From time to time Travel Teach & Play publishes interviews with other globe-trotting English teachers, both on the site and also in our kick-ass newsletter.
Recently Teacher Ric, an American teaching English in Laos, told me about his experiences and passed on some wisdom for those thinking of following in his footsteps.
How Long Have You Been Teaching English In Laos?
Tell Me A Little About Your Background
I came here from the USA. I was a software engineer in my first career, a real estate investor as a 2nd career and teaching is my 3’d career.
How did you first get started teaching abroad?
I met a teacher in my apartment complex and he helped me get my first substitute class. Strong desire to travel and live in Asia brought me here. Lower cost of living than Europe or the USA.
Tell me about your first employer in Laos
The first significant work was at Lao-Top College in Vientiane, Laos. I had done some substituting but not much experience and no TESOL certificate. I just walked in and asked for a job.
I was lucky, a teacher had just quit and the school was desperate for someone to take his classes. I started that evening! I finished his term and the students gave me high marks so I got hired full time.
While working, I got my 150 hour TESOL certificate.
What was the first night in your new home like?
Magical! Exotic and amazing!
Describe the first time you set foot in an ESL classroom in your new job.
I walked in and all of the students stood up and said “good evening teacher”. The Lao are so polite. I introduced myself and told them where I came from and a little about me. Told them the other teacher was not coming back and I would be teaching them.
I asked each student to stand up and say their name, how many years they had studied English and why they want to learn English.
How do you plan your lessons?
I look at the course book and identify a section I want to teach. A warm-up exercise involving answering questions verbally from the previous lesson. Then I make sure it has some material for me to teach and lots of work for them to do. Some involve writing some speaking.
I have each student speak their answers and I correct mistakes.
What course books do you use?
We use Northstar and Global
What advice would you give to a new teacher?
Get your TESOL first. Sit in on some classes and see what the teacher does. Substitute first and get some feedback from an experienced teacher.
What do you do in your free time?
Cook, ride my bicycle, read, eat out and travel.
How would you describe the local nightlife?
Nightlife here is limited for English speakers. The Lao people enjoy their music, karaoke, and food at many restaurants and clubs. If you don’t speak the language you won’t be able to order anything except beer and point to pictures on the menu. And you won’t understand the music but if you are adventurous and learn some basic Lao, you can enjoy it.
In the tourist areas downtown there are some bars with music and dancing. There are a few places that cater to the local expat community.
The night market along the Mekong is a must see and do.
Vientiane is pretty slow and laid back. They roll up the sidewalks early here.
What amenities are nearby?
Small markets, open air fresh markets and restaurants. No big malls yet but there are 2 smaller ones. Shopping is limited so an occasional trip over the border to Thailand for many things you can’t find here.
Have you engaged in a romantic relationship with a local?
Not a local, but someone I met online from another country who is living and working here.
What are some things Laos does really well?
The food is wonderful and the people are warm and inviting and very polite. I like the slow pace here.
The country is beautiful and largely unspoiled. Get out and enjoy it. Do a boat trip on the Mekong river.
What are some annoyances about Laos?
Driving is very difficult here and takes a lot of concentration. People don’t follow the traffic rules and there is little enforcement. The motor bikes are like a swarm of mosquitoes around your car.
There is no mail delivery. Getting stuff here from overseas is very difficult. Most online retailers don’t ship here. When you do find one that will ship here, you have to go pick it up at the post office and pay whatever tariff the clerk deems you should pay. They open your box and see what’s inside before deciding what you must pay. As a foreigner, it is always more than the locals pay.
Very limited bus service and no trains. Not many taxis either. You have to climb into a tuk-tuk and as a foreigner, they always try to charge you double.
What advice would you give to someone who just arrived in Laos?
Get a place downtown so you can have services where English is spoken. If you don’t have experience, it will be hard to find work. There are many teachers here with experience so you will be competing against them. It was just luck that I got my job.
Come here if you like a relaxed simple lifestyle. If bars and music and lots of activities are your things, go to Bangkok not here. Also, no beaches but the rivers and waterfalls are beautiful. This country attracts many eco-tourists who go on adventure treks and like the outdoors and nature.
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