Teaching in Thailand, paving the path to my future

The author in Bangkok

By Ryann Michele Tanap

A year ago, I was in a terrible panic. As a senior at the College of William and Mary, I was dreading the uncertain future. I wanted to know what my life plan was. I prayed that someone would serve it to me on a platter: a step-by-step instructional guide on how to find a job that I loved and a life that proved to be fulfilling. I knew a few things to be certain: I wasn’t ready for grad school, I loved to explore new places, and I wanted to dedicate my time to a worthy cause. Was that too much to ask?

The rest of my time in college passed swiftly. I finished up coursework, discovered a healthier lifestyle of exercise and eating habits, and spent my time with the people that meant the most. Yet, I was still terrified of the “adult world” that awaited me. Leading up to graduation, I found myself turning down job offers. I knew they weren’t the right fit. The plan was to go back home, spend time with my family, and continue the arduous job search. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t a worst-case scenario.

Two weeks before the last day of class, I was greeted by a surprising email from Global Playground (GP), a non-profit that serves lower-income communities by building infrastructure and sending teaching fellows to work in-country. I had been interviewing with them for the past two months, and when I least expected it, they offered me a teaching fellowship in northwest Thailand. This was the opportunity I was searching for. I applied for the highly coveted one-year fellowship, realizing that I wasn’t entirely qualified. My teaching experience was limited, after all. But GP had seen something in me, and I knew that I could take on any challenge that came my way. I accepted the position the very next day.

Graduation came and I said my goodbyes. I enjoyed the last month and a half at home with the family. After a great summer of family road trips (guess who I caught the travel bug from) and graduation parties, I packed my bags. I set off for Thailand: the first time I would be away from home and on my own.

Why Thailand? Initially, I expected myself to work in the Philippines after college, but this was close enough. It was still my dream to go to the Philippines, and I knew that working as a teacher in Thailand would lend itself to some free time during school breaks.

Teaching in a school in the Mae La Noi district in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province

Thus began my year in Asia. Teaching has been coming along quite well. While it is heartbreaking to know that I cannot change the school system, the cultural assumption that education isn’t a priority, nor the fact that my students come from poor farming families, I know that I am doing the best that I can. I focus my time on the students who truly want my help. I offer to help the teachers and staff as often as I can. And I put my all into helping to grow GP’s vision with my own ideas and creativity.

Also, I’ve realized that living in Southeast Asia for a year should not be taken for granted. I have found my love for travel is growing exponentially. During weekends, I explore Mae Hong Son province. I have made friends with local Thai and hill tribe people, as well as expats also working in the realm of international development and aid. Meeting kindred spirits over 8,000 miles from home reminds me that I am doing something right by living and working here.

I am truly blessed that my teaching fellowship allots me time for travel. Beyond the province, I’ve had my share of adventures (both alone and with my mom during her visit) in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. I’ve ventured to Singapore for a mere five days. Also during my mom’s visit, we were able to go to the Philippines for 2.5 weeks. It was my first time in the PI, so I was welcomed by many of my relatives. I indulged in the hospitality and delectable Filipino dishes that I find myself craving often. I was able to visit Manila, Quezon City, Zambales and Palawan. Right now, I’m still searching for opportunities in education and development in the PI. In the meantime, I’m excited to return to Palawan in March to help my ‘tito’ campaign for congressman.

Though I’m already halfway through my fellowship, I’m glad that the pieces of my life puzzle are falling into place (however unexpectedly they may fall). I intend to do a bit more traveling while I’m here: Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are on my “must-see” list. Ambitious, I know, but when else will I be this young and healthy, and without commitments of a salary job, nor family of my own to take care of? I have dreams to visit all corners of the world. All of my experiences thus far have been intense but interesting. Grueling, but gratifying. Stressful, but serendipitous.

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  1. Dylan wrote:

    Great article Ryann! Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Vera wrote:

    Awesome story.

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