Teaching Abroad,  Thailand

What Teaching Abroad in Thailand has Taught Me

The date was October 16th, 2018 and I was fresh off the mini-bus from Chiang Mai to Lampang. I had no idea what was in store for me when I arrived at my high school English Department office. But then again, isn’t that was life and travel is really about, expect the unexpected?!

I’m not going to sit here ramble on about how, “I’m a different person than I was six months ago” or “my life has changed so much in six months.” If these statements weren’t true, I haven’t done this whole live and work-abroad thing correctly. Isn’t it sort of a given fact that these statements hold true?!

What I want to share today isn’t about HOW my life has changed. I want to share what I have learned from my first semester of teaching high schoolers in Thailand. Learning is an ongoing component to life and learning equals growth. It’s one of my favorite parts about teaching abroad.

1. Sometimes, I take things WAY more serious than they need to be.

This isn’t really new, but I did begin to see this come more to light during my first semester.

As a Speech Language Pathologist, planning and preparing materials and research for evidence-based interventions is part of the job. Careful and serious documentation is required for each student and each group of students. This is necessary for therapy sessions, for the student and their parents, for families, and for teachers. Once the therapy sessions begin, the seriousness fades away, allowing for the fun and playful aspect to appear.

With teaching high schoolers, in a foreign country, I always felt like I needed to be on my A-game. I needed to get these kids speaking as much English as possible. After a while, I began to realize that many of these kids don’t actually care to learn English (at least that’s how they act). I DON’T BLAME THEM. I’ve been there. I remember me in middle school and high school taking Spanish. Four years, I sat in a classroom being taught Spanish all because I HAD TOO. It was a mandatory part of our curriculum.

These kids have so much to do in school. They have so much on their plates. It puts the American learning to shame (in certain ways), and I began to realize that my class wasn’t a high priority. Again, I don’t blame them. Once I realized this factor, I noticed a major shift in my demeanor and my personality within the classroom setting.

I became goofier and more relaxed in class, I wasn’t afraid to go off topic or change gears to get the students attention, and I was more accepting towards the “no care” attitudes I would see in class (emphasis on the MORE).

Now, don’t let this fool you, I’m still a work in progress with my serious personality trait, but I’m excited to start the next semester and use this new learning towards bettering not only my teaching skills, but my interactions with my students.

2. Anxiety and depression can show up unexpectedly, even when you are very happy.

Yup, you read that right. Thailand has taught me that I do occasionally get very anxious and likely have some depression. I don’t think my anxiousness comes in the form of “attacks,” but I can tell a change in my body when the anxious feeling begins to creep in.

I started thinking that I had minor anxiety and depression issues post Hurricane Irma, but I was extremely social on St. Thomas (and drinking more than I needed too), and I probably was masking the issue. In Thailand, I’ve been spending more alone time than ever before, and even though I do have a solid group of friends and we do socialize nearly every weekend, I can tell that my anxiety levels would jump up and down pretty consistently throughout the day. I don’t even know I could pinpoint exactly when or why my anxiety levels would rise, except maybe one- driving a motor scooter.

Occasionally, I do feel my anxiety level rise when riding my motor scooter, which isn’t hard in my mid-size town, or scary, so no idea why it would suddenly appear. I’m not afraid of driving or riding a motor scooter/motorcycle, nor does my town have scary roads so I wish I knew why this happens.

I also have been feeling more alone, even though I am RIDICULOUSLY happy with everything about my life here in Thailand. Insert depression.

Between my solid group of friends, the teachers and students, playing volleyball practically every day, finding a Muay Thai gym to work out at, and the on-going learning of the Thai language, my heart is so full with love and happiness is impossible to put into words.

That being said, I can tell that I have majorly slacked on my mental health and negative self-talk. I have gained weight when I was hoping to lose weight. I feel fat and sometimes not so pretty almost every day, even though I know I am a strong and beautiful woman of God. My motivation for exploring and being confident in being alone has decreased since the move.

Why? I think I kind of know why. Factors could be:

– lack of exercise, like my running/volleyball family in Washington or my crossfit family on St. Thomas;
-lack of prayer, daily devotions, and a Christian community like I had back in Seattle/Bellevue;
-missing my family like crazy every day, and not really being able to talk to them as often as before, damn time zones;

The list could go on and on, but I’m hoping because this semester has taught me these things and I’m more aware of where my life is lacking that I can change it.

3. I may never actually know what is going on or when things might happen.

Oh….this one was probably the hardest thing for me to learn. I don’t do well with not knowing or the unexpected change, and this my friends is Thailand. Thankfully, it’s not just because I’m a foreigner in the school; it does happen to many of the other teachers. Things just happen at school. I am not always told when or why until the day of, or even 10 minutes into class. This would frustrate me to no ends at the beginning but thankfully life is all about learning.

My first semester of teaching in a foreign country at a public school has taught me to adjust my mindset. I’ve had to learn a “go with the flow”,”Mai Bpen Rai” (Thai for no worries) kind of attitude. Although, I’m pretty sure I got a “D” majority of the time, I’m a work in progress.

Life is about taking on challenges, and teaching abroad is just that, a challenge. It’s different and it’s sometimes, more often than not, hard. It’s an experience filled with new learning that will last a lifetime.

My time in Thailand is far from finished. I hope with the next school year, I can continue to learn coping, not taking things too seriously, and adjusting my mindset to be more accepting of the unexpected change. I’m a work in progress living life one Mapless Adventure at a time.

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