What's it like teaching at an international school in Thailand

For the last three years, I have been working at Harrow International School Bangkok. Prior to this, all my teaching experience had been in the UK-independent sector.

So what's it like teaching in an international school in Thailand? The first thing to point out is that Harrow Bangkok is not just any international school - it's one of the largest and longest established in Thailand. As such it takes its place in the unofficial 'Premier League' of Thai international schools alongside Patana, NIST, Shrewsbury and ISB.

If you're coming to teach at an international school in Thailand fresh from the UK, and you end up at Harrow Bangkok here's what you need to know:

  1. Harrow Bangkok's facilities are jaw-dropping. Even compared against the other big schools in Bangkok, Harrow Bangkok has a lot of space (and its own lake). A huge sports hall, full bells-and-whistles classrooms and amazing social spaces are taken for granted. Unless you happen to have come from Eton, you won't fail to be impressed.
  2. From the moment of appointment, the onboarding and induction process is second to none. There are complicated forms to fill in and hoops to jump through, but you are guided through it by people who've done it many times before. I found what was, for me, a big life-change was relatively painless. When you arrive there's a two-week induction programme in which they take you through everything you need to know in order to get going with your new life as a teacher in Thailand. It's been refined over more than 20 years, and they've thought of everything.
  3. The school will accommodate you - either on site or off site (giving you a generous allowance). For a glorious few years - or longer if you decide to stick around - you will be relieved of worry about rent or a mortgage. All you'll need to do is pay your other household bills. They even stock your fridge for you so that there are a few things ready for you when you arrive.
  4. The school is out of the centre of the city (about a 45-minute taxi ride in when the traffic's light) but it's right next door to Bangkok's second airport - Don Muang. This is a massive plus. Teachers can (and do) wheel their suitcases out of their classrooms after school on Friday for a weekend getaway at the beach. Flights are barely more expensive than a National Express bus. If that isn't living the dream, then I don't know what is.
  5. The vast majority of the clientele are Thai. Although the curriculum is entirely British (GCSEs and A Levels) the school seems to have cornered a market for itself amongst well-to-do Thais living to the north of the city centre. This means the school, seemingly without much effort, has developed a culture of quiet respect. Expect to be waied as you head down the corridors. Expect order, expect calm, expect to be a bit unnerved by it all at the start. Thai children seem to take a little longer to warm up than do those from the west and so you might miss the 'banter' of a UK classroom to start off with, but it will come.
  6. You will be better off. Not only are Harrow Bangkok's salaries generous - at all levels of responsibility - but the exchange rate has for some time been in British expats' favour. You'll be shown how to send money home and before long, if you're careful, you'll start biting huge chunks out of your mortgage. Just be sure to avoid ‘expatitis’...
  7. Expect more overlap between work and home life. Your friends, at least at the outset, are likely to all be from work. Some people love this, some people hate it. I'm somewhere in between. The school goes to great lengths to incubate a staff social scene, but if you want to extend out beyond this you'll need to be proactive. It's perfectly possible to exist entirely within the 'Harrow Bangkok-bubble' and many do, quite happily, for years. Others have cultivated for themselves a network of friends outside the school walls, but it's taken effort.
  8. Your family are a long way away. Obvious perhaps, and most people arrive thinking this is a good thing. But it's surprising how their tune changes when they realise they are missing weddings, parties and seasonal celebrations. When things go wrong (deaths, divorces, illnesses etc.) the school is a compassionate, responsible employer. But there's no getting away from the fact that you won't just be able to pop home (and if you try, it will cost you a fortune). It's best to war game this a little before signing on the dotted line - forewarned is forearmed.
  9. It's hard work. This sometimes takes people by surprise - usually five or six weeks into their first term when the excitement of their new surroundings has started to dull. Not only will you be expected to teach full timetable, and keep on top of the work generated by some insanely bright and highly motivated children, but there will be extracurricular commitments too. This is part of the 'Harrow Bangkok package' and builds on the example of the big-name UK public schools at which staying after school for sport, music, drama and other diversions is very much part of the package. You'll find it tiring but, if you embrace it, very rewarding too. Personally, I'm not interested in any other type of schooling and the rhythm of the bursting-at-the-scenes curriculum suits me perfectly.

If you've applied and been appointed - congratulations! Equally, if you haven't and if any of this interests you, then do keep an eye on the jobs section in the TES, where the school advertises all its expat teaching roles.

Written by Tim Jefferis

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