TESOL Certified! (TEFL International)

I completely forgot to update the blog with the news that I completed my TEFL course and received my certificate to teach English as a second or other language (TESOL). This is a big milestone in becoming an ESL teacher around the world.

TEFL International has been great. The head trainer was a Florida boy like myself and born in New York with Italian ancestry. He’s the same age as me but started out his teaching 5 years ago and has made amazing strides. His personality and delivery of lessons was engaging and definitely the best part of the course itself. The 120 hour course doesn’t necessarily provide you with the practical tools needed to be an ESL teacher. The trainer’s job is to get the trainees comfortable and compotent as English teachers and I feel that was accomplished in my eyes. It isn’t that a certification is required to teach all the time but it opens the door to more countries, higher pay and an edge on my resume with competitive jobs.

The other really great thing about the course was the friends that I made. Dave and Gareth, both from England were together most of the time on the course and really pushed each other to succeed. These are friends that I’ll have for a life time and we made it a point to make sure we stay in contact. Then there was Derek, the 77 yr old Englishman who fit right in with us. His stories were amazing and he is a true English gentleman. I’m going miss all 3 of them and look forward to a reunion somewhere in Asia.



If I had one complaint about the course it might be the facilities themselves. They were moving out of the building we were staying in and into a new location and as the last residents they probably weren’t too concerned with fixing pipes or broken appliances. That being said, most of us on the course just sucked it up and dealt with it.

Again, in a practical sense, not a whole lot can be taken away from this course. I wasn’t provided with specific directions on how to lesson plan or what day to day life as an ESL teacher will bring. That will only come with experience and research on my own. There were several quotes posted around the classroom and two stood out in particular for me.

“A good teacher always knows what to do.” and “Sort it out!”

To me, these quotes basically mean, no matter what the situation, whether it be a mistake made by someone else that you have to a fix, or a problem you create yourself, it is up to you to take care of it yourself. Sort it out! Ultimately, it will always be up to me to make sure something gets done, even if the fact is true that someone else dropped the ball or there are issues out of my control. These are quotes that can translate into almost any profession or part of life. Don’t blame other people. Sort it out. Figure out what you have to do.

So, the next step is landing back on the island of Sumatra on Tuesday and begin my life as an ESL teacher with a 2 month volunteer contract in the town of Bukit Lawang. Here we go!

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.

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.


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.

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]