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Job Hunting in Thailand

At 45 years old, I am a relative veteran to the complex business of job hunting. I have successfully located, prepared for, interviewed, and secured employment more times than I care to count. I have a two degrees, a marketable skill set, experience, and speak comfortably in professional settings. No worries I thought, I will certainly find something.

David is in the same situation, he has a degree in computer science, ton of life/work experience, marketable skills, etc. Just for added security we both obtained our TEFL certifications before leaving. TEFL stands for: Teaching English to Foreign Learners.

The goal was just part time work to carry us through. Cost of living is low, pay rates are reported much higher. We planned to save enough above our living expenses to fund Project 12 excursions.

Here’s how it’s going. The first 10 days we made some phone calls, some emails and checked websites for job openings. We learned quickly that the true job market was grossly over stated on many expat job placement sites. These sites (I won’t name the 3 specifically, other than to say they pop up immediately in a google search for teaching English jobs abroad) paint a picture of such abundance it sounded as though we would scarcely get through the airport without a job offer.

There are just two required qualifications outlined for teaching English on these sites: being a native English speaker and TEFL Certification. That’s it!

If the applicant also holds a 4 year degree (in anything), they proclaim, it is impossible not to have a job if so desired. The time of year doesn’t matter as they are always hiring, and no prior teaching experience is required. One site almost literally says, “they are begging for you!”

I have 15 years of experience in education, a teaching degree, a masters in curriculum and instruction and the TEFL certification. David has a degree, is British (apparently preferred over American English) and has TEFL Certification. That makes us over qualified by these guidelines.

Here’s the truth. The time of year does matter, experience actually teaching English does matter, corruption is a concern, and while learning English is important to Thais, other goals can override this desire. Finally no one begs to give you money. There is no land of milk and honey. We love Thailand, but just like everywhere else we’ve been. If you want something, you have to work for it, and compete with others to get it. Including the 20-something perkier and prettier others who tap dance better and sing Thai children songs. Turns out our kind of experience (err…age) isn’t exactly a plus!

August is NOT a good time to seek a teaching job. Despite repeated assurance of job availability all year, the only schools with true current positions were either paying so little that one couldn’t have bought a coffee and sandwich with a day’s wage, or they had a turn-over frequency similar to the merry-go-round at Disney. Many of the jobs posted on the expat sites had either no posting date noted (hint: expired, but makes their site look full), or it was just wrong. Either way, it is misleading and caused many contacts with schools who had no positions to offer.

The forum feeds from previous employees at these schools were drenched in warning. The sentiment sounding like a rendition of Hotel California: You can check out, but you can never leave (horror stories of working month after month waiting for either the return of your passport or a promised pay check that never arrived).

The adult English centers for job-specific English, and after-school student centers were all but abandoned or so depleted in student numbers they were losing money just to pay the current staff contracts. We spent many days in discussion with very patient, kind, and polite managers/owners of such centers learning why. The unfortunate circumstance seems in part due to a newly introduced testing system (resembling American SAT or British A-Levels) required for admission to University. While probably a good thing in many respects, this requires extra study and preparation on the part of the students. Since the Thai Universities teach in Thai, learning or practicing English was taking a second seat. No mention of this major shift was indicated on any of the expat sites advertising the plentiful jobs.

Nearly 8 weeks of job searching and pavement pounding resulted in 4 viable options (two of which pay so low it would require working both jobs to break even on living expenses). Living expenses in Northern Thailand are about $900.00 per month for food and rent. Additional things like transportation are extra. Noted in red are qualifications neither David or I have, but we applied anyway hoping we’d be given a chance. Remember, we want to make above living expenses to fund excursions.

Job 1: University Language Faculty full time professor of English. Pay 28,000 Baht ($840.00/mo.). Position requires a teaching certificate, TEFL Certificate, Bachelor and Master’s Degree, experience teaching at the University level and specifically to foreign learners. Passing a 3 hour test and personal interview.

Job 2: English Center for after school weekday and weekend classes for young adult learners. Pay 400 Baht/hr. (24 hrs./mo.= 9600 Baht/mo.) Roughly $290.00/mo. This requires teaching certificate, TEFL Certification, and experience teaching foreign learners. Personal interview and classroom observation.

Job 3: Government Primary School English Teacher (this is their 2x week foreign language class – like music or gym) Full time for 28,000 Baht ($840.00/mo.) This requires teaching certificate, TEFL Certification, experience teaching foreign learners. 2 personal interviews.

Job 4: Curriculum Developer and Instructional Leader for Bilingual School. Full time administrative (non-teaching) position. Responsibility to support team in opening another campus in Northern Thailand for 400 primary students. School scheduled to open June, 2014. Pay 62,000 Baht/mo ($1860.00/mo) *additional 5,000/mo added after 119 days. Requires teaching certificate, Master’s degree, and leadership experience.

As I was leaving a printer shop today with my load of resume copies, the owner of the store stepped around the counter and proceeded to rub my belly and tell me that I was “so healthy, so good!” Thais have an amazing physical comfort with others, even strangers. They have an awareness of themselves in context with everyone else- as a whole body instead of individuals. I have to admit, it feels good and makes life’s challenges seem significantly smaller (as they are shared). My step was lighter as I left, and I knew it would turn out alright somehow. I’ll keep you posted.