How My International Teaching Journey Began

It had been a mad few weeks of preparation, along with an array of mixed emotions. Leaving my huddled little family at the airport wasn’t easy. Divided by the baggage control, we waved our goodbyes.

Luckily, my flight wasn’t particularly full. I had the whole row to myself and so I was able to lay down and sleep. Exhausted, but mind buzzing with so much to take in, I sat by the window and looked out at the world below. A new day awaited. Finally, it was time. I was on my way to Thailand with the prospect of becoming a TEFL teacher!

Upon my arrival in Chaing Mai, I headed toward the Starbucks, where an ENTRUST TEFL representative was supposed to be waiting for me. After waiting a while, I came to the frightening realisation that no one was coming for me.

Realizing that my communication and people skills were what was going to ensure my survival, I stopped and asked someone if I could borrow her phone. I had no means of getting a hold of anyone otherwise, and here I was on foreign land. Home never felt so far way.

She dialled the number I had on a piece of paper titled ‘Emergency Contact Details’ (given to me by my agency). I spoke to a representative from TEFL who had no idea about any arrangement to collect me whatsoever. In fact, she didn’t seem to have a clue who I was at all! ‘Oh yes, you American girl?’ said the voice in a thick Thai accent. It was then that my South African wired brain began to freak out. This is a scam. I am going to get my organs cut up, or worse, I am involved in some human- trafficking scam (were the thoughts running through my head).

She told me to take a taxi to the hotel and that they would refund me. An overwhelming mass of taxi drivers swarmed in on me as I stepped out of the airport. In no time an old man with long grey hair slicked back in a pony tail was driving me through the streets of Chiang Mai. I felt a sense of exasperation as the culture shock kicked in. It dawned on me that I was over 19000 km away from home. Yet, I felt a sense of capability, safety even… I can’t really explain it in a way that thoroughly depicts it, but I felt like I was in a dream. Everything around me, odd, new and also strangely familiar.

It kept dawning on me how much of a big deal this actually was! I clicked why everyone back home kept looking at me with such awe, asking ‘but are you SURE?!’ Yet, here I was! I got myself to Chiang Mai, Thailand! I hailed a taxi and there I was.

There had to be another challenge of course. The hotel on my printout turned out to not know about me either. The lady at reception was very sweet, offering me a refreshingly icy glass of Thai tea which was just what I needed after all the hassle. Another cab ride later, and eventually I was where I needed to be.

I felt a little cheated for having paid the agency extra for piece of mind and ended up in a compromising situation. But I was only being introduced to the way things work in Thailand, to what I’d come to understand and respond to with the words ‘Maai pen raai’ – which can be equated to Hakuna Matata. No worries, everything eventually sorts itself out!

As soon as I could, I removed the smelly clothes and immersed myself into the pool at Eco Resort. The humidity was hectic. But the water, just perfect. It was wonderful. I felt so proud of getting myself that far, and it was only the beginning.

The next 3 weeks would be both a dream, and sometimes, even a bit of a nightmare. I got through the gruelling TEFL course and before I knew it, was an international English teacher in Thailand.

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