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  • Elizabeth Cochran

My Experience with Immersion and Teaching as an English Teacher in Thailand

Only Native-English Speaker

I am just starting a whole new life in Bangkok, Thailand as an English teacher. I teach at a international Thai language school. They focus on enhancing English skills in regards to academics. The goal is for the students enrolled to gain fluency, prepare for going to a school in an English speaking country, and learn other subjects in the language. First, I am the ONLY native-English speaker at my school.

This can be quite a challenge at times in regard to communicating with co-workers. Also, culturally there is no one I can relate to fully. But that is okay. When there are cultural differences there are normally two ways understanding and misunderstanding. It can go something like this: lots of explanation and sharing differences in experience with your environment. Explain why something is the way it is from history or inferences. However, this is exhausting all the time. When patience is running thin maybe this can lead to confusion or cultural assumption. This is what some people refer to as “culture shock”. Culture shock is when the assumptions one had prior begin to change. It is overwhelming and challenges you to be critical of cultures. I find myself flowing through both. I am really excited sometimes with learning cultural differences and other times I am just tired and wish communicating was easier. That is just the whole process of it.

Tip: with being exposed to cultures the key thing to remember is patience!

The Thai flag and a temple in the background.

In regards to exposure of a new culture I enjoy asking questions as polite as I can and with a smile. When I feel they didn’t explain something in as much detail as my intuitive self was looking for I surf the web. There is everything on there!! I watch vloggers (video bloggers), find a blog, or ask another point of view to gather a more full answer. However, sometimes there is no explanation to a cultural difference it just is. I see that, but I find it fun to find the why. Some people I come across don’t get my curiosity and thankfully there are books and the internet!


These students want to come to either the US or the UK for college degrees. I teach them about public speaking, adjusting to Western style, and how to have academic discussions.

I find teaching to be quite a nice experience. I teach all age groups from little ones- 40 year old speakers wanting to gain fluency to apply in work or everyday life. The topics I help with include reading, writing, grammar, pronunciation, and fluency with conversation. I have found this to be quite fun and rewarding this far. I get to brush up on grammar, learn about others through conversing, and work on my public speaking. I teach a course with college aged students wanting to come to the UK or the US. This one has challenged my public speaking skills, but I feel more at ease due to the fact that they all are very motivated to pass the class. I am proud of this class and proud of myself for teaching them. It is hard to believe I used to hate speeches and dreaded ALL things public speaking related.

Language and immersion

Immersion to a new language can make you so very tired. It also might just be adjusting to the 12 hour time difference too though, in my case I think it is both. I often engage with native Thai speakers daily and it often exhausts my brain. The immersion of a new language is not something you can prepare for. Simple instructions such as ... “your student is this person and will be a little late today due to traffic, hold tight“ can take a long time to translate when there is broken English and Thai all in between phrases. What is a bigger challenge is when you find yourself out and a random person asks you a question. When you are at a restaurant or street food place and you want to order food. I learn a lot everyday and consistently use the phrases I know. I try the other new words even though my pronunciation is usually wrong. Thai is a tonal language which I have not grasped really yet. Patience with language will be the key to easing my transition.

When I was in Morocco I dealt with very similar things. I find that I have had a bigger challenge with understanding the Thai accent compared to other languages. I use big motions when I can, but sometimes motions don’t work which can be funny. I feel confident saying hello, goodbye, thank you, and that the food is delicious. I have received a lot of smiles from locals and my coworkers with my willingness to use it. I like to smile at Thai people a lot because I have quickly learned they will always smile back. It is quite nice. I see why they are the "land of smiles".

Even with all this said, I enjoy being immersed in a new language, a new environment, and gaining new cultural experiences. Exposure to cultures has given me an abundance of personal growth. I have learned so many things from new ways roads can be used in a huge city, facts about the culture, the way of life of locals, and the education here. I find being dropped into a whole new experience is thrilling. You can choose to embrace the immersion or sink in it. Keeping a positive mindset and an open mind will help with adapting. Whether it is halfway across the world or transitioning into a new life position.......or in my case both! I just trust my instincts by finding the things that can bring me joy. I take time to understand what I am prioritizing. I focus on allotting time for myself and lastly just being open to life!

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