Physical contact, meat balls, parent-teacher relationship and hours spent in the class room. These are merely some of the differences between teaching in Denmark and in Thailand. Read about two young teachers’ road from Northern Denmark to Bangkok and their change in teaching lifestyle.
Only about five million people in the world speaks Danish. It may therefore seem wasteful for some to learn a language, that so few people speak. Especially considering that most Danes speak pretty good English.
To Kathrine Bloch and Simon Jørgensen, Danish isn’t wasteful, however. They both teach the language for Danes Worldwide and the international school NIST in Bangkok.
It’s also their job to convince parents with a connection to Denmark why it’s beneficial to enrol their child in an extra class with added hours of homework.
Most of the children Kathrine and Simon teach have just one Danish parent. These may find it unnecessary or too difficult to teach and maintain a language that’s not usually spoken at home. Other families merely stay in Thailand for a short time, and they speak Danish at home anyway.
“But it (following a Danish class) gives the child the opportunity to study in Denmark,” Simon explains.
Their teaching follows a Danish curriculum so whether a child is returning to Denmark or arriving for the first time, it allows them to follow their respective classes.
Danish, and Danish only
Simon graduated in 2016 from University College Nordjylland in Hjørring, while Kathrine finished her studies a year later from University College Nordjylland in Aalborg.
While Kathrine had never been to Thailand, Simon had visited his dad, who lives in Bangkok, a few times already. In fact, it was during one of these visits that he found and applied for the job.
“I was on holiday for six weeks and I didn’t want to go home (to Denmark),” he says.
The 26-year-old was just 23 when he returned to Bangkok and began teaching at the beginning of the school year in 2017.
Kathrine arrived in August 2019.
Apart from Danish, Simon is eligible to teach social sciences and physical education. Kathrine studied handicrafts and design as well as English. She has an international profile, meaning that the first two years of her studies were entirely in English. And she lived in India for a part of her education.
Both teachers have taught children with Danish as their second language, so this is not a new aspect for them. However, teaching only one subject is new to both of them.
A new chapter
Simon had only worked as a teacher for one year in Denmark after finishing his studies. Kathrine had worked for two years but was seeing a temporary position come to an end.
It was also the end of a job she cared for. So, with a heavy heart she left her dream job and prepared for a new chapter.
But how do you turn the page and move on? The answer turned up on Facebook, when a friend tagged her in a post by Danes Worldwide, who were looking for a new teacher in Bangkok.
Kathrine had what she described as a minor identity crisis at the time, so the post appealed to her immediately.
“I had no boyfriend, no apartment and no job, so I thought why not?” Kathrine asked herself.
In fact, she got so hooked on the job that she initially thought she might have ruined her chances of a job in the exotic capital.
“I think they (Danes Worldwide) got a little annoyed with me. I kept calling. A lot,” Kathrine laughs.
But now we know, that this chapter turned out well.
Home alone in Bangkok
Getting the job is only the first small step in becoming a teacher for Danes Worldwide, it turned out.
Both Simon and Kathrine had to obtain their original exam papers, produce a clean criminal record and document their whereabouts for the past ten years career wise.
Looking to become a teacher abroad you would also have to do a three to four hour long English test. Kathrine wasn’t spared even though she has her international profile, which allows her to become an international coordinator.
“It was such a long test and you can’t bring anything. Not even a lip balm,” Kathrine recalls.
The job description offers an explanation for the strict background check, however. Apart from teaching, the two also have to do all the administrative work involved with teaching. It is as if the two of them are an entire Danish school in Bangkok.
“It’s like running your own company,” Simon explains.
In Bangkok, they have no bosses and no other colleagues. The two young teachers are basically home alone. Of course, they have an office in Denmark they can consult, but for most of the time, they figure things out for themselves.
“We only have each other. Just one colleague. It’s very far from what I’m used to,” Kathrine says.
A change in lifestyle
The differences between a teaching job in Denmark and the current position of Kathrine and Simon don’t end with administrative work.
With only one subject to teach, the hours of teaching itself are reduced heavily in comparison to Denmark with just about 8 hours in Thailand. In Denmark, teaching could get closer to 29 hours. Mind you, a lesson in Denmark is only 45 minutes compared to one hour in a Thai classroom.
The extra hours not spent on teaching allow time for said administrative work, preparing for classes and moving between school through the notorious Bangkok traffic.
With fewer pupils to teach, class levels are also combined, so any extra time for preparation is of great help to the two teachers.
On the bright side, having fewer pupils is sweet music to most teachers’ ears. In Denmark, classes can reach up to 28 children.
“Here, my biggest class consists of six pupils,” Kathrine tells.
Apart from teaching the Danish language, it is also Kathrine and Simon’s job to introduce the children to Danish culture. Some of them may have never been to Denmark.
They therefore have videos about certain Danish topics. This can for instance be the group of painters who are well known in Denmark as Skagensmalerne.
“I would never have talked about frikadeller (Danish meatballs) in my class in Denmark,” Kathrine says and laughs.
Rules of contact
Simon teaches the older pupils (udskolingen) while Kathrine takes care of the little ones (indskolingen).
She loves children and the Disney universe but while she would have very close contact with her pupils in Denmark, the rules on pupil-teacher relationship in Thailand are slightly different.
“In Denmark children would hug me and style my hair,” Kathrine says and adds that it would be frowned upon in Thailand.
As teachers, Kathrine and Simon are obliged to participate in a child safety course which has taught them about safe contact with children.
Simon elaborates. If he wants to give a child feedback, it must be done so in front of other pupils or at least where he is visible to other people. At one of the schools, he teaches at, there are even no doors. And physical contact is a no-go for the most part.
“You have to ask yourself, is the touch necessary?” Kathrine says but quickly adds:
“If there is a need for contact, I wouldn’t deny the child a hug.”
“It’s just contact on different terms here,” Simon elaborates.
A change in contact doesn’t only include the children but also the parents.
Needless to say, the Danish community in Bangkok is somewhat smaller than that in Denmark. Seeing their pupils or parents thereof at an event during the weekend is therefore quite common for both teachers.
“I had to get used to the contact with the parents,” says Kathrine, who was even invited to a private Christmas gathering at one of her pupils’ house.
Simon adds that he even gets invited to the children’s birthday parties.
This is a part of the job, that they are both very pleased with. They haven’t experienced parents being as engaged in their children’s school as in Thailand.
Even the pupils appear to be more involved as well. Where Simon and Kathrine might struggle with children who don’t like school, nap during class or skip them altogether in Denmark, the story is a little different here.
“In Thailand it’s more prestigious to go to school than in Denmark. Children want to be taught,” Simon says.
“Some of my children even felt sad that there were no classes right before Christmas,” Kathrine adds.