The primary reason I wanted to write this series on the American TESOL Institute is to provide a detailed account of my experience through the entire course, as well as many other 3rd party accounts as I can find.  Essentially, I want to provide the kind of information I wish I had before I enrolled in the ATI course.

The gate to the office of ATI in Bangkok.

I should begin by saying; they are real and not a scam, what seems to be the primary concern of most people looking for this same info.  Outside of their official site(s), it can be difficult to find valid information about ATI.  This is for 2 reasons.  First, they are relatively new compared to most TEFL/CELTA/TESOL programs.  The other is that they spam search engines with many official sites and dozens of other places they stick their name and info.

If you have any specific questions not covered in these, please ask. I’d be happy to answer.
American TESOL Institute Series

Pre-Course American TESOL Institute

Pre-course was easily the most difficult phase that I had with the American TESOL Institute (ATI) regarding my enrollment in their ‘Special Thai Project’.  They are a profoundly hard organization to find information on due to their own process of flooding the web with inconsistent data and the lack of concise communication they provide their potential applicants.

My pre-course experience can be divided into:

  • Research into ATI
  • Enrollment and ATI Communication
  • Pre-departure Communication
  • Online-Hybrid Course

 

Research into ATI

I first came across the American TESOL Institute ‘Special Thai Project’ about 2 years ago from their listing on GoAbroad.com.

This step can prove to be one of the hardest with the company, as there are so few independent reviews or accounts of ATI.  And ATI’s spamming of the search engines with their own material floods what few there are out.

Here is a sample Google.com search for ATI reviews.  2 Reviews now make it to the first page, a welcome change from the 0 that did back when I was first researching it.

The American TESOL Institute has no less than ten official websites.  Many of these provide contradictory information to one another as well.

http://www.americantesol.biz/
http://www.certificatetefl.com/
http://www.justtefl.com/
http://www.tesolcoursethailand.com/
http://www.americantesol.com/
http://www.americantesolinstitute.com/
http://www.teflcoursethailand.com/
http://www.tesol-thailand.com/
http://www.teflblogs.com/?p=14
http://www.teflprojects.com/

Most every other result that comes up regarding ATI is a site which provides a basic spammed profile that ATI posts everywhere they possible can, followed by a link to one of their differing official sites.  This includes dozens of one-shot blog pages they make on sites like WordPress and Blogger.

They also possess a YouTube channel with videos of their courses and testimonials, though ones picked and chosen (and possibly scripted) by ATI should be approached with some skepticism.

As stated, some of the information on the official websites of the American TESOL Institute provides contradictory information.  This can be information on the dates, costs, or other details of the courses.

Many of these sites provide testimonials of former graduates of the ATI courses.  However, several third-party accounts as well as 2 coworkers of mine in Thailand claim these testimonials are made up by ATI and are not their own words.  On top of that, some of them do seem to be poorly written as an example of one under my coworker, Liz’s, name demonstrates:

Elizabeth Bacon Ireland
Great experience can’t believe how much I love teaching and how exalted I am about meeting my classes and student and watching they blossom through the semester. This could definitely be something that I could see myself doing long time

A screenshot of another coworker’s testimonial on ATI’s site he says he didn’t write.

While they are extremely hard to find, due to American TESOL Institute’s spamming, real third party sources about them do exist.  The most helpful of these I came across were blogs similar to this one that not only detailed the experiences of people who had taken the course firsthand, but also provided a line of communication to ask them specific questions, which most were more than happy to answer.

Here is a copy of one of the most specific and helpful emails I received from another blogger and ATI graduate.

One aspect of the course that all official American TESOL Institute (ATI) sources leave out is that you will not be given your TESOL Certificate upon completion of the course and relevant work, which they advertise.  Instead, your receipt of the certification is dependent on your completion of a term at whichever school they place you in.  Or they also give you the option of paying an additional US$500 and taking your certificate and going your own way.

Enrollment and American TESOL Institute (ATI) Communication

While ATI’s spamming practices may be inhibiting and annoying, their communication gets to be downright frustrating.  But before you begin communicating with them on a regular basis, they require your official application.  This consists of your résumé or CV and a recent picture.

For me, this is followed up by several emails and Gmail chats until we scheduled a phone interview.  Unfortunately for me, while I was doing all this in August 2011, I was living and working on Mackinac Island, where the only place I could get wifi or a phone signal was at work.

So pacing the quiet dock after an unlisted number had called my phone, I was answering questions to a man with a noticeable Indian accent regarding my education and my former job experience. One topic that was really strongly questioned was my desire to go to another country.  Whether or not I would be comfortable or not in another country, and very specifically what my experiences travelling and with other cultures had already been.

A short while after the interview, I received an email telling me specifically that there was one spot left and that it was between me and another person.  They wanted me because of my education and experience.  However, to secure my spot I needed to make the initial $500 deposit through PayPal almost immediately.

This was a lie. A bluff.  Whatever.

I later found out from people in my course, who had enrolled after me, that they had been placed into the same ultimatum.

I told them to give me about 24 hours to get the funds into my PayPal account, which they agreed to.  While I did actually need to do this, as my Mackinac Island bank wasn’t connected to PayPal, it also gave me a little extra time to weigh the legitimacy of it.

I made the payment the next day, deciding $500 wasn’t too bad a gamble considering what it could possibly lead to.  Almost immediately after, my Gmail was filled with about 5 new emails:

  • Acceptance letter
  • Login for the online course
  • Thai survival guide
  • Guide to the original documents you must being along
  • Information on the Thai culture certificate that some schools require
  • Teacher information from Innovative Solutions, ATI’s partner placement agency
  • A guide to common expenses we would find when we arrived in Thailand

It was also at this point I was introduced to 3 people I would be communicating with very unsuccessfully for the next 3 months:  Jess, Suzy, and Nina.  Each one had a different domain-registered email address and none could ever seem to provide a concrete answer about any question or situation.  At many points you just wonder if it’s the same person behind each name just messing with you.

Pre-Departure Communication

From this point, ATI needed me to send them additional materials, including scanned copies of my passport, my college diploma, and a criminal record report.  This last part proved the most difficult, as no agency in Michigan will provide that information to the public, even if it is your own.

The complete list of original documents I was to bring was:

  • Degree certificate
  • University transcript
  • Degree verification letter from Universities registrars’ office
  • Reference letters
  • Passport [valid for more than 6 months]
  • Police Criminal Record
  • Marriage certificate [if you have any]
  • Affidavit [if you have any]

A week or so after the acceptance letter, I received an email with their terms and conditions, which I was to sign, scan and return.

Visas

One of the most confusing situations that they seem to purposely mislead you on is the visa.  You are told from the start that you need a Non-immigrant B visa for a teaching position in Thailand.  What they leave out is that you cannot actually secure that visa until you have a working position, which you will not get until you are midway to done with the ATI Special Thai Project course.

Using time-delaying lines such as “We will let you know,” ATI asks you to hold on getting any sort of visa until they tell you otherwise, which will inevitably at the last minute be a tourist visa.

Most Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, etc, in other words the vast majority of those who would be teaching English abroad, can enter Thailand by airplane and stay for 30 days.  A tourist visa allows for a 60-day stay with the option for an extension for a fee.  It is also technically illegal to work on this visa.

Another thing that the American TESOL Institute leaves out in their emails is that this tends to be how it is done in Thailand by everyone: individual teachers and schools alike.  This is something I didn’t find out until much later, when coworkers and people I met in Thailand from varying other schools told me the same.  You enter the country on a tourist visa, which is then converted into a Non-Immigrant B Visa once you have secured a job.

Why ATI strings you along into thinking you may be getting a Non-Immigrant B Visa before arriving instead of just telling you to get the tourist visa right away is something I cannot figure out.

Once they send you to the consulate for the tourist visa, they also tell you “not to mention the American TESOL Institute” during your application.  This may leave you with a somewhat uneasy feeling as you are applying at an international consulate.

Final Payment

I had an immensely inconvenient and nearly costly experience once the American TESOL Institute required my second/final payment of US$600.  Along with the request for payment, ATI informed me that the regular PayPal system through one of their (many) websites was not working correctly.

Instead I was given a link to a company called CCAvenue,com and told to make the payment through them instead.

I’ve had my share of issues with PayPal in the past, but at least I had a slight idea of the company and a history with them.  I had never heard of CCAvenue.com and was extremely hesitant to link any data of my bank account to it simply on ATI’s misfortunate whims.

CCAvenue, I gathered through some quick searches, seemed to essentially be an Indian equivalent to PayPal.  I found some bad things to be said about them, but mostly neutral or satisfactory experiences.

Then came my experience.

I made the payment with them, as requested by the American TESOL Institute, only to receive an email very soon after that my payment had been held for suspicion of an international bankcard fraud.

Dear Sir/Madam,
Your order number CART********has been classified as a 
HIGH RISK transaction by the CCAvenue Risk Management
Team due to incomplete/invalid/incorrect data submitted 
by your customer. "Manual Authorization" is required 
for this order.
As per your standing instructions to the CCAvenue 
Risk Management Team, we request you to ask your 
customer to scan and email or fax you the below 
mentioned documents for verification of this particular 
order. On receipt, please forward the same to us, so 
that we are satisfied that this transaction is being 
done by a genuine credit cardholder, to prevent any 
subsequent charge back/loss of money /product/services 
and/or shipping charges. The documents required are 
as follows: -
(A) The customer's credit card statement, which clearly
shows the card number and the billing address of the 
card. The statement should be a recent one and should be 
of the same credit card used for the transaction. We only 
require a scan/fax of the header section of your customer's 
credit card statement, which contains this information.
(B) A photo ID of the credit card holder whose credit 
card has been used for this transaction. This may be any 
one of the following: -
  • Driver's License or,
  • Social Security Card or,
  • Passport or National Identity Card or,
  • PAN Card / Voters Card.

This was a checking account that had been in my name for 9 years, so there is absolutely no reason that this should have been happening on my end.  I contacted ATI, my bank, and CCAVENUE.COM all in a vain attempt to figure out what was happening while I had $600 pending, though no longer in my account.

On top of that, ATI was now demanding a scanned copy of bank or card statement as well before they would move ahead with the payment.

And considering how badly this had already gone, I gladly followed my bank’s advice and would not give CCAvenue or ATI a copy of my statement, more information and certainly not another payment when this situation was because of their fallacies.

Finally I convinced the American TESOL Institute to cancel the payment on their end, at which point the $600 was returned to my account.  Then, they told me, their PayPal payment system was suddenly working again, so I was able to make a payment through their regular site again.

The Flood

One completely unforeseen circumstance that arose in October was the Thailand floods.  The worst in over 50 years, they sent many parts of Thailand into a state of emergency.  When I arrived in early November, it was at the tail end of the major flooding incidents, but they were still going strong throughout some parts of the country.  This is what prompted me to go north and into Isan prior to the ATI course, far from the central plains and river ways.  Likewise, Sarah, another girl in my course, went into the islands, also away from any of the disaster zones.

A small display of the after-effects of the flood near Bangkok.

Of course there was absolutely nothing that the American TESOL Institute could have done regarding this situation.  However, as most of us were coming into this completely blindly, we were depending on ATI for information as to the status of both the flood and our course, both of which they were very silent on.

To give an idea of the time frame of their communication on this:

  • 7th November – The date our course was scheduled to start
  • 6th November – I arrive in Bangkok
  • 27th October – ATI sends an email saying the course will be delayed until 28th Nov because of the flood
  • 28th October – ATI sends an email saying the course may not be delayed; they would keep us informed and tell us their decision on 2 Nov.
  • 2nd November – ATI sends confirmation that the course is delayed for 3 weeks, 48 hours before I am supposed to fly out.
  • 3rd November – I emailed ATI to see if we could contact other course members to see if they would be in Thailand during that time
  • 3rd November – ATI responds saying they cannot give out contact information, which I understand.  David, another course member, later tells me that ATI allowed him to contact Sarah.
  • 18th November – After over 2 weeks of no communication, ATI emails asking when we will be arriving for the course.
  • 28th November –  The American TESOL Institute Special Thai Project Course of 7th November 2011 begins.

Online-Hybrid Course

In the first batch of emails from American TESOL Institute after my deposit payment, I received a login to access .PDF downloads for the online portion of the hybrid course.

For the Special Thai Project, the American TESOL Institute offers both a 3-week in-person class and a hybrid class with reading and assignments online, and then 2 weeks in-person.  I ended up in the hybrid course just by the circumstance of when I decided to enroll.

The online portion of the Special Thai Project course consisted of 5 readings, 2 around 15 pages and 3 around 30 pages.  Each also had an accompanying assignment.

For the most part, the readings were fairly informative.  Usually revolving around light theories of linguistics or methods of teaching and language teaching in particular, they all seemed to be broad-sweeping, with very little about Thailand in particular, which I didn’t mind overall.

There were some problems with the readings.  A few of them could have used a look over by an editor just to correct the many typos to be found.  They were also noticeably written by different authors, most specifically noticeable by the changes in voice from third person to first person in some of them.

The assignments were usually brief, usually 3 or 4 questions interpreting or regarding something in the reading.  Some would be analyzing things discussed in the reading.  Others would be giving specific examples of how you might implement a method of teaching you just read about.

Once you submitted the assignment attached to an email to ATI, they would respond saying they received it.  Sometimes there might be a sentence or two of feedback for specific questions  After this the next reading would become available for you to download.

Links to others’ experiences with American TESOL Institute:

Reviews of the  American TESOL Institute (ATI)
American TESOL Institute Review | From Here to There
American TESOL Institute Review (by a graduate of the program) | Traveler on Sabbatical
The Training Program | Smiles, Spice, & Everything Rice
What Did I Do? | Smiles, Spice, & Everything Rice
American TESOL Institute | XploreU Student Travel Blog
Clusterfuck to Bangkok, or My Experience with the American TESOL Institute | la vie bohémienne
ATI: Special Thai Project | All Thai’d Up
Step 3:  To TEFL or Not to TEFL? Vagabond Vo
“Special Thai Project” (ATI) Review | Monkey Abroad
A Complete, Unbiased Review of the American TESOL Institute (ATI) “Special Thai Project” | Kellan James Travel

Experiences in the American TESOL Institute (ATI) Course
I’m a teacher!??! Awesome! ATI training in Phuket | GypsyJourneys
Teaching Practice Week with “Teacher A” in the House | Travel on My Face
The Orphanage and the Juvenile Detention Center | Jaiyen
Work visa/JL Bangkok/First days of teaching | Ty Tripping
Teacher Morgan: Lesson #1 | EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER.
Chaos in the Classroom | Exotic Winds and Spicy Freedom
Practice Teaching | To Ma-Thailand and Beyond

Posts while attending the American TESOL Institute (ATI) Course
First week here | Erika’s life in Thailand 🙂
Phuket aka: pooket | doubleu’s Great Adventure
Jet Lag Continues, Fish Pedicure, Training Day One | All Thai’d Up
Big girls don’t cry | back pages
The Weekend and My First Day in School | Julies Jaunts
Back in Bangkok | The Ramblings of Sarah Metz