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Remembering 2008 as a Challenging Year

Paul is an American ex-pat who has lived in Thailand since 2007. After teaching English in Bangkok, Paul retired to life in Udorn in 2014.

Visiting Mom in 2008

The author is on the left and his mom is on right.  The picture was taken in 2008.

The author is on the left and his mom is on right. The picture was taken in 2008.

Remembering 2008

2008 was one of the most challenging years of my life. I had just started teaching at a Thailand private school. To keep my job, I had to review the science that I had learned in the 1960s. I also had to do two visa runs to Laos before securing a non-immigrant visa and work permit.

In this article, I first recall the beginning months of teaching English at Saint Joseph Bangna School in the Bangkok area. Next, I relive my trip back to Wisconsin in April. From May through July, I remember my first formal math and English classes. Patience in securing a non-immigrant visa in July is also noted. Finally, I reflect on changes to my teaching schedule in August and becoming a legal teacher with a work permit in October. My experiences om purchasing a pickup truck and getting a Thailand driver's license are also described.

Teaching English at Saint Joseph Bangna School — January–March 2008

I interviewed for a teaching position at Saint Joseph Bangna School (SJB) around the end of November 2007. The school principal interviewed me. When Sister R examined my college academic transcript, she found that I had majored in chemistry. This appealed to Sister because her school needed science teachers. Although I pointed out that I had not used my chemistry and other science courses since 1967, Sister still hired me as a science teacher. My starting date at the school was January 2, 2008.

I was happy and excited to be hired but also very apprehensive about teaching science. For over 40 years, I had never opened a science book or taught it. My wish was to teach English but Sister needed science teachers. Now I would have to review all the science I had forgotten.

When I started at SJB, it was during the middle of the school's second semester. Since the school didn't need me to teach students, I spent January and February as an English tutor for SJB teachers. I usually taught groups of three to five teachers for two to four hours per day.

SJB convened a summer session for students after the school year ended at the beginning of March. Now I finally began teaching my dreaded science classes. For one month, I was assigned to teach a meteorology class to seventh graders and an ecology class to eleventh graders.

My classes met for one hour each day. Twenty girls were in the meteorology class while the ecology class only had four students. I was able to stay one step ahead of my students in teaching science content. I spent more time teaching English in my explanations of vocabulary and concepts.

My Trip Back to Wisconsin — April 2008

After SJB's summer session ended on April 7, I had five or six weeks of vacation before the new school year began. I used the first ten days of my vacation to make a trip back to Wisconsin.

The primary purpose of my trip was to visit mom and family members. I also had planned to do my taxes, get fingerprinted for a criminal investigation check, and find science books to take back to Thailand.

It made me feel good to spend a week with my mother. She had been suffering from Parkinson's and was happy to see me again. In addition to spending some time with two sisters, I was pleasantly surprised to hook up with my son who had just flown in from Taiwan.

After finding H and R Block to do my 2007 taxes, I went to the Burlington police station to get fingerprinted. I needed fingerprints to accompany a Maryland criminal investigation report needed by SJB to support my non-immigrant visa and work permit applications. Before moving to Thailand in 2007, I had lived in Maryland.

While at home, I also found some of my sister's chemistry, biology, and general science books to take back to Thailand. I felt I needed these books to review all of the science I had forgotten.

Remembering May–July 2008

From May through July, I was very busy starting my formal teaching and applying for a non-immigrant visa and work permit. Each activity is recalled below.

Beginning My Formal Teaching

On May 12, I returned to SJB after a five-week school vacation. This coincided with the Thai Buddhist New Year and other holidays.

I remember getting my teaching schedule on the first day back. The first thing I noticed was being assigned to teach only one science class. Surprisingly, two math classes were also on my schedule.

I only had one science class because SJB had hired an Italian to teach other science classes originally meant for me. The math classes were given to me because the school didn't have enough math teachers to teach math in English.

My first week was set aside for teacher-planning work days. The science class was general science for eighth graders. One of the math classes was for eighth graders and had general math topics such as percentages, exponents, and statistics. The other math class for seventh graders had special topics such as Roman numerals and working with numbers not using base ten.

On the day before the first day of school, SJB hired a science teacher from Cameroon. He took the Italian teacher and my science classes. Maurice and I were given eighth-grade English classes instead.

Therefore, as the first semester began, I had two math and two English classes. Each class met for five hours weekly. I also assisted with art and physical education classes for another two hours.

My math classes weren't challenging to teach although I had to first learn how to work with numbers not using base ten for the seventh-grade class.

In the middle of the semester toward the end of July, the Italian teacher was dismissed because he did not pass his probationary period. Concurrently, SJB hired a Filipina math teacher to take over my two math classes. Since Maurice had been let go, I was given two of his English classes to teach. I now only had English classes.

I did well that first semester but had a lot of work. In addition to preparing lessons, I had to check my students' daily homework and prepare for and grade exams.

Author at His Desk in Teachers' Room at Saint Joseph Bangna School

Author at Saint Joseph Bangna School.  Picture taken in 2008.

Author at Saint Joseph Bangna School. Picture taken in 2008.

One of Author's First English Classes at Saint Joseph Bangna School

One of the author's first English classes.  Picture taken in 2008.

One of the author's first English classes. Picture taken in 2008.

Applying for a Non-Immigrant Visa and Work Permit

When SJB hired me, I was only on a tourist visa and had no work permit. To become a legal teacher, I had to first apply for and secure a non-immigrant visa and then a work permit.

Besides examing my college transcript, SJB wanted to see a certified copy of my Bachelor's Degree and then have it verified. At that time, many teachers had already been hired with bogus degrees.

SJB also wanted me to present a criminal report check from my last residence in the United States. To do this, I had to submit fingerprints and an application to the State of Maryland Justice System. This was required because some schools found out that they had hired pedophiles.

The school helped with other paperwork securing a teacher's license, non-immigrant B visa, and work permit.

Since I was on a tourist visa during the first half of 2008, I had to make two visa runs to Laos to apply for new tourist visas. A tourist visa was only good for two or three months. I recall traveling to Laos twice to apply for a tourist visa; once in January and then in May.

SJB gave me two days off to apply for a visa. After my classes on the first day, I rode an overnight bus from Bangkok up to Nong Khai at the Laotian border. From there, I made a short trip to the Thai–Laotian Friendship Bridge. After crossing the bridge, I applied for a visa for entry to Laos. Then, I immediately headed to the Thai Consulate in Vientiane to apply for a tourist visa to reenter Thailand. After spending a night in Vientiane, I was given a visa in the early afternoon before taking a ten-hour bus ride back to Bangkok. This was exhausting but a necessary evil.

Around the end of July when all my paperwork was in order, I went to the Thailand Immigration Office in downtown Bangkok and finally secured my coveted non-immigrant B visa.

Memories of August–December 2008

From August through December, the following significant activities are recalled.

  1. SJB school activities in August
  2. Purchasing a new vehicle in September
  3. Securing a Thai driver's license and work permit in October
  4. Sports Day activities in November
  5. Christmas activities in December

1. SJB School Activities in August

Besides everyday classroom activities, SJB organized an overnight camp activity for select seventh and eighth-grade students. The camp was held at the Felix Resort in Kanchanaburi about one hour outside of Bangkok.

For three days and two nights, I was a member of a group of foreign and Thai teachers who chaperoned the students. We arranged fun learning activities during the day, and in the evening led the students in songs, games, and drama presentations.

The school principal also fitted all male and female teachers with suits. Each teacher was presented with one dark and one gray suit. They were worn on designated days of the week.

2. Purchasing a New Vehicle in September

In 2008, I lived about a one-half kilometer off Soi LaSalle. Before purchasing a vehicle, I managed my four-kilometer trip to school by walking one kilometer to a bus stop. Then, I would jump on a baht bus for the final three-kilometer ride to SJB.

After commuting this way for eight months, my wife convinced me to purchase a vehicle. We decided to purchase a new Toyota Vigo pickup truck. My wife was happy because now we didn't have to ride a bus to Udon Thani Province where she was from. It was also more accessible and more convenient for me to commute to school.

My Toyota Vigo Pickup Truck

My Toyota Vigo Pickup Truck,  Picture taken in 2014 after I moved to Udorn.

My Toyota Vigo Pickup Truck, Picture taken in 2014 after I moved to Udorn.

3. Securing a Thailand Driver's License and Work Permit in October

I needed a driver's license to drive my new pickup truck to school. Foolishly, I had let my U.S. driver's license expire. A Thailand driver's license was now required.

During my break between semesters in October, I went on one Monday morning to the Land Transport Office on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok to apply for a license. What happened next you will find hard to believe.

I failed three tests before finally securing my license on a Thursday afternoon. On Monday, I first failed a depth perception test and had to repeat it on Tuesday. Then, on Tuesday, I failed the written test on road laws. After passing the written test on Wednesday, I got to take the road test which I failed. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, I passed the road test and got my license.

It was easier for me to secure my work permit at the end of October. All of my paperwork was finally in order. I remember a Thai school teacher accompanying two Filipina teachers and me to the Ministry of Labor to sign our work permits.

4. Sports Day Activities in November

It is traditional for all Thailand schools to convene a Sports Day during the cooler dry season of the year. This usually occurs in November.

I was surprised that SJB treated Sports Day as a mini Olympic Games. The students were divided into four or five teams led by cheerleaders who could wear makeup. SJB's marching band led by drum majorettes and a procession of foreign teachers riding motorcycles preceded the grand entrance into the games venue.

Games included track and field, basketball, and volleyball. On the second day of the games on Saturday, I remember a soccer match between foreign and Thai teachers.

5. Christmas Activities in December

Finally, I recall Christmas activities in December. Since SJB is an all-girl Catholic school, there were many activities.

Following mid-term exams on December 20, I remember participating in a Christmas Fair to raise money for charity. A few days later, students organized a Christmas luncheon for teachers. We also attended a Christmas Eve Mass. After the Mass, the school presented gifts to all teachers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Paul Richard Kuehn