Teaching in Buddhist Monasteries
Orange-clad monks are as iconic a sight in Asia as golden-roofed temples. They play an important role in their countries’ culture and everyday life, which is why so many ELI Abroad volunteers rave about their English-teaching placements in Buddhist monasteries and pagodas, now available in four exciting locations.
As an ELI-er, you can teach in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand; in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu; or in Cambodia’s popular city of Siem Reap. In all the sites, you will teach varying levels of English -- the monks’ skill ranges from absolute beginners to those who have some conversational skills. As a monastery teacher, you may also be invited to share some of your meals with the monks, sit in or even participate in some meditation sessions and take part in certain temple rites.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for anyone who enjoys teaching, is looking for an insider’s glimpse into Asian culture, or wants to learn about Buddhism.
Cambodia: Teach in Pagodas at Siem Reap
Your Cambodian adventure begins with an orientation in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, where you’ll learn some basics about Cambodian culture and the etiquette of working at a monastery. This is also an opportunity to explore this city, its cafes and bustling markets. During orientation, you´ll stay at a guesthouse located in an area popular with young travelers.
From there, it’s on to Siem Reap, a small city in northwest Cambodia and a popular base for exploring Angkor Wat, the extraordinary complex of ancient temples and Cambodia’s top tourist attraction. Siem Reap has all the amenities you’d expect in a place that attracts tourists from around the world: restaurants, nightlife, shopping and museums.Yet just blocks from its vibrant tourist center, Siem Reap is a quiet home to many pagodas, monks and local families whose ancestors have lived in the area for hundreds of years.
As and ELI Abroad volunteer, you’ll live in a small guest house in town, and be placed at one of several centrally located pagodas. You’ll teach 3-4 hours per day, depending on the pagoda’s schedule. Your students will vary in age - from young boys and teenagers studying Buddhism to adult monks.
The work you’ll be doing is important and valued: to be able to speak English is to have access to the better jobs and opportunities in Cambodia. Yet English-language instruction is almost non-existent in the poorer and rural schools. By volunteering, you’ll help fill this critical educational gap.
In your off-hours, you can relax in one of Siem Reap’s many cafes or bars; explore Angkor Wat; take side trips to fascinating nearby floating villages or join organized treks into the surrounding jungles.
Nepal: Teach at a Monastery in Kathmandu
A study in contrast and exoticism, Kathmandu is both fascinating and frustrating, familiar and utterly foreign. ELI Abroad volunteers should count on some culture shock as well as on thrilling sights and unforgettable experiences.
You will live with other volunteers in a group house located in one of the top tourist areas that’s especially popular with young and budget travelers. Cafes, restaurants and shopping surround the volunteer house making it an ideal base for exploring the city and nearby areas.
ELI places teachers at two monasteries. The first is within the city, where teachers work primarily with primary school age monks. This is a dual placement: you will teach part time here, and work part time at another placement we’ll arrange with you; the position requires a 4-week minimum stay. The focus at the Kathmandu monastery is on language instruction and conversation practice. Teacher are also encouraged to play and interact with the young monks.
The second monastery placement is outside of Kathmandu, in a stunning rural area about an hour and a half by bus. This is a full-time position with an 8-week minimum commitment. Some volunteers chose to commute to the monastery from the city, others prefer to live at or near the monastery, which ELI Abroad can help arrange.
On weekends and during school holidays, volunteers can explore the extraordinarily beautiful foothills of the Himalayas, join treks, or visit the fascinating towns of Bakhtapur and Patan.
ELI Abroad offers excellent in-country support in Nepal, local experts who can help you make the most of your Nepal adventure.
Thailand: Teach at a Monastery in Bangkok
One of the busiest, most crowded cities in the world, Bangkok is a bustling mixture of the ancient and the super-modern. It offers world-class cuisine, a legendary nightlife and shopping for every budget. And against this wild background are unique sights that attract tourists from all over the world: extraordinary temples, markets and museums.
As an ELI Abroad Volunteer, you’ll live in a modern (air conditioned!) group house not far from city center. The house has shared rooms, western-style bathrooms, lockers for your valuables and free wi-fi.
You’ll teach at a school affiliated with a local temple serving about 50 monks, grade 7-11. Most come from underprivileged families in poor areas of northeast Thailand where they attended underfunded, struggling schools. For them, the monastery school represents an educational opportunity that could lead to a better life even if they leave monkhood.
The school will provide some very basic teaching materials, but on the whole lesson planning is up to volunteers. The level of students’ English will vary, with some monks being able to converse, while others will be absolute English-language beginners. Our on-site coordinators will provide an orientation that includes the etiquette of dealing with monks; the English-speaking school head will also be able to advise you.
You don’t have to be a native speaker of English for this placement, but all volunteer monastery teachers must have a very good command of the language in both spoken and written form; they must also be flexible, open to challenge and above all enjoy teaching. As a guest teacher, you may also have the chance -- if you want it -- to join in group meditation, religious festivals or in reciting mantras.
On weekends and school holidays (and there are many!) you can enjoy all that Bangkok, and the surrounding areas have to offer, including ancient sites, floating markets and small islands perfect for day trips.
Please note: All ELI Abroad volunteer placements in Thailand have particular start dates and a mandatory orientation before you begin your work. Be sure to check ELI Abroad’s website -- or talk to us in person -- about arrival date requirements.
Thailand: Teach at a Monastery in Chiang Mai
Teaching English at a monastery in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, is a great alternative for volunteers who prefer to avoid the urban chaos of Bangkok. (And a nice change for those who’d like to do both programs!)
As in Bangkok, you’ll live in a cheerful volunteer house in central Chiang Mai, and teach at one of several local monastery schools providing both religious and secular classes. Many of the young monks studying in Chiang Mai are orphans from the nearby hill tribes for whom Thai is their second language, and English is their third.
While it’s not required for volunteers to be native speakers of English speaker, all prospective monastery teachers must have a very good command of spoken and written English.
There may be also additional opportunities to teach in other fields, such as art, for example. Ask ELI Abroad whether you can teach subjects other than English.
Teaching in monastery means the school year is heavily affected by religious holidays and rites. You may be invited to join some celebrations, and have days off from teaching. During these holidays, you can explore the famous markets of Chiang Mai or relax in its many restaurants and bars. Nearby attractions include rafting, elephant camps, jungle treks and unique hill tribe villages. Please note: All ELI Abroad volunteer placements in Thailand have particular start dates and a mandatory orientation before you begin your work. Be sure to check ELI Abroad’s website -- or talk to us in person -- about arrival date requirements.