Koh Tao, Thailand – Diving Certification at Big Blue

I’m trying to get caught up on my posts from my trip to Thailand!

For the last part of my trip, I split off from my friends to do my own thing.  They wanted to explore the jungle in Chaing Mai, and I was beyond excited to get my diving certification.  I’d read and heard so much about Koh Tao, that I decided to just go for it and complete the 4 day Open Water course with Big Blue.  I’d had Scuba diving in my mind for awhile, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it.

So, I set off while it was still dark early Friday morning on my journey from Krabi to Koh Tao.  This consisted of a few hours on a bus, and a series of boats.  It took most of the day, and I finally arrived in the late afternoon to the pier at Koh Tao.  The boats were all really nice and comfortable, with options to sit inside or outside, food, and a relatively smooth ride.  When I arrived at the pier I was overwhelmed with all the people crowding around.  Thankfully I spotted the guy holding a sign with my name on it quickly, fought my way through the crowd, and jumped in the back of the truck to drive to the dive resort which was only a few minutes away.

As soon as I pulled up my instructor was waiting for me with a drink at the resort bar/restaurant.  I quickly filled out the paper work and got checked into my FREE dorm room.  The room wasn’t too bad…simple, with air conditioning and a hideous bathroom as expected.  But for free accommodation in a room I would only sleep in…it was tolerable.  That night I met with the rest of my classmates, and my instructor for the first instruction of the course (intro, videos, etc.)  Everyone was awesome…I had 2 German guys and a Swedish lady in my class.  It was a small, great group which I was very thankful for as the course went on.

First thoughts on my first afternoon and evening there…Amazing people, good food, laid back environment, gorgeous warm weather, beautiful beach…It was just awesome.  Every night there was  fire dancing on the beach.  It was truly a paradise, and I hadn’t even been underwater yet!

The next day I woke up feeling pretty nervous about actually putting on the diving equipment and going underwater.  I really had no idea what to expect…even if it was just in a swimming pool.  I was excited though.  Everything seemed to be happening so fast.  We learned all about how to assemble everything, and all the safety checks.  It was all going great.  Then we went into the pool and started practicing various skills.  It was a little scary at first and took a lot of getting used to, but overall everything was going pretty well.  The instructor was super patient with us.  Then came my problem which became an even bigger problem that I never anticipated.  I’ve never been afraid of water.  I know how to swim, and I’ve always felt comfortable swimming in pools, lakes, oceans, etc.  But for some reason when we got to the mask skills I started having massive panic attacks.  Clearing the mask of a little water was fine. But when I had to completely fill my mask with water, then take it off, put it back on again, and then clear it…It was one of the most terrifying feelings I’ve ever felt as silly as it sounds.  I felt bad for holding everyone up, and just could not get over being completely panicked, so we moved on.  Everything else went great that day, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to move on unless I mastered these skills.

We ended up moving on, and finished up all the classroom stuff.  The instructor agreed to work with me one-on-one early the next morning to work on mastering the skills.  I woke up the next day feeling even more scared.  I let the fear build up in my head, and I was ready to just give up.  I had a talk with my instructor and he told me to take the morning off, and he’d set me up with a private teacher in the pool for the afternoon.  I was still nervous, but with the pressure off I was able to relax and enjoy the morning relaxing on the beautiful beach.

My private instructor was an amazing guy named Andy.  He was so patient, and friendly and really put me at ease.  Within an hour I’d mastered all the skills in the pool and he took me out for a dive right out on the reef from the beach of the diving resort.  I was scared, but it ended up being such an amazing experience.  Having the one-on-one attention made all the difference.  It was exactly what I needed, and I’m so happy that Big Blue was able to provide me with that.  My first dive in the ocean was incredible.  The time flew by, and I was able to enjoy myself and the interesting fish and coral I got to see.  We even completed some of the certification skills necessary to complete the course so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with them all on the final day.

The next day I had to go on three dives to complete the course.  It was a long morning, and I saw some amazing things under the water.  There were so many beautiful fish, including a school of barracuda and a puffer fish.  I thought I might lose it when I was on camera with many other students down there and I had to do the mask removal skill.  It wasn’t completely perfect, but I did it without any major problems…mostly just panic!  On my third dive I was completely drained of energy and had the worst headache, but I was able to stick it out.  Once we got back on the beach I got my certification card, and lots of hugs and cheers from the instructors that knew I’d been struggling and close to giving up.  I’m so lucky I was able to complete this course at Big Blue.  They were so attentive to my needs, and that really gave me such an incredible and unique experience.  I hope I can go dive there again someday.  To celebrate I treated myself to an overpriced Mexican restaurant down the road and then napped for the rest of the day.  I really wanted to get one more cheap amazing Thai massage before I left, but no massages allowed for 24 hours after diving!

For the final night I had a beach side barbecue dinner with my classmates, and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment.  It might sound silly, but this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and knowing how close I was to giving up I’m just so happy I overcame my fear! I pretty much owe it all to the awesome instructors at Big Blue.  I could not have asked for a better experience!


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Reach to Teach Blog Carnival

Here are the articles written for the Reach to Teach Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe.  I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with Dean at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and he’ll let you know how you can start participating!

I am hosting this month’s blog carnival and the topic is:  “Learn from your mistakes!  What was your worst lesson?  What went wrong? How did you learn from it?

Rebecca Thering – Learning from my mistakes: Taming the little ones

Imagine standing in front of a classroom full of twenty-eight energetic second grade kids, many of whom have anger/emotional issues due to their less-than-ideal home life. Two boys are writing on the chalkboard while another two are chasing each other around the room. Another boy sneaks under your desk in front to hide while his friend stands on a student’s desk and screams. Meanwhile the girls are non-stop chatting away, paying zero attention to you. Oh, and did I mention that these kids only speak Korean, but you only speak English? This is the set up for my worst ESL lessons to date.

I’m a Wisconsin-native currently teaching English at a rural elementary school in South Korea.  My Spanish skills aren’t quite as useful here as they were when I lived in Madrid, which is where my Spanish nickname Rebe (Ray-bay) stuck.  I have an itch to travel, craft, learn, and read – and to make the world a better place!

Jamie Phillips – Never Bring Cookies to a Kindergarten Class

There’s nothing like standing before a room full of scrutinizing students to rankle a person’s confidence and short circuit the brain… but that’s the wonderful thing about teaching: every day, a thousand mistakes, and a thousand ways to get better. Sometimes, willingly taking repeated hits to the ego feels like lunacy. But when it goes well, it’s tremendous.

I’ve been on the road, on and off, for seven years and counting. I’ve backpacked through South America, lived in a caravan in the Australian outback, traveled with my mum in South East Asia, and taught English in Taiwan. I’m currently tutoring high school students and teaching business ESL in Canada. This summer I’m doing a trek to raise money for the Roots and Wings foundation in Kyrgyzstan.

Dean Barnes – Learn From Your Mistakes

Making mistakes in teaching is all part of the learning curve. Teachers aren’t just pumped out of a TEFL course with all of the skills and knowledge base of a teacher that has been doing ESL for 20 years has. This is a skills based industry and we all know that skills aren’t just learnt from a textbook, they need to be planted in a classroom and watered with time. With enough nurturing you watch your teaching skills blossom and flourish. And even then, mistakes can still be made.

My name is Dean, I have been traveling for around 3 and a half years now with a small stint back in my home country. I’m from the UK and I began my teaching career on the island of Bali. I then made the move to Taiwan where I currently reside. Here I have the joy to fulfill my passion for writing by providing ESL/travel related articles to the Reach To Teach website.

Mary Dingley – Mistake Making

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6 ways to stay motivated in the classroom

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

How do you keep yourself from becoming burnt out and how do you stay motivated to teach?

It’s been a few months since I’ve written for the blog carnival, but I figured now was a good time to jump back into it.  I’ve been home from South Korea for about 2 months now, and although I did get burnt out a lot while teaching, I’m really starting to miss it!

Honestly, the thing that consistently drained my motivation was all the down time I had at my school.  I usually taught from 9-12 every day (about 4-5 classes), and had to teach the same lesson 7-9 times each.  In the afternoons I sat at my desk wasting my life on facebook and surfing the web while checking the clock every 5 minutes to see if it was 4:30 yet.  Nothing was more draining than teaching the same boring lesson over and over again, and then being forced to sit at a desk for 20 hours a week.  So, how did I stay motivated?  Here are 6 things I think any teacher can incorporate into his or her classroom to keep everyone from burning out!

1.  Plan creative and fun lessons that YOU are excited to teach.  Find out what the kids are interested in, and plan lessons that incorporate these things. Make it fun and exciting!  Get advice from other teachers about what lessons worked/didn’t work for their students.

2.  Be ready.  Getting plenty of rest during the week, and having your lesson plans in order well before you need to teach them will help reduce the daily stress and anxiety that will burn you out very quickly.

3.  Make your lessons as interactive as possible.  What’s more boring than sitting at a desk listening to a teacher talk?  Add a language barrier, and the students will zone out even faster.  Get them up and moving, and interact with them as much as possible.

4.  Take brain breaks.  Plan rewards and incentives that the students can earn periodically.  These are great for the teacher and the students.  Every few weeks close the text book and have a games day, movie day, or a special activity like a scavenger hunt or cooking class.  Having something to look forward to will make the days and weeks easier to deal with.

5.  Change of scenery.  If your school allows it why not change things up and try to have class somewhere outside of the normal classroom?  Not everyone has the facilities for this, but even something as simple as having class outside on a nice day can make a huge difference in the moods and attitudes of students and teachers.

6.  Let go of the stress, and just have fun.  Don’t be afraid to let loose in the class, be goofy and energetic even if you aren’t having the best day.  Having fun and enjoying time with your students will undoubtedly brighten your spirits!

How do you motivate yourself and your students?

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Thailand Part 2: First Day in Krabi

After one day and night in Phuket, we started our journey to Krabi.  We organized a bus to take us from Phuket to Krabi rather than a ferry because it was a little cheaper.  I’m not sure which way would have been best, but the bus turned out to be pretty terrible.  It took a lot longer than we were told, and we were crammed with tons of other people in a minivan on bumpy roads for hours.  We were all pretty angry and a little carsick by the time we made it to the Krabi Town bus terminal.  We finally made it to our resort hotel about mid-afternoon.  As soon as we saw our hotel (Peace Laguna Resort) our moods brightened a lot!  It was located right next to Ao Nang beach.  The place was gorgeous with amazing views.  I really couldn’t believe we were staying there.  I gave the front desk people the information about my lost bag, and after a quick phone call they told me my bag would arrive in just a couple hours.  Things were looking up!  After we checked in we explored the hotel, surrounding area, ate a delicious Indian food lunch, and went for a swim in the beautiful swimming pool.  We also organized our activities for the week.  


Gorgeous view from the open hotel lobby.



The hotel provided a free buffet breakfast every morning with local food as well as traditional western breakfast foods.


The main road outside our hotel in Ao Nang. Lots of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.



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Traveling to Thailand

So I’ve been back from my two week Asian adventure for about a week now, but I’ve been so busy preparing things to leave Korea in a few weeks that I haven’t had a chance to write about my trip. I’ve also been in an emotion slump, but I’m hoping to distract myself by reflecting on my experiences in Thailand and China.

The trip didn’t start off well. I’d heard horror stories about China Eastern Airlines, but I guess you don’t really know until you experience it for yourself. The actual flights weren’t bad (I had 4), and you really can’t beat the low prices, but was it worth the headache? I’m not sure. The only good thing about it was the food. I just can’t get over how even the budget airlines in Asia give full meals for just an hour long flight. In the States you can barely get a drink!

So I left Korea in the early evening on a Saturday. My flight was delayed over an hour, and I had to change planes in Shanghai. The line to transfer took ridiculously long, and I barely made it to my next flight to Phuket. It took about five hours to get to Phuket and it was an overnight flight. The woman sitting in my row was trying to get her daughter to sleep and let her stretch her legs out over the whole row so she kept kicking me the entire flight. I felt really bad because I know the little girl was tired and having her “sleep” was a little better than listening to her cry the whole flight, but the whole experience was just awful.

When I finally got to Phuket and out of the plane I was already in a bad mood. It was about 2:30am and it took over an hour to get through immigration. I was looking forward to getting my bag and finding a quiet place to rest until morning. But, I couldn’t find my bag! The baggage claim attendant said it most likely got held up in Shanghai and would come in about 24 hours. So I had only the clothes on my back and my winter coat. The airport was crazy busy all night long so I couldn’t really rest. When the sun finally came up I set out to find a bus to get to my hostel, and I was looking forward to meeting up with my friends. As soon as I walked out of the airport I was swarmed by guys trying to get me to pay 1000baht (About $35) to take me to my hostel. I decided to try to wait for the 200baht minibus, but they told me I would have to wait a long time until they had enough people to fill it up. While I was waiting I chatted with some really nice ladies from Australia, and it was refreshing to feel warm air after leaving freezing cold Korea.

I waited and waited and waited….It seemed like I’d been at the airport for ages and I was just getting angrier as each minute passed. Finally I just decided I needed to get to my hostel, eat, take a shower, and meet my friends so I just paid for the private taxi. I got to my hostel in just under an hour, checked in, and set off to find the hostel my friends were staying in. I’m not even going to talk about the hostel situation. Let’s just say the room was less than $10, and I was happy it was only for one night. The weather and scenery were gorgeous as I walked down the main road near Karon beach. When I finally saw familiar faces my mood started to improve a lot! After eating some delicious cheap Thai food, bargaining for clothes, and having a relaxing afternoon on beautiful Karon beach, I was feeling much better.

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2014 Happenings

2014 is off to an amazing start!  Yesterday was officially the last day of my two week English camp.  It was a great two weeks with awesome students.  I am very excited that it is finished though, and I am currently organizing and packing my bag for ten days on the beaches in Thailand followed by two days in Shanghai.  I am excited to take advantage of the “72 hour transit visa” in Shanghai, and of course spend ten days enjoying gorgeous warm summer weather in Thailand.  I booked a four day open water certification course, so I will be learning how to scuba dive on the beautiful island of Koh Tao.  I’m nervous!

Other than preparing for my trip, I’ve been busy cleaning my apartment and organizing things to sell and pack to ship home.  I can’t believe it’s already been two years since I started living in Korea.  It breaks my heart to leave my school, my adorable students, my friendly co-workers, my awesome free apartment, and all the amazing friends I’ve made, but it’s time to start a new chapter.  It’s scary to leave the first real stable job I’ve ever really had, and the very comfortable life style I’ve had for the past couple years.  Let’s hope I made the right choice!


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Cultures colliding

A few weeks ago I had such a great experience having dinner at a Saudi Arabian friend’s house.  There’s a group of Saudi Arabian guys in my neighborhood who all study at university’s nearby.  I run into them quite often, and one day my neighbor Ivan and I were invited over to their apartment for an authentic Saudi Arabian dinner.   Ivan’s parents were also in town visiting him from New York so they joined us.  When we arrived, there were four Saudi Arabian guys and one Korean girl.  Ivan’s dad is from Dominican Republic and his mom is from Puerto Rico, so we had a good mix of cultures and languages which was pretty amazing.

Dinner was amazingly good and also overwhelming.  It was such a cool experience.  They put down huge piece of plastic over the carpet in the living room, and set down two HUGE platters of chicken and rice and a few small plates of salad.  The four Saudi guys sharing one plate, and everyone else sharing the second.  Our side had eating utensils and their side did not.  When it was time to “dig in”, they did just that.  After watching the guys using their hands to eat, we ditched our utensils and did the same.  It was ridiculously delicious, messy, and fun.  I’ve never eaten rice with my hands before.  After dinner we had some delicious Arabian peppermint tea, and shared more stories from our various cultures.  It was a very fun and unique evening, and I hope we get to do it again soon!


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