GoAbroad Interview

Justin Ruhe - Education Supervisor

Justin Ruhe - Education Supervisor

Justin grew up just outside of Seattle, and he has always had a passion for language and creativity. Two years ago, he taught in Thailand, which helped him grow immensely and develop a widened perspective of the world. Now working full time for XploreAsia, when Justin isn’t teaching or working on curriculum development, he can be found writing stories and music.

How have your own travels and international experiences shaped your life and your career?

I graduated college with an English degree. After school, I really wanted to put this degree to good use, but I had immediate bills to pay, so I ended up working at a sales job because it was good money and that’s what I needed at the time.  The entire year I spent working as a salesman though, all I could think about was how I wasn’t using the knowledge and expertise I had worked so hard in school to acquire. Although I was able to save some money, my job was extremely unfulfilling.

Teaching abroad has allowed me to explore my passion for language, while also giving back to others. Using my own strengths to help others gain knowledge and receive a quality education has allowed me to find meaning within my professional life.

XploreAsia TESOL graduates in Thailand
Graduation day with my TESOL students

Why do you think traveling abroad is a “life-changing decision” for most people?

Living and working abroad isn’t as simple as just buying a plane ticket and booking a couple of hotels. It’s learning how to navigate a completely new culture. It’s understanding the values and mores of a group of people, and learning how to successfully apply yourself within that new and unfamiliar environment.

There are a lot of challenges that come with the responsibility of traveling abroad: learning some of the local language, discovering which foods you can eat, finding ways to connect and make friends with the local people, and trying your hardest to avoid breaking any unfamiliar cultural rules. But if you can drop all expectations of what your experience abroad might be like, and you approach those challenges with an open and willing attitude, then you will gain a whole new perspective on the world.

Living and working abroad is like looking at a simple puzzle you’ve had your whole life, and figuring out a new way to solve it.

What makes XploreAsia’s programs some of the best ways to experience the world?

Almost all of the foreign staff at XploreAsia have come through one of XploreAsia’s own programs. We all have extensive experience living and working abroad, and we understand the hardships that come with adjusting to life in a foreign land. We are able to use our own experiences as a teaching tool to help others reach their maximum potential for success. Dedication to helping others achieve success in a foreign country is easy when you can see the commonalities between you and the person you’re mentoring.

We also consistently ask all of our program participants to give us honest and detailed feedback. Listening to our participant feedback, and coupling that feedback with tireless research into culture, education, and travel, has allowed us to continually improve our efforts to add value to our programs.

Tourists visiting a temple in Southern Thailand
Temple touring in Southern Thailand

Speaking of values, XploreAsia is also built on family values. We treat our entire teacher network like a giant family, and we never stop giving support. We have an online community that we update with constant resources and advice for our teachers and program participants. We also have a hotline for people who need teaching advice, or cultural support.

I came through XploreAsia two years ago, and now I’m working full time for them; this is just another thing that goes to show that the support and encouragement never stops.

What XploreAsia program did you participate in? Why did you choose it?

I chose to join the XploreAsia In-Class TESOL course and teaching placement program. I chose this program because of the amazing support that was offered. Since the first day I signed up, I had help with my visa and gathering all of the other paperwork that was required for me to live in Thailand.

The in-class TESOL program also came with a cultural orientation week which included Thai language classes, lectures on politics, religion, history, economy, and culture. The orientation week also included active-excursions into the local community. This was a huge plus, as the classroom learning was paired with fun events like a Muay Thai class, a visit with elephants, and a visit to a local temple.

Another thing that drew me to the program was the two-day non-profit English camp. The English camp allowed me to get some hands-on experience teaching in a school before actually heading off to the school I would eventually be placed in. The cultural foundation that stemmed from the orientation week, and the teacher preparation I received was top-notch, and one of the reasons I really wanted to join the XploreAsia team later on.

Even after XploreAsia had placed me in a reputable teaching position, where I ended up staying for over a year and half, they continued to check in with me, and even offered me a couple of professional opportunities over my semester breaks.

Another reason the XploreAsia program was so appealing was that I was able to network with others who were aspiring to do the same thing as me. I took my TESOL course with around 25 other people. Meeting the other students in my class allowed me to network, build friendships, and foster a professional colleague base in Thailand, just days after I arrived.

Volunteer picking up trash on Takiab Beach in Hua Hin, Thailand
Volunteering with Trash Heroes on Takiab Beach, Hua Hin

How important would you say having a TESOL certificate is when teaching abroad?

Most schools and teaching centers will immediately look to see if any applicant has the TESOL credential on their résumé. That being said, a TESOL certificate is nothing more than a piece of paper. It’s the intense teacher preparation in the course that makes the certification so valuable. Learning the science behind teaching across language barriers, strategies for how to manage behavior, structures for lesson planning and curriculum creation, and specific ways to motivate your students is invaluable. Not to mention, learning the trade from someone who has been in your shoes, and having other new teachers to bounce ideas off of, allows you to soak up a wide range of activities and projects that you can apply to any type of learner.

I really couldn’t imagine trying to be an effective ESL teacher without the toolkit that my TESOL instructor prepared me with.

What is your best piece of teaching advice for prospective international teachers?

Listen to your students! Find out what their interests are, what kind of activities they learn best with, topics they would like to learn about, and what activities they do outside of school. Teaching is a constant give and take between the instructor and the student; you have to build connections with your students. If you never listen to the feedback from your students, you will have a hard time making your content relevant or meaningful to them.

The other big piece of advice is to be patient. It takes time to establish a rapport at your school. It takes time and effort to build a relationship with your students, and the other teachers. It takes time for your students to get used to your teaching structure. Just be positive, encouraging, and know that as long as your students are practicing English, progressing forward, and having fun, you’re doing the right thing.

Why is XploreAsia different from other international program providers?

It’s the family atmosphere. Every participant that comes through one of our programs becomes part of the XploreAsia family. We continually offer support to all of our program participants, even after they move on from our programs. Almost everyone who works for XploreAsia has extensive experience living and working abroad, and we’re all dedicated to the cause of helping others achieve success in an international setting. We believe in the power of education.

Furthermore, we’re firmly invested in helping to better the local communities we work in. XploreAsia works closely with local orphanages and has been a huge contributor to Rescue Paws, a local animal foundation that helps bring awareness and solutions to the growing stray population in Thailand.

Our TESOL program is highly rated, and we consistently make efforts to ensure we are constantly improving. XploreAsia really cares, and we go to great lengths to ensure that participants of our programs have a great experience.
Justin Ruhe at the XploreAsia office in Thailand
Having fun at the office!

What do you enjoy most about working for XploreAsia?

One of my favorite things is seeing my TESOL students go off and teach successfully at their schools. I see amazing videos of activities and events that my students hold at their schools, and I can see that they’re having a huge positive impact on the community they’re in.

I also love that I can see my ideas and hard work implemented directly in our daily processes. I do a lot of research on educational development, and I make huge strides to expand our curriculum. Seeing those new implementations utilized at English camps and in schools across Thailand, I can’t help but feel a huge swell of pride knowing that I am helping to improve the education of many students around the country.