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Goodmorning, Teachaa

After talking broadly about the trips I have taken, I thought I would use this post to chronicle a glimpse of what I experience on the day-to-day, specifically each morning at school. Typically, I arrive around 7:50 when the teacher on side gate duty is impatiently holding the gate open for the last students sprinting to make it, and myself. I slide in and wai: “Sawadee ka,” I say in greeting, “Hello! Kap khun ka for holding the gate.” My Thai sucks. It’s usually a mix of Thai and English, with most Thai phrases being repeated quickly in English (sawadee-ka-hello), almost in apology for how attrociaous I sound. She smiles curtly as she locks the gate, dooming all latecomers to the extra block’s walk to the front gate. 

I drop off my bag in my office, slip into my school shoes, sign in, and head to the huge, covered, outdoor gathering area where the 3000+ students already stand in neat rows, taking attendance and chattering. I am an advisor for Mathayom 5 (the age equivalent of Juniors in high school), but due to the fact that mai kow jai—I don’t understand—Thai or anything that is going on,  I mostly just stand there and look pretty. Occasionally, Cream—the class leader—runs up to me with papers written completely in Thai, hands them to me, and points to lines for me to sign. I dutifully initial, and hand them back to her; nothing bad has come of this strategy yet. 

I scan the rows for the M5 teachers I recognize so that I know where to stand today. I’m in my own world and remember —shit—I almost forgot my manners. Wai, wai, wai, as I pass Thai teachers; some wai back; other, older ones, simply nod in my direction. I’m still not confident I completely understand the whole waiing concept. The wai itself is a slight bow with the hands together; it is a greeting, a show of respect. The subordinate initiates the wai with the superior, and the superior (or equal) then returns the wai. Students wai teachers all day long, and that is usually accepted with a nod of acknowledgement from the teacher or, if you’re bridging cultures like me, a smile and a loud “hello.” While the student-teacher power dynamic is pretty straightforward, superiority is not always black and white. For example, in the school setting, elder teachers are definitely superior, as are those who hold a higher position than myself (how would I know what someone’s postition is? Answer: I wouldn’t). But riddle me this: what do you do when faced with someone who is older than you, but in a lower position?

For example, there is a custodian who works in our building; she is not old, but she is definitely older than me. One of the first days, I hit her with a wai and a, “Sawadee ka.” She giggled—ok so maybe I wasn’t supposed to wai her? I thought—but she returned the greeting and seemed pleased, the pressed-lip grin remaining on her face and she returned to sweeping. I guessed that not everyone at the school showed her the same respect because a custodian job is held to be lower than the highly regarded teacher position. Whatever—I’m barely a teacher—I wai her every morning , and she always giggles quietly but wais back, appearing to secretly enjoy it.

Anyways, I don’t make it through the morning without waiing at least 30 people. Once I spot where M5 has decided to line up that day, I stand nearby and observe, as some Thai teacher barks loudly on the microphone. I never have any idea what he’s saying, but it never sounds very positive—until occasionally the whole place bursts into laughter, and then I’m confused.  When it is time for the flag ceremony to begin, the barking on the microphone stops abruptly and the students stand at attention, facing the flag. The national anthem is sung, the voices of 3,500 students and teachers harmonizing, accompanied by the band. When it is over, everyone turns in unison 90 degrees to the left—we are now facing the Spirit House and Buddhist alter and it is time for prayer. After prayer, everyone turns again, another 90 degrees to the left, facing an image of the King. The song of the royal family plays, some words are said, and then there is a rustle of noise as the men bow and the women curtsey. 

More than likely, at some point during this ceremony my co-teacher, another M5 advisor— Rassarin—has snuck up beside me. She stands about a head shorter than I and, in her limited English, speaks to me fondly in a tone one might use on their 2-year-old; she affectionately addresses me as baby. When the ceremony ends, we engage in some only moderately uncomfortable routine small talk, Rassarin never abandoning her sugary tone. We comment on the weather and discuss our weekends—“What did you do this weekend?” I ask on Mondays. “Oh, I sleep!” or “What are you doing this weekend?” I ask on Fridays. “Oh, I sleep!”—and ending with, “Nice day, baby!” when she decides that the pleasantries are over and bids me adieu, marching into the throng of students to fulfill what I assume are the duties of 2 advisors by herself.

And then I slip away, retreating back to the safety of the EP building to settle into my office and wait for first period to start. Depending on the number and sorts of activities taking place where the students remain at the assembly, first period might start on time at 8:20; it might start late, around 8:40; students might roll in from assembly at 9:05, 5 minutes before the period ends. Today only two students showed up to first period, with 15 minutes left until the bell; I found out during second period that all afternoon classes would be cancelled. When these things happen—and they happen often—there is no point in getting frustrated—I guess I’ll push today’s lessons to tomorrow.




What To Expect...When You Have No Idea What To Expect

Since coming to Thailand, I've had to learn to adapt and embrace a culture that is nothing like my own. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise, and anyone who does a little research on Thailand compared to the USA would agree with me. I came to Thailand to be an English teacher, even though I feel like I am by no means qualified. Thailand, however, would disagree. I am from America, English is my native language, I have a Bachelor's degree, and I am able to take advantage of all of these things, speak in front of a class and in some way try and influence a few hundred Thai students' learning. Is that actually what has taken place over these last couple of months...I'm not so sure?

There are many reasons for this, and I wanted to take some time to write down my thoughts about how it's been so far being a "teacher" (I use quotes because I don't think I'll ever be able to seriously think of myself as a teacher). There are also several things I wish I knew about the Thai education system and what life would actually be like before I hopped on a plane to come here.

For starters, let me give a little background info on my school. Me and my friend Kaitlin teach at SaoHai Wimolwitthayanukul School, which is a public high school with 2700 students. My classes are large, English levels are low, and any overall organization is almost nonexistent. I never thought that I wouldn't like where I was placed, partially because I had this dream idea that I'd be teaching perfect, respectful children who adore me and are eager to learn. But, if I had a say in where I was placed, I might choose to work at a different school. That might sound bad and I hate that I even typed it out, but I do want to be honest. This post isn't all negative however. I am so happy that I quit my job and hopped on that plane to embrace a whole new life away from my home. I don't want anything that I say next to deter someone from coming to Thailand to teach. This has simply been my experience so far and I want to share it! So for now, let me get into some specifics about what I wish I knew to expect before starting to teach (the good stuff is at the end by the way).

  1. Public schools are veryyyy different than private schools. I work at a public school, which means we don't have a bunch of extra money lying around for school supplies, decorations, working projectors and computers, clean classrooms, etc etc. The lack of resources can be extremely frustrating sometimes. If I want to plug my computer into the projector to show a PowerPoint in class, and for some reason the system isn't working (happens several times a week) there is generally nothing I can do about it besides cluelessly tinker with the different wires and hope for a miracle. It usually doesn't happen. At this point, I have made note of all the classrooms where the projectors don't work so I can prepare ahead of time for a much more difficult lesson. We do have whiteboards, and if you bring your own whiteboard markers then you are good to go. Another big issue is that the classroom sizes are almost unmanageable. Trying to get 50 Thai students to stop talking, get off their phones and pay attention to a language that they don't understand can seem impossible. Which is why I've had to accept the fact that you might have 5-15 students paying attention, and you kind of just deal with it and ignore the ones who aren't. What I've seen and heard about private schools is quite the opposite. There's more money available which means they can be more selective of their students, which means smaller class sizes, which means more resources and overall more organization.
  2. Speaking of organization, I never knew it was possible for a school to be so disorganized, but damn Sao Hai does a pretty good job at it. Example 1, Kaitlin and I started school at the beginning of November. We aren't told specifically if there is a curriculum, or even what our general class topics are. Believe me, we asked, we just didn't get a straight answer. Not until at least a month in did I learn that two of my classes that I have to test are English for Writing and Reading, and the rest of the classes are Conversation. I also learned around this time that the students take English speaking classes with me, and then English grammar classes with Thai teachers (which you think would help to improve their English skills, but it does not). Example 2 was when I was told I have to hand in my midterm test at the end of November. At that point, I had seen my students maybe a couple of times and had absolutely no idea what I should be teaching them, what their proficiency levels were, and what they had already been taught in previous years. After this, I was also informed that I have to give them a quiz BEFORE the midterm, but for some reason they forgot to tell me. Sounds crazy right? Well it is, but I've learned to accept it. I now realize that essentially no one gives a shit, and that's ok. No one asked what I was going to test my students on, no one asks me what I teach them in my classes, no one even asks me how I'm getting along. But that's fine, because at least no one is breathing down my neck or pressuring me to teach something specific. I have free rein over what I do, which means lots and lots of English games! This is mostly because the students love them and get bored with anything else, like for example...a real lesson. And finally, and maybe my favorite, example 3, which only just happened this week. Our coordinator Kajee told Kaitlin that the school Director had asked how she knew whether or not her students' English was improving. You might be thinking, "yes indeed what a great and logical question." But the catch is that Kaitlin was told at the beginning of the semester that she didn't have to formally grade any of her classes. So she hasn't been. But now she's being told by Kajee that she should have been giving them speaking tests, and she wants Kaitlin to make up 4 test grades for each of her students. We have more than 600 students each by the way...so you do the math. She was told to grade them on a scale of 1-4, as if she knew who each of them was and how well they can (really can't) speak English, and to hand in the grades two days later. I'm kind of still laughing about that one because it's just so ridiculous. If they wonder how we're going to know how each student is improving, you'd think they would have us grade them all to begin with right? Evidently...wrong. And if you're wondering why we haven't been grading them informally, it's because we see our classes once a week, there's 50 students in each class, and it's just simply not realistic to try and teach them and then test them on it a week later. It would take several class periods, aka weeks, to do so. But again, this is simply my situation. Our other roommate Kat teaches at a different school in Saraburi within an English program. She sees her students three times a week, makes up detailed lesson plans, gives speaking tests, and is overall probably a better teacher than I am! But these are the cards I was dealt so I gotta play them.
  3. Sometimes you'll have to do things that you really didn't expect to do. For example, teach on Saturdays. I already wrote about the unfortunate circumstances that lead to Kaitlin and I being forced to "teach" on Saturdays because of Sports Day interfering with classes during the week back in November. With this wonderful idea, the students could get caught up with the course material in time for midterms in December. We were supposed to teach on five Saturdays, but they ended up cancelling the last two because they finally realized that the kids weren't exactly coming to school ready to learn. Some wouldn't even show up. The goal of those days was not met, and the kicker is that we weren't paid any extra for being there 6 days a week. Kaitlin and I both wished that OEG (our program) would have let us know that our school was going to make us do this. I personally felt like the school didn't really care about the teachers and wasn't concerned with what we wanted at all. It definitely wasn't a great feeling, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. It made it hard for me to feel a personal connection to the school because I felt like they really weren't concerned about us.
  4. No matter how much you want them to learn, some kids are just not motivated. That seems to be in part because of the school I'm at, and partly because of the Thai education system. For one, there are so many students at my school and no English program, so the overall proficiency levels are veryyyy low. This is really not surprising when you consider the impossible feat of trying to cater to 50 students' needs in the span of 40-50 minutes once a week. It's just not going to happen. So their motivation levels can sometimes be low since they know that the chances of them learning something that will stick with them is equally low. Another issue is the fact that they cannot fail. If they do fail, you re-test them. And re-test again until they pass. So why bother trying when you know the outcome already?! Great question, I would like to now refer you to 400 out of my 600 students and you can ask them! I definitely feel bad for the few kids in some of my classes who so very clearly want to learn. It's hard to try and control a classroom and also focus on trying to give all the students what they need. And again, at this point I've realized that that will never happen. Maybe if I had smaller classes, or saw them more than once or twice a week. But I've found that there's no point in wondering "what if" because you just have to adapt and learn what the best possible strategy is moving forward.
  5. Thai teachers are way stricter than I ever imagined. And I don't mean yelling or giving a lot of homework. I mean slapping kids on the head or using wooden sticks to hit them on their hands or backs when they've been bad. That was a fun surprise!! But once they see a farang (generally a white western foreigner) all bets are off the table (weirdly using a lot of card game references here?). They know we aren't going to do that with them, so they can go crazy, let loose and be EXTREMELY loud in our classrooms. Again, just something you have to deal with and learn to expect! I'd rather them have a little fun in my classes than be miserable.

If all of that didn't convince you to shut your computer and swear off ever coming to Thailand, then I'm glad! Because now I'd like to talk about the amazing things that I didn't expect to experience before coming to Thailand.

  1. The wonderful feeling you get when students tell you that they love you or get excited when you play a fun game in class. Just this week, one of my students from my favorite class left me a present and two cards on my desk for no reason at all. And actually while I was just typing this she came into the office and gave me another card. I do not deserve her.
  2. The huge smile that will break out on your face when you have the cutest student realize they said something properly in English. And yes I do have a favorite student who is the cutest thing I've EVER SEEN!!! And that's including puppies.
  3. Getting to know some of your students' personalities. I love laughing at the weird things they do or the sounds they make while being goofy in class. All of that warms my heart and makes me leave my classrooms smiling. And I don't even like kids!!! (Proof that anyone can do this).
  4. Overall getting to experience Thai culture and all the crazy, weird, and beautiful things that that entails. Like seeing three, four, or five people squished onto a motorbike drive by you. Without helmets I might add. Or taking a van to Bangkok for the weekend and swearing you're going to die at least five times on the trip as people zoom past you or drive on the wrong side of the road, but you always make it there safely. Or having teachers and students wai you in the morning, every morning to show respect (that's when you put your hands together and make a small bow with your head). Or learning to take cold showers and almost not even being bothered by it because it's so hot out. Or getting used to seeing the weirdest food combinations you could ever imagine being put into a crepe and devoured by a student after school. Or taking your shoes off outside most houses or stores. Or drinking soda out of a bag because this is Thailand. And also saying "this is Thailand" far too often but that's the only proper way to describe the crazy shit that happens here.
  5. The amount of places that you can manage to see on weekend trips and all the beauty that this country has to offer. I've so far been to Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Krabi, Chiang Mai, and Pai and have plenty more plans for the rest of the semester. I am also planning on traveling around Asia afterwards, just because I can!
  6. Thai money will get you far. The first month of working I had to use my own personal money to buy things, as I get paid at the end of the month by my school. But after that, I have not once dipped into my own money. Granted I haven't been able to save a lot (or any) of that Thai money yet, but it has gotten me through the months of traveling and lots of eating!
  7. No matter how hard I think this job is or how frustrating my school can be, I would choose this over working at home every. damn. time. I quit my last job because I was unhappy, and so far the overwhelming feeling I've had while being here has been pure joy. Maybe I don't feel that 100% of the time, but at least I'm not sitting in an office hating my life for 9 hours a day. THAT was torture. THIS is paradise.
  8. The people that you meet and become friends with are just amazing. I came here expecting to live with Kaitlin, but didn't expect to also gain a second roommate. Our friend Kat, who used to live about 10 minutes away, recently moved in with us at the end of December. We had been saying for a while that she should move in, as we had an extra bedroom, and she finally did! Our friend Tracy and her boyfriend live in our neighborhood as well. And our friends Emily and Laura live a couple hours away south of Bangkok. We see them almost every weekend when we get together to travel, and it's always great to spend time with people who have similar mindsets as you. One funny thing we talked about was that everyone always has that "token" friend who up and moves across the country or the world to do something crazy. And for us, we are all that token friend. We all left our families and friends to come to Thailand, and now we're experiencing a totally different way of living together.

So, the moral of this story I guess is that if you want to put your life on pause and come teach in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia, do it. Do it now. There are a million and one schools in Thailand that desperately want foreign teachers to come and work at their schools. It's an amazing way to make a difference, even if you don't feel like you are, while also earning enough money to travel and see the world. My situation is just one of many. I know I'm going to be asked about my experience once I go home, so I figured this was a surefire way to get around answering the same question a bajillion times - I'll just direct them here. Looking at you relatives that I see once or twice a year!

P.S. - This is the card that my student just gave to me. BRB crying.


Make sure to check out my other personal blog for more stories and pictures! https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

The One Where I Figured Out How To Send Money Home

So the really exciting thing about being an adult is having bills and responsibilities no matter where you are, right? Wrong. Nothing is worse, actually. I make a decent paycheck in Thailand standards as a teacher, which sounds like a lot until you find out that every month I have to send roughly half of my salary home every month to cover bills/loans/other random adult BS I hate with a passion. 

That's frustrating in and of itself, but I haven't mentioned the good part yet- up until today I could not figure out a fast way to send money home to my US bank account without physically going to my Thai bank and filling out a form, waiting in line, paying a huge fee and then biking back. Well today my life has changed for the better because.......

GOD BLESS FACEBOOK, the one and only time I will say that. 

Someone in our CIEE Teach in Thailand FB group asked the great question "how are you guys sending money home to cover bills and things in America?" The first thing I thought is, why the F didn't I think to ask that here? Followed swiftly by, wait did anyone have a new answer for this? Lucky for me someone did. 

So I just want to say that I did try my very hardest to figure this out on my own, I read every online resource, I tried every stupid website and app but most things weren't international or had a huge fee. I tried adding a second account to my paypal account but you can't send money to yourself from one account to another... UNLESS triumphantly raises finger into the sky

You open two separate paypal accounts with two separate emails....DUH takes finger and jams it into brain for not thinking of this concept sooner

So shoutout to the girl from facebook who floated this idea in the group and allowed me to find a way to send money, quickly, without having to go to the bank and for 1/20th of the cost. My only regret is not figuring this out sooner and avoiding all the fees I've already paid but hey better late than pregnant! ....I mean never. 

Anyways I just wanted to post a blog about this in case anyone else teaching abroad was struggling with this now or in the future. 

May the exchange rate be ever in your favor! 

Suksan Wan Pii Mai Ka || Happy New Year!

December: what a month!

The excitement kicked off with a visitor from home! Joey got to Thailand on a Wednesday, and by Saturday afternoon we were walking down the shop-lined main street of Ko Lanta, an island south of Krabi, caught in an island downpour. Like the true Oregonians we are, we weren’t going to let a little rain stop the fun, and we continued on our walk. 2 kilometers later, drenched, we decided this downpour might actually be better described as a tropical storm that showed no signs of letting up, so we swallowed our pride and hailed a tuktuk.

We arrived, clothes dripping but spirits undampened, at our beach bungalow and waited out the storm on what I have decided is an essential part of any beach hut: a front porch, complete with a hammock and an ocean view. Each day, after swimming in the Andaman Sea and exploring the white sand beaches (some of us getting more sunburnt than others in the process), we would retire to our porch to enjoy the serene calmness of Ko Lanta. Cozy in my hammock, relaxing with my favorite guy, listening to the waves and enjoying the simple happiness that comes with being together in a beautiful place, I truly felt like we were embracing the sabai sabai mindset.

In Thai, sabai literally means “happy,” but it is also used in a variety of other contexts to describe the Thai lifestyle; it means relax, everything is chill, not a care in the world— it is like the Thai hakuna matata (it means no worries..)! When you embrace the sabai culture, your stress levels decrease, you don’t sweat the small things, and you embrace all of the good that surrounds you. Under the sun and, later, under the stars on our porch, I had no complaints. 

9648FC23-C993-4004-A750-8019AEA36801Our beach bungalow at Lanta Marina Resort.

60DBF561-788C-4C14-9EB5-B71B9DA2AA11 Ko Lanta, Thailand - My favorite spot. 

 582E71FE-BA5C-4FE7-957E-1A833897C882Ko Lanta, Thailand - December 2017 

582E71FE-BA5C-4FE7-957E-1A833897C882Surin, Thailand - December, 2017


After the world’s fastest 10 days, Joey left. And my homesickness from saying goodbye combined with the reality of spending my first Christmas away from home, and the last week of December was a rough one. Thai Christmas is a confusing time, at least in Surin. No one outside of our English Program acknowledged Christmas on Christmas Day, which was on Monday—a school day; however, I came to school on Friday, December 29th, to find Christmas on steroids. Just when I was ready to hang up my Santa hat, I was hit with a belated dose of costumes, dancing, Christmas songs, and gift-giving. I guess better late than never. 

Despite the surprise Christmas cheer, after a mildly sad week I was looking forward to a spirited New Year’s weekend—and it didn’t disappoint. We left Friday night, and after a bus ride, another much longer bus ride, a songthaew (look it up), a minibus, another minibus, another songthaew, a ferry, and a third songthaew, we landed at our hostel on Ko Chang by mid-morning on Saturday. If you were keeping track, it took a grand total of 8 modes of transportation to get to this island—but man, was it worth it. 

I spent New Year’s with Melissa and 6 other English teachers all connected loosely by someone who knew someone who knew someone.  Instantly, it felt easy and natural to connect with people who, although strangers at the start of the weekend, were so relatable because of the mindsets we share and the journeys we are all on. We laughed an incredible amount, comparing stories—victories, losses, sources of confusion, sources of frustration, and humorous anecdotes—of our first few months in the classroom, and marveled at just how different each of our experiences in our respective towns and schools have been. Also, a sidenote: this was my first hostel experience. As it turns out, when you put 8 Americans in a 10-person dorm on a Thai island, it feels alarmingly similar to a sleeping porch nestled in the jungle. This taste of familiarity was comforting.

However, we didn’t spend much time in our little hostel-turned-sleeping-porch. Rather, we spent our days on the beach and in the water, one day taking a boat trip out island hopping and snorkeling. The waters in the Gulf of Thailand are so unbelievably clear and blue; it’s impossible to tire of its natural  brilliance. Ko Chang is the most beautiful place that I have been in Thailand thus far. We rang in 2018 on a beach, surrounded by good company and an impossible number of fireworks.

37CEBAD0-8D12-463F-9A99-21CE4FFFB644 Ko Chang - December 2017

5B318E9F-0DCB-4E99-B556-E3081F786C48 Gulf of Thailand - December 2017

37CEBAD0-8D12-463F-9A99-21CE4FFFB644 Ko Chang - 6/8 of the squad. 

As I traveled back to Surin on Tuesday, I reflected on my year. In 2017 I had many lasts—my last college days, and all the lasts that came with them, specifically—and I graduated from college, ending a huge chapter in my life. But I also had quite a few firsts: I worked at a restaurant for the first time, where I developed my work ethic and met some amazing people—including one very special individual who traveled to Thailand to visit me; I broke out of my comfort zone and moved across the world, where I have been able to meet even more awesome and likeminded people; I started experimenting with teaching, developing my own teaching style, and becoming more confident in myself and my abilities; I have continued my quest to discover what my future might hold for me. 

Last year at this time, if you would have told me that I would be teaching English in Thailand, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was stressed; I was trying to fit myself into a mold and figure out the proper “next step,” equipped with my Business degree and zero idea of what I wanted to do with it. Moving to Thailand wasn’t my plan, so for me—a huge planner—making this life-altering decision based only on a feeling was terrifying. But now that I’m living it, I am so thankful for my selfish choice to do what felt right for me, rather than what felt right for everybody else. I’m excited, but in no hurry, to see where 2018 will take me.

71180B6C-D233-4810-B9DA-39F2F09A073B Ko Lanta, Thailand - December 2017


A Blur

    Here I am two months later. It has finally set in that this country is now my home. That this school is where I work. And that this is my life. It was hard to grasp at first but it is finally setting in. Now my life is just as it was before with a fairly normal schedule.  Although, it is in a new place and I am definitely a lot more busy than I was in the states! It has been a blur of constant travels, teaching, and time spent with so many people. So here is a basic summary of my last two months, since I haven't been too great about updating this blog!


The first full weekend in Phrae I met several other foreign teachers here that work both at my school and other schools in the area. They told us about a lot of cool places surrounding us that were just a motorbike ride away. So we decided to take the weekend to explore where we live. The gist of the day was a lot of driving, walking, sweating, and bonding with new friends. 

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The steps up to the Doi Lang Temple, sweating my butt off. 

WhatsApp Image 2017-11-13 at 12.04.55 AM(4)
WhatsApp Image 2017-11-13 at 12.04.55 AM(4)

The Phrae Farang Gang: there are a few friends missing from the photo though!


All of the foreign teachers and I took a trip to Lampang (which is about 1.5 hours from Phrae) in a mini van. There were quite a few of us, but the driver was willing to fill his van to the brim with people. We had two more people than there were seats, so he pulled out two child-sized plastic seats and put them in the gaps that were meant to be an aisle way! We were in Lampang for two days and spent an entire day exploring. We found a cliff side temple that was quite the trek, but completely worth it! And we found Chaeson Waterfall and some hot springs. The cliff side temple was definitely the highlight of the trip and would recommend going!


When I said cliff-side temple; I promise you it was no understatement. 



Chaeson waterfall was beautiful but we unfortunately couldn't swim in it. Still a wonderful view though!


The hot springs were cool. We found out that it's a big thing to boil baskets of eggs in the springs. So they were pretty, but they smelt of sulfer and boiled eggs!


And so the blur of events continues....



The One Where We Spent New Years In Bangkok

Fun fact: NYE in Bangkok is very very similar to NYE in Times Square, or so I imagine. I've never actually been to Times Square for New Years because I am claustrophobic and after experiencing it in Bangkok I can confirm that I will probably never go to NYC for New Year's Eve- not my scene.

But let's back up and give you the full rundown of what New Year's Eve day was like and how we spent New Year's day because that's the good stuff. 

Our friend from Orientation came and stayed at the hostel with us and we hadn't seen her since October so that was really amazing, it's crazy how close you can feel to people when you only met them a few months prior. New Year's Eve day we got some really delicious breakfast, I got blueberry cream cheese pancakes and an iced coffee which was just as fattening and amazing as it sounds. We then walked around the Wang Lang market and found some fun earrings to wear with our outfits. We stopped at a park that overlooked the river in the center of Bangkok and walked across the bridge and got semi lost trying to find the Ferry. All-in-all it was a really nice day, if you take out the part where we saw a cat get hit by a taxi, that was a major bummer.  After the market we went back to our hostel and got ready for the night, we made drinks and sat on the roof with other people from our hostel and caught up with each other. Two of the people in our hostel had decided to skip the crowds and go to a disco funk club for NYE instead and we decided to meet up with them there. Unfortunately we made a cab drive us all over God's creation to try to find this club, only to fail miserably. We hauled ass back to Khao San Road which is the main drag of Bangkok where all the bars are and where everyone gathers to watch the countdown. We made it and formed a human chain and shoved our way through the crowd and got to a good vantage point roughly two minutes before midnight. We were actual sardines but it was such an incredible thing to witness and be a part of. 

Due to my high anxiety in closely-packed crowds and claustrophobia, I Irish exited the premises and fled back to the hostel which was thankfully only one road away. (Irish exiting: Verb, meaning to leave a party or event or function without saying goodbye to anyone or telling anyone where you are going). This is a really bad habit of mine that started in college but since I made it back perfectly safe and texted everyone as soon as I hit the hostel I think it's fine. I fell asleep around 12:30am and have no regrets. 

The next morning we all were nursing a stellar hangover, as I'm sure many other people were that morning and decided that going to see a movie in an air conditioned theater was exactly what we all needed. We went to the mall got really great Indian food and then split up so we could all see the movies we wanted to. After the movie we indulged in some shopping and then went back to the hostel for our last night together. Everyone was so exhausted from the night before that we all passed out by 10pm knowing we had an 8hr bus ride back to our province the next day. 

It was so great catching up and reuniting for a weekend and enjoying the end of the year together. I have a feeling 2018 is going to be a great one considering how the end of 2017 has been for us. knock on wood. 


Courtney's View #5: Virgin Eyes in Bangkok

Day One

This air hangs heavy, thick and rotten sweet. Things I've never really seen, I'm seeing. Crowds of mangy dogs sprawled in garbage and shade. A woman washing her clothes in a bucket. Her house behind behind her might've been part of the landfill sized trash pile. A gray river flows. Children play laughing on remains of a detonated building, an orange tape and broken glass savannah.

Day Two

Two days, two fold comfort. Dipping and weaving through traffic thick as that sticky rice we ate. We laugh instead of yesterday's quick breaths. At the market we smile and point, exchanging pennies for Rambutan Mountains. How will we eat it all? Don't care, I love this bag of furry strawberries. It means I'm in Thailand, which means I'm trying. Trying for what, I'm not sure. To be sure though, I need to try. The market bustles on. I'm eyeing a mysterious pile of head-sized spiky fruit.



Not Knowing Anything about Anything

When writing these blog entries, my process begins with mentally grouping my anecdotes into overarching themes (student stories, teaching tips, weekend activities, etc.) for the synchronicity of the post. This week, when amassing my stockpile of stories, only one factor seemed to link them together. So, without further ado, this week’s theme is ‘I don’t know anything about anything. Ever. At all.’ Occasionally, my tourist cluelessness is endearing. Shepherding 250 primary students on a multiple-destination field trip three hours away from school, surprisingly, is not one of those occasions. I was seated on the top level of a double decker bus stuffed to the brim with second and third grade Thai tornados. A microphone was thrust into my hand with the solemnity of a king’s scepter, we all knew that this was the only instrument with the unlocked potential to quell the excited thigh-high masses surging around us. Most of these children have never ridden on a bus much less left our town before and the exhilaration was evident. The vomit resulting from too many gas-station-purchased sweets, overwhelming anticipation, and carsickness was more than evident, it was tangible, and no scepter could have saved me. Finally I was driven to bringing out my secret weapon, Thai karaoke. I will still undoubtedly feel that headache in the year 2019.

The kids were impossibly enamored with the science museum and the aquarium, consumed with, to date, one of the sweetest and purest joys I had ever seen. So endearing, in fact, that I was able to overlook the transgressions of the gaggle of primary students that bought actual live birds from a street vendor when I turned my back for a literal second. After viewing the notable giant frog in Yasothon, which is in summary, just a giant frog (???), I was under the impression that we were headed back to our home province. The bus wheels sluggishly and unpredictably churned to a stop and I thought, the bus driver has finally maxed out on karaoke tolerance and will certainly be setting this bus on fire. Instead, a Thai announcement came on over the loud speaker and the students, under my clearly powerful jurisdiction, stood up and began filing neatly off the bus. I grabbed every student that shuffled past me by the collar and desperately asked “Where are you going?” only to be met with an unceasing line of confused stares. Dear God, what a convenient time this would have been to know things about stuff. After burying my pride and following my students off the bus, I was less than thrilled to find out we had stopped at a Buddhist hell temple. The entire walkabout was dedicated to ‘Nakara’ and gave descriptive accounts and even more vivid sculptural depictions of the tortures conducted there. You know that scene in The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible attempts to break into the evil lair but is instead shot with multiplying black orbs that adhere to him until he is fully incapacitated? I was Mr. Incredible but instead of orbs, I was inundated by sobbing Thai first graders. Their weepy snot mixed with my sweat as I struggled under the weight of them through the endless morbid circuit. It was, at the very least, a climatic culmination to the day.

The mundane predictability of an average school week was warmly welcomed after the field trip insanity. That is until I remembered that this is Thailand and I have 250 students and absolutely nothing is mundane about it. Emily was slightly hurt to hear from a co-teacher that the Thai nickname the students had given her, which they had sworn to mean flower, actually meant slimy slug. As an empathetic best friend, I cackled until I ran out of oxygen. The plot thickened later when an uninvolved third party countered that the nickname did actually mean flower. Considering we don’t know anything about anything, it is impossible to discern whether this is student foul play or a co-teacher hazing ritual. Regardless, these slimy little slugs were eager to relax and enjoy the usual spread of Thai food in the teacher’s lounge when lunch rolled around. I slopped a super-size portion of mushrooms onto my plate and sat down to eat when another teacher noticed and commended my bravery. What could possibly be brave about mushrooms I wondered? The situation quickly devolved into the first in which not knowing anything about anything manifested itself as positive ignorant bliss. The mushrooms I have been slurping away on at several meals per week, are in fact porous, congealed chicken blood. Bummer. Emily and I are in the throes of Pavlov’s dog-ing ourselves into forgetting we ever learned the mushroom’s dark secret.

In the subsequent days, the cluelessness persisted. This week, as our students prepare for the showmanship of the Christmas Day celebration and Sports Day parade, many classes have been punctuated by breaks for practice. During lunch one day Emily and I were dragged outside into a procession of older girls holding staffs. As we blinked at them and they blinked at us, staffs were plopped into our hands and a nearby teacher asserted, “you teach, you teach!” Before we had time to exhale, much less insist that we had no idea how to march or twirl staffs, the teacher had conveniently disappeared and the students looked at us impatiently, awaiting further instruction. Quickly cataloging my memory for that marching band scene in animal house, Emily and I fumbled awkwardly with these batons on steroids and even hit our confused, copy-cat pupils with some can-can action. We will, unfortunately, have to watch the resulting train wreck publically next week.

So far, the narratives resulting from my confused incompetence have been, though hilarious, completely manageable. That is, until the day that shall not be named. I was sitting innocuously in the office when a breathless teacher barged in and demanded, “Who is third grade’s homeroom teacher?” I immediately stood up and began probing for the problem; I was relieved to find that it was a joke. “A student has pooped in his seat” the trickster teacher declared, but I, in my infinite wisdom, knew better. It was the last period on a Friday afternoon following a day of frivolity with my third graders, as usual, leading the charge of mischievousness. So, I confidently strode through the mob of squealing, nose-pinching bodies into my classroom in search of a chair full of chocolate, or plastic poop, or whatever flavor-of-the-day prank awaited me. The joke certainly was on me. I found, and I apologize readers there really is no way to censor or sugarcoat this, a chair full of diarrhea and a stressed little boy covered in his own defecation. The rest of the afternoon was spent, cleaning the boy, his clothes, the chair, and the classroom all while the remaining 37 children shrieked and gagged. The next school day, the little boy wandered into the office and deposited a gargantuan fruit basket on the table - a gift from his mother. After all, nothing says, “sorry my child literally soiled your classroom and your dignity” like a basket of fruit. To make matters more amusing, the diarrhea attack was supposedly caused by an overconsumption of mangoes at lunch, the irony is not lost on me.

Until next time!


It's Christmas Time in the City

The American holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas is my favorite time of year. This is mostly because of heartwarming traditions, fun festivities, my birthday, loving family and friends, and the optimistic spirit that seems to permeate the atmosphere. If you don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving you can still feel the change in the air; you can feel other people’s happiness and see the joy in children’s faces.

Even in Thailand, a Buddhist country, I’m experiencing this special holiday. Everywhere I look there are decorations, trees, lights, signs for New Year’s/Christmas, and carols playing in stores. My school is decorated with trees, inflatable Santa’s and other items, and this morning they sang Christmas carols and held a Christmas assembly. (Check out displays from my school and Bangkok, below.)



Central World Decorations


Siam Paragon

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country can be difficult. Traditions are different and there is a strong feeling of nostalgia and homesickness that comes from being away from family and close friends. This is my first holiday season without my family and it is a little harder than I would have thought. It’s also hard adjusting to a different climate. Being from New England I am used to the more northern, winter-like weather. In Thailand the temperature has averaged 80+ degrees Fahrenheit since I’ve been here, making me really miss that cold nip in the air which, for me, heralds the arrival of the Christmas season.

I am writing this and wishing for a cup of hot chocolate, while watching the snow fall and smelling Christmas cookies baking in the oven. Yet, I am content, having settled for a cup of coffee and watching the lake move in the direction the wind blows. It’s a lovely sight, just not the same scenario I’m used to. Instead of traditional baking scents, I smell Thai foods and desserts. They may not be my mom’s cookies, but they still smell delicious. I also must admit that I am happy not to shovel, or to be on jammed on highways packed with other travelers. Fortunately, our temperatures have recently dropped so it’s much cooler, and the spirit is still alive here between the decorations, the songs in the stores, and the happiness people share. That’s what really matters.

As there is no holiday in Thailand between the beginning of November and Christmas, Christmas music began playing very early in November. Some places even had their decorations up and for sale. It was strange hearing those familiar tunes that early, especially as I didn’t expect to see much of a Christmas celebration here. Fortunately, most stores didn’t start playing the music constantly until December; then I heard it in almost every store I went to.

When December 1st came around all of the stores began putting up decorations. Most had a theme of some kind, and many included trees, lights, Santa’s, bears, and “Happy New Year” signs. Music is played constantly in some main stores, such as malls, food stores, and Starbucks. The atmosphere is abuzz with good cheer and people are enchanted by the decorations, and I am excited for the spirit of it all (the movies, songs, smells of cookies). I am able to watch movies and listen to the songs, but unfortunately I can’t make cookies: a favorite holiday pastime. If I had the equipment, I would make so many cookies!

School Singing Happy Birthday


Birthday Presents :D

My birthday falls in December and celebrating this milestone in Thailand was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Filled with love and new people in my life who care about me, the day very special. My department at school brought lunch for everyone, including a cake, sang “Happy Birthday,” and gave me lovely presents. I was beyond shocked by how much there was and how much love the department had for someone who just started a month ago. Some students even brought me dessert as a birthday gift! I felt so lucky to be in a school that cares so much. I have always wanted to work in a place that makes people feel special on their birthdays and this school did all of that and much more. They made me feel welcomed and part of the team.

That night some friends and I went to a local bar to celebrate. In the U.S. going to a bar with friends on a birthday usually results in them buying the person a drink or two. In Thailand, while some friends brought drinks, the biggest surprise was that people bought me cake, and the whole bar sang to me and ate the cake! It was wonderful and I never felt so blessed on a birthday before. Because I was away from home it felt even better to know I was cared for and not alone. I had a great time and will cherish the memory.


School Celebrating Christmas

Of course, being in a new land during these family-oriented holidays, and during a birthday, can be difficult. I have learned to cope by sharing the traditions and joys of these celebrations with my students, spending time with new friends, traveling, and enjoying myself. I have gone to Chiang Rai, Pattaya, and visited new sites in Bangkok with friends. I often go to the gym to work out, hang out with friends I have made in the village for drinks or dinner, or go to the movies with co-workers (Star Wars was amazing! I give it a 10 out of 10). Having things planned in advance, or even last minute pop-ups, have helped overcome the feelings of being homesick because I am keeping busy, seeing people, taking time to relax, and having adventures. In fact, the next two weekends will be full of travel and holiday fun with friends – going to see Harry Potter exhibits and Chiang Mai.

To date, I’ve been enjoying this holiday season and I know it will be one I’ll never forget.


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Courtney's View #4: Assume Change

Teaching’s almost over really. The time was flying by anyway, but things kicked into warp drive when I found out that though my contract ends in March, the last day of school is February 9th. What cultural thing is this? I don’t know. But I get paid for a month a half of navel gazing. Much wow! 

This news aside, I’ve taken into account Unexpected Days Off as a highly possible bi-weekly or even weekly occurrence. The reasons are usually both creative and official. For your vivid understanding, I have curated these reasons into a list:

  • “There is a competition that you must watch this morning. You will have no class.”
  • “There is a holiday on Tuesday. And on Monday.”
  • “There is a festival in the afternoon. Maybe there will be no class.”
  • “It is sports week. There is no class.”
  • “The students are playing football. Maybe they will not come today.”
  • “The students have a test. Maybe they will not come today.”
  • “The English Department has decided that today they will not work.”

Truly, this type of surprise is perfect for a rookie teacher like me. The extra time to plan lessons or write my family a letter is welcome. Any chance to slow down is usually one to be grateful for.

There’s another side of the burger, too. The unpredictability of schedule can also mean that my day becomes one extra wild goose chase. It’s easy to feel jerked around but it’s important to understand that’s not the intention. Of course, there's a language barrier among other uncertainties that get in the way of communication. I’m relearning that even though I like to be in control of my day, sometimes that’s simply not the point. “Mai pen rai” is how they call it in Thailand. “Don’t worry, whatever will be, will be.” 

Below: Some well spent free time of preparing a Christmas succulent! 


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