Notes From The Field: Learning to Live the Mai Pen Rai Way in Thailand
Looking to provide English language education to a country that currently experiences a significant lack of English teachers? There’s no better place to teach English than beautiful, friendly Thailand. Because our application deadline is just around the corner for the Teach In Thailand Program, we reached out to a recent program alumni, Lauren, to give you some insight about being professionally trained as an English language teacher in this exotic location:
Thailand – the land of smiles, and as I came to realize and love – the Mai Pen Rai way of life. Mai Pen Rai is the Thai equivalent to the Swahili concept of Hakuna Matata (“no worries”). It was a laid-back philosophy of life that I grew to appreciate and embrace more and more, the longer I was in Thailand. I was fortunate enough to arrive in Phuket with three other teachers in the program. We were all wide-eyed and eager to begin our adventure in teaching, especially after learning our new favorite phrase, Mai Pen Rai.
There were ten days before school started, so we were able to fully immerse ourselves into Thai culture. At first it was frustrating how laid back the Thai people were. Our western culture was definitely playing a part in the frustration. But now, we were running on Thai time and had to let go of schedules, timing and making plans. Within our ten days prior to teaching we were able to explore the island a little bit, get lost, make some mistakes and meet other teachers at our school who were all very helpful in the process.
We did not realize how relaxed things truly were until we started teaching. Yes, we had schedules, and classes happened at a certain time, but students also operated on their own timeline as well. [Tip: If you’re giving out an assignment, give a due date, and tell them how many points they will lose for late work! This usually helps, but you will almost always have late work submitted no matter how many rules you set from day one.] In the beginning, I would be so frustrated when work wasn’t turned in, and annoyed that students were not held accountable. Over time, I took a page out of their book, stepped back a little bit and stopped chasing my students for their work. Students began to realize the consequences of their actions and they started to make a greater effort. They were in the English Curriculum program so they were very concerned with their grades, but needed that extra little push to take responsibility. Our students were excited for new teachers to come in and make learning fun, so be that teacher that they look forward to seeing in class! Bottom line, Thai people love to have fun, make your lessons fun, have fun, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Over time, we became so used to living our laid back lifestyle, that we would plan last minute trips. The most planning we did was creating a list of all of the beaches in Phuket and making an effort to visit as many as possible. Even when we traveled to Malaysia, we were so “Mai Pen Rai” that we missed our flight home, and went to the wrong airport! Running on Thai time, was truly our demise in this situation, but I feel that it taught me a great deal. Living Mai Pen Rai didn’t only mean that we were laid back, it also meant we were happy, and we enjoyed each moment that we had in Thailand. Sometimes we would have to lean over when it was a truly special moment to remind each other, “Look at where we are right now! We’re in Thailand!”
Moving to Phuket, Thailand was an amazing adventure for me, which allowed me to combine my love for travel with my passion for teaching. I knew leaving home would be hard, but it was a journey that has truly shaped who I am now, and who I strive to be. When you return, it may be hard for your friends to understand, but don’t lose sight of your new insights. Live in the moment, enjoy the little things, don’t let the hustle and bustle of our Western culture take over, otherwise life will pass you by. Now I truly understand why Thailand is the land of smiles.
Find out more about our Teach in Thailand Program and transform your lifestyle the Mai Pen Rai way! And hop to it, applications for the summer program are due March 20th!