At the age of 24, having just completed my master’s degree and gained a job at one of the Big 4 in a completely unrelated field, I find myself with approximately 1 year to kill – a gap year, I guess, although like any sensible young(ish) British person these days, I am understandably reluctant to use the phrase.
What to do with this year? Well originally, my plan was to spend it in my home town of Hereford, working some shitty office job, playing football on the weekends and probably going out every so often with my friends that are still around, in an attempt to save a bit of money before I moved to London. However, one day of job searching in Hereford indicated that even finding a basic admin job would be difficult, and I found myself caring less and less about playing football. Living at home, claiming job seeker’s support and not even making Bartestree FC’s first team was not doing much for my chances of getting laid either (and I need all the help I can get), so if we’re being totally honest, there was very little reason for me to stay in Hereford, and just about every reason to get out. I could have just worked in London or something for a year, but I wouldn’t have saved much money, and it seemed like a shame to waste this year just ‘surviving’ when I could use it to do something exciting, live somewhere warm and maybe even learn a new language. And, well, #yolo.
So my attention turned to teaching abroad. Having no money for travelling, I needed to find a way of supporting myself, and this appeared to be the easiest/best way – my uncle has done it and so have some of my friends, and they have all be successful at it and loved doing it. I myself have done a little bit of teaching, and spent last summer coaching football in the USA, and while there are obvious differences, I nonetheless know that I am fairly confident working with children and presenting in front of a large group of people.
Initially, I wanted to go to South America, but it seemed to be too expensive and too hard to make a decent living as a teacher, especially with only limited experience in the classroom. It also emerged that in many places, they are very keen on a 1 year contract, a commitment I am unable to make. It made sense to turn my attention to a place where working arrangements are a little more ‘informal’, so I started to research teaching in Thailand, where my uncle taught for years. It seemed that as long as I got myself an English teaching qualification, then combined with my master’s degree and experience as a football coach, I would have no problem finding work (something which has only been reinforced by the feedback I have received to my somewhat speculative online applications). Sure, I probably wouldn’t learn much of the language, but the pay was enough that I could live a reasonable quality of life, and judging from friend’s pictures, all I’d be doing was attending the odd flag raising ceremony and hanging out on the beach. Sounds pretty decent.
With regards to where in Thailand I want to live, I’ve been told to steer clear of teaching in Bangkok and Chang Mai, or any of the other major tourist areas, as the cost of living is far more expensive. However, I am going on my own, so I don’t want to be the only English speaker in the middle of nowhere. As such it seems that the south of Thailand, with cities such as Hat Yai and Songkhla, would be ideal. It has some of the biggest cities in Thailand (according to Wikipedia), but the general cost of living is (apparently) cheaper than in many other areas. This may be a reflection of some of the Muslim separatist terrorist attacks that have occurred in the region in the last decade or so, but online testimonies of people who live in the region suggest that this only becomes serious risk further south, so I’m not too worried about it.
Whilst deciding on where I wanted to go, I set about arming myself with a 120-hour TEFL certificate. It was pretty simple, and I must have completed it in close to record time (just over two weeks), having spent nowhere near 120 hours working for it. I also began applying for jobs advertised online. So far, I have nearly been hired as a full-time sports coach and English teacher at East Thailand’s top technological university. I have an offer to work in a school in the south in Phatthalung (the lonely planet guide doesn’t even have an index reference for this place, so I’m a bit apprehensive to say the least), and I got a fairly random email from an agency I don’t really remember applying to asking me what sort of teaching position I wanted in Thailand. If none of these work out, I’ll just try to find work once I get to Thailand.
This has all happened very quickly, which is reflected in the fact that I only got my visa sorted this morning, and will need to get my last hep B jab in Thailand. On Monday, I fly to Bangkok. I then have a flight booked straight on down to Hat Yai, arriving Tuesday evening. Everything seems pretty positive at the moment, especially in terms of finding work. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having some nerves. While I have lived in another country before (The Netherlands), and have worked in the USA, in each case I was in a country where the level of English was much better than it will be in Thailand (insert lazy joke about US intelligence here). I was also given a great deal of support by the universities I was studying at and the company I was working for. In this case, I have never been to Asia before, let alone Thailand. The general level of English will be quite low, and I will have to adjust to the food/culture/and environment as I also try to earn a living. As things stand, I have no job or accommodation sorted. There might not be too many people who can help me should things go wrong. Basically, I am on my own – everyone I know who has done this before has gone with friends/a partner, or has at least saved up quite a bit of money before hand. But I guess that is what makes this a bit of an adventure – I am just packing my bags and going. And is it true that I can’t teach in a vest, shorts, and flip flops? Will I really have to be clean shaven all the time? Most importantly, will I be able to go to the gym?
I guess I’ll be able to start to answer these questions next time I post. But I think it’s worth making one last point, to answer a question I’m sure someone will ask. One of the benefits of selling out is that I will be able to repay the money people lend to me, so I have had my flights and TEFL etc paid by my parents – there’s no point denying this, and if I think it’s important that before I start complaining about living and adjusting to life in another continent, I acknowledge that not everyone has this opportunity.