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

Ayutthaya to Zen

Current mindset: teach first, travel second. My number one priority in Thailand is to educate my students. Any travel I get the opportunity to do is an added bonus. These past few weeks have truly epitomized this idea. A friend and I recently joked that it is as if I lead a double life. Monday through Friday I am known as “Teacher Bryna,” a foreign teacher who travels in her free time. Over the weekend, I’m Bryna from Texas, a tourist who happens to also teach English. I am doing my best to accomplish all of my goals, even with the juxtaposition of being both a teacher and a tourist. Since my last post, I’ve been fortunate to experience many different aspects of Thailand. Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to lately, from A to Z.

A is for Ayutthaya ­– Thailand’s capital city until the 18th century when it was sacked by Myanmar (formerly Burma). Once a thriving area filled with temples and a royal palace, all that is left now is ruins. On my recent visit to Ayutthaya I was astounded by the sheer size of what remains. The stupas, or Buddhist shrines used as a place for meditation, will make anyone feel small in comparison. It almost felt eerie being there and imagining what life used to be like!

Pictured above at the temple Wat Maha That and below at the temple Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya.


B is for bats – a creature I was horrified of until last weekend when I learned how majestic they really are! During my visit to the province of Pak Chong, I watched in awe as 2 million bats migrated from underground caves into the night sky.

C is for crocodile – one of the many animals I saw up close and personal during my trek through Khao Yai, a national park in Thailand.


Full disclosure: this picture is zoomed in... I wasn't getting too close to this guy!

D is for dogs – they’re everywhere in Thailand! At school, in the street, on the beach... everywhere!

5Pictured: some of the dogs at my school. Not pictured: literally the dozens of other dogs at my school who roam around like they own the place.

E is for elephant – specifically, the one wild elephant I saw in Khao Yai National Park. My tour guide made sure to emphasize the “wild” part. Though elephants are known as gentle giants, it is still important not to get too close.

F is for face plant – AKA what I thought would happen to me during the entire 3 hour trek in Khao Yai.

G is for Ganesha – a large reclining Ganesha (Hindu deity) is located in my province at Wat Saman Rattanaram. It is said to be the biggest in Thailand, if not the world!

6Wat Saman Rattanaram is so large, I couldn't even capture it all in one picture!

H is for hanging gibbons – not to be confused with monkeys, gibbons are actually apes that live in trees and are known for their hooting. I got the chance to see many gibbons bouncing from tree to tree in Khao Yai.

7This little guy was kind enough to pose for a photo before jumping onto the next tree.

I is for icicle – which is what I thought I would turn into in the 68 degree winter weather in Pak Chong and Khao Yai. To everyone who is living through actual freezing temperatures, I’m sorry.

J is for jam-packed – basically what every single day feels like. During the day, I lesson plan and teach. After school, I tutor conversational English and I travel on all of my days off. As someone who loves being busy, I'm really not complaining!

K is for Khao Yai – where I spent my time off last weekend. Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest national park, as well as the first area to be established as a national park in Thailand. My weekend was filled with learning more about nature, admiring wildlife and forming special bonds with friends new and old.

8Pre-hike, post-gibbon siting.

L is for lunch crew – which consists of a group of 10th graders I serendipitously started having lunch with every Wednesday. Half of the time is spent with my students asking me questions about America, and the other half is spent with me asking them questions about proper pronunciation in Thai. I'm pretty confident each party thinks they are getting the better end of the deal! I look forward to this lunch every week. It is so rewarding to see them open up to me a little bit at a time in order to practice their conversational English.

M is for midterms – I know now that midterms are just about as fun for teachers to write as they are for students to take.

N is for night swimming – which is what happened last weekend after day 1 of my tour around Khao Yai. The water was pretty frigid (it is winter, after all) but it was refreshing to take a quick dip.

O is for outdoor classes – my latest teaching strategy when the weather is too nice to stay cooped up in a classroom. My students definitely approve.

P is for pad see ew ­– currently my favorite Thai dish.

9Pad See Ew is the opposite of "Ew."

Q is for quitting – which is never an option, especially when it comes to writing 2 exams in 48 hours.

R is for rainbow fish food ­– the multicolored Cheeto-like puffs I used to feed the fish frenzy in the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya.

10I'm a fan of anything rainbow... even fish food!

S is for still smiling even with a scorpion spider – on my FACE. Slightly terrifying, kinda felt ticklish, huge adrenaline rush. Trigger warning in case you have arachnophobia.

11Sorry Mom...

T is for trek – 3.8 km in length all throughout Khao Yai National Park. Definitely one of my most cherished experiences in Thailand thus far.

U is for underground caves – the place where I saw many bats, creepy crawlers and Buddha statues! Though it may come as a surprise, many monks actually visit the caves around Khao Yai to meditate.

12One of the Buddhist prayer sites within the cave.

V is for views – specifically from the Pa Deo Dai cliffs in Khao Yai. In a word: breathtaking.

13Holy Khao Yai, isn't Thailand beautiful?!

W is for waterfall ­– which is what I worked towards seeing during the trek through Khao Yai.

14The Haew Suwat waterfall is one of the most popular in the area, and for good reason.

X is for x-rated – monkey behavior, that is. Apparently the monkeys in Khao Yai mate about 20 times a day. No picture included for this letter!

Y is for yai ­– “Khao” translates to mountain and “Yai” translates to big. 

15Khao Yai is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Z is for zen ­­– I found my zen after touring for hours throughout Khao Yai, pulling over to the side of the road and watching the sunset. It was pure bliss.

16Another day in Thailand = another striking sunset.

Thailand has so much to offer and I can’t wait to keep exploring, making memories and immersing myself in this beautiful culture.

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

Thanksgiving Blessings Look Different This Year


Yesterday, I celebrated "Thanksgiving" at a woman's house whom I've never met, with a few strangers and a few new friends. We had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and tacos. It was a day filled with both familiarity and strangeness, but when asked what I am thankful for this year in Thailand, I did not find it difficult to think of a couple things at the top of my list. So here it is: 

Being a Native English Speaker

    A few days ago, I asked my M6 students (M6 is like senior year, in America) to tell me one reason they want to learn English. Most of them said that they dreamed, one day, to travel outside of Thailand by themselves. Not just to America—to anywhere (many of them mentioned Laos, Korea, China, England, Canada). They knew they could only do this if they knew English, the world’s quickly growing #1 form of communication.

    This dream is so earnest and pure and beautiful. I think we can all empathize with this desire. They simply want to communicate, professionally and personally, with the rest of the world, of which they know only a tiny, tiny part.

    They trust English to build them a new life, even if they can’t imagine what this life is supposed to look or feel or sound like. And they trust me, their teacher, to get them there. They assume that I know best, that I am intelligent, because I am a native speaker. For them, being born a native English speaker is like being born lying on a pile of gold.

    There is nothing wrong with the Thai language. In another reality, another world, perhaps Thai would be the language taking over the world, and I would be the one struggling in the classroom because if I did not learn it, I would never have the privilege to enjoy travelling by myself as I am right now. But this is not another world. So I have learned, here in Thailand, to be incredibly thankful for the arbitrary blessing of being born to two parents who speak English as their first language.

    I have been told that, in Thailand, when you are 21-years-old you go to the store (or, you go somewhere… I think my coordinator said store, but I might have misunderstood), and you stick your hand in a basket, which contains red and white cards.

Red: You are obligated to join the army to fight for your country for two years.

White: You are not.

    This is how I am beginning to feel, in regards to my slowly growing understanding of the importance of being a native or fluent English speaker. I feel as if I have pulled a white card out of a basket. I mean, many of us (us meaning me and whoever is reading this, assuming you are from America) are in the top 7% of the world: we have a college degree (only 6.7% of the world has one), we live in America, and we are native English speakers.


Being Paid to Live Abroad

Last week, my student Fluke stood up to describe an item that “reminded him of home.” His item was a grey nondescript sweatshirt he wears every day.

“This is my favorite item from home because it is the only birthday gift I’ve ever gotten, from my friend,” Fluke said shyly. I didn’t really understand, and, ridiculous as it is, I still felt bad (here I was, fretting that this was the only birthday gift he’d gotten this year). “No, teacher,” Fluke clarified for me. “This is the only birthday gift I’ve ever gotten.”

    Fluke and my other students have reminded me of my fortune. Some of them have no concept of the rest of the world. I showed a few of them pictures of Switzerland the other day, because they’d never heard of it. When I mention small weekend trips I’ve taken or plan on taking here in Thailand, many of them tell me, “Oh, Teacher, I’ve never been there.” Some of my students truly do not know how big to make their dreams. Nevermind leaving Thailand… some have never left this town.     

    What I am saying is, my job is the second reason I feel thankful. Because for long periods of time, I forget that I am technically getting paid to do this job, and that I am not doing it simply because it is so painfully essential that it get done, for all these students who deserve opportunities similar to mine. For me, I feel lucky to realize that my trip to Thailand, an experience I thought I was doing just to open up my own world, is really a chance to open up someone else’s.


6-Month Time Limit

    This sounds a little ridiculous, but bear with me. I do not mean that I am thankful I only get to be in Thailand for 6 months, or that I would not be thankful for Thailand if I stayed longer. What I mean is, the time limit gives every day this sense of urgency (the thought, “If I don’t do it now, I never will,” of which many travellers are familiar). I feel pressure to say yes to every adventure. I feel pressure to explore side streets that I have not ventured down. I feel pressure to try strange foods. I feel pressure to stay out late despite exhaustion, and to wake up early to glimpse whatever it is Thai people do at 6:30 in the morning. When someone says, “Want to take a kickboxing class with me?” I do not think about all of the work I should be doing, or whether or not I will embarrass myself.

    I think, “Well… I am only here for 6 months…”

    And this is the third reason I am thankful for Thailand and it’s 6-month expiration date. This urgency dissipates when we live the same lifestyle for a long time.


Thai’s “Work Mentality”

    This morning, by 9 o’clock, I was ready to go home and go to bed. I was tired, I had to fill out all of these stupid sheets having to do with my grading system and my syllabi for the semester for each of my classes, and everyone just kept talking all around me. And then, when I went to the refrigerator, we were out of water, and I felt incredibly dehydrated. I turned to my friend Teacher Ying and, barely capable of not snapping at her, said, “Teacher Ying, where can I get more water?”

    “Hmm, shoot. I will have to go get some more down the street,” she said. She looked up at the ceiling and then her face brightened. “There is a coffee shop near there. Want to come with me and I will take you there?”

“Yes!” I could not say yes fast enough. I wanted out of this fluorescent office, of these people talking all around me, of these stupid sheets I’d been filling out for three days.

    So I went to this cute coffee shop with her and ordered a very delicious, very American-tasting iced coffee and a cake (because why not?). When we got back to the office, I’d barely sat down when a teacher I work with asked me, “Caroline, want to come get lunch with us? We’re going to sit outside and get chicken and sticky rice from a restaurant down the road.”

    So I went with them, and ate chicken, and learned about these porcelain dolls in Thailand that people sometimes try to put spirits into (illegally, by stealing corpses, which is a whole other topic… Google it). These dolls are supposed to bring you good luck as long as you don’t forget to feed them (like your children).

    After lunch, Teacher Ying asked if I wanted to go to the mall, so I went with her and played Dance-Dance-Revolution in an arcade. My 1-hour lunch break turned into 3-hours. When I returned to the office around 3 p.m., my director said, “Okay, that’s enough working, everyone can go home early today.”

    This is one other thing I am thankful for, here in Thailand. Just when you are ready to explode because everything is feeling frustrating and mundane and stifling, you realize that YOU are the only one who is making it feel this way. All of my other coworkers understand Thailand’s work mentality (one which I think should be adopted everywhere). Luckily, they are slowly teaching me: you do what you feel capable of doing that day, and then you take the rest of the day off to play arcade games at the mall and discuss porcelain dolls at a chicken shop. This is not to say that they do not work incredibly hard—they do. It is just to say: they know when to take a deep breath, push their chairs back away from their desks, and say, “Okay, enough.” They know the importance of spontaneity. I do not know if I have ever learned this, back in America. I am thankful for the chance to learn it now.


Life in a Thai School

Hello again!

This weekend’s adventures led me to Bangkok, where I met up with my travel squad. We explored the legendary Khao San road, revisited the Chatuchak Weekend Market, and visited colorful Chinatown. On my journey home, I found myself reflecting on the similarities and differences that I’ve noticed between Thailand and the US, and how my Thai school compares to schools in the states.

Background information: My Thai school is a small, private, Christian school for grades Kinder through Eighth. We’re located in a little town called Don Tum, about 30 minutes north of Nakhon Pathom.

School is a truly positive place for Thai students, or at least my school is. I can tell because the kids run around with huge smiles on their faces before school and in between classes, and often voluntarily stay late to practice musical instruments, get tutored or just hang with friends. They are so playful and love joking around with their teachers. They have much more unstructured time than students in the US. Personally, I think this is awesome because it allows them to learn how to entertain and take care of themselves. Oh, and they care about their campus! Each grade is assigned an area and the students get there early and stay late to sweep and clean their areas.


The school gives them responsibility, holds them to high standards, and most importantly, gives students the space they need to play and grow.

Something else that stands out to me is the reverence that the Thai students and staff hold for tradition. We have our holidays in the states, but never has an American school day been cancelled so that students could intricately craft floating arrangements of banana leaves and orchids.


Let me backtrack. Yesterday was the festival of Loi Krathong. This Thai holiday is determined by the lunar calendar, and this year it coincided with the Super Moon. I barely noticed the moon during Loi Krathong, as the floating flowers stole the show. The Thai people build these incredibly elaborate arrangements and float them down the nearest river, as a sort of thank you to their water sources. It’s also a time to let go of negativity and petition the universe for good luck!


I was fortunate enough to be able to make my own Krathong (thanks Teacher Mildred!), even though mine totally paled in comparison to the students’ work. We had the afternoon to work on our creations. Their technique and ingenuity totally blew my mind.






I mean, come on. These are works of art. How each and every Thai student inherited these insane creativity and craftsmanship genes is beyond me.

That night, my coworkers and I walked to Wat Samngam, lit our krathongs, and floated them away.




As I watched my flowers drift off with all the others, I felt so lucky to be part of my new community.

See more at https://thaiandstopmenow.wordpress.com/

Thailand, Teaching, Traveling, and other T words.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in Thailand, it is this very important lesson:

Never under-appreciate hot water and breakfast foods.

It is a fact that one’s quality of life is directly related to breakfast. I miss breakfast so much that I often find myself day dreaming about french pressed coffee and oatmeal and eggs with avocado and french toast.

Also, cold showers are truly a test of one’s endurance. Fortunately, living on the fifth floor with no elevator helps me to improvise: I run up the stairs as fast as I can to warm up my body and then I jump in the shower like I’m doing the polar plunge. As a result, both my endurance and cold tolerance have improved dramatically, so that’s neat.

So, these are my minor complaints for Thailand. Everything else is pretty great as usual, and I imagine when I return to the US I will eat nothing but breakfast foods (can I request my airport pickup be armed with banana-blueberry-pancakes, please?) and take hot showers for a few days… maybe at the same time… now we’re talking.

On another note, the last month has been a busy one filled with a lot of traveling—Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Surat Thani, Chiang Rai, Laos—all unique and fun and beautiful. My traveling takes place on weekends while I’m not teaching and it’s incredibly easy and cheap (flights are usually about 60 dollars round trip, and hotels range from anywhere to $5-$20 a night. So, it’s silly not to travel everywhere and anywhere). It usually consists of trying to check things off my Must-See-In-Thailand bucket list such as hiking to the top of Koh Nang Yuan, seeing Wat Plai Laem in Koh Samui, seeing the White Temple in Chiang Rai, watching the sunrise in Laos, sending off lanterns on the beach, and eating a lot of coconut ice cream (often times while simultaneously getting a massage with a bottle of wine nearby)… all good things.





And, as crazy as it seems, I only have three weeks left of teaching. This is difficult for me to comprehend because it has gone so incredibly fast. I am of course looking forward to my adventures after Thailand, but I am truly saddened to leave these kiddos. They are so sweet and funny and it’s going to be very difficult to return back to the US and not have people tell me I’m beautiful everyday and ask me why I’m so tall or why I have so many freckles or say random funny phrases to me that they have heard on TV or in movies.



I think this is one of my overall favorite things about the Thai culture— their humor. They have a wonderful sense of humor that still manages to translate even if there is a language barrier. I regularly find myself crying with laughter at the things my students say and do. Whether it’s them trying to pronounce my last name (it somehow usually turns into Ah-mee Mess-in-ger…) or them coming up with hilarious answers for Scattergories such as “Rings of the Lord” for Books, or “The French Language” as Something that Scares You. (Side note: teachers, if you need a game, I have found that this one works for every level and it’s my favorite.) For one of my classes, we had the letter J for one of the boards, and the answer “John Cena” worked for each topic: Superhero, Boy’s Name, Something Scary, A Kind of Entertainment, Something Tall, Animal, and A Famous Person. As you can imagine, they loved this and we were laughing hysterically.

Or, another day, I wore my hair down and one of the boys in the back raised his hand in the middle of class and shouted: “Teachaaa! Your hair is beeeeeeautiful today!” So I told him he got 100 extra points out of 30, and they all began to give me compliments.

Or, this conversation happens regularly:
    Me: “[Student’s name], do you have your homework?
    Student: *smiles blankly at me*
    Me: “I am grading you on this assignment.”
    Student: “But teacha, I love you!”
    Me: “I love you too… please bring it tomorrow.”
And it’s an endless cycle of me constantly telling them to turn it in the next day because I’m weak.

I think it’s safe to say teaching has changed me in many ways: I am much more patient and empathetic, and I have never felt taller. It is so fun and rewarding. In fact, I think this is one of the only jobs I’ve had where I don’t wake up thinking “I don’t want to go to work today.” I wake up and I look forward to going to work (despite the absence of breakfast). If I were to give advice to anyone considering teaching in Thailand, I say that you should do it. The worst that can happen is that you don’t like it so you go back home… easy as that. But, I rarely find anyone who doesn’t like it here.



That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, or homesickness or culture shock—there is all of the above. I get truly homesick when I miss my nephews’ birthday parties, or not being able to hug my best friend of 22 years after she got engaged, or missing holidays with my family. I feel culture shock when I try to give directions and the taxi driver cannot understand anything I am saying, or when there is still a fish head attached to my dinner. But, I find the best way to overcome this is to just laugh.

The positive side of being homesick or feeling culture shock is that you realize what is truly important to you (such as breakfast and hot water and family). The downside of homesickness is that you miss where you are right now. So my advice for this (even though you didn’t ask for it), is to make a life where you are, with who you are right now. Because at some point, you’ll likely be homesick for where you are right now. I know in a few months I am going to miss this desk, and my students, and the lady I buy fruit from, and being able to fly across the country for 30 dollars, and the coconut ice cream on every corner, and the people I have met here, and my tiny apartment, and maybe even the cold showers.

So, in summary, my advice is to always do something and go somewhere you can be homesick for someday. And, eat as much breakfast as you can.



Elephants and Eardrums

My brother often says: “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

Now, personally, I prefer my adventures to go smoothly. But, perhaps it actually is “things going wrong” that make something an adventure. It certainly does make a better story.

Especially if that story happens to be your ear drum rupturing while living abroad.

Now, I think this sounds a lot cooler than it actually was. It was, in fact, not one of my finer moments in life to call my father in Hawaii in the middle of the night, crying about my head bleeding (Fathers love those kinds of calls, right? — shout out to my dad) after I woke up to some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.

Thus, he calmly instructed me to get to the hospital because it was likely that my eardrum had burst. So, do yourself a humorous favor and picture me venturing to a Bangkok hospital by myself in the wee hours of the morning holding a towel to my ear.

— The bright side of this is I am now fairly confident in my ability to do basically anything.

I arrived at the hospital and a nurse took my temperature, stating, “Wow, you have a fever” (note, still holding towel to my bleeding head). Fortunately, this was not a foreshadowing of the rest of my hospital time and the staff was all very kind and professional and helpful — even after I fainted due to the pain. (Told you this was a good story!)

In hindsight, I should probably send them a thank you/apology card.

To make a long story short, a mean sinus infection caused this episode (but I think I’ll probably start telling people it was from scuba diving or sky diving because that sounds way cooler). So, I lost my hearing in my right ear for a few weeks and continued to teach in Thailand.

I’m going to put that on my resume.



So, this was a minor set back. But, four weeks later, I am happy to report my hearing has almost completely returned, Thailand is still fun and adventurous as always, and I have continued my traveling and teaching adventures as planned.

My students took their midterms the week of Christmas (it is crazy to think I am more than half way done with my teaching — how did that happen?) and they are still as sweet and silly as ever. In December I had the honor of being a judge for a Christmas singing competition (spoiler alert: every class except one sang Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’) and a Christmas speech competition where they had to report on the history of Christmas. It is safe to say my heart melted. Last week I also had my students tell me some of their New Year’s resolutions, and three of my favorites were: “Get back to the body I used to have” (undoubtedly heard on a television commercial), “Go on a plane even if it doesn’t go anywhere,” and “Play video games while sleeping.”

May these important resolutions be some New Year motivation for us all.


To my surprise, the holidays were unexpectedly absent of homesickness (with the exception to the eardrum rupture. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little homesick during that) — most likely due to the fact that it is 93 degrees and I still don’t believe it is January right now, and also because my brother came to visit (also, I do miss my family everyday, so don’t think I don’t miss you dodo birds). It was so nice to see a familiar face and show him around Thailand. We had an adventurous week in the south of Thailand, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. We spent Christmas on the beach eating pizza and drinking Singhas, and we spent New Year’s sending lanterns into the sky in Chiang Mai. To say that our week was fun would be an understatement… and in summary, it consisted of the beach, $3 mojito buckets and the inevitable headache that follows, exploring, zip lining, playing with elephants, sending off lanterns, and traveling around. I am so grateful he came to visit. Thanks Bri guy!




So, as always, Thailand is excellent and I am continuously humbled and amazed by daily life here. Whether it be my students bringing me gifts such as aloe vera, cookies, or a surge protector, or hiking 1300 steps up to a beautiful Buddha statue in Krabi, or paddle boarding in Koh Phi Phi, or having monkeys jump on you while hiking, or feeding elephants breakfast in Chiang Mai… it’s often hard to believe that this is real life sometimes.




If there is anything I learned in 2015, it’s that life should regularly consist of those “wow-this-is-real-life-moments.” So, that is my New Year’s resolution for 2016. To never stop being amazed and humbled by my surroundings (and also to not make any more trips to the hospital).



Happy New Year!

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