Although it seems like a lifetime ago, our long term travel adventure started with the plan to move from our home city of Perth over to Sydney. While planning that we realized that moving within Australia was not enough to really shake up our lives. We wanted to make a bigger, bolder move. We decided to try moving to another country.
The following is a summary of our experience. All of this was written at the time. I have done as little editing as possible to try and retain how we were feeling at each stage although I will add a few notes in bold.
I have also resisted the temptation to replace the photos we took at the time. It is nice to see how much our photography skills have improved.
Hopefully reading about the path we took will inspire you to make a big change in your life if you feel like you are stuck in a rut.
Lets go back in time....
- 1 A Plan Takes Shape
- 2 Baby Steps
- 3 Paperwork And Plans
- 4 Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- 5 Our First Apartment In Chiang Mai
- 6 TEFL Training in Thailand
- 7 Leisure Time In Pai
- 8 Ajarn Tanya And Andrew At Your Service
A Plan Takes Shape
So... we are off to teach English in Thailand!
Now... i know a lot of you are wondering what the hell happened to going to Sydney? Well to cut that story quite short, we both realized that going to Sydney would mean we would have to work long hours to make a life in Sydney work... we may attempt that move at another time in our life!
Instead we are off to teach English in Thailand!
We are both finishing up various working commitments January 30th, will take 2 weeks off in WA to clean up, move out of our little box of an apartment, move Saki the cat to her new paradise (Mum and Dad's place where she will have a cat door into the shed awwww), organize our packing etc etc etc.
From there we are hopping on a plane to Thailand, Chiang Mai to be exact. Once there we will be studying a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course to gain a TEFL certificate. The course is 4 weeks, running March 2nd to March 27th.
The School we will be going to is SEE TEFL.
From there, after the 4 weeks course, we both hope to gain employment within Thailand. Of course the wages are not that great but it is a lot more that the local Thai teachers get so we should be pretty comfortable.
I think that is enough for today, lots of love Tanya (and Andrew)
(roughly 3 weeks later)
Hi folks. We have now officially applied to SEE and been accepted. Our deposit is paid and our next task is getting our visas. We are after a Non-immigrant B visa which means we are able to both study and eventually work in Thailand.
Present day Andrew here. Our knowledge of Thailand's visa system was very basic at this time. We have since written a handy intro to Thailand long term visas.
To get the appropriate visa we need a copy of our airline tickets, a letter from the school saying we will be studying there and a police clearance. For anyone following in our footsteps make sure you leave yourself plenty of time and an extra couple of hundred dollars to work through this stuff as its pretty time consuming.
Against the backdrop of papers and fees we have now started the process of learning some Thai. We have got a list of the 100 most common spoken words in the English language and I have begun the process of translating them. We can hopefully memorize a couple a day. Ultimately learning the language is going to consist of getting out among the locals and making lots of mistakes but I would like to have a few basic words in my vocabulary before we get there.
(roughly 1 week later)
Paperwork And Plans
Our little trip / move is happening very quickly. We have applied for our police clearances and we need to get our visa photos done. The school is mailing us our documents for our visa applications which means we need to have a flight paid for to add to the visa application.
So, we are flying out from Perth to Kuala Lumpur on the 15th February. We will have a night in KL and then fly to Chiang Mai. We are flying with AirAsia.
We arrive in Chiang Mai on the 16th February and have booked a week at a cheap and nasty hotel, ok, it isn't that nasty, it even has a pool! We are at the Oasis Hotel for a week. Starting the 3rd day in we may hire a driver or something and go searching for an apartment / mansion / guest house to live in for 2 months.
(around 2 months later)
Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand
We have now been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a few days. In this time we have managed to find our way around town, done some shopping for some basics, found somewhere to live and visited the school where we will be gaining our TEFL qualifications.
Despite both Tanya and I having traveled extensively including previous visits to Thailand we have both experienced a fair amount of culture shock. Downtown Chiang Mai is a world away from Perth or Fremantle where we have spent the past year. When we first arrived the traffic noise was deafening and I had forgotten just how overpowering the smell of car exhaust and mysterious foods being cooked in the street can be. Thankfully it has already begun to fade into the background as we set about establishing ourselves in what will be our home for at least the next few months.
Finding somewhere to live proved to be a little more time consuming than we had anticipated. We want to be near the school and in this area there is an abundance of very expensive condominiums and plenty of reasonably priced hotels however apartments or rooms which can be leased for 2 to 3 months are a little thinner on the ground. After two days spent trekking around looking at places we have settled on a bedsit in a complex called S G House. It is Wednesday now. We move in there Monday. We will post more details then.
Yesterday we took some time out from house hunting to go see a movie at a shopping center called Airport Central. The shopping center was indistinguishable from any large western shopping center/mall. Going and seeing a Hollwood movie in what could well have been an Australian shopping center so soon after our arrival was perhaps not a great idea. Walking out into the streets of Chiang Mai and being greeted by overeager tuktuk drivers evoked many of the same emotions as walking out of the airport just days prior.
Emotional adjustments aside we have thus far had a pretty easy time. Everything seems to be falling into place quite naturally which is perhaps a little surprising. Now I am just tempting fate.
(a few days later)
Our First Apartment In Chiang Mai
Today we moved out of our hotel and into a guest house. A guest house is basically a hotel except they do not clean your room for you and you pay by the week or month instead of by the night. Exciting stuff.
The room is good. Room enough to swing a cat if we want. The shower is better than the hotel's but not as good as the shower at home 🙁 The beds are hard and the Thais seem to favor huge thick heavy pillows. That might just be the cheap places we have been frequenting.
A few minutes drive from here is a Carrefour hypermarket. It is basically a supermarket and department store jammed together into a single enormous fluorescent lit store. I have been to one in the middle east but Tanya had never seen one so we went along and bought some groceries for our new place.
We were hoping to spend much of the coming week at one of the many temples around Chiang Mai getting an intro to Buddhism and meditation. Many of the temples have courses you can do that range in duration from 2 to 21 days. We dropped into Wat Suan Dok in person to reserve our places but the office was shut that day. We then emailed but have not got a reply. I think we're going to have to go in again which kind of sucks as it is all the way on the other side of town. Maybe this is part of the learning. Patience.
As a spiritual retreat is temporarily off the cards we might head out and spend a day or two trekking through the jungle around Chiang Mai.
Before then we have a place about five minutes walk from here we have to visit. Its a massage place that is advertising 1 hour massages for 100 Baht (about $5 AUD). We have been getting massages every second day for a few dollars more than that. At 100 Baht for an hour they may well become daily.
(roughly two weeks later)
TEFL Training in Thailand
It Has Begun
Today was the first day of our TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). It is a four week course designed to turn raw civilians into skilled teachers able to confidently walk into a classroom of students. It was a relief to get started as it all appears much less daunting once the tasks involved are explained one by one.
For the first two weeks (of a total of four weeks) we will also receive an hour a day of Thai language instruction. This is partly to teach us some Thai but also to give us some experience as language students. Today we spent the whole hour mispronouncing the various tones found in Thai but not in English. It can be a little trying being wrong again and again but it was fun attempting to pronounce new syllables.
Towards the end of the day we all had to stand up and give a five minute mini lesson following a structure provided to us. Explain the material, go through examples with the group and then check understanding. Having to come up with our own topics made this probably far more stressful than it should of been. Until I had seen a few of the others perform their task I was not clear on exactly what was being asked of me. The material? What material? Any material you know well. oh... right...
Now that we are home and the adrenalin of presenting with limited preparation has faded we are both looking forward to getting into our second day.
Today was the second day of our 4 week TEFL course. Today consisted of three hours of English language grammar instruction, one hour of Thai language instruction, lunch, then 3 hours of teaching instruction and practice. I think this will be the regular format for the first two weeks of the course.
For the older students the grammar lessons are simply to refresh their memories and deepen their knowledge of the inner workings of the English language. For the younger students in the course, as grammar is no longer taught at school, this is the first time we have heard words like transitive verb, possessive pronoun, comparative adjective and infinitive. Everyone, regardless of age, is a little overwhelmed at this point.
The Thai language session consisted of learning a few basic words. You, me, them, she, he, they. We also continued to be drilled on correct pronunciation of the tones that are so important in Thai and essentially absent in English. We Australians in particular seem to be almost tone deaf and have a great deal of trouble hearing and replicating the high, low, rising, falling and flat tones that determine whether the word Maa means come (flat), nervous (low), horse (high), dog (rising) or has no meaning at all (falling).
For teaching practice we were shown how to instruct students in how to complete worksheets. Random worksheets were then handed out and we each had to instruct our peers on how to complete it as if they were young children with only the most rudimentary knowledge of English. Mime, pointing, solving samples as a group and a few carefully selected words here and there are the name of the game. If you resort to trying to help students who don't understand what you have said by using more words then you have lost them. Given the amount of careful choreography involved I do not think ad libbing is going to be an option for us for a very long time.
The End Of Week One
It is now Sunday afternoon and we have reached the end of the first week of our TEFL course.
Friday was our cultural awareness day. We started the day by going through some elements of Thai culture we need to be aware of. We then headed outside, jumped in the back of a ute and headed off. A ute is like an American pick up truck for the non-Australians.
The first stop was the farang (foreigner) cemetery. While some of the graves are modern there are graves dating back to the 1800s when only handful of Europeans had ventured as far as Chiang Mai, typically either looking to do business or convert the locals to Christianity. It is easy to think of our trip here as a big adventure but we forget those who came here when it would have taken months of travelling. Our 24 hour journey, most of which was spent sitting in air-conditioned airports, is laughable by comparison.
After the cemetery we moved on to a nearby wat, a Buddhist temple, where we given some instruction on how behave in the temple, were blessed by a monk and released baby fish and turtles into the nearby Ping river.
While there we also got to try Thai ice-cream. The ice-cream is much as you would expect anywhere in the world however several scoops of it are served between two slices of bread. Once you get over the oddity of eating ice-cream and bread it is actually tasty and convenient with no litter to dispose of.
In the afternoon we visited the Chiang Mai cultural center and museum as well as the Hill Tribes Museum. They are both interesting places although the film we watched at the Hill Tribes Museum was perhaps not suitable for animal lovers due to a particular scene involving a cat and a puppy "participating" in a tribal ritual.
Since then, aside from dinner at a rooftop restaurant Saturday night with one of the other students in our class, we have largely been sitting around the house.
All of the TV stations are in Thai so we have taken to watching British and American TV shows on the net. Currently we're watching The IT Crowd and Paris Hilton's British Best Friend. If you want intelligent discussion from intelligent well adjusted people then don't watch Paris Hilton's British Best Friend. It's a reality show that sees a group of mostly very troubled people vying for the title of Paris Hilton's best friend in Britain. Along the way they undertake a long series of ever more demeaning tasks in an attempt to show their unquestioning love of Paris. It's bad but like a car wreck you just have to watch.
Tanya says hi.
Beginning Week Three
It is now Tuesday of week three of our course. Week two was our final week of organized grammar, Thai language and teaching classes. From here on it is all teaching practice and assessments.
Last week we all had to interview a Thai student, transcribe the interview and identify their grammatical errors before planning a one hour lesson to try and correct some of the problems we had observed. I had my lesson today although Tanya's is not until next week. It went reasonably well although my one hour lesson turned out to be closer to only 30 minutes long with my student completing an activity I had thought would at least take four or five minutes in about 45 seconds. The teacher observing me seemed reasonably happy with my performance and gave me plenty of tips on how I can improve.
Also, last week we even went out on a school night and attended a jazz club near the north gate of Chiang Mai. We do not typically go out during the week but I am glad we did. It was a chance to chat with some of our class mates outside of the school. Teaching somewhere like Chiang Mai attracts a lot of interesting personalities from all over the world.
Tomorrow morning we have to be up at 4am to catch a bus to Rayong which is on the coast east of Bangkok. Most of the schools here are closed at the moment so we have had to look further afield for students for our next few teaching pracs. It will be nice to be near the ocean again. I miss it but I'm not sure the 12-14 hour bus trip is worth it.
Tanya would like to inform everyone that she is alive and well. She demands a case of barefoot radler be delivered to our EFL school.
Ok, we're off to bed now to try and get some sleep before our early start tomorrow.
Well here we are in the final week of our TEFL course. Thus far we have had four one hour teaching practical assessment and a written grammar test. We have two more teaching pracs this week then we are done!!
We have each done a one hour one on one lesson with a Thai university student and three one hour lessons with students from Lanna Polytechnic, which is like Tafe in Australia.
The lessons for the Lanna Polytechnic students were all conducted on a summer camp in Rayong. The first night we stayed in a cockroach friendly hotel with no top sheets or hot water. For the remaining three nights however we were moved to probably the nicest resort I have ever had the pleasure of staying at.
Teaching was made all the more pleasant by having the ocean and swaying coconut trees in the background. The comfortable beds, hot showers and wonderful free meals helped too 😀
Now that we are back in Chiang Mai we are prepping for our last two pracs which are classes of between 8 and 25 kids from a local pratom(primary) school. My first class is pratom 6 (age ~11) while Tanya has pratom 1 (age ~6). It should be fun 😀
Tanya and I also went for our first job interview this afternoon at a local high school. Although they were keen to have us come back and teach a demonstration lesson where the owner of the school would pose as a class of 20-40 kids we were unhappy with the high pressure approach they took.
It felt like they were almost attempting to trick us into accepting jobs and committing immediately so we chose to tell them we would prefer to put it on hold until we have had a chance to speak to some other potential employers. We have applied to a few jobs here in Chiang Mai, in other parts of Thailand and on Thursday a few of us are going to visit Chiang Mai University to inquire about work there so fingers crossed.
The End Of Week Four And The First Day Of The Rest Of Our Lives
Well, we have finally reached the end of our TEFL course. The grammar test is done and dusted and our last teaching prac is in the bag. On Friday we had a final Thai lesson and the certificate handing out ceremony.
Along with our certificates we received the results of our written grammar test. Both Tanya and I received a somewhat startling 98%. For the suspicious ones among you we finished at different times and messed up in different parts. Adele, a teacher from Melbourne, scored 99% so she pipped us at the post.
For lunch on Friday we all went out to a Japanese restaurant in central Chiang Mai. Friday evening we had a bit of a night on the town. Being the tired old folks we are we of course had our prerequisite pre-night out disco nap beforehand.
Saturday was spent looking for a new place to live north west of the old city. Clustered around Chiang Mai University are areas similar to Mt Lawley in Perth. That part of the city is a little more entertaining than where we are now.
Tanya has also had a few trips to doctors and dentists to try and figure out the cause of pain in her mouth and neck. One dentist referred her to a second dentist who said it was caused by infected wisdom teeth and that they need to come out. An oral surgeon said that due to Tanya's age and the close proximity of an important nerve to her bottom wisdom teeth they will be extremely difficult to remove. I believe the phrase he used was "very difficult to, uhhh, dig out of the bone." He pointed out that there is some risk of long term or even permanent loss of sensation around her mouth and chin due to nerve damage. That does not matter though as they are almost certainly NOT infected.
We then headed over to McCormick Hospital to see a GP. He told us to come back the next day to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. That guy then said that there was no infection and that the pain is caused by tendinitis around a joint in her neck meaning a muscle connected to one her vertebrae is inflamed for some reason and it is causing referred pain all over the place.
In short there almost certainly is no infection. Tanya has some anti-inflammatories to take and some cream to put on. Hopefully that will draw the saga to an end with no surgery required. There was a bit of running around but at least we have only been paying Thai prices for all this attention and the zillion x-rays Tanya has had. All up this has probably cost us $100-$150 AUD including the cost of Tanya's meds.
Today we rented a scooter for a month. Getting it home was a little frightening. It is a long time since I have ridden anything so riding through Chiang Mai traffic with Tanya on the back was a bit of a challenge. We did however get home safe and sound.
(6 days later)
Leisure Time In Pai
Tanya and I just spent a lovely weekend at Pai which is north of Chiang Mai and very near the Myanmar border. Pai is a wonderful little hippy town filled with meditation instructors, massage classes and vegetarian restaurants. It is not the most exciting place in the world but if you are after a quiet weekend I can highly recommend it. It is a little odd in that you almost would not know you were in Thailand. It seems hippy towns are pretty much the same the world over.
We stayed in a wonderful little riverside bungalow that was ours for the princely sum of about $7 a night.
We spent some time exploring the countryside around the town on a rented scooter. The hot springs were not worth visiting although we did find a very nice swimming pool nearby where we spent a few hours.
We had a lovely few days laying about, getting doused with water by kids, driving around and eating at a place called Good Life at least twice every day. We have been back in Chiang Mai for one day and we already miss their food.
(10 days later)
Ajarn Tanya And Andrew At Your Service
Howdy peeps, Tanya is back!!!!! Now that that is out of the way, let me tell you what has been happening since the last update 🙂
After 3 months of money constantly leaving our pockets, visiting and interviewing various schools in Chiang Mai, yesterday we received a phone call asking if we would like to accept full time positions at a Catholic Girls School based in Chiang Mai. We are extremely happy to have scored these positions. It is considered a very respectable school and the majority of the English teachers there have been around for years... always a good sign!
So, I will be teaching English language as well as Health, including the reproductive system hehehehehhe. Andrew will be teaching English language as well as Computing... nerd heaven!
We start around about the 10th May, teaching actually starts on the 13th, but luckily we will be catching up with the school on Monday to receive further information and the curriculum we will be following.
Lesson Plans, here we come!
It is an 11 month contract, so we will be here for the entirety.
Fun stuff... we have moved! We are now in a delightful condominium named "@home chiang mai"... It is new, clean, and we are on the 5th floor so we have a view that isn't of parked motorbikes and we can keep the balcony door open at night. The airconditioner rocks, did i mention the view? It is the first time that Andrew and i have both lived above ground level 🙂 We have our own Jacob's Ladder now, even if it is only 5 floors 😀
The kitchen area consists of a sink, a drawer of plates and glasses, a microwave to boil our water and a fridge to store our UHT milk for said tea.
Fun and games area. A TV that has over 65 channels including the Australia Network, shows Home and Away but no Neighbours... ripped off... oh and lightening fast Internet!
The spacious area where we walk in and out of the front door, sit on that little chair and put our shoes on... shoes are in the stool... oh and that's the bathroom door - nothing exciting in there!
The rest area. A real bed! we were used to sleeping on single beds joined together, our first night in this bed was like heaven although Andrew kept falling out 😀
The balcony. Faces east and is big enough to swing a very small cat in... it is lovely otherwise, we have a bit of a view, and that is where we dry our washing... yay!
View one. Looking north east. Houses, roofs, a few trees.
View two. Looking south east. Restaurants, apartment blocks and beautiful Doi Suthep (doi means mountain).. it's a hazy day today, so the photo is not doing justice. At night time, we can see the temple overlooking the city, lovely.
Alrighty, well, it is over and out from Ajarn Tanya... Ajarn is the Thai version of Teacher... a quick note to Deanna, Happy Birthday, I did write you an email and call Mum and Dad's place on Skype but you weren't there. I hope you had a lovely day and got fabulous presents!
love to all that would like it xxx
And now back to the present. The above describes our journey through planning the move, the shock of arrival, making new friends, finding a very basic first apartment then a much nicer one before finding jobs in a new country. The whole process was stressful, overwhelming, confusing but ultimately incredibly fun and rewarding. It is easily one of the best decisions we have ever made.
We cannot recommend doing something like this enough. We got to experience a new country but we also learned a huge amount about ourselves and each other.
If you are considering moving to Thailand specifically and would like to teach English click here for more information about the TEFL school we attended.
Now that you have read about our personal experience check out our guide to living in Thailand. As well as providing details about moving to Thailand specifically it covers a lot of things you need to think about when moving to any new country.