Early 2010. Another day at the office. Another 60+ work week in a marketing agency somewhere in Austria. All puffed up, stressed out and unhappy. That was the setting that made me consider leaving Europe. This daily dose of unhappiness had to end.
When thinking about where to go or what to do Thailand, or Asia for that matter, did not come up once. I never thought about Asia as a possible spot for holidays let alone work or a life.
So I didn’t really knew what I would do, I just knew I had to change something.
I then started with the ‘reasonable’ thing: Sending applications to companies in my area of expertise. Going to job interviews, events, smiling and shaking hands. Each and every time however it didn’t feel ‘right’.
I didn’t want to stay in this profession.
Not right away.
As frustration grew however a friend told me about a friend of a friend….of a friend who worked for one semester as a volunteer teacher in Thailand. A bit of adventure. A bit giving back to the community. A bit of recharging batteries.
My first response to that:
“Thailand? Are you crazy?!”
As mentioned earlier I never spared any thought about coming to Asia. As time went by, this changed. First the thought of being able to teach grew on me. I always liked teaching (having been a tutor and professional sports coach before) and thought it would be really cool to finally give it a try and see if I could do that.
Furthermore, I started to conduct more research about Thailand, talked with people you had been there before and therefore gained more interest in the country.
One Sunday then it was decision time.
I decided to give it a try and to not listen to friends and family who called me ‘crazy’ (giving up my current career & going to an ‘unstable’ country). I told them I have to do that to get my thoughts together and to charge batteries. I would come back after one semester and then start over again.
So I Decided to be Crazy and Jump
I secured my teaching assignment via this friend of a friend…of a friend who knew people in the ministry of vocational education in Thailand.
Apparently they have always been happy to find some foreigners to send into vocational colleges (since ‘normal’ teachers mostly wouldn’t go there due to the bad payment). Hence it was advertised as a win-win situation.
The foreigner goes there to teach and in return gains lots of experience. While this doesn’t make you rich it sounded good for one semester and I agreed on those terms.
After agreeing and having a short job interview I then received an email with my destination in Thailand. It read:
Up to Udon Thani
Not knowing what or where Udon Thani is I searched online and was, to be honest, quite shocked.
When thinking about Thailand one would think Bangkok, the beach, but North-Eastern Thailand?
Where there is nothing?
What the heck!
Time to do something new and exciting with my life; I decided to go along with the plan anyways.
After all it was about the experience and not about just going there for holidays! My family responded even more concerned when learning that I would work in Udon Thani since all they could find in the internet about Udon Thani stated that it was the capital of red shirts in Thailand. I figured it’s like with hurricanes. When you’re in the center you’re safe and decided not to think about things like this any further since I didn’t have enough knowledge to come up with reasonable conclusions about Thai politics.
I landed in Bangkok September 2010 but it was filled with frustration for me so I decided on one week island holidays before school starts. Off to Kho Tao!
All of a Sudden all the Stress Disappeared.
Now, years later, I still return to Kho Tao once in a while. Knowing that there are more beautiful spots around Thailand but still happy to remember where it all, more or less, started.
When the holidays were over my college sent pick up service to Bangkok and the real adventure began. Off to Isaan. Teaching in Udon Thani. And while I could fill books with experiences from my college life in Udon I don’t want to go into to much detail here but only point out a few highlights.
As mentioned in the beginning the plan was to stay one (maybe a little longer) semester and then return back home.
I ended up staying three full semesters the sole reason were my amazing students.
From the very first day most of my students were incredibly patient and open when it came to interaction with me.
While they weren’t perfect students (and that’s totally ok) they were great characters.
When I first started my boss at the college simply told me the room number and said
I was completely on my own, teaching 30+ hours without having any experience.
While that’s a questionable approach of course it was just what I needed. I didn’t speak any Thai at that time but I was motivated to make it work and students were happy to see a different kind of teacher for a change.
Almost every class had one or two students in it that were able to speak a little bit better than the rest. Those students helped a lot with organizing and translating assignments and explanations.
While we did have fights within the classroom (again, that’s normal and totally ok) the relationship outside the classroom was mostly great.
How Caring People Thai People can be Amazed me
Students showed me around Udon Thani, introduced me to their parents and spent holidays with me to make sure I get the most of, and also understand, Thai culture. It’s hard to put into words but this ‘caring’ by people who had any reason not to care (since I made them study quite hard) or to be distant to me was amazing.
When I thought that my time at the college would come to an end I decided to rent the huge college kitchen during the weekend and invite students for some cooking action.
I bought lots of pork meat, potatoes and salad, printed the recipe (in English of course) and said ‘let’s go’.
We spent all Saturday in the kitchen cooking food, speaking English and joking around. Activities like this helped me a lot to understand more about how students ‘work’ and their approach to Thai and western culture. We continued with similar activities (Pizza baking, Flashmobs, etc.) over the next few months and learned a lot from each other.
Another amazing experience that I would have never had back home in my former career.
One Sunday Afternoon Rollerblading
Another short story that will always stick to my mind happened on a Sunday afternoon. I spent the day on my rollerblades (yes, really) training for a competition. Right after I finished my training on college campus I simply relaxed a bit and just rolled straight when it happened.
My foot wanted to go straight, my knee just the other way around.
It still hurts when thinking about it.
I dislocated my knee completely out of the blue, broke down and, as it is with dislocated knees, wasn’t able to move anymore.
Luckily some of my students spent their Sunday on campus as well and heard my accident. They came running immediately and, after the first shock, handled everything very well.
Some of them even came with me to the hospital to help translate what happened and to help with insurance information and everything else that was necessary.
They then called other teachers and waited for them to arrive until late in the evening when they had to return home. After I was released from hospital and still wasn’t able to walk much (only with crutches) some of them offered to bring me food once in a while and always ask whether I would need some more help.
To This Day I Can’t Thank Everybody Involved Enough.
That was incredibly cool and showed me once more that my decision to stay up there was right.
I couldn’t stay forever though since, even though I liked my students, couldn’t make Udon Thani work for me and had the feeling I had to strive for more.
However teaching at Udon Thani Vocational College showed me the way and I’m incredibly thankful for all experiences up there.
Now that I’m lecturing at University in Bangkok I’m still in touch with many of my former students (some even made it to BKK, which is super cool) and return ‘home’ to Udon once in a while to see former students and former colleagues.
While I also experienced a lot of sad moments here in Thailand (life isn’t always sunshine, no matter where you are) those awesome experiences usually come to my mind when I think about ‘My Thai Story’.