What I’ve Learned while Teaching Private ESL Lessons in Thailand

Megan Stetzel

After graduating from LanguageCorps and traipsing around Thailand, I settled in Bangkok and taught for a language center. Most of my lessons were one on one with Japanese businessmen.  I had a few children and housewives as students as well but mostly middle aged Japanese men. The lessons were pre-designed and I rarely taught the same student twice. When I got off that plane in Phnom Penh, this teaching experience was as far out of my sights as my home town in NY was! I’d love to share some interesting lessons I learned while teaching private ESL lessons in Thailand.

Thailand Private ESL Lessons

Special request from a student.

1. Working for a Language Center means you wind up working with mostly Westerners.

My luck put me in a Language Center with mostly middle aged British men. To say the majority of them were quirky would be an understatement. Upon introducing myself to one named Michael he said, “Oh, Megan! Like M & M! My mom always signs her emails to me as M & M, Micheal’s Mother.” He was in his 50s. Oiy.


2. My job was really straightforward, each day we received a piece of paper with our lessons for the day.

Then we went to our file and !BEHOLD! there were the files of all of our students for the day. Within their files, there was information on what book and what lesson within that book they were on. I would spend 5-10 minutes refreshing myself with that lesson and the material covered so that I could sound like a knowledgeable little old English teacher. There was always some fun to be had when my student would pull out a different book or stare at me like I was speaking another language (HA!) and I would realize that I read that stupid doctor’s handwriting/chicken scratch/any-other-euphemism-associated-with-horribly-outrageous-handwriting completely wrong. I wasn’t supposed to be teaching prepositions, I was supposed to be teaching pronouns! Ugh.

Enter small talk 101.

3. Which brings me to my next point; 6 out of 10 lessons the students were sick of the actual material and would come in and just strike up a conversation instead.

At first, I dreaded these students. I’ve never really liked small talk in general, working at a restaurant definitely requires it so I can certainly say that I have advanced skills in the area but I never really enjoyed it. Now, after 3 months of constant small talk, I can small talk for an hour and a half and make my student feel just splendid about their English lesson afterwards.

4. Christmas morning doesn’t even compare in the happiness scale to opening a student file to find “N/S or CTL” (no show or cancel) scrolled across a high percentage of lesson notes. I got paid whether the student showed up or not, and I’d much prefer to read a juicy novel than talk about how to order in a restaurant.

5. I went to Thailand and wound up teaching private lessons at a Language Center. The majority of our clientele were Thai right? Wrong. Japanese! Japanese businessmen to be specific.

6. When you are living in Thailand, teaching Japanese men, finding relevant examples could prove to be rather daunting. Supermarket? Wegmans, easy. Wrong. Book store? Barnes and noble, even more wrong. Department store? Robinson’s in Thailand, Macy’s in NY, one of these have to be relevant in Japan, right? Wrong, and my student has only been in Thailand for 3 days.

Ha, this lesson will be interesting.

7. I now consider myself an expert in Pictionary, Taboo and Charades.

8. At times I got so busy I didn’t really even have a chance to look at the name on the file until the student sat down in front of me. Well, I had a series of questions I would ask students who I haven’t taught before. “How long have you been in Thailand?” was one of those questions. Well, then that student responds: “I’m Thai.

9. A handy little skill I now possess: the ability to read AND write upside down. If you have any occupations that this skill can be put to good use in, please let me know! Should it go on my resume?

10. Being a Speech Pathology major also comes with an innate ability to immediately recognize even the smallest sign of a speech impediment even in a non-native English speaker. Unfortunately, Japanese and Thai cultures are not keen on admitting that anything is wrong at all, especially with their children.

11. Students varied significantly. Some students came in and barely participated. Those were infuriating lessons. Some students loved learning the language and came in with their own topics or questions. And some students have, “Doesn’t like to be interrupted,” written on the outside of their file.

Don’t mess with that lady.

12. Going along with the theme of each student being very different; some students would say they are lonely in Thailand or that they want to take you out to dinner. Or they ask what ‘slut’ means. Life as a 1 to 1 English was always fun, you can’t deflect questions very easily when you’re stuck in a 5’  x 5’ room with just you and the student.

You can just pray for the next bell to ring.

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Teaching Pre-K Abroad: A Survival Guide

Jenny Tolep

Somebody is always screaming, a dozen dirty diapers provides a less-than-refreshing aroma and “Ring Around The Rosie” has played so many times that I could pull my hair out. Welcome to my life teaching Pre-K abroad.

When I decided to teach English in Thailand, I never thought I’d be caught dead teaching Pre-K.  In Thailand, teaching Pre-K means teaching 17 two year-olds for seven hours a day, five days a week.

It can be tough to manage such a young age group, but luckily I’m not alone. I’ve got a wonderful Thai co-teacher by my side and an assistant — sometimes two assistants. Teaching Pre-K is a challenge and takes a lot of patience and discipline in order to handle so many students.

Teaching Pre-K Abroad

Teaching Pre-K Abroad

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Do Your Future a Favor and Teach Private ESL Lessons while Abroad

We’re happy to bring you a guest post today from James Heywood.  James has a background in language and linguistics and has lived and worked in Sydney, Paris, Auckland, Dubai, and Istanbul, and is co-founder of TurksLearnEnglish and Off2Class. Off2Class (lesson plan content for private ESL teachers) was launched to provide lesson content resources targeted to those looking to teach private ESL lessons abroad. James can be contacted at james@off2class.com and is happy to offer advice or assistance to the online teaching community.









Today we catch up with James Heywood. After an overland trip from Southeast Asia to Turkey, he fell in love with Istanbul, and soon after decided to call it his new home. To support himself, he gave ESL teaching a try and eventually had enough private students to quit his day job at his private school. Seven years after his first ESL lesson, James has started a project to release his own ESL lesson plans for other teachers building their own independent teaching businesses. Today, James would like to give advice to other ESL teachers living abroad, focusing on the importance of private lessons.

Private lessons can be lucrative while abroad… and when you move on

Private lessons are a great way to supplement your day-job income from your school or language institute. Many students (and their parents) are willing to pay a premium rate for an ESL teacher with whom they have a personal relationship. While teaching abroad, you will be in a great position to teach private ESL lessons as well. Of course, it’s not a good idea to teach your day-job students on a private basis. But regardless, in your current employment you will be exposed to plenty of parents and other contacts that are looking for a private tutor. Do not let these opportunities go! Actually, if there is a single piece of advice to offer teachers who are abroad or intend to be, it is this: save each and every contact detail you have about your current students, and if you teach young learners, establish a relationship with their parents too.

If one day you want to pick up and move on from the current place you call home, you can take your students with you through online teaching. The greatest challenge to all new private teachers (especially online teachers) is to find students, yet the task is so much easier when you have a bank of contacts to begin with. Save every detail. You will not regret it!

In my experience, once I had built a strong rapport with students and parents, the requests for private tuition started to roll in. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of teaching in Turkey was to learn just how much developing economies pour money into education. Where national school systems may fall down in some areas, parents are ready and willing to spend considerable amounts of money to ensure their children develop high proficiency in the English language.

More on online teaching…

In my case, the grind of moving from one private lesson to another in a city the size of Istanbul eventually started to wear me down. It was time to teach online. At the beginning of 2013, I stopped face-to-face lessons, set up a simple website and began moving my current students online. I love online ESL teaching because it’s flexible. It allows me to teach from wherever I am on the planet. I highly recommend it to any teachers considering the move. Even if you have no plans of moving from your current home abroad, you should still give online teaching a try to get comfortable with the format. During summer vacation you’ll still be able to teach your private students, as they move to summer homes or to vacations in other places.

As a private ESL teacher, my biggest pain point had always been the amount of time required to prepare lessons. So at the end of 2012 I decided to go one step further: I co-founded a business which offers ready-to-use lesson content for English as a Second Language teachers, called Off2Class. So far we’ve got a variety of teachers in a number of markets using the service. If you’re teaching private lessons, whether in-person or online, please feel free to get in touch with us and we will set you up with an account!

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From Waitressing in California to Teaching English in Cambodia

By Caitlin Werd

Caitlin Werd, also known as Caitlin Seandel, is currently teaching English in Cambodia. To date she has been in Phnom Penh for a little over 8 months teaching, writing, and volunteering. She will travel throughout Southeast Asia before returning home. She enjoys the company of dream chasers and limit pushers, as she herself is one. She thanks you for taking the time to read her post and hopes that you are either enjoying your current adventure or busy planning the next one. To see more of her work, please visit her website at thetravelingplankton.com.

Caitlin Teaching English Abroad

Caitlin’s post originally appeared on Pink Pangea:


It doesn’t really make sense that my last blog with Pink Pangea will tell the story of how I found myself in Cambodia, but for those of you who have read at least half of one of my blogs, I think it is an important story to tell.

It was December 2012 and I had just graduated from San Diego State. I was packing up my car, preparing to move back home. I had no job lined up and I was feeling helpless and fearful that after graduation I would be back in my parents’ house and end up working at a local bar where I would see everyone from high school.

With that fear in my head, I left beautiful San Diego and eight hours later was unpacking my car and moving back into my old room, which I had not occupied for the past five and a half years. I was anything but excited and was actively applying for jobs. Each day, I would switch off between applying for “career positions” as well as jobs in the service industry.

Due to my dwindling bank account, whatever job lead bit first was what I would have to take. I was getting really tight on cash and when Stadium Pub, a local bar, called me about an interview, I was beyond excited. I nailed the interview and a few days later got a call asking if I still wanted the serving position. I accepted instantly and before I knew it, what I had feared most had come true. I was moved back in my parents’ house and was working in a bar that was the most popular among my high school acquaintances.

I started at Stadium Pub in January of 2013. I was making friends, making money and making memories. I also continued to apply for “careers,” conducted informational interviews and became a volunteer blogger with a human rights organization, called Ella’s Voice. It wasn’t until six months had passed that I started to get frustrated. I was angry.

How could it be possible that I was not getting a single millimeter of feedback, literally jobs weren’t even responding back with a “no.” I am competent in Spanish, have completed two degrees and two internships, worked 4.5 out of the 5.5 years in college and participated in many student organizations–and I wasn’t landing anything. Not only was I frustrated, I was unsure. Did I really want to plunge myself into a 9-5 job right now, more importantly a 9-5 job in the United States? Ever since my semester abroad in Madrid, my desire to travel was (and still is) insatiable.

I vocalized my concerns to my parents, and my dad’s reply was, “Why not teach English abroad?”

Never had I heard a better idea! From there I was off researching distant and foreign lands. I knew I wanted to go to Asia but I wasn’t sure where. I started looking into South Korea because some of my friends had taught there and really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

After doing some research, I narrowed down my requirements:

I wanted to be in Asia. I wanted to go somewhere where I knew no one, and that none of my close friends had been before (that crossed off South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand) and I wanted my world turned upside down.

I continued my search and found a company called LanguageCorps. I saw that they offered courses in Southeast Asia, and then I saw Cambodia. To be honest I was scared to even click on the link. I had heard about Cambodia, but I did not know anything about it. I clicked on the link and started doing my own research, reading blogs, history books, watching documentaries. I even looked at their identification cards, anything to make me feel more comfortable with this completely foreign and intriguing land.

Instantly, I was drawn in. I was enticed because the thought of moving to Cambodia scared me. It scared me out of my mind. The first thing that I thought was what if I died there? I researched for a week, skimming the surface of Cambodia’s history, culture, and geography.

Read the rest of Caitlin’s Story at Pink Pangea! 

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How to Stay in Touch with Your Significant Other while Teaching Abroad

Since you were a child, you’ve dreamed of working as a teacher in a far off and distant land. Now, you’re about to do just that.

Staying in Touch While Teaching Abroad









Unfortunately, there is a downside to your upcoming adventure— your significant has obligations back home, and is not going to be able to teach abroad with you. If you are concerned about staying in touch with your sweetie, there are plenty of ways to instant message, text, video chat and more. For example, consider the following:

Smartphones Are Super

People who are traveling abroad should definitely consider bringing along their smartphones, notes Quick and Dirty Tips. If you don’t already have one, or desperately need an upgrade, check out the latest smartphones such as the Galaxy S 5 as a terrific smartphone that works well overseas.

Look into international data plans from your current carrier, or buy a data plan for your phone once you arrive to your new home city. However, data plans abroad tend to be the more economical solution. Understandably, if you are not sure which plan to purchase, LanguageCorps staff will be able to point you in the right direction (some programs even include a cell phone).

Smartphones also have a variety of apps available. Quick and Dirty Tips also provides examples of video messaging apps like Facetime (only for Apple products), Google Hangouts, Skype and Viber, which all are easy to use and actually allow you to see your significant other and have a conversation. If you need something quicker, WhatsApp is a popular international texting app.

Seek Out Free Wi-Fi

To avoid the humongous phone bills that can happen with overseas data usage, find Internet hotspots with a website like Wefi. This will allow you to use free Wi-Fi whenever you can as opposed to the more expensive data from your plan.

You also should see if the school has free Wi-Fi, or you can use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi router by tethering it to your tablet or laptop. If your phone doesn’t allow this feature, you can purchase a MiFi device, which is essentially a small Wi-Fi router that works with a SIM card.

Most LanguageCorps training centers are equipped with WiFi, and internet cafes are increasingly common throughout most regions as well. However, do keep in mind that these public Internet hookups are not always secure, so use them to talk with your spouse but not necessarily to look up your bank information.

Don’t Forget Emails

A tablet or laptop can be a handy and convenient tool for staying in touch with loved ones back home, notes ICAL. Rather than have rushed phone calls with less-than-ideal connections, you can take your time to compose thoughtful letters about your adventures as well as upload photos and videos of your school and colleagues. Another advantage of emails, notes Life After Study Abroad, is that you can still communicate with your spouse without having to think about time zones; you can write a nice letter at 2 p.m. while your spouse is snoozing thousands of miles away.

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Loving Life with LanguageCorps Cambodia

Linda Smith, our rockstar support coordinator, received this very nice letter the other day from Cindi in Cambodia.  Cindi took our TESOL Certification course in Phnom Penh, and is now loving life as an English teacher abroad.  It’s always great to hear from teachers who are embracing life abroad and making the most of their experience, and we wish Cindi continued success  and happiness on her adventure abroad!  You can read her email below.

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I Never Thought I Would Enjoy Teaching English in Italy

When I first came to Florence, Italy, in October of last year, I couldn’t have imagined how much my life would change. I came for Florence’s TEFL certification program, arranged through LanguageCorps, even though I hadn’t planned on really teaching. It was never a profession that interested me, and if I’m being honest, I rather dislike children. Teaching 30 ragamuffins in a chaotic classroom where I didn’t speak the native language didn’t appeal to my sense of adventure, but I decided to do the program because I really wanted to live in Italy and travel throughout Europe, and I needed a way to make money. As my departure date got closer, I also decided that maybe this program wouldn’t be so bad as a way to try something new and out of my comfort zone. After all, I was already getting out of my zone by picking up and moving overseas, so why not look forward to the reason that was getting me there?

Carrie in Italy


Well, the TEFL Certification program was tough. How could it not be, given I only had a month to learn everything I never knew about English grammar and pedagogy? Even with my English degree and stronger knowledge of grammar than most of my fellow American classmates, the class was a challenge. And after becoming TEFL Certified, I found I still had no desire to teach. I’d enjoyed the practice teaching sessions and the classrooms were no more than seven adults, but overall, I still felt pretty ambivalent to the idea. I decided I’d move to Rome where my friends were teaching, and do what people in their 20s do: hang out.

That didn’t last long. After a month or so of this, I realized hanging out takes money. Money I didn’t have anymore. I looked around for writing and journalism options, because those were my degrees in college and I felt more comfortable in that field, but I didn’t have much luck.

So, I decided to give teaching English in Italy the ol’ college try. And what a fun, rewarding ride it’s been! I feel incredibly lucky. I teach a range of ages from 9 to 18, and while at first I wasn’t too pleased (remember, I dislike children, and teenagers fall into that category for me), it’s turned out to be a great opportunity to get involved with something I’d never considered doing, and I now realize that teaching can be pretty awesome.

When my students tell me they had a fun lesson, there’s a level of satisfaction that I didn’t have when I was working in journalism. Granted, I also have my frustrating days, and days where I wonder what I was thinking getting myself involved in teaching. But who doesn’t have those? It only makes the good days that much better. And I still get to travel, which was the whole point of the trip in the first place. I go to a new place for a weekend each month, and while I wish I had more time, I’ve found a good balance of getting more acquainted with Rome, while still seeing Europe.

I’m now involved in a summer camp in Umbria, where I would be teaching English to children ages 6-12 for three weeks. I’m sure I will come away with a sense of accomplishment and happiness–probably happiness at being done with the camp but also happiness that I did it in the first place. Only time will tell!

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Leave Your Camera Behind

Alex Schnee

When you are living  or teaching abroad, one of the first thing you might want to do is pull out your cellphone/camera at every opportunity and take pictures to share with your friends at home. Sites like Instagram and Flicker have made sharing pictures on a daily basis a part of our culture—I mean, we want to make our friends back home realize how much fun we are having, right?

However, there are also some great benefits to putting that camera away and leaving it behind when you go out for the day. You start to notice things differently when you aren’t out to get the perfect shot to send to your friends, like how good a slice of pizza actually tastes instead of how it looks in Italy, how bright Gaudi’s colors are in Barcelona without a brightness setting, and how busy the streets of Tokyo are when you aren’t glued to your camera phone’s screen. There are some major benefits to really appreciating the moment and enjoying wherever you are in the world.

Tourist Photo Times Square

1. You Appreciate Art More 

When you are in a location that has some amazing works of art, you might want to find yourself wanting to snap that picture behind the security guard’s back. Before you decide to take that photo, however, remember that this work of art has probably already been snapped…usually again and again and again. Think about actually enjoying the work of art as it was intended. Who knows? You might see something new.

  1. You appreciate food more.

Taking the time to snap a photo before you dive into a plate of sushi in Japan or pouring yourself some sangria in Spain has kind of become an obligatory action. While it’s understandable that you want your friends to know what’s been on the menu recently, part of the experience of eating food is to enjoy the whole enchilada (so to speak). Before you decide to take a photo, think about whether or not it would ruin the meal to stop and take a picture. Either way, enjoying your food is an important part of learning about a new culture.

  1. You appreciate your surroundings more.

Part of going to a new place is enjoying being somewhere else and seeing some new things that you wouldn’t if you were at home. When you are constantly snapping pictures, you can actually end up missing a lot because you are so focused on finding that perfect angle. Think about taking a long walk without your camera in hand and see whether or not you notice anything different about your neighborhood or the people you pass on the street on a daily basis. With so many beautiful things to see while being abroad, it would be a shame to miss them.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t document your experiences and that you shouldn’t take some pictures! But if you find yourself looking through the lens more than you think you should, you might want to consider putting the camera down and taking a long walk with no options of filters.

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What Does Culture Mean? Lessons From Spain

My own culture

This is a very well- accepted phrase, but at times we really forget to pay attention to how much excitement, change and challenges help us grow.  Some days we just live with an accepted monotony of conditioned behaviors and activities that we call a ´normal day´.  But this kind of day-to-day normalcy is not born into us.

Barcelona Main Harbor

As a traveler I have seen many different kinds of lifestyles that have taught me just how many choices we have in the world.  Living life as a fairly typical American for my first 21 years, I have come to an understanding of American culture (which does exist, believe it or not!)  But living an American lifestyle in China or Spain just wouldn’t be possible without being thoroughly and constantly frustrated.  So we learn to adapt.

We may be resistant at first, but with time and flexibility we learn to try out the mores of a different society ´´for fun´´.    We try local foods, shop for traditional clothes, make friends of different cultures and try activities common to the natives.  As we open our minds, we realize different is not always scary, and we start to crave new experiences.  We may even learn to fully envelop ourselves into another society.

My latest cultural experience was teaching English in Spain.  I had a piso (Spanish for flat) in a small town in Andalucia.  I had a café solo and tostada con aceite (bread with olive oil) for breakfast, ate lunch around 2 or 3 and finished the day with tapas and wine at a local bar.  The siesta didn’t fit my work schedule, but on some weekends would be an added activity. I spoke in my broken Spanish, learned to not expect any stores to be open from 2-6, Saturday afternoons or Sunday, wasn’t  surprised by religious processions, walked very slowly and greeted everyone with a kiss on both cheeks.

And with adaption comes a realization of personal preference that is not always in keeping with the traditions of our home land.  The lifestyle of the new home is not always perfect either.  We become a person free from accepted norms, challenging each culture with questions, and coming up with our own idea of what a ´normal´ day should be like.  We accumulate new experiences in order to compare with what we already know.  This personal growth is central to the process of creating our own culture; one that is unique to our interests, needs and passions.

While in Spain there were parts of my life that were very ´´unSpanish´´.   I didn’t eat dairy, eggs or meat….yes even ham was not a part of my diet.  I spent my weekends traveling with new friends, never ate meals with my family and spoke English with my roommate.  There were parts of the culture I would never be able to fully understand, but I was still able to appreciate it for what it taught me about family, work and life.

So.  What other foods can I try?  What other sport can I try?  What other lifestyle can I learn from?  Each time I try something new I am able to commit further to what I know is my own culture.

Thank you for learning with me,

Amanda Deering


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Teaching English in Thailand – Episodes of Perfect Kindness

By Gina Rodondi, LanguageCorps Thailand

Gina is a yoga instructor and travel enthusiast who currently resides in Portland, Oregon. She caught the travel bug pretty early on in life, but didn’t have the opportunity to travel abroad until June 2013, when she embarked on her first transcontinental journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to get TESOL certified through LanguageCorps. It was her goal to acquire this certification and then teach English in Thailand a teach English, making it possible to economically sustain all the jet-setting she planned to do. She has had the pleasure of not only bowing into the peace and wonder of Cambodia, but also has ventured to southern and northern Thailand, and also Luang Prabang, Laos. She is now back in the United States, nurturing what she learned while teaching English in Thailand.  The experience was one that enriched and empowered her life on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level and truly created the space for lasting change.

Sipping on a coconut in Thailand


Episodes of Perfect Kindness

The golden sun is going down on another day here in Chiang Mai, the land of kindness. I realize that Thailand as a whole is known as the “land of smiles”. However, I have not witnessed as many outward, generous expressions of kindness as I have in this city. I went to the dentist today to have the first teeth cleaning that I’ve had in an awfully long time, and naturally I was white knuckling the chair and squirming because my teeth have become very sensitive of late. The sweet woman dentist was so attentive and even empathized with me about her own sensitive teeth as she held my forearm in a gesture of comfort while turning the teeth cleaner down to the lowest speed. Later on, I went back to the same dentist office to bring in the other portion of my payment. I spoke with a different Thai woman at the reception desk, whose English was a bit limited, but she generally understood what I said when I broke it down. She began to tell me a bit about herself and brought up wanting to learn English, but had no time since she worked every day. She had also mentioned that her sister was a Catholic nun and that she goes to visit her at the convent often. I stayed for a few more minutes, both of us laughing as we tried to understand each other. I went to open the door to leave and she says, “God bless you” with a huge smile on her face–I couldn’t help but return the sentiment, since she was such a sweetheart and did so well with her English conversation.

Next, I went to AUM, my beloved vegetarian restaurant, and had the nourishing, creamy avocado maki with the bright carrot, orange and ginger juice. I was craving something a bit sweet after, so I stopped into a nondescript cafe on my stroll home. I crossed the threshold and I greeted the proprietress with the customary, “Sawadee ka” and she answered me immediately in English with a warm, “Hello. How are you?”. This woman exuded non judgment, warmth, kindness and confidence in both herself and her establishment.  She made me feel right at home, and went on about how much she loved the embroidered cotton tunic that I was wearing, because it looked so lightweight and the blue color matched my eyes. Who doesn’t like getting complimented immediately upon meeting someone the first time?

She guided me over to the pastry case to see what kind of sweet I would like, and I chose the perfect, delectable almond brownie. I took my cute, baby pink cushioned seat and surveyed the scene, which slightly resembled a British tea house that I used to frequent in San Francisco. The late afternoon light filled the entire place, brightening up even the dark cherry wood of the tables and chairs. It matched the amount of warmth that I was receiving from Yupa, the proprietress. I stayed only for a short time, but the place made a lasting positive impression on me. I would definitely be back.

I cannot help but feel so incredibly blessed to be here, having these magical interactions with seemingly complete strangers, which convinces me evermore that there is so much good left in this world. God bless me, indeed.

Do you have a story about your time teaching English abroad?  Email Steve.Patton@languagecorps.com!

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