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15 posts categorized "*In the Classroom - Tips for Teachers"

How to Know You're Making a Difference (3/3)

“Taming the Teenager”

Best for last, this really hit me in the feels. There’s a student who has had some behavioral issues, which will not be divulged publicly, whom I teach. In general, he doesn’t seem to care about attending class and participating. With this class, I taught The Giver, which is my favorite book. This English subject is focused on vocal communication, so we worked with the audiobook some, and then I planned to show them the movie adaptation of the book, which any student would prefer. However, I got this particular student to actually pay attention - when frankly he never has in my class before - by showing the movie. Not only did he pay attention, he also cared enough to move [away from his friends] by my computer, so he could see the movie better.

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Actually leaning to see the screen before...

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This felt like a huge victory for me, and I was proud that I could deliver something in class - that actually pertained to the course material - that made this student stop and care. I can only hope that he took something out of this movie, and maybe it'll even inspire him to want to participate in class more in the future.

It’s the little things…

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!  -G

The End of a Semester

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            Impressively, I was given a whole 16-hours to prepare my goodbye speech (in contrast to my Valentines Day speech, of which I was given 20 minutes notice). Teacher Ying appeared before me late Wednesday afternoon, flustered and breathing heavily (I’m not quite sure why she felt the need to run to me), and said, “Just talked to foreign language department… they want you to…” And here she paused and laughed to herself, unsure of quite how to say it, while I was gripped in panic. Wanted me to what? Put on a dance for the whole school? Go with them on a trip to Cambodia? What?

            “…Give a speech. A goodbye speech. Tomorrow morning. Now, you can have time to prepare for it.”

            “Oh, no,” I said, but it was half-hearted, and I knew it would do me no good. “Teacher Ying, do I have to? I hate public speaking!” But as I said it I was smiling, because as much as I’ve always dreaded public speaking, I didn’t completely feel convinced of my own words. Of course, public speaking still makes me nervous. But when, 6-months ago, I would have been Googling, “Ways to Calm Down Before a Speech,” and throwing cold water on myself in the bathroom moments before, this time, I only felt a slight twinge of nerves.

            I mean, I guess for one thing, I’ve been ‘public speaking’ every day for 6 months. Monday through Friday, I stand up at least twice a day in front of a group of 25 to 30 students. I’ve practiced the art of speaking slowly; of enunciating; of continuing to speak even when I think what I am saying is stupid, or when I can see my audience is more interested in their phones or their pillows (yes, they sometimes bring these to class) than me. It’s been great practice.

           But today I gave a goodbye speech to 3,000 people. And it occurred to me, as I spoke to them all this morning about my feelings about leaving, exactly why it was so comfortable and easy to speak to such a crowd.

            It was because I knew that even if they don’t know me, they respect me. A lot of them think I am beautiful (students I’ve never seen before often point at me and say, “Oh, suay—beautiful—teacher”); they think I am smart—at least, they think I know what I am doing up there in front of the classroom each day; and they think I am kind. And I can feel this appreciation, so standing up on stage, I didn’t have any of those mean thoughts towards myself that I normally would, in a room of 3,000 (“I probably look gross; I sound like an idiot; I shouldn’t be up here”). They’ve given me a confidence and a pride in myself that I can only hope I’ll find again in whatever future job I have.

            Here’s, in essence, what I said in my speech (at least, what I wrote down to say—I’m sure I left some parts out, but this is what I’d planned):

            “Hello. I would just like to say that it has been such a privilege teaching you all.    You know, so many of my friends back home dread Monday through Friday because of their jobs. And I know I have been so, so lucky, that I wake up Monday morning excited to come here, to you all. Thank you for showing me your culture. Thank you for including me in everything and making me feel at home here in Sakon Nakhon. Thank you to my co-teachers and director and you, Teacher Owen (he was on stage with me). Thank you for setting great examples of wonderful teachers, and for your kindness. Thank you, most of all, to my students, for your enthusiasm each day in the classroom and for your friendship. I will never forget a single one of you. I know you will all do incredible, unbelievable things with your lives. Good luck with everything. If you are ever in America, let me know, and we can… you know, hang out. (Because America is awfully small). Again, thank you.”

And then I bowed to them as they’d all bowed to me, hundreds of times before.

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            So, how does it feel to be finished? I’ve been asked this a lot. I taught my last class Monday afternoon. And when I got home, the first thing I felt was an intense level of relief. It’s such a heavy feeling, to be burdened (and gifted) with the responsibility of increasing a student’s English proficiency, especially when I never knew quite where to begin. Do I start with content—showing them songs by Bruce Springsteen, who they’ve never heard of, or Billboard Hits of 2017, to include them in a musical conversation with the world; showing them passages from books like Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22, books that changed my life and changed so many others; do I show them movies that portray American culture, movies that educate and move and inspire… or, do I start with grammar, with parts of a sentence, and how a verb must always follow a subject, and just how fascinating grammar is when you understand the formula and know what you can plug in where and when you can break the rules and why? I mean, my god—how can one person just decide which is more important, or which should come first?

            So I feel relief that I did the best I could, but that I don’t have to worry about it any longer. I hope whoever comes after me to teach these kids is a little more experienced than I was, because these kids deserve the chance to become fluent in English. They deserve the chance to watch a movie in their movie theatre without the weird Thai voice-overs (which never matches the lip movements, and is usually terribly translated). They deserve to read The Great Gatsby. They deserve to listen to their favorite songs (by the Chainsmokers, and Justin Bieber), and know, really know, what they are singing.

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            But after my speech, I also felt sadness and wished, a little bit, that I could stay longer (I know—I never thought I’d say that, either). Because my words were not lies. They have made this place feel like home to me. And I am so nervous that whoever comes after me will not have the passion and love that I have for English, or for these kids, and will be someone who doesn’t know how to relate to them or inspire them or grow with them. And it is sad that I will not necessarily know how they all end up.

            I’ve made plenty of lists before, and a lot of my lists mention all the difficulties of living abroad. I’d like to make one more, but this time, I’d like to list all the things about Sakon Nakhon that I will miss the most.

1. I will miss feeling like the wealthiest person on the planet. Seriously—I was shopping at the mall the other day, and I saw two dresses that I thought I could wear for whatever job I get next (in other words… not crappy quality from a street market, which I will inevitably throw out in 2 weeks when it falls apart). But they were “expensive”: $20 each—totaling 1,400 baht (anyone who lives here, knows… this is a lot of money. This is the amount I pay to rent my motorbike for a month. This is the amount I pay for a round-trip ticket to and from Bangkok. This is probably 3-weeks of rice and chicken and weird pork balls. This is probably 1/6 of someone’s monthly paycheck.) So when I bought these two dresses, the saleswomen, who had watched me wide-eyed as I’d begun picking out three, four, five of these expensive dresses to try on, and then had held onto two, practically bowed to the ground as I walked out of the store and repeated, over and over again, a bit in awe, “Thank you, Miss, thank you, thank you.”

            As I walked back from dinner last night, a man who sits on the corner in a little brown hut (I believe he is a tailor, because he’s always working on a sewing machine), began speaking to me about the food I’d bought. He gestured to his own dinner—some white rice—and then he said, “I am not rich, like you.”

            “Rich?” I laughed. “Trust me, I’m 23-years-old and I just graduated from college. In America, I am not rich.”

            “In Thailand, you are a teacher. This means you are very, very rich. You make 30,000 baht a month, don’t you?” (Not sure how he knows my salary).

            “Yes…” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this conversation.

            “Could I… do you think I could possibly borrow 100 baht for dinner? I will pay you back… on Tuesday morning, I will have more money. I will pay you back.”

            (100 baht = 3 dollars).

            “Yes,” I said immediately, reaching into my wallet and feeling embarrassed when I saw he noticed I had 2,000 baht on me. I handed him 100 and said, sincerely, “Really, please. You don’t have to pay me back.”

            Of course, I know, money isn’t everything/can’t buy you happiness, etc., etc. But when you have just graduated college, and you are about to be the lowest on the totem pole at whichever company you go to next, it is a very nice feeling, for a little while, to feel so capable of being able to afford anything (in moderation) and not having to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about my rent or how much dessert costs or whether I can afford the bottle of wine; I don’t have to worry about paying a ridiculous amount of money for two dresses or whether I can afford to fly to Bali for a weekend or get my hair cut in Bangkok, and if this was America, I would absolutely be worried about all of these things as a young 20-something starting out in a city. But here, my salary is incredibly generous and travelling is incredibly affordable. Which leads me to my next point…

2. I’ll miss my location. Of course, I don’t necessarily mean being stuck in the middle-of-nowhere Northeast Thailand, with rice fields on my left and dirt patches on my right and three-bus-rides-two-taxi-rides-one-songtaew-drive away from anything exciting.

            I mean being 40 minutes from Vietnam; 2 hours 40 minutes from Hong Kong; 4 hours from Bali.

            I mean being $50 from India; $100 from Australia; and $200 from Paris (I know—why aren’t I going to Paris, again?).

            Let’s do some quick comparisons here: I could fly to India for the price it costs me to take an uber back home from Boston. I could fly to Australia for the price of my Ray Ban sunglasses. I could head over to Paris for the price I made babysitting one night last summer. This is not crazy or unattainable or ambitious. This is why I will miss my location. It has made the entire world accessible to me. I can travel the world from Sakon Nakhon for the price of an uber or a pair of sunglasses, to places I’d never even had on my radar before now (I thought India would cost thousands!). If nothing else, I wish I could stay longer for this reason.

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3. I will miss my independence. I will miss my routine. As lonely as it sometimes felt, I will miss coming home after school and answering only one question: What do you want to do now? I will miss being able to make the decision to go to the mall and buy iced tea and wander aimlessly around the shops; I will miss heading to the gym and saying hello to my gym friends and taking a work-out class before bringing KFC chicken back to my apartment; I will miss deciding, screw it, and locking myself in my room with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watching Netflix movies all night because I need a break from the whole world. This is not to say it will not be possible for me to do all these things in America—but the decision will not feel as guilt-free, and as easily my own, when I am considering what my friends or family are doing or whether I owe it to someone to be somewhere else.

4. I will miss (sometimes!) the time difference. This one is especially surprising, even to me. The time difference is a complete pain in the neck. Every time I’m waking up to start my day, everyone in America is headed to bed—or they are tired, and don’t really want to talk or Skype or catch-up; and then when they are awake and want to fill me in on their lives, I am tired at the end of a long day… an endless cycle.

            But it also means, from the hours of about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., my phone is relatively quiet (apart from the friends I’ve made in Thailand… and my brother Max, who is nocturnal). And it’s a very nice thing. I have found creative ways to keep in touch with people back home (including Facetiming at 8 a.m., during morning assembly, in an empty classroom; writing long catch-up novels via Facebook; or sending good-morning-good-night texts for the other person to respond to the next day). But it’s nice to not feel glued to my phone. It’s become habit for me to put my phone on airplane mode for hours, because why not, and when I get a message from anyone, I don’t mind waiting a few hours to respond—blame it on the time-difference, blame it on a lack of urgency, or blame it simply on this (somewhat forced) living-in-the-moment mentality I have found as a result of the time difference.

5. I will miss every weekend being an adventure. I hope I find motivation to make my way to the bus station in America (do we even have one…?), to look at a sign, point, and say, “Okay, how about we try there?” I hope I hold onto this curiosity for my surroundings, but I know it is not the same. Part of the adventure, part of the spontaneity, comes from me simply not knowing any better. I point to a sign here in Sakon Nakhon Bus Terminal and say, “Let’s try there,” because it makes no difference to me, and because it’s in a different language, and because it usually doesn’t cost more than $5 to drive on a bus for hours. And I know it will not be the same, to show up at a Boston bus station and point and say, “Let’s try there,” because 1. It will probably end up shipping me off to some place like Lowell or Chelsea, and I’ll think, Okay, this was probably a waste of time and money; and 2. Travelling in America, to anywhere, takes more preparation. I cannot find novelty anywhere. I cannot just take a bus to Lowell and think, Wow, this place is so cool and different and look at that temple! But here, I can. I can literally take a bus 7 minutes or 7 hours away and it makes (almost) no difference to me—it is always exciting, it is always new and novel and interesting, because it is never familiar.

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6. I will miss the people. I’ve said it before, so I’ll try to be brief: I will miss their kindness. I will miss their inclusivity. I will miss 21-year-old girls driving me to their hometown, even though I am a stranger to them, because they are “headed there anyway.” I will miss teacher Ying, who invited me to camp for an entire weekend with her and her friend because, “You should have the opportunity to see Phetchabun Mountain while you are here.”

            I will miss Fluke pointing to the word “Perfect” on a Present Perfect Quiz and whispering to me, “Teacher, why does it say my name?” Or Oom looking over, from the seat beside him, and saying, “I do not know where you are getting this confidence from.”

            I will miss students literally chasing after me to lean over the railing to shout goodbye at the end of the day. I will miss Googling what the sheep look like in New Zealand with Oom (and, then, of course… what the boys look like). I will miss Top always saying good night when I walk into the classroom, and how he is always prepared to sing song lyrics in response to anything I say (Me: “I will always…” Top: “…love you?…” Me: “It’s not too late…” Top: “…To say sorry…?”). I will miss Noon always giving me some of her breakfast and Mew always grabbing my wrist as I walk by to tell me how beautiful I am and Jom telling me before anyone else about going to Wisconsin and Benz saying, “We have to be on our best behavior in class today; we have someone coming to observe,” and me saying, “What, you don’t have to be on your best behavior when it’s just me?” And all the kids laughing… Actually, just in general, I will miss all the kids laughing. They make me feel like the funniest person on the planet… Which leads to my last point…

7. I will miss who I am as their teacher. When I stand in front of them, I can be silly and funny and ridiculous and witty and confident. And these are not compliments—I am not saying I am any of these things. I am saying these are things I have become because of my students—they make me this way. They allow for it. They encourage it and inspire it. I wouldn’t say I am a different person in front of them. Because I act the same way around my closest friends. But this is the first time I have seen myself act this way out in the world, with (essentially) strangers—or, at least, not my best friends. They have given me the confidence to say things spontaneously, and to embarrass myself, and to show my foolish or naïve side, because they have never judged me or shown me anything but admiration. If, in my next job, I am surrounded by people who make me even half as confident, I will be happy.

            Next Thursday, I head to Bangkok at 10 a.m. I will have packed up my entire apartment and I will be taking it all with me. I will store it in Bangkok for a month, and then (finally) I will begin my travels. I can’t express how excited I am for these travels. March 11, I fly to Chiang Mai. I will take a bath with elephants and feed them food; I will take a cooking class; I will explore the Grand Canyon and try new foods and venture to waterfalls.

            I will head from there to Pai, a gorgeous little town, which I’ve heard also has great waterfalls and Grand Canyons and tea plantations. From there, I will go to Chiang Rai to see temples and museums and then back to Chiang Mai.

            On March 24, I will fly back to Bangkok and, from there, I will fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. After a few days there, we will head to Sa Pa to see beautiful fields and waterfalls (Google it—I can’t quite explain it, since I haven’t been there, but it looks breathtakingly beautiful).

            Then we will do a cruise on Halong Bay. We will fly to Hoi An from there, and then Saigon, and then we will fly to the south of Cambodia. We will spend a few days on an island there—I’ve heard the beaches are incredible: white sand, clear turquoise water. From there, we will end up in Angkor Wat.

            On April 14, I will head back to Bangkok to grab my suitcase. Then I will fly to Dubai to spend 5 days there with another CIEE friend. And then, on April 20th, I will journey home.

            I am beyond excited. I know it will go fast, but I will do my best to take plenty of pictures and write (in my phone Notes section) all about my travels, so that when I am home (I am leaving my laptop in Bangkok, so I cannot blog before then), I can update you all on my experiences exploring this little piece of the world. But even if I manage to blog again for CIEE, this is the last one I will write from Sakon Nakhon, and probably the last one I will write until April 20th. So thank you all for reading about my Sakon Nakhon adventures—updates to come! 


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How to Know You're Making a Difference (2/3)

“Calm Across Cultures”

This one is a bit more subjective because it doesn't directly pertain to teaching. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love Jack Johnson. My students, naturally, like when I play music - especially when they’re writing an essay in class. One day, my M.6 (grade 12) students wanted calm music [I have three playlists that I let them choose from: calm, popular music, and fun, older music]. The calm playlist is like 1/3rd Jack Johnson, and it was the first time they chose this playlist. I started with “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. Within 30 seconds, one of the students asked “Teacher, what is this song? It’s so, so… *waves arm gently* nice. His voice and the melody are so relaxing.” I cannot articulate how excited I was. Right after that, another student said “I have heard this song, but I thought it was by [names some group that’s not Jack Johnson].” I explained that this was the original, and what she heard was a cover.

What’s sweet about this anecdote is that I didn’t tell them how much I love Jack Johnson. I certainly didn’t tell them that they had to like his music. This verbal snapshot of teaching shows how much people can learn through exposure. These students found some authentic English material that they truly like. I can only hope that they pursue it - to expose themselves to similar things on their own time - to gain intrinsic motivation for learning about language through English-speaking culture. Also, I'm just proud that I have good taste in music... ;)

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Thai ceremony for my soon-to-be graduates!

It's the little things...

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

Thai Teaching Tips

Since my Bachelor’s degree is in psychology and not education, I knew there would be a lot of room for growth with my teaching. And I was right. The first semester of teaching abroad feels like you’re running your first marathon, without understanding how long a marathon is and what kind of stress your body will be under, and that’s just to get by. Then, when you think you’ve actually worked ahead, it turns out there are other things you have to do or should have already done. Maybe some of this is specific to my school, but I know that a lot of how I’ve felt this semester is due to my lack of experience while being in a new country with a different education system. 

You can’t apply the knowledge you have of school systems in America [or your home country] directly to the schools in Thailand. I can’t stress this enough: it is a different place — a different culture. The best thing you can do is to use any knowledge you have to ask questions about your job, your work, and the school’s expectations. Use your intuition and humble yourself to check in regularly. Never EVER assume; you have to go in and ask. You have to be direct without being rude or inconsiderate. This is an art that you will learn if you haven’t already. 

To the future teachers, my advice is to never credit your mistakes to the “lack of communication” in Thai culture. Perhaps you’ll get the momentary impulse to push the blame somewhere else in the eyes of self-preservation, but don’t. This will fester in you like a poison and ruin, not only your experience, but your perspective of Thailand… and people here will notice your negativity. Aggravation and stress are stark in the “Land of Smiles.” When it consumes you, it shows inevitably. It is always a two way street. Just as they could’ve told more, you could’ve asked more. While it’s ridiculous to expect one side to do all of the work, it’s rarely just one party’s fault.

By moving to Thailand, you have to humble yourself. Know that you’re challenging yourself. The head of the English department at my school [an American expat himself] told me that moving to a developing country to teach is harder than a Master’s program. This was a complete shock to me. I came here to take a break before grad school — to gain world experience and grow as a person — while trying to make a difference. I knew moving here would bring its own challenges, but I didn’t suspect it would be harder than what I was putting off. I certainly got what I came here for, with even a little bit more.

“You never lose; you either win, or you learn.” When you’re lucky, you get both.

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

-G

How to Know You're Making a Difference (1/3)

“Inspiring the Introverted”

So, my M.6 (Grade 12) students are great. My school is small, and their entire grade is 14 students - I teach their entire grade. They are ALL going to university by the way. The entire grade got into university. Coming from a place where my high school graduating class was like 835 people, needles to say, I’m pretty stoked. Because they’re good, I’ve spent most of the semester teaching them The Alchemist. I felt that it would be a great material to teach them, given the timing in their lives, where they’re about to depart for a new chapter. It’s also one of my favorite books. One of my students, who’s rather quiet and likes to read and play music, turned in her essay on time while the rest of the class turned it in late. The prompt was to summarize the lessons that the main character, Santiago, learns in The Alchemist. Then, they had to compare this to Thai culture (i.e. Buddhism), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and themselves. This student wrote the most bomb essay. 

“Understanding the story needs an open mind and great wisdom. With that, it is very comparable to reality.” 

I didn’t require that they read the story because it’s pretty advanced for EFL learners, but I told them the synopsis, combined with my own summary, of the story and really focused on the theme and important plot components. I had the hopes that hearing so much of the story would encourage some of them - kicking that intrinsic motivation into gear - to read it on their own. This student chose to read the story at home. So first things first, I was thrilled that my evil “teachaa" plot worked. ;)

“Santiago’s adventure taught him valuable lessons in life; he was able to believe that he can go on with his life - he was able to believe that he can go on with his life in spite of many obstacles. This inspires me. I know I’m still young and vulnerable, but I have many dreams in life. I will encounter different surprises, but with faith that these experiences will lead me to where I want to be and mold me into the person I dream to become.”

Not only that, she liked the story and flat out said that she learned from it. I could’ve cried. I was so freaking happy. Now, I know that students often try to write what the teacher wants to hear in order to impress the teacher; I’m not dumb - I did that too. However, she was correct, and actually did relate it to personal feelings in her life. She connected to the book.

“We should not stop believing, and we should not give up on our dreams like Santiago. He was able to fulfill his dreams and live his life wonderfully in spite of many challenges. Giving up is not living.” - Mai, M.6

It's the little things...

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(Shout out to the first class that stole my heart!)

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

-G

Stay a Little Longer

I'm not good at making decisions. I get buyers remorse with everything, from ice cream flavors to nail polish colors. For the most part, I try to act using logic rather than emotion. Sometimes I fail at following my instinct and I kick myself for not going with my gut. Suffice it to say, I'm constantly analyzing how any given scenario could play out in my life. 

Something about deciding to teach in Thailand was different for me, though. This is the job I always had my sights set on immediately post-grad. It was never my plan B. The only thing I second-guessed about the decision was that I never second-guessed it. Naturally, moving across the globe came with a lot of risks. Yet, I had a hunch from the get-go that Thailand and I would be a fitting combination.

They say all good things must come to an end, and Thailand has been very good to me. I’ve gained lifelong friends I would have otherwise never crossed paths with; I’ve learned how to control a classroom and teach with equal parts poise and playfulness; I’ve had the privilege to travel throughout parts of Thailand that are breathtaking beyond belief.

I’m not ready for those opportunities to end. After a lot of careful consideration (and a couple of sleepless nights as a result) I am happy to say I will be staying in Thailand to teach for a second semester! This decision was incredibly difficult. It required a lot of self-reflection and a long list of pros and cons. Even after seeking advice from others, I realized the only person who can make this decision for me is me. My gut is telling me I’m not done in Thailand just yet, and for once I’m going to listen to it.

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Turning my can'ts into cans and my dreams into plans! Click photo to enlarge.

Of course, being away from my friends and family for another term will be challenging. However, there is more I want to see, do and – let’s be real – taste test before I go home. Staying in Thailand is something I didn’t originally foresee myself doing. Any teacher knows the challenges associated with the education system. Teaching abroad presents its own set of additional obstacles. By staying in Thailand a little bit longer, my aspirations aren’t changing. I still want to grow my own interpersonal communication skills. I still want to feel as if I am learning as much from my students as they are learning from me. I still want to explore Thailand and surrounding Southeast Asian countries. An additional six months in Thailand will ensure that I get the chance to accomplish all of those goals.

With each life-changing decision I make, I think of my brother, Richie, who lost his battle to cystic fibrosis while I was in middle school. Although nine years have since passed, every milestone in life is bittersweet since I can’t share it with him. My birthday is especially hard. I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt that I’m growing another year older without him. If you had the opportunity to know Richie, you would know he’d want me to stay positive, live my life to the fullest and set out to do things he never got the chance to do. With that in mind, I celebrated my 23rd birthday Thai-style.

I’ve been lucky to make a lot of valuable connections in my town, and I felt so loved the entire week of my birthday. Last Monday, my favorite group of 4-year-olds surprised me with a rainbow-clad ice cream cake, balloons and the sweetest rendition of happy birthday I’ve ever heard.

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These kiddos are too pure! Click photo to enlarge.

Those little munchkins hold such a special place in my heart and I could not have been more touched by the effort that went into making me feel like a birthday princess. On Tuesday, I took my biggest risk in Thailand thus far – I got my haircut! For the price of 100 baht (less than $3) I trimmed off 2 inches and proved to myself I can make it through a haircut without crying at the end.
 
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Balloons are almost as fun as birthday cake... almost! Click photo to enlarge.

I must admit – having a birthday abroad isn’t so bad! Due to the time change, it almost felt as if I got to observe it twice: officially on Wednesday, and again the next day when the calendar turned to the 25th in America. It was so heartwarming to hear from friends all over the world wishing me a happy birthday. 

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Birthday lunch with two of my spectacular students! Click photo to enlarge.

One of my classes even ambushed me with a dessert platter complete with pink candles and a chorus of applause. I truly was caught off guard by their sneaky skills and I was so honored they went out of their way to make sure it was a remarkable day!

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Surprise! Click photo to enlarge.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to get to Bangkok and meet up with all of my friends! I kicked off the festivities by telling everyone the big news that I am officially staying a second semester – all the more reason to celebrate! The fun-filled weekend included relaxing on rooftops, poolside jam sessions and rainbow drinks. The weekend wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the movies, which was my last stop before heading back home to Chachoengsao. I am so thankful for the people who traveled from across Thailand to help make my birthday unforgettable.

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Besties in Bangkok for Bryna's birthday - say that three times fast! Click photo to enlarge.

Year 23 is certainly off to an eventful start. I cherish all of the wonderful memories I’m making and I’m grateful for everything I get to experience. I know that not everyone is allotted the privilege to teach and travel abroad. I worked hard to get here and I don’t take it for granted. I am passionate about authentically documenting my time in Thailand and I am proud to share this chapter in my life with others through my blog. I’m thrilled I’ll get the opportunity to do so for a few months longer!

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

Coast to Coast

Road tripping through Thailand is my new favorite pastime. Lately, I’ve traveled from the east to the west, with stopovers in the central region, and finally back east to teach during the week. Although being a passenger can be stressful at times (most drivers see highway lanes as suggestions rather than requirements), it’s such a treat to take the scenic route while exploring more of the country. 

One of my recent road trips included a bus ride to the western province of Kanchanaburi. After a few minor setbacks (I swear I’ll never stop feeling like I’m on The Amazing Race) I made it to my hostel for the night. As the daughter of a super-coupon cutter, I’ve learned to keep my eye out for a good deal. I really thought I hit the jackpot when I found a room for 180 baht (roughly $5) per night. In retrospect, I should have known what I was getting myself into given the room was called a “raft house,” but hindsight is 20/20 and in the moment the price blinded me from all other options. I was feeling adventurous and ready to immerse myself into nature! Right?

1Raft house: harmless on the outside; not so fun once you're floating on the inside. Click photo to enlarge.

Wrong. Turns out sleeping in a raft house feels less like luxury and more like Huckleberry Finn meets The Parent Trapcamping scene. After a rocky night in the hostel, I boarded an open-air bus to Erawan Falls, a majestic national park 90 minutes outside of the main town in Kanchanaburi. Erawan Falls includes 7 tiers of various waterfalls over the course of 2 miles. The views were striking even from the first level, where tons of fish were swimming in the crystal clear water. I stopped around tiers four and five to dip my feet in before continuing on the trail. 

2A breathtaking view from Erawan Falls, which gets its name from a three-headed elephant in Hindu mythology. Click photo to enlarge.

Thailand must really be changing me because here’s something I never thought I’d say: it was an easy hike to the seventh, final tier. Even though I was close to resembling a tomato by the end of the trail, it was rewarding to say I made it all the way to the top!

3Sweet, sweaty success! Click photo to enlarge.

I finished the hike faster than anticipated, so I decided to bypass the option to stay in the raft house a second night and caught a bus back to Bangkok. Since it was Sunday, it felt only fitting that I catch a movie at my favorite theatre. It was a nice way to end the night after such a fast-paced, exhausting day!

Unfortunately, upon my return to Chachoengsao I suffered another bout of food poisoning. I felt horrible missing school for the first time, but I decided to listen to my body and rest. Even 3 months into my stay, my stomach is still adjusting. Luckily I bounced back after 24 hours and was able to teach the following day. When I returned to school I found a stack of get well wishes from my students. I was incredibly touched by their thoughtfulness and flattered by their complements. It definitely made the road to recovery that much easier!

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These kind notes from my kids really speak for themselves! Click photo to enlarge.

Even food poisoning can’t keep me out of commission for long, so by the time the weekend rolled around I was ready to make my way back on the road again. Last weekend I traveled just north of Bangkok to the province of Lopburi. (The suffix “buri”can be found at the end of many Thai provinces because it translates to “town.”) Lopburi is known for two things: monkeys and sunflowers. Not long after arriving at Phra Prang Sam Yat, the Buddhist shrine in the center of town, I found the infamous monkeys who roam freely throughout the city. Without any food or prodding, the monkeys willingly jump from person to person to see what mischief they can get into.

5Don't let those eyes fool you... this little guy was up to no good! Click photo to enlarge.

Monkeys of all ages and sizes utilized me as their human jungle gym. After the initial shock wore off, I remained calm enough to interact with the little loonies. I quickly learned that monkeys are drawn to anything shiny, and I left Lopburi sans my favorite sparkly silver hair tie, though it is a small price to pay for the experience of monkeys jumping all over me!

6The monkeys loved combing through my hair. I had to keep telling myself it was just like a massage! Click photo enlarge.

After a thorough application of hand sanitizer, I moved on from wild monkeys to wildflowers. Each winter, hundreds of sunflowers bloom throughout Lopburi. With mountains in the horizon and not a cloud in the sky, I noticed there was even a temple in the distance. It was the quintessential view of Thailand.

7Flowers as far as the eye can see! Can you spot the temple in the background? Click photo to enlarge.

While the wildflowers weren’t quite as lively as the monkeys, I still enjoyed frolicking through the fields and taking in the scenery. It was a picture perfect day and I left convinced that Lopburi is the epitome of natural beauty.

8Laughing through Lopburi = best way to experience Lopburi. Click photo to enlarge.

 

It’s refreshing to get off the beaten path and experience something new in Thailand each weekend. The more I do, the more I want to do! With each passing day, I gain confidence in my ability to make it even further next time. With only one more month of school, I’m starting to plan my post-teaching travels around other Southeast Asian countries. Oddly enough, traveling throughout Thailand made me realize the longing I have to see more stateside once I return home. At this point, I feel like I know Thailand better than I know Texas! I'm looking forward to embarking on more domestic travel in the future.

In the meantime, I’ll be heading to Bangkok this weekend to celebrate my birthday! I cannot wait to keep coasting through the city, adapt more to this country and stick to my commitment to see all that I can!  

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

17 Again

There are a lot of perks that come with teaching in Thailand: bonding with students over shared pop culture interests; living here long enough to become skilled at using public transportation; applying knowledge of the Thai language in order to have a conversation… even if it is only a 3 sentence exchange. Yet, living in Thailand can be just as challenging as it is rewarding. I came into this semester doing my best to expect the unexpected. Easier said than done. Dealing with education reform, overcoming the language barrier and adjusting to Thai food preferences (not spicy usually still means at least a little spicy) have all pushed me to grow in more ways than I could have predicted. Instead of dwelling on the things that frustrate me, I am focusing on 17 things that are bringing me joy so far in 2017.

1. Live musicGoing to college in Austin, Texas made me quite the live music enthusiast. I’ve been on the lookout for a fun concert since I arrived in Thailand and I finally found it! On a recent trip to Bangkok, a friend spontaneously brought me to a showcase of different Thai bands. It was the perfect night: new friends, great jams and even the chance to meet the lead singer from one of the performances!

1The lead singer of my new favorite band Summer Stop! During the performance, he even gave a shout out to the "farang" (foreigners) in the crowd and sang a couple of pop songs in English! Click photo to enlarge. 

2. Cliff jumping: Talk about an adrenaline rush. During my New Years trip to Chiang Mai, I visited the “Grand Canyon.” After some coaxing from friends, I decided to take the plunge and jumped off the 24-foot cliff! Following a solid couple of seconds of free fall (an eternity when you’re in the air) I hit the water. Once the initial shock wore off, I swam to safety and lived to tell the tale… to my parents… after the fact.
 
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The Thai Grand Canyon runs the U.S. some serious competition! Click photo to enlarge.
 
3. Wat Chedi Luang: While in the Old City of Chiang Mai, I walked to a nearby Buddhist temple. Wat Chedi Luang is a remarkable 600 years old. Thanks in part to a restoration project, the base of the stupa (a mound-like structure that holds sacred Buddhist relics) displays 5 elephants made of brick and stucco. I was awestruck by these structures, and they certainly made Wat Chedi Luang one of the most stunning temples I’ve seen so far.
 

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The 5 elephants surrounding the temple were the highlight of my visit! Click photo to enlarge.
 
4. Tex-Mex: But maybe “Thai-Mex” is a more accurate description. Regardless, finding Mexican food in Chiang Mai was a great way to kick off the New Year… although it still can’t compete with Qdoba. (Sorry Chipotle fans!)
 
5. Dragon fruit smoothies: Especially when they are 25 baht (about 70 cents)!!!
 
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Smoothies are now my preferred after school snack and sipping them in the park make them taste even better! Click photo to enlarge.
 
6. Doi Suthep: The view from the temple atop of the Suthep Mountain was spectacular, and well earned after the 300 stairs it took to get there!

4A bird's eye view of Chiang Mai. Click photo to enlarge.

7. Friendship bracelets: Purchased shortly after the hike up Doi Suthep, they’re still special even if they fell off most of our wrists soon after buying them.
 
8. Rainbow unicorn party: My favorite after-school English class for 4-year-olds had a belated-New Years party equipped with an inflatable unicorn, balloons and temporary tattoos. Everything was rainbow, even down to the food (red and green apples, orange slices, corn, blueberries and of course multi-colored M&M’s). Still up for debate who had more fun at the party – the kids or me!

5Just a few of the many rainbow-colored decorations. Click photo to enlarge.

9. Gift exchanges: The pure joy that radiates through a classroom full of 6th graders trading New Years gifts is indescribable. It made my heart so happy to witness all of it!

6My sweet students Gong and Tonkla took a lot of pride in receiving the same Eeyore stuffed animal during the gift exchange. Their happiness was contagious! Click photo to enlarge.

10. Muay Thai: I have a newfound respect for boxers after witnessing my first Muay Thai fight earlier this month. The rounds passed quickly (before it got too graphic!) and I learned that men and women come from all around the world to compete.

7Moments before the fight began! Click photo to enlarge.

11. Three-day weekends: I’m really looking forward to the upcoming break in honor of Teachers Day, during which I plan to travel to a province in west Thailand and explore a seven-tiered waterfall! Fingers crossed no face plants are in my future.

12. Birthday bash in Bangkok: I have less than 2 weeks to continue “feelin’ 22” as Taylor Swift would say. While this will be my first birthday outside of Texas, I’m so excited to ring in my 23rdyear surrounded by my friends in Bangkok at the end of January.

13. Tutoring time: Every Wednesday I tutor two adorable sisters. Together we laugh through the lessons as we talk about the highlights of our days and play games in English.

8A selfie with the sweetest sisters, and no - they aren't twins! Click photo to enlarge.

14. Sports Day: This week at school there’s been less teaching and more playing as the students take part in Sports Day (which is actually 3 days long… don’t ask, I can’t explain it). Volleyball, basketball, soccer and badminton tournaments have been taking place all across campus in place of regularly scheduled classes. Though it is throwing a wrench in my lesson plans, it’s been entertaining to watch my students excel as cheerleaders, athletes and coaches.

15. Cotton candy clouds: The sunsets in Thailand really never get old.

10The view from my apartment is surreal! Click photo to enlarge.

16. Sundays at the movies: I mentioned in my last blog post that I spent Christmas Day at the movies. Lo and behold my friends and I found ourselves back there again last weekend. There’s something comforting about sprawling out in a recliner on a Sunday afternoon in a theatre. It truly makes me feel not so far from home!

17. To be determined…As cheesy as it may sound, I’m looking forward to recounting all of the wonderful reasons I have to be happy that haven’t even happened yet! 2017 is just getting started and a lot of exciting events are on the horizon. This year my goals include globetrotting, learning everyday and connecting with people from around the world. Only time will tell what adventures are in store. I can only hope they will bring me as much joy as everything I’ve experienced already!

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

Bold is Gold

After I studied abroad in 2014 I thought my life was over. Done were the days of spontaneous weekend trips, meeting new friends from all over the world and being a person first, student second. Soon after I went back home to Texas, I turned 21. It was at this point I had an epiphany: the reason my life was so fun abroad was because I made it that way. All I had to do was make conscience decisions to live my life in an exciting way. And so, I did. I traveled to Budapest; I developed my public speaking and event management skills; I became comfortable doing things alone. 

If 2015 was the year of introspection, 2016 was the year of boldness. By the time I turned 22, I could make a strong argument that teaching in Thailand would be a good fit for me. After my annual identity crisis (“People expect things out of 22 year olds!”) I submitted my teaching application. Of course, the golden question every second semester college senior is asked always came my way. “What are you doing after graduation?” For a long time, I couldn’t give a definitive answer. I stuck to “I plan to teach in Thailand.” Key word: plan. It wasn’t until April that I got my acceptance letter and could finally start planning for post-grad life. In May I graduated, a process that was entirely more emotional than I could have ever imagined. I spent most of June and July completing my Austin bucket list before moving back to Dallas in the fall. August and September included trips across the US to visit friends and family before departing for Thailand in October. In the weeks leading up to my departure date, I anxiously made lists, lesson plans and travel goals. Then, in November I adjusted to my new normals and began to thrive in Chachoengsao. So far, December has been one of the most fulfilling times I’ve ever experienced. I found my work-life balance. I connected with fellow teachers and travellers. I made bold decisions. It’s safe to say I can still make a convincing argument that teaching in Thailand is the right job for me.

In between teaching and tutoring, I find time to travel. I spent the past two weekends in Bangkok, a city I am really warming up to. I realized that Bangkok reminds me a lot of New York City: jam-packed public transportation, incredible shopping, booming nightlife and historical landmarks mixed in throughout the modern day urbanization. Once I could accept Bangkok for what it was, I started to love it that much more.

Two weeks ago I took a river taxi to visit Wat Arun, or Temple of the Dawn. Although the temple is currently under renovation, my friends and I made the most of it by walking around the perimeter. The view from the top was well worth it!

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At Wat Arun, the landscape is beautiful. Landmarks such as the Rama VII bridge are easy to spot. Click photo to enlarge.

When we were finished walking around the temple, we shopped at the neighboring market (yes, elephant pants were purchased) before boarding the river taxi again. After a weekend filled with massages, street food and tuk tuk rides it was time to head back to Chachoengsao for school.

During the week I am expanding my tutoring network. I value the connections I can make with kids outside of the classroom as a native English speaker. Our current focus is common greetings and “get to know you” questions. The potential of the students I tutor is great and I’m excited to track their progress. I hope to make them more comfortable and confident speaking English.

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Tutoring time was a great success! Click photo to enlarge.

When I’m not FaceTiming my dog, I go on evening runs at the local park (and I have the bug bites to prove it). The sunsets never get old and I love truly feeling like a part of the Chachoengsao community.

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The view from the local park always leaves me awe-struck. Click photo to enlarge.

Last weekend’s trip to Bangkok was one of my favorites so far! I put my paycheck to good use at JJ market, one of the largest markets in the world. It’s impossible to even conquer the whole vicinity in just a day, so I’m looking forward to going back...once I get paid again. Instead of heading back home first thing Sunday morning, my friends and I played all day in Bangkok. Best. Decision. Ever. After a cab ride to a nearby mall, we had a Western-style lunch (finally got my mashed potato fix!) and treated ourselves to a movie before heading to the bus terminal. I couldn’t help but laugh that even halfway across the world, I still found myself at a movie theater on Christmas day.

This week at school my students are taking their midterms before we break for the New Year holiday. My M1 (6th grade) students took their exam first and every single one of them passed! I totally had a proud mama moment when I heard the news. Together, we ended the year with a big accomplishment. In addition to M1, I also teach English for Tourism to a group of M3 (8th grade) students. I recently asked them to write a paragraph about their ideal workplace. As I was grading their submissions, I came across a sweet note from one of my students. File under: highlight of my day.

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I completely melted at this response. Click photo to enlarge.

I also got to visit my favorite group of 4-year-olds at their after-school English class this week. Together we did arts and crafts, danced the hokey pokey and played with Snapchat filters, a pastime that is appealing to all age brackets and cultures.

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Favorite filter with my favorite boy. Click photo to enlarge.

This weekend I will travel to Chiang Mai, a large city in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is known for its mountains, cooler weather and weekend bazaars. I am looking forward to exploring a part of Thailand that is uncharted territory for me. Perhaps that’s what 2017 will be all about: exploring the unknown. Cheers to the New Year from my time zone to yours!

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

Snakes, Gibbons & Elephants… Oh My

 

This weekend we almost got pummeled by a herd of wild elephants! ​​​​​Watch the video here!

…I’m getting ahead of myself. This weekend was another three day weekend. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Pak Chong, and from there rode in the back of a truck to Khao Yai National Park

A friend recommended Greenleaf Guesthouse, so we booked a room for two nights and a full day tour of the park for Saturday. 


Normally we are so not the type of people who take guided tours, but after extensive research we realized that the park was absolutely massive, and seeing it all would involve A) renting a motorbike, which we’re still scared to do, or B) a lot of hitch hiking, which we’re clearly not opposed to, but we were kind of on a time crunch. 


So Saturday morning we woke up at the crack of dawn and ate some toast and coffee at the guesthouse canteen. Then we hopped in the back of a truck-turned-songteow and headed to Khao Yai. 

It was the first time we’d been cold since getting to Thailand back in October! It was a refreshing kind of cold, though, and I didn’t even care too much that I didn’t bring more than a flannel. 

Our guide’s name was Lek, and he was so knowledgeable and amazing. Our first stop was at a sweet view point, where we got to soak in nature a bit, and also watch monkeys steal food from other cars! 

Then we went trekking (which, I found out, is hiking but without following a trail) in search of gibbons and other wildlife. Lek pulled out all these weird but effective animal-tracking techniques… like snapping three times and then listening to the wind. At one point he stuck his hand into the hollow of a tree, whistled, and then led us to a rare species of spider. We weren’t sure what he was doing half the time, but his English was great and he pointed out so much wildlife that we definitely wouldn’t have seen without him, and he told us all about it. 


We saw monkeys and gibbons and learned about their different calls. About an hour into our trek, Lek stopped dead in his tracks (something he did every time he sensed something around us), told us he found something green, and asked us if we were ready. Then he snapped his fingers and pointed to a pit viper. Supposedly, this kind of snake is one of the most poisonous in the world, and if a green one bites you, you have 12 hours to get to a hospital before you die. Fearless Lek took my camera and snapped this close-up! 


We saw so many weird plants. Some of them we even tasted… like Bread Fruit, which numbs your mouth for 15 minutes! 


One common theme during our trek was trees wrapping around other trees. I was so mesmerized by these! 


Lots and lots of towering fig trees loomed above us. I’m allergic, but couldn’t help but climb on them (and then use a ton of hand sanitizer). 

By the way, those nerdy white things on our legs are leech socks. We put them over our regular socks and pants since land leeches (and ticks!) are apparently a thing here. 


We even got to see a few waterfalls… 


After a full day of hiking and trekking, we piled back onto the truck, began the drive back to the guesthouse, and that’s where we ran into the wild elephants. They were angry- kicking and charging at the car ahead of us. We were really scared… not an emotion I thought I’d feel while encountering wild elephants for the first time! Eventually we sped around them, drove home, and watched the sunset as we shivered in the back of the truck. 

When we got back to Greenleaf, we had an amazing dinner, and hit the hay. 


We also spent some time planning out our winter break, which we’re spending in Chiang Mai & Pai. The cold was a good indicator of what the weather will be like up there! 

Next stop: A chill weekend in Bangkok to prepare for our Northern Thailand adventures!

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