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Thai time, all the time.

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I’m officially an expat, now what?

   Life in Thailand so far has felt a lot like an intricate cha-cha.  Take two steps forward, three steps back, actually take a seat and watch the professionals do it. Some of it has been very frustrating because in this dance, you can’t control many aspects of your immediate reality. I’m learning patience and trying to develop that go with-the-flow attitude that I was so sure I had when I came to Thailand, I was wrong. I am living in this space that is not quite a traveler but definitely not a local and I’m desperately trying to find out what that means. Although some of the experiences have felt like sandpaper to my face, living here has many upsides that I hold on tight to until everything else falls into place. 

Which brings me to a list of important lessons I’ve learned...the hard way.

1. Patience is a virtue. The most important of all lessons I am trying to master. In Thailand there is a lot of waiting. You might wait for the bus to leave on time, or not. Or you may wait for the one truck in town that drives to the beach, it might come that day, or not. Wait for things to be ready, wait for the answers to questions you feel like are very important. There has been times that I have been told to wait and I didn’t even know what exactly I was waiting for. Things move in  retrograde here compared to my pre-programmed fast moving cultural mind-set, and I will not have a choice other than to develop patience. 

2. Develop ninja like reflexes. So far I have almost been attacked by a rat taking out the trash, saw a scorpion emerge from the depths of my sink drain and got bitten by a fish in the ocean. I  encountered countless packs of disgruntled stray dogs, had to matrix dodge a flying ocean fish (look it up, they have wings), cohabited with a few lizard, and killed endless armies of ants, spiders and cockroaches. I have also had encounters with many well-trained monkeys, like the one seen chilling like Bob Dylan, below. Most recently, I have even seen a large snake randomly fall off the roof at my school. After being extracted from the large bush, it took five workers and countless garden tools to finally kill the thing. Who knew snakes kept going for it after being cut in half like some sort of magic trick? Many species of plants and animals look like they came straight out of the Mesozoic era, and lurk around with no shame.  All of these examples, and many more have taught me to always have my game face on. Nature is much closer to humans here than it is in the United States and it is definitely something to get used to.
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3. Brutal honesty is always the best policy, in Thailand. At any given time it will be made known to you if perhaps you aren’t having the best hair day, if you do not carry a small Asian like body frame, or if your outfit for the day lacked good judgement. In Thailand, it is not an insult to tell people about their appearance, it is just said as a fact. Swallowing pride, getting used to brutal honesty, and rolling with the brass-knuckle covered punches, is all part of the process. I don’t know if a little kid, telling you your hair looks, ‘very messed up,’ will ever be an easy pill to take. 

4. Live outside of your comfort zone. There is a big difference between trying things that are new and eating, sleeping and breathing things that are out of your comfort zone. Living in Thailand takes you from dipping your toes into new things to throwing you into the deep end and hoping you come back up for air. Ending up in one of the biggest red light districts in Thailand on accident, buying a bus ticket to the wrong place due to communication errors, or eating food that I have no idea what it contains are all examples of living this new level of discomfort. It’s worth it and I am growing and finding my way through each experience, but much like residual sand stuck in your bathing suit, it isn’t the most comfortable of all things.

5. Building community is key. I have only been in Thailand for about 2 and a half months. I now have what the young kids call, "my people." I have met both local Thais, vagabond-wanderlust seeking travelers and everyone in between. The community of people here has most definitely propelled me forward and make it easier to build a life in this new place. 
 Let me just tell you if by chance you end up on Khaosan Road on New Years Eve with thousands of other people packed together like sardines, you are going to thank some higher power, that you have friends to hold on to in the crowd, and laugh about it when it's over. Having people around that know what you are going through and will band together to help you get through the ups and the downs may be the only way I make it out of here all in one piece.
IMG_1800This is an ancient Buddist tradition that is even more magical in real life than in the picture. I don't know how many trees are here, wrapping around each other and growing together, but it is a pretty cool sight to see. 

6. Failure to communicate is a real problem. Communicating with people in the USA has been difficult to say the least. I feel like I am solving a difficult math equation, trying to convert military Time back 14 hours to the United States. Then finding windows of time when each participant is available to speak. Let alone finding a phone plan that lets you call abroad. Shout out to my family for helping me figure it all out. This double life thing is complicated, but I get by with a little help from my friends, family and basically everyone I know. When I say little, I mean the largest quantity of assistance at all times, possible. Communication between locals and foreigners is also difficult. Finding yourself in that no-mans land between spoken languages. That area where there are no words in either language that both parties can exchange for any type of mutual understanding. Although my communication style usually entails delivering my best charades performances, I am usually met with confusion or a smile and nod. In the instances that I am asking a yes or no question, there is a 50% chance that I get the answer that I need. Needless to say, learning the basics in Thai has been crucial in getting by here. I hope to learn more but there are some sounds in Thai that just haven't found a way of being formed in my mouth/ vocal cords. 

8. Holidays aren’t the same when you are away from family and friends. This year was the first year in my entire life that I wasn’t near a single relative or friend during two of the biggest holidays, Christmas and New Years. It was a strange feeling. I ate Chicken and rice, the only Christmas tree I personally had anything to do with was a design in the coffee I bought, and instead of having a white Christmas, I had a tropical drink at one of Bangkok’s infamous sky bars. Thailand doesn’t celebrate Christmas as much as it just decorates for it. In typical Thai fashion everything is decorated in lights, fancy back drops, two story sized blow-up polar bears, but when you aren’t at home in your normal life, it all feels a little tacky and gimmicky. Coming from America were consumerism is off the charts, that is a bold statement. Getting a little perspective never hurts, and I will definitely appreciate the time I have with friends and family in the future.
 
9. Learn how to mix the old with the new. Living in Thailand has been like creating a DJ mash-up remix of an old school jam with all the new things I have seen here. One thing that I have noticed is that in Thai there are many words and phrases for the concept of, "it is ok." Mai Pen Rai, Mai Leo, Sabai Sabai, are all different ways to basically say, "everything little thing is gonna be alright." There are many more words that also share the same meaning, but I am still in the beginner course and haven't gotten there yet. Point being, they don't just have words to say these things, they have so many words to convey this because there is a mindset here to match it. As I have said before, life here can be very frustrating, but if you catch on to the laid back attitude and the slower paced lifestyle, it might ease the pain a bit.
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The ultimate example of Thai time.This is a work truck and a hammock lounge. 
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An activity I did with my students for Father's Day in Thailand. Who wouldn't wear these?


I'm not a blogger so I don't know for sure but I feel like this is part where I tie it all together and add some quote about living and learning. I'm not going to do that, that is what bumper stickers are for. All I know is that I have no idea what I am doing here, I just know that for as long as I am here, the sun will rise again and I will live on to fight giant spiders, another day.
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Christmas and Sports Day

Yikes, it has been quite some time since I last posted a blog! Believe it or not, I actually have a life outside of teaching. Monday - Friday, I am at school from 7:30 - 4:30, then my nights are spent at the gym, doing laundry, showering, and eating dinner. During the weekends, I have been traveling throughout Thailand. The days go by so quickly, which is why finding time to blog has been so hard. Let's see if I can catch you up within the next few blogs! 

Where to start? Christmas! Man, waking up Christmas morning was... STRANGE! There was no snow, no presents, no Christmas tree, and no family. Instead? 81 degrees and a day of work. But I was actually looking forward to it. Christmas had arrived at Satit Bangna, where the whole day was dedicated to celebrating the holiday! The students were greeted by Santa, who was giving out candy, as they entered the gates! Then, the whole school gathered in the courtyard after morning assembly. We danced the Christmas ChaCha, sang some songs, watched some plays, and found out the winners of the Christmas card making competition. 

My Co-teacher Dulce and I spent the prior weeks teaching our P1 students a Christmas song and choreographed a dance to go along with it. They performed in front of the whole school. While some stayed towards the back, the students loved singing and dancing. They even loved the lessons about Christmas. With P2, it was my job to select 6 students to read, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". I was so proud of them. We spent about two weeks learning the story. They too, read to the whole school. Although there was no snow, no presents, or family surrounding me, my students were such a joy to be around! 

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After school, Mandy, Adriana, Shane, and I went to Bangkok for the night. We enjoyed some nice Italian food, wine, beautiful views, and Christmas lights. We took a taxi to the BTS (skytrain) into the city. Our whole way into Bangkok, we blessed other travelers with our beautiful voices caroling the entire way! Some starred, some took pictures, and some even joined in. 

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Sports Day

Sports Day was quite the day at school. For weeks, students spent Friday afternoons meeting with their team and playing/practicing different sports. But Sports Day was the final day of activities. It was a full day event, where students competed against each other for medals. Games included a relay race, a running race, a soccer game, cheerleading competitions, bean bag race, tug of war, etc. It was so fun to watch and see each team cheering on their teammates. Teams included the Yellow Lions (ME! AND WE WON ALL AROUND!), the Blue Sharks, the Red Eagles, and the Purple Monkeys. 

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That'a a wrap! Up next: my week vacation! 

Mai Pen Rai

I am writing to you from a state of week-induced hangover. My recent weekends have been so full of tiring travel and activities that coming down from the emotional high of the excitement, genuinely leaves me feeling like lukewarm death. Nothing indicates a spry and full-of-life 22 year old crossing the decorated threshold into maturity, like being literally hung-over from fun (look away energetic college friends, I don’t want you to see me like this). Here’s what you missed while I’ve been technologically cleansing - procrastinator speak for shirking on my blogging responsibilities. The most aged news is that Emily and I got to meet up with a pack of our orientation friends to attend the E-San music festival in Khon Kaen. Considering the relative geographic isolation of our province, it was to be the first time we were reunited with pals of any sort and we were determined to make the most of it, immediately hopping in a cab upon arrival to take us to the promised land (an actual bar with actual people). Despite being in a province that was relatively more familiar with foreigners, we were greeted by the same local fascination we were used to in Amnatcharoen. At this point I will take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to have Emily considering my literal paralysis vis-à-vis the art of haggling. Somehow the drivers can always smell my fear, rendering me as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

After finally whittling the reluctant cab driver down to a reasonable price, we victoriously crowded into the back seat. The cab driver, assuming we couldn’t understand his local jargon, watched us like a popular tween watching her instagram likes compiling. He muttered incessantly owning his interest even after we politely requested he stop. Emily, in the front seat, jumped into action, insisting (in broken, nonsensical Thai) that he keep his eyes forward. This unlikely hero, standing at a menacing 5 foot 2 and wearing a fun n’ flirty romper as opposed to the conventional armor, repeatedly threatened to pay the driver less than the pre-established price, he contemptuously agreed. Like my first graders goldfish-like attention span, this resolution lasted all but seconds before the harassment commenced again. In this moment, Emily’s skin took on a green-ish hue. Her balled up fists ballooned to the size of basketballs. She howled and beat on her chest while unmistakable fireballs of threats poured from her eyes as she prepared to hulk smash the peevish grin directly off that man’s face. Or at least, the fear emanating from every inch of the man’s body indicated that this was how he perceived Emily’s Mama Bear mode. The delicious silence for the rest of the car ride, ashamed on his part, smug on ours, was a firm reminder that Emily is the fighter you want in your corner in roughly every unsavory situation ever. We proceeded to have an awesome evening catching up with our estranged pals and thrashing our limbs about to the cacophony of confusing Thai rap.

The next morning as we were getting ready for the festival, we realized that no one actually knew the genre of the event. One girl had heard reggae, another had heard country, a third yet had jumped to the conclusion that the festival would showcase electronic music. This misinformed state is highly representative of my entire existence in Thailand. I have used the “Mai pen rai” lifestyle (a Thai axiom literally translating to ‘whatever will be will be’ and manifested as go with the flow) as an excuse to be an ignorant American and deceivingly dressing it up as adaptability. In our eagerness, we showed up to the festival many hours premature. Determined to make the hours productive, we took the time to explore the campgrounds, the vendor stalls, and the venue itself to deduce what type of music the festival would display. After hours of exploring, the jury was still out. The decorations gave off decidedly Woodstock-y vibes which was overall conflicting with the Native American headdresses and confederate flags adorning the sea of tents; oh Thailand – you’re so cute when you don’t get it at all.  The butchered lyrics of expired American one hit-wonders crooned in jagged Thai drawl floated on the warm wind from the sperm stage. This is not hyperbolic. In a misguided attempt to be edgy, or youthful, or mysterious (all conjecture, I actually have know idea what motivations drive one to make sperm thematic) the stage was adorned with goliath paper mache swimmers looking down on us like ethereal higher powers of fecundity. I caught myself thinking that the incongruity of the decorations seemed to fit perfectly with the other arbitrariness of the festival – a thought that was interrupted by a family of neon painted elephants meandering by. The astonished public stopped for an onslaught of pictures, of the wild and unnatural white people of course, not the humdrum two-ton mammals. The rest of the event was spent enjoying the relaxed vibes, and socializing with some of the local bands playing the event.

The following weekend we relegated our exploration to more local areas as our lady gang of Thai co-teachers invited Emily and I to venture to Surin with them for the day. According to our ‘deny no authentic experiences’ mantra, we hopped into the truck bed at 6am where we were to be assaulted by gale-force winds for the next three hours. The initial purpose of the day-trip was for the co-teachers to sign up for the teacher test. It is incredibly difficult for co-teachers to become subject teachers in Thailand. That day we journeyed 250 kilometers simply for them to register for a test that 300 hopefuls, our friends included, would later take only to yield a dissatisfying result for a confounding 298 of them. What a staggering statistic: from the initial scoring, only two co-teachers will evade disappointment and be awarded teacher status. The two selected will have less than a week to pack up their belongings, move to a new government-selected location, and enter a binding contract performing duties they’ve never executed. The only commitment I have ever made that approaches that level of solemn obligation was purchasing a Proactive subscription in my oily youth. I can only hope that the commitment results in less dry skin and scarring for our impressive friend who placed among the top two selects!

After the registration process we found a local restaurant where, as is customary, we took off our shoes and settled into a seated position on the floor. Emily and I love spending time with our Thai friends because we are undoubtedly on the benefiting end of this parasitic relationship. While they squirm under the smothering and unfamiliar starring we tend to elicit, we get to coast on autopilot through basic interactions that are normally very taxing for us as non-Thai speakers. We eat like kings when we are with them! By eat like kings, I mean we get to actually decide what we want to order before shooting in the dark and pointing at random words on an indecipherable menu. Thailand has decidedly made me a simple girl with simple needs. I happily munch on the flying ants and silkworms they order as appetizers (while our friends thoughtlessly crush their buggy victims between their chopsticks and wave them around in our faces saying “Ooooooh, monsters”) to earn my meal of delicious local favorites. I live for the tableside conversations we muddle through while sideswiping language barriers and hurdling over narrowly-missed cultural divergences. For your reference, please enjoy this example of a genuine interaction we fought through:

Emily: (posing a theoretically easily-understood question to the table) Do you like vegetables?

Co-teacher: I like Cuba.

Emily: (rolling with the punches) Why do you like Cuba?

Co-teacher: Delicious!

Emily: (emitting brain smoke as she tries to connect non-existent dots) Oh you mean cucumbers?

Co-teacher: Yes, teacher!

Emily: (pushing on, encouraged by this conversational break-through) Do you like Spinach?

Co-teacher: No, I like Germany.

To this day, none of us are sure if we were discussing vegetables or geography. Luckily, we know that we always have a banter contingency plan in the form of John Cena. John Cena, if you’re reading this, you should move to Thailand, like, yesterday and reap the rewards of local obsession. Age and gender does not discriminate on this point. Our girly co-teachers, elderly Thai classroom attendants and students alike all converge on their pious devotion to John Cena. Students who could not mutter a single word of English despite intense teacher assistance can be heard gallivanting around at recess yelling, “YOU CAN’T SEE ME”. I don’t get it, I honestly don’t, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to a dialogue that both involved parties can understand. Keep doing what you’re doing out there beefcake!

The day took a sobering turn at the elephant enclosure we understood to be an ethical sanctuary but in actuality was a cruel, monetarily driven training facility. We decided against lingering and supporting the operation and settled for night market exploration instead. Riding around in that truck bed exchanging American and Thai music, discussing language, and sharing experiences with our indigenous friends is a memory I will treasure forever. Cherished friendships formed under impossible circumstance and the supplementary commentary on human kindness and acceptance that accompanies them are the most beautiful gifts Thailand has given me.

Until next time!

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Goodmorning, Teachaa

After talking broadly about the trips I have taken, I thought I would use this post to chronicle a glimpse of what I experience on the day-to-day, specifically each morning at school. Typically, I arrive around 7:50 when the teacher on side gate duty is impatiently holding the gate open for the last students sprinting to make it, and myself. I slide in and wai: “Sawadee ka,” I say in greeting, “Hello! Kap khun ka for holding the gate.” My Thai sucks. It’s usually a mix of Thai and English, with most Thai phrases being repeated quickly in English (sawadee-ka-hello), almost in apology for how attrociaous I sound. She smiles curtly as she locks the gate, dooming all latecomers to the extra block’s walk to the front gate. 

I drop off my bag in my office, slip into my school shoes, sign in, and head to the huge, covered, outdoor gathering area where the 3000+ students already stand in neat rows, taking attendance and chattering. I am an advisor for Mathayom 5 (the age equivalent of Juniors in high school), but due to the fact that mai kow jai—I don’t understand—Thai or anything that is going on,  I mostly just stand there and look pretty. Occasionally, Cream—the class leader—runs up to me with papers written completely in Thai, hands them to me, and points to lines for me to sign. I dutifully initial, and hand them back to her; nothing bad has come of this strategy yet. 

I scan the rows for the M5 teachers I recognize so that I know where to stand today. I’m in my own world and remember —shit—I almost forgot my manners. Wai, wai, wai, as I pass Thai teachers; some wai back; other, older ones, simply nod in my direction. I’m still not confident I completely understand the whole waiing concept. The wai itself is a slight bow with the hands together; it is a greeting, a show of respect. The subordinate initiates the wai with the superior, and the superior (or equal) then returns the wai. Students wai teachers all day long, and that is usually accepted with a nod of acknowledgement from the teacher or, if you’re bridging cultures like me, a smile and a loud “hello.” While the student-teacher power dynamic is pretty straightforward, superiority is not always black and white. For example, in the school setting, elder teachers are definitely superior, as are those who hold a higher position than myself (how would I know what someone’s postition is? Answer: I wouldn’t). But riddle me this: what do you do when faced with someone who is older than you, but in a lower position?

For example, there is a custodian who works in our building; she is not old, but she is definitely older than me. One of the first days, I hit her with a wai and a, “Sawadee ka.” She giggled—ok so maybe I wasn’t supposed to wai her? I thought—but she returned the greeting and seemed pleased, the pressed-lip grin remaining on her face and she returned to sweeping. I guessed that not everyone at the school showed her the same respect because a custodian job is held to be lower than the highly regarded teacher position. Whatever—I’m barely a teacher—I wai her every morning , and she always giggles quietly but wais back, appearing to secretly enjoy it.

Anyways, I don’t make it through the morning without waiing at least 30 people. Once I spot where M5 has decided to line up that day, I stand nearby and observe, as some Thai teacher barks loudly on the microphone. I never have any idea what he’s saying, but it never sounds very positive—until occasionally the whole place bursts into laughter, and then I’m confused.  When it is time for the flag ceremony to begin, the barking on the microphone stops abruptly and the students stand at attention, facing the flag. The national anthem is sung, the voices of 3,500 students and teachers harmonizing, accompanied by the band. When it is over, everyone turns in unison 90 degrees to the left—we are now facing the Spirit House and Buddhist alter and it is time for prayer. After prayer, everyone turns again, another 90 degrees to the left, facing an image of the King. The song of the royal family plays, some words are said, and then there is a rustle of noise as the men bow and the women curtsey. 

More than likely, at some point during this ceremony my co-teacher, another M5 advisor— Rassarin—has snuck up beside me. She stands about a head shorter than I and, in her limited English, speaks to me fondly in a tone one might use on their 2-year-old; she affectionately addresses me as baby. When the ceremony ends, we engage in some only moderately uncomfortable routine small talk, Rassarin never abandoning her sugary tone. We comment on the weather and discuss our weekends—“What did you do this weekend?” I ask on Mondays. “Oh, I sleep!” or “What are you doing this weekend?” I ask on Fridays. “Oh, I sleep!”—and ending with, “Nice day, baby!” when she decides that the pleasantries are over and bids me adieu, marching into the throng of students to fulfill what I assume are the duties of 2 advisors by herself.

And then I slip away, retreating back to the safety of the EP building to settle into my office and wait for first period to start. Depending on the number and sorts of activities taking place where the students remain at the assembly, first period might start on time at 8:20; it might start late, around 8:40; students might roll in from assembly at 9:05, 5 minutes before the period ends. Today only two students showed up to first period, with 15 minutes left until the bell; I found out during second period that all afternoon classes would be cancelled. When these things happen—and they happen often—there is no point in getting frustrated—I guess I’ll push today’s lessons to tomorrow.

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What To Expect...When You Have No Idea What To Expect

Since coming to Thailand, I've had to learn to adapt and embrace a culture that is nothing like my own. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise, and anyone who does a little research on Thailand compared to the USA would agree with me. I came to Thailand to be an English teacher, even though I feel like I am by no means qualified. Thailand, however, would disagree. I am from America, English is my native language, I have a Bachelor's degree, and I am able to take advantage of all of these things, speak in front of a class and in some way try and influence a few hundred Thai students' learning. Is that actually what has taken place over these last couple of months...I'm not so sure?

There are many reasons for this, and I wanted to take some time to write down my thoughts about how it's been so far being a "teacher" (I use quotes because I don't think I'll ever be able to seriously think of myself as a teacher). There are also several things I wish I knew about the Thai education system and what life would actually be like before I hopped on a plane to come here.

For starters, let me give a little background info on my school. Me and my friend Kaitlin teach at SaoHai Wimolwitthayanukul School, which is a public high school with 2700 students. My classes are large, English levels are low, and any overall organization is almost nonexistent. I never thought that I wouldn't like where I was placed, partially because I had this dream idea that I'd be teaching perfect, respectful children who adore me and are eager to learn. But, if I had a say in where I was placed, I might choose to work at a different school. That might sound bad and I hate that I even typed it out, but I do want to be honest. This post isn't all negative however. I am so happy that I quit my job and hopped on that plane to embrace a whole new life away from my home. I don't want anything that I say next to deter someone from coming to Thailand to teach. This has simply been my experience so far and I want to share it! So for now, let me get into some specifics about what I wish I knew to expect before starting to teach (the good stuff is at the end by the way).

  1. Public schools are veryyyy different than private schools. I work at a public school, which means we don't have a bunch of extra money lying around for school supplies, decorations, working projectors and computers, clean classrooms, etc etc. The lack of resources can be extremely frustrating sometimes. If I want to plug my computer into the projector to show a PowerPoint in class, and for some reason the system isn't working (happens several times a week) there is generally nothing I can do about it besides cluelessly tinker with the different wires and hope for a miracle. It usually doesn't happen. At this point, I have made note of all the classrooms where the projectors don't work so I can prepare ahead of time for a much more difficult lesson. We do have whiteboards, and if you bring your own whiteboard markers then you are good to go. Another big issue is that the classroom sizes are almost unmanageable. Trying to get 50 Thai students to stop talking, get off their phones and pay attention to a language that they don't understand can seem impossible. Which is why I've had to accept the fact that you might have 5-15 students paying attention, and you kind of just deal with it and ignore the ones who aren't. What I've seen and heard about private schools is quite the opposite. There's more money available which means they can be more selective of their students, which means smaller class sizes, which means more resources and overall more organization.
  2. Speaking of organization, I never knew it was possible for a school to be so disorganized, but damn Sao Hai does a pretty good job at it. Example 1, Kaitlin and I started school at the beginning of November. We aren't told specifically if there is a curriculum, or even what our general class topics are. Believe me, we asked, we just didn't get a straight answer. Not until at least a month in did I learn that two of my classes that I have to test are English for Writing and Reading, and the rest of the classes are Conversation. I also learned around this time that the students take English speaking classes with me, and then English grammar classes with Thai teachers (which you think would help to improve their English skills, but it does not). Example 2 was when I was told I have to hand in my midterm test at the end of November. At that point, I had seen my students maybe a couple of times and had absolutely no idea what I should be teaching them, what their proficiency levels were, and what they had already been taught in previous years. After this, I was also informed that I have to give them a quiz BEFORE the midterm, but for some reason they forgot to tell me. Sounds crazy right? Well it is, but I've learned to accept it. I now realize that essentially no one gives a shit, and that's ok. No one asked what I was going to test my students on, no one asks me what I teach them in my classes, no one even asks me how I'm getting along. But that's fine, because at least no one is breathing down my neck or pressuring me to teach something specific. I have free rein over what I do, which means lots and lots of English games! This is mostly because the students love them and get bored with anything else, like for example...a real lesson. And finally, and maybe my favorite, example 3, which only just happened this week. Our coordinator Kajee told Kaitlin that the school Director had asked how she knew whether or not her students' English was improving. You might be thinking, "yes indeed what a great and logical question." But the catch is that Kaitlin was told at the beginning of the semester that she didn't have to formally grade any of her classes. So she hasn't been. But now she's being told by Kajee that she should have been giving them speaking tests, and she wants Kaitlin to make up 4 test grades for each of her students. We have more than 600 students each by the way...so you do the math. She was told to grade them on a scale of 1-4, as if she knew who each of them was and how well they can (really can't) speak English, and to hand in the grades two days later. I'm kind of still laughing about that one because it's just so ridiculous. If they wonder how we're going to know how each student is improving, you'd think they would have us grade them all to begin with right? Evidently...wrong. And if you're wondering why we haven't been grading them informally, it's because we see our classes once a week, there's 50 students in each class, and it's just simply not realistic to try and teach them and then test them on it a week later. It would take several class periods, aka weeks, to do so. But again, this is simply my situation. Our other roommate Kat teaches at a different school in Saraburi within an English program. She sees her students three times a week, makes up detailed lesson plans, gives speaking tests, and is overall probably a better teacher than I am! But these are the cards I was dealt so I gotta play them.
  3. Sometimes you'll have to do things that you really didn't expect to do. For example, teach on Saturdays. I already wrote about the unfortunate circumstances that lead to Kaitlin and I being forced to "teach" on Saturdays because of Sports Day interfering with classes during the week back in November. With this wonderful idea, the students could get caught up with the course material in time for midterms in December. We were supposed to teach on five Saturdays, but they ended up cancelling the last two because they finally realized that the kids weren't exactly coming to school ready to learn. Some wouldn't even show up. The goal of those days was not met, and the kicker is that we weren't paid any extra for being there 6 days a week. Kaitlin and I both wished that OEG (our program) would have let us know that our school was going to make us do this. I personally felt like the school didn't really care about the teachers and wasn't concerned with what we wanted at all. It definitely wasn't a great feeling, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. It made it hard for me to feel a personal connection to the school because I felt like they really weren't concerned about us.
  4. No matter how much you want them to learn, some kids are just not motivated. That seems to be in part because of the school I'm at, and partly because of the Thai education system. For one, there are so many students at my school and no English program, so the overall proficiency levels are veryyyy low. This is really not surprising when you consider the impossible feat of trying to cater to 50 students' needs in the span of 40-50 minutes once a week. It's just not going to happen. So their motivation levels can sometimes be low since they know that the chances of them learning something that will stick with them is equally low. Another issue is the fact that they cannot fail. If they do fail, you re-test them. And re-test again until they pass. So why bother trying when you know the outcome already?! Great question, I would like to now refer you to 400 out of my 600 students and you can ask them! I definitely feel bad for the few kids in some of my classes who so very clearly want to learn. It's hard to try and control a classroom and also focus on trying to give all the students what they need. And again, at this point I've realized that that will never happen. Maybe if I had smaller classes, or saw them more than once or twice a week. But I've found that there's no point in wondering "what if" because you just have to adapt and learn what the best possible strategy is moving forward.
  5. Thai teachers are way stricter than I ever imagined. And I don't mean yelling or giving a lot of homework. I mean slapping kids on the head or using wooden sticks to hit them on their hands or backs when they've been bad. That was a fun surprise!! But once they see a farang (generally a white western foreigner) all bets are off the table (weirdly using a lot of card game references here?). They know we aren't going to do that with them, so they can go crazy, let loose and be EXTREMELY loud in our classrooms. Again, just something you have to deal with and learn to expect! I'd rather them have a little fun in my classes than be miserable.

If all of that didn't convince you to shut your computer and swear off ever coming to Thailand, then I'm glad! Because now I'd like to talk about the amazing things that I didn't expect to experience before coming to Thailand.

  1. The wonderful feeling you get when students tell you that they love you or get excited when you play a fun game in class. Just this week, one of my students from my favorite class left me a present and two cards on my desk for no reason at all. And actually while I was just typing this she came into the office and gave me another card. I do not deserve her.
  2. The huge smile that will break out on your face when you have the cutest student realize they said something properly in English. And yes I do have a favorite student who is the cutest thing I've EVER SEEN!!! And that's including puppies.
  3. Getting to know some of your students' personalities. I love laughing at the weird things they do or the sounds they make while being goofy in class. All of that warms my heart and makes me leave my classrooms smiling. And I don't even like kids!!! (Proof that anyone can do this).
  4. Overall getting to experience Thai culture and all the crazy, weird, and beautiful things that that entails. Like seeing three, four, or five people squished onto a motorbike drive by you. Without helmets I might add. Or taking a van to Bangkok for the weekend and swearing you're going to die at least five times on the trip as people zoom past you or drive on the wrong side of the road, but you always make it there safely. Or having teachers and students wai you in the morning, every morning to show respect (that's when you put your hands together and make a small bow with your head). Or learning to take cold showers and almost not even being bothered by it because it's so hot out. Or getting used to seeing the weirdest food combinations you could ever imagine being put into a crepe and devoured by a student after school. Or taking your shoes off outside most houses or stores. Or drinking soda out of a bag because this is Thailand. And also saying "this is Thailand" far too often but that's the only proper way to describe the crazy shit that happens here.
  5. The amount of places that you can manage to see on weekend trips and all the beauty that this country has to offer. I've so far been to Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Krabi, Chiang Mai, and Pai and have plenty more plans for the rest of the semester. I am also planning on traveling around Asia afterwards, just because I can!
  6. Thai money will get you far. The first month of working I had to use my own personal money to buy things, as I get paid at the end of the month by my school. But after that, I have not once dipped into my own money. Granted I haven't been able to save a lot (or any) of that Thai money yet, but it has gotten me through the months of traveling and lots of eating!
  7. No matter how hard I think this job is or how frustrating my school can be, I would choose this over working at home every. damn. time. I quit my last job because I was unhappy, and so far the overwhelming feeling I've had while being here has been pure joy. Maybe I don't feel that 100% of the time, but at least I'm not sitting in an office hating my life for 9 hours a day. THAT was torture. THIS is paradise.
  8. The people that you meet and become friends with are just amazing. I came here expecting to live with Kaitlin, but didn't expect to also gain a second roommate. Our friend Kat, who used to live about 10 minutes away, recently moved in with us at the end of December. We had been saying for a while that she should move in, as we had an extra bedroom, and she finally did! Our friend Tracy and her boyfriend live in our neighborhood as well. And our friends Emily and Laura live a couple hours away south of Bangkok. We see them almost every weekend when we get together to travel, and it's always great to spend time with people who have similar mindsets as you. One funny thing we talked about was that everyone always has that "token" friend who up and moves across the country or the world to do something crazy. And for us, we are all that token friend. We all left our families and friends to come to Thailand, and now we're experiencing a totally different way of living together.

So, the moral of this story I guess is that if you want to put your life on pause and come teach in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia, do it. Do it now. There are a million and one schools in Thailand that desperately want foreign teachers to come and work at their schools. It's an amazing way to make a difference, even if you don't feel like you are, while also earning enough money to travel and see the world. My situation is just one of many. I know I'm going to be asked about my experience once I go home, so I figured this was a surefire way to get around answering the same question a bajillion times - I'll just direct them here. Looking at you relatives that I see once or twice a year!

P.S. - This is the card that my student just gave to me. BRB crying.

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Make sure to check out my other personal blog for more stories and pictures! https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

The One Where I Figured Out How To Send Money Home

So the really exciting thing about being an adult is having bills and responsibilities no matter where you are, right? Wrong. Nothing is worse, actually. I make a decent paycheck in Thailand standards as a teacher, which sounds like a lot until you find out that every month I have to send roughly half of my salary home every month to cover bills/loans/other random adult BS I hate with a passion. 

That's frustrating in and of itself, but I haven't mentioned the good part yet- up until today I could not figure out a fast way to send money home to my US bank account without physically going to my Thai bank and filling out a form, waiting in line, paying a huge fee and then biking back. Well today my life has changed for the better because.......

GOD BLESS FACEBOOK, the one and only time I will say that. 

Someone in our CIEE Teach in Thailand FB group asked the great question "how are you guys sending money home to cover bills and things in America?" The first thing I thought is, why the F didn't I think to ask that here? Followed swiftly by, wait did anyone have a new answer for this? Lucky for me someone did. 

So I just want to say that I did try my very hardest to figure this out on my own, I read every online resource, I tried every stupid website and app but most things weren't international or had a huge fee. I tried adding a second account to my paypal account but you can't send money to yourself from one account to another... UNLESS triumphantly raises finger into the sky

You open two separate paypal accounts with two separate emails....DUH takes finger and jams it into brain for not thinking of this concept sooner

So shoutout to the girl from facebook who floated this idea in the group and allowed me to find a way to send money, quickly, without having to go to the bank and for 1/20th of the cost. My only regret is not figuring this out sooner and avoiding all the fees I've already paid but hey better late than pregnant! ....I mean never. 

Anyways I just wanted to post a blog about this in case anyone else teaching abroad was struggling with this now or in the future. 

May the exchange rate be ever in your favor! 

Suksan Wan Pii Mai Ka || Happy New Year!

December: what a month!

The excitement kicked off with a visitor from home! Joey got to Thailand on a Wednesday, and by Saturday afternoon we were walking down the shop-lined main street of Ko Lanta, an island south of Krabi, caught in an island downpour. Like the true Oregonians we are, we weren’t going to let a little rain stop the fun, and we continued on our walk. 2 kilometers later, drenched, we decided this downpour might actually be better described as a tropical storm that showed no signs of letting up, so we swallowed our pride and hailed a tuktuk.

We arrived, clothes dripping but spirits undampened, at our beach bungalow and waited out the storm on what I have decided is an essential part of any beach hut: a front porch, complete with a hammock and an ocean view. Each day, after swimming in the Andaman Sea and exploring the white sand beaches (some of us getting more sunburnt than others in the process), we would retire to our porch to enjoy the serene calmness of Ko Lanta. Cozy in my hammock, relaxing with my favorite guy, listening to the waves and enjoying the simple happiness that comes with being together in a beautiful place, I truly felt like we were embracing the sabai sabai mindset.

In Thai, sabai literally means “happy,” but it is also used in a variety of other contexts to describe the Thai lifestyle; it means relax, everything is chill, not a care in the world— it is like the Thai hakuna matata (it means no worries..)! When you embrace the sabai culture, your stress levels decrease, you don’t sweat the small things, and you embrace all of the good that surrounds you. Under the sun and, later, under the stars on our porch, I had no complaints. 

9648FC23-C993-4004-A750-8019AEA36801Our beach bungalow at Lanta Marina Resort.

60DBF561-788C-4C14-9EB5-B71B9DA2AA11 Ko Lanta, Thailand - My favorite spot. 

 582E71FE-BA5C-4FE7-957E-1A833897C882Ko Lanta, Thailand - December 2017 


582E71FE-BA5C-4FE7-957E-1A833897C882Surin, Thailand - December, 2017

 

After the world’s fastest 10 days, Joey left. And my homesickness from saying goodbye combined with the reality of spending my first Christmas away from home, and the last week of December was a rough one. Thai Christmas is a confusing time, at least in Surin. No one outside of our English Program acknowledged Christmas on Christmas Day, which was on Monday—a school day; however, I came to school on Friday, December 29th, to find Christmas on steroids. Just when I was ready to hang up my Santa hat, I was hit with a belated dose of costumes, dancing, Christmas songs, and gift-giving. I guess better late than never. 

Despite the surprise Christmas cheer, after a mildly sad week I was looking forward to a spirited New Year’s weekend—and it didn’t disappoint. We left Friday night, and after a bus ride, another much longer bus ride, a songthaew (look it up), a minibus, another minibus, another songthaew, a ferry, and a third songthaew, we landed at our hostel on Ko Chang by mid-morning on Saturday. If you were keeping track, it took a grand total of 8 modes of transportation to get to this island—but man, was it worth it. 

I spent New Year’s with Melissa and 6 other English teachers all connected loosely by someone who knew someone who knew someone.  Instantly, it felt easy and natural to connect with people who, although strangers at the start of the weekend, were so relatable because of the mindsets we share and the journeys we are all on. We laughed an incredible amount, comparing stories—victories, losses, sources of confusion, sources of frustration, and humorous anecdotes—of our first few months in the classroom, and marveled at just how different each of our experiences in our respective towns and schools have been. Also, a sidenote: this was my first hostel experience. As it turns out, when you put 8 Americans in a 10-person dorm on a Thai island, it feels alarmingly similar to a sleeping porch nestled in the jungle. This taste of familiarity was comforting.

However, we didn’t spend much time in our little hostel-turned-sleeping-porch. Rather, we spent our days on the beach and in the water, one day taking a boat trip out island hopping and snorkeling. The waters in the Gulf of Thailand are so unbelievably clear and blue; it’s impossible to tire of its natural  brilliance. Ko Chang is the most beautiful place that I have been in Thailand thus far. We rang in 2018 on a beach, surrounded by good company and an impossible number of fireworks.


37CEBAD0-8D12-463F-9A99-21CE4FFFB644 Ko Chang - December 2017

5B318E9F-0DCB-4E99-B556-E3081F786C48 Gulf of Thailand - December 2017


37CEBAD0-8D12-463F-9A99-21CE4FFFB644 Ko Chang - 6/8 of the squad. 


As I traveled back to Surin on Tuesday, I reflected on my year. In 2017 I had many lasts—my last college days, and all the lasts that came with them, specifically—and I graduated from college, ending a huge chapter in my life. But I also had quite a few firsts: I worked at a restaurant for the first time, where I developed my work ethic and met some amazing people—including one very special individual who traveled to Thailand to visit me; I broke out of my comfort zone and moved across the world, where I have been able to meet even more awesome and likeminded people; I started experimenting with teaching, developing my own teaching style, and becoming more confident in myself and my abilities; I have continued my quest to discover what my future might hold for me. 

Last year at this time, if you would have told me that I would be teaching English in Thailand, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was stressed; I was trying to fit myself into a mold and figure out the proper “next step,” equipped with my Business degree and zero idea of what I wanted to do with it. Moving to Thailand wasn’t my plan, so for me—a huge planner—making this life-altering decision based only on a feeling was terrifying. But now that I’m living it, I am so thankful for my selfish choice to do what felt right for me, rather than what felt right for everybody else. I’m excited, but in no hurry, to see where 2018 will take me.

71180B6C-D233-4810-B9DA-39F2F09A073B Ko Lanta, Thailand - December 2017

 

A Blur

    Here I am two months later. It has finally set in that this country is now my home. That this school is where I work. And that this is my life. It was hard to grasp at first but it is finally setting in. Now my life is just as it was before with a fairly normal schedule.  Although, it is in a new place and I am definitely a lot more busy than I was in the states! It has been a blur of constant travels, teaching, and time spent with so many people. So here is a basic summary of my last two months, since I haven't been too great about updating this blog!

Phrae: 

The first full weekend in Phrae I met several other foreign teachers here that work both at my school and other schools in the area. They told us about a lot of cool places surrounding us that were just a motorbike ride away. So we decided to take the weekend to explore where we live. The gist of the day was a lot of driving, walking, sweating, and bonding with new friends. 

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The steps up to the Doi Lang Temple, sweating my butt off. 


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The Phrae Farang Gang: there are a few friends missing from the photo though!

Lampang: 

All of the foreign teachers and I took a trip to Lampang (which is about 1.5 hours from Phrae) in a mini van. There were quite a few of us, but the driver was willing to fill his van to the brim with people. We had two more people than there were seats, so he pulled out two child-sized plastic seats and put them in the gaps that were meant to be an aisle way! We were in Lampang for two days and spent an entire day exploring. We found a cliff side temple that was quite the trek, but completely worth it! And we found Chaeson Waterfall and some hot springs. The cliff side temple was definitely the highlight of the trip and would recommend going!

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When I said cliff-side temple; I promise you it was no understatement. 


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Chaeson waterfall was beautiful but we unfortunately couldn't swim in it. Still a wonderful view though!


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The hot springs were cool. We found out that it's a big thing to boil baskets of eggs in the springs. So they were pretty, but they smelt of sulfer and boiled eggs!


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And so the blur of events continues....

 

 

The One Where We Spent New Years In Bangkok

Fun fact: NYE in Bangkok is very very similar to NYE in Times Square, or so I imagine. I've never actually been to Times Square for New Years because I am claustrophobic and after experiencing it in Bangkok I can confirm that I will probably never go to NYC for New Year's Eve- not my scene.

But let's back up and give you the full rundown of what New Year's Eve day was like and how we spent New Year's day because that's the good stuff. 

Our friend from Orientation came and stayed at the hostel with us and we hadn't seen her since October so that was really amazing, it's crazy how close you can feel to people when you only met them a few months prior. New Year's Eve day we got some really delicious breakfast, I got blueberry cream cheese pancakes and an iced coffee which was just as fattening and amazing as it sounds. We then walked around the Wang Lang market and found some fun earrings to wear with our outfits. We stopped at a park that overlooked the river in the center of Bangkok and walked across the bridge and got semi lost trying to find the Ferry. All-in-all it was a really nice day, if you take out the part where we saw a cat get hit by a taxi, that was a major bummer.  After the market we went back to our hostel and got ready for the night, we made drinks and sat on the roof with other people from our hostel and caught up with each other. Two of the people in our hostel had decided to skip the crowds and go to a disco funk club for NYE instead and we decided to meet up with them there. Unfortunately we made a cab drive us all over God's creation to try to find this club, only to fail miserably. We hauled ass back to Khao San Road which is the main drag of Bangkok where all the bars are and where everyone gathers to watch the countdown. We made it and formed a human chain and shoved our way through the crowd and got to a good vantage point roughly two minutes before midnight. We were actual sardines but it was such an incredible thing to witness and be a part of. 

Due to my high anxiety in closely-packed crowds and claustrophobia, I Irish exited the premises and fled back to the hostel which was thankfully only one road away. (Irish exiting: Verb, meaning to leave a party or event or function without saying goodbye to anyone or telling anyone where you are going). This is a really bad habit of mine that started in college but since I made it back perfectly safe and texted everyone as soon as I hit the hostel I think it's fine. I fell asleep around 12:30am and have no regrets. 

The next morning we all were nursing a stellar hangover, as I'm sure many other people were that morning and decided that going to see a movie in an air conditioned theater was exactly what we all needed. We went to the mall got really great Indian food and then split up so we could all see the movies we wanted to. After the movie we indulged in some shopping and then went back to the hostel for our last night together. Everyone was so exhausted from the night before that we all passed out by 10pm knowing we had an 8hr bus ride back to our province the next day. 

It was so great catching up and reuniting for a weekend and enjoying the end of the year together. I have a feeling 2018 is going to be a great one considering how the end of 2017 has been for us. knock on wood. 

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Courtney's View #5: Thoughts at the Grocery Store

The message written in the harshly lit isles of the hygienic section is that to be beautiful is to be white. Brands like Snail White, White Allure, and BeauOxi White have the shelves loaded with intravenous whitening injectables, whitening pills, whitening creams and body washes. All this paired with images of super pale and laughing "Thai" people. Attempting to manifest this message, many employees at the store have layered their faces with white make-up. They look like specters of themselves. I feel like a jerk. I’m part of the genus responsible for exporting this ideal.

Call me a genius, but I suspect that it is because of this ideal that I am treated like a celebrity in Thailand. Though I've done nothing to deserve it, countless people run up from behind to snap selfies with me. I am told I’m beautiful by more random people than feels normal. Why can't they just call me weird looking? At school, the administration delightedly carts me around like an exotic pet. Under the command of, "It is uurrrgent that you come," I am required to be at notable events so that I can be in the pictures. The events with the important people holding gold plaques for the important thing that they have achieved which I still don’t know what it is (can’t speak Thai yet). There’s just something about me that makes their achievement look more special to the world. 

I traverse these white washed isles with my critical eye, delving too deep into the social injustices that these smug sunscreens are championing. I maintain a rolling boil as I both reflect on and represent this ghastly form of globalization. I sourly shuffle, surly and shame faced to the check out with my armful of toilet paper. 

But outside, I can't escape the curse of the White Allure. Dear reader, please walk with me. Come with me through the sliding doors and wait while I find my moped. If you look up and right, you will see a house sized bill-board with a young girl on it, lips slightly parted in a sexy sigh. She is white, clearly Caucasian, and there are little arrows tracing the smooth, youthful contours of her face, like the ones you see on the weather channel to indicate wind patterns. This teenager is telling you and all the Thais down on the street, selling sausage kebabs for a living, to get some botox and white injected into their faces to look right.

If you were with me as I walk through the night market searching for dinner, I’d tell you that I have a suspicious and dreadful feeling. What if my appearance is planting this seed of desired whiteness deeper into the local’s minds? When they take selfies with me, I know it is because of my whiteness and green eyes. Again, it’d be better if they thought I looked funny, but they singularly call me beautiful. Do they really want to look like me? What if I am fueling feelings of lack in my students? It is a scary feeling, but I think that it is not far off.

What do I do? A few simple things I think...When my girls at school tell me I’m beautiful, I always make sure to tell them that they are, too. They ask me a lot if I like Thailand, and I always make sure that I pause to tell them all the things I like about it. Everyone is better for it when they decide to be themselves.

...Also, from hereon out, I will stick to the street markets, keeping my gaze below the billboards. 

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