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Teaching English in Chiang Rai, Thailand: Q&A with Stuart Woodman

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What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Charlotte, NC

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc.

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Thailand, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Guam, Germany, Kuwait, and Iraq.

If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I knew the country I wanted to relocate to Thailand. I knew I needed an "employable" skill while living here. I already possessed a degree in Education, so teaching seemed to be an obvious choice.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I've always been able to adapt and "blend" into my surroundings, so traveling wasn't a big concern of mine.

Concern 1: My daughter and son. Being in their early 20's made me hesitant about leaving.
Reality 1: With Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and numerous other apps, we can video chat at a push of a button.

Concern 2: Legal and financial matters.
Reality 2: I essentially went paperless and handle everything online. I appointed someone I trust explicitly as my General power of attorney, just in case.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Everyone was very supportive and not at all surprised about me teaching abroad. The majority of responses centered around "they wished they were coming with me".

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
In my research, having a degree in Education wasn't enough to secure employment abroad. After coming here and learning more first hand, that original assumption was 100% true. I choose International TEFL Academy because of your reputation and the reviews I read from your alumni.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?
The course content was excellent and spot on. Having a degree in Education helped just a little bit:-). The plain truth of the matter is expectations. I didn't expect six months of student teaching to fully prepare me to be a teacher. I knew there would be an on-the-job learning curve. In that same regard I didn't expect a 120 hour online course with practicum to fully prepare me to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). My expectations were correct.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
Too numerous to list here so I'll focus on one topic. I came into a school where some of the instructors use a combination of Thai and English in their classroom. I don't speak Thai fluently, so it's 100% English when they walk through my door. That one topic applies to so many other areas in teaching. It's your classroom. You decide how you teach.:-)

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Thailand in the city of Chiang Rai. Northern Thailand is "slower" living, cleaner air, and less traffic congestion than Southern Thailand.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I've been here for a little over three months and I plan on exploring the entire country and surrounding regions if possible.

Teach English in Thailand

What school, company, or program are you working for?
Gainesville International School, Chiang Rai.

During which months does your school typically hire?

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?

What kind of visa did you enter on?
Tourist Visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
I came in on tourist visa 30 Days. I extended another 30 days to complete Non-B Visa. I'll receive Non-B good for one year next month and be issued a work permit and Thailand teaching license.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
- Native English speaker
- A TEFL certification is good to have but not a deal breaker for employment. A bachelor's degree is mandatory at International School and the University

What is the best way to apply?
In-person. In Thailand your future employer is going to want to see you. If you're not in country, be prepared for several Skype interviews.

Please include any application resources (website, email, etc.) or other information here:
Prepare a clear and concise CV. It is the way professionals get hired, especially for teachers. My school's recruiting chair-person sits next to me. We have a daily "chuckle" at the expense of a Masters degree holder that can't spell, nor use proper grammar.

Tell us about your English teaching job!

Hours: We use a finger scan 8:30-4:30 M-F. One hour for lunch.
Salary is 40,000 Baht ($1570 USD) per month. 
Savings: So far I end up with 10-15,000 Baht at the end of every month which is $300-500 US. If I lived "Thai style" I could save $700-800 US monthly. 

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
My school provided me with a rental agent and a Thai/English assistant to find a place. I opted to live in Mae Chan which is 30 Km from my school. It's the same distance to the nearest "city" which is Chiang Rai. Essentially I live the same distance from where I work and where I play.

TEFL Thailand

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Culture: Life styles are completely different when comparing Chiang Rai to Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, and anywhere else to the south. Culturally, being a teacher in Thailand is well respected throughout the country. Thais place an indefinable value on their children and those that influence them.

Public transport: Besides a bus or taxi, there is no other public transportation where I live. Everything I need is within walking/bicycle distance, and if I want to travel anywhere further, a trip across the country is less than $40 by bus.

Nightlife: Besides pubs that have food, there is no nightlife here. Thais don't pick each other up in bars.

Social activities: For social activities there's an evening street market on Friday nights. This consists of 1000 meters of street vendors that sell anything from flip-flops to fried grubs. This is when all the residents come out to socialize.

Food: The food in Thailand is amazing. The combination of herbs, spices, and "melt your face off" hot makes me wonder how KFC stays in business here.

Expat community: Besides the other teachers at my school, I rarely see other Expats. Does Expat stand for Ex-Patriot?

Travel: Skipping past the dating scene, the travel opportunities here are limitless. With a little research, a short walk, and a 1000 baht ($33), you can live like a king for a day. Thais are a "humble people". Regardless of where you're coming from, if you "humble" yourself, this is a wonderful place to work and live.

What are your monthly expenses?

Car- 8000 baht ($250 USD) a month (I opted to buy a new car upon arrival). I needed reliable transportation without the headaches and 1st class insurance is included)
Gas- 4000 Baht ($125) a month. My commute is 60 Km round trip daily and I joy-ride on the weekends.
Rent- 4000 baht ($125) a month. 2 bedroom town-house with WiFi included.
Water & Electric- 500 Baht ($15 USD) month
Phone/internet- 300 Baht ($10 USD) a month with unlimited text and data. 100 minutes in country calling and 15 Baht a minute international calling. I use WiFi 99% of the time calling on Hangouts, Line, and Facebook Messenger. Buy a GSM unlocked cell phone prior to leaving US. I purchased an IPhone 5s from ebay for $150. Just slip in a sim card and go. Cell phones are pricey overseas. Bring your own Laptop. My school provides us with a laptop, but again they are twice as much overseas. Let go of worldly possessions and travel lite. If you really need it Tesco, Makro, Ebay, or Lazada has it and they'll deliver to your door.
Living expenses-12,000 Baht ($375 USD) a month. I'm a vapor trail on the weekends exploring my surroundings. I love to go where no one knows my name and make new friends. In short, I'm not a home-body. Even if you use public transportation, it's really cheap here to travel.

The reality of this varies greatly but the figures in your country guide are very accurate. If a person is planning on coming to Thailand, working, living and paying off a student loan or other "major debt", they are day dreaming.

How would you describe your standard of living?
Compared to how Thais live on a daily basis, I live extravagantly. Compared to how my brother's live in Iowa, I live modestly. The one thing we both have in common is that we spend a majority of our salaries on what makes us comfortable.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
My first visit to Thailand was in 1994. It's 2017 and many things haven't changed. Lunch is still a $1. A haircut is still $2. A foot massage is still $3. Taking everything into account I'd find it hard to believe a person couldn't live comfortably on a 1000 baht a day.

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?

1. Have a job before you get here. Winging it is not an option when you move to a foreign country and need income. Moving is moving and I went 46 days without a paycheck. I spent $3,000 before the first direct deposit hit. A Thai employer isn't any different. You'll get paid for work you've done, not work you're going to do.

2. The stages of emotions you'll experience when relocating to a foreign country (as described during your TEFL course) are very accurate. Prepare yourself emotionally for these and the transition will be less stressful.

3. Bring only the essentials and let go of the past. This is a start of new adventure and invisible baggage is best left "checked" at your departure gate.

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