Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
Author as an EFL Teacher in Bangkok
Finding Meaningful Jobs During My Lifetime
There are a lot of people who don't believe in luck or fate in finding good jobs. Being in the right place at the right time, however, does play a significant part in securing satisfying employment. In this hub, I recall good luck during my lifetime in finding meaningful work.
Being in the right place at the right time played a big part in discovering my talents as a Chinese linguist while in the Navy. This was followed by a start in EFL and ESL teaching while in Taiwan and Toledo, Ohio, during the 1970s and 1980. Getting a job with the Department of Defense as a Chinese linguist followed next at the end of 1980. My luck continued into retirement from the government when I found a good EFL teaching position in Bangkok during the period 2008-2014. Each one of these job opportunities will be detailed in this article.
Chinese Linguist Work while in the Navy
After not getting into medical school in 1966, I decided to study towards a Masters in chemistry at the University of Michigan in the fall of 1966. While at Michigan in the autumn of that same year, I interviewed for a job as a chemist with Eastman Kodak out of Rochester, New York. I was offered a job but didn't accept it because I knew I was going to be drafted into the Army. This was during the height of the Vietnam War, and I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, if I had been a Canadian citizen at that time, I would have probably accepted the job.
As it turned out, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in February of 1967 and began my basic training in June of 1967. During the first few days of training, something happened that was a turning point in my life. After taking a language aptitude test, the Navy discovered that I had an aptitude for learning languages. Since this was at the height of the Cold War involving the United States, Russia, and China, the U.S. government needed to train a lot of Chinese and Russian linguists for cryptologic work around the world. The Chinese and Russian languages weren't popular on campuses at this time, so the Department of Defense identified military recruits with language learning ability and sent them to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) for training.
I had my choice to learn Russian or Chinese, and my response was to let the Navy decide my language training. As a result, I was assigned to DLI at Monterey, California, for 37 weeks of basic training in Chinese Mandarin. I fell in love with Chinese and later got more training in the Navy and at the University of Wisconsin which eventually aided me greatly in getting employment with the Department of Defense. If I hadn't joined the Navy or been threatened by the draft into the Army, I probably would have taken the job with Kodak or become a high school chemistry teacher.
Author While in U.S. Navy
EFL Employment Opportunities while in Taiwan
Shortly after leaving my duty station on Taiwan and arriving for duty in Maryland in 1970, I decided on returning to Taiwan immediately following my discharge from the Navy. My stated reason at the time was to study more Chinese language and culture. The real reason, however, was to return to a Taiwanese girlfriend in Taipei whom I met about a week before departing from Taiwan on March 1.
My scheduled discharge date was June 15, 1971. The United States, however, was rapidly reducing its military forces in connection with the withdrawal from Vietnam. This all happily worked to my advantage in affording an almost seven-month early separation from the Navy! On January 4, 1971, I was formally discharged from active military duty.
After spending two to three weeks at home with my parents and siblings, I got on a plane again and returned to Taipei as a civilian on January 21, 1971. I was finally reunited with my Taiwanese girlfriend and also was continuing to study Chinese Mandarin at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.
Since I didn't want to use up all of my savings, I visited one of my former Navy co-workers who was currently working for a Chinese English newspaper in Taipei. My purpose was to inquire about employment opportunities in Taipei. "Pete" happened to have a Chinese contact at one of the local Taiwanese newspapers who was looking for a native language English tutor for reporters in his office. I had never taught English before but decided to meet the contact George Kuo and give English teaching a try.
On the afternoon of the first day after arriving at the newspaper office, I was introduced to 10-15 Chinese and Taiwanese reporters who all wanted to improve their English conversation ability. You wouldn't believe how quickly I related to my students and was able to help them all improve their listening and speaking skills. I immediately fell in love with language teaching and also worked in two or three other English language schools while I lived in Taipei for the next five months.
By the end of May, the relationship with my girlfriend fell apart, and this was the main reason why I returned to the U.S. in June of 1971.
Shortly after returning to the U.S. and living with my parents again, I was unhappy, confused, and uncertain about my future. Considering that I had a degree in chemistry, my immediate thought was to put it to use and become a high school chemistry teacher. After being accepted into the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, I was prepared to make a commitment to being a secondary school teacher until my two former roommates from the University of Michigan came to visit me. On a joint trip with them to Madison where the University of Wisconsin is located, we sat together at a campus bar, and seeing that I was still unhappy, they both suggested that I follow my heart in deciding whether to go back to chemistry or study more Chinese.
After that night, I made the final decision to walk away from chemistry and study more Chinese for future employment. I reapplied to the University of Wisconsin and was accepted as a graduate student in its Department of East Asian Languages and Literature.
From January of 1972 until May of 1973 I was enrolled as a graduate student taking courses in vernacular Chinese Mandarin, classical Chinese, contemporary Chinese literature, and linguistics work studying towards a Masters. I still, however, had the itch to return to Taiwan to learn more Chinese language and literature at National Taiwan University. After being accepted there, I returned to Taiwan again at the end of May of 1973 with four of my classmates.
To make a long story short, I never studied at National Taiwan University because I met another Taiwanese woman and got married. To support my new family after the birth of a son in early 1974, I easily found employment again in commercial language schools as an EFL teacher.
At the beginning of 1974, I decided to launch my own home English language teaching business for convenience and to earn more money. This turned out to be a great success over the next five years because I once again was in the right place at the right time. Taiwan was rapidly modernizing during the 70s, and my services as an EFL teacher and tutor were in great demand among mostly businessmen and traders in the port city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan where I was living at the time.
An ESL Employment Opportunity in Toledo, Ohio
By July of 1979, my wife and I had decided to live in the United States for the future of our son who was now over five years old. We wanted him to get an education in the U.S., and we were both prepared to give up my well-paying teaching business.
The problem turned out that I didn't get any job offers after I arrived in Wisconsin. After spending a little over a week with my folks, I headed out to Adrian, Michigan, to see my old friend and roommate Jeff and search for work as a chemist.
Once again, I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The chemical company where my friend was working wasn't hiring and I couldn't find any other work. To make matters worse, my son was hit by a car while riding a bicycle on the side of a big road. He turned out to have a badly broken left arm and was taken to a hospital in Toledo, Ohio, about 25 miles south of Adrian where Jeff lived.
I was really in trouble now with a seriously injured son in the hospital, a wife new to the United States, and no place to live other than my car and the waiting room of the hospital. Fortunately, Jeff came to my rescue by introducing me to a knowledgeable elderly woman who assisted with my immediate problems. Mrs. Littlefield happened to introduce me to her female friend who put me up in her home until I found an apartment to rent. More importantly, she introduced me to Jose who was the head of the Bilingual Program for the Toledo Public Schools. Based on my experience of teaching EFL in Taiwan for six years, Jose hired me in September of 1979 as an ESL tutor employed by the Toledo Public Schools. My job duties were to drive around to two or three schools in Toledo each day and tutor foreign immigrant children in English as a second language. I kept this job until December of 1980 when I resigned to take a job with the Department of Defense in Maryland.
Finding a Job with the Department of Defense as a Chinese Linguist
I didn't earn much as an ESL tutor in Toledo, so I had to take part-time evening and night employment as a security guard. My situation improved greatly in January of 1980 when I was able to get GI educational benefits to study towards certification as a high school teacher at the University of Toledo. Since I couldn't get work as a chemist probably because I had been away from chemistry so long, I decided to get my certification to become a high school chemistry teacher.
I knew, however, that high school teachers weren't making that much money in 1980. Therefore, at the suggestion of my friend Jeff and Wisconsin Congressman, Senator William Proxmire, in January of 1980, I applied for work as a Chinese linguist with the Department of Defense in Maryland. To my surprise, I was called out to Maryland in March two months later for three days of interviews and processing. I never expected to get hired by the Department of Defense, so when I got the job offer in early December of 1980, I was ecstatic.
Looking back on my hiring, I realized that I was once again in the right place at the right time. In 1980, there was a demand for Chinese linguists in the government because China had recently ended the Cultural Revolution, established diplomatic relations with the U.S., and generally opened itself to the West. There was a lot to learn about China, and the government needed Chinese linguists like me.
Finding a Good EFL Teaching Position in Bangkok
My 27 years of work as a Chinese linguist with the government was very exciting, interesting, and rewarding. After I retired in 2007, I decided to live and work in Thailand as an EFL teacher. Although I had been away from EFL and ESL teaching for 27 years, there was still a burning desire to get back into it after my government retirement.
During the second half of 2007, I was recently remarried and living with my Thai wife in a suburb of Bangkok. After taking a brief teaching job through an agent at a government school near Bangkok, I got lucky again by being in the right place at the right time.
Around 2006, many private schools in Bangkok were starting to launch special English Programs and EFL teachers were in demand. It so happened that in the neighborhood where I lived one of the next-door neighbors was acquainted with the daughter of a teacher at a big all-girls Catholic School about two to three kilometers from my house. With assistance from my wife and the school teacher, I was able to get a job interview with the principal of the school who hired me on the spot. I had the interview around the middle of November and started work at my new school, Saint Joseph Bangna, around January 3 of 2008. I enjoyed my six-plus years at Saint Joe's very much and retired from teaching on April 1, 2014, and then moved to Udorn with my wife.
Based on my employment experiences in life, how can I say that good luck and fate don't play a big part in work success? Being in the right place at the right time is very important.
EFL Teaching in Bangkok, Thailand
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© 2015 Paul Richard Kuehn