From Musician to Rockstar Freelance English Teacher: Meet Ryan Cook

Some of the most asked questions here at Premier TEFL are 1) What are things like abroad due to the pandemic especially in Thailand as internship registration was closing soon. 2) Is being a freelance English teacher worth it and how do I do it? That’s when I met Ryan Cook. Ryan Cook enrolled in a level 5 TEFL course while living in Thailand and was to be the person that held the answers to these questions.

How rockstar Ryan Cook became a freelance English teacher

When I met Ryan Cook he was sat in the middle of his modern air-conditioned apartment with his dog Banjo playing with a ball in the background. He began telling me about his 4K technical set up-something which his students love and has contributed to his success as a freelance English teacher and musician. Ryan had just finished teaching and managed to squeeze me in to his schedule before his next class in 40 minutes…

“I’m teaching it outdoors tonight. We’re doing a walk around. Because it’s like one of my favorite students. We’re doing a walk around the village where I live, because the 4g connection is so strong in Thailand, that I can literally teach a whole zoom class just hot-spotting from my cell phone. Or I can just walk around and teach outdoors if I want. The 4g connection in Thailand is faster than any country I’ve ever been to. Korea is really good.”

Does South Korea have the fastest internet in the world?

“I’ve been there. And I remember everyone being on their phone all the time. But yeah, the first month that I taught online for zoom, I taught probably 50 classes, and every single one I hotspot in my computer with my phone’s 4g. So I was running a MacBook Pro with cameras and lights, all from a 4g connection. It’s like 80 megabytes a second download.”

Teaching Online in Thailand
Ryan’s online teaching setup

» Do you want to teach in South Korea for 12 months?

For your class, are you going to be in selfie mode? Just walking around teaching? *Gestures to holding up a phone taking a selfie*

“Yeah. Pretty much. Then flipping the camera and showing where we’re walking and then just having a conversation? It’ll only be 45 minutes. So we’ll walk around and I’ll have my dog with me. If it doesn’t rain should be fine.”

I hear you’re in the middle of completing a Level 5 TEFL certificate at the moment. What inspired you to teach online/ become a freelance English teacher?

“What’s kind of funny is that I wanted to do this for the last year since I left Vietnam and returned to Canada. I was in quarantine. We were in lockdowns. I knew that the music career for me was going to be on a two to three-year hiatus minimum. I had this feeling like I had a really good read on it. There was that false optimism a little bit in the beginning, like, ‘oh, this might be over soon.’ But I had that premonition. This is going to be like a two to three-year minimum, and then maybe four to five years in the long term. Musicians on the Independent circuit don’t make enough money as is, let alone take three years off. So I just immediately thought ‘how can I get back to this?’ ‘how can I transition into teaching English,’ if it kind of wraps up by the end of the year, like Christmas time, maybe I could get back to Southeast Asia, and then start a new chapter in my life. About January, it’s like we’re in the second wave, and it’s very, very bleak. I had to really motivate myself to to to get the ball rolling.”

Why did you enroll in the most comprehensive level 5 TEFL course?

“I enrolled in the TEFL program because I actually don’t have a degree. I went to college in Canada so it’s called a diploma even though it was a very intensive multi-year program. It’s considered a diploma in film and television and screen arts. So my background is in TV and music, but it’s not considered legally a degree here. I felt like I would have made a good English teacher, but without the degree, I had to have the best course. So I started the TEFL program. I told one of my friends in Thailand who owned an English school, and he said ‘Really? You’re studying TEFL? Do you want a job?’ So that’s kind of how I ended up here.”

freelance english teacher Ryan with students
Ryan teaching music to English to his students

How Ryan became an independent freelance English teacher

Ryan began teaching in a Catholic school in Thailand called St. Mary’s when they were all forced into lockdown. Only weeks after he settled in to Thailand and began teaching. This is where things changed for Ryan. He found the coveted answer to continue his passion for music while earning a stable income. While continuing teaching his classes online from his position in St. Mary’s Catholic School, Ryan said “ a handful of the students I had, took a liking to me and my dog, and the lights and cameras. The parents inquired about hiring me as my private teacher for them.” Ryan left his position as a teacher for this school and started on his new path as a freelance English teacher.

Are you working as a freelance English teacher now?

“Yeah. I have five students at the moment that I teach throughout the week. And I could certainly have many more if I was spending some time promoting it. I have other means of income through a fan club online. I have a Patreon site with 50 members on it. So I have multiple streams of things that I’m doing for income, but I really could have many more students. My schedule allows me to have more, but surprisingly, (I don’t know if it’s surprising or not), but private teaching pays quite well. I charge up to $60 an hour, because you can [when you’re a freelance English teacher]. I’m not charging that much, but I could. I’m probably making about the same salary teaching the five students a week, which takes me about maybe 20-25 hours in total with prep time, as I was teaching 40-45 hours a week at the school and being there every day.”

Now you have a higher quality of life as a freelance English teacher. Can you still perform and play music?

“Yeah, I can. I do a variety of other things. Some of the English teachers I had encountered in Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City had what I thought was this really idyllic schedule. It seemed like they were sort of teaching in the afternoons Tuesday to Saturday. They had a big day on Saturday. But their schedule was so relaxed, they could play tennis every morning. They were just always around.”

Having a schedule like that if you can get it is pretty, pretty cool. And I don’t actually mind teaching in the school either, like being in the school, Monday to Friday or Tuesday. So I really like them both. But it’s like a path. It’s not just a path of least resistance. I actually really enjoy the online zoom thing. Maybe a boutique thing that I already have a lot of experience and passion for doing. And now we’ve locked down again. So this never ended.”

teaching music and english
Musician and TEFL teacher Ryan with his students

Can you tell me a bit about Thailand and the COVID-19 situation over there?

“I’m living in the city of Pattaya. It’s a pretty big tourist destination. Pattaya is an hour and a half south of Bangkok and it’s on the Bay of Bangkok. It’s famous for Walking Street and it’s a huge tourist destination.”

Can you tell us more about Pattaya?

“It’s like being on a movie set. Like it literally feels like you’re on an old movie set somewhere. It’s just mind-bending. Walking Street is surreal. It’s a street that’s like a Mardi Gras for like a kilometer at both sides of the street. There’s no traffic, it’s just called ‘Walking Street’. And that’s the big claim to fame in Pattaya. It’s wast like an R&R destination for American servicemen and women in the Vietnam War. So that’s how it got it grew as a popular touristic place.

Because of the COVID-19 virus, the city of Pattaya has been on lockdown meaning day-to-day activities are limited until the number of daily COVID-19 cases decreases. The only businesses that are open are pharmacies and 711s. And I suppose the supermarket would be open but no other stores are open and everything shuts down firm at 8 pm.”

TEFL Thailand
Walking Street in Pattaya, Thailand

Much like the rest of the world, the lockdowns are temporary measures and are localized to specific areas. Thailand is still accepting visitors and our Thailand internship students are leaving soon to teach in Thailand this September! Keep an eye on social media to learn more about them and their journeys.

How have you coped as a freelance English teacher during the pandemic and lockdown?

“In a funny way relating to the story that is this journey I’ve been on, everything sort of worked out well for me personally. If I was still working for the school, I would be on again off again with the lockdowns and in and out. 

So in the end, having the home 4k setup is like working out pretty well. The restaurants are open, but only for takeout. You cannot even sit in an open space. We had that in Canada too. I was familiar with it because I went through it at home in Canada.”

How long have you been in Thailand? Have you gotten to explore much?

“I’ve been here for five months. I’ve been around Thailand a bunch in the past. I would say that Chiang Mai has always been my favorite city in Thailand. It’s one of these places you go and you just fall in love with it. It’s just something about it. It has character to it. In the wintertime, it’s about 10 degrees cooler up there, which is a bit more breathable for most of us.”

Chiang Mai temple
A beautiful temple in Chiang Mai

» Do you want to get paid to teach in Chiang Mai?

“I didn’t spend a lot of time in Bangkok but I have traveled down south and have been to some of the islands and I really like Pattaya, the city that I’m in now. It’s pretty much like the red light district of Thailand. That’s kind of what It’s famous for.

Koh Chang is another island that a lot of travelers have been to. It’s famous for its full moon parties, but it’s also close to Bangkok. A lot of people can go from Bangkok to Koh Chang and have a mini Koh Samui-style experience. The water is aqua blue and you can go swimming in it. It takes an hour by ferry to get to and they have big Full Moon parties.”

When you were moving to Thailand, did you have any issues with documents like visas, covid tests, etc? 

“It was unbelievably stressful. I did it on such a tight timeline that everything had to turn around quickly including the criminal record checks. I had to have a COVID test 72 hours before I arrived at the Bangkok airport. It was hard to coordinate that. To have a COVID test 72 hours before you arrive at an international destination that takes two or three days to fly to takes a lot of planning.”

Bringing dogs abroad
Ryan’s dog Banjo

“My province didn’t offer a COVID test for flying out of the country so I had to fly from Nova Scotia (stands for New Scotland) to Toronto. Then a month after I arrived, as if that wasn’t enough torture to put on myself, I decided to fly my dog over from Canada. That wasn’t easy in terms of all the documents and imports. Oh boy, I just took it all on. I was hoping that someday someone from Ireland would call me on zoom and asked me about it. I just took on everything.”

How was the transition when you arrived in Thailand? Did you find there was a big culture shock?

“I was used to it from being here before and traveling. So there was no culture shock, but there was a quarantine shock. Two weeks in quarantine in a hotel is… I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for that. Psychologically. Even the paperwork wasn’t as hard on the head.”

What advice would you for someone booking a quarantine hotel for their stay in Thailand?

“In the event of a two-week quarantine or even a seven-day quarantine, I spent a little bit of extra money, I would say for me it was an extra $400. That was like 50 square meters and a balcony. And good views. I made that decision after watching a number of YouTube videos of people stuck in quarantine. And I noticed that some people were trapped in a room that was like a 25 or 30 square foot room with just a window that didn’t open. So I said no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m gonna pay the extra three or $400 and splurge on a room with a balcony. Best decision I ever could have made.”

Quarantine hotel tips
Ryan advises doing your research when booking your quarantine hotel

Do you have any tips for people who will have to go through quarantine in Thailand?

“Bring a book. I mean, the obvious thing is to try to have a little exercise routine. But I would say the balcony is the biggest tip. And also, you could do some advanced screening or advanced research to try and find a balcony that isn’t just facing a building. Because if you just click on one that has a balcony you could show up and the balcony could be a view of a concrete slab in front of you 30 feet away.

There’s a big difference between that and a balcony that looks out into an empty or an open space with some greenery. My quarantine was 30 or 40 minutes north of Bangkok. I think if you’re in the city, any balcony is just probably going to be surrounded by skyscrapers or who knows what you’d be looking at. And people have had really mixed experiences in terms of meals and how happy they were with it. But I would say spending a little bit of extra money for comfort was something I did not regret as a seasoned traveler.”

That’s not something I would have thought of if I had to quarantine, but it’s something I will never forget.

“Yeah, you could bring a few things with you too. If there are some specific snacks or things you like because you certainly won’t have access to them here. Coffee, things like that you might want to bring.”

Can you ask for things while in quarantine? 

“I was able to order from 711. They had a menu from 711 that you could access I think pretty much any day any time of day. Oh, another one I should tell you about which is something you wouldn’t think of: alcohol. You cannot buy alcohol in your quarantine. The only way you could have alcohol in your quarantine room would be if you took it with you on the plane in your suitcase through customs, because while in quarantine, they would not allow any alcohol from 711 or anywhere as a written part of the booking.”

So even though they’re letting in tourists, do they still have to get that COVID test and quarantine for two weeks?

“At the time I came to Thailand, I wasn’t vaccinated, so I had the COVID test.

I think if you come in vaccinated, you might have to quarantine for five or seven days. All that information would be available instantly on YouTube or Google at the moment. So much has changed in five months that might seem like a bit of a stretch to come here unvaccinated. At the time, it wasn’t that strange for me because no one was vaccinated in Canada. I really was just fortunate that I left when I did. I didn’t know there was a third wave coming.”

What’s been your favorite experience of living in Thailand?

“It’s 100% the weather for me. Because I’m from Nova Scotia, Canada, we have like eight months of Winter. As I like to say we have a month of Spring, a month of Fall, and like six weeks of Summer. I just love the sun and the tropical weather. Actually, I’m living in a little pool villa right now. So I have this tiny one-bedroom house which is a small house but I have a pool and walls around it. So for COVID I know this sounds super luxurious, but it’s just like a temporary place I’m staying. It’s pretty amazing to have access to this kind of weather and have access to any kind of a pool right now because all public pools are closed.  So I got myself into a little pool villa. It’s not a very big pool. But when it’s 35 and sunny out, it’s a great place to chill out and prep your next English class.”

Speaking of, I’m conscious that you need to go to prepare for your next class. So last question. What what does the future hold for you? 

“I’d like to expand what I’m doing here into a little business. I have a local Thai person that is assisting me now. I would like to grow. And I would really like to keep doing what I’m doing because I was self-employed for 12 years as a musician already. Teaching in a school is fine and all that, but my affinity is for being my own boss and being an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t mind continuing to do this [working as a freelance English teacher] and branching out. I teach conversation classes and music now, as well as grammar classes and other things like that. I’ve been making YouTube videos with some of my students where we will sing duets together via zoom, and stuff like that. “

“I think given the state of things where we’re at right now, focusing on online teaching, seems like a good investment of energy for the near future. I think it’s a new way. Online teaching is, if it wasn’t already,  it’s going to become a huge part of the teaching landscape. A huge piece of it, because of all of this.”

It’s inspiring to see how Ryan has overcome all the challenges the covid-19 pandemic has thrown at him. I loved that he found a way to combine his passion for music with working as a freelance English teacher. If you’re interested in earning up to $60 dollars per hour or more, get in touch with us and we can help find the right TEFL course for you.

The post From Musician to Rockstar Freelance English Teacher: Meet Ryan Cook appeared first on Premier TEFL.

I have been traveling and teaching ESL abroad ever since I graduated university. This life choice has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience cultures and meet people that I did not know existed.

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