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The 5 Types of EFL Teachers You’ll Meet Abroad

TEFL staff at Jennalyn's school in Thailand. Jennalyn Christopherson

Teaching English overseas? Meet your co-workers.

Living abroad, you’re bound to meet a ton of different types of folks—both locals and expats alike. After meeting dozens upon dozens of teachers you begin recognizing patterns. Here are five types of expat teachers that I’ve encountered in the past 10 months:

1. The Lifer

Let me start by saying that there are a few types of Lifers, but they all have something in common—they are here to stay. They can’t imagine moving back home ever and have successfully nestled themselves into a community here. I’ve met several people at different stages of their Thailand relationship; some had planned it, and others just got sucked into a love affair with this beautiful country. For example, one of my coworkers unexpectedly fell in love with a Thai girl and is now on the marriage track, while a TESOL peer of mine was planning on staying in here for at least a decade. (I found this pretty shocking considering he was five years younger than me and I don’t even know what I want to do next month!)

Whether the stay was premeditated or not, the characteristics of a Lifer remain pretty constant. They love the country, the culture, the weather, the food and they can’t ever imagine moving back to their homeland. They likely have a Thai significant other and a good command of the language. If they’re more seasoned they never put any effort into their lesson planning, simply because it’s now second nature to them, having taught for so long.

2. The “Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed” Teacher

Equipped with an optimistic outlook on life, the "Bright-eye and Bushy-tailed" teacher has come to Thailand to change the world. They’re here to improve the lives of some adorable Thai children and will stop at nothing to make sure they do. They are typically younger, ask a lot of questions and are looking for ways to improve the education sector however they can. I’m always astonished by what these types of people can accomplish, because sometimes the Thai school system feels stuck in the 1950s.

I’ve met quite a few of these teachers, but the most notable is a friend from my TESOL course named Tristan. He was the youngest in our group, having just turned 19. . .but, man! That energetic joie de vivre totally worked for him. He was placed in a North-eastern village with no other foreigners and that did all but slow him down. At the end of his first semester, he organized a three-day English camp for hundreds of students, which he and his family graciously footed the bill for. If you want to teach in Thailand, I would aim to take a page out of Tristan’s book.

3. The Party Animal

Living in Phuket, I have encountered many, many "Party Animal" teachers. They’re usually on the younger side (before hangovers start lasting multiple days), and teaching is just a way to fund the next night on Bangla Road. They, unsurprisingly, don’t have the best work ethic, sometimes coming into work on no sleep (if they show up at all).

Last semester I had a textbook “Party Animal” coworker. One weekend he ferried over to Koh Phi Phi and was having so much fun that he called in on Monday morning saying we’d see him again on Thursday. These people are a blast to meet on the road, but I don’t recommend working with them if you can help it; you will end up picking up a lot of the slack. And for goodness sake, please don’t become one! If you came to Thailand to teach, that’s what you should be doing.

4. The New Career Teacher

This person is usually middle-aged and is looking for a change from their everyday. They have usually worked many years in a completely different field, and have found a reason to leave their home and do something they’ve always wanted to—in this case, teach in Thailand. I’m very impressed with these teachers for that reason. I mean, come on—how many 50-year-olds do you know that are willing to uproot their entire life?

Unfortunately though, sometimes they have had to leave their country for undesirable reasons. For example, I’ve met older South Africans that have left their friends and family behind because their home is too unsafe; they have moved here in hopes that they can move their parents and children over in a few years time. Regardless, these teachers all possess the famed Generation X work ethic. That, and the vast catalogue of stories they have makes them wonderfully interesting co-workers.

5. The “Directionless” Teacher

I would go out on a limb to say a majority of teachers fall in the "Directionless" group, myself included. It’s comforting to meet others in this category, because it means it’s okay to be floundering a little bit. These teachers range from young 20s to mid-30s, which is a huge gap when you think about it! They may have had a previous career or have just graduated from college. In either case they have moved abroad to see the world, explore themselves, and hopefully find some direction before they move back home (unless they transition to Lifers and never make it back home).

As teachers, they vary. Some work hard, others don’t take the job seriously—it’s a mixed bag. Personally, I put effort into my job but I don’t take it too seriously. These teachers tend to stay as long as they are still searching for purpose, which is a very personal journey. I know someone who left before completing the TESOL course because he felt he found all of the answers after three weeks; others take a couple of years. Regardless, it’s an eye-opening adventure.

There is no right or wrong group to be a part of; everyone's at a different stage in their life with different intentions.

What group do you see yourself in?

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Jennalyn Christopherson

Jennalyn Christopherson’s parents were kind enough to infect her with the travel bug, which led to five moves across the International Date Line. Her current adventure is teaching in Phuket, Thailand, where she’s improving both her patience and her tan.

Website: justanadventurer.wordpress.com

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