. For those of you just tuning in, we're chatting live with a social media ambassador, Allison, who's living and teaching ESL in Bangkok, Thailand. Allison, tell us about your job. How did you find it, your students, what's it like?
[Allison] So, I teach first grade English and Social Studies at an international school. We follow the California State Common Core Standards. A little bit different than teaching in a Thai school. A little bit more literature focused than reading and phonics. But, it's been fun (laughs). So, I have 50 first graders that are broken up into two classes. And I found my job before I got here, but not before I booked my ticket. I had booked my ticket, and kinda had a little bit of a panic, about coming without a job lined up. So I used ajarn.com, it's ajarn.com, and they have all over Thailand. And so, I just put that I wanted something in Bangkok. And, I applied to five different schools, and I think I heard back from all of them. But, this was just the right fit for me.
[Kari] Awesome, and, Allison, you bring up a great point. If you are currently a ITS student, be sure to reach out to student affairs. Just like Allison, you'll be set up with an affairs advisor, who will kinda guide you through the whole job search process. So, be sure to do that. If you're not currently an ITS student, head on over to our website, internationalteflacademy.com, and you can be set up with an admissions advisor, and be like Allison, and be teaching in Thailand, or wherever it is your hear desires. Alright, Allison, what's your favorite part of teaching English?
[Allison] My favorite part is the students. And it's so fun to walk in on a Monday morning, after having those two days off, and walkin in to hear, "Miss Allison!" and everybody's so excited that you're there! It's so nice! (laughs) Its' just really fun, and to see kids, to come in with really minimal English skills, and see their progress, like through each quarter. And see them have an easier time reading, have an easier time writing. It's just really rewarding to see little six and seven year olds so happy that they can read a book at home, to their parents, instead of their parents reading to them.
[Kari] Absolutely, definitely. What is one of your biggest challenges with teaching?
[Allison] I think the biggest challenge is accepting that these are kids, and they're not always going to make the logical leaps that adults, native English speakers are gonna make. So, we're working on phonics, and sounding out words. One little girl, so sweet. She kept sounding out "ever," and it was like, "e-v-er." And then she kept going, "Never?" And I'm like, "Where are you getting the N from?" (laughs) So, it's just kind of working with these little children's minds, but also trying to teach them something, and just having that patience is a challenge, but it's rewarding, once they get that "ever" instead of "never" (laughs)
[Kari] Definitely, absolutely. What was the process for getting a work visa?
[Allison] It's kind of a process here. I know some people who have gotten here, and have gotten all of their work permit, and visa, within the month that they've been here. It took me six months. It was a six month process for me. I came on a 60 day tourist visa that I had to get in America. If you don't come with one, you have to enter with a 30 day visa. So, I had 60 days, and then 60 days ran out, I went for another 30. So, I'm here 90 days on a tourist visa. And then, I had to take a van up to
[Announcer] Welcome to International TEFL Acad
[Kari] Sorry about that. Technical difficulties. So, continue, you had to take a van
[Allison] Yeah, you take a van up to the Lao border. And, it's a whole service that they do. You just bring the paperwork with you, and you cross the border, you spend the night in Lao, and then, you have a Non-B Visa. So, I came back with my Non-B Visa, and that was good for three months. And then, at the end of the three months, I went and got my work permit, at the work permit office, and then had to go back to immigration, to get an extension on the Non-B. And now, my Non-B is approved through December. And as long as you have the work visa, you can keep extending your Non-B. So it's a lot of steps! (laughs)
[Kari] A lot of steps. Now, was your shool able to help you through that, or the recruiter?
[Allison] My school helped me a lot. I didn't come through a recruiter. So, they have so many international teachers, a majority of them are from the Philippines. There's some from England, there's some from America. A lot from South Africa. So, they have a whole office for employees to get their visas. It was a lot of "bring us this, bring us that. "You need to go to the embassy and get this." And then, they put it all together for me, put it in an envelope, and were like, "Go to Lao." (laughs) And they gave me money for the visa services. And so, I have a visa fact sheet that will be posted at some point in the next few months. So, I'll add the numbers for those services to go get your Non-B Visa.
[Kari] Awesome, yes. And, so what Allison is referring to you can find in the Ambassador Corner, which is a link from the International TEFL Academy website. Stay tuned to that, be on the lookout for that. A lot of great content coming in. Allison's going to be putting together a fact sheet, so you can kinda get a glimpse of what to look out for, if you're interested in going to Thailand, or other countries where we have ambassadors this round. We have a question from the audience. And that question was, "How hard was it for you to find a job there?"
[Allison] It was not as hard as I thought it would be. Because I used the ajarn website. They have new job postings every single day. It was a huge tool for me, I thought it was great. And not only did I get a job through ajarn.com, but I also had the experience of being able to apply for these jobs. 'Cause they ask you for so many things, that they wouldn't ask you if you were applying for a job in America. They want you to send a picture of your passport. They want you to send a headshot. They want your resume. They don't ask for a cover letter, but I just put the cover letter in my email after I didn't hear back from one of the jobs. So, it was a learning curve, but it was also super helpful tool. So, for me, it was not too hard.And I know for a lot of people, they get here and it's such a revolving door job. I have three teachers that have left my school in the year that I have been here. So, there's constantly jobs opening up. Especially in Bangkok, 'cause it's such an ex-pat city.
[Kari] Definitely, absolutely. How were you able to find somewhere to live?
[Allison] I have amazing coworkers (laughs) It was my second day of school, and one of them came and knocked on my door, and was like, "Hey! Do you want me to connect you "with the realtor that I used for my condo? "She can show you six rooms in my building." And so, I went with her that day, and we looked at all the rooms. And, that's how I found one. Which was awesome, 'cause it's actually a 10 minute walk to my school from here. Because I hate commuting! So it was perfect for me. So, not everybody's gonna have super awesome coworkers, but definitely start there. I would say, if you have other international teachers at your school, check in with them and see how they found their housing. Also, any expats Facebook pages have tons of realtors on their pages. So, if you just post like, "Hi, I need a room. "I need it close to this place, 'cause that's where I work." You'll get like 10 messages from different Bangkok-based realtors who will definitely help you out.
[Kari] Perfect, great tips! Now, let's talk about your living situation. What are some of your expenses? Do you find that you're able to save money?
[Allison] I save a lot of money. I save about 50% of my paycheck every month. I also live outside of the city, not too far outside. But, I'm on the airport link, instead of the BTS, so, I'm on the lesser of the trains. (laughs) I live in a less-costly area, so, I'm spending just under $350, U.S. dollars, a month, on rent, internet, phone, electricity, water.
[Allison] It's pretty cheap to live in Bangkok, even if you aren't living in the outskirts (laughs)
[Kari] Definitely, Thailand is a great market if you're looking to save money, definitely look into teaching in Thailand. For those of you just tuning in, again, we are chatting live with social media ambassador Allison, who is teaching ESL in Bangkok, Thailand. Let's switch gears here, real quick, Allison. You volunteer at a dog shelter. Tell us about that, we'd love to hear.
[Allison] It's actually a cat shelter.
[Kari] A cat shelter! (laughs)
[Allison] There's actually not a lot of dog shelters in Bangkok, which is sad, because I love all animals. But, there's a really, really amazing shelter in Bangkok. It's called "Paws." If you're an animal lover like me, it's definitely a good time investment. I have fostered for them, and I sometimes help them out with their weekend market at the local farmer's market. They set up a little table, and they sell things, so you get donations. And they usually bring a kitten, which is very exciting. (laughs) If you're like me, and have a very soft heart for animals, Bangkok can be a little bit hard, 'cause there are a lot of street animals here. But, there's some really awesome organizations that are doing a lot for it, and it's fun to give back to them, because they're doing such good work here.
[Kari] Absolutely, and you adopted a kitty, right?
[Allison] I did! (laughs)
[Kari] Hey! Tell us about it. Did you adopt it from that same location? That organization?
[Allison] I did, he was a foster failure. (laughs) I took them in over Christmas break, because I have three weeks of for Christmas break. Because I work for a Christian school. And, I was like, "You know what I'm gonna do, "is foster some cats!" And I've always prided myself on being a dog lover, and a cat liker, and then they came, and one of them was just the sweetest thing ever, and I was like, "You can't ever leave me! "You have to stay with me forever!" (laughs) So, he is here.
[Kari] Awesome, awesome. Let's talk food in Bangkok. What is your favorite dish, or what have you found interesting? Tell us a little bit about the food there.
[Allison] So, I've never really been a soup person, but they have so many soups here. And they're amazing! (laughs) My favorite one is Tom Yum, which I had never heard of before, But I guess you can get it in stores in America, I just didn't know. (laughs) But it's so good. It's like a very spicy soup. And it usually has some kind of meat, or seafood, and noodles. And, there's one place in Bangkok, it was voted the best place in Bangkok, and I could not even tell you what the name is, but I'll post it somewhere. (laughs) But they have such good Tom Yum, and you would never think to check it out. Because it's like down an alleyway, and through some more streets, and then down another alleyway. But, one of my friends found it online. And it's so amazing! So, I'll post the name of it for everybody, once we're done.
[Kari] Yeah, those tend to be the best ones. The ones that are, like, down, sketchy, out the ways, like under a bridge, hole-in-the-walls, those never disappoint. (laughs) Allison, have you learned any Thai since you've been there? How has it been kinda getting around?
[Allison] You know, it's pretty easy to get around. As long as you have a general idea of where you want to go, you can kinda tell them, and they'll drop you off there. And, then you can just walk to where you wanna go. I will say Google Maps is your friend. When you get here, get a Thai SIM card, because it's super, super cheap. And, it's totally worth it. (laughs) Oh, I forgot what the question was. (laughs)
[Kari] So, basically, Google Translate, Google Maps, don't worry about if you don't speak Thai, you'll learn the essentials, right?
[Allison] I think the main thing to remember is to be polite. So, know how to say "Hello," know how to say "Goodbye," which in Thailand, you're in luck, 'cause it's the same phrase. Know how to say "Thank you," "excuse me." I know a few numbers. (laughs) I know my street address, that is very important! But, for the most part, Thai people are really nice, and they know that if you're here, and you're not speaking Thai, it's because you're a tourist, or you're teaching here. And they will be very nice. And they're very supportive of the point method.
[Kari] Definitely, Allison, what's your biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to teach abroad?
[Allison] Just do it. (laughs) If you're even a little bit on the fence about it, just go for it. It's not the end of the world if you get here, and you're four months in, and you're like, "Oh, I don't like it!" You just buy a plane ticket and go home. There's no reason to not try it. It's a blast. It can be hard the first couple months. It can be hard the first month, especially before you've really met people. But, don't let the fear of culture shock, or the fear of the unknown keep you from going for it. 'Cause it's amazing, and it really changes your perspective on a lot of things. So, my biggest piece of advice is, "Just go for it!"
[Kari] Definitely, I second that. Definitely second that (laughs) Tell us about why you wanted to be an alumni ambassador?
[Allison] I really love mentoring. I did a lot of mentoring when I was in college, and since then, I haven't really had much of an opportunity. But, just being here for the little time, I guess it was five months. The five months that I was here, and just posting on Instagram, and saying like, "Teach ESL," or, you're like #teachESL. I get messages a lot from people like, "Oh, what school did you use?" or "How do you like Bangkok?" or, like different questions like that. And I just really love helping other people, and supporting them. Because I think traveling is such an important thing for people to try. And I think teaching English abroad makes traveling easy. 'Cause you're making money while you're traveling the world, and meeting new people, and seeing new cultures. So, really there've been worse investments. Anybody watching, who has any questions, please, feel free to message me whenever.
[Kari] For sure, yes! You can find Allison, again as I mentioned before, in the Ambassador Corner of the website internationalteflacademy.com. She is also really active in the Thailand Facebook group. Allison, what's your Facebook name?
[Allison] It's Allison Victoria, so it's my middle name.
[Kari] Definitely, so look out for Allison Victoria. Feel free to hit her up on Facebook, look out for her awesome posts on Instagram. We love having you, Allison, as an ambassador. And, for those of you at home, feel free to reach out to her with your questions, as well as reaching out to student affairs. Allison, do you have any meetups coming up in Thailand?
[Allison] We do! (laughs) We have stuff on this Saturday, the 24th, at 7 p.m. At the Commons, which is a big, I don't wanna say "food court," but it's kinda like a food court. (laughs) But they have tons of stuff. They have Vietnamese, they have a coffee shop, they have a really cute pie place, they have a churro place, (laughs) they have beer and wine places, they have a Mexican restaurant. And the best part about it, is you can order your food, and they'll bring it to our communal area that I have set up for ITA alums. And, we can all eat together, so you can get whatever you want. And, we'll have some drinks, and we'll have some dinner. And we'll get to know each other. Because I think the Bangkok alums are a little bit disconnected. So, let's connect up, and meet each other.
[Kari] Absolutely, and if you are in Thailand, if you're in Bangkok, be sure to check out the, there is an event in the Thailand Facebook group, and you can RSVP, so be sure to do that. We have a few questions from the viewers, so let's get into those. Allison, how hard is the TEFL course?
[Allison] How hard is the TEFL course? I think it's just hard enough. (laughs) It's not hard, as long as you put in the work. I am a serial procrastinator, so at least for the online course, everything is due Sunday nights, so I would spend Saturday and Sunday going through all the reading, and taking the quiz at the end of it. And then, working on the lesson plans, or whatever project we had for that week. And I was working a full time job. So, it's definitely workable, if you're working at a full time job, trying to save money so you can get out there. But, it's not easy, you're gonna get a lot out of it. You're gonna learn a lot. I think it's just the right level of easy/hard. (laughs)
[Kari] Awesome, another question we have "Is the teacher's age an issue?"
[Allison] I'm not sure of the question.
[Kari] So, in some markets, and particularly in Asia, you find a lot of markets where the folks who may be, more mature, or older, let's say 40's, 50's plus, may have a hard time finding a job in certain markets. Have you found that to be the case in Thailand? Do you work with older teachers at your job?
[Allison] I do, actually at my school, it's a very, very diverse population of teachers. There are some people who talk about their grandchildren all the time. I'm 24. There's a lot of women in their 30s who work there. There's a husband and wife team who work there. I think they're both in their 40's and 50's. So, yeah, there's a lot of diversity engaged, especially in my school. I can't speak for every school, but I think it's not as big of a deal breaker as it might be in some other places.
[Kari] Awesome. Okay, another question we have, "What is the social life like as a teacher in Thailand?
[Allison] So, some of my really close friends are my coworkers, so that's really nice. I see them every day. Friday after school, they're like, "Okay, let's go, all hang out!" I've met some really great people through the ITA alumni group. There is a young Bangkok expats group, but there is also a Bangkok expats group. So they put on events every so often, and those are really, really fun. There's usually some kind of casual meet up, so it gives us the ability to talk to people, and make friends. My personal favorite is Girl Gone International, which, sorry fellas, is for ladies. (laughs) But that one's really great. They do events usually three times a month. And it's other female expats, so it's really fun to meet up with other solo women travelers. (laughs)
[Kari] Awesome, awesome. Alright, another question we have that just came in. "There seems to be a lot of turnover in the ESL field. "What is it like to build a career as an ESL teacher? "I'm interested in more than just a one to two year stint." (computer sound cuts out) Allison, are you still there?
It looks like we are having some technical difficulties. We are working on getting Allison back up. In the meantime, I'll share a fun story. My brother actually is an ESL teacher, and he has been teaching English in Japan since 2007. So you've got both ends of the spectrum. You'll have your lifers, who do it for a year, and realize that this is what they want to do. I've worked with students and teachers in the past where, their first year was in Uruguay, and then, they went to Columbia, and then, they called me up the following year, and they're ready to head over to Asia. So, you've got teachers who will do it, will teach in one country for a year, and maybe stay there for multiple years. And even those who will hop to different countries, and even different regions, throughout the years. And of course, you have those teachers who just want that one or two year experience. It really just depends on you, and what you're looking for, and what you're looking to get out of the experience.
So, we are still working on getting Allison back up. Again, Allison is teaching ESL in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's a great market. And this is actually a great time to head on over to Thailand, as they are hiring. A lot of employers are hiring teachers during this time. If you're not ready right now, don't worry. There's another peak season coming up in the Fall. Feel free to check out our website: internationalTeflAcademy.com. There you'll find information and resources about our classes, you can take the online class, like Allison did, and then head on over to Thailand. We also have a class in Thailand you can take, so.
[Allison] Hi! I'm so sorry!
[Kari] Ahh! You're back! (laughs)
[Kari] No worries! I was just filling in space. I had actually told everyone the story about my brother, who's teaching English in Japan, and he's been there since 2007. Feel free to take it from here. What's been your experience, or what advice would you have for someone who wants to teach ESL for more than just one or two years.
[Allison] I have multiple teachers at my school who have been here three, four, five years. The teacher before the teacher I replaced. (laughs) So, it was me, and then one teacher that had done a year, but, the teacher before that was there for five years. And, I think he just moved to another school in Cambodia. So, I think he's still teaching. I think there's a lot of opportunities to teach English, so make yourself a home base, or stay for a year, go somewhere else. But, I think there's so many opportunities to teach English. I don't think the school want there to be a high turnover. I think they want to find teachers who understand their program, and understand their mission statement. So, they're not looking at your one year contract, and you being like, "Oh, I wanna stay longer." And they'll be like "No." (laughs) They want you there. They want you to stay. Because, the longer you stay, the better you know their program. And the better teacher you become. I think that tends to be the culture of the job, but I don't think it's the rule.
[Kari] Absolutely, good point. Alright, another question is, "What places or countries have you "been able to travel to while teaching in Thailand?"
[Allison] I haven't done a ton of traveling, unfortunately. I went to Lao, which was really awesome. But, I only went for my visa run. But, I loved that little city in Loa. I've actually done a bit of traveling within Thailand. So, I went down to the islands, and I did Ko Tao, and Ko Pha Ngan. Which are, amazing! (laughs) And, I went down to Pattaya, which is the beach right near here. And they also have an island off of them, it's Koh Lorn, which is really, really nice. And, I'm planning this summer around a lot of travel, because we have a two month summer vacation. So, I'm hopefully gonna be doing Cambodia, Vietnam, and then I'd like to go back down to the islands a bit, and Singapore. I have lots of plans! (laughs)
[Kari] Awesome, and you're in a great location for that. I mean, Southeast Asia, you can hit up so many different countries, even just traveling within Thailand. Alright, we've got time for one more question, and I feel like this might be a trick question, but we'll see. "How do you say "water" in Thai?"
[Kari] "Nahm." Okay. Alright, you passed (laughs) Thank you so much, Allison, for joining us. I know, again it's probably past your bedtime at this point. For those of you tuning in, again, check out Allison. She's in our Thailand Facebook group, as Allison Victoria. She is hosting a meetup that's coming up this Saturday. You can find a lot of great content coming out from Allison in the Ambassador Corner of the website internationalTeflAcademy.com If you're not currently a student of ITA, please do check out the website. Get connected with one of our admissions advisors, they'll walk you through all the different programs we have. You can take the online class, like Allison did, or any of our in-person classes. If you are an ITA student, or alum, definitely reach out to student affairs if you haven't done so already. We are here, waiting and happy to guide you through the job search process. And we can get you on your way to teaching English in Thailand, like Allison, or anywhere else that you'd like to teach. Thanks to you, viewing and tuning in from home, or wherever you may be. I hope that you enjoyed this. Allison, again, thank you for joining us.
[Allison] Thank you for having me! Thanks for watching, everybody!
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