Top 5 Cultural Struggles of English Teachers in Thailand – The Raw, Unfiltered Truth

I know right? What could possibly be difficult about being an English teacher in paradise? Even though the kids in the picture above look quite frightening, it’s a job that’s easy to get into and I mean… Thailand <3.

However, lots of us teachers have faced issues and struggles with the Thai working culture. As you can imagine, there are quite some cultural differences between Thailand and Western countries. Here are the top 5 most common struggles for being a teacher in Thailand.

Everything Happens Last Minute

I know this might sound strange, but this has been a bit of a struggle for me. Coming from the Netherlands, everything is punctual and planned out. However, in Thailand, things don’t seem to exist until they’re actually happening. Whether it’s the Christmas show or the final exams, you are informed right on the spot with no warning or planning whatsoever.

Why is that? Some say it’s the Buddhist culture of “living in the moment”. Working as an English teacher in Thailand I realized that this hyped up phrase also has its downside, at least when you’re not used to it.

Luckily, the Thais are very much used to working in this manner and have no problem navigating their way through it. They’re also quite used to foreigners that don’t know what’s going on, so they often know how to help you face the responsibility of right here, right now.

Like I said in my previous post, it has taught me not to stress. As an English teacher, things might suddenly fly right in your face, but you’ll learn to handle them calmly.

There’s a Big Salary Difference With Your Thai Co-Teachers

Oof, I had such a tough time when I figured this out. It’s so tough to see how your Thai co-teachers, who often have to provide for their big families, work longer hours and longer weeks with very little downtime and much higher expectations, earn about 4 times less the amount that you do.

That’s right, I worked Monday to Friday, 7:15AM to 3:30PM, often slept in between my classes and hardly ever did any lesson planning and made 38,000 baht (equivalent to about 1,000 EUR or 1,200 USD) and they worked from Monday to Saturday, 7:00AM to 5PM, were constantly on their feet and their starter’s salary was only 10,000 baht (280 EUR or 320 USD). Let that sink in…

It often made me feel quite awful, especially when I needed something from them, I always felt like I was asking too much. It is often a sensitive subject for them as well, so I would avoid talking about it with them, although I do think they appreciated my sympathetic reaction when I heard the news.

I ended up walking in with gifts every once in a while and sometimes taking over some of their work whenever I could, just to make myself feel better about it. It’s not fair, but there is not much you can do.

Stereotypes

Ok, first of all, it’s not absolutely crazy that these stereotypes exist. I’ve had my fair share of quite a lot of awful foreigners that I’ve run into in Thailand. I mean you can imagine the type of (especially male) audience Thailand attracts. And because it’s so easy to get a job there, the English department always has a few of those in there.

Even though I understand where the stereotype comes from, it is quite difficult to be considered as one of them. In some schools, foreigners face different rules from Thai teachers because of it. In Sarasas I was not allowed to take a day off on a Monday, because of the stereotype that foreigners party too much on the weekend and end up not being able to come to class on Mondays. So I ended up missing a friend’s wedding.

And with the salary difference and difference in responsibilities mentioned above, foreigners are often seen as lazy and uneducated, which again I understand in a way, but it can be difficult to live and work with.

Authorative Authorities

Bosses in Thailand have their funny ways of showcasing their authority and in some cases they can be slightly agressive about it. When that happens, the important thing is not to worry or stress, they tend to threaten a lot, but do very little.

The authorities are also the people you’ll hear everything from. If another teacher has a comment about you, they will tell your coordinator and not you. If you want to change something about your classes with your co-teacher, this has to go through the authoraties as well. They have their ways of being on top of everything and it can make you quite anxious.

In these cases, it can be quite nice to have other foreigners to confide in, because we all share the same experiences.

Regular Attacks of Hugs and High-Fives

The adults might not be, but the kids in Thailand are incredibly affectionate and love showing it. Regular hugs and high-five attacks when you walk into a classroom or in the hallway are part of the job.

During the TEFL course I learned not to be too touchy with the kids, because of cultural differences, but honestly, kids are just kids. Some of my kids would come into the staff room and sit on your lap while you’re grading tests and some would come up to you after class just for hugs and high-fives. They love taking pictures with you and playing games.

Remember my friends, affection might be your biggest struggle of all =).

Happy Travels!

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