Alumni Interview Questions — Teach in Thailand

Emily Dorso – Teach in Thailand [Lampang]

When did you first get interested in travelling to different places?

After my freshman year of college, I participated in a Global Brigades Public Health trip to Honduras.  My first time to a developing nation, this was a unique and eye-opening experience.  While I had traveled before, this was the first time I experienced a true traveler’s high.  I went with no one I knew beforehand.  I landed in the airport, walked outside, and was immediately transformed.  And the trip only continued to expand my mind.  Meeting these incredible people and witnessing the conditions in which they lived, while simultaneously experiencing their extreme kindness and generosity, made me realize this was only the beginning of my adventures abroad.


Did your family travel a lot when you were younger?

My family traveled together annually, and although these trips were never international, they established the importance of traveling to places that aren’t necessarily popular.  When I was younger I didn’t quite appreciate this.  While my friends were in Disneyworld or in the Bahamas, I was spending time in destinations like Ohio and Tennessee.  They were always fun trips, but I couldn’t understand why my parents wanted to be there of all places on our vacations.  Now I understand and extremely appreciate the importance of taking the road less travelled, because that is how hidden gems are discovered.  It is something I still try to do today with my own adventures, and I am very thankful for my parents, who taught me this lesson when I was very young.

Did you study or volunteer abroad during college? If so, where did you go and what were some highlights of that experience?

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I went on a service trip to Ecuador through my university’s volunteer center, spending ten days learning about an indigenous tribe community of the Amazon.  This entire trip, I knew that my time both abroad and with the Spanish language was far from over.


I made the decision to study abroad in Spain with API the following spring semester, and it was a highlight of college for me.  My five months in Granada not only allowed me to continue my Spanish education, but also opened my eyes to what it was like to truly live in another culture.  I lived with a host family, speaking Spanish, eating Spanish food, watching Spanish television, and loving every single minute of it.  While abroad, I also had the opportunity to travel to ten countries, exploring other cultures as well.  Though it was only for a semester, studying in Spain is a memory I continue to hold near and dear to my heart.


You’ve taught in a few very different environments and contexts around the world. Can you tell us what it is about teaching that is so fulfilling to you?

For me, teaching is a bridge between me and the culture I am exploring.  I am a big believer in the differences between traveling and vacationing.  There are rarely genuine cultural exchanges occurring on a vacation.  Eating, drinking, tanning, maybe.  Genuine cultural exchanges?  Not so much (genuine being the key word).  I enjoy working abroad, specifically teaching, because I get to interact with people of that culture in the most genuine environment that an American girl from New York can.  I am speaking with students, teachers, and staff that are from that country and living their everyday life.  Some days, I am merely a spectator, soaking in all I can about their culture and lifestyle.  Others, I am right in the action, learning the language, eating the food, going on field trips.  I love the personal interactions that take place while working in a foreign country, and I love that I can help students learn a helpful skill along the way.


Why did you choose to teach in the locations you did? What about those
countries/cultures/student populations called to you?

This is a question I get asked often and still cannot articulately answer.  Thailand was always a place that called to me.  As I was preparing to teach abroad, I was looking at places in South America and Europe, yet kept clicking on the continually-open Thailand tab on my computer.  I don’t have a concrete explanation other than it was calling to me.  This has happened to me throughout my life.  Places call to me, I eventually answer, and I’ve yet to be disappointed by them.

More generally, I was ready to head to Asia.  I wanted to be placed out of my comfort zone and explore an area that was literally on the other side of the world.  If I didn’t get there in my twenties, specifically right after graduation, I worried it would never happen.  Luckily I listened to my gut, because not a day goes by that I don’t adore living in Thailand.

Did you have any preconceived ideas about what life in Thailand would be like? (How) did spending time there change those ideas?

Before teaching abroad, I definitely envisioned Thailand to be far more rural than it is.  Not that rural areas do not exist of course, but the city which I’m living in is just that – a city.  Of course it’s no New York City or Chicago, but there is a mall in my medium-sized city of Lampang, which grants me access to McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, and more.  Living in Thailand has made me realize that the scale of city to country is far more vast than I could imagine, and that my preconceived notions of what constitutes these places often needs to be adjusted.



What were some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching in Thailand? The most challenging?

In my short time on this Earth, I have often found the most rewarding aspects of life to greatly correspond with the most challenging.  This is no different in Thailand.  Though I have enjoyed some incredible experiences since teaching abroad, I would have to say that the most rewarding and challenging parts of being there are my students.  They are simultaneously the reason I wake up every morning and the reason I want to run home everyday and sleep for five weeks.

Working with teenagers, especially with a language barrier, comes with its fair share of difficulties.  However, there is nothing to compare to the feeling of a student telling you that he is no longer afraid to speak English because of your class.  Or a student coming up to you on her lunch break to chitchat, even in the few words she possesses, because she wants to spend more time with you.  Teachers around the world can recount the struggles they experience each and every day.  But good teachers know that for them, the positives far outweigh the negatives overall.  Feeling like you are a positive and meaningful part of a teenager’s life, for however short, is an experience that warms the heart.


How has this experience influenced the direction of your career?

While I’m still not exactly sure what job I will be working in once I return to the States, teaching abroad has solidified my passions for travel, adventure, and learning.  Cultural awareness is of course never-ending, and this experience has only further taught me how vital it is to be an engaged citizen, not only in one’s own country, but in the world as well.  I know that no matter what my job title reads in the future, it will somehow revolve around these passions, which were further explored while teaching abroad.

Why should someone consider participating in this program, or consider teaching abroad?

I think that timing was key in my decision to teach abroad.  I entered senior year of college after an incredible semester in Spain, and even as I approached graduation, I could not get that semester out of my head.  As everyone else boasted about internships turning into jobs and moving into apartments, I just could not get excited with any prospects in America.  The only time that the conversation didn’t end up discouraging me was when it revolved around going abroad again.  When I made the official decision to do so and started telling my family, there was not only an immediate weight lifted off of my shoulders, but also immediate enthusiasm.  I was finally feeling what other grads were either feeling (or in some cases missing).  I was finally enthusiastic about my post-grad life.

If I can provide any advice to anyone, whether it be college students approaching graduation or people already in the work world, it would be to stop talking about it and just do it already.  Your friends want to hear about your exciting dreams the first time, the second time, or maybe even the third time, but by the seventh or eighth, it can no longer be just talk.  Teaching abroad isn’t about luck or unachievable talent.  It is a decision, and one that anyone can make if he or she commits to the adventure.  So if you’re not sure about what post-grad life direction you should take, or if you’re not content with the life you’re currently living, or even if you are and are just looking to explore new surroundings, make the decision to teach abroad.  Wherever you choose to go, I can guarantee you it is an opportunity you will never regret.


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