Our third installment of the TEFLPlus Spotlight is focused on Colm who completed the April 15th advancedTEFL course earlier this year. He was also one of Ruan’s classmates who was featured in our very first TEFLPlus Spotlight.
Colm found time between marking mid-term exams, a weekend trip to Vientiane and quality hammock time to answer some of our questions.
What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Colm McCarthy and I come from Galway, a small city in the West of Ireland.
What did you do before you decided to move abroad?
After completing a science degree over ten years ago I spent a number of years traveling abroad and working in the hospitality sector. After a six-month trip to South-East Asia followed by a ten month stint working and traveling in Australia, I returned to Ireland to train and work as a fitness instructor. I worked in the fitness industry for the next three years excluding two three month stints in the United States, the home country of my partner. So finally, with a view to settling in Ireland, I completed a one year H.Dip in food science and worked for a contract laboratory for almost two years before leaving for Thailand.
So what made you decide to switch gears and work abroad as an English teacher?
The single biggest reason for leaving Ireland for Thailand was the climate. I love a hot climate and the rainy west of Ireland which doesn’t have any “earthquakes or tornadoes”, as my mother always reminds me, was nonetheless getting to me. The fact that there is a recession in Ireland and job opportunities and wages have become a lot more limited would also have been an excuse or rather a reason!
Had you done much traveling before earning your TEFL at TEFLPlus?
A fair amount, six months in Africa and South-East Asia being the biggest trips.
Why did you decide to take your TEFL course in Thailand?
While traveling in South-East Asia I always enjoyed the natural attractions of Thailand as well as the weather and the attitude of the Thai people. I find that they don’t take life too seriously. Considering the global economic downturn, at home I seemed to be absorbing far too much negativity from a media perspective, whereas out here I have no television by choice, my Internet is limited and I just live in the moment. If you’re teaching children, you are essentially helping children so I’ve actually found job satisfaction that I’ve never had.
What did you do after you completed your TEFL training? Was getting a job a priority, or did you have other plans?
Getting a job immediately was a priority as I only decided to come teaching here literally two months before I left Ireland so my saving time was limited. I’d also had over a week on a small island up the coast when I arrived and it’s not like the TEFL plus course was a slave camp so it was definitely time to work!
I spent about ten days applying to jobs and enjoying the beaches of Phuket before receiving a job about 2,000km away through an agency called MediaKids. I could have found work nearer but I was quite happy with the contract offered and I wanted to go to a rural part of Thailand.
What was the interview like? Were there any difficult questions?
The interview over the phone was more of a chat than an interview. They seemed happy once I had the credentials in terms of a TEFL certificate and university degree to offer me a position without any major questioning. It’s not always so simple I hear but my overall impression is that there are plenty of English teaching jobs in Thailand, in particular if you are flexible where you will work. I would have liked to live near the sea but I’ve a river and a lake to jump into instead so I’m happy.
Where do you currently live?
I live in Phibun Mangsahan, a town of approximately 10,000 people in Ubon Ratchathani province in the North-East of Thailand. The town lies 660km east of Bangkok in a rural area just 40km from mountainous Laos.
What are the pluses (and minuses) of living in Ubon Ratchathani?
I love the food and the affordability of it, the amazing fruit, relaxing in shorts in a hammock under my home in the evening and just being a teacher, a position which is much respected within the community. I have six other colleagues and we are essentially the only white people in the area so being anonymous is difficult but mostly I feel the local attitude to us is one of curiosity more than any thing else. If you smile you receive a smile back the vast majority of the time in the same way as at home really. The Thais I’m really getting to know are the English teachers we share the department office with and the more I get to know them the more I love them for their great sense of humour and ability to get their work done without taking the whole process too seriously. If she ever sees a stressed head on me, the head of the English department is sure to say to me “Jai yen yen Colm” which basically means to relax and not to be serious! For me any bad things are too petty to mention. I am a long way from home so I do miss my family but in the current day and age with Skype and the Internet, emigration can’t be near as bad as for previous generations.
Are you renting a house or an apartment?
You can live in town in a modern small apartment but I live just outside in a small compound of wooden stilted bungalows which consist of a bedroom, living room and bathroom. I have a table and chairs and hammock underneath the bungalow which are handy when friends come over.
Can you describe your school and your students?
I teach in Phibunmangsahan School, a high-school of approximately 3,800 students. I mostly teach twelve or thirteen year old second year high school students.
The students are children so what can you say! They are sometimes rowdy and hard to control but they are basically lovely children with a long school day. Some classes have very good students and are a joy to teach whereas others will push the boundaries a bit more. Things get easier though as you get more experience and the more the children get to know you. When you’ve worked in the service industry observing the heirs and graces of the general public working with children is refreshing. It’s hard not to smile when you walk around a school with children constantly smiling at you saying “hello teacher”.
Coming from what I thought was a fairly large school in Ireland with about 700 pupils, Phibunmangsahan has 3,800 students which I think is massive. It seems to be a good school and the children and teachers get on well. Learning how things really are in school and in the community takes time, especially with the language barrier but it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities between here and home. Work wise there’s paper work and attendance sheets and examinations books which can confuse the head off me at times but as long as you “Jai yen yen”, all will be fine.
You mentioned “Jai yen yen” which is a very useful term to know. Are there any other quick tips that you can give to new teachers just staring out?
Quick tips for students starting out…As I’m only new myself, I suppose I have relatively limited experience but I think it’s good to show that you are making an effort to fit in. I think it’s a good idea to know about the wai culture and how to use it. I love passing an elderly teacher and being able to show them the courtesy of a wai and they definitely seem to appreciate it. The same goes with learning some of the language. If the teachers see that you are interested enough to want to learn to speak some Thai the feedback will only be positive. Also, while I recognise that it’s not a teaching tool to be used based on the TEFL course, I think you gain a level of respect from the students if you can even just speak a few words of Thai. When I learned the Thai for stop talking was “sow wow” and then used it in some classes, the usual reaction was an immediate huge cheer and clapping!
For students facing their first day of teaching I think you just have to remind yourself that your simply dealing with children. That doesn’t mean you should act the clown but just try and be patient and kind and they will ultimately respect and have a good relationship with you. Some Thai children are painfully shy, especially when it comes to speaking English in class, so they will generally be far more nervous of you than you of them.
I finally would recommend to not take life too seriously out here. Do your best and it’s all you can do. Enjoy living in a far off land and accept that things will be different from home. A year’s teaching in Thailand will be a once in a life-time experience for most so try and enjoy it all the way.
What is your overall compensation package? Are you able to save any money?
The money relative to local costs isn’t bad at all because I live in a rural place and my bungalow for example costs about €55 per month.
If you were paid over a twelve month period you could save very well but I have a nine month contract and a month off in between which is unpaid so I hope to save but it will be limited. If I move country and work in a school soon after finishing here, from a financial perspective it will have been better than I expected.
What are your future plans?
I have a five year old son back in Ireland so while I see plenty of opportunity to stay in Asia teaching long term, I won’t work away for longer than two years and hopefully get a good month at home in between. As I enjoy teaching English and feel I got a really good base at TEFLPlus, I hope to pursue teaching English as a long term career. I’m hoping to teach in South Korea for a year after Thailand and then return to Europe. I’d love to try and live and work in France.
Anything else you’d like to share with those planning on moving to Thailand to teach English?
For those suited to it I think it’s a great move and I’d highly recommend it. For home birds who prefer western food and don’t handle the heat well it’s not going to be their thing. An ability to respect the local culture will get you a long way. The lifestyle is great. I’m leaving work at 4.30 p.m. this evening and I’m driving my scooter about 25km with some other teachers and going for a swim in a reservoir where the water will be beautifully warm. That, for an Irishman, is very far from where I was raised, especially in a temperature perspective!
Thank you for the great advice Colm!
We really appreciate the time Colm took out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. He has some excellent advice for teachers just starting out, and it looks like things are going well. Colm started preparing for his move abroad in just two months. Where will you be in two months? We look forward to seeing where Colm ends up next.
Are you looking for some quality hammock time yourself? Are you ready for a change? If you have any questions about moving abroad to teach English in Thailand, drop us a line!