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Greetings from Sanpatong!

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Wow, two months certainly flies by FAST. Turns out I still have a blog, fancy that! I suppose it’s time to dust off the cobwebs here and give a little bit of insight into my life the past few months. To be honest, I cannot believe it is already December 28th. I’ve celebrated my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and it’ll be the new year in a few days. Utter craziness!
  
I’ve grown to love and cherish my hometown in Sanpatong, Chiang Mai (didn’t take much, or long). My daily routine consists of biking to school with the three other “farang” (Thai word for foreign) teachers, signing in, going to morning assembly with the other Thai teachers and students, and starting our teaching day at 8:30am. Monday’s are tough for me with 6 classes. I teach nearly the whole day but I also get a jump start on my week so I don’t mind. I’ve come a long way since day one of teaching. You learn a lot about your students as learners and yourself as a teacher every single day. Our school structure goes like this: the farang teachers all teach an entire grade. For example, I teach Mattyom 4 or the equivalent of 10th grade in America. Each Mattyom is broken up into 10 separate classes: 4/1 - 4/10. I wish I could say that 4/1 is the best and 4/10 is the “worst” but the science behind the groupings is not perfect and there are lots of outliers. My 4/1 class is certainly the most advanced but my 4/10’s have some quite gifted students as well… I only mention this to expose the vast amount of learner levels and abilities you can be faced with teaching an entire grade by yourself! Some students can speak so well and others can’t tell your their name in English. Again - crazy! You learn and you adapt though the best you can. Oh and did I mention we all teach 400 students each?! It’s a crazy, challenging, frustrating, wonderful, rewarding and
unforgettable experience. It’s all the things. And I couldn’t be happier to be here doing it!

We just celebrated Christmas in Sanpatong and wow - they just may celebrate Christmas bigger and better than we do in America! We had the entire day reserved for Christmas-y festivities. The students all practiced and prepared skits (nativity!), singing, dancing, playing instruments and much more on the main stage at school. It was SO impressive. Seriously, these kids are incredible. And, it was all in English! I probably I heard “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran performed 3 -4 times in a new capacity every time. Thai’s absolutely love western music so incorporating music into your lessons can be pretty helpful. We all did a music lesson with our respective grades and they went really well. I did a “cloze” activity to the song “Love Story” by Taylor Swift and the students went bonkers - literally bonkers. Later on Christmas night we had a Christmas party with all the teachers - also quite the event. All the Thai teachers dressed in traditional Hilltribe (colorful, flashy, knit Thai clothes) and danced to traditional Thai melodies. There was a buffet, Chang (Thai budweiser ;)) and a huge raffle giving away gifts to the lucky winners. Our Thai coordinator won a refrigerator. The other three farang teachers won a rice cooker, Tupperware and a Towel. So very practical.
Anyway… Sanpatong is beautiful. We have a lake near our apartment complex that we often bike to at sunset. It’s “Suay Maak”, which means "very beautiful" in Thai. There’s an outdoor gym there as well (quite common in Thailand). I’ve gone… once. Not exactly working on that 6-pack here. Oh and have I mentioned the food here? It’s unreal! First of all, my apartment complex has a bubble tea shop attached to it. Our landlord is the best. Her daughter Ning runs the shop and has a little son running around all the time named Pa Porn. He’s a delight. Ning makes the best bubble tea. We have the Som Tom (papaya salad) lady on our right. We have the Cow Soi (coconut soup) lady on our left. We have the pad see ew (drunken noodles) lady across the street. And not to mention the Chicken Pad Thai/Curry/Pad Pak Ruam (mixed veggies w/rice) lady, the coffee man, the night food market down the road, and I could go on and on. We are well fed, to say the least. I’m not sure what I’ll do without Toey’s friend chicken and sticky rice, Anee’s special salads or the rotee (thin fried dough with drizzled condensed milk) all from the night market here. I’ve also failed to mention that all our meals cost 30-35 baht locally. That’s just under $1. So… ya. Lunch at school costs 20 baht, so much variety and it’s delicious. We also have fully morphed into geriatric senior citizens and eat dinner at 4pm. This is Thailand man. Oh and 7-11 is the greatest gift to Thailand since rice was discovered. Just go easy on the pork buns, trust me.

Thailand is a such an interesting way of life and you learn more about it day by day. We comfortably travel into the city 50 minutes by songtaew (trucks with cabs and benches on the back) for 20 baht (60 cents). We stay in hostels for $6/night and don’t think twice. We enjoy massages for $8/hour. We take photos with Thai people upon request but also frequently without consent or awareness; it’s pretty funny. Thai people love farang, especially our skin. We are the white celebs in Sanpatong. However, Chiang May city is filled with backpackers giving you ample opportunity to meet some pretty cool people on the weekends. Chiang Mai is the place to be, really.

Ah, what else?! Teaching in Thailand is an adventure. I can’t believe I’ve already been here for half my term. I live a happy, healthy and simple life here. I’ve actually learned a bit of Thai, too. I can order food, tell a driver where to go and certainly get along with the pleasantries. More Thai than I ever thought I’d know! I have the time to improve my teaching practices at school and at home. I try out new topics with different classes. You learn which classes can handle certain material and which can’t. I sometimes change my powerpoint 5 times before I get it right. Sometimes it changes every class! The learning curve is pretty steep so it’s empowering to realize how much you’ve progressed since day 1. My very first day teaching I was given my schedule and a classroom told to set sail. I didn’t know how to use the projector, how to read the attendance sheet (ALL in Thai), or even when the period ended and you know what? … it was okay! Something about being so autonomous in such a foreign place is exciting and thrilling. It's all you. It can be tough but it’s so worth it. Teaching in Thailand allows you to be on your own, learn on your own and become who you want to be as a teacher and as an individual while you’re here. It can be a new beginning or merely a chance to shine.

This blog post is so very long and I apologize for that, but one last update… we’re off to Phuket tomorrow for New Years! The beach… I can’t believe it. While my family and friends back in Maine await the negative feels this weekend I’ll be dipping my toes in sand and turquoise water. Sorry guys! Come to Thailand! ;)

I will try to write a bit more often from now on…’til then.

xoxo

Alisaa

P.S. check out some pics below of the good times and beauty here

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5 do’s and don’ts for traveling abroad

Temple of Heaven  Beijing

Do:

1. Your research

The last thing you want to do when you are living or traveling in a foreign country is offend the locals, trust us. Take some time before you go abroad to google culture norms for country you are about to go to – we are very confident you will be glad you did.

2. Learn the language

Learning how to say hello and thank you in the local language goes so much farther than you can imagine. The more you learn of the language before you go, the more comfortable you will feel. If a simple greeting and pleasantry is all you can handle, the locals will appreciate it!

3. Try the food

Really though, just try it. Unless you have an allergy – don’t ask, just try it. The look, smell and taste of ethnic food might be totally different than what you are accustomed to, but don’t let that stop you! A dumpling in China, tapas in Spain, and curry in Thailand is nothing like you have ever had before. Give the strange looking dishes a try too, and ask what they are after you taste them. You never know until you try!

4. Disconnect from the internet

It is no secret that we are all addicted to Social Media today, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are not suggesting you don’t share your pictures, videos, and blogs with your friends and family back home – just don’t spend all your time abroad behind technology. Be in the moment, experience what is happening around you and just enjoy it!

5. Make local friends

If you want to know what life is really like in Chile, who better to show you than a Chilean friend? You are living abroad for a reason – practice your language skills, cooking abilities, and immerse yourself in the country you are in by surrounding yourself with the locals as often as you can.

Don’t:

1. Over pack

You can buy things abroad! Some items might be hard to find abroad: deodorant, ibuprofen/vitamins or your favorite spices should make it in your suitcase, but leave the extra pair of uncomfortable shoes at home. Regardless of your budget, you will find things to bring home with you, and you will need the room in your suitcase for those items – trust us!

 

2. Stick to your plan

Following a pre-planned agenda is boring! Having a plan is fine, but be prepared and on the lookout to stray from it. If you see a cool alley, building, café – throw your schedule away and check it out. The best part about traveling is bumping into things you didn’t even know existed. Embrace it!

3. Say no to (almost) anything

Isn’t stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things what traveling abroad is about? You won’t do either of these things if you say no to opportunities. Unless it is dangerous in any way, definitely say yes and do it.

4. Expect the locals to cater to you

This might be the most important don’t of traveling. Are you expected to know everything about every country you visit? Absolutely not. However, when you are in another country, you should (and want to) adapt to the culture you are so lucky to see. Remember, it is not the local’s responsibility to adapt their daily life to make you comfortable, it is your responsibility to understand enough to make yourself acclimatize to the culture you’re visiting.

 5. Have regrets

 

No matter what you do, enjoy every second of your time abroad. Will things go wrong? Probably. Will you get ripped off somehow? Maybe. At the end of the day, your memories should and will be the positive ones. 

5 things I will do better next time I teach abroad

Students

Nothing in life is perfect; we all know that to be true. There are always regrets, and the "what if" scenario is something we always consider. This list is most certainly not a list of regrets, rather a list of future goals for the next opportunity I have to teach abroad.

1. Spend more time in my local community

This one is huge. While living abroad, I was so focused on seeing as much as I could see that I missed out on so much by not spending time in my local community. Next time I teach abroad, I plan to take full advantage of the amazing opportunity to make myself a part of the community I live in. Tourists never get to do that!

2. Be more of an adventurous eater

This one I got back and forth on. Do I wish I had eaten a snake’s heart and blood immediately after it was killed when I had the chance? No, I am not disappointed that I chose not to do that. I do, however, wish I could go back and be more open-minded to trying everyday delicacies that I passed up at the time. While living abroad, do as the locals do – and that means trying everything, whether you like it or not!

3. Give my students more attention

Teaching abroad is not the same as traveling abroad, or even studying abroad. This is something I learned very quickly when I started teaching, but not something I really considered before. The main reason to teach English overseas is to help give your students the skills to have more opportunities in life. I am not a qualified teacher – I had no experience in the classroom before going overseas (I did get TEFL certified, which helped a lot!). I did the best I could, but I always wish I had done more for my students. Years later I don’t know exactly what “doing more” for them looks like, but I hope to find out one day!

4. Spend less time being mad and annoyed at things I can’t control

I don’t know about you, but I am not all smiles all the time! I try to have a positive outlook on life as often as possible, but I definitely get mad and annoyed at times! Next time I teach abroad, I hope not to get irritated or angry at things that are completely out of my control, and really not a big deal. Things will go wrong, that is inevitable, and if the situation at hand is not life-threatening, it is a small problem that can probably be easily resolved. I wish I had this mentality the first time I taught abroad and will strive to have it next time I do. 

5. Be prepared that life will not be the same afterwards 

Everyone tells you that you are not the same person after living abroad, and I truly didn’t believe that until it happened to me. I wish I was more prepared to be antsy all the time to go abroad, and I will always be planning my next adventure before my current one was done. As is life, my friendships and relationships changed after being 6,000 miles away for three years. However, I became independent, open-minded, and adaptable from my time teaching abroad, and I am so grateful for that. I only wish I had embraced these changes sooner. Next time I teach abroad, I will be even more open to the personal changes I am bound to make.

Five ways a TEFL certification can help any career

60-hour course

We think there are endless reasons why you should get TEFL certified, but what benefits can it give you if you're not sure about teaching? At least five! 

Better understanding of English, whether you’re a native speaker or not

It is no secret that English is the global language. Chances are a Frenchman and Japanese native will use English to communicate. So, whether you speak another language or not, getting TEFL certified will give you a deeper understanding of the language you are likely using with most friends, family, and colleagues, regardless of your chosen profession.

Intercultural training

Remember that Frenchman and Japanese native we just talked about? Surprise! Their cultures are very different from each other. How do they have a professional conversation and ensure they are respecting each other’s culture? Intercultural competence and understanding, your best friend when talking to people from other cultures or backgrounds. A good TEFL certification will talk about intercultural training, as it’s so important when teaching English to non-native speakers. Use this training in any field you go in – if you’re working with other people, you’ll need it.

Gain management skills

Okay, you won’t be managing people directly while getting TEFL certified, but you’re going to learn about classroom management and how to manage your students while teaching them. How can this help in other fields you ask? Well, management is management. Once you have the skills to manage a classroom, or students, you’ll be able to transfer this expertise to any job where you manage people.  

Options to volunteer in your community

Wherever you are in your career, adding a line to your resume about volunteering will always be a good thing. Get TEFL certified and teach English in your own backyard to immigrants or refugees. Use your intercultural skills to help them acclimate to life in a new country. Great for your resume, and for your conscience. Who doesn’t love helping people?!

Shows employers dedication and respect

Whether you’re teaching abroad, at home, or online – a TEFL certification will show future employers you took your work seriously. There is a common misconception that speaking English means you can teach it..every English teacher on the planet can tell you with certainty that’s not true. A TEFL certification teaches you how to teach something that comes so naturally to you. By getting certified (whether it’s required or not), your future employers will see you take your work and job seriously, and that goes a long way in any field!

Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong
First day in Chiang Mai! Orientation is over and now onto real life. We took an overnight bus to get here. The busses are so different from the U.S. *ahem, unlike Greyhound in particular* There is much more space between the seats, the seats recline far back for comfortable sleep, a hostess serves food and drink throughout the night, and the bus stops once at a rest stop for food/beverage/bathrooms. Although I wasn’t exactly looking for another long ride, these bus perks certainly made the ride less painful! We got in at 6am and it’s 3:12PM as write this… I am TIRED. 

Our school coordinator, Waree, rode the bus with us overnight and arranged for a car to pick us up at the bus station in the city. From there we drove to Sanpatong - my new home for the next 5 months.

Sanpatong is much more bustling than I’d imagined. The photos looked rather quiet, but there are actually a lot of little shops, restaurants and food stands around the area as well as several bright and colorful primary schools! Waree took us to the school we’ll be teaching at - it’s in a really beautiful area. The campus is definitely something I could get used to… I think! We met April, another foreign teacher from North Carolina who arrived here just a week ago. She told us not to be nervous about teaching and that it’s already fun and interesting for her. That puts me a bit at ease although I am definitely still a bit anxious! I just hope my TEFL practice and theory pay off :) I definitely feel a bit more prepared than others going into this without any training. We’ll see though as I have 6 classes on Monday! Diving right in!

My apartment complex is quite nice as well. The two other CIEE teachers, Claire and Nicole, are living here right across the hall and April is on the 2nd floor. We all have studios with queen size beds, a bathroom, dresser and mini-fridge. The heat is still an adjustment so I do feel better with the AC on at this point, but hopefully I’ll require it a little less as time goes on. Disclaimer about Thai beds - they are HARD. I have to buy a mattress topper. I just can’t do it. I'm not sure sleeping on the floor would feel much different...!

Tonight is the Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai city so we’re going to try and partake in the festivities. From the pictures we’ve all seen, it should be pretty magical… see pic above!

 

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