“I Want to Play With Fire!”

By Alexis

Fire Department in Thailand 7

One of the biggest things I’ve had to learn as a ESL teacher in Thailand is flexibility. Here, plans change by the minute and you’re expected to just go with the flow, being perpetually ready at a moment’s notice (traits that don’t come naturally to a Type-A overthinker like me).

One day this week, I had just handed out worksheets to a 2nd grade class and was having them write their names up top, when the classroom’s Thai teacher says, “Teacher, the students go outside now.”

Umm, okay?

“Pass back your papers!” I announced and gathered up the worksheets as the students ran outside. When I finished cleaning things up, I wandered around trying to find my class. After a few minutes of searching, I found them watching a presentation from the fire department.

Fire Department in Thailand 14

Fire Department in Thailand 13

Instead of miming what you should do during a fire (e.g. stop, drop, and roll), the firemen stayed true to the craziness that is Thailand and lit a real fire then let the kids come up and put it out with an extinguisher.

Somehow, I got chosen to go up first and put one out, which was actually quite terrifying. The kids loved my overdramatic screaming, haha.

Fire Department in Thailand 12

This student wasn’t scared at all! Judging from her head bandage, she’s no stranger to battle wounds.

Fire Department in Thailand 11

After that, the kids went wild as they got to try on all the uniforms (so cute) and even ride a makeshift zipline that had been set up between two trees nearby.

Fire Department in Thailand 9

There was some kind of gas mask that shot freezing cold air at the kids faces, and they made a long line to try it out one-by-one.

Fire Department in Thailand 6

Fire Department in Thailand 8

And of course they got to play around with a fire hose.

Fire Department in Thailand 5

Fire Department in Thailand 4

I’m not sure how much safety the lesson really taught because, at the end of it all, one of my second graders ran up to me and breathlessly exclaimed, “Teacher! I want to play with fire!”

Just your average Tuesday in Thailand…

Photos: The Cutest Scouts in Thailand

By Alexis

Young scouts salute the camera in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Fields trips! One of the many perks of teaching English at a public school instead of a language institute. Since I teach at a government-run elementary school here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I recently got the chance to go on a scouting field trip with the first graders (learn how I landed the TEFL job here).

I was stoked because: A) I really love hanging out with my students outside the classroom, and B) Who doesn’t love a free activity?

This particular field trip took us to a scout camp about 30 minutes outside Chiang Mai, near the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs which are located here. The kids got to walk across rope bridges, perform dances and chants, ride a zip line, and more. They were running and screaming all day and when the time finally came to leave, they all literally passed out from exhaustion on the drive back (which meant a quiet ride home for Teacher Alexis, haha). Check out some photos of the day here… Continue reading

How Long Does It Take to “Make It” As A Freelancer?

By David

When we first set our sights on living abroad, teaching English was the only option we thought we had. It remains a very viable option. Many, many people do it all the time. Alexis is doing it right now. But it’s not the only option.

I planned on teaching English when we moved to Thailand as well, but had a bit of a life-defining crisis the day I got offered a job. I turned it down and that same day created a profile on oDesk.com.

That was in July of 2014.

Work was slow at first. My first paying job was for $2 an hour. I was eager to get some positive reviews under my belt, so I accepted.

Six months later, I am not only making what I would have been had I accepted that teaching job, I am making double that amount. 

Proof

I started freelancing in July but my first paycheck didn’t come until August. I made $516 that month. Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 5.00.53 PM Continue reading

Sports Day in Thailand (or The Biggest Field Day Ever)

By Alexis

Sports Day Chiang Mai, Thailand

Kindergarteners wearing heels, first graders wearing fake eyelashes, award ceremonies with legit medals, bleachers with massive banners, team chants — Sports Day in Thailand is quite the spectacle.

Once a year, each school in Thailand has a Sports Day where the students are grouped into teams that compete against each other in various sports (at my school, the big events were cheerleading and running). Now here I am, two months later, writing about my school’s Sports Day that happened on November 30th… Continue reading

A Selection of Funny Thai Nicknames

By Alexis

Elementary ESL students lay on the ground in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Like a lot of language classes, the students at my school don’t go by their native language name, instead working under a made up English nickname. After six months of teaching, I’m still not entirely sure where my students actually get these names…. Do they pick them themselves? Do their parents or kindergarten teachers pick them? Someone once told me that police officers pick them (??).

I have no idea.

But in the end, some of them end up with hilariously awesome ones. Here are some of my favorites, all of which are 100% real:

Boss

Dear

Focus

Ice

Cello

Beauty

First

Great

Name (I actually have two Names)

Cha-Cha

Brain

Cartoon

Think

and my personal favorite…

Sandwich

An Alright Day in Thailand

By Alexis

Okay, so the week didn’t get off to a great start. Thailand isn’t always my favorite place to be. It’s got its good qualities obviously, but I admit that I spend a good majority of my time fantasizing about the next place we’ll move to…

But today wasn’t bad.

I taught my adorable little first graders today and even though they’re one of my craziest classes, I (secretly) love them the most because they were my original babies, the ones I taught for two months while their normal teacher was on maternity leave. They tend to get really out of hand when I teach because, well, they know they can take advantage of me. There’s not much I can do once they’ve realized just how much power 32 screaming six-year-olds can wield over a helpless farang like me.

But I’m slowly learning how to manage them…and they are just so so cute outside of class with their little hugs and shrieks of “TEACHER ALEXIS!!!” that it makes up for all the crazy times in the classroom. As I said on my Instagram today, I imagine doing TEFL with adults would be far less adorable.

Teacher Alexis and one of her Thai first graders

One of my first graders (the birthday boy yesterday!)

Then after lunch, I taught two second grade classes in a row. The first lesson ran a little late, which delayed the start of the second class by a few minutes, and when I walked in, one of the sassy girls (who I love) walks right up to me and says, “Teacher. You are five minutes late.”

Dang, called out by a second grader. Ouch.

But she was right and it was hilarious. Also, I was pretty impressed at her abilities to 1) read a clock that well and 2) speak a perfect English sentence!

I spent the last hour of school trying to figure out lesson plans for next week and it’s getting so difficult! I still rely on my standard phonics resources, but I’m learning they’re not one-size-fits-all resources. Some kids are way more advanced and just bored out of their minds, while other kids think they know the material and subsequently zone out/play during class, and still others still barely know their letter sounds.

So that’s my current challenge: figuring out how to teach 32 kids at wildly varying levels (I know all you seasoned teachers out there are like, tell me something I don’t know).

After school, I met up with David for dinner at the new Salad Concept location in Chiang Mai, near the north east side of the old city. It is soooo good. I’ve been dying for something grilled (not fried) with fresh (not fried) vegetables, and this just hit the spot.

I’m at the end of my rope with the never ending cycle of greasy fried meat and carbs for dinner, so having a salad tonight was perfection.

From there, we tried to buy a tiny little Christmas tree from this nameless corner shop a friend told us about. I would’ve sworn she said she got hers for 250 baht ($7.50 USD), but when we went, the lady working there wanted 350 for the teeniest tiniest tree! What am I, a millionaire?? I even tried speaking to her in the little Thai I know (a tactic that usually loosens people up), but she wouldn’t budge.

So we left empty handed. Boo.

However, I did craft together some paper stockings the other day in an effort to put something Christmas-y up in our apartment, and I must say — they turned out pretty cute for costing a grand total of $0 (thank goodness for being an elementary school teacher with access to craft supplies). So our apartment isn’t totally bare of holiday decorations, but ya know, in case anyone out there is under the impression that expats on teacher salaries live glamorous lives (haha), let this be proof that no, no we do not…

DIY paper Christmas stockings

Fun? Sad? A little of both?

On our walk home from dinner (we still have not bit the bullet and bought a motorbike yet…so walking it is), we wandered by a pretty Buddhist temple that we had somehow never noticed before even though we’ve walked down that street a thousand times.

It’s called Wat Chiang Man, and it just may be my favorite temple I’ve seen in Thailand so far.

David pointed out that it’s uniquely pretty because it doesn’t have the showy, primary colors that some Thai temples do. It’s just a mixture of muted blues and reds, gorgeous gold, and weather worn rock. We love it.

Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai, Thailand

So I’m focusing on the positive things today, like how cute my kids can be and the beautiful temples around me that I sort of take for granted. And also, it’s Friday! That’s always a good thing.

I’m not sure what we’re doing this weekend yet, but judging by the fact that I’m already in bed on a Friday night, I’d guess we’ll be laying low, hanging around the apartment and a few of our favorite coffee shops. If I’m feeling really energetic maybe I’ll pull out my nice camera and do a day of photography since I’ve realized I haven’t really done that in our neighborhood yet. We’ll see how ambitious I’m feeling.

Hope everyone out there has a great weekend! 🙂

Expat Update: 6 Months in Thailand

By Alexis

Alexis holds up Thai and American flags

Well, it’s been a while since our last update, and I can barely believe we’ve been in Thailand for 6 months now. We calculated it, and we’ve only been in America for less than a month in all of 2014, which blows my mind.

Where did this year go??

The weather in Thailand’s getting colder now (I wore a sweater the other day!), so it’s really starting to feel like the year is winding down. I’ve realized that we rarely blog about our everyday lives here, (sorry ’bout that) so here’s one long catchup post for you!

Highs and Lows of TEFL

Things at school still have their ups and downs for me.

I know I’ve said it before, but some days I’ll feel like a great teacher who sees meaningful progress in the kids. And the next day, I’ll have zero control over them and just feel like crying.

I have been trying to watch a bunch of videos about classroom management (specifically, this one and this one) and I think they’re helping, but it is a larger issue. Students here just seem to have very little respect for foreign teachers. I have observed first-hand where the kids are being insane for western teachers and then go immediately silent when a Thai teacher walks into the room, and the other teachers and I are always swapping sob stories about our difficult classes.

So it can be pretty frustrating.

And on top of classroom management issues, there are so many chaotic parts about working Thailand in general… Plans change constantly (like that time my school canceled a full week of our holiday break and, oh yeah, forgot to tell us until a few days before), and it’s fairly common to have no idea what your day’s schedule is going to look like.

But then, of course, there are awesome things that I get to be apart of that would never happen in the States – like celebrating Sports Day (think: American field day x100) and joining parades and ceremonies for the King’s birthday/Father’s Day.

And this may sound cheesy, but the kids really do make it all worth it in the end. Teaching here has definitely helped me solidify that I never want to teach adults. For me, those cute little faces and the sweet personalities I’ve gotten to know are the main redeeming things about teaching English abroad.

Thai student and teacher dressed up for Sports Day

My pretty princess first grader, all dressed up for the Sports Day parade

Thai students stand in front of a tree and golden Buddhist temple

And the fairytale school campus doesn’t hurt either…

Foreign Service Update

Well, we both took the FSOT back in October, and I unfortunately did not pass but David did!!! So he moved onto the next step and submitted 6 personal narratives for review. If he passes this step, he’d be making a trip to Washington, DC (our old stomping grounds) for the oral examination round.

It would be amazing if he passes, but we’re still trying not to get our hopes up since the competition is so fierce.

Thanksgiving in Thailand

There were a couple restaurants in Chiang Mai that were offering American-style Thanksgiving dinners, and we ended up having an awesome meal at The Cat House for 390 baht pp (about $12 USD),which was the cheapest one I could find.

We had the works…roast turkey, gravy on everything, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and even pumpkin pie for dessert. Sadly, stuffing and dinner rolls were nowhere to be found and of course we missed our families, but it was still a fun experience.

Cat House Thanksgiving

Thailand did Thanksgiving right.

Shhh! A Surprise Trip

This spring, we are planning a super secret surprise trip, and I cannot wait to tell everyone! Hopefully we can finalize all the details and spill the beans here around January.

I am terrible at keeping surprises secret, but luckily David is great at it. When he proposed during our trip to Europe in 2013 for example, he’d been carrying the engagement ring around in his bag for two full weeks waiting for the right moment! Not to mention the fact that he’d designed the whole ring himself without a peep to me.

How he has that kind of willpower I will never know…

Going Back to Bali!

We’re going back to Bali in May! I know, I know…we just went to Bali. But after we got back from that trip, we learned that David’s little brother had an opportunity to go to Bali with his surf sponsor (14 years old and already a sponsored surfer. Sheesh, way to make the rest of us look bad 😉 ). The original sponsored trip fell through, but David’s mom decided to make the trip happen anyways, and they just bought tickets to spend two weeks with us in Bali in May.

It’ll be two weeks of nothing but sunshine and surfing (well, surfing for them. I’ll just tan on the beach, thanks).

I’m actually really excited to go back and get the chance to see a couple of the things we missed out on last time — namely, Pura Lempuyang temple, the city of Ubud, and releasing sea turtles into the ocean since we ran out of time to do it on our last trip.

Where To After Asia?

After Bali we don’t have any concrete plans, but our main goal is just to avoid going back to the States anytime soon. We’ve talked about everywhere from French Polynesia to Japan, and we’ve even tossed around the idea of trying to live in 12 countries in 12 months.

In the last week or so, we’ve officially set our sites on one country in particular: Germany.

Mountains near Berchtesgaden, Germany

Who wouldn’t want to live near beautiful Bavarian landscapes like this??

Nothing is set in stone yet, but I really really want to make Germany happen.

During my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria and loved it. That part of the world is just so picture-perfect, and it would be so fun to go back and share it with David. And it would be so fun it we practiced our Deutsch skills together!

I’ve been reading all about the difficulties of getting visas and jobs there as an American, but apparently it’s not impossible. Our current plan (which, let’s be honest, could change at any moment) is to go to Germany in June and if I don’t have an English teaching job already lined up, we’ll live off David’s freelance writing salary while I look for jobs on the ground.

If I can’t find work in a couple months, then we’ll grudgingly head back to America and chalk it all up to an extended vacation.

Married for Half a Year

If we’ve been in Thailand for 6 months that means we’ve been married for 6 months!!! Crazy how fast time flies when you’re with your best friend!

We’ve been talking lately about how our first year of marriage would be so different if we had taken the “normal” route…Our choice of living abroad comes with lots of amazing opportunities, but also a lot of challenges. We miss being with our families and having friends, and we’re always worried about our budget here. We consciously prioritize travel over other things most newlyweds spend money on. We don’t have a car; we aren’t settling into careers; we’re not decorating our first home as newlyweds.

Sending holiday cards from the new “Mr. and Mrs. Rose” would be a traditional activity for this time of year, but for us, it’s hard to justify spending money on those kinds of things when we know that money could easily buy a few nights in Nepal or the Philippines or the million other places we want to visit while we live in Asia.

It’s just a different experience that we’re choosing to have.

We talk about the pros and cons of the two lives (the nomad newlyweds life vs. the settled newlywed life), but right now we’re trying to combine the two. If there was anyone I’d want to try living this crazy life with, it’d be David ❤

Kpix Photography - Bride and groom kiss at wedding

True Stories From Thailand (part 3)

By Alexis

Wat Monthian

A beautiful day at Wat Monthian in Chiang Mai’s Old City

In a first grade class… Continue reading

True Stories From Thailand (part 2)

Teaching a first grade class with one student who’s particulary good with English…
Student [interrupting the lesson]: How do I get the shell out of here?
Me: What??
Student: I heard it in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie…

Continue reading

Helpful (and Free!) Resources for Teaching ESL

IMG_7096-2

Since I started teaching English as a second language (ESL) at an elementary school here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I have gathered quite the collection of sites to help me in my lesson planning. Recently I’ve found myself using the same handful of resources again and again, so I thought it would be helpful to list those here for any other ESL teachers out there.

I teach English to grades 1, 2, and 3 (focusing on phonics and conversation), so this list is geared toward young learners in those subjects.

Check out some of my favorite resources here!

Continue reading