Our First Week of Teaching at Assumption University, Bangkok

After returning from Laos with our work visas, we were ready to move in, get settled, and start school. We had a week until classes started and we spent that time moving into and setting up our new dorm rooms. When couples live in the dorms, they give them two rooms. We didn’t realize, but we had an option to choose between two different types of rooms – on the third floor the rooms are a little smaller and don’t have balconies, and then on the fourth floor, the rooms are a little bigger and have huge balconies. We were told that we could have our pick between two rooms on the 3rd floor or 2 on the 4th. The 4th floor, however, would cost us 1500 baht per month per room ($50). After seeing the rooms, we decided that we wanted the best of both worlds – so we asked if we could take one room on the 3rd floor and one on the 4th, and we were told that we could!

We unpacked and quickly realized how little stuff we had. Even after a few trips to the Mega (the huge mall that’s about 30 minutes away from campus – with a free shuttle that takes students and teachers there every hour from noon to 8), we still had very little and were already wondering if the bigger room was worth the money. Either way, after a week, we were pretty much settled. For some weird reason, they don’t really do anything to cater to the fact that we’re a married couple (it still feels weird to say that!). Each of our two rooms had a small single bed in it, and we were told that it was against the rules to do any furniture moving. Well, there’s no way we were going to sleep together on a single bed and even less likely was us each sleeping in a separate room (though Dave didn’t seem to mind this idea very much – I, of course, wouldn’t have it though).

After speaking to another couple living down the hall from us, they told us that they had moved one of the beds from one of their rooms to another. Considering the fact that this involved taking apart and carrying a huge wooden bed frame from one floor to another, we decided this idea was out. Dave suggested that instead, we move just the mattress downstairs (we had decided that our 3rd floor room would be for sleeping and our 4th floor room would be for eating/hanging out) and put it next to the other bed. We could start out sleeping together on the bed and then one of us could move down to the “floor bed” each night when that got too uncomfortable. I very quickly vetoed this. His next suggestion was that we bring just the mattress down and then get an air mattress to put on top of it, in the hopes of making the “floor bed” the same height as the other bed. I vetoed this idea too, but at least it was a slight improvement.

Finally, we settled on making our entire bed a king-sized floor bed. We would take both mattresses off the frames, use the frame on the 4th floor as a make-shift couch (which required us to get a mattress pad and some pillows – this idea actually turned out quite well!) and the frame on the 3rd floor as extra storage (this too is working out quite well as a storage area for all of our school stuff).

Anyway, as I mentioned already, it took us a week and way too many trips to the Mega, but we were all settled and ready to go before school started. Mid-way through the week, we received our schedules (we still hadn’t received any training, but at least we knew what classrooms we needed to be in and when), which were ridiculous. We both had Tuesdays and Fridays off, and then Dave also had off Monday mornings and Wednesday mornings (until November 20, when he’ll start teaching another class on Wednesday mornings through the end of the semester in December). Somehow I got an extra class on my schedule, so I was teaching 3 full days, Monday/Wednesday/Thursday. I guess with 2 days off a week though, I couldn’t complain.

On Monday morning, we walked to campus together (about a ten minute commute from our dorms) to pick up some paperwork and our class lists. We had tried several times during the previous week to pick all of this up, but to no avail. We were told that everything would be ready Monday morning. Unfortunately for us, the biggest planners ever, everything in Thailand is extremely last minute. From meetings to class schedules to holiday dates, we have learned very quickly, that we will pretty much never be able to plan anything very far in advance. Luckily though, everything always somehow seems to work out.

Ok, back to our first day. At Assumption, each English level has a teacher A and a teacher B. A is the reading and writing teacher, while B is the listening and speaking teacher. We were told that native English speakers are almost always the Teacher B because we’re better at listening to pronunciation, and we were no exception. I was the B Teacher for English 1 and Dave for English 4. I would be teaching a more basic level English for our first semester, while Dave was teaching the most advanced level.

We had both spent some time over the past couple of weeks preparing our course plans for the semester, only to pick up our course packets on Monday and learn that our schedules were off by a week. In the course packets we had been given in our initial meeting when we first arrived in Bangkok, it said that the semester would be 8 weeks, while in the new, revised outlines, it said 9. I guess this was just one more example of why you can’t really prepare in advance.

After picking up our paperwork, Dave went home to watch the Bears game, and I went to my first class. As a teacher B, you are more of a facilitator than anything else. We don’t really have to teach any new material, instead, we introduce topics that our students will be discussing in pairs or groups in class and then we listen to them present. My first class went really well and the three hours flew by. After just one class I thought I would like being a teacher… and then every class after that just got easier and easier, once I was more comfortable with the timing of all of the activities, etc. After day 1 though, I knew that the hardest part about this job would be remembering these kids names. Remembering 6 classes of 30 students with names like Dan or Joe would be hard enough… but when they have names like Sawatsaphon (seriously, that is a name of one of my kids) it’s almost impossible. But, if that’s the most challenging part of the job, I think I’ll be ok.

We were ready for a full week of classes (and by full, I mean 3 days of classes), but we came home on Monday to an email saying that Wednesday was a holiday so we should notify our students that there would be no class. We had no idea how to notify these students that we hadn’t even met though! Anyway, as if 2 days off a week wasn’t enough, now we had 3… and this was only our first week!

We had heard about an area near campus where a lot of the teachers go out/hang out, so on Tuesday night, we decided to check it out (hey, what else we were going to do? It was pretty much a Saturday night for us!). We heard that Bangbo was a very Thai area, so we enlisted our new friend and neighbor Matt (an ex-marine American who has lived on and off here for three years and who speaks fluent Thai) to come with us. We had dinner, which turned into Karaeoke, which turned into bar hopping near campus. We ended meeting a few other teachers at a bar where many of the students hang out. While in class, all of my students had seemed so shy and reserved and now here they all were drinking, smoking, and dancing on tables! It was pretty funny and interesting to see. We had a great night, made some new friends, and woke up the next morning with some pretty massive hangovers.

Wednesday is movie day at the Mega (movies are cheaper than normal), and we had been planning on seeing either Prisoners or The Butler all week. We had looked up the movie times the day before and saw that there was a 3:00 movie and 4:00 movie, so we took the free shuttle and went straight up to the movie theater to get tickets. Well, it turns out that movie day is also the day that they change the movie schedules – and for this week, that just meant that they were no longer showing either of the movies we wanted to see. We were so bummed, this was our whole plan for the day!! Luckily though, as soon as we left the movie theater area, we stumbled upon a whole new area of restaurants and a market, which of course, kept us busy for a while. This ended up being just one more example of us trying to plan something in advance, only to learn that you really can’t plan anything in advance here.  And as always, our backup plan ended up being better than the original one.

Before heading home, we picked up food from the market for dinner and also for dinner the next night. We learned that the market only lasted for a few weeks, so we wanted to try everything that looked good. We were both really excited about the food we got, but then we somehow lost one of our dishes between when we bought it and when we got home. UGH!

On Thursday, we had another full day of classes (actually, Dave’s first full day!). Again, they went well for both of us, but we couldn’t believe that by 4:30pm, we were already on “weekend #2” of the week. We hoped that we’d be able to keep ourselves busy with all this free time. We had heard about one of the teachers hosting a weekly Thursday night movie night, and after we met him at the bar on Tuesday, we told him we’d be there this week and probably every week. We had another great night watching Pain & Gain (which was better than I thought it would be) and meeting some new people. So far, everyone we met was very cool and interesting and I was excited to get to know everyone better.  And the coolest part is that of the teachers we’ve met, they hail from all over the world (the US, Mexico, Italy, Holland, China, etc.).

After two weeks on campus, Dave and I were itching to get back to Bangkok. We learned that one of the best and cheapest ways to get to the city from our school is to take the free van to the Mega, then a free shuttle from the Mega to the BTS (the citywide train system) and then the BTS into the city. It was a lot of different steps, but it was cheap and pretty easy. We had booked a hotel for the night in Sukhumvit, which we heard has great clubs and bars and was one of the only areas of the city we hadn’t yet explored.

We were staying right on Soi 11, which is one of the two main going out areas in Sukhumvit. We dropped our stuff off and walked from that area to Soi 55, which is the other going out area. Both places seemed great, and we were excited to go out! We were a little too early for going out on Soi 55, so after checking out the scene, we decided that we’d have to come  back there another time, and went back to Soi 11 to check out Cheap Charlies, a bar with no roof or walls that we had heard great things about. On our way back, we got a text from one of the other teachers telling us that a bunch of them were all going out on Khaosan Road, and asking us to join. As you might remember, we spent our entire first week in Bangkok staying on Khaosan Road, so we weren’t dying to go back, but we figured this was a great chance to meet some new people, so we hopped in a taxi and met everyone out.

We ended up having a really fun night first at a bar, and then at a club. Once again, we met a bunch of new people, and woke up in the morning with massive hangovers. So, we did the only thing we could think of and found the nearest restaurant serving omelets and other good/greasy breakfast foods. It was just what the doctor ordered.

After brunch, we started making our way over to Pratunam, the area with all of the malls, and also the area that we would be leaving from later that night. There’s a shuttle from our school that goes back and forth every hour until 10pm. It’s 100 baht (about $3) and is really the only option for getting back from the city other than a taxi which costs about $500 baht (or $17).

There’s a 100 baht movie theater right by all the malls (by far, the cheapest we’ve found – everywhere else is around 220 baht) so we went to check out the times and finally saw The Butler, which had been on our list for a while. What a great movie! By the time that was over, we were exhausted and ready to get home for a relaxing Sunday.

We had a great (albeit very short) first week of teaching, and we’re looking forward to seeing how week 2 goes. Then, next weekend we’ll be heading back to Bangkok to celebrate my birthday with a Muay Thai fight and a visit from our Romanian friend from Dubai who you may remember as “The Prince!”

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