I Miss My Ex, But Not All of It

After teaching in China, I’ve been forced to admit how much I didn’t enjoy teaching in Thailand. It’s like the opposite of the phrase, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I relate my experience more to a bad relationship – one where you don’t realize it’s bad until you’ve moved on to realize what a good relationship actually is. Now that Thailand and I broke up, I have not forgotten all the things I love about it – it will always be my first love, an affair that taught me a lot about myself and my partner – but I have since discovered one thing I didn’t like: Teaching.

My freshmen university students here, in China, are absolutely fabulous. They actually want to be in class, for starters, not just because their teacher is white, but because they want to learn. They understand what I’m saying (it’s a dream come true!) and actively participate when asked. Even the not-so-enthusiastic classes will come to the front of the room and speak, even if reluctantly.

In Thailand, if a student was adamant about not speaking (which is the reason they were in my class), they would simply run out of the room shed. I do understand there are some vast differences between my high-school-aged students (eighth graders and sophomores) and my college freshmen when it comes to maturity and taking control of their own education, as is true in any country (in fact, I spent a lot of time defending my Thai students for these very reasons), but there are some other huge factors that play into it too.

Chinese students are told on the day they are born how important it is to be educated, and they spend their entire childhood studying and stressing about their college entrance exams. It’s a part of the culture to be studious, and more than half of my students named reading and studying as hobbies (as well as sleeping and eating, but that’s another story).

In rural Thailand, the emphasis on education is much lower. A priority list with education at the top exists for few, and not one of my students was ever caught reading a book. Students will skip class for reasons such as helping with the family farm or being too tired from a field trip (like I was after this one), and it’s perfectly acceptable in a country that allows students to drop out after freshman year of high school.

Many of my Thai eighth grade students will choose that option, and the few who do finish twelfth grade won’t further their studies at university. They have other priorities, like caring for the family and helping mom with the family’s street-food stand.

I realize it’s completely unfair to compare China to Thailand – they are very different countries in almost every respect of the word. However, just like a girl can’t help comparing one boyfriend to the last, it’s hard not to make these kinds of connections.

Living in China could (and will) never take away the unbeatable adventure I had in Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia, but I loved those countries for their people, their culture, their food, their sites, etc., not necessarily because I loved my job. I’m forced to see that now, as unfair to my ex (Thailand) as that is, but teaching is the only contrast I will allow myself to make.

I foresee my time in China being no less than wonderful, and though I know my job will be more fulfilling and beneficial to my future than any of my days in front of a white board in Thailand, I don’t believe the rest of my China experience will ever be able to top my village life in Thailand.

18 Comments

  1. Interesting post. My dad is from Thailand and dropped out of school in fifth grade from a lack of interest, and also, poverty. He didn’t go to school again until he came to the US to study English when he was 19. My dad is now an American citizen and has been in the US for 40 years.
    I really enjoy reading your blog and think it is great that you are able to live and teach in countries that are so different, have an impact on others and really experience life elsewhere. I’m looking forward to more!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Wow, what an interesting story your dad must have. That’s great he went back to school at such a difficult age to do so. Does he still have family in Thailand? Do you go visit? It really is a wonderful country.
      Thanks so much for reading!

      • la marinière says:

        All of my dad’s family still live in Thailand…so I have aunts and uncles and many many cousins. I’ve been to visit a few times and I hope to go back sometime to visit again in the next two years. It really is a magical place to visit. I wish I spoke the language though.

        • jessicajhill says:

          Which province is your family from? I’m sure with a bit of studying and an extended trip to visit, you could be speaking Thai in no time. Choke dee na caw!

          • la marinière says:

            They are all in Bangkok. Most of my cousins studied in the US or in other English speaking countries and speak fairly well. I would probably have to live somewhere where I don’t know anyone so I would be forced to learn Thai.

          • jessicajhill says:

            Very true. It would be difficult to learn in Bangkok.

  2. Lani says:

    Hello fellow TEFL Blogger!

    Part of me wants to defend Thailand!! My mom is from Lamphun and she always instilled studying and working hard. She was too poor to con’t school but I know she would have loved to.

    In fact, I think most Thais, if given the chance would chose to stay and study. And I think it was important that you recognized that the age difference between uni and h.s. or jr high is great, just like with the boys 😉

    I certainly was a different student. And yes, it’s much easier to teach Ss who want to study! I understand!!!!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi Lani!

      I certainly didn’t mean to speak about the whole of Thailand; I was only talking about my experience, at my school, in rural Suwannaphum, Roi Et. I know there are other parts, even within Isaan that have a higher priority on education, but you’re right when you say many of them can’t afford college. It’s sad that many of my students didn’t even take advantage of the free/cheap education they have through high school, though, simply because they know they won’t continue.

      Thanks for your comment. I hope I didn’t offend you! I will defend Thailand on all other levels – I left a piece of my heart there.

  3. mishvo says:

    Hello –
    It’s interesting to hear you write from the perspective of a second English teaching experience. I’ve been teaching in Bangkok for the past couple of months and I have finally had to admit to myself that I really don’t like being here. I’m not quite sure if it’s Bangkok (I miss nature so so much!) or the job (right with you with the apathetic and completely undisciplined students)…It’s been an interesting ride but really what I’m trying to say is that it’s promising to hear from you how much more you’re enjoying your experience teaching older students. I don’t want to write off teaching just yet – I think I might actually like the process of passing on knowledge to young people. So yes. Thank you for giving me hope I guess!

    • jessicajhill says:

      I’m a little surprised to hear you’ve had a similar experience in Bangkok. I wasn’t willing to write off my views on the whole of Thailand, assuming things would be much different in the big city, but apparently it’s similar everywhere.

      I know exactly what you’re saying, though. Somehow, despite my now negative feelings toward teaching there, I managed to decide that I did enjoy the act of teaching. I liked all the things I could imagine being similar in other countries/schools, and knew that I needed to give it another try. Plus, I never would have chosen high schoolers had I been given an option, so part of me knew I could cross that age bracket off the list from the beginning.

      Are you teaching matyam or pratom? When is your contract up? We’re hiring at Peizheng!

      • mishvo says:

        I was teaching grade (P)5 last semester. Just had a holiday (a mind-blowing solo trip to the south of Thailand. Gave me a WHOLE new perspective) and now I’m teaching K1 (so…about 3 years old?). I’ve only had one day with them but it’s a whole new ballgame. I think teaching is about to get way easier, which is a relief because P5 was extraordinarily challenging.

        My contract is up in March but I don’t know if I’ll stay that long honestly. I’m itching to be on the move. Peizheng is tempting…I will definitely keep up with your blog and your experience with the uni students for sure!

        • jessicajhill says:

          Oh there’s nothing cuter than all those K1, smiling faces! Your job is about to change from teacher to teacher/babysitter/nurse/parent, I can only imagine.

          I had a similar feeling when I finally traveled the rest of Thailand. I realized after living in the Northeast for six months, I had a completely skewed vision of what Thai life was – Isaan is so far behind the rest of the country, and much cheaper, welcoming and helpful because they have yet to be jaded by the tourist trail. But the other parts of the country are sooo beautiful and equally amazing in their own right.

          Enjoy those little kiddos! Maybe I’ll see you at Peizheng soon.

  4. Ashley Abroad says:

    This post was really interesting. I’ve heard so many different reviews of teaching in different areas of Asia that I’m so torn on where I might go! If you want to read of a fellow American teaching in China you should read unbravegirl.com, her stories are hilarious!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Ashley. Thanks for reading/commenting, and for your recommendation. I have, in fact, already been following Sally at Unbrave Girl, and she was very helpful in answering all of my questions before I made the final decision to come to China. I’m sad she’s no longer here, but I think she’s doing great things now!

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