Austin Bentz -  Program Participant

After two months of backpacking through Western Europe, life back home in Santa Barbara just wasn’t exciting enough for Austin and he went in search of a true adventure. Always interested in the idea of pushing himself outside of his comfort zone, teaching in Thailand has been perfect. His great sense of humor and “honest to fault” attitude has made his time in the classroom fun for him and his students. His insight into the Thai classroom will help potential teachers have the same success.

Teacher Aut and students listen to some music
Teacher Aut and students listen to some music.

How did you come to decide on teaching English through GeoVisions specifically?

I found Geovisions just by googling “Teach in Thailand” and their program sounded good, especially because it allowed me to go to Thailand early and take the TESOL course while in the country as opposed to taking it online or somewhere back in the U.S.

What was the most valuable thing you gained from the TESOL certification course?

During the TESOL course, I learned how to get up and comfortably speak in front of a group of people, as well as learn basic approaches to teaching. I had no teaching experience prior to arriving so the TESOL course gave me some structure and guidelines to adhere to. I also got in-class experience through participating in an English camp at a local school at the end of the month. This gave me a great perspective on what it’s like to be in front of 40 Thai students in a real classroom setting. While it was only two days, the perspective I gained on what it would take to be a successful English teacher was invaluable.

In what ways does a Thai classroom differ from an American classroom? 

Just about in every way imaginable. The students are fascinated by you. The school I was placed in was very rural and I was the only Westerner at my school. While it was tough to adapt at first, I was basically a rockstar at both my school and my town. On a whole, Thai students are extremely respectful of their elders and teachers are held in high regard in Thai society. That’s not to say that there won’t be a handful of troublemakers at every school, but the students really do tend to be the best part of the job. 

Speaking from experience, what should potential participants know before deciding to teach English in Thailand?

Teaching in Thailand is an incredible way to sustain living and traveling throughout one of the most beautiful countries in the world. While you will have plenty of opportunities to explore, this is a full time job. You will have to prepare lesson plans, take part in school activities, grade and be responsible for all of your students (sometimes 300+), so be prepared for that. Many people come in thinking it will be a cakewalk.

Part of any experience in life will have both good and bad parts. Be prepared to embrace them both. For example, at my school, I did not have a shower. I had a trash can below a faucet with a bowl to scoop and dump cold water on myself every morning. While a set up this primitive is rare, and was extremely tough at first, it is now one of my favorite parts of my story to tell.

Be prepared to encounter challenges. You will get homesick at some point; but it will pass. Thailand will grow on you if you let it. I actually reached out to several other TESOL students recently and put together a blog post about what it takes to thrive in Thailand.

You’re originally from Santa Barbara, California and have found your way to another sunny coastal city in Hua Hin, Thailand. Are there any surprising similarities? What is the most shocking difference?

Hua Hin and Santa Barbara are similar in that it’s easy to get around and they are lazy beach towns. They both have a laid back vibe and a community of retirees. They also both have a nice little nightlife and fantastic restaurants.

There are two things that really surprised me though when I first arrived regarding differences between here and home; one is the driving tendencies. Not only did I have to get used to driving on the left side of the road, there are seemingly no road laws and Thai people can squeeze entire families onto one scooter. The second is the stray dog population here. Sterilizing pets is not common here so there are packs of “Soi Dogs” (street dogs) living throughout the area.

After graduation you backpacked throughout Western Europe for two months. What advice would you give to someone trying to decide if they should backpack through Western Europe or Southeast Asia?

Europe is easy. Basically everyone speaks English and the culture is very similar to the U.S. except stuff is older and beer is better. I had a fantastic experience traveling throughout Europe, but moving to Thailand was both more challenging and more rewarding. Especially if you get away from the main touristy areas, Thai people are some of the most accommodating and friendly people in the world. They are truly excited to see you and welcome you to their country. I’ve had numerous coffee vendors and food cart owners ask to take pictures with me just because. If you backpack through Southeast Asia (Thailand in particular), my advice is to experience more than just the beaches and Bangkok. Travel north, get off the grid, and you’ll get to experience the “real” Thai culture that you won’t get at a full moon party.

How does your degree in Sociology affect the way you view things when traveling in Thailand?

If anything, it prepared me to experience a different culture and approach it with an open mind. Just because something is different than what you’re used to, doesn’t make it a bad thing. Being a sociology major and learning a bit about Thai culture before I arrived helped prepare me for the inevitable culture shock.

Now that you help prepare future English teachers as a TESOL certification instructor, what do you miss about teaching English in a classroom?

The students. Like any job, teaching has its own unique set of challenges but it is the smiling faces and relationships that you build with your students that really make teaching here worthwhile.

What kind of advice do you give future teachers when they first arrive in Thailand? 

Release your expectations. Whatever you thought your experience will be like, it probably won’t pan out like that. Living in Thailand is not an experience you can micro-manage. Be open-minded, say yes to things, and remember that happiness is a choice. If you allow yourself to get bogged down with the negative, you’ll be unhappy. If you learn to shrug off the bad and embrace this wild and crazy culture, you will benefit from it in the long run.

You will be spending two months in the northern city of Chiang Mai soon to help set up a TESOL program there. How do you expect it to compare to the south? 

It’s like comparing living in Los Angeles with living in New York. The cultures are different, the food is different, and the people speak a different dialect. I’m excited for a change of scenery and a new set of challenges. Plus, the people in both northern and northeastern Thailand are supposed to be the most friendly in all of Thailand!

Do you plan on living in Thailand long term? What other futures plans have you made?

As with most things in life, I take them one day at at time. I love Thailand right now and I really don’t know what the future holds. I’ve always thought that life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. However, I do know that I definitely want to see Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and maybe Singapore and Myanmar before I eventually move on to my next adventure.