You’ve completed your TEFL course and now have a few interviews lined up, either in person or via Skype. There’ll be others competing for the same job, so how do you ensure you are the one to be hired?
We spoke to Charlie Honisz from Teachers4Thailand, a reputable agency and one we love to work with as the teachers are always taken care of. This is what he has to say:
“Before the interview, we’ll look over your CV/resumé and ensure you have all the qualifications required: native English speaker, or non native speaker with a high TOEIC score, a bachelor’s degree (needed to get the work permit), and a TEFL certificate from a reputable TEFL/TESOL school, one which offers observed teacher pracs, and really prepares the trainees for the real world of teaching.
Your CV is your first chance to make an impression, and here, clear and simple is best. We want to see a photo of you. We want to see your qualifications and any work experience you have and we want to find out a little bit more about you. We will also scan it for any errors, so do check it before sending it out. Samui TEFL has a great template to use, and it’s easy for us to navigate.
Looks are important. By that we mean: do you look professional and presentable and are you dressed appropriately? Are you neat and tidy? Teaching is a highly respected profession, and you need to dress accordingly.
During the interview we’ll be looking out for a positive attitude, this is very important. We want someone who is willing to listen to job offers, and open to all options – someone not totally closed off to not having things 100% their way. I do understand that people will have reasons for wanting certain places, and wanting to teach certain ages, but if you’re not even willing to hear someone out, it sends the wrong impression about being a team player. Schools can be chaotic, and prone to changes. So you need to be the type of person who is willing to adapt.
Also, be open to teaching different subjects. I’m not saying teaching maths, or science to high-level students (unless you’re qualified to do so), but homeroom teachers are a very large percentage of teachers in Thailand, meaning you’ll be teaching other subjects aside from English.
A lot of time is invested in hiring a new teacher, both by the agency and the school, so someone prepared to see out a full year contract will take preference.
As for tips:
And some additional advice from us at Samui TEFL:
As a traveller around Southeast Asia, you should be aware and sensitive to the different religions and customs.
No matter the religion, food plays an integral part in the beliefs as well as ceremonies and rituals.
Since Eve handed Adam the apple and doomed the human race for eternity, food has played a strong role in religious beliefs. Some of us are more religious than others – some follow strict orthodox practices determined by their religion, and others loosely observe the ‘rules’ dictated by the religion that they were born in to. For many, dietary habits are derived from religious laws, and all over the world many people choose to eat or avoid certain foods according to their religious beliefs. When a country’s people are predominantly from one religion, it can be difficult to eat a food frowned upon by that following – for example, it might not be so easy to get a big juicy beef steak in India, where the main religion is Hinduism, and the cow is considered sacred. Likewise, a bacon sandwich in Jerusalem might not be so easy to find…
Most religions involve practices of both fasting and feasting – with fasting showing restraint and feasting being a time of celebration, thanksgiving and coming together as a community. While some practices involving food may seem obscure to those not of the faith (such as consuming wine and communion wafers representing the blood and body of Jesus), with a little research, you’ll find a reason for the practice, often going back millennia. Food choice is due to different reasons, with religion being one of the strongest principles on which diets are based. Sacred places such as altars and shrines and sacred times such as feast and fasting days, as well as symbolism and myth (what foods represent or the stories they recall) are all part of religious rituals linked to food.
So let’s look at the basic principles involving food and the most common religions, starting with Buddhism, the prevailing religion of Thailand. Many believe that all Buddhists are vegetarian, but strictly speaking, that’s not true – just think of all the pork consumed here in Thailand! Buddha was not a vegetarian, and he didn’t prohibit eating meat. Roughly speaking amongst the two major Buddhist traditions, the Mahayanists are vegetarian and the Theravadins (the form practiced here in Thailand) are not. Buddhism considers living beings to be sacred; a belief that has translated into widely practiced vegetarianism and veganism.
Violence towards animals is considered to translate into human aggression; hence most Buddhists will keep to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence or harmlessness) and avoid all foods related to processes where harm was done. Hence, some Buddhists avoid meat and dairy products while others avoid only meat. Monks of this religion fast in the afternoon and rely on ‘alms’ or donations of food as they, along with Buddhist nuns, are not allowed to cultivate, store or cook their own food. The birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha are the three most commonly recognised festivals for feasting, resting from work, or fasting. Buddhist monks fast completely on certain days of the moon, and they routinely avoid eating any solid foods after the noon hour.
You’ll see spirit houses throughout Thailand, and strictly speaking, they have nothing to do with Buddhism. Animism, or spirit worship, is probably the oldest form of religion in the world, and when Buddhism arrived in South East Asia, it developed alongside the ancient spirit worship. Today many of the beliefs are knitted with Buddhism and form part of everyday life for Thai people, and you’ll often see locals keeping the spirits happy with food offerings placed at the spirit houses. Fresh fruit, rice, chicken or duck, beer, water and cold drink, keep the spirits' hunger and thirst at bay.
Christianity is the religion predominant in Western cultures, and food regulations differ from one Christian denomination or group to another, with some groups not observing any restrictions at all. Catholics and orthodox Christians fast on certain religious days such as Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday) or during Lent (the 40 days before Jesus arose from the dead). In earlier centuries, meat and dairy products were avoided during a substantial portion of the year, but today it often just means eating fish instead of meat on a Friday. The ritual of consuming bread and wine (Holy Communion or the Eucharist) is regularly celebrated but its symbolic or actual meaning in relation to the body and blood of Jesus Christ depends on the denomination. While most Western children happily enjoy their chocolate Easter eggs, few realise that the egg represents new lift – symbolic of Jesus rising from the dead and allowing Christians to be born again, free of their sins.
Hinduism is one of the most ancient religions in the world and, although meat was not originally prohibited, many Hindus today regard vegetarianism as a way to maintain the respect observed for life. Hinduism is characterised by the avoidance of the killing of any animal, the cleansing of those involved in food preparation, which is a reflection on previously existing caste-restricted practices, and the symbolism of certain foods. The cow is sacred to Hindus, and therefore no beef is consumed. Other products from the cow, however, such as milk, yoghurt, and butter are considered innately pure and are thought to promote purity of the mind, spirit, and body. Many devout Hindus fast on the eighteen major Hindu holidays, as well as on numerous personal days, such as birthdays, and anniversaries of deaths and marriages. They also fast on Sundays and on days associated with various positions of the moon and the planets.
Islam is the faith practiced by some of Thailand’s neighbouring countries, including Malaysia, so you’ll find small Muslim communities within Thailand. The main food practices in Islam involve specific ritual slaughtering procedures for animals of consumption (haram practices), fasting during the month of Ramadan, the avoidance of pork and of intoxicating liquor. Foods are categorised as halal (those than may be eaten) and haram (those that should be avoided), as are other aspects of life. Most foods are halal while the list of haram foods includes pork, alcohol and any products that may contain emulsifiers made from animal fats (such as gelatines and margarines). Bread and bread products fermented by yeast may contain traces of alcohol and in some cases may be considered haram. Moderation in all things, including eating and dietary habits, are an integral part of Islam. Fasting on these religious occasions includes abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. In Turkey and other predominantly-Muslim countries, iftar – the nightly meal that breaks the Ramadan fast – has gone from being a humble affair based around dates, soup and some freshly baked bread to something much more elaborate (at least for those who can afford it).
Another of the more well known faiths is Judaism, and in this religion foods are divided into kosher (allowed) or trefa (forbidden). Characteristics of kosher foods include animals that have a completely split hoof and chew cud (such as cows, goats and sheep), while kosher fish must have fins and scales. In general, all plant foods are considered kosher, and a specific slaughtering process must be followed for meat to be considered kosher. Animals such as pigs and rabbits as well as creatures of the sea, such as lobster, shrimp, and clams, may not be eaten. Meat and dairy products must not be prepared, stored or eaten together and certain fasting days are observed (especially Yom Kippur). During the celebration of Passover, food helps to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
There seems to be a growing Rastafarian movement on the island – some just following for the great Reggae music, and others taking the religious aspect into practice too. Most Rastafarians are vegetarian or vegan. Foods that may be consumed by people practicing this religion are called ital, with these foods being characterised by having no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, so are considered pure or natural. Rastafarians also avoid the consumption of alcohol and in some cases also tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks as it’s considered that these foods confuse the soul.
On an island with a diverse community of locals and expats, it’s good to know the basic principles regarding religions and their food rules, so as not to offend at a social gathering. And there’s no harm in joining in with religious feasts of friends of other religions, such as at Christmas time, or the breaking of the Ramadan fast, when food is plentiful. And we’ll forgive you for tucking into that delicious Easter egg – even if you don’t celebrate Easter.
Does the thought of using chopsticks in public bring on a cold sweat? Here’s the lowdown on their history, how to use them as well as chopsticks etiquette.
Bill Bryson, author of humorous travelogues, wrote, “And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?” – an excerpt from Notes from a Small Island.
Most Westerners feel the same way as Mr Bryson about eating with chopsticks, yet for Asians, their use is second nature, and from a young age, they can master the art of using these simple, yet infuriating utensils. To them, knives at the table are taboo, and in contrast to the Western writer’s statement above, ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, wrote, "The honourable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table." Now few will agree with his out-dated theory that men should stay away from the kitchen, and in fact, most of Samui’s top chefs are men. But many Asians do believe that knives should not be used at the table – granted, a thick fillet steak is not a regular dish on the Asian menu, and most meals are already served bite-sized. Confucius equated knives with acts of aggression, which went against his non-violent teachings, and some experts credit his influence with the widespread adoption of chopsticks throughout China.
So let’s look at the history of chopsticks. While the precise origin of chopsticks is unknown, they were definitely in use by the Shang dynasty (1766 BC - 1122 BC). Their increasing popularity since that time may actually be linked to Chinese cooking methods - before stir-frying the food is cut into tiny pieces, making them easy to manipulate with a chopstick.
For Westerners, the majority of which are fork-using eaters, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the fork has only recently become common cutlery at the dinner table. True, the Byzantines used forks in the 10th century, and Catherine de M'edici introduced this pronged utensil to the French court in the early 1500s. But in the USA, it wasn't until the eighteenth century that people felt the need for more than a knife and spoon. By contrast, chopsticks have been the utensils of choice throughout all of China since the Han dynasty (approximately 200 BC to 200 AD).
Most foodies will agree that Chinese food just tastes better when eaten with chopsticks – in much the same way that pizza or hamburgers really should be eaten with the hands. Not sure how to handle your ‘Kuai zi’? (The word "chop" is pidgin English for kuai, which means quick or speedy, as in chop chop). Here’re a few tips to get you using them like a pro:
If possible, use wood or bamboo chopsticks when you’re a novice, as plastic chopsticks are more slippery and harder to hold. Always grip the chopsticks in the middle, making sure that the ends are even and do not cross. Pick up a chopstick and hold it so that it's resting comfortably between the tip of your fourth finger (the ring finger) and the hollow gap between your thumb and index finger. Keep the fourth finger straight. This will be the bottom chopstick. Now pick up the other chopstick and place it on top, firmly between the tips of your thumb, index and middle fingers. The index and middle fingers should be curled.
When eating, always keep the bottom chopstick stationary and use the top chopstick to move and pick up food. To pick up food, straighten your index and middle fingers as much as needed to move the top chopstick outward. Grab the food, and then bring the chopsticks together by curling your index and middle fingers. The basic idea is to use the chopstick as a pivot, with the thumb being the axle. Lift the food up to your mouth, leaning over if necessary. (It’s not rude to lean over your plate as it is in the West). For food that contains bones (such as chicken), hold the food with the chopsticks and eat around the bone. Children often find it easier to hold chopsticks nearer the bottom instead of in the middle.
No matter where you happen to be enjoying Asian food in the world, knowing how to use chopsticks correctly will come in handy, and a little practice will stop you feeling like a clumsy idiot. But knowing how to use them is one thing. Being a real pro means that you also understand chopsticks etiquette and the dos and don’ts of using them.
Despite the temptation to play with them, remember that chopsticks are eating utensils, just as a knife and fork. You would never play drums on the table with two spoons (well, you shouldn’t), point at someone with a fork, or leave a knife standing up stuck into a steak, so treat your chopsticks the same.
When taking a break, place your chopsticks neatly to the right of your plate, preferably with the tips on the provided rest and without pointing them in anyone's immediate direction. Putting chopsticks on top of your bowl or plate indicates that you are finished and the staff may whisk it away before you can enjoy that bite you were saving for last!
Chopsticks may seem extremely impractical for eating certain foods. However, there are polite ways to overcome this issue. In many Asian countries a spoon will accompany dishes that are difficult to manage with only chopsticks. And lifting a bowl to face-level and pushing rice into your mouth is both acceptable and perfectly normal in all parts of Asia with the exception of Korea. Alternatively, chopsticks can be held side by side to shovel rice from your plate. While considered impolite in the West, slurping soup and noodles, even noisily, is perfectly acceptable in Asia. It’s also quite fine to drink directly from your soup bowl.
Large chunks of food can be torn or cut apart on your plate using chopsticks, but it’s bad manners to impale a big piece of food as a way to transfer it to your mouth If no serving utensils are provided at a communal meal, turn your chopsticks around to use the clean ends when transferring food from communal dishes onto your own plate.
A few more no-nos when using chopsticks include the following:
Don’t tap your chopsticks together in the air or on a bowl to make noises (yet slurping is fine?). Don’t leave them standing vertically in a bowl, and don’t use them to gesture or point at other people or dishes, in much the same way as you wouldn’t use your knife to point at somebody. Don’t hold chopsticks in a clenched fist as you would a weapon and don’t suck sauce off the end of your sticks.
Remember not to pass food to other people using your chopsticks, as doing so resembles the practice of passing cremated bones at a funeral. Rather, put the piece of food you want to share directly onto the other person’s place (with the other end).
And if you really want to be adept at chopsticks etiquette, then here are some more tips to consider:
Particularly when eating in Japan, allow elders or senior members at the table to lift their chopsticks first. Don't pick through dishes (either communal or on your own plate) for morsels of meat or vegetables that happen to be your favourite. Also, avoid crossing your chopsticks, as it symbolises death in some cultures. If disposable chopsticks were used, place them back inside of the paper wrapper at the end of your meal and leave them to the right of your plate. Koreans use spoons to eat soups and even rice. But always put your chopsticks to the right side of your spoon when resting on the table … as the reverse is done at memorial dinners for deceased loved ones, so you could easily offend without realising it.
Now while wooden chopsticks are easier to use, as they are less slippery than the plastic or metal varieties, there’s a factor to consider when using them. Demand for disposable chopsticks far surpasses the ability to make them from wood scrap or off-cut wood. This means that an estimated 20 million mature trees are logged each year just to supply China alone with billions of throwaway chopsticks. Plastic and metal chopsticks are far more sustainable – or if you want to use wood, let them be reusable ones. And that’s not even considering the vast quantity of paper or polystyrene takeaway containers that accompany these disposable chopsticks. Quite something to consider, isn’t it?
Samui TEFL Blog