Teaching in the provinces or big city?
Coming to Thailand to teach is an exciting prospect, and you can look forward to all sorts of new adventures and experiences. There’s the exoticism of it all, the friendly locals, cheap living, sunshine and beaches, along with the charm of life on a whole new continent.
Whatever your reasons for choosing Thailand, there’s some differences between Bangkok, the tourist centres and the rest of the country, and it’s important to take note of these before job hunting. That dream of yours might turn into a disappointment if you are unaware of the various living environments.
Let’s start with the beach; no doubt a lot of you have delusions of a gig at one of the famous coastal resort towns like Phuket or Samui. While there are schools here, and plenty of demand from hotels looking for someone to teach their staff English, the reality is these jobs are all taken by experienced teachers.
Jobs in popular places are also no terribly well paid, since there’s a steady supply of applicants, and you’ll likely find yourself living among the tourists which makes every that much more expensive. Most teachers in Thailand prefer visiting the beaches a couple of times a year and enjoying them from that perspective. It’s also much more humid in the South.
Bangkok is the obvious magnet for teachers and where the bulk of jobs are concentrated since this is where all the money is. You can’t go wrong here, there are language schools everywhere ready to hire you on the spot. However, this is bitty work and you often find yourself spending long days at the centre with periods of unpaid work in-between. They can also be unreliable with sorting out work permits, or job security. A lot of the teaching is in the afternoon and evening which might suit night owls. The biggest drawback is that you cannot really afford to live near these central schools, meaning a long arduous commute.
There are plenty of school jobs in Bangkok, often out in the suburbs where you have set hours and a guaranteed wage. They also arrange your work permit properly and it’s generally a fun environment. If you end up in a pleasant neighbourhood it can be appealing but some teachers end up way out in soulless new city extensions – not quite the romantic Thailand you envisaged. Come weekends you practically have to rent a room in the Khao San Road if you want to party.
The biggest drawback with Bangkok is the traffic, which can become a real chore. The public transport is improving but you can still reckon on an hour each way to work and back. Cost is another factor, though the best salaries are here for teaching sometimes it’s just not worth it after you’ve paid for rent, overpriced Starbucks coffees and other Western comforts. Bangkok is an exciting city with plenty to see and do and on your days off – it truly is the centre of the universe in Thailand and 20 times bigger than the next city, but it’s not laid back.
The secondary cities are a good choice for a rookie teacher, small enough to be laid-back,
big enough for creature comforts like shopping malls, some restaurants serving Western food and other foreigners for company. Chiang Mai is obviously really popular, so much so that schools have the luxury of only considering experienced teachers or those that really fit the part.
There are plenty of jobs now available through professional agencies like Media Kids which place you in medium sized towns or close to them in welcoming schools on salaries similar to Bangkok but without the comparable living expenses of course. For the new teacher these can be a good ‘internship’, free of the intensity of a big city, charming and better for saving.
Then there are the countryside jobs. These are not poor rural schools in dusty corners of the country (unless you are volunteering) but generally private schools in smaller places. You might be the only foreigner in town, or have a few others for company. The rice fields in full harvest are pretty, the slow rural lifestyle could be seen as a charming adventure, if you’re up for anything you might blend in and it will certainly accelerate your learning of Thai. But others might find it lonely and unappealing.
Ultimately it depends on what you have come to Thailand for, whether you want to experience Asia authentically or get into the big city and enjoy your weekends socialising. You can live in places where you mostly only hang out with Westerners, or spend five months (one semester) paying your dues and learning the ropes of Thailand among its people. Those who intend to save money to travel are better off taking the jobs in provinces and living humbly.
Remember, until you have some experience, and have learnt some Thai you can’t be choosy.