At the start of 2014, I had an epiphany (of some kind). I was on the plane home-ward bound from a fabulous six week holiday and realised I was actually depressed to be coming back. I no longer felt that I was doing anything meaningful in my life and knew I had to change my situation.
I started thinking about what I could do – I knew I definitely wanted to travel, but I didn’t want to travel aimlessly; after all it would be just as meaningless as staying.
And then it came back to me, that dream I had many years ago, the one that I had buried away because life happened. I knew this was my moment and I had to make the decision in a split second – chase the dream or keep it buried?
This dream was to travel the world teaching English as a second language. I’d wanted to do this ever since I graduated from uni. You know how sometimes you have those moments in life when you realise that things happen for a reason? For me, this was one of them. I realised that I wasn’t meant to do it six years ago – I had to grow up and learn to be comfortable with who I am before I could face the rest of the world.
I hopped onto Google immediately and started spending countless hours researching TEFL courses. I had always wanted to visit Chiang Mai and thought, ‘hey why not now?’. After trawling the net, reading way too many reviews of the TEFL courses available in Chiang Mai, I settled on UniTEFL. They had overwhelmingly positive reviews, their website looked legit and they responded to my emails so it couldn’t have been all too bad, right?
Fast forward almost 18 months later, my bags were packed, ready to start my new life. Everyone wished me luck, urged me to take care of myself and most importantly, just to have fun! I was so happy when I landed in Chiang Mai – the realisation that ‘OMG this is really happening’ was great; but I was still paranoid that something was going to go wrong. The minute I walked out into the arrivals area and saw a normal looking person holding a piece of paper with my name on it, I breathed a huge sigh of relief – everything was going to be ok!
It was more than ok – it was an incredible month of learning, fun, frustrations, nerves and so much laughter. I met the most wonderful people who I have so much love and support for and I am so happy I decided to follow through with this. What made the course so great?
- The classroom had excellent AC. Very important during the hottest time of year.
- Our head trainer Pete was super knowledgeable and all his experience showed through everything he taught us. He was also extremely approachable and open and you knew you could always ask him for help, at any stage of the course.
- Everything we were taught was relevant and very useful in helping us become better teachers – we were taught not only language and teaching skills, but also cultural awareness, given a Thai language learning assignment and were told what to expect in the field.
- The resources we had were great – we had access to computers and printers, wifi and teaching resources (ie: kids toys and games to play in class).
- The other people in your class are there for the same reason and have the same drive and passion as you – it’s actually quite nice to share this experience with like-minded people. I have made some great friends (and while some of them don’t know this yet, I consider them friends for life) and being able to go through this process with them kept me sane!
- We got more than a few hours of teaching practice under our belt (seven in total), and because we had the chance to teach actual students in both private and government schools it gave us the opportunity to be creative and flexible with our teaching approach to see what worked and what didn’t. This type of experience is priceless and I got a few laughs out of it.
- Most importantly, the course is structured in a way that you get out what you put in. If you really try, you are going to have an amazing time. Do not come into this course thinking it’s a breeze – it’s not. If English is your first language and you don’t know your verb tenses or sentence elements, you are in for a fabulous time! Treat this course like anything else you’ve ever done, either professionally or education wise, because believe it or not what you do and learn in this course will impact your experience as an ESL teacher.
I have to admit, on the first day of the course one month felt like an eternity; but when the month came and went, I had no idea where the time had gone! It was a great feeling to be able to say ‘yay, it’s done’ but also bittersweet as you’ve shared this intense experience with these other people and you’ll never see them again (not any time soon, anyway).
I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in living in Thailand and teaching for a living – I have no regrets whatsoever and only have fond memories of the past month.
Although the one thing I would change (Pete if you ever read this, please seriously take this into consideration) is the length of the classroom breaks – one hour for lunch is fine, but 15 to 20 minutes for morning and afternoon breaks is a bit long!