What is it like adapting to the new culture
As teachers, we are lucky that we have a job that is rewarding and allows us to see others grow and develop. It is a fantastic experience in your own country, in my case, England, but sometimes you do question whether you have more to give.
In my case, I was considering working in an international school and whether this would help me develop as an individual. I was at this crossroads four years ago, feeling fulfilled in my job, but still searching for more.
I discussed the move with my wife, who was supportive of the idea in principle but was concerned about the location and what the future would hold. After searching countless websites for several months, an exciting opportunity arose at an international school in Bangkok. Professionally, it ticked all the boxes with excellent facilities, far better than those at schools I had taught at in the UK, and students who appeared happy and willing to learn.
We decided to take the plunge and have, for the most part, been happy ever since. However, you do need to prepare yourself and accept that you need to adapt. Here is my story; I hope it helps to answer some of the questions that may have crossed your mind.
Give yourself time
As teachers, we are blessed with more time off than in many other professions, but this is the one time that you need to use this time wisely. I would suggest arriving in your new location at least two weeks before the term starts. It gives you the time to settle into your new home, find your way around and get used to the temperature change! Trying to juggle my home life and start a new job, in entirely new surroundings, would have been too complicated, and I wouldn’t have been performing at my best.
Unfortunately, some teachers aren’t so fortuitous, but thankfully, at Harrow International School Bangkok, everyone is very supportive.
The 'honeymoon phase'
For the first three months in Bangkok, we found everything 'amazing', the people, the speed of life and, of course, the Thai food. Everything is new, and we were naturally very excited and keen to experience all that Thailand had to offer. Looking back, this was perfectly natural, but we weren’t living a 'normal' life, we were almost long-term tourists that happened to have a job in the country. It was an attitude that was easy to adopt in a supportive, pro-learning environment with positive students. While my teaching was unaffected, my grasp on reality perhaps was!
Reality starts to hit
After the initial three months, we began to regain a sense of normality, and in my wife’s case, some homesickness. We also started finding the mundane tasks that we used to enjoy, tiresome and exhausting. The cultural differences were becoming more noticeable, not so much within the school, but outside in our daily lives. We spoke very little Thai and 'Thai time' was no longer 'sweet' it was annoying! It is at this point when you realise that YOU need to adapt and not everyone else.
During my interview, I felt some of the questions were more about me personally, rather than me as a teacher. I found it odd, but on reflection, I understand why these questions needed to be asked. The school were trying to understand my personality. How would I respond to cultural change both in the school and outside? After all, they needed a teacher who was focused on the job.
I have always felt that I am willing to embrace change and that I am adaptable, which in hindsight, the school must also have recognised. I realised that we need to engage with the culture, mix with locals and not just be amongst other expats. I have seen many friends and colleagues come and go during my time at Harrow Bangkok, and the most common reason for an early departure is that they didn’t adapt and embrace the country and culture.
After the first school year, we had started to settle in Bangkok, and it began to feel like home. It was harder for my wife as the school was always so supportive of everything I did. I was enjoying my job, more than at any other point in my career. My wife had started to make friends who were a mix of nationalities, and this is something that she found fascinating.
We had both adopted new routines, understood social 'norms' and what was expected. We adjusted but also kept our individuality and personality, which is vital when adapting to new cultures. Although we couldn’t speak much Thai, we knew enough 'to get by' and the patient locals welcomed our efforts. It was at this point that we started to find the whole experience rewarding and recognised that it is a unique experience for everyone.
I realise how lucky I am to teach at a school such as Harrow Bangkok. I have met teachers in other schools that haven’t had the support I have received. The transition in my professional life was terrific and very straightforward, but I can’t thank the school enough for this. I have grown as a teacher, and I think that I am far better at my job now than when I arrived. I am not sure that I would have reached this level if I had stayed in the UK.
From our experience, it is definitely in your private life where you need to make the most changes and where you will encounter the most significant challenges. There is a vast difference in culture between eastern and western societies. The food and what is socially expected are relatively easy to accept, but you do need to be open-minded, patient and accepting. Learning some of the language, although hard, will also make a huge difference and try and mix with both locals and expats.
You will make mistakes along the way and expect to have points where you are homesick and find things tough. Having a good support network around you will help at times like this and always remember, it does get better! Thailand has given me so much as a teacher and as a person. It is something that I will always be grateful for and would advise others considering a move to take the plunge.