Sneaking into the beach at Koh Samet

After four weeks of intensive CELTA-ing, Taylor and I snagged a bus from Ekamai bus station to the pier that gets you to a tiny little island called Koh Samet. The bus ride was just 3.5 hours and for that and the ferry it cost us 251 Baht each. We were in need of some R&R before we head off to Chiang Mai to settle down. Koh Samet is not as hyped up as the southern islands such as Koh Samui and Phuket. It’s where locals and Bangkok expats go for holiday and is a good quick getaway from the city.

We got to the beach and stayed in a budget guest house called Runa Runa. It was right on the main strip between the beach and the pier. Yes, it’s a TINY island. 

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Some tips for Koh Samet: 

  • Everything you need is a walkable. But if you go off of the main beach area, you will want to rent a motorbike. Motorbikes are 300 Baht for a day and can you get you to some nicer and more secluded beaches. 
  • Watch the sunset at least once either at Sunset Point in the south or Ao Prao Resort. The resort is freaking expensive so don’t spend too much time there. 
  • Go to the fire show! There is an amazing fire show every night at 8:30 pm at Ploy Talay on the beach. We sat down and got tables close to the front at about 6pm to reserve our space. 
  • Other than that, we chilled at the beach, relaxed, and just enjoyed a bit of down time. It was really pretty and just what we needed.  

 

How to get on the Koh Samet Sai Kaew Beach for free. 

Not gonna lie, I don’t want to be that farang that takes advantage of the system, but I have heard loads of mixed reviews about the military running after people on the beach to charge them a fee. I have heard some foreigners get charged 40 Baht while others get charged 400 Baht. Apparently there is a fee to enter the beach which is 200 Baht. But it’s not really been verified and is REALLY easy to get around (haha PUN). We were there for five days and just walked around the guards and they didn’t say a word.

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If you are walking south along the main strip, you will come to a checkpoint with two pillars. The guards are standing there charging people to enter the beach. However, right before you get there, you just walk left past the 7-Eleven and then take a quick right behind the pillar and they won’t say a word. If you’re on a motorbike you can take a back road to sneak by. We actually just drove through once and they just sat and didn’t say a word. 

We loved Koh Samet. It was our little piece of paradise before our move up to Chiang Mai!

 

International House Bangkok: CELTA abroad.

In March 2018, my boyfriend Taylor and I did a four week intensive CELTA course through International House Bangkok.  We had been planning to take this course since the summer of 2017. Now we are CELTA Cambridge grads and have a ticket to jobs around the world!

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What is a CELTACELTA formerly stands for “Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults” but has now become known as the “Certificate to Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages.”

“Employers around the world ask for CELTA. It’s the practical English language teaching qualification that gives you the essential knowledge, hands-on teaching experience and classroom confidence to qualify as a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL). CELTA is great for recent graduates, people who are changing career, or teachers who want to gain a formal qualification and may want to progress to qualifications such as Delta.” (taken from cambridgeenglish.org).

What is the difference between a CELTA and a TEFL? The CELTA course is specifically designed to teach adults. I have about three years of experience teaching ESL to children, so this was definitely a wake up call. But just because you get a CELTA, it does not mean you aren’t qualified to teach children. I see loads of job ads in Thailand asking for a TEFL or CELTA and that’s for teaching jobs for all ages.

I actually got an online TEFL in 2012 before I headed to South Korea. It was cheaper and way easier, but I thought I’d get a CELTA to continue professional development. And I thought, if I’m going to be qualified to teach abroad, I really want the BEST certificate, and I knew a CELTA through Cambridge was the more prestigious one.

To read on about comparisons and differences with TEFL and CELTA check here.

Why IH Bangkok? With the CELTA course offered in about 70 countries, I really just had my heart set on Thailand. I had been before and knew I wanted to end up living in SE Asia. I also knew that Bangkok would be more affordable than going and living elsewhere. The International House Bangkok school has a new location at the Trendy Building off of the BTS stop “Nana.” It’s a great and central location in Bangkok.

What’s the cost?  The cost of the course at International House Bangkok is $1,600 USD.

Here are some prices of other popular locations in the world that offer the exact same course:

  • IH London – $2,130 + $200 Cambridge registration fee
  • IH San Diego – $2,495 + $200 Cambridge registration fee

Just seeing those two prices alone shows that we saved about $1,000  at International House Bangkok for the exact same course. And bonus! Bangkok has an overall much lower cost of living.

  • You can see a list of all of the locations and varying prices here.

If you take a four week in person TEFL course the average cost is $1,500 – $2,000. So don’t fool yourself thinking that you should take a TEFL instead just to save money.

What’s the accommodation situation? International House Bangkok had a few options of where we could live for the month. It was nice because that was all sorted before we arrived in Thailand. In Thailand it’s really easy to find a furnished place with a short term lease. We ended up staying at the cheapest option on IH Bangkok’s list. That was the VP Tower off of the Victory Monument BTS station which was just six stops and very easily accessible to our CELTA training center. It costs us only about $450 USD. It also had a pool, cleaning service and a little balcony from our 12th story.

We loved the Victory Monument neighborhood because we were just steps away from what became our favorite cafe, found an all you can eat for $3 Indian food restaurant, and had our go-to Thai restaurant where plates were $2 each. We ended up eating there so much that the hostess would bring us beer the moment we walked in. I don’t remember the name of the place but it’s just across the street from the mall on the south side and has some outdoor seating next to a massage parlor.

What kind of visa do you need? International House Bangkok recommended that we get a 60 day tourist visa before our arrival. That was easily done for us through the Portland consulate. We just mailed in our passports, paid $40, and got the visas back to us within a week. It’s highly encouraged to get a tourist visa so that you aren’t sweating the stress of having to go to an embassy during or right after the course. You’ll be thankful to have it all done beforehand.

Who are you teaching? My favorite thing that I learned upon being a teacher trainee during the CELTA course was that the students got to take the English classes for free. They would put down a small deposit and get it back as soon as they attended a certain amount of classes. Most of the students were refugees from other countries and varied in ages from 17-40. Some of my students were university students studying law, businessmen and women, or in the tourist industry. While some trainees would teach 14 students at a time, my group always had an average of about six students.

Where is a CELTA recognizedA CELTA is recognized globally. However, employers in Asia typically won’t see a difference between a CELTA and a TEFL. From what I have heard and researched, a CELTA is more prestigious in Europe.

If you have any additional questions about the CELTA feel free to contact me!

CELTA LIFE AND SCHEDULE: A CELTA is a LOT of work, but it’s totally doable.

Grammar refresher courseAs a native speaker, I hate grammar. I was more nervous about this part than any other when signing up for the CELTA. Because of that, I decided to take a two-day grammar refresher course at International House Bangkok right before the CELTA course began. This did tack on an additional $150, but it was completely worth it. After those two days I felt that I actually knew grammar, knew the names of all of the tenses, understood them, and wanted to learn more! I highly recommend the grammar refresher course to anyone who may be a bit doubtful.

Here’s the honest truth of what life was like during the CELTA course in Bangkok. Keep in mind International House Bangkok brings in Cambridge assessors during the course to make sure that all of the courses around the world are the same. So regardless of where you go, it’ll look something like this:

There were 30 students in our cohort from all over the world. Native and non-native speakers and people with over 20 years of teaching experience while others had none.

That group of 30 was split into two. I was a part of the group of 18. We did all of our teaching in the mornings. The teaching was done within our groups of six. We would watch each other and give each other feedback. The afternoons were spent with our group of 18 in our teaching tutorials.

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Every trainee must teach eight 45-minute classes, observe their classmates teaching while taking tedious notes, and do four written assignments. The CELTA class hours are from 9 or 9:45 am (depending if it is your day to teach) until 5pm. You get a one hour lunch break. I would always arrive by 8am to work on lesson plans or assignments and leave right after class to go do more lesson planning at home.

So what is in the lesson plan? You will teach four lessons to elementary level students and four lessons to intermediate level students. You will have to teach a grammar lesson for each level. Don’t worry; it’s really not that bad (although I cried after one of them). You then have varied assigned lessons such as reading, writing, speaking, listening, functions, and vocabulary. During the first week you need to plan, but you don’t need to do the CELTA formatted lesson plan. Each week you have to write lessons and each week you will have less help from your tutors. They hold your hand the first week but let you become more independent throughout. By the last week, you are expected to do everything on you own and it’s really not bad at that point. For me, I would spend about five hours on each lesson plan. It was very time consuming, but I made powerpoints and had them written out in detail. The CELTA expects you to be very detailed and it can be a bit tedious for someone, like me, who is used to just opening a book and winging it. 

What are the four written assignments? 

  • The first assignment was definitely the most difficult for me. It was a lexis analysis, function analysis, and grammar analysis that had to do with the topic of the lesson. Although this was initially difficult for me, it helped me understand what was expected in the lesson plans and lessons.
  • The second assignment was about student learning. These were things that they did well and didn’t do well in class. It’s important to take notes while observing because if you take good notes, this assignment is a breeze. 
  • The third assignment was to create a lesson based off a reading. You have a lot of freedom and room for error, but if you listen to your trainers during the tutorial sessions, this lesson is fun and not difficult either. 
  • The last assignment is a self-reflection. Again, it’s easy. You just look through your portfolio and notes from the course and then you are set. You put it together, give yourself a pat on the back and are good to go! 

 

Week 1: 

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Weekend 1: We spent Saturday morning at a cooking class in Bangkok and the afternoon at a friend’s engagement party. There was zero CELTA-ing all day on Saturday.

On Sunday Taylor and I went to the center around 9am to work on our first assignment and finish our lesson plans for Monday. We spent the entire day there until we were kicked out at closing time.

Week 2:

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Weekend 2: We spent Saturday biking around the Green Lung area on the south side of Bangkok. Another non-CELTA Saturday. Sunday we stayed home to lesson plan for our Monday classes. At this point I was extremely stressed out and there may have been a few tears. Week 2 was the most difficult for me mentally and emotionally.

Week 3:

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Weekend 3: We relaxed, saw friends, and easily flew through our lesson planning for Monday’s class.

Week 4:

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Weekend 4: Bus to Koh Samet for a beachy holiday on Saturday! Woohoo!

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Overall – and looking back – I loved it. Maybe my boyfriend will laugh at that because yes, I cried a lot. I’m also just an emotional person. But it was hard, but completely doable and worth it. We made great CELTA friends and are so happy that we did it. I currently am just going to work online but hope to teach at a school in Europe in a few years and Taylor is on the job hunt this week!

What was it like getting a CELTA with my boyfriend? Honestly, I was not thrilled about it going into the course. During my interview I asked the trainer who interviewed me if my boyfriend and I could be placed in different mini-groups if we were both to get accepted. She jotted down our names and luckily took note of that. We were in the larger group of 18 together, but not in the same group of 6 which consisted of giving each other feedback. 

In the end it really worked out, we helped each other lesson plan, had the same grueling schedule, and made plenty of friends in our class throughout. Yes, I am quite a drama queen and spent a few evenings in tears because I was stressed or we were easily irritable toward each other. We had been traveling together for a bit and hadn’t had a moment apart in over seven weeks. But in the end, it worked out and it was nice to be close with someone who understood what you were going through.

So why did I even want to get a CELTA? When I was teaching in South Korea, I had a TEFL, but I had a few friend who had gotten a CELTA and they said that although it was  a lot of work, it was one of the best decisions they made. I figure that a four week course that can be a ticket to the world would definitely be worth it.

 

Words from the other trainees:

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Half way CELTA party at Cheap Charlie’s in Bangkok

 

Craig, 30-something from the UK but has lived in Thailand for 6-ish years

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“The best part of the CELTA course was working with other trainees who had more experience teaching small groups than I did. I am used to teaching classroom with about 50 students. For more experienced teachers, CELTA opens you up to new possibilities which I will apply to even my larger classes. I learned a lot from the people around me. The worst part of the CELTA was feeling overwhelmed at times with the amount of work required. You need to adapt to the CELTA requirements from your own teaching background. I felt that because I came from an institution where I was let loose to teach whatever I wanted and that had it’s drawbacks. I was very tired during my last week because of my inefficient lesson planning. Again, I had come from an institution (teaching university level) where lesson plans were an alien concept. The key is to not beat yourself up too badly as some people may have prepared in advance more than you. Just do your best and don’t compare yourself to others because CELTA is hard for everyone!”

 

Yulia, 32 from Russia but has lived in Thailand for 2 years

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“I have taught for over 11 years. Now I am working in one of the private Thai schools. I took the CELTA course in Bangkok because it’s important for my development as a teacher and it was suitable as I’m living here. I’ve known about the course a lot but my own experience exceeded all my expectations. I really liked it and it brought me great experience and new cool people in my life.”

 

Marc, 40-something from Canada

“I wanted to keep doing what I loved somewhere nice year round with great food and great people. Traveling is in my blood. As for the CELTA – work hard, but don’t be too hard on yourself and you will be fine. The worst experience for me was giving up in week three. The best experience was being reassured not to. I also liked partying with CELTA friends. The program was demanding, but doable.”

 

Leslie, 40-something from Canada but has lived and taught in Japan for the past 20 years

“I came in with 20+ years of TEFL experience, but with little training. I decided to get my CELTA to gain new perspective, to help break bad habits, and fill in the wholes that my experience hasn’t filled. Now I’m considering either a TESOL MA or the DELTA. I rather enjoyed assisting the fresher trainees and think that maybe being a teacher trainer might be a good fit for me in my autumn years.”

 

Rena, 30-something from the US but has lived and taught in Thailand for 6 years

“The best part was learning from and being inspired by all of the people I shared the experience with throughout the course: the trainers, students, and classmates. The worst was struggling to compartmentalize what I already knew about teaching. It felt like knowing how to speak a language then going back and learning the grammar. Overall, it was absolutely worth it. I think a big part of teaching is constant reflection, improvement, and growth. I saw this as a way to learn more about myself as an educator and to become a better teacher for my learners. My next step is to obtain a master’s in Educational Technology.”

 

Andy, 30-something from the UK but has lived and taught in Thailand for 10-ish years

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“The best part was learning new teaching techniques and getting a chance to use them and work out how to apply them to larger and smaller classes. Meeting new people and learning about my flaws and how to improve them was also cool. The tutors were also amazing. The worst part was trying to change old habits. The assignments were interesting but also a little pedantic. Basic and really detailed lesson plans could have been given to us as examples to show what we should aim for. Overall it was totally worth it. I wish I’d done it earlier and I’d recommend any teacher to do it every ten years or a refresher course of this type. I did it to refresh myself and get some new ideas. I’ll probably do a master’s in technology or maybe a DELTA.”

 

Greg, 26 from Texas

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“The best part was meeting people with similar goals and learning an entirely new skill since I have never taught before. The worst part was when I had worked on a really hard part of a lesson plan and it just didn’t seem to click with the students.”

 

 

 

That SUPER cheap train ride

I spent just a quick weekend in Bangkok in August 2014. I was there on a layover before heading over to Cambodia and Vietnam for the next four months. I spent the weekend walking through the streets and hopping around with no real goal in mind. Unfortunately, my bag was lost and of course I was mad at myself for not having packed extra clothes or a toothbrush in my carry on – so I felt a bit helpless. I stayed at a hostel across the street from the train station. I was planning on going the budget route and would take a 7 hour train ride from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet for 48 baht – which is about the equivalent to $1.30. Then I would cross the border and take a bus the rest of the way to Siem Reap. I was a bit nervous as I would have to wake up at around 4am, head to the train station, hope that I would actually get on the right train, and make the border crossing. As soon as I arrived at the train station I met a Dutch girl about my age who was making the same trek. It’s always nice to meet someone who can watch your bags when you gotta pee. The third class train was such an experience. It was slow, uncomfortable, and very beautiful.

Locked out of my hostel in Chiang Mai

My first big trip out of Korea was to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I wanted to see northern Thailand and explore the countryside nearby. I went for a week right after Christmas 2012. It was my first REAL time traveling completely solo and I was both nervous and excited. 

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The night that I arrived I took a taxi to my hostel. I made the mistake of sitting down in the driver seat because I didn’t realize that they drive on the left side of the road. I showed up pretty late to Eco Resort where I would be staying. In the lobby I found a note saying which room I would be sleeping in. I walked on over and knocked on the door. It was locked and no one was answering.  I wandered around looking for signs of life and there was NOTHING. I pounded on the door again a bit frustrated that I didn’t have a place to sleep. STILL NOTHING. I laid down in the hall and dozed near my backpack. Eventually I tried knocking a third time and an older woman finally answered the door. She didn’t speak any English but I saw a spare bed and passed out. 

I was out and about all day every day. I played with tigers, which I now completely understand is very controversial and I still feel a bit guilty about it. I also went to an elephant sanctuary, built a river raft with a German family, and spent a day up north in Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. From there I went to Laos for about an hour to buy some fake ray bans. I went to many different villages and felt the western $guilt$ seeping in and bought all of the Thai pants.

Continuing on this go-go-go adventure, I also went mountain biking. Now, about mountain biking, I was like, “Yeah, duh I can ride a bike.” And then, “Why are you making me wear knee pads, shin guards, face pads, elbow pads, WTF?!” It was horrible. Horrible AND beautiful. I fell at least five times and it was one of the scariest and most difficult things I could have signed up for. Yet, we biked all over the mountains that surrounded the outskirts of Chiang Mai and went to different coffee plantations along the way. It was BEAUTIFUL. The picnic lunch and beers on a hidden lake at the end of the day were a treat, as well. 

I was also able to meet some of my parents’ college friends who live there. I spent a day going on a trip to some different waterfalls with their kids Lynda and Patrick -who were about my age. In the evening they taught me how to make the delicious Thai corn fritters. They made me feel at home in a place I had never been to.

I love Thailand.