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 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!

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.

Getting things in order…

I didn’t just create this website as a place to share my experiences with friends and family. It is also supposed to be a resource for future travelers to come to get an idea of what it takes to pick up your life and sustain yourself abroad. One of the most daunting tasks is the tying up of loose ends prior to leaving and making sure you have everything in order for the future. Thankfully, I’ve had a few contacts who are a bit ahead of me in their journey that have offered some tips that I may not have otherwise figured until it was too late. That being said, I’m sure there will be a few surprises along the way!

After one week of being unemployed I’m surprised with how quickly things are moving along for me. I wasn’t sure how my mind and body would react to the sudden freedom. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem with procrastination and laziness and figured I could very easily fall into a rut of sleeping and playing video games. I fixed one of those temptations by selling my Play Station 3 immediately.

Don't leave home with out it

Don't leave home with out it

This first week off has been incredibly productive for me. I’ve started putting items up on craigslist to sell. Like I said, the Play Station 3 is gone and now I’m working on my electric piano. The car will be the last item to go since I’ll need that up until I leave. I’ve paid my deposit for my TEFL course in Ban Phe, Thailand for April of next year. I’ve obtained my proof of “no criminal record,” from the Sheriff’s office which will be useful for job interviews. I got myself an international driving permit from AAA as well, since I was pulled over twice in Thailand and Bali and had to pay fines for not having one. I made it effective March 1st since that is around when I should be landing in Asia. The international driver’s permit is not recognized in Ethiopia and I don’t really plan on driving in Africa anyway.

I only have health insurance till the end of November so I made my last doctor’s visit this week. I need a medical pack, specifically for my trip to Ethiopia and Somalia (Somaliland) in January. I have three different types of antibiotics: Doxycycline for malaria prevention, cipro for diarrhea and a general antibiotic for any other ailments. I’m not particularly happy taking doxycycline as I’ve used it before and I tend to get nauseous from it, but I’d rather feel a little stomach sickness than find myself hospitalized with malaria. I got my updated tetanus shot . My yellow fever vaccination is still good from 2006 but I need a booster for typhoid before I go that I can only get at the health department.

There is still a lot to be done but I’m pretty proud of my first week. Some other items I’ll need to take care of is getting notarized copies of some of my documents, prepare a TEFL resume/cv, and a bunch of travel related equipment and clothing. If i wasn’t going to be backpacking in the horn of Africa before heading to South East Asia this preparation would be far easier. I could easily show up in Bangkok with just my passport and some cash in my pocket and be perfectly fine to get myself together but of course I had to make this a little more adventurous!

Teaching Destination Power Rankings

With only a few days left until I officially take the step into unemployment I’ve been having more and more anxiety about my future and with that has come quite a few dreams related to where I’m going to end up and how I’m going to get there. I decided to put together a list of potential destinations for me to end up by the second quarter of 2011 to teach English and call my new home for a little while.

Much like they do every week in sports, I’ve put together my own Teaching Destination Power Rankings. This is a list of where I would like to end up ranked in order from highest to least likihood. It will be interesting to look back on this post and see where I actually end up.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

1. Hong Kong – My favorite big city in the world. Sorry New York. I don’t know how realistic it is for me to expect to teach and live in Hong Kong on my first attempt but I guess that all depends on the effort I put in and the willingness I have to go for my ultimate goal right away. The pay is decent here and a lot of jobs will provide housing, however it is competitive and I’ve read that jobs for first time teachers can be difficult to come by. Maybe my first teaching contract won’t be here but I’ll end up in Hong Kong eventually.

2. Bangkok, Thailand – It’s funny how Bangkok has become a place more and more likely for me to end up. I wasn’t completely enamored with Bangkok when I was there but I have a couple of friends who live here already. I know the city pretty well since I spent a few weeks there hanging out with another teacher. It just makes sense. I’d like to live somewhere that friends and family could have an easy time visiting and Bangkok provides that. So for a first time experience, the far east “City of Angels” Is looking more and more likely.

3. Chiang Mai, Thailand – If Hong Kong is my favorite big city in the world, Chiang Mai would have to be my favorite little city. This is the city I’ve spent the most time in outside of wherever I’ve lived in the United States. It is quiet and peaceful but also has everything I need. It is only a night train ride from Bangkok and offers a unique Northern Thai experience. Teaching won’t be any easier here but living might be, compared to some of the bigger cities.

4. Jakarta, Indonesia – Indonesia used to be at the top of my list of living destinations as I was always fascinated with its internal dangers. Either from political/religious turmoil or from natural disasters. As I’ve grown a little older and learned more about the world I’ve found that Indonesia doesn’t present the danger from within that headlines liked to tell about. The natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and volcano eruptions sure do attract my adventurous side though. Also, I have a contact in Jakarta that might be able to help me find a teaching job so that could make it a sensible first teaching experience.

5. Any outlying town or city in Thailand – There is a strong chance that finding work in either Bangkok or Chiang Mai will be nearly impossible so I have to keep my options open. If I want to teach in Thailand I may have to start out working outside of some of the majors towns and cities and find work in outlying areas. This could still be really interesting but not exactly the type of place I’d want to stay in for the long hall. It would more of a stepping stone in getting better jobs in the big cities.



6. Anywhere in Japan – I had originally thought that Japan would be boring but the more I think of it the more interesting it becomes. Like Hong Kong, teaching in Japan can be difficult for those with little experience and more importantly Japan looks for teachers who already have experience teaching in the country. I’ve never been to Japan nor do I have any real idea what the culture is about so I am probably behind the curve with this one. That being said, I hear teachers are treated very well and learning Japanese would be a huge plus!

8. Any big city in mainland China or Taiwan – This, along with (see below) Korea may be one of my best opportunities to teach English. I’ve read that jobs are easier to come by if I’m willing to live in China. I just don’t feel that interested in doing so. Unless a really good opportunity came availabie in Shanghai or Taipei it is unlikely I’ll want to end up here.

9. South Korea – From what I’ve read about English teaching jobs in Asia it seems as though Korea is the hotspot. Korea tends to have the highest paying jobs and more importantly, lots of openings. Housing is usually paid for so the ability to save money while working is far greater here. The problem for me is, I just don’t really have the interest in living in South Korea. I’m not sure why, but it just doesn’t draw me to it. The climate is a factor as well since I’m looking to live somewhere that doesn’t get too cold. It snows in South Korea sometimes and that just won’t work for me. Obviously, if it came down to it I’d take a job here but I’d have to try real hard to get myself excited about it.

10. Medellin, Colombia – This one is a bit of a stretch. I’m not really interested in teaching in South America right now but I certainly won’t ignore it entirely. If finding work in Asia proves difficult I will probably end up looking towards Medellin. I know it’s a place I could live and it is really close to home. As much as I want to travel to distant places and be away from home, it would be a huge plus to only be a 3.5 hour plane flight from family and friends. I’m sure my mom would like this one!

11. Somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa – I like where life is taking me right now and ever since 2005 I’ve had a general idea of what I want to do. I try to stay away from having specific goals but instead broader ideas of where I want to go and what I want to do. Living and working in Africa has always been in the back of my mind as something I have to do at some point before I die. I don’t think I’m ready right now to make that kind of a change, but after a few years in Asia I’ll be more prepared to take that step. It is very unlikely I will look for jobs in Africa right now but I do see a path that leads me through the Peace Corps before returning home. With my experience teaching English in Asia I should be able to give two years service and after doing so I can return home and teach in the United States. Teaching in the Peace Corps would benefit me because the state of Florida requires that teachers be certified before they enter the classroom but that requirement can be waived after two years service in the corps. This is the least likely destination for me right now but definitely a major goal of mine.

It’s official, Back to the Horn of Africa

Well, I can officially add “buying a one-way flight to Ethiopia,” to the list of things that younger Joey would never have thought that adult Joey would do in his life. Hell, I even remember at 23, sitting in front of my computer reading about backpacking in Europe and getting myself worked up over the overwhelming nature of the whole idea.

So here is the plan. I work till November 24th. I’m going to spend the holidays here in Tampa with my family, tying up any loose ends before heading across the Atlantic on January 10th. I’ll spend a few days in Addis Ababa securing a visa for travel into Somalia. I wrote a few papers on Somalia at USF and gained an intriguing perspective on the country as a whole. I found that there are two Somalia’s.

To the south there is the war-torn, failed state fought over by the Islamic Courts, the western-backed transitional government and clan-loyal warlords. This is the chaotic Somalia that you hear about in the news when the media decides they want to report on a recent pirate attack in the Indian Ocean or the Gulf of Aden.

Thank You http://magicstatistics.com/ for the map of Somalia

Thank You http://magicstatistics.com/ for the map of Somalia

Then, to the north, you have the self-proclaimed independent state of Somaliland, the former British Somalia. Somaliland, while in the territorial boundaries of Somalia proper, is a destination that begs to be explored as it is self-contained and has a fully functioning government separate from that of its southern counterpart. Everything I’ve read about Somaliland intrigues me. It is a democracy that is flourishing without the support of the western world. Because Somaliland goes unrecognized by the international community, very little aid (if any at all) reaches the people. They have found a way to function on their own with a blend of elder Islamic tradition and western style democracy. I have a unique opportunity to visit a country that is not yet a country and to experience a nation in its infancy. It’s going to be tough because there is very little tourist infrastructure but I can’t pass up this opportunity.

After spending a few weeks in Somaliland, and scratching “Put my feet in the Gulf of Aden,” off my list of things to do before I die, I’ll head south from Ethiopia into Kenya overland and fly from Nairobi to Bangkok in time to settle in before taking my TEFL certification course in Ban Phe.

I Graduated College!

I finally did it! This weekend I graduated from college! I set out in 2007 with a serious effort to go back to school and complete my undergraduate studies and I pulled it off by going straight through with no breaks, full time every semester. I started out with my sights on an education degree, but ended up going for International Studies. The community college portion of my four year degree felt like it took the longest amount of time but once I transferred to the University of South Florida it seemed to fly by. It feels like just yesterday I was at orientation feeling nervous about the next year and a half ahead of me.



There were a few bumps in the road and a couple stressful times but all-in-all it was a pretty painless experience. I am happy to have been able to finally take the graduation walk for my mother. High school was not the best of times and unfortunately, I dropped out early and earned my GED never giving my mom the pleasure of seeing me finish a level of education. Better late than never! I kept my GPA above 3.6 so I graduated with honors as cum laude, which I’m sure made my parents really proud.

Paving the way for me was a friend of mine, Ashley Hoffenberg, who has her own blog and just recently got back from a trip to Europe. Ash was one of the reasons I switched my degree to International Studies, so she was an inspiration in going down the path I did. While our reasoning for the degrees differ, it was nice to have someone to talk to about professors and classes before I made any decisions on coursework. Ash is on a fast track towards doing some really great things in social work, while my path will take me overseas to teach English as a way to learn more about myself and what I’m capable of accomplishing, as well as a means in which to see more of the world.

I’m excited to start the next chapter of my life and I’m very happy to have my four year degree behind me, so now when things come into better focus I will have the B.A. out of the way and will have the freedom to jump into other areas of study very quickly. For now though, it will be traveling and experiencing the world. I do expect that I will eventually want more than just personal growth and experience and will want to contribute and when that time comes I’ll be ready for whatever goals I set for myself.

Mai Pen Rai! Ban Phe it is!!!

I’ll have to take the first piece of advice I learned when I was in Thailand for the first time…. MAI PEN RAI! Roughly translated to “It’s nothing!” or “Don’t worry!” and no worries is what I’ll have to have….

It looks like my plans to be in Chiang Mai, Thailand next year for my TEFL certification course are going to have to be slightly adjusted. TEFL Internatonal isn’t offering a course in the northern Thai city anymore so I’ve adjusted my plan to the next closet thing, which is a small beach and fishing town about 3 hours south of Bangkok called Ban Phe. This is the flagship institute for TEFL International and is highly regarded in the English teaching community. I’ve done some research, and while it wasn’t my first choice of locations, it will certainly do!

Mai Pen Rai! Thailand!

I sent in my application online and I almost immediately got a response from an advisor. They’re going to send my application through so I can get an official acceptance letter. I put in for April of next year so I can keep working where I am now and saving more money. I’ll probably arrive in Thailand a good month or so before to start getting myself settled in. After that, the school itself will help prepare my resume and assist me in looking for work. I’ve decided to keep my options open and not be tied to any single country. I’ll still have my eyes set on Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia as top destinations but I won’t hesitate to get going anywhere that wants me.

I’ve also been looking at videos online of the school in Ban Phe. They put up videos of their teachers in training and it looks pretty exciting. The certification program is quite intensive and I’ll have to be prepared to really work at it but I’m looking forward to the big opportunity!

I know it has been awhile since I’ve posted. I have been extremely busy with working full time now and finishing up my degree. I graduate in 2 weeks!!!

[Image courtesty of http://srisawadisny.tripod.com]

Shifting Gears

I’m shifting gears a bit in my current situation and taking the dive back into full time employment a little earlier than expected. I only have 8 more credits left before graduation so that means I can take two, four credit online courses over the summer. I originally planned to go full time after graduation in August but instead I decided on May 1st to get the savings going even faster. My full time schedule was approved and I’ll be back to 40 hours per week right away.

I’m a bit nervous, as I haven’t worked full time since 2006, but it will be a much needed change of savings pace. I’ve done pretty well working part time and now I’ll be able to push my plans up a little closer than I originally anticipated. At this rate, I could see myself taking my TEFL certification as early as next March. I’ve already got some exciting travel plans in the works. I already know I will be returning to Colombia with my brother in August after graduation. A few other things are in the works for early 2011 before heading to Thailand for my TEFL certification. I’m leaning towards a trip to Central America as well as a return trip to the horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan and Somaliland (the northern self-proclaimed independent state in Somalia which enjoys a stable autonomous government)

With the full time pay I can afford to move out and my really good friend Brooke from Brooke Reviews and her boyfriend just got approved for a house they really wanted and are waiting on the closing date. They offered to let me move in with them for the remainder of 2010 until I’m ready to head overseas. I’m really excited about this because their house is going to be awesome and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the closing date comes and goes without a hitch, and that they’re able to move in with relative ease beginning in early May. I’m looking forward to BBQ pool parties during football season!