Self-discovery halfway around the world: Jennifer Hyde’s experience working abroad in Thailand

Two months into her time teaching English in Thailand, Jennifer Hyde received devastating news – her father was diagnosed with cancer.

After flying home to visit her ailing father for a few weeks, she decided she wanted to try and finish out the semester in Thailand. Once she arrived, she received the news that her father had died.

“My dad was a teacher for forty years, so for him teaching was everything, and he would have been so disappointed if I hadn’t gone back to Thailand to teach,” said Hyde.

The Buddhist culture of Thailand helped Hyde to grieve, she said.

“Being here [in the U.S.] would have been much different,” she added.

Hyde, assistant director of international education, made the decision to pack her bags and venture off to Southeast Asia to teach English in October 2014.

“I started working in this office with Jane [Decatur], and she told me ‘In order to move on in this field, you should have more than just your study abroad experience as your international experience.’”

Hyde believes college is the perfect time for someone to discover who they really are.

“I think whether it is studying abroad or if you are going post-graduation to work abroad, to step out of your comfort zone, to live in a foreign country, to try to learn a foreign language, to just immerse yourself with tons of different people, can help you just self-identify and know a little bit more about yourself,” said Hyde.

“If you find yourself doing the same mundane thing, you never get to step out of that comfort zone and you never get to figure out what exactly you can do,” said Hyde.

Reality set in two weeks after her arrival, when she was sent to her apartment in the rural town of Doem Bang Nang Buat District in Suphanburi.

“When we first got into the town, I thought to myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I walked into my apartment and there were geckos climbing on the walls and there was no hot water, only cold showers,” said Hyde.

“I always had to remind myself that it could be much worse, but it was hard, it really was. It was isolating,” said Hyde.

Early in the morning, Hyde would wake up to the warm Thai sun and go for a strenuous run. She called it her “incentive to want to take a cold shower,” seeing as how that was her only option.

She would then bike to the school she worked at, arriving at 7:30 a.m.  After being greeted by her students out on the school’s soccer field, the whole school would partake in a mass prayer to Buddha and salute to the king, only spoken in Thai.

Hyde would eagerly watch.

Throughout the day, Hyde would teach two 50-minute English classes with a few free blocks, allowing her to grade and catch up on any tasks she had.

“The upper-level classes would have about thirty kids in them, similar to here. I’d be able to talk with them, which was nice. They knew basic English,” she said. “The lower-level classes would have closer to fifty students in them, where I would see them twice a week, and the upper level only once a week.”

Then, it was off to lunch.

Hyde would leave campus to get either a papaya salad or a veggie dish and her routine bubble tea.

“I’d always get a bubble tea. They’re so good. They have these little tapioca balls,” she said.

After her indulgence, Hyde would come back and teach two more English courses. In the evening, she would do special one-on-one tutoring sessions with a few of the local kids.

Then, to end the day, Hyde would journey back to her tiny, one bedroom apartment, taking in the beauty off this unique Southeast Asian town.

Arriving at her doorway, she would take off her shoes, following Thai tradition. She would open the door to a small hallway where she would pass her mini fridge and rice cooker, and journal another stellar day in Thailand.

“At the end, it was tough. Students would track me down to give me a present or a card to say thank you. It was really hard to leave because they were just so grateful to have an American there,” said Hyde.

Hyde recommends teaching abroad to everyone, even those who are not an education major.

“I think anyone who is comfortable being in front of a classroom and who is willing to step out of their comfort zone should do it,” said Hyde.

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