I wanted to wait till I sorted out a job and apartment etc before I posted again, and about 10 days into my trip, I finally have done so. I am living in Hat Yai and working just outside of it – the taxi driver who gave me a lift from the airport told me it only gets bombed 3 or 4 times a year…
Although I feel that I now know my way around a bit, I feel like I should admit just how laughably out of my depth I was at first. I really didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t know what the food was, I didn’t know where anything was, I didn’t know how the transport system worked and most importantly, I didn’t know anyone. For a couple of days I didn’t eat a lot, and a lot of time was spent in hotel/hostel rooms waiting for interviews. And when I didn’t have much to do, it was far too hot in the middle of the day to do anything (it still is, and probably will be all year in the South), so I would quite often spend that in my room and then go out in the evening.
Luckily, there isn’t much to the centre of Hat Yai, and on my second night I met two other English teachers in a pub , and within about an hour I had an offer of a game of football and was told where to be for a Saturday night. When I went to grab some food a couple of nights later I walked past the bars where I was told other English teachers would hang out – I saw the two I had met before and they introduced me to their friends. Meeting people has been fairly easy so far, and in the apartment complex I live in there are a number of other expats, so in terms of settling in the social side seems to be going ok.
As far as living goes, I am staying about a ten-minute motorcycle ride outside of the centre of Hat Yai. My ‘apartment’ is pretty much the standard room you might get in University halls, although it does have aircon and a fridge. It also has a bathroom, and although the water in the shower does not get very hot, I don’t really want too many hot showers over here, so that’s not really a problem. At the moment I am sleeping on a mattress cover and using my very thin sleeping bag as a blanket – I still need to find bed sheets, but that sort of thing will sort itself out in time. And it’s not as if I need proper covers to keep me warm here anyway.
As I mentioned in the first bit of this post, I have also managed to find a job! Avid readers of my first post will remember that I came over with two interviews lined up – well, I ended up having three. Two with schools just outside of Hat Yai, and one with an agency inside Hat Yai to teach at a Technological University in the centre. Of the three interviews I had, I was successful with two – I lost out on the other job to a girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, a PHD and experience as a supply teacher, which is hardly a surprise. Of the other two jobs, one was at a school that I really liked the look of, and I was told by someone who worked there that it was a nice place to work. After seeing this school, the next day I went to look at the Technological University. I had already received an offer from the Technological University of Rayong, and when I researched it I found that it had similar resources you might expect from an English University – a large, well-equipped campus, with a well organised curriculum and staff body. It had an impressive list of awards and the students had many well recognised accomplishments. I cannot say the same for Hat Yai – the guy recruiting me made constant references to the student’s low level of English and how hard they could be to control. When I looked in on some of the classes, that certainly seemed to be the case, and I figured that having sold out once already, this time I should go for the option that seemed the most fun, and not the one that paid the most.
So I am now an English teacher to high school children at Patongwittayamulnithi School just outside of Hat Yai. It is quite a large school (I think, although all Thai schools seem to be huge), with three other native English speaking teachers (well, two South Africans and one Swede). I also have my own Thai assistant, June, who yells at the children and hits them if they don’t listen to me, as well as some times translating things if the students really don’t get it. So far I have really enjoyed it – the children seem to quite like me, and the Thai staff are really nice. I am regularly told by both boys and girls that I am handsome, and that they love me. My hair is also a beautiful colour apparently. I am also in demand as a guitarist and singer. I’ve so far refused to sing – but Thais love singing ballads – I have seen a group of fifteen year old boys sit around a guitar all singing (badly) with each other in a class room, which does NOT happen in England – and I personally find it hilarious when they sing songs in English and have little idea what the words are, and even less what they are about (see post title). I guess I’m going to have to give in at some point though, so suggestions are welcome.
However, there are a couple of difficulties. One is the commute – it is not that far outside of Hat Yai, but in the morning and afternoon traffic it takes about 45 minutes to get there in the morning and to get back home in the afternoon. I guess if I got a bike I could take some time off that journey, but at the moment I’m still terrified of doing that (as far as I can tell, there are no rules when it comes to driving in Thailand, and some guy laughed at me when I put on my seatbelt. But #yolo. Also, teaching teenagers is quite difficult. Just like coaching football, teaching is most fun when you teach complete beginners and advanced students. In the first case, you can just teach five words or one skill, and then play silly games for the rest of the lesson. With the latter, you can start to do some really interesting stuff, like explaining different tactics or discussing songs and poetry. But when it comes to teaching/coaching most teenagers, they are too old/good for the simple exercises and games, but not good enough for particularly interesting lessons. As a result, there is a lot of repetition involved, practicing essential vocabulary and skills that are required in order to improve. This means that it is quite a challenge to come up with exercises and topics that will maintain their interest, but are also at a level that they can understand. I could go on about this, but I’ll probably do a post about teaching in Thailand in general at some point, so I’ll talk about this in greater depth at some point.
Also, because of the way the school system in Thailand works and the student body at my school, I am the only dedicated native English teacher in the high school (we have both a primary and high school). My contact hours are basically the same, but because I teach a greater variety of levels, I have far more lesson planning to do. To try and put this into perspective, It is quite common for English teachers to take on private students in the evenings, but if I want to do my job to an at least satisfactory standard, then the amount of planning I have to do coupled with the commute to work makes it very unlikely that I will be able to do this until next semester (April), especially if I want to do things like play football and go to the gym or have any kind of social life.
Anyway, tomorrow I’m off to some ASEAN sponsored school camp in Songkhla (the neighbouring city and provincial capital) with 25 kids from the school and the other English teachers – I’m not really too sure what I have to do at this thing, but it should be interesting, and Songkhla has a beach, which can’t be said for Hat Yai. And my tan is still quite disappointing – one girl found it absolutely hilarious how pale I was compared to her.
Also, to answer the questions I asked at the end of my last post – I can’t teach in a vest and shorts, I have to wear a trousers and shirt. While I appreciate that a short sleeved t-shirt is never really acceptable, there is just no way I could manage wearing one in this heat. I have to stay clean-shaven (I have been told my appearance is my strongest asset in Thailand – apparently it’s what has got me hired). And no I won’t get fat – I hardly eat here because it’s so hot, and I will start going to the gym next week 🙂
Anyway, that’s all for now. Sorry it’s such a long one, but quite a lot has happened!
Also, props to Bente Zwankhuizen for coming up with the name ThaiALAN, which really should have been the name for this blog…