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Be like Christi: Navigating a Year Abroad as a BFITS Educator in Thailand

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As I sit down to reflect on almost one full year of working with BFITS, I can’t help but be reminded of the journey I have experienced. The journey started with uncertainty, excitement, and curiosity. Then there was the in-between, where all the experiences and unexpected growth occurred, but unfortunately, journeys also have an end. 

If you are reading this blog, you are likely contemplating starting a similar journey, or maybe you are just curious about expat life. I want to share with you the ups and downs of how I made a home abroad as a BFITS teacher in Thailand. I will take you through my journey and challenges and explain some examples of how BFITS provided their unwavering support every step of the way. 

My journey with BFITS started in January 2023. I was visiting a friend in the UK for a couple of months and wasn’t quite ready to go back home to South Africa. I still had the “travel bug” as most people would call it.  Instead of taking a week’s holiday or going for a hike in nature like most people would do, I decided it was time to move to a new country and apply for some teaching jobs in Thailand. By the end of March, I was looking for apartments and had booked my flight for the end of April. I had one month to go back home and pack my life into a suitcase. 

Luckily, BFITS was there every step of the way. They informed me of all the documents I needed for my visa and were always there to answer any questions I had. They also offered to help me find apartments, but I decided to find one independently. This was very important to me, as my apartment would serve as my sanctuary to retreat from the bustling city of Bangkok, allowing me to recharge after a day of work, and I was aware that I would dedicate a lot of time to this space.

Night view from my lovely apartment
A Night View from My Lovely Apartment

Before I knew it, I was sitting in my apartment in Bangkok (Thank you, BFITS, for arranging what felt like a VIP ride from the airport). I was astonished; it was perfect, and my heart and body were filled with excitement. I only had 3 days to get settled before I had to start my first teaching job. The in-between of my journey had started. It was time for the new experiences I had been craving, and it was time for growth.

I am a firm believer that challenges are a key component of growth. I want to share with you some of the major challenges I experienced this year, but I want you to keep in mind that the ups far outweighed the downs. 

Enjoying some science experiments outdoors (1)
Enjoying some Science Experiments Outdoors

First was the language barrier. During my first week of teaching, I entered a classroom filled with eager students. As I looked at all their faces, I saw they were full of curiosity. However, as soon as the class started, I realized the significant language barrier. My students naturally conversed with each other in Thai. Most of my students have a decent English level but some struggle to express themselves in English. I vividly remember a moment when a student struggling to express a thought in English looked at me with frustration.

In that instant, I understood the gravity of the language gap; it’s not an easy barrier to overcome. I cannot just magically give them the ability to communicate with me in English, but I could and did try to create an environment in my classroom where they could feel safe to make mistakes. While language is a crucial means of communication, a warm smile, and positive encouragement can also go a long way.

Enjoying some science experiments outdoors (2)
Completing Our Science Experiments Outdoors

Next, was the ‘homesick’ feeling, it crept up on me gradually, like a silent companion on my journey.  The constant new experiences and new surroundings distracted me for some time, but eventually, I could no longer ignore this feeling. It was not like the ‘homesick’ feeling you would expect. It wasn’t a yearning for my old home with my old room or familiar faces (don’t get me wrong, I did miss my friends and family, but I could give them a call when I did). Instead, I was longing for the natural surroundings, I grew up with. One evening, as I walked through the bustling streets of Bangkok, the contrast struck me. I realized I missed the rustling leaves and chirping of crickets that used to lull me to sleep. Luckily, leaves are not native to my home country, so I went searching for some escapes from the urban chaos.

My favorite city escape - Bang Nam Island (1)
My Favorite City Escape in Bang Nam Island

One spot I enjoy is Bang Nam, a laid-back river island in the south of Bangkok. It’s perfect for a relaxed bike ride and some bird watching.

Lastly, there was the familiar struggle of meeting new people and forging meaningful connections. After the initial excitement of new surroundings wore off, I started feeling a bit isolated.

My favorite city escape - Bang Nam Island (2)
Sunflower Field in Bang Nam Island

Other than my colleagues, I didn’t know many people. Gratitude fills me when I reflect on how BFITS goes out of its way to give its teachers not only opportunities to grow professionally but, also to provide many social opportunities.

My first Muay Thai expereince
My First Muay Thai Expereince

From yoga in serene parks in Bangkok to amazing seats at exhilarating Muay Thai fights to volunteer opportunities.

Painting murals at Ban Krang
Painting a Mural with The Bright Group

The last volunteer opportunity I attended was at Ban Krang National Park, and this is honestly one of my favorite things I have done in Thailand. Transport was provided to and from Bangkok. We got 3 delicious meals, and I got to spend a sunny day out in a national park surrounded by butterflies and amazing people.

Serene nature at Ban Krang
Serene nature at Ban Krang

These social activities are just one way BFITS ensures their teachers have experiences far beyond the classroom. It allowed me to meet people with whom I could truly forge meaningful connections; we connected over similar interests and made amazing memories in an amazing place.

Butterfly at Ban Krang
Butterfly at Ban Krang

It is now close to the end of my journey. The only reason I am not staying another year is that I still have the “travel bug.” I am ready to go and explore some more places, but I am sad to leave BFITS behind. It will not be easy to find another organization like BFITS; they are one of a kind. I hope my words of encouragement can assure you that even though a new beginning abroad may be scary, you will never be alone. BFITS will be there every step of the way.

About the Author
Christi du Plessis

Christi du Plessis

Christi is a Science enthusiast from South Africa. Her teaching journey started 3 years ago as an online english instructor. In 2023, she started a new chapter and joined the BFITS team in Thailand. When she is not in the classroom, she likes to travel and delve into Thailand's incredible biodiversity.
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