3 Reasons to Teach English in Isaan, Thailand

Caroline sampling Isaan's cuisine. Caroline Fleischauer

Move over Bangkok and Chiang Mai; Isaan may be the ultimate destination for English teachers. 

Thailand is a popular destination for those looking to teach abroad. And why wouldn’t it be? Great weather, delicious food, lovely people—Thailand truly has it all.

But while most foreign teachers gravitate towards hubs such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I’m here to suggest another region of Thailand. Isaan, or northeastern Thailand, is the largest of Thailand’s five regions. Comprised of 20 provinces, this part of Thailand is the least visited by foreigners, offering unique opportunities to those intrepid enough to venture across the country. And of course, there are many rewards to living and teaching here:

1. There's a strong sense of community

Thai people are famously friendly. But in Isaan, I feel that people are even more excited to find a native English speaker.

Unlike in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, where foreigners abound, I'm unique in my community. People make an effort to speak both English and Thai with me, and the Thai teachers at my school treat me like part of their families, taking care of me like one of their own. Even the students look after me, checking in on how I’m getting home when it’s raining.

One morning, when my bike broke on the way to school, four students shuffled around on their motorbikes so I could ride with them, while another boy walked my bike to school so it could be fixed by another teacher. The families who run small restaurants on either side of my apartment know me by name and always make sure that I’m eating enough. Here, I'm not just a transient foreign face, but a valued member of the community.

2. The culture, history and cuisine of Isaan is unlike anywhere else

Isaan has the best food in Thailand—even according to the Thais! Famous som tum (a green papaya salad) is born of the Isaan region, if that gives you any indication. Food is different all over Thailand, but Isaan food is known for being especially spicy and flavourful. Sticky rice is a staple at meals, served in unique and portable baskets.

In Isaan, I'm not just a transient foreign face, but a valued member of the community.

In terms of geography, Isaan borders both Laos and Cambodia. Because of this, it has a rich history as a battleground for various historical kingdoms.

Depending on where you are in Isaan, you will likely hear a variety of languages: Central Thai, Isaan, Khmer, Hmong and other dialects. And, of course, cultural influence has left its mark on the landscape. From sprawling Chinese Temple in Nong Khai to the ruins of Phanom Rung Historical Park in Buriram, there is a wealth of varied history to see and experience.

3. You have the potential to make a greater impact as a ESL teacher

Isaan is the largest and least touristy region of Thailand. Due to this, the region sees fewer foreigners. And yet, students are still connected to the world through the Internet and dream of jobs in Bangkok or nearby regional cities. For many, a grasp of English will be beneficial to their future careers and aspirations.

As a teacher, I feel that I am able to give something to my students. Even on days where lessons fall flat or activities take away from teaching time, I get to speak and interact with them.

When I first arrived, I was the first native English speaker many of my students had ever med, and they were shy. Now, nearly a year later, they seek me out to practice English, and even the ones who have no interest in classroom learning are always ready with a cheery “hello” and a wave. 

Often, people teach because they care. I’ve found that teaching in Isaan allows me to make an impact with the students who need it most, in a school that would not be able to afford an American teacher on its own. It makes the whole experience that much more enriching and fulfilling. 

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Caroline Fleischauer

Caroline Fleischauer served as a volunteer teacher as a semester off from college and has been teaching ever since. Originally from Ithaca, NY, and a lifelong equestrian, she currently resides in Nong Khai, Thailand, where she teaches English as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), drinks a lot of Thai tea, and rides bikes instead of horses. Follow her @cfleisch10.

Website: https://www.socially-distanced.com/

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