Overseas venture ‘a real learning experience’, Thailand

I often wonder what it’d be like to live in Laos or Thailand, and I’m actually at an advantage because of my understanding of the languages. When I read an on-line newspaper this morning about a young couple that went to Thailand to teach really amaze me. I like to share their story because there might be some of you out there that are thinking alone this line.

Overseas venture ‘a real learning experience’

Pair to begin second year of teaching at Catholic school in Bangkok, Thailand

By Sarah Newell

Record Staff Writer

Monday, July 16, 2007

HICKORY – Andrew and Barbara “Bobbie” Bumgarner began teaching at Union County schools four years ago. After three years of teaching middle-schoolers, they couple decided they wanted to go global and teach in another country.

“We had some friends who had taught internationally through Search Associates. We like to travel but needed a job, so we thought it would be a good fit,” said Bobbie. “We went to a job fair last February and had no idea where we were going to teach.”

They toured booths for almost every country in the world, but were drawn to the one for a school in Bangkok, Thailand. They watched a video about the English-speaking-based Catholic school and listened about the job opportunity. At the job fair, Bobbie and Andrew signed a two-year teaching contract to teach, beginning last August.

It took a while to sever ties in America. The couple married after attending college at Western Carolina University together and had a lot of things to get rid of before leaving the country for two years.

“We were pretty established. We had a house, two dogs, a cat and two cars. We had a lot to give up,” Andrew said. “We decided to rent out our house and sell one car. Our pets were adopted by a family in Georgia.”

In July 2006, the couple left for Thailand. The first big surprise: how large the population is in Bangkok. There are more than 11 million people living there. Despite this, Andrew said you feel extremely safe in the city, which is very welcoming to foreigners.

The next big surprise: how different the students are in Thailand compared to America.

“Over there, they have a lot of respect for teachers, because wisdom is something that’s valued,” Bobbie said. “Children really want to learn there.”

And there is no discipline problem. Andrew said if the students start to act up, the teachers only have to mention reporting the students’ behavior to their parents and the students will behave immediately. Shaming your parents is the worst punishment you could give a student.

There is also no discipline code set up in schools, because it’s not needed.

“The kids are respectful. We don’t have school suspension, and we don’t have a discipline problem. The kids don’t have aggression like they do here, and they don’t understand it, either,” Bobbie said.

One of the hardest transitions Bobbie and Andrew struggled with was letting go of how they were used to doing things in America, and embracing the Thai way of doing things.

“We’d get mad about something, and say, ‘In the U.S., we do it like this.’ Nobody cares how we do it in the U.S. Once you realize that, then everything’s a whole lot easier. It took about a month to realize that,” Andrew said.

One of the best things Andrew and Bobbie have received from this whole experience is seeing how students are taught in other schools, and the teaching methods of dozens of other teachers from around the globe. Bobbie said it’s helped her become a better teacher. Andrew agrees.

“At the school, it’s given me a worldly view, with people who would tackle a problem in a totally different way from the way I would have,” he said. “This has definitely been a real learning experience.”