The loss of a mother

For the past 3 years, the month of June has has been a very difficult month  for me. It’s the month my beloved mom lost her battle to cardiomyopathy 3 years ago. It wasn’t my first time losing a  loved one in death. I’d also lost my aunt, my uncle, cousins and dear friends prior to that. I felt all those losses deeply but to this day, nothing compares to the loss of my mom.

The bond we shared was the closest bond I’ve ever  shared  with   another  human being. This was the person who  cherished me even when I was just an embryo and almost died while giving birth to me, but always  said she’d do it again in a heartbeat because I was worth it. This was someone who had kissed me even when I had snot running down my face and someone who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. This was someone who got a murderous glint in her eyes every time someone hurt me, and someone who sacrificed a lot and worked very hard as a single parent, just so her children would  have the best that she was able to give.

Needless to say, losing her was the most devastating and heartbreaking experience I’ve ever been through. My heart still breaks when I think about her last few weeks on  earth.

The first time I visited her in the hospital she seemed fine, just a little tired. We joked about something silly and had to restrain our laughter so as not to disturb the other patients in the ward. She was soon discharged from the hospital and everything seemed hunky dory. To my surprise, she insisted on visiting her brother in sister in Durban, 600 km away. I told her that she needed her rest and suggested she visit them a  month  later, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She just had to leave the following day. There was just no stopping her.

She came back a few days later, happy she’d seen them. One day I found her sorting out her insurance policies and neatly putting them in a file.She also tidied up her closet. I found that a little worrying but tried to be positive. We didn’t talk about it. Instead, I took her shopping. She didn’t want anything for herself, she only wanted to help me pick out some clothes for myself. We disagreed about what she thought looked good on me, as we often did whenever we went shopping. I took her to a restaurant for lunch but she barely even touched her food. She said she was tired,so we  went back home and she went to lie down in her room. That was the last time we went out together.

Soon thereafter, things spiraled out of  control . Suddenly, my days consisted of regular visits to Jo’burg General Hospital. White walls. Hospital smells. Ill patients and worried family members. The sound of the heart monitoring machine. The cold and nasty smelling anti bacterial liquid I had to rub on my hands before and after exiting the ICU ward. Every time I entered the room, I’d quickly look at her bed and let out a huge sigh of relief, grateful she was still lying on her bed and not in the morgue. I also felt anxious, helpless  and angry at I don’t know whom. She didn’t belong there, not my mom.

I also remember lots of people talking to me, asking  how I was holding up, how my mom was doing?  Some  said I could call them if I needed anything. I took one such person’s offer and asked if she would be kind enough to take me to the hospital one particular day, but she back tracked on her promise. I never asked anyone else for help after that.

I withdrew into myself, said the bare minimum to people, watched them cry for my mom as if she were already dead, avoided their sorrowful eyes, reciprocated their hugs but not enough to get to the point of completely surrendering and breaking down. I felt I needed to be strong because people  told me I was strong.

However, there were two instances where I did break down. The first time  I walked into the ICU and saw my mom lying there, looking completely emaciated, and having a defeated look in her eyes, I began to sob uncontrollably. She had silent tears running down her cheeks, but she was too weak to break down the way I  broke  down. I got home that night  and  broke down again when my 5 year old niece asked  if mamma was coming home anytime soon. To my surprise, she didn’t shed a tear when she saw my  reaction. She looked at me with a precocious look that far exceeded her age and wrapped her tiny arms around me. I felt so comforted.

Three weeks  before her death, the doctors told us to prepare for the worst. My poor brother wept, that was  his first visit to the hospital. I felt numb.

I continued to visit her regularly. A  few times I stayed away from the hospital because it hurt too much to see her like that. But I’d  always gather my strength and go back. I’d rub some lotion on her swollen feet and talk to her,  even  though  she was unconscious. It felt like a  knife stabbing me to the very core whenever the doctors would skip her bed when they did their rounds in the ward, as if she had already died. She wasn’t dead yet. I could still feel her presence and she could feel mine. She would always react whenever I came close to her and she’d turn her head towards me whenever I spoke to her.

I just had to treasure those moments with her because I knew she’d be gone soon.

 

 

Things I love about Sweden

I’ve been living in Sweden as an au pair for 4 months now. My emotions have gone from elation to melancholy and everything in between. The most fascinating feelings I’ve had have been feelings of ambivalence regarding certain issues.

For example, I love the fact that the quality of life is very good here, with the majority of people living way above the poverty line. The sense of independence is truly admirable. Even more admirable is how charitable many  people are. However, sometimes I yearn for the empathy, deep compassion and community spirit that certain communities display back home. Perhaps the longer I stay here, the more I will see that.

I think the most mixed feeling I’ve experienced have come from the weather. I arrived here in winter and it was a pleasure to see how beautiful everything looked with a blanket of snow over it and how  the snow glistened like diamonds during sunny weather. However, the physical sensation of the bitter cold and the sadness that came with winter made me feel confused about my overall feelings about it. Fortunately, I learned to dress appropriately, take vitamin D pills and just have fun in the snow!

Just when I was getting used to the cold season, spring started flirting with us and it was delightful. Experiencing new season was something  I took for granted back home because our change of seasons aren’t as extreme as they are here. It was so fascinating to see how spring  totally changed the face of the already beautiful landscape. It almost feels like Sweden wears different garments during each season. From white, grey and brown  in winter to bright, lively and flamboyant colours in spring. To see our local lake, which had been totally frozen in winter, transformed into a beautiful flowing body of water with ducks and swans, surrounded by lush vegetation, was a very special feeling.

As much as I love this country during all seasons, spring  certainly brings out the best in it. The beautiful  colours that cover the landscape, the cheerful spirit of the people and the way you will many people sprawled on grassy areas, absorbing the warm rays of the sun. This really breathes more life into the country. I’ve seen many friends drop whatever they are doing as soon as they see the sun shining so they can spend the day outdoors. I must admit that I myself have also turned into a sun worshipper.

Enough about the weather. You can’t talk about Sweden without talking about Fika. Fika is when you take a break from whatever you’re doing and drink a beverage with some cake or some other goodies. My favourite fika snacks are below.

I take a fika break at least twice a day. It’s really something I look forward to because it usually means I’m meeting a friend in a cosy café or in some scenic place outdoors, or I get to enjoy some alone time with my book. Another thing I look forward to is my weekly trip to the local store on Fridays to buy my ‘Lordagsgodis’ (Saturday candy). They have a designated  day when kids can indulge in candy which happens on Saturdays. I always feel like a big kid when ever I go to the store because the variety of candy, the setup of the candy stand and the fact that you can fill up your bag with whatever you choose makes me so happy.

There is honestly too much I love about this country! I  love how environmentally friendly, family friendly and woman friendly this country is. I’ve learnt so much about interior decorating just from observing the beautifully decorated and cozy homes that Swedes own.

I am so thrilled that I get to spend 6 more months here in Sweden. I will certainly take advantage of this opportunity and discover what else this country has to offer, learn more about Swedish culture and improve my Swedish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture shock in Sweden

My first few weeks in Sweden were filled with excitement and awe at everything I saw. It reminded me of the previous  times I’d been here on holiday, which usually lasted about  three weeks and everything happened so quickly that if felt like a whirlwind, and I always left while still high on feelings of  giddiness and excitement.  The only difference this time around was the summer days I could vividly recall were replaced with chilly days and the giddiness began to wear off.

It took a while to accept that quickly going out in summer was totally different to quickly going out in winter. In summer, in the blink of an eye you could quickly make a dash for the outdoors. But not in winter, oh no! First you had to put on layers of clothing, thermal tights, at least two pairs of socks, winter boots, a scarf of two, a beanie and a warm pair of gloves. As a newbie, this process took me about 10 minutes, but if felt like an eternity. To top it off, I hated how heavy I felt with the extra layers of clothing and how I ended up waddling like an overfed duck! As if that wasn’t enough suffering, the feelings of mild depression that I experienced due to the cold and long periods of darkness certainly made things worse. Fortunately, I soon got used to the rituals of winter and a daily dose of vitamin D pills kept the blues at bay.

Next, I struggled with the people. In my home country, people are generally warm and friendly, and even more so in my previous country of residence, Thailand. I was used to greeting and smiling at strangers. I was used to strangers offering to help  me even when I didn’t ask for help but merely looked lost. I was used to making small talk with strangers  and not feeling awkward at all. I had to quickly adjust. I soon learned to mind my own business, not bother  strangers with small talk and unnecessary ‘how are yous?’

I managed to master the above quite well and even managed to make some Swedish friends. My expat friends were quite impressed with me and some even related how they’d been here for a couple of months and hadn’t managed to make friends with Swedes because their cliques were difficult to penetrate. I was very chuffed with myself for accomplishing this in a few weeks. My Swedish friends turned out to be extremely warm people, contrary to my initial perceptions. Whenever we meet up, we always have a blast. The only drawback is that we have to plan our meeting a few weeks in advance, which is something I’m not used to doing with friends who live in the same vicinity as me.

I appreciate the values of fairness and equality that are instilled in Swedes. I’ve seen couples share their household chores equally. It’s also obvious in the way employees interact with their bosses, they speak casually to each other in a way I’ve never seen before.  But the thing that fascinates  me the most is the way  children interact with their parents. The kids here definitely get away with way more than I got away with back home.

Speaking of home, I came to realise just how private most South African are about their homes. We’re not comfortable with passers-by openly having access to see what’s in our homes. But here, I’ve seen many homes without curtains. I’ve also seen houses  with minimal curtains, definitely not the way we have curtains back home, with lace underneath and the a second layer over the lace. Whenever I see  families having dinner in their homes as I walk on by , I always have a slight feeling of discomfort. Blame it on the fact that I’m a paranoid South African who always imagines the worst possible scenario.

Unlike most South Africans, Swedes are generally  non-confrontational. This is especially evident in the indirect manner in which they give constructive criticism, which can sometimes leave you in the dark about issues that you need to work on.

Now let’s move on to the food. I love Swedish food but every now and then I do crave a bit of spice as the food here can be quite bland. Of course lots of spices are readily available, but I was surprised to discover that even the spices that are labelled as spicy usually don’t do it for me. On the bright side though, there are tons of restaurants that cater for those with a spicy palate.

One thing that took me by surprise was having to pay  to use the toilet in shopping malls. I feel that’s daylight robbery at it’s best. But fortunately, I’ve learned to adjust to this inconvenience. I usually use the bathroom before I leave a café or restaurant and then hope that I don’t have to go again until I’m back home.

Despite the all these differences, I am still having the time of my life here in Sweden. My motto is ‘when is Sweden, do as the Swedes!’ If Sweden were a guy, I would absolutely marry him, that’s how in love I am with this beautiful country. My next post will be about the things I love about Sweden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life as an au pair

 

 

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Climbing trees with the kids

It takes a lot of courage to leave all that’s familiar to you and stay with another family in a foreign country. You might talk with the host family on Skype and exchange endless emails, but you never know how it will turn out. I’ve heard some horror stories about girls who thought they’d clicked with their host family during the correspondence phase, but were bitterly disappointed when it came to actually living with the family. Fortunately for me, it has worked out well so far.

My relationship with my host family is an open and honest one. I have a schedule of what’s expected of me but they have also made it clear that I need to have loads of fun. My working days are Mondays to Fridays, 20 hours per week. I don’t have to wake up early because the kids are old enough to get themselves ready and walk to school. I’m thankful for that because I’m not a morning person at all. My tasks include doing the laundry , loading the dishwasher, a bit of ironing, housework once a week, preparing dinner with the family and just being with the kids.

Although it’s been a wonderful experience, I have faced some challenges

  • The first one was the weather. I arrived in the middle of winter, having come from a bright and sunny Thailand. It was of course a wonderful experience to see snow but in the beginning, I just wanted to be indoors and sleep. But with the correct winter clothing and some encouragement from my host family, I was able to brave the cold and explore.
  • I also experienced culture shock, but that is a story for another post.
  • Another thing was in the beginning, I felt the kids were merely being polite and not honest about certain things. Also, I tried too hard to make them like me which just exhausted me. Eventually I learned to relax and let the relationship develop naturally.
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A beautiful spring day on Marstrand island

 

  • Lastly, as a person who’s terrible at budgeting, I’ve had to be extra careful with my pocket money, especially because Sweden is such an expensive country to live in.

Fortunately, the positives outweigh the challenges.

  • Before coming to Sweden I was terrible cook but now, I am a much better cook because I’ve learned a lot from the family.
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My host mamma is such a great cook

 

  • I’ve enjoyed the wonderful company of the family, especially during mealtimes. They are wonderful storytellers and there’s never a dull moment with them.
  • We’ve gone on some wonderful excursions together and they’ve been my private tour guides. Also, all the trips that we’ve taken have been paid for by them.
  • I’ve experienced a lot of personal growth and my worldview has been stretched to new horizons.
  • I had the opportunity to go to a language course to learn Swedish, which was a wonderful experience. We had the most amazing teacher and group of international students, some of whom have become close friends.
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Having lunch with my class mates from the language course

 

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Good times with classmates from the language course

 

  • On weekends, I am free to do what I like. I have explored Sweden and met some wonderful people.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Kungälv

I was 16 years old when I dreamed of becoming an au pair in a foreign country. Coming from a developing country, I really wanted to experience living in a first world country with a loving host family to take me under their wing. My plan was to do it straight after high school, but life had other plans for me. My circumstances were just not favourable.

In the meantime I pursued other dreams that were within my reach, which filled my life with a lot of joy and a feeling of accomplishment. When I least expected it, the opportunity to au pair presented itself, about a decade after my original dream. Moral of the story, never give up on your dreams.

I arrived at my host family’s house on January 23rd. The beautiful and charming town of Kungälv was covered in a thick blanket of fluffy snow. It looked beautifully unreal but the bone chilling cold jolted me to reality. Coming from a warm country, I appreciated seeing snow but I was also quite relieved when we went inside their beautiful home which was cosy and warm. I was given a tour of the house, shown my room and we had dinner and chatted for a while. Even though we had only chatted on Skype and via email before, the live interaction flowed naturally and it was rather pleasant.

The following day they took me around Kungälv. We first went to the nature reserve called Fontin. The feeling of being surrounded by trees and seeing the beautiful lake, which was frozen at the time, filled me with a great sense of calm and serenity. It was a stark contrast to the concrete jungle I was used to. Very refreshing indeed! We had a snow fight and went sledding down the hill. It was an excellent ice breaker with the kids.

fontine3

Next, we drove down Västragatan, a relatively lively street lined with lots of shops, cafes, and there’s even a cinema along the same street. Even though it was freezing, lots of people were out and about; parents pushing their kids in prams, lovers walking hand in hand and senior citizens taking a midday stroll. I watched them from the warmth of the car and for a second couldn’t fathom why they would be seemingly enjoying the outdoors when it was so bitterly cold. I guess each culture has to make the most of what they have and get used to it.

vastragatan

As we drove along, we left the shops and entered a residential area. The houses were so old and quaint,  coloured in beautiful pastel colours and the roofs were covered in snow. The road was entirely made of cobblestone and sides of the road were covered with a fluffy blanked of pure white snow . It was like something from a beautifully illustrated children’s storybook. I was so amazed that I was oohing and aahing at everything.

old kungalv

Next, we saw Bohus Fästing, an ancient fortress which immediately made my imagination run wild. In my mind’s eye, I could see soldiers dressed in their suits of armour, carrying swords and riding on powerful and glorious stallions. As the stallions galloped and the war cry was sounded, women dressed in old fashioned medieval dresses scattered about, screaming in terror and running to safety with their bewildered children. My daydream was cut off when the host father started telling me a bit about the history of the fortress, that it was built in the 1300s in the old Swedish-Norwegian border, was damaged sometime in the mid 1500s. I later found out that it was rebuilt from 1593 to the 1600s.The treaty of Roskilde saw Bohuslan being given to Sweden, which meant the fortress no longer served a purpose as it was no longer on the border of Sweden and Norway. It was later used as a prison and today it’s open to visitors during summer. What a rich and fascinating history!

Bohus fasting

On our way home we drove past the biscuit factory. I looked forward to smelling the delicious aroma of biscuits as I went about my daily business.

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The last stop before we went home was Mimers hus, a modern building compared to the fortress and other buildings in the area . Inside, there was a beautiful and modern library with state of the art technology, a lovely theatre, a café, some art rooms and dance/singing studios. The building was named after a well, which according to legend, was said to cause whomever drank from it to become wise. What a fitting name for the building!

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It was love at first sight, with the family as well as with Kungälv. I went to bed that night feeling I’d chosen the right family. I was excited to be an au pair and looked forward to the days ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEFL Teacher in Bangkok- Fun times

They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I soon came to realise that when I worked in Bangkok. First of all, I’d like to make it clear that I really enjoyed my job. It was so rewarding when a student would apply a new grammar rule in conversation. It was heart warming to see a learner’s confidence grow when it came to speaking English. It was always interesting to watch them interact with each other, it taught me a lot about Thai culture. I also loved it when they asked me about my home country.

But I soon came to realise that teaching really took a lot of energy, so I made it a point to  let my hair down and relax sometimes. Since it’s so cheap to travel in Thailand, it was wonderful to visit different places within the country.

Kanchanaburi was by far one of my favourite places I visited in Thailand. We stayed in a rustic lodge along the peaceful and serene River Khwai, surrounded by majestic mountains and a lush jungle. It was a much needed change from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, and I felt very calm and content. The following day, we visited the Erawan Waterfalls, one of the best waterfalls I’ve even seen in Thailand.

 

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At the National Park of Kanchanaburi, with 4 of our new found friends.

 

I also visited the coast a few times, but my most favourite coastal experience was when we visited Koh Larn. The thing that made it super  special was the fact that I went there with two of my closest friends whom I met in Thailand. Words can’t even describe just how special it was.

 

One time I embarked on a solo trip to Chiang Rai. I took the overnight train which cost a quarter of the price of a plane ticket. The train was loud and rickety, but I had great company. I met a young lady from South America and we just hit it off. We talked as if we’d known each other for years. However when we reached our destination, we parted ways without sharing our contact details, which was rather sad. Any rate, the solo trip to Phu Chi Fa in Chiang Rai was one of the most awe inspiring moments of my life. Standing on the lookout point and seeing the mountains stretch for what seemed like an eternity filled me with so much awe. In  that moment, I felt a great sense of humility and gratitude to be alive.

phu chi fapuchifa

Another memory that stands out was when I went to an open mic poetry session at Wolffs in Sukumvit. Two of my fellow teachers read the most beautiful poems and I met some wonderful people.

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Poetry reading night at Wolffs

 

Another awesome night was when the South African Embassy in Bangkok organised a ball. It was great to meet fellow South Africans, eat South African food, drink South African wine and dance to South African music. It was a night filled with music, joy and laughter. It was a pity that I had to go to work the following day.

ball 1

 

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Of course, I couldn’t always afford to go to great holiday destination of fancy events, but that didn’t stop me from having fun. It was always great just to go to the markets, cafes and parks with friends.

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Having fun with a friend at Nine Café, one of my favourite cafes in Bangkok.
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Having some delicious street food
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A poetry reading session with a close friend at Lumpini Park.

So I definitely  feel that I worked hard and played harder. I truly had the time of my life working as an English teacher in Thailand.

TEFL Teacher in Bangkok- Money Matters

When I moved to Thailand, I hoped to have a great life experience and maybe save some money too. Unfortunately, the latter did not happen.

The first huge chunk of money I had to spend was on my apartment. I lived in a 28 floor building in Bangwa. It was conveniently near the Bangwa BTS Skytrain station and there was a shopping mall about 500 meters away. I had to pay a deposit of 25 500 Baht when I moved in. Thereafter, I had to pay 8500 Baht each month. My electricity and water bill was never more than 400 Baht combined and my internet service cost 599 Baht per month. Some of my friends who lived in more modest apartments told me I could save at least half that amount if I could learn to rough it a bit and move to a less luxurious apartment. But as somebody who enjoys being home at least 50 percent of the time, it was important for me to have a cosy home.

My apartment had a small kitchen with a stove, kettle, washing machine and fridge. I had a small tv room which was separated from the bedroom by a sliding door. There was also a shower and toilet, of course. It was great that it came fully furnished, except for some cutlery and crockery. There was a pool, sauna and gym on the second floor. I though the price I paid was totally worth it.

 

 

Although I had a small kitchen with a stove, I hardly ever cooked. I usually ate street food from my local street food vendors or sometimes I ate in the food court at the mall near my place. That kind of food was much cheaper, usually from 40 to 80 Baht per  meal. Every month I made sure I had some essentials at home such as, bread, butter, milk,cheese, tea, cereal, eggs, fruit and vegetables, toiletries, cleaning stuff etc. This roughly came up to 1 500 Baht each month. Sometimes, I got tired of eating Thai food so I would spoil myself by going to a western restaurant. That was slightly costly, from 150 Baht upwards. So I would say I spent about 3500 Baht on food, toiletries and home stuff each month.

I was very fortunate to live close to the BTS  station. It only took 5 minutes on a motorcycle taxi or 15 minutes by bus to get to the station. I spent about 700 Baht on transport, 500 Baht on my BTS Skytrain rabbit card for the month and 200 Baht on trains, ferries and motocycle taxis.

Of course I also spent quite a lot on travelling and having a good time. But that’s a story for another blog! I noticed that whenever friends from back home came to visit me in Thailand, I ended up spending much more money because we did a lot of expensive touristy stuff together which worked out cheap for them having the stronger currency, but cost me an arm and a leg. Ofcourse that didn’t take away from the wonderful times we shared whenever they came to visit. You cannot put a price on experiences with loved ones.

It’s also worth mentioning that another thing that costs money is when you have to do visa runs and extend your visa at the Thai immigration offices. I was in Thailand 6 months before I obtained a work permit. I went to Chaeng Wattana twice to extend my visa, it cost 1900 Baht each time and I also did 2 cross boarder visa runs. The one to Cambodia cost 2500 Baht and the one to Laos cost about 4ooo Baht. There were also some costs involved in getting my work permit, but I can’t for the life of me remember the exact figures.

All in all, I can attest to the fact that the cost of living in Thailand is low, compared to my home country, South Africa. However, when you start earning in Thai currency, you have to stop comparing prices to what you would pay back home because that can be very misleading and it can cause you to live way above your means. That was my downfall, and the fact that budgeting has never been one of my strongest points.

 

 

TEFL Teacher in Bangkok part 2

 

During my stay  in Bangkok I resided in Bangwa . There weren’t many foreigners in that area at the time, so I stood out like a sore thumb. One day I was on the bus and a mature gentleman by the name of Terry started talking to me. He was very trendy, likeable and fascinating. He gave me his business card and said I should contact him because the school he taught at was looking for a new teacher. By this time, I had learned to adapt in my own school, which was a very strict private school. I knew all their whims and fancies and I was at the point where I could manage quite well. The only problem was the fact that they were giving me the run-around regarding my work permit. I hated working without a work permit and would tense up whenever I saw the cops. I would imagine them asking to see my work permit, throwing me in prison upon realising I didn’t have one, and throwing away the keys. That image was enough to motivate me to call Terry.

He organised for me to meet his boss, Shawn. Shawn and I had a very brief conversation, not even about teaching but more about our travels. He then asked for my email address and said he’d contact me. I couldn’t tell what his impression of me was, but I was determined to try another school if that door was shut in my face. To my surprise, he did contact me and asked me to demonstrate a lesson. Another teacher by the name of Bernie observed me and gave good feedback. I was offered a full-time job and the rest is history. The major difference for me was the fact that they accepted me without even mentioning my race. You can see some of the differences between the schools I worked for in the table at the end of the article.

Any case, it was more advantageous for me to choose the second school, especially when they offered to sort out my work permit quickly. I resigned from my first school. My fellow teachers and students were sad to see me go. But the most surprising thing was when the supervisor, who had commented on me being black during my first interview, didn’t want me to leave. I was tempted to point out to him that I was still black. Anyway, we parted amicably and he said if things didn’t work out for me, I was more than welcome to work for him again.

Fortunately, things did work for me at my second school. I had amazing students, great colleagues and an awesome boss. I grew in leaps and bounds, both professionally and personally. I can honestly say that my job was one of the things that made my stay in Thailand memorable.

 

Private School Language Centre
8 hours a day on weekdays @ 200 Baht per hour 2,5 hours a day on weekdays @ 400 Baht per hour. (Off on Fridays)
Off on weekends work up to 5 hours per day on weekends @ 650 baht per hour
Holidays only during school breaks ie. March-April and October A week off every 6 weeks. Longer break during Songkran and Christmas
No resource other than text books. Each man for himself  Lots of resources and help with lessons from collegues
Holidays only during school breaks ie. March-April and October A week off every 6 weeks. Longer break during Songkran and Christmas
35-45 students per class 11-25 students per class
Syllabus way above level of majority of students Serious teaching of grammar and conversation for appropriate level
No teacher development activities and no bonus either Teacher development activities & 40 000 Baht bonus at year end

TEFL Teacher in Bangkok

After my TEFL course in Hatyai, I decided there was nothing else there for me. So I decided to move to Bangkok. One of the ladies who did the course with me had an apartment in Bangkok and she kindly offered me a place to stay while I looked for a job. The TEFL school got me an agent in Bangkok. I was scarcely there a day when she told me she had an interview lined up for me. I was over the moon!

Due to the fact that I was unfamiliar with the transportation system, I was late by 3 hours. I was terribly frustrated and embarrassed. However when I got to the school where the interview would take place, everyone was laid back and my agent kept saying “mai bpen rai” which means no worries or never mind. I was relieved, until the school supervisor, who was the ‘power that be’ as far as hiring new teachers was concerned, arrived. He took one look at me and said something to my agent in Thai. I could tell from his body language that it wasn’t good. The agent translated what he had informed her  that they didn’t like to hire black teachers. I was dumbfounded and discouraged. I’d been warned about this but I’d chosen to stay positive. I had a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate and I had read of black teachers in Thailand who had made a success of it. But at that moment, my hopes came tumbling down.

To my surprise, I heard from them the following day. They wanted to put me on probation. Having no other alternatives, I decided to eat humble pie and go back. Only a handful of the foreign teachers were friendly. I later found out that due to the high turnover rate, nobody wanted to invest their emotions in someone who might leave soon anyway. The Thai teachers were polite but somewhat distant and cold. I later found out that they earned very little compared to the foreign teachers, but they did the most work. I came to understand their resentment.

I found the course books way too advanced for the levels I taught. It didn’t make sense to teach difficult subjects like science in English, when the students didn’t even know how to have a basic conversation in English in the first place. I thought the exams were a joke. We were allowed to ‘help’ the students during exams.

The teachers had to adhere to some very strict rules, especially when it came to dress and grooming. One day I found myself being severely reprimanded for wearing a blouse that covered my shoulders but not my arms. It was as if I had been dressed like a harlot! We got slapped with a fine for arriving  to school 5 minutes late, for forgetting to sign in upon arrival at school, not grading the books timeously and for dressing ‘appropriately’. The worst is that you were somehow expected to just know these rules without being told about them beforehand. I know I’ve painted a very negative picture of the school, so I’d like to tell you about some of the positives.

Once the Thai teachers got to know me, they actually started liking me and some even said flattering things to the supervisor about me. I started making friends with the foreign teachers too. The majority of the students were lovely , they were a real pleasure to teach. They made me smile every single day. The school offered free lunch to the students as well as the teachers. The students were extremely generous, I remember before the December break, all the teachers received presents from the students. I had so many presents that I had to hire a taxi to go home. We got paid for not working during the  holidays, provided you had worked there long enough. So I actually started making the best of the situation and loving my job.

Soon after, I started enquiring about getting a work permit. They started giving me the run around for two months, and my agent wasn’t helpful at all. In the meantime, my visa was expiring. I kept thinking they would come around, but they didn’t. I was glad when another opportunity came knocking on my door.

 

 

 

 

TEFL Training

I arrived in Thailand on August 12, 2014. I had a first taste of how friendly Thais are at the airport. From the airport staff to people who sat next to me at the airport while we waited to board the plane to Hatyai. A girl by the name of Dear sat next to me. She attended university in Bangkok and occasionally went back home to Hatyai to visit family and friends. She was extremely sweet and offered to teach me a few expressions in Thai, which later proved very useful. As we went our separate ways, we exchanged contact details and vowed to stay in touch.

The TEFL school, which had a partnership with the agency that had helped me back home, sent a gentleman to fetch me from the airport. Although there was a language barrier between the driver and I, there was no awkwardness whatsoever as we drove to my accommodation. We just listened to music, smiled and nodded at each other. I looked around the city as we drove, and I wasn’t impressed at all. There was no fascinating architecture or impressive skyscrapers, nor was there anything interesting to look at really. I just saw crowds of people, shocking electric cables, and my heart sank slightly. At this point, I was also extremely tired so it was a great relief to go to bed.

The following day we began our TEFL course at The Visions Learning Academy in Hatyai. It was great to meet the staff at the school and fellow students. I became excited all over again about my move. The course lasted three weeks. The instructor was great but I didn’t always follow what he said because I was still heavily jetlagged. There was a lot of information about things I wasn’t aware that I didn’t even know. Such as the 12 tenses and some rules of grammar. These are all things I had taken for granted in my everyday speech. The best experience I had though, was when we got the opportunity to stand in front of a real class to teach. I found Thai kids very polite and extremely playful. I tried to make every activity fun by turning it into a game or promising them that if they did their work, we could play a quick game afterward. It worked!

We also did a Summer camp, which was a lot of fun. Sometimes I had so much fun that I forgot I was teaching.

 

What made the TEFL course more fun was the fact that we also did a lot of sightseeing and fun activities. We visited a floating market, waterfalls, temples, bars, and restaurants.

By the time the course was done I walked away, not only with a licence to teach, but also with a mind that had been opened by a new experience, as well as some wonderful friends who had a positive impact on me.

 

visions pic