Guest Post by Cameron Conaway
My fiancée Maggie and I were at a Thai restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were two burnt out teachers and we were only in our mid-twenties. She was finishing her second year working at a boarding school for kids with learning disabilities – a job that was often twenty-four hours a day for five or six days a week – and I’d been teaching for several years all over the place – from Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to high schools in Tucson, Arizona and, most recently, for several online universities. The tipping point occurred as we dove into our spring rolls and pad Thai.
Maggie’s eyes filled with tears. Her face was angelic; these were not tears of stress.
“Are you okay, babe?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just…I know what’s next for me. I know what I need.”
She looked around and I followed her eyes into the Buddha and temple relics. Her eyes came back to mine:
“I need to move abroad and teach. Are you joining me?”
A former MMA fighter, I’d long dreamed of training in the motherland of Muay Thai. As a writer, I’d long sensed that I needed an abroad experience but the sense didn’t become something I could articulate until this very moment. I reached across the table and we joined hands. “I’m in. Let’s do this.”
And so it began. As Maggie spent another nine months finishing out her contract we researched Thailand extensively. Was this the place for us? How long should we stay? What will we do for work? Will Thailand be a good hub to explore the rest of Asia?
It’s now been well over two years and here I am writing this post from Bangkok. Here are a few lessons about teaching and training I’ve learned along the way.
Some say online schooling is the future of education. Decreasing fractions of people still don’t take it as seriously as a traditional on-the-ground experience. Regardless, if traveling the world is a dream of yours I cannot imagine a better or more rewarding job. Most universities now offer an online component – even Harvard University – and the 24 graduate-degree credits often listed as the basic requirement for the job is something many people have or can get within two years. As long as I can get Wi-Fi for a few days a week the entire world is open to me. So far I’ve graded papers and held online class discussions while in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam and the Philippines. I’m able to dive into cultures, explore new religions and visit breathtaking places all while maintaining employment and being paid in US dollars (which can go quite far depending on where you are in Asia).
Within one week of arriving in Thailand, Maggie used AJARN.com to land five interviews and then eventually scored a job teaching at a kindergarten here. While her job doesn’t come with the kind of flexibility as mine, her experience working with Thai children and being employed full-time at a school in an entirely different country has to be one of the deepest, most enriching experiences a traveler could ever have. During her time off we often pick a country and go. Her contract ends in April 2013 and we’ll spend the following three months exploring India, China, Japan, Korea, Nepal and Taiwan.
There are also plenty of opportunities to be an English tutor here in Thailand. We’ve met many travelers who tutor through companies or simply freelance and they’re able to make a decent living here.
Foreigners are called “farangs” here in Thailand and they come in the droves to train in muay Thai. Many MMA fighters come for the authentic training while others simply dive into the country’s national sport as a way to experience Thai culture. Whatever your reasons, here are some tips:
(1) Gym sanitation isn’t a priority here like it is in the States. In many ways, muay Thai has become the poor man’s sport in Thailand and this means many gyms are struggling financially. I’ve personally watched trainers and fighters alike pick up skin rashes and other infections from the mats. While the “authentic” muay Thai training experience in Thailand is truly awesome, it may also come with some…bacterial costs.
(2) You get what you pay for. The popular gyms like Fairtex draw in top fighters for a reason. They often have the best facilities and the best coaches. However, gyms like Master Woody’s Luktupfah Muay Thai are proving that some* gyms in Thailand are continuing to evolve their sport. You can expect to pay US prices to train at gyms like this, but you’ll be working with legends and surrounded not only by retired champions but also by elite Thai fighters who have an infectious intensity.
(3) *I say some because in many ways the muay Thai in the United States is far better than in Thailand. There are systems in place, techniques are more thoroughly discussed and it’s viewed from a more scientific point of view. Some gyms here in Thailand have become complacent in their art form, and many others are essentially gym “mills” where they’ll tire you out on the mitts but not actually teach you anything.
Lastly, don’t be fooled by how the movies and media focus almost exclusively on the stereotypes or the negatives of Thailand. Of all my travels so far, Thailand still stands out to me for its fascinating culture, its unbelievably gentle people and, in my opinion, it has some of the greatest cuisines on earth. It’s worth exploring for a few weeks, or years.
Please feel free to shoot me an email if Thailand is on your list of places to explore.