Bruce Veldhuisen is the owner / operator of TEFL International, Thailand's biggest English teacher training course provider. Bruce has become quite a personality within the English teaching industry in Thailand, and both himself and his school are frequently discussed on some of the English teaching message boards and discussion forums online. I have known Bruce for a couple of years prior to doing this interview and he has always struck me as one of the few hopes that Thailand has of improving the quality of the English language teaching industry in this country. Here I ask him a few questions about himself, his school and life in Thailand.
When did you first go to Thailand and since then, how much time have you spent there? What was it that first attracted you to Thailand?
I first visited Thailand in 1994. I was just on a short holiday from work in Hong Kong. I just loved it immediately, possibly because it was so different from Hong Kong.
Can you tell me a little bit about your school – where did it start, how many courses do you run, how many staff do you have, what sort of facilities do you have etc? Do you do anything else other than teacher training?
I started developing the certificate course in 1998. It took about 18 months to get off the ground. I was lucky in that I had the time to put into it – I had given up the management of my schools in Hong Kong to others.
In Thailand we have a staff of two trainers, one junior trainer / administrator, and about 10 Thai staff (everything from cooks and cleaners to administrators) not including myself.
Our Thailand facility is on 9 rai (4.5 acres) and includes a four storey multi-purpose building with 18 private rooms, five classrooms, a kitchen and restaurant as well as bungalows to house up to 144 campers and a full ropes course with rock wall.
We run ten courses per year in Ban Phe, which makes us one of the larger courses in the world.
How long have you personally been involved in the English language teaching industry? What is your background in this industry?
I started out as a private English teacher in Hong Kong eleven years ago and soon opened up a small chain of language schools there. I still own them, but have very little to do with day to day management now. Now I concentrate my efforts on expanding the TESOL course and my new project, English Adventure camps for students and teachers.
Why set up in Bahn Pe? Isn't that sort of like the middle of nowhere? Why not Phuket or Ko Samui? Would Bangkok not be the ideal place?
Well, I wanted someplace that was NOT a tourist center yet still on the beach within 3 hours of Bangkok. Ban Phe isn't perfect, but it ain't bad. And Samet has some really nice, undiscovered beaches that are only 30 minutes away!
You are very active on the many English teach message boards and discussion forums on the internet, both those that are Thailand specific and those that are worldwide. You get a bit of stick on these boards from time to time. What do you attribute this to?
I am a pretty easy target. I don't mind, as long as the person giving me a hard time has a valid point. I hate it when people who have no experience with our courses rip on us in ignorance. if you have a legitimate point to make, great. If you are just bored and want to talk trash, well, I have been known to dish it out on occasion.
You have worked in this industry in other countries and have travelled worldwide and had the opportunity to see and discuss with industry leaders what is happening in all corners of the globe. How do you see the industry in Thailand? Do you agree with me that the English teaching industry in Thailand is found wanting in many areas? What needs to be done for things to improve?
Well, despite the fact that businessmen get a bad rap in this industry, I think that is exactly what Thailand needs more of. The whole industry is unprofessional. Many decisions made by schools are very short-sighted. Of course, there are hoards of unprofessional teachers out there as well, but I think that is a product of the poor pay and unprofessional management.
Many foreigners living in Thailand have a love / hate relationship with the country. What about you? Are there any things that you strongly either like or dislike about life in Thailand? Are there many things that you miss from your native USA?
Quite frankly, I plan to live in Thailand for many years. It ain't perfect, but the minor annoyances don't bother me at all. I miss sports in the US (college football and the NBA) but I can get news on the internet and the occasional game video sent to me. I really don't think I could live the same lifestyle in the US for five times the money.
What sorts of things do you like to do in your spare time, if the business allows you any?
I love sports, and I follow my favourite teams via the internet. I also like to play basketball, and play whenever I can.
What does the future hold for Mr. Bruce Veldhuisen? Do you have any plans to expand the operation either within Thailand or abroad?
We are already operating in China and we plan to open our Morocco course in September. Future courses are being developed. We plan to have ten courses running all over the world in the next few years.
OK, time for the big sales pitch, Brucey Boy! Why should someone study to be an English teacher with you, as opposed to with one of the other schools that offer a similar product?
OK, an outline:
– A full, four week TESOL course
– NO BOOT CAMP MENTALITY – less stress, more personal attention
– Interesting locations
– much less expensive than courses in the US
– housing included
I think that sums it up. We really enjoy running the courses. Most people seem to enjoy taking the course and find the things they learn quite useful. I guess you can't ask for much more than that!