First of all, I apologize for the delayed first blog post. As usual, I have watched my fellow writers be on top of the ball while watching the ball roll away in my rearview mirror. Turns out, adapting to an entirely new language, place, culture, and job is fairly time consuming – who knew! I’ve got a lot to tell, but if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole, the gist of this post is holy shit I moved to Thailand. It has been, predictably, a blood bath and simultaneously some of the best adventures and most fun I've ever had. The enormity of that realization evaded me until the end of our week-long orientation. The program exhaustively trained 200 teachers-to-be in a conference style format in Bangkok. The week was a whirlwind as we battled jetlag, general adjustments, and the figurative stampede to make as many friends as possible, especially those placed in close proximity to our own provinces. At orientation I was lucky to get some uplifting insight on all the things that could possibly kill me during my time in Thailand, including but not limited to: malaria, dehydration, rabid monkeys, crime, motorbikes, and Japanese encephalitis induced brain decay. Awesome.
Jokes aside, the program worked diligently to prepare us for all eventualities in our new homes, which I think the jittery participants appreciated. During the week I formed valuable friendships with fellow adventurers looking to travel on weekends, assimilate to the culture, and have an authentic experience. Alcohol consumption was only a lot involved in this bond forming. My parents remain very proud of my social prowess. At the week's end, it was very difficult to say goodbye to these support systems as we were carted off to remote regions throughout the country. Being filed into the buzzing banquet hall of Thai school coordinators to meet the person who would be responsible for dictating what every detail of my life would look like for the next 6 months remains one of most anxiety inducing situations I’ve ever endured. Upon meeting our coordinator, Dao, Emily and I were herded into a van where we spent the consequent 9 hours trying to discern information about our school from broken English.
At 2am, Emily and I finally reached our province. For reference, Emily is my collegiate best friend turned fellow Thai teacher – I’m so lucky to have her even though the Thai populace is never sure what to do with her boisterous mannerisms or distinct eyebrows. Sensing our exhaustion from the taxing week, Dao insisted that we would have minimal obligations that day. Lesson 1: Thai people are notorious for changing their minds at rapid intervals. After sleeping for a couple of hours on my incognito marble slab disguised as a mattress, Dao was back to fetch the dilapidated Americans and take them to work. Upon arriving at our school, Anuban Amnatcharoen, the car was immediately flooded by a sea of tiny Thai humans yelling, “TEACHAAA” and grabbing at us for any limb they could get ahold of. This, I imagine, is what Justin Beiber must feel like. After introducing ourselves to an assembly of 2000 1st through 6th graders, the cat was out of the bag – fresh meat in town. We had to teach despite a lack of preparation and lesson plans because the students were simply so excited. At the end of the day, we were sent to a meeting with all of the school’s parents (who we absolutely could not communicate with) for introductions and to allow the administration to flex their muscles for having acquired foreign teachers, a rarity in many parts of Thailand.
Our province, Amnatcharoen (pronounced Amnat juh-learn) is a fairly rural area to the far East of Thailand with a population of 375,380. Most locals have never seen a tourist much less a blonde haired (grease-level dependent) and green-eyed American. Suffice it to say Emily and I are the newest local celebs. The novelty is kind of fun but also incredibly exhausting. People stare everywhere we go and are eternally pointing at us and calling us 'farang' (the Thai word for foreigner, not at all derogatory). The Thai people are amazing and kind, there's a reason they call it the land of smiles; however, living here is still fairly isolating. Outside of the school no one speaks English and the people that know a few words or phrases are wary to say them to us because of the Thai shyness complex and the mantra of "saving face".
We're trying to learn Thai to communicate better but the sounds in their alphabet are nearly impossible for non-native speakers to distinguish. There are 32 vowels and 44 consonants and every word can be said in one of five tones (low, high, low then high crescendo, etc.), each of which drastically alters the meaning. The locals have so little practice trying to communicate with non-native speakers, that they often fail to use context clues to meet us halfway with our cringe-worthy pronunciations. I could walk up a food stall and ask if they sell fish or “paa”, only to be met with a look of utter horror and confusion from Thais who have wrongly understood me to be asking if they have any sugar daddies, which is also “paa” but with nuanced tonal differences. So yeah, hard to meet people would be an understatement. Luckily, the co-teachers in our school, who stand in the back of class and clarify for students when communication barriers arise, are lovely, welcoming and very receptive to showing us around outside of school. I'm also in the process of trying to unofficially adopt a dog. By that I mean, I bought some Asian dog treats and try to lure homeless dogs back to my apartment with me in a I-have-some-candy-in-my-windowless-van type of way. No takers yet which is maybe better for me since I cut some corners on the rabies vaccines.
I'm teaching English to 1st-3rd graders and math to 4th-6th graders at school. In case you've never had to teach prime factorization to kids who don't speak English, let me save you the time: 0/10 would not recommend. Don't get me wrong, the kids are amazing, sweet (they call me TEACHAAA DEE and I melt every time) and so excited to have Westerners to learn English from, but I am adorably under-qualified to teach them. Additionally, the school has an appalling lack of resources, which makes it difficult to discern what they've already learned and to get even the most rudimentary resources, like textbooks. I am, as the kids say, free-balling. The flush-less squatty potties at school terrify me so sometimes at lunch I sprint home to poop, but otherwise the other kun kruu (teachers) and I eat buffet style authentic Thai food and sit together in the teachers lounge. Everything is really difficult but also incredible and fun and rewarding. Overall it is a complicated emotional amalgam but definitely net positive. I am happy to be here and doing this. I'm looking forward to slowly making Thailand more comfortable for myself pending I don't die on my motorbike first (my bike is neither a gentleman nor a scholar and the roads are anarchy here, I don't know why they even bother having lanes).
Until next time!