This post has been written by Jade Raynor-Poppleton
Sitting in London’s Pride, a pub in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, I looked over to my boyfriend, Luke, and said, “Are you okay?” Hunched over his pint, it was clear he was not okay. Leg twitching, and visibly uncomfortable, he mumbled back, “I’ll be alright once I’m on that plane.’ At the time, Luke was a nervous flyer, but this was a different kind of nervous and it was one I shared. We were both thinking the same thing – are we making the right decision moving to Thailand?
Just 24 hours before, we’d been back in our home in Wakefield packing the final bits of our life into boxes to be stored away (yes, I know what you’re thinking! Who is still packing the morning they’re due to move?) and saying our final farewells. But finally, after 5 months of preparing, it was time to wave goodbye to our little terraced house and head to the train station, armed with just one suitcase each.
It goes without saying that moving abroad is a ‘Big Thing’. But, the funny thing is, when we were packing up all our earthly possessions, checking that we had printed, signed, scanned and returned all the documentation we needed, emailing new colleagues who were thousands of miles away to discuss planning and doing all that while we were still teaching our current Year 6 classes, neither of us really thought about the enormity of the ‘Big Thing’ we were about to do. It was only when we found ourselves with nothing left to organise did we start considering how this was going to affect us.
We spent the day before the flight exploring London, trying to ignore our doubts, focusing on the positives and enjoying our last day in Blighty. Don’t get me wrong; we were so excited. But we’d been excited since landing the job in March. We’d discussed our doubts from time to time throughout the months we were preparing but – mostly - we were filled with excitement. The conversation throughout that day reflected our fluctuating emotions. “Do you think we are going to like our condo?”, “Do you think we will get homesick?”, “Where are we going to go during our holidays? We get an extra week off at Christmas!”, “Do you imagine we will stay longer than the two years…do you think we will last the initial two years?” Neither of us really knew the answers; we hypothesised, we discussed what could be the worst-case scenario but really, it was just the blind trying to reassure the blind.
The following day, we were up nice and early for our flight. We continued to experience that range of emotions but a new one had appeared. We were actually excited to get to the airport to see if we would bump into any of our new colleagues. The school had placed us into a Facebook group so we could get to know each other before we arrived. Due to start at the same time as us, were around 40 new starters, most of whom were heading to Thailand that day, so we knew we would be in good company…or so we thought.
Everything so far had gone smoothly. We’d checked in, been through passport control and we were looking for the prearranged meeting spot. “Do you recognise anyone?” I asked. Neither of us could find a familiar face. Forty people all flying to Thailand on the same day to work at the same school; surely we should have been able to spot someone from that group? Luke went online and posted a message to ask if anyone was nearby. A few moments later we got a reply. ‘Our flight isn’t until this afternoon; we aren’t even at the airport.’ Several more messages like that came through. We checked our tickets; we were due to fly at 10am. Had there been some kind of mistake?
Eventually, after a series of frantic message exchanges between us, the other new starters waiting to come to the airport and members of SLT on the other side of the world, we found out that there had been a slight mix up with the flights and we were the only couple due to be on the flight out in the morning. Everyone else would be turning up the following day. At the time, this made us feel a little on edge, but we would soon come to realise things like this were par for the course in the world of international teaching.
Thirteen hours later, we landed at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. Tired, weary and jet lagged, we hauled our suitcases through the crowds of people, scanning for some clue as to which way we should go. Eventually, we found a sign with our names on it and the logo for the school which we had now become so familiar with. We were led to a minibus that would take us the hour and a half down the Gulf towards our new home in Pattaya.
You don’t have to be on the road long in Thailand before you realise that the rules of the road are practically non-existent. You name it, I’ve probably seen it on those roads! Driving up the wrong way on the hard shoulder, a family of five all sitting on one small moped, taxi drivers texting with one hand and smoking with the other with no regard for the steering wheel! It is an experience being on those roads. One we were not at all ready for after having almost no sleep for 36 hours.
We drove through the streets of Pattaya and my first impression was not a good one. I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it. One thing I did notice was that there were a lot of dogs around the streets. Soi dogs are everywhere in Pattaya but they are not particularly dangerous unless they are frightened, it’s dark or you’re near their young. I learned very quickly that one of my favourite hobbies, running, was going to be very challenging.
Finally, we arrived at our condo. I was keen to shower, get some food and explore our new surroundings. After a quick debrief from Sara, a member of SLT who had picked us up with the minibus driver, we were able to go and see our new home. Luke turned the key, which didn’t budge until it was forced, and we opened the door. I took one look inside and I was devastated. It was not at all what I expected based on the pictures we had seen. It was old, tired and dirty. I was trying my hardest not to get upset. But what I won’t say out loud, my face will say for me and Luke immediately knew I was not happy. In my head, the place we had chosen to live would be our new home for the entire time we were out there and the idea of having to find somewhere to live without the help of the school filled me with dread. By this point, I really wanted to fly home.
Dear reader, I tell you these events not to frighten you, but to enlighten you. The road to international teaching is a bumpy one. It is important to be prepared for that and to realise that things are not going to go exactly the way you have them mapped out in your head. But you observe, seek advice and adapt. The school appeared unorganised but so what; how many schools are truly perfectly organised? The school turned out to be pretty amazing. The roads in Thailand are scary; no big deal, we just became more vigilant when we did drive and mainly used public transport (by which I mean the pickup trucks with benches welded in the back that cost about 20p to ride – amazing). The condo we chose was gross, so we asked around and found other places that were available. We ended up moving to a building with its own pool, gym, jacuzzi and private beach. These things (among others) worked out because we were flexible, adaptable and patient and, as a result, we had the most amazing experience. We visited so many countries as well as exploring Thailand and we met the most incredible people (shout out to my Thai family!).
The decision to up sticks and jet off is not an easy one to make; there are numerous things to take into consideration. Will the school be a good fit for me? What will the children be like? How will this be different to teaching in the UK? And this is all before you’ve even considered what you’ll need to pack! One of the great things about teaching internationally is the range of people you meet. Everyone has their own reasons for leaving, everyone has their own experience preparing for the move and everyone has their own stories to tell about process. One thing is certain: no amount of preparing and organising can truly make you feel ready for the move – not even reading this blog.