Of course there’s a lot more back story to my personal motivations for going to Thailand, but here I’ll explain how I actually got my job teaching English at a high school in Thailand.
I went through an organization called CIEE (ciee.org) that did most of the grunt work in terms of processing my visa and placing me in a school with provided housing. This of course came with a price tag, which now makes me cringe just thinking about it. Not including the $50 application fee, one semester of teaching in Thailand is $1,600, and two semesters is $1,900. Once you arrive in Thailand, CIEE funnels you into another organization called OEG (Overseas Education Group) that handles everything based in Thailand. So pretty much everyone you’ve been in communication with thus far is now unable to help you.
The CIEE application requires two letters of recommendation, and several short essay questions you have to fill out but none of this matters, probably. If you pay the fee, you are in. I have no regrets using them for one semester of teaching, but I think once you arrive you find that jobs for native speakers are so readily available, it’s unnecessary. Trust me, after a few weeks in Thailand you’ll learn the ropes for finding employment, obtaining a work permit, and all the other technicalities that go along with teaching English in Thailand. Just browsing the website Ajarn.com for a few days will give you about as much information and assistance as CIEE.
For those of you still thinking of using an organization such as CIEE, here are some pros and cons, along with helpful hints.
Orientation. This is the best part. You’ll spend a week in Bangkok prior to the start of the semester at your school. Don’t take it too seriously. Honestly, nothing will prepare you adequately for teaching in a Thai classroom for the first time. But orientation is fun if you let yourself be laid back. I went out every single night, explored Bangkok with new friends, and skipped lectures to sun myself at the pool. Everyone is friendly, so a big reason to go through CIEE is to make friends and travel buddies.
You don’t have to worry about housing. With that said, I can’t promise you’ll love your apartment/bedroom or find that the program fee made it worth it. I could have found my own housing in a much nicer area and closer to food and nightlife for a cheaper price. The majority of CIEE participants I met still had to pay a small fee each month in rent for their included housing. This makes no sense. Why even pay a program fee? I got stuck in a dingy dorm room inside the school cafeteria, but at least it had air conditioning. Also, don’t believe the photos CIEE will send you ahead of time of your provided accommodations.
A school coordinator will be assigned to you to help out with any problems and to answer questions. Some participants I met did have great coordinators at school. The coordinator would take them out to lunch, show them around town, and give them rides when necessary. My coordinator, Anchalee, was completely useless. She never helped me get situated, and dropped me off at my room the first night and told me it was unsafe to leave my room after dark. I will expand on her later, but I felt completely alone and helpless.
The visa will be handled prior to leaving the U.S. Normally, U.S. citizens get 30 days on arrival, but this visa will give you 90 days. Then, your school will take you to immigration to extend your visa and take care of all the paperwork for getting your work permit. But you can always do this on your own, it just requires you leave the country on a visa run.
It’s a gamble. You can tell CIEE what your preferences are for where you want to teach but there’s really no point in doing this since you’ll get placed where they have an opening. You could end up alone, you could end up somewhere awful. You may live in Bangkok but if you are much farther than an hour, you are pretty isolated. You take that risk when using CIEE, and there’s no way to say you’ll like where you are placed and a non-refundable portion of the program fee is already paid by this time.
You’ll make less money. If you find a job teaching on your own in Thailand, you will make more money. Other participants in the program may make twice your salary and there’s nothing CIEE will do about it. I earned 20,000 baht a month ($650). The other native speaking teachers at my school made at least 30,000 baht per month and they were all teaching illegally with fake Bachelor’s degrees they bought online.
If you do have a problem, you’re on your own. If you get sick, lost, hate your school, suddenly get assigned 10 more classes to teach per week, the school doesn’t pay you on time, or anything else happens, you are on your own. It becomes pretty clear, pretty quickly, that OEG prefers to maintain the relationship with the school, their repeat customer.
Think carefully before going through a company like CIEE. Participants don’t generally sign up for a second program or teach in another country with CIEE after their program ends. I didn’t feel like they had any incentive to keep current participants happy with a steady influx of recent graduates coming in every six months. But the experience is of course what you make it, there will be good and bad days whether you go through CIEE or find a job on your own. Considering going through CIEE or a similar organization and have questions? Email me: juliakristinsummers[at]gmail[dot]com