Jessika Horak - 2014 Program Participant

Volunteer teacher with local children

What program did you use to take a TEFL Course abroad?

I attended the Koh Chang April 2014 program with the TEFL Heaven organization to complete my TEFL course. We were situated for three weeks on the island before being placed in our schools.

What influenced you to pursue a TEFL Course in Thailand?

Prior to my arrival in Thailand, I had been living and working in Australia. I originally visited Thailand during the Christmas season to visit my boyfriend who was already teaching there. Within my first week I fell in love with the country, and knew I wanted to get back there as soon as possible. After receiving positive feedback from my boyfriend who had previously completed his TEFL certificate with the same program, I decided to sign up. I believed that spending three weeks in the country I was about to live in for six months, to help integrate myself into the new culture and customs with like-minded individuals, would be extremely beneficial to my success as a teacher. And I was right. It also allowed me to create an extremely supportive network of, now, life-long friends with whom I shared my aspirations, hopes, fears, negative and positive moments throughout the program and my teaching term. 

Why did you choose TEFL Heaven specifically?

As previously mentioned, I had received excellent feedback from previous attendees that said the program changed their life, and that it was too incredible of an experience to miss. Although TEFL Heaven is solely a UK based organization, a few North Americans have squeezed their way in, and I believe this program would flourish on my side of the world. This program was more expensive than others I had researched, but it was entirely worth it. The guarantee that I would be placed with a school, that I would have visa issues sorted, and would trained by individuals who had recently experienced what I was about to embark on was invaluable. We also stayed in beautiful accommodation, which only added to the fun.

Volunteers teachers abroad

I am so happy I made this decision, as I had toyed with the idea of simply completing an online course to save money, because I created a network of friends for the duration of my time there. Had I not made this instant support system, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed my teaching term nearly as much. 

What makes the program you participated in stand out above the rest?

We were living right on the beach! I was doing my Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. training outside overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Thailand. Had I completed this program on my own, or with a different agency, we may not have been placed in such a gorgeous setting. It was also wonderful to be taught by individuals who were our age, had already completed the same program, and just completed their teaching terms. We were learning through their experiences, and I found that method far more memorable than attempting to read about them over the internet. 

What should future participants know about TEFL Heaven in Thailand?

This program will absolutely change your life. I realize that sounds incredibly cheesy, and maybe even false, to anyone else reading it, but the memories I made during my three week program are ones that I will cherish for the rest of my life. How often are you placed in a room with 25 other individuals who are in EXACTLY the same place in life you are? Before doing even the most basic of introductions, you already know that everyone around you has something in common with you; they were all brave enough to leave the comforts of home, their friends and family, behind to dive head first into unfamiliar territory and embark on a new adventure alone.

The scary part is taken care of by TEFL Heaven (being placed with an agency who then finds you a teaching position, as well as taking care of all visa and work permit requirements), so you simply need to show up with a positive attitude and be ready to take on a new challenge! You get to live somewhere breathtakingly beautiful for three weeks, while you make incredible friends and practice hands-on styles of teaching.

Also something I would make sure to mention to future participants is the chance to actually practice your teaching skills and all you’ve learned in a real classroom before you are even sent out teaching! All programs, regardless of location, get together with a local government school for usually a three day program, where you get to prepare a lesson and teach kids. It was the turning point for me and mostly everyone during my program where I realized that I was really capable of doing this, and it may actually be something I’m great at! I’m unaware if other programs offer this opportunity, but it was one of the most memorable things I did during those three weeks, and I would strongly encourage everyone to sign up for TEFL Heaven just to experience it for themselves.

What was your personal favorite part about the program?

Not to sound too repetitive, but my favorite part of my program was definitely my time spent at our local school. On Koh Chang specifically, we got together with a Cambodian Refugee School run by one inspirational man who opened the school, taught 40 students, made them lunch, and picked them up/dropped them off everyday single day all by himself. The classroom was barely a room, with only two full walls and a tin roof, but as soon as I taught my first lesson there, all my worries and fears melted away and I fell in love with teaching. It felt so fantastic to help this man with this wonderful project he was doing – this school was not funded by the government, like most Thai public schools are, because these children came from refugee families, and therefore weren’t entitled to free education in Thailand.

Is there anything you would have done differently during the course?

I honestly don’t think there is anything I would have done differently during my course. Not that I am without flaw, but I embraced every minute of my experience during the program, and looking back on it now I wouldn’t want to change any of it.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

We were given free breakfast by the hotel, so I would make sure to peel myself out of bed with at least 15 minutes before the lessons started in order to indulge myself. At 9:00 a.m. sharp the course would begin, and it would be a race for a spot in front of the fan. Our training room was a wide-open space that was covered, but outside in Thailand during the hottest month of the year. Our head trainer would start the day with a warm-up game to wake everyone up, and teach us games that we could use in our own classrooms. Our trainers would then review what we would be going over that day. We would rarely be sitting for more than half an hour at a time; for most lesson topics we covered our trainers would request volunteers to come up and practice teaching in front of their peers, or demonstrate games to their peers to practice. 

One hour out of our eight hour day would consist of our Thai lesson, taught to us in the same method we would be teaching English to our students – no translation into the mother-tongue of our students, and lots of games and visuals to help demonstrate new vocabulary. We would receive an hour for lunch, and 15 minute breaks at least twice a day, so no one would be sitting for too long. The days flew by, despite how information packed they were, and it was a lot of fun watching our peers practice teaching, and very helpful to get up and practice on our own. We were told the toughest crowd we would have to teach in front of would be each other – and they were right! So if we could handle that, we would be absolutely fine in our classrooms.

Did you experience culture shock? In your experience what is the best way to overcome it?

Due to my upbringing – my father is a diplomat – I was used to moving to new countries and experiencing new cultures, so culture shock didn’t really happen for me in the way it did to others. There were definitely new customs that took a little bit to adjust to in Thailand, but the guidance from our trainers within our program really helped. One of our first lessons was one on Thai Culture, where we were taught all the “dos” and “don’ts” of the country, and explained the basics of why the Thais behaved the way they did. This was extremely helpful, because it is one thing to be told “you can’t do this” but to understand why, helps reinforce its meaning.

For future participants, from my experience, I believe the best way to overcome culture shock is to dive in headfirst. Its easy to feel alarmed or uneasy when surrounded by a culture and language that isn’t your own, but if you remind yourself that people from all over the world have been doing it for generations into OUR countries, you begin to realize that if they can do it, so can you! It provides you with a whole new perspective, only further educating yourself. Stay positive and embrace everything around you with curiosity. You’ll be thankful you did.

Returning home, how would you say that TEFL Heaven in Thailand has impacted your life?

Although I’m not yet home, I have left Thailand. This program has been something that has entirely changed my life. I’m now headed home with a fresh pair of eyes, and an entirely different view on the world. I accomplished something that so few people would ever be brave enough to complete. I’ve gained valuable experience, and viewed life through a different lens than usual, and I believe that, when I do return home, it will impact how I interact with people. It has been so good for me to learn how to take care of myself in a world far away from my own, and I am forever grateful to this TEFL Heaven program for setting me up with fantastic friends, an amazing agency linked to a perfect school, and most importantly, opening the door to future teaching abroad programs anywhere in the world!