The all important TEFL checklist

Before leaving the UK for Thailand, I wanted to find a checklist that told me everything I needed to know or bring with me. I found this eventually but by using multiple different sites. So I thought it’d be a good idea to put it all in one checklist! The first thing you need to have is a bit of money to tide you over for the first few months. You will need to leave the country to get your visa and then your work permit which can be unforeseen costs so be prepared! You will also need to make sure you have your paperwork ready before you leave your home country:

  • 120 Hour TEFL course

I chose a groupon deal for £29 with LearnTefl the equivalent of 1,500 bt, for a 150 hour online course. It took around 3 months to complete whilst working full time and was simple to understand. I had 3 assignments and 1 exam. When you pass, your sent an online certificate which certifies you for life. Schools require a minimum of 120 hours of learning from your course. Some schools prefer you to have a hands on TEFL qualification or actual classroom experience, but I found many schools just need that 120 certification.

  • A university degree in any field

Every school I applied to wanted to see my degree certificate, I think it would have been difficult to get a job without one. Make sure to bring photocopies too and scan them into your computer for safe keeping.

  • University transcript

Along with your degree certificate, most schools want to see your transcript too. Make sure to bring them with you as you’ll need it not only for school but to secure your work permit and visa too. Some schools want two sealed transcripts but I wasn’t asked for this when applying so think it’s quite rare in Thailand.

  • A criminal record check from your home country

This is very important to get before leaving your home country. Schools want to make sure there’s no reason why you can’t work with children and again for your work permit. In the UK I applied and received my basic check in 3 weeks, I know from other teacher’s experiences it’s much harder to get when you’re in another country.

  • A tourist visa

If you’re from the UK, you can get a 30 day tourist visa for no charge. If you want to stay longer in Thailand you’ll need to apply for a longer tourist visa. I didn’t know how long it would take to find a job and thought 30 days wasn’t long enough. So I travelled to my nearest Thai consulate in Birmingham, UK and brought a 60 day tourist visa for £25. This gave me enough time to find a job and then leave the country to apply for a Non-immigrant B visa.

  • Work attire

Don’t get me wrong, you can get work attire in Thailand and some good bargains too. Just make sure you are aware of the Thai culture before you buy your clothes. As a female, your shoulders have to be covered and its tradition to wear skirts no shorter than around knee length. I didn’t find any information when searching that you need your shoulders covered so I learnt the hard way and brought loads of sleeveless blouses. Anyway for males a shirt and tie is appropriate. I’ve heard stories where people have turned up for interviews in full on traveller attire, shorts and vest tops with elephants on the front. Not the greatest first impression.

  • Motorbike licence

If you can, get a motorbike licence before your leave your country. I wish I had been told about this before coming out to Thailand. Driving a motorbike is the most convenient way to get around, especially in Asia. You can rent a bike without a licence but for police reasons, its best to get one. You have to get an international licence from your home country, you can get a Thai licence but then that doesn’t cover you to rent anywhere else in the future.

  • Medical Insurance

I came out to Thailand with long term travel insurance, but it’s probably a good idea to get a separate medical insurance. If you make a claim on travel insurance, your insurance is then void. Most schools offer some kind of insurance but you may have to add that to your list of monthly expenses too. I know people that have ended up in hospital and have no insurance at all, therefore ending up with a huge medical bill at the end of their stay. Better to be insured just in case.

  • Choose the right time to come out to Thailand

The school term in Thailand starts in May so recruitment starts in April. They have a break between semesters in October so again recruitment starts in September. There is a high demand for Teachers in Thailand and most jobs are based in Bangkok. Chiang Mai is an amazing place to live but jobs here are sought after, so can be a challenge to find a job.

This is just a basic check list for becoming a TEFL teacher in Thailand. Some countries and schools may have different requirements so it’s always wise to check beforehand.

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A disastrous demo lesson

photo 2 (1)Your first ever demo lesson is going to be a nightmare for anyone going into teaching. Funnily enough, I had already been given the job offer before doing the demo lesson (it still didn’t take any of the pressure off though!). Observing teachers during summer school and getting to know the children, I thought a demo lesson would be relatively easy. Being given less than 24 hours to come up with a 90 minute lesson is terrifying! Especially when you have never taught before!

So I start off by explaining my name to which the kids struggled to pronounce! Teacher Kristie was close enough (some of my colleagues call me that now so I’ve just gotten used to it). Started off with a warmer – every lesson needs a warm up activity to begin with or the kids will lose concentration, (I soon learnt that kids lose concentration no matter what!) My lesson involved a new phonetic sound (my children were Grade 1 by the way) so we played a game using the sound. Next I showed them a worksheet on the projector.

  • Top tip – check that the projector works with your laptop beforehand.

I wasn’t given enough time to check, so standing in front of a class being observed wasn’t a great feeling. Finally get the projector working to find the children had already finished the work, so there was no need for the projector anyway, typical!

One thing I underestimated was classroom management. When children do not recognise you and have never been taught by you, they have little respect for you so it’s fair to say that lesson wasn’t going to run as smoothly as id hoped. Children running around, out of their seats and others surrounding me to get their books marked, it was chaotic for my first time teaching to say the least. Not only that, but a child then came to me 10 minutes before the end of the lesson to say he doesn’t have a pencil so hadn’t done the work!

Finished off the lesson by playing a short video on my newly working projector! In Thailand it’s traditional to thank teachers at the end of each lesson, which is a lovely and respectful tradition to experience.

So a few lessons were learnt:

  • Make sure the projector works
  • Check everyone has a pencil
  • Expect the worst, as it can only get better from there.

That said, it does get better, much better! My homeroom class have so much respect for me and their other teachers. And class management comes naturally after a few weeks. Let the children get to know you and know your rules and your onto a winner!

A scenic drive on the Samoeng Loop!

One thing you think of when you move to a hot country such as Thailand is the idyllic scenery on open roads surrounded by mountain views. Chiang Mai is surrounded by countryside, rainforests and mountains; it’s the perfect destination to set up home in Thailand! If you’re looking for a drive to see the surrounding areas of Chiang Mai, the 100km Samoeng loop should be high on your list. Allowing 3 or 4 hours to stop and admire the scenery, the Samoeng loop is a great day out for Motorcycle driving enthusiasts.

Starting in the centre of Chiang Mai, take a 40 minute drive to Mae Rim. Driving along the open roads, the scenery either side is incredible! Once you get to Mae rim, you take a drive through a tourism hotspot where there’s the option to visit an elephant camp, watch a snake/crocodile show, visit an insect farm or drive an off road ATV. You can also visit Elephant PoopooPaper park, where they literally create paper, notebooks and bookmarks out of elephant dung! I even brought a bookmark myself for the collection, interesting to visit if you’ve got time!

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Stop off at the Queen Sirikit botanical gardens, well worth the visit even if flowers aren’t really your thing! You’re able to drive your motorbike around the gardens and stop off at multiple points along the way. Started off by driving through rows of different species of banana trees, took a short nature trail up to a very old jungle hut where you can look down at an incredible view beneath of all kinds of different plants and flowers! Continuing through to gardens, we arrived at the white flower zone. Now in the right season, this area would look incredible, as it turns out we were a bit too early and there wasn’t a white flower in sight! However we did manage to see the biggest limes I have ever seen, probably the size of a large pineapple in comparison!  Don’t miss out on the numerous greenhouses too, full of exotic flowers and cacti and you might even spot a tiny orange frog along the way!

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After leaving the gardens, continue along the well planned out route, with some incredible scene’s to stop and admire. Head to a place called Mon Cham, a small Thai village right at the top of the mountain. Stop off and have lunch in a bamboo hut with the most stunning of views, I don’t think I’ve even seen anything quite like it! Food is a little on the pricey side for Thailand but so worth it for the stunning view below.

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Continue on the loop and you reach the top of Samoeng, where there’s another viewpoint to match those incredible views.

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Just try not to almost run out of gas along the way, be aware there is nowhere to top up for a few kms (we found out the hard way)!  Head into the Samoeng village, where there finally is a small self-service machine selling gasoline! Restart the engine on a full tank and arrive in a strawberry lover’s haven! Although there isn’t a huge amount to do in the village, you can buy anything from strawberry flavoured spirits to a strawberry Som Tam (papaya salad). I didn’t try it out though I’m afraid, will leave that one for another time! Leaving Samoeng, you arrive on the straight road to the Hang Dong area of Chiang Mai which leads the loop back into the city where we started out.

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If you’re stuck for ideas and love driving through stunning scenery, the Samoeng loop is a great day out of central Chiang Mai. Just make sure you leave enough time to make the most of your stops, and don’t forget that gas!

Climbing the sticky waterfalls!

Having not long lived in Thailand, we were keen to explore the surrounding areas of Chiang Mai. A few friends from our school invited us to check out Bua Thong waterfalls (or Sticky waterfalls as they are more commonly known).

Another very scenic 1 hour’s drive from the centre of Chiang Mai. We arrived at the waterfalls which were incredible I must say. Three tiers of the falls, all of which you can climb, hence their name! A little apprehensive, we didn’t quite believe you could actually climb up a waterfall. The rocks looked really slippery, but you can climb right to the top and have a lovely view down the falls.

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Climbing down was the hard part, and the scariest too, but all part of the fun! We climbed down further to the lowest of the 3 tiers, where there was a waterfall shower. Spend a few minutes under that, not only are you completely wet through but you’ve had an incredible back massage for free! We were spotted by a family from our school, which was a little awkward considering I was in a bikini and speaking to a guy we work with. Spend a few hours at the falls and you’ve got a great day out of central Chiang Mai, well worth the visit and it’s free too!11401011_10153205485480845_7572055475499862294_n

A short trip to Laos for Immigration

We arrived in Thailand on a tourist visa so we knew we would have to change it as soon as we got a job in a school. To get the Non-immigrant B visa, which allows us to work as Teachers, you have to leave the country and visit immigration in another country. The nearest Thai consulate from Chiang Mai is in Vientiane, Laos. We had to wait a few weeks for all the documents, finished school one day at 4pm, given our documents, went home, packed and were on an overnight bus to Udon Thani by 7pm. Udon Thani is still in Thailand but its 10 hours away by bus, a very long 10 hours with little sleep, light shining in your eyes and a desperate need for the toilet without waking other passengers up!

Arriving in Udon Thani, we then get a mini bus to the Thai/Laos boarder to leave the country. Pay the equivalent of £35 for a Laos tourist visa and make our way to the consulate. Get ripped off by a Tuk-tuk driver, although Tuk-tuk’s aren’t the same as in Thailand, they are proportionally longer and have an awful smell to them! Hand in our documents to immigration, had previously heard we’d be queuing for hours but there was a Thai holiday the next day so queues were empty. This meant we had to spend 3 days in Vientiane, with little money, lessons to plan and not really wanting to be there in the first place. We had only moved into our new condo 2 days before!

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Having looked around, there wasn’t much to do there either but we wanted to make the most of it, so we ticked all the tourism boxes! Visited Buddha park, which was stunning I must say, full of old Buddha ruins! Visited the Putuxai monument, a French war victory gate which looks identical to the Arc de Triumph in Paris! And finally we took a very hot walk to view some incredible sand art as part of a sand art festival, they actually had a festival for sand art, however we were the only ones there! Evenings were spent walking to the river side and exploring the very busy night market and stopping off at overpriced restaurants, not really being able to find Laos’ own cuisine, it was mainly Thai, American or Indian.

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After spending 3 days lesson planning and sightseeing, we decided to go for a pizza for our last night. As delicious as it was, my boyfriend and I became very unwell in the morning. Too ill to walk, we got a tuk-tuk to pick up our new Thai visa’s and then a mini bus back to Udon Thani. Went to queue for a taxi to the bus station (feeling dreadful), when we overheard a group getting a taxi to the airport. Decided to jump in their taxi and paid a whole £20 for a 40 minute flight straight back to Chiang Mai! More expensive than the 10 hour overnight bus but the way we were feeling, we’d have been foolish to get the bus again!

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Having to leave Thailand to go to a consulate in another country is not going to be high on anyone’s list of things they want to do. We had the option to go to Laos, sort our visa’s and lesson plan for the upcoming semester. Or we could make the most of our trip to Vientiane and become tourists again for the weekend. The second option seemed much better and to be honest, even though there is little to do in Vientiane, I actually had an enjoyable time there (although I won’t be rushing back anytime soon!).

Becoming an Expat and adapting to Thai life

Getting a job in a school was the hard part, looking for somewhere to live was easy, we managed to find an apartment and move in all within 24 hours. I think that’d be a record for anyone. So the day consisted of five apartment viewings, all of which needed to complete the checklist my boyfriend and I had put together. If you’re going to live in a foreign country, you have to go as big as you can afford and live somewhere you could only dream of living back home. To be honest, with the weather like it is in England it would only ever be just that, a dream! Our checklist consisted of: A pool, a mountain view, a balcony and a gym on site so we could never have an excuse not to go to the gym (oh how naïve we were!). Life can’t get much better than waking up to see the view we have out of our corner flat, where there are amazing views whichever way you look.

So once we had the employment and the apartment, the next step was to rent a bike. Now I was never crazy about the idea, especially when you see the Asian style traffic. However it was the only feasible option to get around in such a big city. That said, I will never be the one driving, being left-handed and trying to drive an automatic motorbike which is designed for right-handed people would never work, and apparently I have the balance of a four year old so that wouldn’t work either!

The final step to becoming an expat in Thailand is settling in to the Thai way of life. Four months on and although we feel very settled to life here now, there are always surprises. Take a few weekends back for example, we went for a drive to some hot springs about an hour and a half’s drive from our condo. On the way back we hit another annoying set of traffic lights, go to pull off and guess what, we get a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere. No shops around, no people around, nothing! So we pull over and start to push the bike, traffic stops at the lights and we are gestured to walk down a small road. We start to walk and push this really heavy bike, some local Thai’s see us and pick up our bike in their pickup truck and drive us to the nearest garage. Bear in mind that we speak very little Thai and these guys spoke no English at all! We were amazed at the generosity; they didn’t want anything for it, purely there to help us out.

So that’s that, my journey to becoming an expat living and teaching in Thailand. Undoubtedly, there will be more surprises along the way but one thing’s for sure, this country will never get boring!

The journey to find a job begins!

You can’t decide to go and live in another country without exploring what the country has to offer before settling down to a job and a place to live. So that’s exactly what I decided to do, travel more of Thailand first and settle when we run out of money. The school year started two months later anyway so it seemed like the best option. Thailand is such an incredible country to explore, the north is surrounded by jungle and wildlife and in the south, you have some of the most idyllic beaches and islands you will ever see.

We decided to fly up to Chiang mai and settle there. Chiang mai is like a dream in itself, its unreal. One side is a huge city with loads of shopping centres and crazy Thai traffic. The other is a rainforest with wild monkeys swinging in the trees, surrounded by huge mountains you can see for miles.

So Chiang mai was our home for the next six months, or so we thought. Let me tell you, living out of a backpack in a tiny hotel room for more than two weeks is far from ideal. Our days consisted of jumping in one of Thailand’s well known tuk-tuk’s to search around local markets and supermarkets for work attire. Then having to walk around aimlessly trying to locate schools in 38 degree heat, handing out cv’s not even knowing if schools are even hiring yet, sweat pouring from areas I didn’t even know existed and desperately looking for a place to empty my bladder. Let’s just say it’s an experience I don’t think I’ll forget in a long time!

Becoming an expat and leaving everything I know behind

I graduated from University in Manchester with a degree in Social Care. After graduating I realised there is only so much you can do with a degree in this field, most of it with a small salary and without actually needing the qualification in the first place. This is when I decided that I wanted to change career paths, I just didn’t know what career to take. I started looking into post graduate courses but with the endless choices, it was hard to make a decision.

I have always been interested in working with children and have often thought about teaching but didn’t want to commit to a qualification without really knowing. That’s where the idea of teaching abroad came about. I mentioned it to my boyfriend out of curiosity and he was all for it, having wanted to go and experience something life changing while still young enough anyway. So that’s where we decided, there and then, to move abroad and start our new lives in another country.

We had both been to Thailand before, loved everything about it and could quite happily see ourselves living there. That along with the amazing food and cheap lifestyle, we were sold on the idea. So the next step was planning the small details. We found a deal on groupon with a bargain price for a Teaching English as a foreign language course and completed it online within three months.

The next bit gets a little tricky, organising visas, booking flights and the hardest part was telling our families. We gave ourselves an idea of six months abroad and then longer if we enjoy it. So that was the plan, telling our parents we are moving abroad for six months. Surprisingly, it went quite well as they knew we had been thinking about it. We gave in notices at our well-paid jobs and our flat in Manchester, moved home for a week or two to say bye and made our way to the airport, leaving everything we knew behind and having no clue at all about the next steps of our big move.