TEFL Certification Day 8 & 9 : Grammar Sucks!

Monday and Tuesday were spent in the classroom studying grammar. There is absolutely nothing fun to write about it. It is a necessary evil. Grammar isn’t extremely important in teaching English to foreign learners because their native teachers usually take care of that and I’ll be there for more speech and writing reinforcement. But, as we learned over the last two days, having some ability and a quick refresher from grade school doesn’t hurt. It was evil of the trainer to start it Monday morning but it’s over now and it’s Wednesday, the start of the water festival.

TEFL Certification Day 6 & 7: Student Monks

It’s now Monday and the first week of the course is completed. So far things are going far better than I expected. My confidence is through the roof and I have the itch to start teaching already. I enjoy standing up in front of my peers practicing and can’t wait to get more practice when the actual lessons begin.

Thursday was our first contact with students. Our goal was to spend an hour with student monks at a local school in order to get them comfortable and talking to us so that we could return Friday and record a short speech sample. We arrived at the school after a couple hours of planning what we were going to do. The students were standing towards the back of the classrooms and we chose seats. Then whomever’s seat we sat in would come and join us. I sat with a 14 yr old boy named Win. He was the smallest of the students as well as one of the shyest. It took 10-15 minutes to get him to speak to me and even then his answers to my questions were short. We were warned that the first day would be difficult as the students are usually too shy to open up but some of my other classmates had no problem. Their reading and writing levels were all different. Win was very good at writing and I suspected he was also better at speaking than he led on.

I interviewed him on his family and his daily schedule which were not a lot fun for him to talk about but when we moved on to animals he opened up much more. I got more comfortable as the hour went on so I think he fed off of that. I would ask him about different animals and then do one of my world famous imitations to get him to smile. The hour flew by and before I knew it we were saying goodbye. I told him I would see him again tomorrow and we were off.

The next day we spent the morning learning about culture shock and then in the afternoon we planned our second hour with our students. This time we were meant to have a more open discussion with them in order to get a recorded sample of their speech. I was worried about this because Win was very shy and his replies to my questions were usually one word answers and he didn’t understand me when I tried to explain that I needed full sentences from him. When I first got there I was much more comfortable and started rolling right away. Win took some time to get back into it. Since he wasn’t really answering questions with full sentences and I needed a large speech sample, I decided to write down what he should reply with if I ask him certain questions.

For example:

Teacher: What is your birthday?
Student: August 12 (he really does share my birthday!)
Teacher: OK, so you would say, “My birthday is August 12th.”
Student: no response

Then I would write down what I wanted him to say, point to the words and use gestures that I wanted him to speak. I modeled that for him a couple of times and then eventually he picked it up on his own and I wouldn’t have to ask him to read it. I’m giving you this much detail because this was the first moment I felt like I actually taught something and it felt really good to model for a student and then have him pick up what I meant for him to do. And on top of that he continued doing it with out me having to ask him. It was kind of an, “OH! Maybe I can do this!” moment.

After I gathered enough information we both went over to the tape recorder where I asked him the questions again and had him respond. He read a couple of paragraphs as well and responded to questions about them. He was very soft spoken but he read really well. He only stumbled on certain words but we were instructed not to correct spoken language. This is true for anytime I will be in the classroom.

My first session with a student was successful. There wasn’t too much writing to do about it so I finished my assignments for the weekends right away and had the weekend to myself. It was relaxing. Now it’s back to the grind and this week starts off with a load of grammar.

TEFL Certification Day 4 & 5: Going through the motions

Disclaimer: I want to warn readers that these posts are usually written after a long 8 hour day in the classroom after already completing my written assignments after class. Please do not expect perfect grammar as I’m not going to do any editing and will only be free writing as quickly as possible. I am fully aware of the irony here, don’t worry! :)

The last two days have been spent going through the motions of what we will eventually be doing in a couple of weeks. We are peer practicing so that we can used to the structure of the models that TEFL International uses in their course.

I’m really enjoying the course right now since the days are broken up nicely into different parts. We never spend too much time on one item. This will change next week with grammar but for now I’m just having fun. Usually, first thing in the morning is dedicated to a new phase of the structure models followed by some sort of activity that gets us moving around a little. The first day we did some acting and improvisation, the second day we played pictionary and today was charades. All of this ties into teaching English as a foreign language as illustrations, gestures and body language are all very important. With out these skills being able to communicate effectively with a student who doesn’t understand you would be nearly impossible. I’ve always been pretty good at acting and having a good time but I have to be careful with this. One phrase, often repeated in class is, “Be entertaining, not an entertainer.” There is a fine line between entertaining the kids and then going too far where you go overboard. I’m anxious to see how I handle this once I’m in front of the students.

Some people in class are having a harder time than others but I’m sure this is normal. I’ve found myself far more confident than I expected to be. Instead of being nervous about going up in front of the class, I’m usually eager to do it so that I can get more practice. I think in my free time, I’m going to go into the classroom to do some black board practice. My handwriting is already bad, so any chance I can get practicing my writing and drawing skills will be good. Living at the school has its benefits because if I ever have a night where I can’t sleep I can always walk down a quick staircase to the floor below and practice my lessons.

Last night there was a welcoming party where they cooked Thai food and served soft drinks. The food was amazing! I had a curry, sort of like massaman with chicken wings in it as well as a spicy beef dish called Lam. There was pad thai and morning glory served and we got to hang around the staff and administration.

Tonight, they are taking some of us into Rayong, a bigger city about 20 minutes away, so that we can get any clothing items that we still need for teaching. I need a couple of button up shirts as well as khaki pants. Then we’ll head over to a big night market to eat.

That’s about it for now! Tomorrow we meet with students for the first time to do a student profile. We’ll observe our trainers first and then be on our own with a Thai student for an interview.

TEFL Certification Day 3: Back to School

Today was the first full day of the course. I just did a ton of hand writing so figure me for being a little short here. We started out with a class introduction and then went right into teaching methods. We are starting off this week by becoming students before we become teachers. The trainer chose to do a lesson teaching us Korean. We went through input, repetition and functionality. Meaning, he put the lesson in context, then used bubble for dialog that we build on to carry a short conversation and then together as a class, wrote the words ourselves. There was a lot of interaction and participation. The professor did not use English yet by the end of lesson we comprehended a small bit of Korean.

We were shown a method that we are soon going to be using on our Thai students and Korean was purposely chosen since we have little or no knowledge of the language so that we are in the shoes of our future students.

Doin homework

Doin homework

There is a small break in the morning and then a long 1.5 hour lunch around 11:30. I took this time to pick up a package at the post office that my mom sent me. I was really excited to get some news shirts and underwear as well as my harmonica! The most important thing was the dress shoes for teaching in the classroom, although, footwear is entirely optional in Thai classrooms for foreign teachers. Thai teachers generally must be barefoot.

After lunch we went straight back into it with some theater practice. Part of being a new teacher is being able to “fake it until you make it.” This is one place I feel is my strong point as acting has always been fun for me. We did some role playing and some impromptu story telling. It was a lot of fun even though some of the other classmates thought it was stupid. I’ve found a few of the others in the course don’t really grasp the idea that becoming a teacher means being flexible and dealing with surprises. I’ve come in as a blank sheet of paper, open to anything that the trainer throws at me, understanding that the end purpose is for the better. The trainer even went as far as warning us that we would be frustrated and that this is on purpose to challenge us. I’m certain they are seeing how we deal with adversary and using that in our evaluations.

It was interesting to find out that the two questions potential employers call references is about is whether or not the student was punctual and they got along with others. This is before experience. These are two strong suits of mine as well so my confidence is pretty high.

After we left class most of us stayed in the room to do our daily assignments which consist mostly of reflection on the lessons for the day. I’ve done more writing and reading in the first two days here than some of my entire courses at USF.

First job interview is set!
After finishing up our assignments most of us went our separate ways. I grabbed my laptop and headed to the beach bar about 30 seconds walk from the classroom to do some more writing and have an ice cold Singha. (Interesting side note: The month of August, my birth month, is called “Singha kom” which literally means lion month) I have been waiting on a reply from the English language school in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia and received it this evening. They apparently liked my application and resume and put me on the short list for the May-June volunteer (with pay) job. They want to set up a Skype interview asap so I have to speak with the administration at my school tomorrow to find out if I can do it there. I’m certain it should be no problem and can’t wait to get my first interview under my belt.

TEFL Certification Day 2: Orientation

After taking one last Sunday afternoon to sleep in, a few of us headed off in search of a place to purchase some work clothes. I’ve been backpacking since January so I didn’t bring along professional clothes for the classroom. There is no place to purchase anything in Ban Phe but I was assured from the trainer that on Tuesday they will be taking us into Rayong to go to a proper mall to pick up slacks and a couple of shirts.

Orientation started at 4pm where the rest of the students met. There are 7 students total all from different walks of life coming for different reasons. One of the British guys, Dan, has already been teaching English in South Korea for 2 years and is getting his certification so he can get higher paying jobs. It is nice to see this because it assures me that this isn’t just a piece of paper but a means at which to find more competitive jobs. He says the money in South Korea is incredible. Housing is paid for and the salary is about $2,000 USD per month in which 3/4’s of that can be saved if you spend your money wisely. I have no real desire to live and work in South Korea but it is good to know that if money ever becomes an issue or I decide I want to come home, I can do a 1-2 year contract in Korea and save up enough money to do whatever I want to next.

There is one other American, one Kiwi (New Zealander), 3 British and 1 South African in the course this month. This is the last month that the course will be held at this specific location so that explains the lack of upkeep in the building. Both instructors are American, with the head trainer being of Colombian decent. He has an impressive resume and has been teaching for 5 years. He has worked at the University of Tokyo and taught at schools in Indonesia and Colombia, both locations that are on my radar for eventual teaching jobs. The only problem with the head trainer is that he is a graduate of the “U.” He made fun of USF with in the first few seconds of meeting me. I’ll have to get my Hurricane bashing in at some point.

The course is 4 weeks long with the first week being about the fundamentals of 2nd language acquisition. By Thursday we’ll be observing our trainers teach one of the modules to Thai students. By the 2nd week we’ll be teaching each other and by the 3rd we will start to teach Thai students in their classrooms.

Orientation was pretty typical with laying down the ground rules. Focus is very important in Thailand and the trainer made it clear that without focus there would be no passing. There are plenty of distractions in Thailand, especially since we’re in a beautiful beach side town. I think I’ll be fine as long as I get my assignments done right away before venturing out anywhere. There is a beautiful island (Ko Samet) just across the straits that is tempting to visit but it will probably have to wait till after the course.

We already received our first homework assignment which was a pretty heavy reading about teaching methods with a few study questions to answer. There was no easing into the course as it doesn’t even officially begin till tomorrow and I already found myself sweating through boring material. Hey, but I need this, it’s time to learn again and I couldn’t be more excited!

TEFL Certification Course Day 1: Arrival to Ban Phe

Ban Phe pronounced: Ban Pay, small fishing village on the Gulf coast of Thailand in the Rayong province.

After nearly 2 weeks enjoying myself in Pattaya it was time to say goodbye. I had a great time there and became a regular at one of the bars. The weather was bad during the entire stay so any island hopping was off limits as the waters were too rough for ferries. Pattaya was my last vacation stop before coming here and I did it proper, often finding myself awake at sunrise and asleep most of the day. There might have been a romance in there somewhere too. Hey, I deserved a few weeks of this right? I spent the better part of 4 years keeping myself pretty disciplined and now I got to let loose. But, it’s back to school now.

I booked a taxi to Ban Phe to head straight to TEFL International/Siam English Language School. Students are allowed to check into their rooms the Saturday prior so I wanted to make sure I was there so I could get acquainted. I was the first to arrive, which was good because there are only a few select rooms with a window and a balcony. The room for the month was included in my payment for the course. There are 7 students in this course which is great. So far, I’ve only met 4 others; two young British guys, who have already become study mates, an older British gentleman and a woman from New Zealand. There are two other guys that we haven’t seen yet.

The town of Ban Phe is just a small fishing village and a spot where tourists take the ferry across to the island of Ko Samet. There are very few tourists around the beaches here and it is real quiet. There are plenty or bars and restaurants so there will be no lack of spots to let off a bit of steam after a long day in the classroom. A couple of us went out to a few bars last night as a last night of letting loose before the course begins. There is an orientation tonight (Sunday) and then the class begins tomorrow morning at 8:30am. Staying at the school is great because there is no need to wake up early to commute. We can just roll out of bed 15 minutes before class and start learning. There is a midmorning break, a 1.5 hour lunch and then an afternoon break. The day ends between 3:45-4pm depending whether or not we’re out at a Thai school.

There are a few students from last month’s class still hanging around and they said it is very intensive but also a lot of fun. The week will be busy with lots of lesson planning and homework but they did say that it’s possible to have free weekends if we get our work done in the class and in the evenings during the week. This is good news because the Thai New Year is right in the middle of the course and is a huge celebration of water fights in the street. We may even head out to Ko Samet or back to Pattaya if time and workload permits. (By the way, two elephants just walked by while I write this)

So far I’m still not sure what to expect. You can only take what others say with a grain of salt because each experience is different. I do know I’m really excited to get it started and end all the speculation on what this is going to be like. I’m home here in Ban Phe for the rest of the month. My room is simple and the shower doesn’t work in my room so I have to use the cold water one in the hallway. The toilet leaks and doesn’t flush very well. There is no TV and no desk, but at least I have a window.

I’ll update as often as possible with a day by day description of what is going on. If it gets too much to write I’ll just clump days together and give an overview.

A Week of Bad Weather

When I arrived in Pattaya nearly 2 weeks ago my plan was to spend a few days and then move on to one of the islands to relax. Unfortunately, the weather has not been agreeable. Much of southern Thailand is under about 3 feet of water, especially some of the major island tourist destinations. Fortunately, where I am in Pattaya, there has only been a little bit of rain and cloud coverage. I haven’t seen the sun since Bangkok and even there it only crept out occasionally. It has been more than a month since I’ve seen sustained sunshine and it’s definitely wearing on me.

There have been strong winds and advisories in Pattaya over the last few days. The temperature has dropped and it is downright chilly in the evenings. There was a storm surge last night where the water rose about 2 meters. The beach is filled with trash and there are warnings against swimming due to the rough waters and debris.

Bangkok remains on high flood alert as well as the coast where I am but it seems as though the bad weather is just about through. I’m hoping for at least one beach day before school starts on Monday. I will leave either tomorrow or Saturday for Ban Phe, just about an hour south of here. I’ll be busy with school for the entire month of April and look forward to beginning the job search after that. My mom sent a package ahead of me and I confirmed it arrived at the school earlier this week. In the package was most of my documents needed for school and job searching as well as some clothes that I wanted to have with me. Most importantly, a comfortable pair of black dress shoes. Finding comfortable pairs of work shoes here in Thailand is really difficult.

I’ll give updates on my Facebook fan page as time goes on. I’m not sure how much I will update during the course itself because much of my free time will be spend studying and probably putting together a lot of lesson plans. If you are not already a fan of Joey Goes Global do so by pressing LIKE on the top left hand of the website. This is where I’ll be able to give brief updates in between longer more detailed accounts.

In the Region

I spent a week in Bangkok letting my wallet spill with the overpriced hotels and food around Sukhumvit Rd. It’s the price to pay to avoid Khao San Rd’s real dirty cheapies. I can tell I’m out of travel mode as I’m starting to feel like a bum. I don’t want to spend money moving around too much and really want school to start so I can get working as soon as possible. I’ve spent far more money than I originally planned to at this point since a lot of my destinations have been money drainers (Somaliland, Lebanon, Singapore and Southern Thailand.)

I’ve arrived in the eastern region of Thailand that is made up of a few major cities, including Chon Buri and Pattaya (where I am now) and further south, Rayong. This will be my home for the next month and a half. My TEFL course begins on April 4th in the town of Ban Phe within the Rayong province just about an hour south of here. I’ve decided to stay put in this region. There are a few islands that I can check out and of course the Pattaya nightlife is never boring. I’ll probably head down to the school 4-5 days before the course begins so I can get settled. My accommodation during the course is already taken care of and I’ll be spending most of my free time lesson planning and studying.

Pattaya

Pattaya

There is really no change right now in where I may end up in the coming months. The course will end April 29th and then I’ll have till May 3rd to leave Thailand before my visa runs out. I’m still pretty set on returning to Indonesia to live and work. The pay is less than Thailand but I find that living is much cheaper so my money will go a lot further in Indonesia. I love Thailand, don’t get me wrong, but there are too many distractions here that could cause problems down the road.

I’m submitting an application this week for a volunteer job in Sumatra. It is in the town of Bukit Lawang at an English school. This was where I spent about 5 days in the jungle and had some of the best experiences of my trip so far. It’s a really small tourist village on the river and the job is on a 2 month contract. I can get some experience right out of TEFL certification that will be useful for more competitive jobs down the road. Accommodation and local food is paid for by the school as well as a pretty healthy stipend. After the 2 months I want to head to Jakarta where I have an interview waiting for me at English First. I already know the principle at the school as he is a good friend of someone I know and he is looking for good teachers and assured me my lack of experience shouldn’t’ be an issue. I just have to make sure I hone up on my interview skills. It’s been awhile! I really look forward to any opportunity I get and I can’t believe how ready for work I am again. Scratch that, how ready to TEACH that I am.

Got it!

In a fantastic turn of events and with a little help from my NEW guest house owner, I received an extended 60 day tourist visa for Thailand that will take me through the month of April so that I don’t have to make any visa runs during my TEFL certification course. The nice lady at Civillian’s Inn on Love Lane in Georgetown, Penang took my visa application, passport and two passport sized photos and went to the consulate for me this morning. She had to wait till 3:30pm to pick it up so she went back and just brought it to me! The best part is that it is a free visa! I just paid a small fee of $10 to her for taking care of it for me.

This is great news and really lifts the cloud that was hanging over me regarding Thailand. I may have sounded frustrated in my last post, which I certainly was, but at the end of the week it worked itself out.

I’ve been feeling a bit sick since Tuesday night but I hop on a minibus to the southern Thai city of Hat Yai in a few moments. I passed through here my first time in Thailand and I am only stopping again to break up the 13 hour journey to Phuket. I’ll be meeting Shawn and Mike, both friends from Florida where we’ll hang out for 3 nights. After that, Thailand is mine to do whatever I please until my course starts on April 4th in Bah Phe.

Thailand, you’re losing and Indonesia is winning

In the, Where Will Joey End Up Sweepstakes, Thailand is starting to fall precariously behind.

I arrived to the island of Penang off the west coast of Malaysia earlier this week in an attempt to secure a 90 day education visa for my stay in Thailand. I was told Penang is the most lenient Thai consulate so I felt pretty good. I think I’m realizing very quickly that visas are never a given and often a real pain. (see: Syria)

I’ve been staying in Georgetown, the second largest city in peninsular Malaysia. I was here four years ago and it is the same as it was then. Cockroaches roaming around the streets, open sewers with disgusting odors creeping out, transvestite prostitutes relieving themselves in back alleys, rickshaw drivers asking me if I want an array of different types of sexual adventures with my choice of girls both young and old, the smell of rotten food coming from stalls, and the glorious squeaking and chirping sounds of buildings infested with rats. Oh, but it’s been deemed a cultural heritage site by UNESCO. Add to this my cold and you could forgive me for being ready to leave.

So, day three in Georgetown and I finally have my verdict. I went to the Royal Thai Consulate the morning after I arrived. The owner of the guest house helped me prepare my documents and for a small fee drove me to the consulate. The visa office is only open from 9am-12pm so we got there just as it opened. It was a pretty quick process. They took my money (about $73) and my passport with all my documents. They said I needed a letter from the Ministry of Education in Thailand and that they would start the process but before they would grant it they need the fax from my school.

Sample

The elusive document!

Now, with only a receipt to pick up my passport the next day during a small window of time, I headed back to my guest house to start calling TEFL International. I spoke with one of the visa issue handlers on Skype but the connection was poor or she didn’t understand my request. She said to email her instead. I hung up the phone and immediately emailed her. Fast forward 24 hours, no reply. I sent several follow up messages advising them that this was time sensitive and I was to pick up my passport in an hour. They said they provided me with all the paperwork I should need and that if they don’t grant me the visa there is nothing they can do.

I went back to the consulate at 2pm that day and was given back my money and told that I was still missing the necessary letter. I got a sample from the consulate and took it back to my guest house where I took a photo of it and showed it to TEFL International. They emailed me back a few hours later to tell me that they called the Ministry of Education and that letter could be provided but it would be a minimum 5 days. They sent a follow up email asking me to explain my need for 90 days if my course is only 30 days long. I advised her that my plan was to enter Thailand as a tourist first visiting Bangkok seeing as though I have a friend there who is a teacher. I wanted to get acquainted more and start looking at accommodation in case I live/work in Bangkok.

I received a reply from TEFL International stating that my purposes are not acceptable and that they won’t be submitting the request to the Ministry of Education because they have had problems with foreigners using the 90 day education visa for strictly pleasure purposes. So, now I’m forced to go the dishonest route of doing “visa runs.” This requires heading to the border before your allowed time runs out, crossing into either Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar and then literally turning right back around and going through immigration. This is expensive, a real hassle and in my opinion dishonest. TEFL International said I would have to make a visa run in the middle of my intensive course with them in Ban Phe, Thailand.

So, needless to say, I’m a bit frustrated with Thailand right now. Not so much at the school itself but how strict immigration has become. This isn’t exactly a reflection on the country either but rather what the country has become since so many people find it to be such an alluring destination to find pleasure or business.

Thailand is slowly becoming less and less appealing to me as I am reminded in Penang of how many foreigners actually live there. There are bus loads of tourists doing visa runs in and out of Penang. When I was in Indonesia things felt so much different. Yes, there are tourists but due to its geographical position and being an island nation, it doesn’t get the same influx of people that Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and the rest of mainland SE Asia gets.

What this all means is that I’ve already emailed TEFL International’s school in Surabaya on the island of Java in Indonesia. They’ve advised me that I can transfer my course from Ban Phe with out paying another deposit and that my final payment must be paid in Indonesia. My growing intention has already been to head back to Indonesia to work after getting my certificate so I figure why not just take my course there too so I specifically learn how to teach Indonesian students.

I miss Indonesia intensely. Almost the moment I left I felt deflated a bit. It’s hard to explain but I really fell for Sumatra. I can only hope that Java is just as good. I’ve heard nothing but good things about all of Indonesia. (outside of Bali) So, maybe this will be a start to a life in a country that wasn’t exactly the front runner for where I was going to end up but at the same time makes so much sense now. I remember receiving postcards from a girl I met online who lived in Jakarta when I was 17 yrs old and how I dreamed about going to Indonesia someday. This isn’t to say I don’t still like Thailand, but maybe it just isn’t meant to be. I’m waiting to hear what the process for a transferring to Surabaya is and whether or not a visa is easy to get. I may have to make a return trip to Singapore to the Indonesian embassy.

UPDATE: Since writing this I found another possible way to obtain a 60 day tourist visa for Thailand. This requires me to be dishonest and say that my trip is solely for tourism. This statement about sums up the process.

[joseph] I appreciate your desire to be honest,but please understand that your
not dealing with a straight-forward system or process here

So, I’m paying the owner of my guest house $10 to take care of it tomorrow. She has my passport and two photos plus my tourist visa application. She will drop it off at the consulate and then pick up my passport with the 60 day tourist visa inside. The fee is waived until May this year so it will save me nearly $40. I am not getting too excited. I have a feeling that since I already tried to get an education visa and failed, they’ll have me in their system and deny my tourist visa. If this happens, the office in Indonesia has already advised me I can enter on a 2 month cultural study visa as long as I have an Indonesian citizen sponsor me. I have someone in mind who could help me so we’ll see. Either way, I seem to have a glimmer of hope here.

I know this sounds like a lot of headache for Thailand but in reality citizens of most countries, including the U.S., can just arrive at any airport and receive a stamp on their passport good for 30 days. I’ve complicated matters myself by arriving via land as a tourist and by needing extended time to take the course.