In January, I started USAC’s program to study abroad in Thailand. During our orientation, I heard specific details about the different internships that were being offered while I would be attending classes at Chiang Mai University. I had considered interning before my arrival but was still not sure. Then I learned that I could teach English. As an English major I have thought about being a teacher, but hearing about getting experience learning to teach students whose native language is not English seemed like an exciting opportunity. At that point, I really wanted to participate in the English teacher internship but was told that there were no openings. I spoke to the executive director Jum, and she told me she would let me know if anything opened up.
It wasn’t until late February that I was informed that I had an interview for assistant English teacher at a local Thai Municipal School. I was so excited for the chance to interview but also nervous because in my research, I had heard that as an African American I might have difficulty teaching overseas. Fortunately, that was not my experience at all! In fact, the interview went so smoothly that by the end of it I was being asked if I could start the next day!
Because the school year for the municipal school was almost over, I was only able to intern for one month but it was truly the best four weeks of my educational career. After only one or two days of assisting the head English teacher, I was asked to come up with something to teach because I would be teaching the class next to myself! I was shocked but motivated to do my best work. She wasn’t far if I needed help but I was mostly on my own. After that, if I wasn’t coming up with creative ways to teach American history or explaining American games and teaching music lyrics to a Louis Armstrong song, I was doing one-on-one interviews with the students or helping to make keys for English tests.
It was a challenge to stand up in front of the class the first time knowing that many of them had no idea what I was saying, so I learned to slow down and enunciate my words as well as to repeat things several times. I usually taught 7th, 8th and 9th graders but I got the opportunity to teach 4th graders one day when my classes were doing testing; it was the best experience out of my whole time in the internship! I noticed in only one session of teaching the 4th-grade class how very different they were from the older students. They had an excitement and willingness to engage with the material that many of the older students did not. Seeing this gave me confidence to really engage with them; adjusting to fit the energy in the class came naturally! I realized that they were not just excited to learn but to learn from me. When my internship was over many of them ran up to me and asked when I was coming back. It made me feel like I had really made a difference for them and I wished that I had more time.
Interning as an English teacher was one of the highlights of my time studying abroad in Thailand. It has really encouraged me to move forward with my TESOL/TEFL so that I can teach English to international students and maybe have a chance to come back to Chiang Mai someday.
Brittany Fletcher is a California State University, Chico student. She studied abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand in Spring 2018.