I am so excited to share an interview with one of my favourite travel bloggers Amy from Toothbrush Travels. Back when I was training to be a qualified teacher, I stumbled across Amy’s blog and her posts about working in Thailand helped me make the decision to teach at an International School. Amy shares her experience teaching in Bangkok!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work abroad?
Hi! I’m Amy. I’m a wanderlusting, photo-taking, blog-writing 20-something with a huge love of dogs.
Once upon a time back in 2013 I got a little bit bored of life in England and so my partner (S) and I packed up our belongings and hopped on a plane bound for Thailand for a one-year contract to shake things up a bit. We lived over there for one incredible year (we’re back in England now) and during that time both worked abroad. S was the one who had the job before leaving, so for the first few weeks I played housewife whilst he was at work whilst secretly being too afraid to leave the house because I didn’t know anybody nor how to communicate if I got lost.
That lasted all of two weeks and then one day I got super hungry, left the apartment, got lost, found some amazing food and realised that getting lost was the fun part!
Why did you decide to teach in Bangkok?
We were living in Bangkok and whilst I did look for other jobs, I struggled because Thailand’s job market is targeted towards Thai nationals and so foreigners such as me struggle to find jobs in their usual industries. Whereas teaching is the opposite and is very much targeted at native speakers, and because I had one heck of a Tom Yum and Thai Iced Tea addiction to pay for, getting a job seemed like a logical step.
How did you apply for a job teaching in Bangkok?
There’s a website called Ajarn.com which I used to seek jobs and whilst I had some interviews, the first two places I was offered a position at didn’t feel right so I turned those down.
Shortly after S’ boss recommended a language school in Ladprao (30 minutes away) and so I arranged for an interview there. I got along really well with the owner and the students and two days later I was officially a teacher there!
What were some of the perks about living in Thailand?
Most people assume it’s the weather, and it’s that too – the weather in Thailand is so extreme that when it’s hot, you melt, and when it rains, it pours and the thunderstorms I saw whilst over there were the most beautiful I’ve seen.
But the real treat is the food. There’s no flavour like it and it’s not just Thai cuisine that stands out – there are restaurants for whatever cuisine you can think of and to be honest I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
What were some of the challenges about living in Thailand?
The language barrier was is an obvious one, but one that’s easy enough to rectify if you dedicate time to learning the language. The real challenge was the visas.
You can get a tourist visa for three months but if you want a nonimmigrant visa to stay in Thailand for work purposes there’s a lot of organising and paperwork involved, especially on your employer’s behalf. THEN if you want to work you require a work permit which usually requires a degree (which I don’t have) and so there are a lot of hurdles to jump through to get to where you want to be. We managed to get there in the end but it was a long process and it was incredibly stressful to sort. If it wasn’t so complicated myself and S would probably still be living over there as we love the country!
Tell us about freelancing in Thailand?
Freelancing was something that I kind of fell into but I wrote for an array of hotels, expat websites and destination guides. It started when I was teaching part-time and a friend needed help with her workload so outsourced some to me. Then more and more people asked and before long I had a good few clients with a regular workload.
When you get good clients, freelancing is amazing; you can manage your own workload, choose which hours to work and you can work from anywhere. But that’s only if you find good clients. If you don’t have the certainty of regular paychecks and clients which pay on time – it can suck out all of the fun and perks of freelancing.
What did a typical day look like?
On a typical work day, I usually taught between 10am and 5pm with varied work hours. Most of my classes were an hour and a half and ran back to back with a break for lunch, but there were a couple of days where I’d only work 10am-2pm or 3pm-4pm which was annoying as it took longer to commute than it did to teach that class!
On a typical day, I would wake up and cook myself breakfast, do some chores around the house and get some freelance work done before leaving the apartment to get a Vanilla Iced Tea from MonkeyShake (I was addicted). Once I had my iced tea, I’d hail a motorbike taxi to Hua Lamphong train station where I would catch the MRT to Ladprao to begin my day of teaching. In between classes I would eat, write articles, or wander around the shopping mall. I didn’t tend to go far between classes as I had to look presentable and wandering around Bangkok in midday heat is a sure-fire way to make yourself look incredibly disheveled! After classes, depending on the time, I would either go exploring or go home to shower and change for dinner plans. Whereas weekends were always spent exploring on a daytrip or a weekend away (unless I had to work).
We explored a lot of Thailand whilst we were there and went away most weekends, whether it was exploring Bangkok or Kanchanaburi, driving to Hua Hin, dipping our toes into Pattaya or going to Koh Samet. We were quite fortunate that S’ boss lent us a car and S had an international driving license and so we were able to nip away without too much planning.
It was the trips which took longer to get to which were my absolute favourites though. When we got to visit the clear waters of Koh Lipe, experience the chilled out vibe of Koh Lanta, see the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and visit Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, I was at peak happiness. But to be honest Bangkok is the place that I loved the most; there’s just something about that city that feels like home.
Were you able to save much money whilst working in Thailand?
No. Moving to Thailand was a fairly spontaneous decision and so I didn’t have any savings when we left for our new life (I had exactly £600 and 54p in my bank account with no back-up plan). My wages for teaching were fair and whilst people say that Thailand is “sooo cheap” – it isn’t always. As with anywhere, financial costs vastly depend on where and how you live and whilst you can easily find a 40฿ meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner and save a percentage of your wages, food and travel are my biggest joys and so I spent all of my funds on experiencing just that!
What are some of your best travel moments?
I could tell you all about the beaches, the food and the temples but the reality is that everyone says that when they go to Thailand, and whilst all of those points are true the best part for me was the humans.
Moving to a new country can be so incredibly lonely and people often get so caught up in the excitement of you living abroad, that they overlook the anxiety and struggles you get from being there. There are people we met whilst living abroad who we’re still friends with to this day and see every time we’re in the same country, and the expat community – a supportive and sarcastic bunch or people from across the globe who could not only tell you where to find the best roast dinners, sausages and cupcakes, but who were some of the most unique and interesting individuals I’ve met – made it pretty darn special too!
What advice would you give to others who want to teach in Thailand?
I don’t want to tell people how to live their lives but my advice would be to only do it if you actually want to teach. There are so many people who go abroad thinking they’re going to “teach abroad and live the dream” which is fine, but a large percentage of people who do so, don’t actually care about what students learn in the classroom and as a result it’s the students who suffer. Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding profession but it can also be incredibly stressful and so it’s only worth doing if you’re actually interested in the subject matter.
What advice would you give to others who want to freelance abroad?
Be prepared for competition. Depending on the subject matter, the freelance market is incredibly competitive and if you write about something as sought-after as travel – be prepared for people to continuously try and undercut you. Know your skillset and know your worth and don’t always bow to companies who undercut you as if people keep charging pennies for articles, eventually the whole industry suffers.