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Teachin' & Beachin'

Imagine this: it’s my first day of school as “Teacher Bryna.” I find the room I’m supposed to be in for the class period… or so I think. The instant I walk in, 50 middle-school aged students walk out. They avoid eye contact with me, duck their heads and make a quick exit. At first I was stunned because I thought I was the victim of a practical joke they were playing on me. Then I was confused because I wasn’t sure if I was even in the right building. I begged them to stay and tried to herd them back into the classroom. No luck.

Finally, one sweet girl came up to me and did her best to explain that they were in the wrong classroom and the correct class would be arriving shortly. Miraculously, I was in the right place. The only thing I was a victim of was the concept of “Thai time,” meaning the timing of the day was running slightly off schedule.

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First day of school as "Teacher Bryna"

Sure enough, a few minutes later 50 tenth-graders (referred to as Mathayom 4 in Thailand) filed into the classroom. I thought it would be smooth sailing now that I corralled in the correct group of kids. Once again, I had no such luck. Every class I met on my first day of school was full of energy. Though it was exciting to have students so eager to meet me, I quickly noticed they were far more intrigued by if I had a boyfriend or if they could take a selfie with me than they were interested in learning about synonyms and antonyms.

Thankfully, each day I am adjusting more to my Thai school. The difference between the American and Thai education systems has definitely caused me some culture shock. In Thailand the classes have less structure, larger class sizes and a noise level that cannot be rivaled by American schools. Yet, there is an enthusiasm I see in my classrooms that I’ve never experienced in the U.S. (You haven't seen pure joy until you've witnessed 50 Thai students realize the answer during a game of hangman is "Justin Bieber.") Though teaching in Chachoengsao is challenging, I already feel myself making progress. At this point, I am taking it day by day, class by class and hoping that I can build a rapport with each student.

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One of the best meals I've had in Thailand - all for the price of 20 baht, or about 60 cents!

While I am trying to get Thai students to trust me, I am also learning to trust Thai people. Throughout my first few weeks in Thailand, I have faced many challenges that have made me feel vulnerable at times. Instead of approaching these situations with frustration and angst, I focus on gratitude. Countless locals have guided me while I learned about public transportation, policies at my school and what to expect at local markets. It was nerve-wracking to put my trust in these people I barely knew. Although at first I thought people were trying to lead me astray, I soon realized they legitimately want to see me succeed. I hope that I am expanding my intercultural knowledge and communication skills by suspending my judgment and listening to what people tell me before I make decisions. I believe this process will help subside my culture shock and ease my transition into daily life in Thailand.

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The beautiful temple of Wat Sothon located in my province. I wouldn't have made it without the help of many locals!

After a tiresome first week of school, the only solution was a trip to Ko Samet for a day at the beach. Ko Samet (Ko means island in Thai) is located in the eastern region of Thailand, near the hub city of Rayong. Getting to the island was a challenge in it of itself because it required a 4-hour drive in a jam-packed mini bus, a trip on a songthaew (a combination between a taxi and a pickup truck, essentially) and a ferry ride. An overnight stay near the ferry pier allowed my roommate and I to head from Ban Phe to Ko Samet first thing Saturday morning. After we secured a hostel (another challenge/learning experience/personal win), we walked through the Mu Ko Samet National Park entrance and eventually stumbled upon Sai Kaew beach. From then on, our day included lounging in the sand, swimming in the Gulf of Thailand and eating mango sticky rice with coconut milk. The only unfortunate thing about spending the entire day at the beach is that I now resemble some combination of Elmo and Rudolph. Lesson learned: reapply sunscreen!

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Ko Samet was nearly deserted, which allowed for ample swim and sunbathing time!

I am still learning new things everyday to better understand this country. (For instance, Thailand is BYOTP: bring your own toilet paper.) This week, I have a day off from school so I plan to go into Bangkok and see more of the city. There are so many things to do in this country and I am trying to make the most of every moment! I am eager to explore this nation that I now call home. I just hope my sunburn heals first!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

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