Yes, I said it — You need balls. So many people consider traveling, consider moving to another country, consider a new way of life, but many will never take the next step. When it comes down to it, it’s all a matter of who’s going to make it happen and who just wants to talk about making it happen.
The harsh reality is that people want certainty. And travel can never promise you that.
To travel as a way of life, you have to be a person that’s not only willing to take risks but you must be willing to make personal sacrifices as well. These sacrifices may include, quitting your career job, giving up your dream apartment and selling your car — All for a life of uncertainty and adventure. Maybe that sounds a bit extreme, but I ask you now, how bad do you want to live around the world?
Meet my friend Leanne. She is the perfect example of a traveler who has sacrificed contentment for the unknown.
After she backpacked Thailand with a few friends at 23, her life was never the same. She had an established career working as a lecturer at an art and design college in England, an apartment with a killer view of Saltburn-By-The-Sea and a life that seemed enviable – But, Leanne had other plans.
At 28, she moved to Bangkok with a suitcase and a goal – A year later she finds that it wasn’t as scary as it first appeared to be and that the decision to pack up her life in England was one of the best moves of her life.
This is Leanne’s story in a Q&A:
1. Did you really move to Bangkok with no job lined up?
Leanne: I’m a certified teacher in England and even though certified teachers are in high demand in Thailand, I knew it was unrealistic to apply to jobs online and have one set up before I came. Schools in Bangkok will almost never hire you unless you are already in the country. So I had a decision to make: Dream of teaching abroad, or making it happen – I chose the latter.
2. Why did you quit your job in England? Did you not like it?
Leanne: Quite the opposite. I loved my job. In fact, I was six months into the career that I had aspired for since I was in my teens. It was the start of my career and gaining the position meant I’d finally gotten to where I dreamed of being. Suddenly though, I saw my career path stretched out in front of me and there didn’t seem to be much room for my other desire – teaching abroad.
3. What was the hardest part about making your decision to teach abroad?
Leanne: Leaving my home. I had worked so hard for my apartment and to live in the location where I was — I was very attached to it all. It’s right by the sea and waking up every morning made me smile. I just had to keep in mind that nothing was going to change. It wasn’t going anywhere. And so, I made a promise to myself that I would return; Return happier and more settled knowing I had put my traveling soul to rest.
4. Did you know anyone in Bangkok before you moved?
Leanne: A friend, of a friend, of a friend of mine was living and teaching at a private school in Bangkok. She gave me some great advice and made me feel more comfortable taking the next step. When I got to Bangkok I was planning on staying on Khao San Road (the big backpacker district) but my friends apartment building in Thon Buri had a studio apartment available so I ended up living there for 3500 Baht a month (£80/ $120 American) plus utilities.
5. Did the thought of not getting a job cross your mind? How did you get through that, “What if” factor?
Leanne: Honestly, no. I knew I wanted it enough to set my sights low. Which meant I was willing to take any salary and live very basically. I went with no expectations other than to enjoy myself and do what I had spent years dreaming of. People say that all the time but they don’t mean it. Conquering the ‘what if’ meant I had to weigh up the ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ factor. My thoughts were, ‘If it doesn’t work out, I’ll fly home and borrow some money to set up a home in England again and if anything I’ll feel content with the fact that I had tried.’ To never have tried at all would have weighed much more heavily on me and I’d have carried it for the rest of my life. ‘What if I did’ is always better than ‘what if I didn’t?’
6. Did you ever want to back out and not go?
Never. It sounds crazy looking back on it but once I have my mind set on something I have to carry it out. I don’t often think of the consequences because I would talk myself out of it. I’m quite stubborn so the more people questioned me, the more determined I was to show them I meant it. The timing felt right and I knew it was now or never.
7. What was your first couple of weeks like in Bangkok?
Leanne: I was naive in thinking that it was going to be like it was when I backpacked there. This time around I was living in a Thai village where English wasn’t used and having a falang [westerner] in the area was something to stare about. I couldn’t speak Thai and my terrible sense of direction, the winding soi’s [streets] and constant change of scenery (one day the stall is there, the next it isn’t), didn’t make it easier. I’d thrown myself in at the deep end. I remember my first trip alone in a taxi and the realization that I spoke no Thai — I couldn’t say the proper tone for my apartment address and I had no mobile phone or internet in case of emergency. Bangkok is far from short on transport, but you really need to know what you’re doing.
6. How long did it take you to get a job?
Leanne: Two weeks. I sent my CV to a few schools and got an instant reply. I had planned on working in a local private school but I was lucky enough to land myself at position at an International school which meant I could afford a luxury lifestyle. The school was on the other side of Bangkok and I had to navigate my way there using hand gestures on a wing and a prayer.
7. Describe the interview process?
Leanne: I was interviewed the day after the reply to my email. By chance I had arrived and applied during the International summer break so I wasn’t landing myself in the middle of a school academic year. After answering a few basic questions, I was shown around the school, picked my classroom and taken into a room to sign a contract. I started one week later.
8. Why is it better to be in the country when looking for job?
Leanne: Now that I’ve been living here [in Thailand] I can see things from the schools point of view. They have had a bad track record with hiring Westerners who never show up for the first day of school. I can’t speak for other countries but most Thai schools prefer that you are actively seeking work while you are in their country – It shows that you are already committed and ready to take the job seriously. I guess they have had their fair share of duds and no shows. And as demontrated through my speedy interview process, they don’t like to wait around. They want someone here and now.
9. What was it like teaching at an International School?
Leanne: I ended up landing a 1st grade teaching position at Pan Asia International School. This meant more then half of my children were required to speak English fluently as a second language. Some were beginners and having two drastically different levels of English in the class is a challenge in itself. The curriculum is set at a national standard, requiring us to meet the same standards and benchmarks as children in America. We practice an American curriculem and teaching resources. This can be hard work. I did come expecting to have a less pressured, more relaxed job. And that’s where some people fail. I expected a broken down classroom of a third world country where in fact, Asia takes education more seriously than any other country I have known.
10. Was your salary enough to live in Thailand?
Leanne: If you have a degree in teaching you should be looking for schools that will pay you at least 55,000 Baht a month. Don’t settle for less then that. I was making 60,000 Baht a month but some schools will pay up to 100,000 Baht a month. There are also many tutoring opportunities. I earned an extra 8,000 Baht for spending 45 minutes, four days a week after school on homework with one student.
11. Did you live close to where you taught?
Leanne: I googled ‘estate agents in Bangkok’ and emailed the first one that came up. I got a call and the next day he showed me a couple of different apartments near the location of my school. I ended up choosing an incredible one bedroom, one bathroom with a living room and kitchen, a swimming pool, gym and high end security. It was 15,000 Baht (£300/$400 American) a month plus utilities. An amazing price for the location and amenities and well worth it! Plus, On Nut is a great place to live in Bangkok.
12. Were you able to travel while teaching?
Leanne: Another lack of judgment on my part meant I thought I would be travelling all the time. Reality is, I get to spend weekends in Hua Hin (a small fishing beach town three hours from Bangkok), and school holidays in the South on the Thai islands. All schools have different holidays. My school is not very generous with breaks so I haven’t experienced as much as I’d have expected by now, but the comfortable salary has earned me enough to go traveling for a few months once school is finished.
13. What advice would you give to a certified teacher looking for work in Thailand?
Leanne: If it’s really what you want to do and you’re serious, get over here! It so easy to come by jobs here as there is such a great turnover of teaching staff in International schools. But you need to know that it’s a serious job and requires a lot of hard work. I am up at 5:30am and don’t get home until around 5pm. But, it’s equally as important to balance a social life on top of it – I have met so many great people and the experience would never have been the same had I dedicated myself solely on my job.
14. What are the struggles a certified teacher might face while teaching in Thailand?
Leanne: None. The schools do your visa runs and you’re well paid. As long as you are dedicated, you really reap the rewards from teaching here.
15. Do you recommend any websites for people looking for teaching jobs?
Leanne: I just googled and went on Ajarn.com. You meet so many people, through people, through other people that even without the internet, word of mouth spreads quickly. There is great teaching community here.
16. What was it like living in a non-English speaking country?
Leanne: Difficult at first, but you catch on quick to language and terms. There is a high percentage of Thai’s that speak English (but a just as high percentage of those that don’t want to use it!), so it’s not much of a struggle. If you want to gain repect however, then it’s worth picking up a few phrases to make your life easier.
17. Did you like living in Bangkok?
Leanne: I’ll admit there has been days when I get annoyed at the slowness of it all. But that’s usually because of the heat or because I’m usually running late. There isn’t a word I can describe to project the feeling of living here. It’s a contradiction to itself – slow/fast, rude/polite, smells good/smells bad… Cultural. That’s the word. That stands out the most for me. I already know Bangkok will never leave me, and a part of me will never leave Bangkok. Everyone should live here at least once.
18. Was is hard to make friends?
Leanne: It would be harder not to! And the friends you make don’t just stay friends, they become family. You share experiences with these people that no one in your life at home will ever understand. It’s a travellers club and everyones invited.
19. Now that you’ve taught a year, what are your plans?
Leanne: To travel South East Asia and anywhere else I can squeeze into the adventure. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to live and travel Thailand while teaching, I feel like I’ve done everything I wanted here and my gypsy blood is already itching me elsewhere… I just don’t know where yet.
20. Is there anything else you want to add?
Leanne: I thought the world would get smaller the more you have seen of it, but it only gets deeper.
Leanne’s inbox is full of people who want all the answers, all the information, all the steps to take in order to take their teaching skills overseas but there is only so much advice one can give because everyone’s experience is different.
In all, it’s not about how much you’ve dreamed about it, it’s about whether you have the courage (and a great set of balls) to try something knew knowing that nothing is certain. Well, only one thing in life is certain… you know the saying. Just remember, you choose the life you find <3 And I’m sure that most people who travel as a way of life can agree that, “If you are lucky enough to find a way of life that you love, then you must find the courage to live it.”
Have more questions? Please comment below!
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