Long story short? It’s all about who you know.
But here’s where it all began… We arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on June 18th (after one week of blissful honeymooning in Phuket, and one week of, let’s just say, not so blissful real life in dirty, touristy Baan Karon Phuket), and I hit the ground running in the job search.
I had gotten my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate online via the site tefl247.com while David and I lived in London during the first part of the year. With no job and no real desire to tour the city alone while David worked remotely (I have visited London a few times in the past and already hit all the major spots) and no money to really sightsee even if I wanted to, I decided that preparing for our next adventure in Thailand was the best way to spend my days.
So after purchasing a coupon for an advanced TEFL certification course, I spent the next few months working on it. In all honesty, it probably took me about 20-30 hours total over those couple months to finish it…nowhere near the stated 140 hours it was supposed to take. No complaints here! I took notes along the way, read and watched all of the recommended content that was linked to throughout the course, and tried my best to make sure I was fully preparing myself for the possibility (and responsibility!) of teaching real students later in the year.
In April, when I had finished the course, I received an email containing a PDF copy of my TEFL certificate (very official, I know). When we arrived in Chiang Mai a few months later, I felt prepared to begin job hunting with a copy of my new TEFL certificate, my official diploma (Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Utah), a copy of my official transcripts, and my CV — tailored to reflect my childcare and tutoring experience.
I spent the first few days looking online for any teaching opportunities in the area. I applied for two positions that I had seen advertised online: one at a public school and another at a private school. Both sounded great and I was hopeful that I would get a job and we could really begin our exciting new expat life, but…
I never heard back from either school, and looking back now, I wish that I had physically gone into those schools after applying. I understand now that meeting the administrators in person can make a huge difference, making you rise to the top of the pack — especially in a teaching job market as competitive as Chiang Mai.
I knew that I wanted to work with kids —any age from babies to first grade — so I focused my search on primary schools and daycares. During all of this job searching, we were also house hunting, which was a difficult task since we wanted to avoid a long commute once I ultimately got a job, but we obviously couldn’t predict where my future work place would be.
As part of our housing search, we reached out to Roberta Thitathan (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), a friendly independent real estate agent from California, who I had seen recommended on the blogs of a few digital nomads in Chiang Mai. During our small talk while driving around the city looking at apartments, I mentioned that I was looking for a teaching job working with kids. None of the apartments we looked at that day ended up working out for us unfortunately, but then a few days later, I got an email from Roberta.
A teacher friend of hers had just mentioned that there was a temporary opening at a public school in the Old City while one of the first grade teachers went on maternity leave.
I thanked Roberta profusely and, on her friend’s recommendation, I emailed the school administrator that night, then popped into his office the next day with a copy of my paperwork, dressed and ready for an interview. After chatting with me for a few minutes about the position and my qualifications, I was offered the job! I took that evening to think it all over and discuss it with David, then on Thursday morning I went in and officially accepted the position. I picked up some textbooks, discussed my schedule, and agreed to start work the following Monday, June 30th. What a whirlwind!
It pays a little less than I was hoping for (I was aiming for 30,000 baht per month but ended up with 25,000) and the contract lasts till March 2015 which feels like a big commitment, but overall, I was just so happy to have a job at all that I couldn’t complain.
This whole experienced has really solidified for me the importance of word-of-mouth recommendations. In Thailand, you can’t rely on the internet to list every opportunity out there; there’s no Craigslist for apartment hunting or Monster for job searching. I spent hours looking online for openings and ultimately ended getting a job that I never would have known about had I not met and chatted with a local.
I have spent about a month now teaching first grade in the English program at Anubaan Chiang Mai School, and although it has its ups and downs (that’s another story…), it’s overall been a positive experience. I feel lucky to have gotten a job so easily, especially in the middle of the Thai school year — something I was really worried about — and to have gotten the opportunity to teach such adorable little kids. It’s only been a few weeks, but I already feel like I have learned so much about being a teacher.
After the upcoming four day weekend for the queen’s birthday on August 12th (side note: did you know Thailand celebrates Mother’s Day on the queen’s birthday every year? Cool, huh?), I’ll be handing my classroom back over to their regular teacher who will be coming back from maternity leave, and I’ll become a phonics teacher for grades 1-3. I am nervous to start something new and teach so many classes, but I’m hopeful that it will just be another exciting learning experience — for the kids and for me!