I was at a crossroads in my life. I could either keep studying, which I knew in my heart I really did not want to do, or I could get a job. A job would require me to muster up some sort of belief that I would be content with settling for the desk and the cubicle and the clock on the wall that never quite seems to hit 5 p.m. soon enough. And I truly did not have it in me. I wanted to travel- desperately, I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to immerse myself in a culture that was completely different than my own. But I needed to make a living and I needed to do something I could fall in love with.
I was inspired to go abroad because I was tired of being stagnant and I didn't want to settle before I had really started living. I was inspired to go abroad because what could possibly be a more soul-defining adventure? And I was inspired to go abroad because I have been so fortunate in my life and I wanted to do something that would make a difference.
Why did you choose TravelBud?
I chose TravelBud as my organization because I wanted to ensure that I was going to be safe and assisted, not just while moving over but also while living and teaching in Thailand. I needed an organization that is organized, extremely knowledgable in everything from visa requirements to public transportation, and would go the extra mile to ensure that my experience was everything it could be. I had researched countless organizations and read more reviews than I care to admit, but I kept coming back to TravelBud. I loved the fact that TravelBud's team is made up of people who had been teachers and had lived the life that I was going to. I also loved the fact that every person that had gone to Thailand through TravelBud seemed to have one thing in common, TravelBud was there every step of the way. And as a twenty two year old woman, moving to a foreign country alone, I wanted to know that I would have that support. And I can say, without a doubt, TravelBud is the best possible company to come on this adventure with.
What was your favorite part about Thailand?
My favorite part? There were so many. I would say the people made the experience everything it has been. If you speak to anyone who has been to this beautiful country to work or travel, they will tell you the same thing: Thai people are the kindest and most selfless of people. I couldn't count the amount of times I have been lost or confused and a Thai person has done everything in their power to help me come right, even with the language barrier.
I love the little rural village that I lived in for this past semester, because I had what I believe to be a truly authentic Thai experience. I made so many friends, people that I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life. And I spent so much time with these friends, in their homes with their families, or being shown around their country that they are so proud of, for good reason.
My favorite part about the village was sitting on a carpet made of straw, in a small wooden home, barefoot, surrounded by an assortment of authentic Thai dishes, watching families that I had come to love laughing with each other, and trying to explain to me in minimal broken English why they were laughing. Those moments, so small and simple, have touched me in a way I don't believe anything else in this world could, and I'm so grateful for it.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Living in a rural Thai village made my experience unique and authentic. And more than that, being welcomed, included and loved in that community made my experience unique.
During my time in a village that you couldn't even find on Google maps (believe me, my family tried), I attended a wedding as a bridesmaid, accompanied my grieving friends to a funeral, spent every Wednesday night in a ladies bible study group, and ate more meals than I could count with incredible friends. The fact that I had no idea what we were eating and rarely had any idea what we were talking about never once mattered.
I travelled every weekend I could with the friends I made, and saw parts of Thailand that weren't included in the tourist guides. And over all of these incredible things, I got to spend every day doing something that I had come to love with students that stole my heart so completely.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local teachers at my school were incredibly helpful and kind. The biggest support they gave me was helping me translate instructions to my students when no amount of crazy gestures could help me. My co-teachers also helped me with my life in the village, from talking to my landlord to showing me the best places to eat. They supported me in learning Thai etiquette and the language, and with any questions I had about the school, be it printing or getting involved with school activities. They were a constant support and always only a question away.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I think I would have been kinder to myself when I had culture shock, because when you live in a foreign country culture shock sometimes comes with the territory. And although it never lasts long, it can be difficult to deal with. But it is definitely nothing to worry about and many people don't experience it. I did and I'm better for it.
I remember two days in particular when I was ordering my coffee on my way to school and I forgot the word for cold. The word is 'yen' and I could tell you that in my sleep, but in that moment, when I couldn't remember it, my world somehow came crashing down and I spent the next twenty minutes on the floor being comforted by a very confused elderly woman while I cried.
I couldn't understand why I was crying. Why did everything begin to annoy me? Why was the language barrier only now starting to affect me after two months living in the village? Culture shock, it comes and just as quickly goes, and you are left wondering why you reacted a certain way to things that would never usually bother you.
Looking back now, I wish I had been easier on myself because it happens and being mad at myself for not being happy for those few days really wasn't worth it. Because I had over 150 incredible days and the ones that weren't amazing, are also part of the adventure.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day as an English teacher in Thailand involves teaching around four hours a day, and using the rest of the time to prepare lessons and get to know your new home.
I would wake up and get ready for school around 6:30 a.m. Then walk fifteen minutes to school, grabbing a coffee and fresh on the way, getting to school for assembly at 7:45 a.m. Morning assembly would include announcements, singing the National Anthem and paying our respects to the Thai flag and the king. Morning classes would start around 8:30 a.m. and run until lunch at noon, when I would eat with my students in the cafeteria. I would spend my lunch hour eating and then interacting with students, working on my Thai and getting to know the culture.
Afternoon classes would run until 4 p.m. and then I would walk home to prepare for tutoring or go to village aerobics at 5 p.m., which happens all around Thailand and is awesome. Dinner would usually be spent with colleagues or friends, eating incredible street food or being invited to their homes to eat authentic Thai food and practice our English and Thai.
A participant of this program will spend the week teaching and learning about culture, language, and the incredible people of this country, and spend weekends and holidays travelling and chilling.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed tutoring in my free time. It was more about hanging out with my students and their families, getting to know each other's cultures and languages. I was also very fortunate to make incredible friends who didn't mind spending hours exploring. These friends showed me a way of life that I couldn't even dream of back home, and helped me see that there was more to life than growing old and settling. They taught me what it means to be part of a community and how important it is to love and laugh at yourself, and never be stagnant.
When teaching in Thailand, you have a fair bit of free time to create incredible lessons, explore, travel, and most importantly soak everything up. And that is what I enjoyed doing most in that time.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was great! I lived in a bright green apartment that was near the main road and very central. It had a little kitchen area, Western toilet and shower, and more than enough space for a big bed. When I was placed in the village I was worried I would be living in a wooden hut in a jungle ( I have a vivid imagination) but the apartment was perfect and became my home for that semester. I liked the roof the best, because it had the most beautiful view and I could watch the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Say yes and be open. Thailand needs English teachers and foreigners who put effort into its beautiful culture and people. I truly believe that living here, even for a little while, is something that everyone needs to do. Because if you are open and say yes to experiences, you cannot help but fall in love with everything this country has to offer.
Don't build up too many expectations for what you thought your experience would be. I had this idea that I would be teaching in Phuket, spending afternoons and weekends on the beach. Looking back at that, I am so utterly glad and grateful that I had the adventure that I did and not the experience I expected.
I learned so much about myself and what I'm capable of, and made memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
I am not home yet. I was only supposed to come to Thailand for six months, but I don't see myself leaving anytime soon. So I suppose you could say that this time has completely changed my life and is currently changing my present and my future.
My time in Thailand, and more particularly my time in the village, has completely altered me and I am a happier and more complete person than I was six months ago. I no longer take things for granted and I am constantly yearning for new adventures. I have learned to step out of my comfort-zone and say yes to things that will give me that.
Although I have not yet left Thailand, I have left the village and I can say I will hold those six months so utterly dear to me. And I am not moving forward alone, I am taking incredible friends and a whole new understanding of the world and it's people with me.
Would you recommend TravelBud to others? Why?
Yes, in a second. Teaching in Thailand saved me from a life I would never have been content with, and TravelBud made that all a reality. TravelBud has been with me every step of the way, from the moment I sent my first enquiry email to now, writing this interview in a small coastal town in Thailand, having just completed my first semester teaching. They have truly gone the extra mile, even now that I am happy and having the best experience. I am so grateful to them as a program provider. TravelBud is an incredible company and teaching in Thailand is an adventure and experience I deeply wish every person could take part in.
Samantha Ross, 22, was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. She took a gap year before university, volunteering in a children’s shelter during the day and working nights to save towards the six months she would spend backpacking solo through Europe later that year. Sam studied drama and English literature before deciding to teach English abroad.