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Work in Thailand

Teaching English Can Be Just the Beginning

by Seth Leighton

While teaching English is by far the most common type of international work, and probably has the easiest paths to follow in terms of finding a job, there are many other options for native-speakers living abroad that can be both challenging and lucrative. Working as a temporary salesperson for a foreign company combines very well with the longer stability of a teaching position, and has the added benefit of networking possible business connections down the road.

I have been teaching English for the past year in a small town about two hundred kilometers from Bangkok. After graduating from college, I went through the proto-typical angst over career choices, and decided on teaching English as a stopgap measure, basically a way to be doing something worthwhile while I figured out what I really wanted to do. Thailand was an easy choice, due to the relative security and good infrastructure, and also because I had an old roommate who was a Thai citizen. I have found the Thai people to be incredibly warm and truly grateful to have me teaching there, and love the general daily challenges and discoveries of life abroad.

One of those adventures showed me the inroads to a very interesting means of supplementing my income, while also gaining some experience in the international business scene. As part of my contract with my school, I live with a Thai host family, a tremendous stroke of good fortune for me. This family has accepted me without reservation, and helped me with the myriad obstacles and bewilderments of life abroad. They own a large furniture factory, exporting dining sets and other pieces all over the world. I try my best to learn the business and help them, designing a new website and occasionally speaking with customers. During the first week of March, we participated in the Thailand International Furniture Expo, and I got a glimpse of a use for my English abilities extending beyond the classroom.

English is the language of business, a truism of life that allows people from vastly different backgrounds to communicate and make use of each others’ resources. While more people speak Mandarin as a native tongue, English is the global second language, a compulsory part of nearly every school curriculum and the closest realization of the Esparanto dreamers. For the TIFF fair, I brushed up on my host family’s company history, general profile and basic operating procedures, then put on my dashingly handsome Bangkok-tailor-made suit, threw a handful of business cards and breath mints in my pocket, and went to work.

I spent the next five days talking to businessmen from all over the world, and was told time and time again how nice it was to be able to talk to a native speaker. Many of the foreigners were accompanied by a Thai translator, and thus felt much more at ease and in control when they were able to speak directly to me. Our company also hired a young lady to translate in Japanese, but English was by far the preferred medium of communication. I showed our full range of products, and was quite pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make a sale. Indeed, my lack of in-depth knowledge of the furniture business was never a liability, as each importer wanted to know the same basic information on prices, shipping methods and time to delivery. Working with my host family was a real treat, with a mix of rushing to set up the booth through nailing some huge sales keeping the excitement at a constant high.

During one break in the rush of visitors, I took a stroll around the fair, checking out the competition and noting the different approaches to sales. I had removed my blue “exhibitor” badge, and, as I still was in suit and tie, was approached numerous times by various salespeople. I was struck by the disparity of spoken English ability, and a few times caught myself wondering just how many business deals might have been lost due to failures to communicate. There were a few farang translators like myself, and when I spoke to them, they remarked on just how easy this job was. Indeed, knowledge of Thai, while helpful is definitely not a necessity. For the most part, due to the vagaries of the Thai educational system, the company owners can read and write English at a much higher level than they can speak. Thus, they have little trouble giving their native-speaker salesperson all of the information necessary to do the job, and then reap the obvious benefits of setting their customers at ease.

In Thailand, large scale international fairs such as TIFF are fast becoming near-monthly occurrences. The overabundance of cheap labor, along with the current Prime Minister’s emphasis on developing business and global trade (including Free Trade Agreements in the works with Australia and America, among others), has created a fertile ground for the export business. Some are already calling Thailand the “Detroit of Asia” for the latest growth in the automotive industry south of Bangkok. As trade continues to expand, the need for English salespeople to assist in all phases of the dealmaking process becomes more and more urgent.

Temporary jobs of this ilk pay anywhere between two and six thousand baht per day, depending on length of contract, experience and your familiarity with the company. Most companies advertise in the Bangkok Post, www.bangkokpost.com, and The Nation, www.nationmultimedia.com, Thailand’s two daily English newspapers, as well as international jobs boards, such as www.escapeartist.com. Additionally, possibilities for networking abound during large-scale fairs, to such an extent that I had four solid offers during my thirty minute tour of the booths. Little experience is required, but a clean appearance and professional attitude will help secure most positions.

Seth Leighton hails from a small town on the coast of Maine. After graduating from Harvard University, he moved to Thailand, seeking adventure, excitement and non-New England weather.

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