Imogen Akela Nicoll - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

From a very young age, I was encouraged to travel. With both my parents as freelancers in the South African film industry, they were always in a different location for the movie they were working on at the time. From the age of three, I have been traveling around my country with my family, seeing all sorts of little nooks and crannies you wouldn't be able to find on a map.

From there, I wanted more, and by the time I was fourteen, I was part of a dance team headed to Europe for a competition. The thrill of being able to fly to another country where all your comforts are not accessible in the way you understand only grew my desire to experience this feeling more.

For my 21st birthday, I decided against a birthday party and instead my sister and I came to Thailand for 21 days, and totally fell in love. We knew that we had found a place we needed to return to, and so for the next year and a half we worked towards finding a way to get back here on a semi-permanent level; that was how we found XploreAsia.

At the entrance to Phraya Nakhon Cave in Thailand
Phraya Nakhon Caves - this was taken before we did the hike to the shrine in the middle of the mountain.

Why did you choose XploreAsia over other organizations?

Through endless research, I found XploreAsia and they offered the most support, before, during and after the course. Their course provides not only academic training, but also practical experience before one even begins teaching. I had the dream to teach abroad, and this program seemed to be the best way possible in order to achieve that dream. Now, sitting at my desk in the school I work in, I can confirm that they have definitely played a major role in making my dream a reality.

Over and above that, XploreAsia was more than happy to accommodate the fact that my twin sister and I wanted to come overseas together and not be separated. They put us together every step of the way; and now, even though we do not teach in the same schools, we are literally next door to each other, with only a road separating our schools.

During the course, there is not only work, but a lot of fun included. With people from across the globe coming through the same organization to become teachers, you are provided with an entire network of teachers across Thailand and Asia.

What has become your favorite part about Thailand since you arrived?

To say there is only one favorite would take away from the beauty I have experienced everyday since arriving in Thailand on October 1st, 2016. To start, the Thai people are incredible, they are humble and extravagant, while also being loud and quiet. They love foreigners, especially if you attempt to speak to them in Thai. Granted, they will laugh at you, but in a way that makes you want to keep tripping over the Thai phonetics, and they will always correct you.

Next would have to be the language; it is not only written beautifully, but it sounds like a melody the entire time. Another favorite would be the food, which is an explosion of tastes and spices. I am a vegetarian, so I cannot tell you how the meat is, but judging from the look of satisfaction after every mouthful from my travel companions, it is pretty good. However, the vegetarian meals are fabulous.

On the one hand, the Thai's love cooking with sugar, so anyone with a bit of a sweet tooth, this is the place for you. On the other hand though, pretty much everything is spicy, unlike spice you have ever known. I was told by a lovely Thai lady, after she watched me sweat and gasp through a meal, that if I was planning on staying in Thailand for a while then a love for spice was essential, and she was one hundred percent right. I have started slowly, with a bit of spice here and there, but with each meal I am sweating and gasping less.

To add to the favorite list is the culture. I have been lucky enough to attend a Thai festival (Loy Krathong) to honor their water goddess and give thanks for water, which is life. I was taken to a temple (that is also a crematorium) made out of one million bottles that was simply breathtaking. This experience was enhanced by the fact that because we had arrived so late, we had the entire temple to ourselves as well as the sunset catching the glass bottles.

To say that I have only one favorite thing would be denying the beauty found in every aspect of life here in Thailand.
Girl feeding bananas to an elephant in Thailand
Feeding bananas to rescued elephants from the trekking trade. Wild animals are not here for human entertainment; they deserve love and freedom like us.

What made your experience in Thailand unique?

I was blessed with a twin sister and we have done everything together since we started this venture. My experience is, therefore, unique because I constantly have a bit of home with me and an endless stream of love and support from her and for her. As with any part of the world, twins often create quite a stir as we are “natural phenomenons,” so we are remembered easily, helping us form connections quickly. What others face alone, we face together, making things both easier and harder.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff at XploreAsia were very helpful and supportive. They provide you with an abundance of information and answer questions as best they can. They have local Thais that work with them that help your transition into a new culture with language lessons, Thai cooking, and history about the country. They explain the little details about the new culture, not only with words, but experience too, by actually taking you to see the things they are explaining.

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

The only thing I would have done differently was to start this adventure sooner. Other than that, every experience up to this point has been incredible and life changing.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

The first week of the program is dedicated to an orientation, for all the participants to get to get to know each other as well as become more familiar with the new culture. There were 100+ of us on the course in October 2016, so we were divided into four groups (Blue, White, Yellow and Red). Each day of orientation was full of fun activities and adventures that were humbling and exhilarating.

Once the course started, a typical day started at 8 a.m., when we would be fetched from our apartment block and driven to the school where we were doing our course. Class started at 9 a.m. and each day brought new knowledge and a new challenge. We would do academic work on teaching methodologies, how to manage a classroom, ways of interacting with our students, and how to design lesson plans for all ages.

Lunch was an hour, between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., when we would go to a local restaurant near the school, run by a lovely Thai family. From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. we generally presented lessons and group projects or had time to work on lesson plans and projects for the following day or week. Most evenings were spent walking, eating, and laughing, with a few stressful nights when lessons were due the next day for presentation.

Girls celebrating the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand
My sister and I at the Loy Krathong festival, celebrated on the 12th full moon of a year. This year it fell on the same day as the Super Moon.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Eating and exploring. Being in a group of 21 people (our of a hundred plus) there was no end to socializing and laughing. We went to see temples, caves, and beaches. We made friends with stray dogs and communicated with the local Thais in broken Thai and English. We found restaurants and street vendors that made meals that were mouth watering.

Occasionally, we would go dancing and drinking on the street dedicated to bars and clubs, but the majority of my free time was spent with the new friends I had made discussing our experiences and telling stories from home. There was never a shortage of laughter, and it was the one sound you constantly heard throughout the month.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Our accommodation was an apartment block called Glory Place. The rooms were an average size, with a bathroom, cupboard, and balcony to hang your wet clothing on. I liked the rooftop pool the most, as a swim after a long day in class was refreshing and rewarding.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Every participant should know that you are in a new place with different ways of doing things. You are not in control, but instead have to learn how to release your control. You will be frustrated by the answer of "it depends" as was I, but honestly, it is an accurate answer. Our Blue group has a group chat and all of our experiences are different so far, in terms of school policies, working conditions, and lesson plans.

Allow yourself to enjoy the program, as before you know it, you will be saying goodbye to people you have grown to love in your time together. Embrace the lessons you have with your instructor and never be afraid to speak to your coordinator about any concerns, they are all there to support you. The course is not the end game, teaching is, so keep going, don't give up, and in the end it is all worth it.

You will have good days and bad days, but don't let the bad days make you want to quit. There is magic to be found in this new place and you will only find it if you allow yourself to.

How has your time abroad impacted your life?

I have only just begun my teaching experience, but I am in love with the small city I now live in. The time so far has impacted my life in terms of my outlook in life. As a person who liked to be in control and who was exceptionally meticulous, it has been a new experience to release that part of my personality. I have found that I am happier here and can truly embrace the idea of being an alien in a foreign place.

Girls kneeling in the One Million Bottle Temple in Thailand
My sister and I on a private tour around the One Million Bottle Temple. Each building on the property, including this one, is made out of glass bottles adding beauty you never knew existed

Would you recommend XploreAsia to others? Why?

Yes, absolutely. XploreAsia and the course are extremely informative, and while at times during the course it may not seem like that, when you are in your classroom away from everyone else you will use everything you have been taught. The course provides practical experience, which is vital with the language barrier and gives you an idea of what your experience will be like in your new school. The course also provides Thai culture and language lessons which help when you are on your own and there is no English. You do not go into your new position as a teacher floundering, but instead are confident.

Furthermore, once you have completed the course you receive a certificate and a letter of recommendation to use in any other teaching ventures abroad you may want to follow. Over and above that, you become part of a massive network of teachers based across Asia that is a gold mine of knowledge you have unlimited access to in terms of advice, help, lesson ideas, and support if anything does go wrong. Plus, a major bonus is that when you do decide to go traveling around Thailand, you will have friends with either couches or contacts.