Rachel Leo - 2015 Program Participant

Foreign teacher with local students in Thailand

These girls are in their last year of high school and they are a few of my favorite students.

How did you end of teaching in Thailand with GeoVisions? What inspired you to go abroad?

I have always wanted to see the world and do something out of my comfort zone, but that was all that had been clear to me by the time my first semester as a senior in college rolled around. I have had a job since I was 15, and with the decision of having to choose a career within the next year looming over me, I was terrified that I would end up rushing into a position that didn't make me happy (I'm a firm believer that you will do your job best when you enjoy what you do).

I had for the most part had the choice narrowed down between teaching and event planning, but I also realized that I had been so busy being busy for so long that I forgot about my strong desire to travel. I thought that if there was ever a point to take the time I wanted for me, it would be to do it after graduation, despite the risk of how people might see a break year.

I've also always been drawn to helping people. Unfortunately, I was not cut out for the medical field, but I enjoy sharing things I know and things I can do with people that can benefit from it; it didn't make sense for me to do nothing but travel, and drain mine and my family's bank account. That's not who I am.

After some poking around on the internet, I found that Thailand had a high demand for native English speakers in the educational system, which was perfect because it gave me the opportunity to see if teaching was in fact the career path I should take, while helping others with a skill that I, sadly, take for granted. Then October 2014 came and I was in contact with GeoVisions talking about the steps I needed to take to start teaching in Thailand after graduation!

Why did you choose GeoVisions over other teaching programs?

I leaned towards GeoVisions at first because their online reviews were awesome. My main concern with wanting to teach abroad was that I was possibly getting myself involved in an organization that was too good to be true.

My first phone call with my first contact came almost immediately after I sent in my first application, and it put all of my concerns at ease. Ann was the most kind and encouraging representative, and addressed every concern that I, and of course my Mom, had. After that first phone call, I was convinced that this was the right move for me and I've had nothing but encouraging experiences since!

Foreigner with local women at a party in Thailand

My Thai mom and a couple of other teachers that I work with at a party

What was your favorite part about Thailand?

This is going to sound cliché, but Thailand is truly a magical place. It is beautiful, it is peaceful, it has some kind of inexplicable healing power, and the Thai people are amazing. I have to say that the people here in Thailand are by far my favorite. Yes, Thailand has beautiful beaches, temples, mountains, great food, and all those other jazzy things that tourists come for. However, the heart of this country lies in its people. Thailand wouldn't be what it is without them.

Thai people have a love for their faith, their king, their country, and each other, which is so deeply embedded in their way of life; it is inspiring, and has given me an entirely new perspective of the world.

My experience with Thai people has been beyond positive. They are generous, friendly, and welcoming. I can't tell you how freely compliments and food are offered here! My first day in my small town was scary for me, but the head of the English department wasted no time in making sure I had everything I needed, bringing me food, and essentially adopting me as her own. She has been like my Thai Mom since I've been here: bringing me food and medicine when I'm sick, offering advice and help at any time, making sure I'm comfortable at home and at school, and a thousand other things that she's done on top of all the hard work she already does.

As if she wasn't enough, another Thai family has taken to calling me their daughter and looking after me, despite the fact that when I met them they didn't speak any English. My point is that, even from the beginning, many people have made an effort to make sure I felt at home. Honestly, the experience couldn't have been the same without them.

What makes Geovisions’ programs unique?

I can't speak for other programs, but my experience with mine was nothing short of flawless. My questions, no matter how silly or panicked they were, were answered quickly and with patience. There were several times that another contact I had, Jodi, had to put up with me asking tons of silly questions. She always reassured me I was on the right track, no matter how many times or at whatever hour I was having a last minute freak out because I had suddenly thought of a new scenario where something went wrong! I am so thankful for her, and if everyone that works in GeoVisions’ programs works similarly, that would be what makes them unique.

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

Once I got to Thailand, I was in the hands of XploreAsia and the XploreAsia staff members were great. They gave us the training we would need to teach English to students who only spoke Thai, they addressed all questions and concerns that came with moving to a foreign country, they worked with agencies, found my school, made sure I was set to go, and even checked in a few times once I arrived in my town.

The main thing is that they answered all the questions revolving around moving to a foreign country. It's scary at first, but XploreAsia provided us with a kind of transition period. For that first month I was in Thailand, I had other Westerners around me. I think that helped in adjusting to such a different environment. The staff tried to prepare us as much as they could for any culture shock that would inevitably happen, but in reality everyone experiences it differently and on different levels. It's very hard to prepare yourself for something like that, but knowing that there are always people in the same country that you can talk to at any time makes a huge difference. We were encouraged to share our experiences, lives, problems, concerns, and memories with them at any time even after we were placed.

Knowing that I have a contact or someone in my corner that understands my background a little better has been a relief to me at times in itself. I know that should anything come up where I feel I may not be able to handle it on my own or with the people I work with, I can contact XploreAsia staff members and they will do what they can to help me.

Ancient ruins of Sukhothai in Thailand

One of the hundreds of pictures I took in the ancient city of Sukhothai

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Honestly, nothing. Well, not true; maybe I shouldn't have discovered what kind of chocolate and other junk food I like here because it takes a toll on my budget and healthy eating plans! But that's really it.

I know it seems utopian to say that I wouldn't change anything, but at the same time who wants a perfectly smooth experience, especially when it involves living? Any time I've stumbled, I've gotten back up. Any time I had been challenged, I learned. Any time I've been scared, I've remembered to put everything into perspective. I can't lie and say nothing's gone wrong for me and that I haven't found myself frustrated on several occasions, that's just not true.

Nothing that I've dealt with has made me question if picking up and moving to the other side of the world was worth it. It has been, every minute of it, even the less than pleasant ones.

Look at it this way, you know that in life you're going to feel upset, frustrated, confused, and maybe a little lost. Yes, those feelings are caused by different things and handled in different ways, but the bottom line is that life is full of occasional mishaps. You may as well hit it straight on, find what else you can handle, and see some amazing things along the way.

What was a typical day like for you in Thailand?

It was very similar to attending a day of school. We'd wake up, go to class to learn how to teach, finish, and have the afternoon to ourselves.

Once I arrived in Wangnua, Lampang (my town), my "day in the life" became much less predictable. Every day is different, which is due to my students whom I love. I have said things that I never would have thought to come out of my mouth on a daily basis. For example, "No more starting small fires in class!" Before there is any concern, let me explain.

I had actually been warned about this, but I didn't think it would actually happen, and it was actually really funny at the time and I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. Liquid white out is flammable and one of my kids thought it would be funny to put a small puddle on the desk and just light it. It was tiny, but it was so abrupt and random that my only reaction was to laugh along with everyone else. I'm happy to say that no more instances have occurred since.

That being said, my typical day goes something like this: wake up, walk to school, and attend the morning assembly where they sing the Thai national anthem and say prayers. Then I get breakfast at the cafeteria with my friend, where all of our students greet us and try to practice speaking with us a little. Depending on the day, I'll have about three periods where I teach for about an hour each. I have never done so many charades in my life because occasionally that is how I have to explain what a word means. The kids never cease to amaze me with their crazy antics, but it makes every day different and exciting. At the end of the day, I walk home and do a little of this and that before I go to my adopted Thai family's restaurant for dinner. After that I come home and get ready for the next day.

What has been your favorite thing to do outside of teaching? 

The first week of the training month was dedicated to learning about Thai culture and seeing some of the sights. I think anyone growing up in the Western hemisphere, who has never been able to be up close and personal with an elephant, would agree that our visit with elephants was one of the most exciting "field trips" we had. I liked it so much that I've done a couple other things involving elephants since I've been here (one of which involved a baby elephant knocking me over and sitting in my lap).

Tourist holding a baby elephant in Thailand

This is the baby elephant that sat on me, she was much heavier than she looks

What type of accommodation do you have? What do you like best about it?

I live in an apartment, which I have to myself. It's more of a studio set up and has a small kitchenette, where I can do dishes if I need to but for the most part I eat out. The cost of living in Thailand is very affordable! My salary is more than generous and eating around town is the best way to go. I have an a/c unit, which I only use when the heat is unbearable and turn it off otherwise. I decided it would be better to save on electricity and get used to the heat rather than have it on all the time. Ironically, I am one of those people that has very little tolerance for the heat. When I get too hot I get cranky, so for those days when I just really need to cool off, there is nothing I'm more grateful for than the a/c and fan combination.

How have your experiences abroad impacted your life?

I have another five months ahead of me before I go home. I could write forever on my time here, but these responses have already been very lengthy. For now, all I can say is I know that I have a whole new perspective on the things we usually take for granted in the States

 I have a new appreciation for life. Not just my life, but life as a whole, including other people's lives.

This has been a humbling experience in the best way possible. You don't really feel how small you are until you realize how big the world is. Past that, I look forward to giving a more detailed post-abroad account once I've crossed that bridge as well.