All in good spirits -- Understanding the Thai culture of spirit houses
You'll see them everywhere. Ornate and colourful doll-size houses on stilts strategically positioned outside every home, business, school and in public areas. Other than making great photo opportunities for tourists, what is behind these impressive little structures that resemble miniature temples?
Spirits reside everywhere in Thailand, and Thai people go out of their way to keep them happy. 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.
One of these practices is the use of 'San Phra Phum', or spirit houses. The purpose of the spirit house is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits who inhabit the area where the house or business is built. Permission needs to be granted by the spirits before a new building breaks ground. The spirit house is constructed first, to entice the spirits to rather dwell in their own home and not in the house or shop. There are guardian spirits of the house, the garden and the land as well as ones that guard specifically over rice paddy, bodies of water, and military forts. You may notice that Thais always step OVER the threshold when entering a house – never on it. The reason – they don't want to disturb the guardian spirit of gates and stairwells that resides there.
The construction of a spirit house can be simple, resembling a basic Thai bungalow home, or as intricate as a palace. They can be constructed of wood, concrete or brick, and roadside shops with hundreds of colourful houses for sale are a common sight. Construction itself is a specialised field, and only an expert spirit house builder would be considered. Not only is the building thereof his responsibility, but he also needs to be familiar with all the necessary rituals involved so that the spirit invited will find it an acceptable earthly abode.
San Phra Phum are often decorated with little figurines of people and animals, incense holders and vases for flowers, and some even contain furniture. One will often see figures of an elderly man and woman - they are the caretakers of the spirit house, who will always be there to look after the house. Anything that people need in life, spirits need too. So, symbolically, statuettes of horses and elephants provide transportation, and tiny ceramic or wooden dancers entertain the spirits, while figurines of pets provide companionship.
The position of a spirit house is very important, and many a well-meaning expat has unknowingly placed one incorrectly, upsetting the neighbourhood in the process. Important to remember – should you ever need to erect a spirit house, is that it should never lie where the shadow of the building will fall on it.
One can regularly see Thais presenting offerings to the spirits. Fresh fruit, rice, chicken or duck, beer, water and cold drink, keep the spirits' hunger and thirst at bay. Candles and incense, fresh flowers in the vases and garlands keep the house looking good which are sometimes strung with fairy lights at night for 24-hour visual appeal. Resorts in particular often boast elaborate spirit houses and generous offerings.
Spirit houses can be seen at dangerous curves in the road or places of frequent accidents. This is done in order to keep the spirits happy, and ask for the protection of all that use the road. A good example of this is on Samui’s ring-road just past Chaweng Noi, on the way to Lamai where a large, impressive spirit house overlooks the bend. Locals driving past hoot three times to acknowledge the spirits.
Because spirit houses need to be well-maintained, there comes a time when they need to be replaced. Old spirit houses cannot merely be dumped. The spirits are coaxed into the new house, and the old one is laid to rest in communal ‘burial grounds’ for old spirit houses, usually a location well known to be rich in spirit activity. On Samui, a road known as the Ghost Road is the local spot to offload broken spirit houses. It is a rather eerie sight to drive along this road, which is a back road to the airport, and see hundreds of discarded spirit houses. They are regularly removed by the owner of the property, but somehow the pile grows higher again.
One will often find colourful strips of cloth tied around large trees in forests or gardens. It is believed that spirits reside in old trees. Offerings are placed at the foot of the tree or in lower branches, and the bright ribbons are a symbol for others not to cut down the tree. At Namuang one waterfall, a large tree's base boasts offerings that include a rather generously proportioned bra, as well as other clothing items and shoes. Banana groves are the favoured haunting grounds of female spirits, so one often sees san phra phum along the road nearby.
Longtail boats are decorated with the same bright cloth and ribbon. Keeping the spirits of the sea happy will ensure a safe journey, and bring in a bountiful catch. In the same way, cars, trucks and taxis display garlands of flowers to protect the occupants of the vehicle on the journey. Most cars and taxis are also adorned with 'yan' – religious symbols painted usually on the ceiling of the car, by a monk to protect it and its passengers. Yan painting can also be found on the doors of houses to keep unwanted or ghostly visitors outside.
To be on the safe side, you may want to bear the following in mind: If you make jokes while eating, a ghost will steal your rice. In case you were planning to ... you should know that you will see a ghost if you bend down and look between your legs. Watch those yoga poses then...
Spirit houses may be fascinating. They may be beautiful to photograph. However, please remember that to others they are a place of worship, so show respect when taking pictures. Don’t put your feet on any religious figure such as a Buddha or spirit house. Don’t touch or re-arrange items in the house to suit your photo, and don’t take photos when people are praying.
© Rosanne Turner
You ordered a WHAT?1
The language barrier can often pose a problem when ordering in restaurants. We share a few funny moments and give some tips on getting your point across.
Ordering in a restaurant in Thailand can sometimes be hit and miss. And while staff in tourist areas will have some knowledge of English, there are still often errors due to miscommunication. Before we get in to how you can avoid some of these common pitfalls when ordering, let’s look at a few examples of what we mean. Of course we’ve had many of our own experiences and have learnt by trial and error, but to get a broader spectrum, we posed the question of ‘what went wrong’ to several expats on the island. Here are a few replies, listed anonymously to protect the businesses concerned:
One mistake that kept popping up is asking for a glass of white wine, and being brought the WiFi password. Go on, say it out loud. See? It’s an easy mistake to make. Sometimes the reverse happens too and you’ll end up having a few drinks when all you wanted to do was answer your emails, as you feel too bad to send back that glass of wine. One local lady ordered a glass of Bailey’s Liqueur and got brought a bay leaf on a plate – wonder what the waiter thought she wanted that for?
Another drinks related episode – one of our visitors asked for a single espresso, and got given a Singha beer instead. And as one expat described, “I ordered a Cuba Libre in one bar, and got told ‘no have’, so I ordered a rum and coke instead – and got one.” Right, so here’s the first tip:
Unless the establishment has the quirky name of the drink on their menu, where you can literally point and order, stick to calling it what it actually is, as the case above points out. So, rather than ordering a ‘Screwdriver’, order a vodka and orange juice. You may just find the barman running down to the maintenance room… and in much the same way, it’s probably best not to ask for your scotch ‘on the rocks’, but rather with ice.
Sometimes, you have to wonder what the poor waiter must think of you, when you discover the miscommunication. Another expat recalls asking a bartender if he could make ‘Jaegerbombs’, and he promptly came back with the phone number of the local drug dealer. Oh dear. Yet another embarrassing story is that of regular visitors to the island. They asked at a local café where they could try a Thai barbecue… only to be told that the temple was ‘burning a monk’ the next day, so they should go down there. Not quite what they had in mind.
Menus themselves are often cause for confusion. Some are obvious spelling errors, easy enough to decipher, and you’ll commonly see ‘snakes’ instead of shakes, and ‘French fried’ instead of fries. And then there’s the tongue in cheek faux pas, ‘orgasmic’ vegetables instead of, you guessed it, organic.
Don’t be alarmed if you read ‘horse shit crap’ on the menu. It’s meant to read as ‘horse shoe crab’. Again, fried crap in curry sauce is more delicious than it sounds. And on a breakfast menu we once saw 'cockroaches' instead of coco pops listed under the cereals, the manage wondered why they weren't too popular with the children!
But other times, you just have to wonder what on earth is meant with menu items such as ‘Fried pork with pour the page’, or ‘Fried pork with the cotton that stops’. Evidently, Google translate has missed the mark with these.
Another tip would be to learn a few food names of your favourite dishes or ingredients. Just as important would be the names of items that you’re allergic to or can’t eat, such as peanuts or seafood. For the vegetarians, say ‘gin jae’ and you’ll be fine. Many restaurants now put pictures next to the menu items, which help a lot. And to avoid mispronunciation, it’s often better to point at the menu when ordering. Sometimes, the item is written in Thai underneath, making it easier for the waiter to get it right.
When placing your order, a couple of things will help to actually get what you ordered. So remembering the barman with the screwdriver and rocks, the same applies to food. Don’t use idioms such as ‘sunny side up’ or ‘easy over’ when talking about eggs, or ‘blue’ when you want your steak only seared. Remember too that the waiter is dealing with customers of many nationalities, so your ‘ketchup’ may be another’s ‘tomato sauce’, or ‘chips’ may be ‘French fries’.
When placing your order, speak slowly and clearly. Focus on clearly enunciating and slowing down, but without sounding like a stretched tape. Speak naturally, but without connecting your words, even if you’re pressured for time. Don’t rush through your communication, as doing so often takes more time, as misunderstanding can result and you’ll ultimately have to invest additional time in clearing up the confusion – or just accepting what got delivered to your table. Point to the item listed on the menu, to back up what you’re saying.
Be patient. Cross-cultural communication takes more time and you can’t expect
communication to occur with the same speed and ease as when you’re communicating with someone from your own culture. Relax, enjoy the view, and remember to say, ‘mai pen rai’, when things go wrong. For those not in the know, this is a common Thai phrase that basically translates to ‘no worries’, while at the same time, accepting the situation for what it is. Another important point – be careful not to sound patronising – not understanding another language does not mean the person is of lower intelligence. And speaking louder is no solution, yet common to witness.
So take note of the tips above, but if the wrong dish arrives, sometimes it’s better to just accept it. You never know, you may have just accidentally discovered your new favourite dish! The universe works in mysterious ways…
What is TEFL?
Welcome to the Wonderful World of TEFL!
TEFL is Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This little but well-used acronym describes the industry, the profession and all the courses you can take to qualify as a teacher. TEFL can be temporary or permanent. Some people do it as a career break, others a gap year as it's a great way of earning money whilst travelling and discovering new cultures and civilisations. Other people consider TEFL at a later stage in life and then use it to cushion their finances, at home or overseas. With TEFL being such an exciting and challenging industry, it as no surprise that some people end up doing it all their lives.
Why do a TEFL course?
At Samui TEFL we see how many of our students are inspired to change their lives. Everyone has their own story or reason for this. Some - in fact most - are tired of the 'rat race'. Day dreaming while staring out of their 10th floor office windows, they wonder how they can make a change; taking the plunge to explore the world.
Most people don't have the funds to finance such adventures themselves. Few of us are lucky enough to be trust fund babies, or inherit a fortune. Seeing new countries and exotic places forms part of many people's bucket list. Before we know it, the years speed by, and the ideas and inspirations we had when fresh out of school, now seem a distant, unachievable goal. We see many of our students follow the 'responsible' path, and study a profession that is safe in the eyes of their parents or career advisors. After four years at university or college, they realise that this is not what they want to do with their lives, or perhaps they just want a few years break before entering the real world, with responsibilities, mortgages etc.
Just as often we see older students, who realise that 40+ is not too old to change your life. Some are newly divorced or widowed, some are just bored with day to day life, and want to fulfil the promises that they made to themselves as young adults, years ago. Some of our students are recently retrenched, due to the current economic climate. Sometimes life's knocks are blessings in disguise, allowing you to make a life change, that you may not have otherwise considered, or had the courage to attempt.
Whatever you reason for wanting a change in life, there is hope; you don't need to rob a bank!
If you are a native English speaker and have a good command of the English language, a 4-week TEFL course from Samui TEFL will equip you with the knowledge and ability to obtain a TEFL job in Asia (note that most jobs will also require you to have a degree). The demand for teachers in Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, China, Cambodia, and even Taiwan is high, and all our degree holding students who pass the course, manage to find jobs very soon after completing the course, many even getting job offers before they even graduate.
Teaching is a very rewarding profession, and teachers are highly respected in the East. Asian children are also very different to those in the West - far more well-behaved, and a pleasure to teach. If the thought of teaching children brings on a sweat and anxiety attack, perhaps you would prefer to teach adult learners. There are language schools throughout Asia catering to adults, and many of our students go on to teach staff at hotels and resorts.
Teaching hours are not long, leaving plenty of time to explore your new surroundings. Local transportation is also very cheap, meaning that weekend trips are affordable, as are longer expeditions during school holidays. As a teacher, you experience the 'real' Asia, making you a traveller, not merely a tourist.
Why Samui TEFL?
Samui TEFL is based on Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand. It is the ideal location to do your TEFL course, before venturing to other locations in Thailand, Asia or beyond to begin your TEFL career.
Although the course is intense, you will still have plenty of time to explore the island on weekends and in the evening. Why take your TEFL course in the city, when you have the option to do so on a tropical island? Doing a TEFL course in your home country would not be as beneficial. If you plan on teaching in Asia, get practice teaching real Asian students, with their distinctive language pronunciation problems. We do most of our practicals at local temple schools, meaning that these children really benefit from our lessons. Being immersed into a real school environment, also prepares you for entering the school system, should you decide to teach at a school. For those preferring to teach adults, we have arranged adult lessons. Our course is intense, and covers all aspects of TEFL teaching. More information can be found on our website or in the info pack emailed. Our students are important to us - we don’t view them as numbers. We stay in contact with students and track their career and travels where possible.
What are my chances of finding a TEFL job after completing the course?
Your chances are excellent! We have many contacts with agencies and schools in Thailand as well other countries, and they frequently contact us requesting teachers. We assist you with registering with the big placement agencies and websites, and help you to tailor your CV to the Asian market. Many students find jobs before they even complete the course, and others within a couple of weeks after leaving. You do need to be pro-active though, and get your CV completed as soon as we have advised you on it. If we don’t have your CV, we cannot get it out there. If you have a university degree (any, not necessarily a teaching degree) then you chances are even higher of finding work quickly, and you will have the pick of the best jobs. We do GUARANTEE jobs to students who meet the following criteria: If you’re from one of the following countries which are considered to be native English-speaking countries – UK and Ireland, USA, Canada, NZ, Aus and SA, if you have a degree, and if you obtain a distinction on the course, we can guaranted you a job placement in Thailand. Please note that legally to get a work permit as a teacher in Thailand a Bachelor’s degree is required. There are some options available for non degree holders, such as teaching in Cambodia, or teaching online. Teaching in a resort or business does not require a degree – however these jobs are scarce.
Average teacher’s salaries in Thailand are about 30,000 to 38,000 THB/month for teachers with a degree, often more for those with additional qualifications. A teacher can live comfortably on such a wage, with accommodation costing about 15 - 20% of this salary. Often accommodation is included in the job package. Packages in China usually include accommodation in the form of a private apartment, meals included, and a salary enough to live on and save a bit.
It’s good to remember that if you visit schools in person, present yourself properly, and can demonstrate enthusiasm for teaching, you WILL be offered teaching work, with degree, especially in late April and October, when the new school terms begin. We also have an extensive database of reputable agents that ask for our students, happy with the quality of teachers that Samui TEFL produces.
How do I know if I am suited to do a TEFL course?
As long as you have a reasonable command of the English language, with regards to vocabulary, grammar and the spoken language, and you are not painfully shy, then you are a suitable candidate. You also need to have an open mind, and be keen on new cultures and experiences!
Many students worry about the grammar aspect of the course. We understand that it may have been a while since you studied grammar at school. This is why we send you ‘pre-course reading material’ in the way of grammar revision, if you require it. We do go over this in class too, but grammar is not taught from scratch, merely revised. Please request the grammar document if you’d like to revise before the course starts.
We do expect our teachers to be passionate and enthusiastic, eager to learn and participate and committed to doing the course. We pride ourselves on our professional conduct, and we expect the same from our teachers. If you are not 100% committed, then the students will suffer. If you put in a reasonable amount of effort, complete your assignments and teacher practices with care and enthusiasm, then you will pass the course!
For a detailed info pack, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Life as a teacher in Chachoengsao
Dear Samui TEFL Considerer,
Today I had one of those moments of realising exactly how far I had come. I was sitting cross legged on the floor of the Kindergarten enrichment room watching my students as they were told a story by the Thai teacher. It, of course, was all in Thai but her movements and liveliness needed little translation and the children’s glittering eyes followed every turn of the page. I peeked out the window to see if the moody weather had once again changed only to find the vivid red roof of the temple next-door splashed against the bright blue sky. These are the magical moments of teaching in Thailand.
Let me say that if you currently have even a glimmer of thought about the Samui TEFL course, do it! It taught me everything I needed to know about teaching English to non-English speakers but more than that it taught me so much about myself both in and out of the classroom. It was one of the most frightening and beautiful experiences of my life just as teaching is. Equal parts frustrating and wonderful.
I am currently employed through Teachers for Thailand and decided to work for a temple school here in Chachoengsao. It’s about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok which means that you get the opportunity to explore the city on the weekend but don’t have to deal with the higher cost of living. In all honesty, it was a shock to go from the vibrant and lush location of Samui to such a small town where you catch people looking at you, the foreigner, no matter where you go. What came to enrapture me about this place is my fellow teachers both foreign and Thai. The school I work for has an extensive English program meaning that there are twenty-five other English teachers at my school alone. There are also two other schools in the area who employ English teachers making for a large and mostly welcoming community. In just these few short months I know I have created long lasting friendships. These are the people with whom you spend your free time. There have been weekends exploring the region with Bat Temples and giant pink Ganesha statues but also weekends that saw a lot of Netflix and Pizza Company.
As for the school, I am currently teaching Kindergarten, which is its own beast. The first week or so consisted of a lot of blank faces. I felt taken aback in the staff room when my fellow teachers in higher grades were telling me about conversations they had with their students when mine couldn’t even tell me their names. I had to adjust my tactics and used a lot of miming and modelling to get my students to understand what I was trying to get them to do. The first week just like that of the TEFL course was the hardest because you don’t know the rhythm just yet.
To break it down a little further in terms of the school environment, it’s very laid back. We sign in and out via a sheet that the administration holds us accountable for as well as the ability to leave school grounds for lunch. My workday usually involves getting there at about 7:15am, teaching from 8:30 – 11:00am, lunch from 11:00am -2:00pm and then back in the classroom for the last block of teaching from 2:30-3:30pm. They don’t require lesson plans, however, I do make myself small ones as a general guideline for what I am trying to accomplish in a lesson. Even in kindergarten you get given a set of school books as your piloted curriculum. Again, because I am teaching kindergarten, 5 years old to be exact, I teach all the subjects with main focuses on math and English of course. We have free access to printers and computers. The classrooms come with air conditioning. However, try to be ready ahead of time because things break or the electricity goes out and then you are left empty handed and sweaty.
I came to Thailand with almost no expectations but a lot of research. I knew for the most part what I was getting myself into, but I’m still surprised by how much I have enjoyed all aspects of my time here, even the ones that felt difficult at first. It’s been a defining experience in my life even after only being here a few months. However, one of the things I discovered during my time in the classroom at Samui TEFL is my wish to go back to school. I wanted this experience to travel and maybe save a little bit of money while trying out what it means to be a teacher in some form or another. What I found was that my desire to be a teacher goes hand in hand with my desire to be a student. I had no thoughts about whether this would be long term or a “gap year” but with my impending need to apply for Masters programs for next fall it appears I will be returning home sooner than I thought.
My advice even as a gap year – it’s worth it. Take the leap because it has changed my life in so many ways even just after 3 months. It’s one of those feelings, you know when you’re shaking with anticipation just before a roller coaster and with each step you can feel your heart beat a little faster then after you’ve made that first run you want to go again? Well buckling your seat belt on the plane will feel the same as buckling your seat into a roller coaster, you will want to do it all over again.
With Love and Wanderlust,
The Exuberant Traveler (Molly Butler, Samui TEFL graduate)
Shanice tells us what it's like teaching after the Samui TEFL course
"Since graduating from the course, life has been moving super fast; finding a place to stay, getting my own transportation, settling into the school, etc. It honestly has been a whirlwind of adventurous adulthood.
I teach in Phang-Nga in a small town called Khok Kloi (north of Phuket). There's really not much to do since it's a small town. Tourism there is small so, there aren't any shopping centers, big supermarkets, or much entertainment. I call it 'real' Thailand. You rarely see foreigners. If you do, they're teachers or one of few tourists visiting the bay or markets. It's nice, if you're looking for a quiet, laid back, small town vibe. If you're not, it may be challenging and a real culture shock. I don't mind it, but it's really hard to find a place there... like really. I mean, there are places but without fridge, kitchen, wifi, and sometimes no aircon (which they'll install for a fee). So, I had to find a place 30 minutes out, equipped with everything (which I do not mind). I would rather be comfortable than close.
The school is really nice. It just opened this term (May 2018). I like the Thai teachers in my classes (a lot people don't have good experiences with theirs). I teach K2 and K3 (3-5/6 year olds). I'm a homeroom math and English teacher. The students are pretty cool. They make me pull my hair out sometimes, especially the 5/6 year olds, but they're awesome. The course really prepared me mentally thanks to teacher pracs (TPs). Even the strategies that Kathryn and Chiara taught are essential to my everyday work life. I've already implemented so many games and 'tricks' to manage the class that has helped a lot. There are still some things you'll have to alter to the likes of your class.
We have accessible facilities at my school, which I didn't expect: printing access, laminating access, bits and pieces for arts and crafts, computer access, an on campus coffee shop, a pool (student use - still cool), a dance studio, the works. The school provides the materials/lessons they want us to teach and we teach it. I come up with the delivery. It's still tons of work, though. I catch myself bringing work home, at times. During the day, there's a lot of book checking and meetings so it's hard to plan or finish resources before the work day is over. My schedule is 7:45-4:30. It goes by quickly, when you have things planned and "10 organized", if not, good luck. Lol, I can honestly say it's not what I expected! It's really quite a bit of work. When you get the hang of it and get into the groove, it's actually really cool. I'm still adjusting.
The weekends mean everything to me. I hang out with my friends from the course who are in Phuket working at schools and online. It's nice to have someone here to relate to and just chill with after the week. There's quite a bit to do in Phuket, so we randomly find fun things to do and we'll travel to other islands. It's good fun.
As of right now, I'm not sure if I'll stay passed my 11 months. I'll decide later. There are other places I want to grace. I say if you love children and have incredible patience, go for it. And if you're not teaching children, patience, in general. Do it! You'll form endless attachments."
Samui TEFL Grad
Tatyana tells us how being a TEFL teacher has changed her life
After completing the course, Tatyana went on to teach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and has now headed back to Thailand to teach. This is what she had to say about her time on the course and how being a TEFL teacher has changed her, as well as her lifestyle.
Where to go after your TEFL course
So, you are holding a TEFL certificate, a magical key to many doors, a visa to most of the countries. Where to go? Too much choice spoils. Any new job posted in Facebook seems a better option than the one you’ve got. That island looks beautiful, this school offers attractive bonuses, that offer sounds tempting… Oh, if only I had waited a little longer! And then you change your job just to find out that any job is inevitably imperfect – either the cost of living is too high, or the classes are too numerous, or there’s too much work to do, or the city is too big/too small/too polluted/too boring/too noisy...
But any job inevitably has some delights to offer, let it be beaches, a nice school, good management, friendly staff, high wages… After all, we do essentially the same job, enjoy the same small pleasures (mine, for example, are morning yoga on the roof and making lesson plans in a cozy café), travel around (so what that it’s mostly visa runs and border bouncing), learn new languages and make new friends absolutely everywhere.
I think it is natural to always have this feeling that there’s a better place and greener grass somewhere else. But since I love what I do and I live in comfort, it doesn’t matter where I got the last “arrived” stamp in my passport, does it?
How my TEFL job changed me
If tomorrow they tell me something like, “The human race is evacuated to Mars, your spaceship leaves tomorrow”, I’ll just put my poker face on and ask, “What’s the luggage allowance?” Seriously, I should mention “stress-resistance and adaptability” as my strengths at the next job interview, my only strengths, probably. A TEFL job leaves you no time to panic. I have covered classes (on a very, very short notice) for someone who suddenly left the job, fell sick or is late from a border run more frequently than I hit the gym (and just for the record, I used to be a fitness model). I spend more time preparing lesson plans (and resources) than actually teaching. I don’t waste time regretting my mistakes, but I rather look for a way to correct them.
This job has changed my way of life. Formal shirts compile 75% of my wardrobe. All my possessions fit into two suitcases of total weight no more than 30 kg (6 of them are books. Weird, considering that I have a Kindle, PaperWhite and Audible app). I can pack and unpack all my stuff in 15 minutes. I catch myself duplicating my words with gestures while talking to people. I learnt how to keep my voice low when all I want is to raise it. I can easily find my way without Google Maps after spending 3 days in a new place (to be frank, I lose my way only if I rely on the maps). One can learn geography of Southeast Asia by my passport. And, honestly, I’ve never felt better in my life.
Would I recommend Samui TEFL?
“What TEFL course would you recommend – online or in-class?” someone posts in Facebook every day. Seriously? You think you can learn how to teach well (WELL is the keyword here) purely theoretically? Let’s be conscious, please, teaching is a responsible job. I understand that not everyone has money for an in-class course. I understand that those who have money, don’t always want to invest it into something they aren’t going to do for the rest of their lives. I understand that someone just wants to volunteer, or to move to the another country following his/her partner.
But aren’t we who we are mostly thanks to what and how we’ve been taught? Don’t we enjoy what we do when we do it well? Aren’t we feeling satisfied at the end of the day when we know we’ve done a job to the best of our abilities?
The Samui TEFL course was one of the best experiences of my life, and it entailed a lot of other great experiences. It was absolutely worth every penny, second, and effort spent (and I’m not talking of the beaches). It gave me a profession that is in high demand, but even if I quit teaching tomorrow, the knowledge, skills and memories I acquired will remain with me. Thanks to the course I became more organized, more adaptive and flexible, I learnt how to make my explanation memorable, how to encourage my students, how to elicit the right answer from them, how to keep them interested and busy all the time and how to discipline them. I’ve learnt to anticipate possible problems and to do things fast. Thanks to the course I can do my job well, and that says it all.
You’ve made the decision to do your TEFL course, after much research into which course you’d like to attend. You’ve invested a lot of time and money, so it only makes sense to get the most you can out of your time on the course. A lot of information is packed into the 4-week course, so here are some suggestions to make the most of it, as well as the gorgeous location that is Samui.
Don’t be shy to ask questions.
The course is intense – from day one we get stuck in. If you haven’t studied for a while, you may find it overwhelming. However, you’ll be pleased to hear that all of the learning is done hands-on through games and interactive activities. You will never just be lectured to, but will always be involved in every lesson. The theory of the course is presented by the trainer using games, activities and strategies that you will then be able to use in your own teaching, allowing you to build your portfolio of activities and teaching tools from day one. This most certainly helps to prevent information overload, as many learning styles are taken into account, not just auditory. Our trainers are happy to answer questions if you are unsure of anything – however, in order for the lesson to flow, a question and answer session may be introduced at the end of the lesson. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Ensure you get enough sleep.
You may start your course with jetlag. You’re in a new environment, and your mind won’t shut down at night trying to absorb all the new information. But you need a good night’s rest so you’re ready for the next day. Proper time management will ensure you don’t have to stay up past midnight planning lessons. While doing research and resourcing online, time can often get away from you with so much information available on the internet, and before you know it you’ve spent 3 hours looking for the perfect flashcard image online. An evening walk on the beach and no coffee at night will help to clear your mind.
Make the most of the constructive feedback given after each observed teacher prac.
Getting constructive feedback is the best opportunity for you to develop as a teacher. Sometimes it’s not easy to hear, but the feedback given during your pracs on the course is done so with the best intentions, allowing you to get the most out of the course. Avoid acting defensively, arguing with the observer and blaming the students. Instead, keep an open mind, ask for more details and note down the suggestions. Your trainers do know what they are talking about, and they want to help you to develop as a teacher to the best of your ability.
Do a self-analysis
After each lesson think back to what you did, and how you could have done it differently. Think about how you handled questions, unruly kids, etc and think about how you could improve. Keep a lesson journal, and take your own feedback to heart too. It’s important to act on the feedback given after a lesson. If you don’t incorporate the suggestions given by your observer in your next lesson, then the feedback was pointless. Make the most of the valuable feedback session given during your course. Do your self-analysis as soon as possible – while the lesson is still fresh in your mind.
Learn not only from your errors, but those of your peers too.
Ask your classmates if you can observe their lessons, and be willing to let them observe yours too. Be constructively critical of their lessons, and discuss with them afterwards what advice they were given by their observers, and what they would do differently next time.
Make friends with your classmates.
You’re all in the same boat so to speak. You’re all away from home, some of you for the first time. Support each other and be family to each other during the 4-week course. You’ll all need emotional support and you’ll all have strong days and days when you’ll need to lean on someone. The friends you make on the course are friends for life, and they can also be a valuable asset after the course, sharing resources with each other.
It’s okay to make mistakes.
We celebrate mistakes, as that is how we learn. We all make mistakes, especially when there’s a lot of information to absorb, or new information with which we are not familiar. The trick however, is to learn from these mistakes. Your trainers do not expect you to apply all the techniques taught perfectly in your first teacher pracs. What they do expect is for you to work on the mistakes made, and improve lesson-by-lesson based on the feedback given as well as self-analysis. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we only grow when we are pushed past our comfort zone. Some trainees start out strong, for others it takes some time to ‘click’ on an idea or technique, but once they do, they don’t forget it, and it’s the end result that matters. Don’t be embarrassed in front of your peers – they are just as nervous as you are. We encourage a growth mindset, and we have created an environment to support each other and students' growth.
Be aware of local culture.
Part of travelling and living abroad is to embrace the local culture and accept that it may be different to your home culture. Doing a TEFL course means you are ‘weaned’ into the new culture, as your classmates will also be experiencing the changes alongside you. Don’t assume that because something is done differently to ‘back home’ that it’s inferior – it’s just different. Respect local customs, traditions, religions and ways of thinking. Our TEFL course also covers local culture right at the beginning of the course, so you’ll know what to expect when you are mixing with locals, and our island tour also incorporates aspects of the local culture.
Previous teaching experience isn't always an advantage.
Many qualified teachers choose to broaden their horizons and teach abroad. While their experience may give them an advantage with aspects such as classroom management, they may find other aspects much harder than a ‘newbie’ teacher, as teaching to students in their native language is very different to teaching non-native speakers, and certain bad habits will have to be ‘unlearnt’. Here, someone with no experience whatsoever will have an advantage, as they are starting fresh with the techniques learnt on the TEFL course.
Thinking you can ‘wing it’.
Even someone who has been teaching for years should have a well-prepared lesson plan, which can be adapted up or down, should the students not be at the anticipated level. Teachers who are arrogantly over-confident and think they can ‘wing it’ seldom pull it off. A well-structured and tested lesson plan will relieve the stress of executing a lesson.
Enjoy the change of scenery!
Koh Samui is a beautiful island, and is most likely very different to home. While the course is intense and you need to put in a lot of work and hours, proper time management will leave you with time to enjoy what the island has to offer too. Don’t be afraid to get lost! Soak in the sun, absorb the sights, but stay hydrated.
Most of all, keep an open mind, enjoy the challenges and the people you meet on this new adventure and journey of discovery.
Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, and Ko Samui is no exception.
Being one of Thailand’s most popular tourist locations, Samui’s beaches may no longer be as secluded as those of the smaller islands. For some, this is not a negative; a beach with a party scene or more activity being preferable. Those still opting for isolation or authenticity need not worry, as this can still be found along the island’s southern shores, as well as a few hidden bays amid the busier north and east coast beaches.
What makes a good beach? To some it means soft white sand, clear and calm water, a coconut palm to offer shade and no distractions. To others the mental picture of the perfect beach involves plentiful deck chairs, entertainment in the way of music, a barman on call to top up that cocktail and a crowd to share this with. Still to others with young children this would imply a safe swimming beach, bathroom facilities, family friendly restaurants and no topless bathers. It is therefore not possible to list Samui’s beaches from best to worst, as this would be in the eye of the beholder. We have made a few suggestions, allowing one to choose the best spot to lay your towel, depending on your ideal memory-making beach.
Chaweng Beach lies on the island’s east coast, and is Samui’s longest and busiest beach. Should one arrive early morning, it is easy to see why this was the first beach area to develop in tourism. Private villas no longer grace Chaweng’s shores and every available space has been used for economic benefit in the way of resorts, restaurants and bars. Room rates along this beach are inflated, and there is no longer anything available in the backpacker or even flashpacker range. However, those wanting a social scene have made the right choice in Chaweng, as venues such as Ark Bar pump out music and fill every open patch of sand with sun beds. Do not expect peace and quiet – if the vendors don’t disturb you, the jetskis will. At night the party continues, and day beds are turned into chill platforms, while the serious deejays hit the deck.
Those enjoying water sports have several options with all the main beaches offering some form of equipment hire. Surfers will be let down however, as Samui has no waves – at all. SUP (stand up paddling) has become the latest trend on the island as no waves are needed, and boards and lessons are available in Chaweng, Lamai and Mae Nam. All the busier beaches, as well as many of the resorts will hire out kayaks at around 100 to 200 baht per hour, a great way to exercise the upper body, and see Samui from a different angle. Kite surfing is popular along Mae Nam beach, particularly at the point in front of the W Retreat, where Mae Nam beach meets Bophut beach, and the wind is at its best by Samui standards. Jetskis are controversial on the island, as they annoy anyone not on one. However, should you prefer engine power over muscle power, then they’re available for hire at Chaweng, Lamai, Choeng Mon and Bophut beaches. Be aware of bathers, as there don’t seem to be designated areas for the jetskis, and nasty accidents have happened.
Underwater world lovers may want to book a day snorkeling trip to Ko Tao, about 90 minutes by ferry from Samui, and known as one of the best snorkeling and dive locations in South East Asia. Should you not want to venture as far, then the best snorkeling option would be to either take a longboat trip, only a few hundred metres across to Ko Tan and Ko Matsum, two small islands off the southern harbour of Thong Krut. Here the snorkeling is even better than the Ang Thong Marine Park. Without leaving Samui, try the small bays of Coral Cove and Crystal Bay, between Chaweng and Lamai.
If the thought of a quiet beach, shared only with a few fishermen and perhaps a water buffalo appeals to you, then explore Samui’s south western coastline. Taling Ngam beach, is long and at parts is shared by a few resorts, but other parts are totally isolated as is neighbouring Phang Ka Bay. Don’t be afraid to travel down a dirt path and explore -- Samui is safe to do so, and there’re a few patches down south that are completely void of development. Samrong and Thongson Bays at the north eastern tip of Samui, although not undeveloped, have managed to escape mass tourism, as they are not on the main routes, and only those in the know, or guests of the resorts in these bays will share them with you.
Choeng Mon beach (where our TEFL centre is located) is popular with expat families, due to clean water and protected bay. You’ll find good restaurants as well as a few food vendors around when the hunger pangs arrive, but the bar scene is unobtrusive. Bang Rak beach is popular with Thai families, and here one will see children swimming early evening, while grandmothers dig with toes in the sand in search of clams for dinner.
The best backpacker spots can still be found nestled between high end resorts and villas along the much underrated Mae Nam beach as well as a few to the western end of Bophut beach.
Whether a cushioned sun lounger, attentive barman keeping the Mojitos rolling, and cool vibes blaring from nearby speakers -- or a patch to spread your towel under a palm, book in hand, to call your own for a few hours is your scene, Samui has it to offer. Time to explore.
There are so many things to think about when you’re being observed, that it’s easy to forget the obvious. Here are some ways to make sure you ace your observed lessons.
Before the lesson
This applies to observed pracs during your course: Pay attention in class! Know the correct procedures and techniques, so you know what is expected of you.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Practice the steps and procedures (drilling, back-chaining etc) and practice your full lesson beforehand, on your own or with your partner. Get your classmates to act as students and let them point out any mistakes afterwards – all in good faith of course, and you do the same for them.
Ask for a copy of the observation form your observer will use and understand what they’re looking for. Make sure you’re clear on the standards before you deliver the lesson. For your teacher pracs at Samui TEFL, you’ll be told what is expected of you, but this will apply should you be doing a demo lesson for a job interview. When you are called in for a demo. Be sure to get all the facts beforehand, including the number and level of the students, how long the lesson will be, the topic, the facilities on site, etc.
Have a backup for everything!
Always have a spare board-marker – they have a nasty way of suddenly dying when you least need them to. Time wasted scrambling for another pen will affect your lesson time management, and the curveball will make you nervous, as well as have a knock-on effect. If you plan to show images on a projector, print the images too. If you’re giving students handouts, always have a few spares. Have a safety net for every aspect of the class.
Be prepared to upscale or ‘dumb-down’ the lesson in case the level of the students is not what you were expecting, so make sure activities can be adjusted accordingly.
Have a checklist.
Having an amazing board game or a fun worksheet is pointless if you leave it behind – we’ve seen this happen too many times – you can only be marked on what you actually do in class, not what you left at home. Attached to your lesson plan, have a checklist of what to bring, including a bottle of water and a sweat towel – there’s nothing worse than dripping sweat over the kids (yes, we’ve seen this happen too!)
Make sure you have all your materials required for the lesson.
If you look the part, you’ll feel the part and then you’ll act the part. If you’re not confident, fake it! Soon it will be real confidence. Find out beforehand what the dress code is at the school where you’ll be conducting the lessons. If this is for your teacher pracs during the course, you will be told this before hand, but if it’s for a demo lesson find out! Some schools for instance, insist that female teachers wear skirts, not trousers, and many schools want all tattoos covered up.
Don’t rush and don’t leave things to the last minute!
Do all your printing the day before – power outages happen and that could mean you can’t print your worksheets, lesson plan etc. make sure your computer is charged and is working. Don’t assume there will be WiFi if you need to show a YouTube clip – either download the video or make sure you can send a hotspot from your phone to the computer for internet access. On the day devote all your attention to delivering a great class, not worrying about last minute logistics.
During the lesson
It’s natural to be nervous when being observed. Many people speak too quickly when nervous – take a deep breath and SLOW DOWN, or your students will not understand you. Smile at your students. They will smile back and this will help you to relax.
Take note of your students
Plans should be followed… however, they should also be adapted if need be, according to your students’ levels. This is why it’s important to plan for your lesson to be adjusted both up and down, particularly for a class you have never taught before, and are not familiar with the level.
Involve all your students
When nervous, it’s natural to just focus on the students in the front, or those who are actively participating. Try your best to encourage all to participate.
Step back and read what you have written on the board. Often our brains are thinking ahead and we make silly spelling or other mistakes on the board. Take a step back and read what you have written.
After the lesson
Listen to the feedback, and take it to heart.
Getting constructive feedback is the best opportunity to you to develop as a teacher. Sometimes, it’s not easy to hear, but the feedback given during your pracs on the course, is done so with the best intentions, allowing you to get the most out of the course. Avoid acting defensively, arguing with the observer and blaming the students. Instead, keep an open mind, ask for more details and note down the suggestions.
Do a self-analysis
After each lesson, think back to what you did, and how you could have done it differently. Think about how you handled questions, unruly kids, etc and think about how you could improve. Keep a lesson journal, and take your own feedback to heart too.
Think about what you could have done to teach a better class, not about how someone else is at fault for what went wrong in your lesson. Many people get defensive when given feedback. Blame it on naughty kids? Rather take responsibility for poor classroom management, and research classroom management techniques. Note enough time? Look at your time management skills, and how much wasted time there was in the class.
It’s important to act on the feedback given after a lesson. If you don’t incorporate the suggestions given by your observer in your next lesson, then the feedback was pointless. Make the most of the valuable feedback session given during your course. After a demo lesson for a job interview, ask for feedback too. Your potential employer will value the fact that you are keen to improve and every good teacher knows that the best teachers never stop learning.
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.
Samui TEFL Blog