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Tha Bo, Thailand English Teaching Q & A with Robert Sohigian
Written by: Robert Sohigian
Last Updated: February 19, 2021
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Pleasantville, New York
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Scotland, England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Prague
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I wanted to travel and I wanted a job where I would feel the reward of success daily. If I teach a good lesson, students will show me that by getting themselves involved and asking questions. If the class is engaged, then I have done my job well!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I've never lived in Asia before. There are always a few butterflies when you move to a place you've never been.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
They were very supportive. I don't sit still well and my family knows that. I am lucky to have them back home.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I wasn't challenged enough at my previous job and I was not fulfilled in my life. I wanted to work in a field where I would be excited to get up every day and hopefully make a difference in people's lives. Education gives you extreme responsibility and freedom - the harder you work, the more results you get. There isn't one particular way to teach a class and part of the experience is molding lessons to fit your personality. Getting TEFL Certified helped me regain my motivation to work hard and make a difference in education abroad.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
How did you like the course?
I thoroughly enjoyed the online TEFL course I took in October 2012 with my professor Tyler Bradbury. She was an excellent instructor and any questions that I had were promptly and appropriately answered. She made it a point to challenge me, as well as educate.
I enjoyed the practicum portion (live student teaching for 20 hours) of the class and I feel that every TEFL class should require a practicum. You can study education for a lifetime, but it won't help you nearly as much as being in the classroom will. Adapting to your environment, coupled with improvisation is key to a successful lesson. Students learn at different rates, as well as adapt to a variety of environments, so it is important to take note of that and plan your lessons accordingly.
Some of the earlier tasks were great in that they were grammar and English knowledge based, but I could have used more classroom training.
Overall, it was an excellent course. Jeff Penick was my admissions advisor and he was excellent as well.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
It's hard to tell how the course has helped me. Teaching in Thailand is crazy, in that the lessons all have to be very interactive in order for them to work successfully. One way it has definitely helped me is in the idea of innovation. There was a strong emphasis on improvising during lessons and making sure to have back up plans in case the lessons have gone awry.
Another way my TEFL class has helped me is in the idea of lesson planning. I did not have a teaching background before I took the class, and I have come to find out that it is imperative to be organized with a proper lesson plan. The lesson must have a clear aim and it must have a variety of activities so the students stay engaged. This was the most helpful thing from the course.
TEACHING ABROAD IN THAILAND
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I am teaching English in Thailand. I picked Thailand because I wanted to teach in Asia and I had heard many good things about the country. I had a good feeling about it, and I went for it!
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been here a little over 3 months and I plan to stay for a year, maybe more.
How did you secure your English teaching job?
I spoke to a few International TEFL Academy staff members in the job search guidance team who referred me to a company called Bangkok Success. After a Skype interview, I had a job!
What school, company, or program are you working for?
Bangkok Success is the placement company. The school I work for is Tha Bo School, in Tha Bo, Nong Khai, Thailand.
How did you get your work visa? If you didn't get a work visa, please elaborate on working under the table without a work visa.
I got my work visa by going to Vientiane, Laos. My placement company arranged all of the necessary paperwork I needed for the visa. I took the paperwork and went to the Thai Embassy in Vientiane to get the visa. You need to go to the embassy between 8:30-12:30 to drop off your passport and paperwork, then you can pick it up the next day between 1:30 and 3:30 (I think). If all goes according to plan, you should have a work visa.
There was an error with my paperwork the first time, so I had to go to Laos again the following week. Make sure your paperwork is complete before you go or they will turn you away!
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I work from 40-45 hours per week and I make 30,000 Thai Baht per month (1,000 USD). I haven't gotten paid yet, so I have not saved any money, but I plan to. The food is very cheap in the north of Thailand; I pay about 10 Baht for breakfast, 20 Baht for lunch, and 30-50 baht for dinner (depending on how hungry I am).
You can eat well for very cheap here. I pay 3,000 Baht (100 USD)per month to live in a nice house about 5 Kilometers away from school. My girlfriend and I bought a second hand motorbike for 20,000 Baht (renting can get expensive sometimes).
Tha Bo School is a public secondary school with roughly 2,500 students (ages 11-18). I teach 4 English Intensive Classes (Classes meet 4 times per week for one hour classes) and 3 English Breakthrough (Classes meet for one hour 1 time per week) - this is a total of 19 classes per week. The kids are awesome, but very rambunctious. If you are going to teach in Thailand at a public school, be prepared to be standing on desks, running around the room, and playing at least one game per lesson. The students respond very well if you give it your all every lesson (which means you are dripping with sweat when you leave each lesson).
I love it. Every day is fun and I work hard every afternoon to put together good lessons for the next day. Bangkok Success has just started providing us lesson plans, but I have to create a lot of my own lessons as well (some of them just will not work for my classes). So, be prepared to have fun and work hard if you teaching in Thailand.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
Bangkok Success put us in touch with a landlord in Tha Bo. We searched around town for other options, but this ended up being the best option - it is a good price, clean, big rooms, and close to school). I live with my girlfriend and 4 other foreign teachers (2 British guys, a girl from San Diego, and a woman from Georgia).
We have a kitchen (refrigerator, stove, sink), washer, house computer (printer, scanner), and living area. Everyone has their own room with AC. My girlfriend and I have a bathroom in our room and there are two other bathrooms in the house. It is a great living situation.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc. about your country:
Thailand is an amazing place. I came here without a job, with the intent to travel for a couple of months before I began teaching (I would highly recommend doing this. It is very cheap to travel here and once you begin teaching, you don't have enough time on the weekends to travel as much). I got to see the whole country, with a bit of Laos and Malaysia in a two month period.
The people are amazing. They all smile and welcome foreigners. I made an effort to learn a bit of the language before I came, which is very helpful. If you try to speak Thai, they love it and will help you, as well as laugh at you.
It is important to never express anger over here. The culture is primarily Buddhist (some Muslim in the south) and they do not believe in showing anger (losing face). When something does not go according to plan, remember the phrase: "Mai Pen Rai" (No worries). Anytime you find yourself in an embarrassing, awkward, or uncomfortable situation, walk away and say Mai Pen Rai.
The food is some of the best food I have ever had. Rice, noodles, and chilies make up a majority of the food here. They love spicy food and if you don't, make sure to tell them before they make it! (Mai pet). Chicken, pork, and seafood are very popular and an average meal from a street cart or local restaurant will run you about 35 Baht (a little more than $1 US). The bigger cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai are a bit more expensive (closer to 60 Baht per meal), but all of the small towns are incredibly cheap.
Transportation is great as well. Buses and trains have really cheap options, as well as first class options. Overnight, First class buses (usually around $600 Baht if your going from Bangkok to a location 8-12 hours away) are the most comfortable option, but you can get more uncomfortable cheaper options if you need. Trains have three classes (First, second, third). First class gets you your own sleeper car with AC; Second class gets you a shared sleeper with a fan, and third class get you a regular seat with no bed. I have always used Second class which is affordable and comfortable. In my opinion, there is no reason to pay for first class on a train unless you really want it.
I have never flown here in Thailand. Flights are cheap in comparison to other places, but buses and trains will get you where you need to go for a much cheaper price (and its way cooler meeting people on buses and trains). In the event that you are not in a rush, buses and trains are the way to go. There really is no reason to be in a rush because buses and trains are usually late and have unexpected transfers or stops. Be prepared to be on your toes and remember that you are in Thailand so just go with it!
Nightlife: The smaller towns have a very quiet night life, and the big cities like Bangkok and Pattaya have an insane night life. The more touristy spots will have more partying options, but you can find a party wherever you go if you look hard enough. Thais love to have a good time and if you try to chat with enough people, you may find yourself at a local Thai gathering!
Come to Thailand; it is amazing.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
Food: If you are on a budget (and not living in Bangkok), you can easily spend 30-40 baht per meal. Three good meals can run you less than $5 per day. Alcohol can get expensive if you drink every day, so if you are a heavy drinker, bring more money.
Rent and Utilities: 3,500 Baht per month
Transport: My girlfriend I bought a motorbike for 20,000 Baht. It costs 100 Baht to fill the tank (2 liters). If we were just driving to school and back we would probably have to refill every 2-3 weeks, but we drive a lot so it's more like once a week.
We travel a ton so that takes up most of our money.
Work clothes: I got 5 dress shirts and 3 pairs of dress paints custom tailored for less than $150 US. Bangkok has the most options, but you can find tailors everywhere. Shoes are also cheap, but if you are size 11 and above, try to bring shoes or shop in big cities in Thailand. They rarely have big shoe sizes.
How would you describe your standard of living?
Amazing and simple. I live in a nice house, with nice people, in a great community. It is nothing like America and that must be expected for you to have a good experience. Come with an open mind and the desire for new experience!
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
25,000-30,000 Baht/mont. If you shop a lot, you will need more, but I don't buy a lot of clothes.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN THAILAND
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I would tell everyone in the world to teach abroad. It is an amazing experience and I couldn't picture myself doing anything else right now.
In my opinion, Thailand is a must see! Everything about it is phenomenal. Come teach here.
Bob Sohigian is 26 years old and currently lives in Cambridge, MA. After earning his TEFL certification from ITA, he headed out to Thailand, where he had the time of his life teaching and traveling. He went from teaching abroad in Thailand and exploring Southeast Asia to working for EF Education. He works with teachers and students in middle/high school, helping plan international, educational trips!
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