From my classroom in the Secondary School, I look out on a tropical garden of palms, frangipani, and bougainvillaea cascading down the pristine white walls. Out of a large pond filled with golden carp the Thai Sala rises with its steep pointed roof and white pillars. It is a scene resembling a luxury hotel in any of the resorts of tropical Asia. This is the first impression on arriving at Patana. In such a beautiful environment one cannot help feeling positive and appreciated. This scene through the window continues to inspire.
I remember the excitement many years ago when I started at Patana. The classroom quickly filled with clean, cheerful, fresh-faced students delivered in a fleet of mini-buses from all over this sprawling city. My overall impression of our students has not changed. They are almost exclusively well motivated, honest, well behaved and success oriented. They are from families who are ambitious, who value education and who are keen on academic progress. They have almost always lived in various parts of the globe and are therefore generally tolerant and open-minded with an awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity.
Our work as teachers is supported and assisted by the Thai staff of maids, drivers, librarians, accountants, technicians, cooks and gardeners. Our bills are paid on our behalf; our banking errands are run for us. The maids photocopy, erect displays, move furniture and set up rooms for special events. There is little to distract us from our primary task of teaching and administering.
The Secondary School is eighteen years old. I was fortunate to be part of the exciting process of setting this up. The systems have gradually evolved and the resources have accumulated. However, there is still a feeling that every year the school faces new challenges and experiences. It is a feeling which perhaps arises from the high turnover of students whose parents are moving on to new business assignments.
A teaching post at Patana is enhanced by the adventure of discovering Bangkok, Thailand and South East Asia. Much is written of Bangkok's horrendous traffic. While it is indeed frustrating, if you choose the right time for your journey you can generally avoid a jam. I travel everywhere on the excellent bus system and the splendid mass transit system. The magical world of the shopping mall seems to be a staple of the Thai lifestyle and we at Patana are close to three of the largest ones in the city. There is little we need that cannot be procured there.
I have had the occasion to use the Thai hospital system. The standard of medical care and attention here is equal to the world's best. Our houses are excellent with a choice of maids or do-it-yourself housework, BBC or CNN and multi-channel cable TV. (The Bangkok Post is the best daily newspaper in Asia). There are excellent bookshops in Bangkok and up-to-date cinema. I have never had occasion to regret my move to Patana. These years have been the best teaching years of my life.
In February 1991, I applied for a post at Patana with my partner David. Both of us were keen to work in a school which followed the British National Curriculum and had a British educational ethos. We were very impressed with the Patana information booklet, which included comments from children. It seemed as though Patana was a school which cared about children as individuals and valued their opinions.
Our interviews were nerve wracking. We'd never been interviewed together before and there were many recriminations afterwards about each other's answers. Amazingly, we were offered posts. Then the moment of truth - how would we break it to our families?
Actual first impressions of Bangkok severely dampened our enthusiasm. After a long flight, our simple 20-minute bus trip to the hotel was extended to 3 hours due to Bangkok's congested traffic. By that time, a deathly hush had descended on the bouncy, excited passengers and everyone was looking rather grim. However, the Principal was at the hotel to greet us personally by name, not an easy feat considering there were over 30 new staff. Did he spend nights memorising those dreadful photo kiosk pictures? (This was way before digitally enhanced images.)
Our first view of the school was inspiring, especially after previous teaching experiences in small infant/junior schools in Liverpool. We could not believe the feeling of space, the greenery, the large, inviting, deep-blue swimming pool, brilliant white buildings and a school office bursting with staff.
The first couple of weeks were a heady and exhilarating mixture of meeting new people, visiting exciting restaurants, soaking up an exotic and rich culture and settling into a new school. After being part of a compact staff unit in a small school, it was quite difficult to appreciate the structure of such a large school. However, meeting people from different education authorities and various countries was interesting and challenging. It was stimulating to be surrounded by new ideas and different ways of teaching. All the staff seemed very committed to providing the very best educational experiences for the children. There seemed to be no sign of any staff plodding along at the same school or just taking it easy. Teachers were caring but committed and were all keen to stay for meetings and INSET after school hours. The staffroom no longer included conversations about the latest microwave oven or home improvements. Conversations revolved around exotic locations, the lively night life, cultural experiences and the next holiday trip.
After those first impressions we settled down to daily life in Bangkok which is exciting, though at times frustrating. Things which don't get done on time elicit the reply "mai pen rai" - it doesn't matter. This is more than compensated for by amazing experiences ranging from a hair-raising ride through the traffic in a tuk tuk to finding a cobra on the doorstep (fortunately, a very rare occurrence).
Weekends away can include lying on palm-fringed white sandy beaches and trekking through the jungle in search of tigers. When we first arrived in Bangkok, David resurrected his football career with the staff team and we both took up golf (with varying degrees of success). After a 20 year break, I learned the new rules of netball and played for the Patana staff team and had my first tennis lessons. We both swim regularly; there's no excuse when the water is always warm.
We came to Bangkok with a view to staying for two years. At the moment we are in our 18th year at Bangkok Patana School. My initial impressions have not diminished, although, having given birth to a child in Thailand, my social calendar also includes children's parties and our sporting commitments are more likely to involve being spectators at the children's soccer or gymnastics. Recently, we also adopted a Thai child which has further enriched our lives. Bangkok continues to become more cosmopolitan although roadside noodle bars continue to thrive next door to Starbucks and Pizza Hut.
If you are a dedicated teacher who is keen to work hard with our teams to provide the best learning opportunities for the children and are also prepared to live with the frustrations and rewards of a very different but richly exciting culture, you will not be disappointed by Bangkok Patana School.
Stephen (Head of Year 1, Year 1 class Teacher) and Sarah Murgatroyd (Head of Nursery and K1, K1 class Teacher)
We arrived at Patana in August 2000 and continue to thoroughly enjoy our time in Thailand. We wrote the following piece after our first term in Bangkok and it contains our initial thoughts and feelings, having moved 6000 miles from home! They are still important and relevant because they relate to our first impressions of the move we had just made. What is interesting to note, having re-read them, is that we still feel the same way now! Our youngest, who started his school life at Patana in K2 (Reception), has moved into Year 13 this academic year to complete both his IB Diploma course and his journey through Patana. Our middle son is now in the third year of his University course in the UK. This year, he is doing work experience at University developing sport in the Community. He continues to have a love of sport, inspired at Patana and although he works hard he enjoys his social life too! Our eldest has begun his third year working in London, having graduated from University in the summer of 2011. He is thoroughly enjoying all of the freedom that living independently from his parents can offer and we feel that the education that he had at Patana, starting in Year 6, has been instrumental in the way in which he has successfully adapted to the challenges of University, starting work and life away from home. All three boys have loved their education and the many different experiences they have had here. They have made many good friends that will be part of their lives for many years to come; in this regard the Bangkok Patana Alumni is a great link and allows staff and students, from both the past and the present, to keep in touch. We now know that we came to one of the best decisions we have ever made when we decided to come to Bangkok Patana. We both continue to enjoy our work, our colleagues and most importantly of all, the children we work with. The job continues to be demanding but the benefits and rewards are enormous in many ways. We wish you the best of luck with your applications.
For us, the decision to work away from the UK was made a long time ago. The question was - where? The first question most people asked us, when they found out where we were going, was "Why?!" Our answers varied, but generally we would reply "Why not!" Bangkok is such a contrast to where home was in the UK that we could not help but be excited about the prospect of working in the Far East. Both of us had some experience of this part of the world as children when our parents worked in this neck of the woods. We wanted to give our boys the opportunities to experience a different kind of life, while they were still at a young enough age to enjoy the challenge of change with us and flexible enough to start over and make friends in a new environment.
Reports in the media and the way in which Bangkok is sometimes portrayed in the press, might not lead you to think that it is the sort of place to volunteer to bring young children to live. However, after our first few hectic months we can quite honestly say that our family life is much better now than the life we had back in England and our three boys are revelling in the new lives that they are making for themselves. Our two older children are being challenged academically in ways that they would never have been in their schools back home and our youngest is getting his first taste of education here and is loving every minute of it. After having received the first of two reports on all three of them (yes, it is something we have to do more of than before!) we realised that they confirmed the decision which we made for our family had been the right one. We are very proud of their achievements so far and it is Patana that has made all of these possible. We have also found that the school has staff, both academic and business, that are aware of the special needs of families and this has made both us and our children feel valued members of this very large community. They have been able to provide support for us in various areas of life outside school and no problem that arises seems to be too big.
The children's extra-curricular activities are just out of this world in comparison to those they have experienced before. They are able to swim, play football, basketball, rugby, short tennis, water polo and take part in the biggest production we have ever seen in a Primary School. All of these activities and many more take place during the course of a normal week at Patana. Their horizons are being widened, almost on a weekly basis. Their exposure to different cultures, languages and friendships are making sure that they will become children and young adults with a more rounded perspective on life than if they had stayed at home. Talking of which, we have been told by our middle son that we cannot talk about the UK and refer to it as "home" while we are here. He tells us that this is not the right thing to do as we are "home" now because this is where we live and we are happy to stand corrected!
The mundane aspects of life have been made easier out here by our ability to have help in the home that was never an option in the UK. It was something that was hard to get used to, but after a while, having your meals prepared for you and having your laundered clothes appear back in your wardrobe a day later meant that you could start to enjoy life in a way that was just not possible previously. It has given us the opportunity to spend time with the children that we have not been able to do before and also spend more time with each other. This was just another adjustment to make, but one we have discovered to be a pleasant one! We have been able to take time out to go away for weekends and half-term too. The children have ridden on elephants, snorkelled in clear blue seas, seen the jungle and associated wildlife, been in more hotels than they can remember and experienced parts of history that most of us have only read about in books. These are experiences that we have been unable to offer them before and it is down to the quality of life we have working in Bangkok that we can do so now.
Amongst all this "wow, doesn't it sound great?" stuff, you must not forget that your decision must ultimately be made on your desire to teach in a school in Bangkok; a city in a country miles from home and with a culture and climate so vastly different to that most of us will have experienced in the UK. Although your classes will probably be smaller, maybe better behaved and possibly brighter, the expectations from the school and especially from the parents are exceptionally high. Here you will find that the pressures are not really any different from the UK. There are meetings to go to, presentations and consultations to provide for parents, residential visits away and on top of all this we have the National Curriculum, with an added international dimension, to deliver! You are also expected to work very hard and also to give up your time to ensure that the extra-curricular activities we described before are offered at the level expected in an international school. Do not even think of applying to Patana if you believe that coming here is going to be easy as you will be greatly disappointed. However, if you are prepared to give freely of yourselves then the rewards can be appropriate to your efforts, and sometimes more. Good luck with your application. If you are successful, your life will never be the same again ....... we hope that you will enjoy the change and the challenge as much as we have!
“You’re moving where?!” was the reaction from many of our friends when we announced that we had got the jobs at Bangkok Patana School. “Wow, it sounds amazing” was their reaction when we explained about the school, where we’d be living and all the benefits that came with it. And amazing it is. There is no doubt that the opportunities here are incredible. Coming from comprehensive UK schools, we were truly astounded by the facilities available at Patana and really excited about putting them to good use. It is a joy to see such a modern and exciting library that is used with great enthusiasm by a wide range of students. The sporting facilities are like none we had ever experienced in a school environment and the theatre rivals that of most towns in the UK!
The move was certainly a daunting one but we were hugely helped by all the advice, tips and support that Patana gave us. All our questions (we had a lot of them!) and worries were answered with great efficiency and the majority of things were organised for us prior to our arrival. Travel, housing, and bank accounts were all taken care of which meant that we could enjoy our last few weeks in the UK saying farewells to our loved ones.
Having never lived abroad before, we did our homework but nothing can quite prepare you for the wall of heat and humidity that hits you when you step out of the airport! Then there are the Bangkok roads and traffic, the mosquitoes and the “mai pen rai” attitude. The culture is hugely different to the UK and can make things feel quite tough in the first few weeks. However, the support network at Patana is fantastic. The induction weeks are intense but allow you to quickly get to know your new colleagues and ask current staff all those little questions that you thought were too silly to put in an email. You rapidly feel a sense of community and are supported on both a professional and personal level.
Although we are working in beautiful surroundings (something that we have to constantly remind ourselves not to take for granted!) and can be in the vibrant city centre one weekend and on an idyllic island the next weekend, it certainly isn’t an extended holiday. Expectations are very high and the work is fast-paced. There are different pressures at a school like Patana compared to the UK but when you apply to a school with such a reputation, this is to be expected. The attitude of the students, their enthusiasm and willingness to learn is more than enough to make you realise that the hard work pays off. Whilst school holidays in the UK were often spent by us looking out on rainy days wondering when ‘summer’ was going to arrive, we now spend school holidays exploring this exciting and diverse part of the world. The decision to move out here is not one to be taken lightly; we thought long and hard about it but only a few months in and we know it was definitely the right one!
"Where are you going?" – That is the way many Thais say "hello"! This salutation which would be considered inappropriate in Western societies if used to people you barely know, is one of many cultural contrasts that we have to face in this wonderful kingdom. Communication is an ever present issue here; and there is plenty of scope for misunderstandings to happen. The induction programme and the "Thai Culture lessons" that are in place at Patana have been invaluable sources to learning Thai etiquette. Everyone living in Thailand will notice that both Buddhism and the Royal Family command maximum respect as they are placed at the centre of Thai culture. I am still experiencing the beauty of this kingdom which extends to its people, its culture, its festivals, its landscapes and its food. Learning Thai Language has been a complex exercise but it helps the immersion into Thai culture. Fortunately, Thai people will tolerate most foreigners' responses to the learning of their language.
Bangkok Patana School (BPS)
"Wow!" - That was what many of us said when introduced to the facilities at BPS during the guided tour of the campus. The most impressive sight (so far) in my experience at BPS, was the first full campus assembly in the new sports hall, where 2500+ people barely occupied one third of the space available in that building! That was a memorable sight! BPS is by far the most efficient school that I know. We have great students and supportive staff. BPS has got a busy school day, but everyone seems to know where to go and what to do. There are always events taking place, so many that no one person can take part in all of them! Technology is so widely used that it became transparent at BPS (people just use it in their daily routines).
I need to make corrections to my previous paragraph written three years ago. Since then we have had new developments like the phased introduction of the one-to-one laptop program, the campus wide “wi-fi” system, the new state of the art theatre with 300+ seats, the ongoing re-adjustment of the floors in several areas of the secondary school and the construction of the new unified library. Some of the work is still not completed but I believe that BPS has found its way well beyond the 3th decade of the 21st century and the school has establish itself as the most influential International School in Thailand. We say “Wow!” to the new theatre centre and its use of modern technology!
In February 2008 I was offered the position of Primary Class Teacher at Bangkok Patana School. The decision to accept the position was easy; sunny Bangkok or rainy London? Needless to say I chose Bangkok and have not regretted the decision for one second since.
Having come from a one-form entry Primary school in London I could not believe the size of Bangkok Patana. My Year group is the size of my entire previous school! This initially can be daunting and I did get lost on a number of occasions. However, the very fact that I have six other team members to plan with, bounce ideas off and go to for support has developed me both personally and professionally. The size of the school also means that the facilities are excellent. I am able to use the Secondary School library for reading material, the 50m swimming pool to train in every night and the squash courts for a regular game with colleagues.
With this being my first international post, I was incredibly nervous about what to expect and worried endlessly about bank accounts, accommodation, travel arrangements, injections, etc. This, however, was all arranged for me. The flights were booked from Heathrow, I was picked up from the airport in Bangkok, accommodation was provided for me for my first year and a bank account was set up for me in my name. When I arrived in Bangkok all the staff at Patana were so friendly I couldn't believe I'd spent so much time worrying about it all. The people are actually the best thing about this school. I am surrounded by a very large group of like-minded, supportive, understanding and out-going professionals who are very rapidly becoming people I love spending time with.
Above all else, I think my favourite thing about this job is the children. They are bright, happy, and enthusiastic and actually enjoy learning. I teach Year 5 and find that I can have conversations with them about their learning and how they would like to improve. The majority of my class email me during the weekend to let me know how they are getting on or if they have any queries about homework.
There are, unfortunately, some drawbacks that do need to be considered when making such a huge move. I miss my friends and family often. The cultural differences between here and the UK are massive and have taken a while to get used to. Bangkok is a very busy and sprawling city which can be annoying if you're trying to get somewhere in a hurry. However, I can be sipping cocktails on Koh Samet (the closest island) by 6 o'clock on a Friday afternoon so the positives definitely outweigh any of the drawbacks.