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

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...


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

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!


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.


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.


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.

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. 


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!


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!


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.
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.


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)!!!
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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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.



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