I am wrapping up my first month in Surat Thani, and I am finally settled in enough to write about my latest adventure! With all the newness of the city, the people, my school, and new life, I’ve definitely had some sensory overload! But every second of this transition has been full of excitement and pure bliss. More detailed blogs for each to come, but here are a few highlights of the city, my school, and the amazing new community I’ve found.
First, the city itself: Surat Thani. Surat Thani literally means City of Good People, and I couldn’t agree more. I am constantly greeted with smiles and help with my foreigner blunders! From fumbling through directions to stammering through food orders, the local people are generously patient with my terrible Thai and cultural faux pas.
Every Thai travel guide has a short quip about Surat Thani that goes something like, “You unfortunately HAVE to pass through this terribly uneventful town to get to the fun exciting islands… so try not to get stuck here too long,” and I think that’s why I love it. I get that I’m occasionally a tourist… but tourists are occasionally the worst, obnoxious people. So I’m extremely thankful that I’m not living in a tourist town. There’s more actual culture, not commercialized culture. Surat has beautiful Wats (temples), amazing night markets, it’s close to the ocean, and it even has several western comforts that I honestly didn’t expect. It’s a quiet city with a small town vibe, but it still has big shopping malls with Starbucks, movie theaters, and there’s even a KFC! Although, no one actually knows what it stands for or where Kentucky is… Don’t worry, I’m letting everyone know!
The night markets are one of my favorite things about Thailand. If you’ve never been to a night market, think open air traveling farmer’s market with everything from fried chicken, to noodle dishes, to fresh fruits and veggies, to pajamas and toys. There is a night market every day, but they’re in different locations. So it has been fun to stumble onto new markets and see what they have. Some of my favorite night market purchases are pad thai, mango sticky rice, roti, fresh fruit smoothies, and the best spicy fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life.
I’ve only been to one beach here so far, but it was beautiful! I hear it pales in comparison to the islands too, so hopefully I’ll get to check them out soon. I can make the trip to the beach on my motorbike in about an hour and a half. The rooms on the beach are about $20 a night for two full beds, so if you can bring along a few friends you end up staying for about $5 a night! It’s so quiet it feels like a private beach. They also have the bioluminescent plankton in the water which makes swimming at night an amazing experience!
Next is my school: Surat Thani International School! Again, a lot of international work is a gamble. Thailand is known for its laid back, last minute planning style which can be extremely frustrating as a teacher when you show up and find out there’s no school that day (definitely happened to me several times in Nepal!). But thankfully, STIS is different. We had a full week of training covering basic Thai language, culture, school processes, and even teaching tips. We were given a schedule of potential holidays early on (potential because the government can change them, not because the school might), and we have our individual teaching schedules as well. STIS is on top of things.
After working in American schools, teaching here is a dream. My class is capped at 18, I have two Thai teachers in class with me at all times, and I have an hour lunch and an hour of planning every day. If we need anything that will help our students or help us be better teachers, all we have to do is ask. If we find something for class and buy it, we can be reimbursed for the costs. We’ve been treated to multiple meals, and our final day of training was on the beach! I honestly don’t think there is a better place to work. And did I mention that I’m absolutely in love with my class???
Finally, and perhaps most importantly: Community. I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with awesome groups of people, and even in the states I’ve been a part of some wonderful communities of people who just made life better. When you leave everything you know to teach abroad, I believe finding a good group of people to share life with is imperative to your success and happiness. I’ve already made a few great Thai friends, and I can’t say enough about the people I work with. The community of teachers at STIS is phenomenal. We banded together and became great friends almost immediately upon arrival. I’m surrounded by positive attitudes, joyful smiles, and people who genuinely love life. Whether we are grabbing lunch together, going out to play soccer, headed to the beach, or just working in the office, it’s always a good time. I’m so excited to see what this year holds, and I’m thrilled I get to share it with these amazing people.