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30 posts categorized "*Thai Culture"

Teaching and What I Wish I Knew

 

    I have been teaching in Thailand for the past two weeks. I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks!! Besides learning the ins and outs of my village and adjusting to a new way of life, I have been working on lesson planning and grading. If you have never taught before, this may be more difficult and time consuming than you would expect. However, when the kids grasp the concepts being taught, their faces show so much happiness it makes it all worth it.

    Being in Thailand for almost a month has given me some culture shock in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of five cultural differences I have experienced so far (more will come as I stay longer).

 

1: The Respect of the Students:

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    The students in Thailand respect their teachers much more than those in the U.S. Yes, the students still talk in class, but what middle school student doesn’t? When I ask them to be quiet they show respect by almost immediately quieting down. The students thank me after each class and even those I have never met still say “Sawatdee Kha” (“Good Morning”) and bow their heads to me. Even though the students in Thailand have more respect; how the school is run seems to be slightly more disorganized than in the U.S.

 

2: Thai School Systems:

            The school system in Thailand is more laid back and little less organized than in the U.S. For example, students do not always come to class on time. This can be because they do not want to, or because they were in a meeting with someone and you did not know, or because they were simply taking their time on the way back from lunch or recess. If they are tardy there is an expectation that they will bring the teacher a late slip explaining where they were, but that doesn’t always happen. Another example can be when an entire class doesn’t appear. Other teachers may assume the impacted teachers have been told that a class is on a field trip, but that isn’t always the case. Adaptability is key and you learn to go with the flow. You realize that receiving information at the last minute about your class, such as them not being in attendance due to an event, is not that unusual. Some of this is due to the language barrier, but some is simply the way it is. It has been two weeks and I am learning to live “Mai Pen Rai” – which basically means, “it’s okay.”

 

3: You will Never Stop Sweating:

    You will never stop sweating no matter time of year it is. Currently Thailand is starting their winter and it is still 80 degrees everywhere with about 70% humidity, if not more. Walking to and from school causes my hair to expand and frizz because of the humidity, even at 7:00 am. You will never stop sweating. I hope to eventually get used to the heat, despite having other travelers tell me it’s difficult. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating, and the fans help cool everything off. I am also glad there is air conditioning where I live. And, I’m grateful I’ve arrived in October, as it is the beginning of winter. I’m hoping I will adjust before summer. My recommendation for travelers: wear clothing that breathes and is loose fitting, and bring deodorant. 

 

4: Food Stores and Restaurants: IMG_2260

    I live in a village that is well off, so there are stores that sell western foods as well as Thai foods. I have been able to find goldfish, peanut butter, Doritos, and Oreos. A lot of food stores also have potato chips, but many of them are interesting flavors: seaweed, sushi, salmon, and other seafood flavors, just to name a few. Pizza is not as hard to come by as one would think. I have found one place that makes decent pizza, and it’s within walking distance. KFC is located at almost ever corner but some of the menu items are spicier than in the U.S. The Thai restaurants have amazing foods. I don’t know what I am ordering most of the time, but Thai owners and employees are really helpful in explaining the items and letting me know if it’s super spicy or not. I have loved 90% of all the Thai foods that I have been eating. There are some that are not good at all; unfortunately I don’t know what they are called.

 

5: Squatter Toilets and Toilet paper:

    Coming over from the U.S. I was used to having toilet paper in all public bathrooms and toilets that were off the ground. What I have found in Thailand are squatter toilets in about 75% of public bathrooms and bum guns, a.k.a. bidets, in every bathroom (some did have toilet paper but not many). I have used some squatter toilets but am still getting used to them and the bum guns. If you use them incorrectly you get your pants all wet – consider it a learning situation.

Even with all of the cultural shocks I am so excited to be in this wonderful country! I can't wait to make even more memories and experience it all! Stay tuned for more! :D

Mai Pen Ra...Wait Where is Everyone?

COCKROACH KILL COUNT UPDATE:

Danielle: 3

Kaitlin: 3

I think our reflexes are getting quicker and they’re getting a bit scared that of all their friends keep dying…

Ok so I have too much time on my hands because I’m blogging far more often than I expected. But I guess that happens when you’re in Thailand and you’re constantly waiting for things to happen or people to show up. If you haven’t heard of “Thai Time,” it’s real…and unsurprisingly, it takes some time to get used to. If you’re considering coming to Thailand, then this blog post is for you. I swear I’m not trying to diss the Thai culture - really, its me, not you Thailand.

If you haven’t been forced to realize what it is over the past few weeks, Thai time is just another way of saying that things move slowly, and being late is not a cause for concern. It seems that my school is trying hard to prove this to me. Maybe one reason for Thai time is because the locals live by the “mai pen rai” way of life, which basically means everything is going to be okay and/or no worries (cue the Hakuna Matata song?). If your bus doesn’t show up…mai pen rai, there will be another one. If classes start 15 minutes late…mai pen rai, just make some stuff up and pretend you aren’t totally thrown off. If you’re given no information about what you’re really supposed to be teaching in your 14 classes but you’re expected to teach anyway…mai pen…you guessed it…rai!

Kaitlin and I haven’t been working at our school long but we’ve already come to the realization that we’re going to be hanging around a lot more often than we thought we would. We work at a large public school with 2700 students, and most of our classes have 30-50 crazy energetic Thai kids in them. The classes are supposed to be 50 minutes long, but they rarely start and end on time. As a bonus, this past week the kids had “Sports Day” so if they didn’t show up to class it was totally normal. And apparently no one bothered to tell us this before we were ditched by most of our students. But alas…mai pen rai.

Everyone says to embrace this go-with-the-flow lifestyle, and I plan to, but I’m not quite there yet. In theory, it’s a really nice way to live life, because Thais don’t want to sweat the small stuff (not including the 5 pounds of literal sweat a day) and instead just enjoy things and not get stressed out. And honestly, in this heat and humidity, I can understand why people move slowly. I’m surprised I haven’t keeled over yet from heat stroke. Hopefully I live to write my next blog post about the end of Sports Day and all the extravagance and ridiculousness that came with it. Sneak peak below:

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Follow me on Instagram to see my day to day activities and life fails: danii_bailey

Spicy? Only a little!

I imagine much of the followership of this blog is comprised of other potential program members, so I’m going to start this post off with some accommodation-based tips. First, let’s talk about roommates. Learning to live with a new roommate from a different region, with different mannerisms can be tricky to navigate but I’ve found that tolerance and patience are the keys to coexisting peacefully. Take my roommate for example. He has eight eyes, about 17,000 limbs, a thorax about the size of my fist, and isn’t much of a talker. Initially, our differences greatly concerned me; how could we possibly make this work? Luckily, over time we’ve found balance and adapted to each other’s lifestyles. During the day while I’m at school, my roommate has the place to himself, a time that he valuably uses to eat some of the ants around. When I come home and slam the door, he is quick on the social cue uptake, returning to his portion of the apartment behind my bathroom mirror. But tread cautiously, this brings me to my second tip: not all roommates will be so accommodating. In these situations, stand up for your own self interest! My other, smaller, multiple-limbed roommates are far less conscious of my boundaries. They take up the entire bathroom, refusing to leave when it’s my turn, and inviting friends over at all hours of the day and night. They have moved in in such hordes that I have begun operating by a trust no freckle philosophy. So, driven by necessity, I forcefully evacuate them daily by spraying them with the bum gun attached to my toilet, and get some target practice with the drain at the far end of my bathroom.

Despite my pesky, uninvited roommates, my apartment has pleasantly surprised me. It has most of the modern amenities I’m used to including air conditioning, a real toilet, and WiFi that functions whenever the mood befalls it. I’m willing to overlook the fact that my “shower” is a haphazardly hung faucet without walls (that inevitably soaks everything I’ve ever owned when I rinse off) because I actually have warm water - an absolute blessing for this anemic weenie. Even my stone-solid mattress has become tolerable, I’m not sure I’ll ever wake up not feeling as though I was hit by a small bus in the middle of the night. We decidedly will not part as friends, but for a prodigious night-thrasher I have adapted better than expected. My apartment feels very safe with two keys required for entry and a security guard posted out front at all night hours. The guard is lovely and a great resource for practicing my Thai. I ask his name, he asks mine. He asks where I’m from, I tell him. He says other words, I smile blankly. We have this interaction anywhere from three to five times a week; I can’t help but be impressed that we are already reaching such existential topics this early in our blossoming friendship.

Predictably, my apartment complex is not the only place I have run into this barrier to communication. Ordering food is either a terrifying brush with the unknown or an exciting opportunity for discovery depending on what kind of person you are. Though there are some restaurants, street food stalls are more common and economical. The stalls don’t have menus, or more alarmingly, pictures, so we have had to get creative with the ways in which we ask for food. At first, our chosen method was to walk up, look into the stall owner’s eyes, and confidently say “one” in Thai. This was usually met with a confused look or an indiscernible follow-up question. This would prompt me to re-plant my feet, puff up my chest, and firmly insist once more, “one”. At this point the stall owner would usually take it upon himself or herself to give me the whitest thing they offered. Then, I would usually turn to Emily and say, “This is going well don’t you think! Should I ask what their name is?” The answer is no, it is not going well, and yes, I will try to ask their name anyway. The effectiveness rate of this probing question, and I’m rounding up here, is about zero percent. According to simple adapt or die philosophies, we have since improved our food ordering mechanisms. We now know how to ask, “Do you have chicken?” (or pork, or beef, etc.) and though this has improved our confidence interval, we still don’t know how to specify further. Thus, I can order chicken but it’s still an unnerving game of poultry roulette. The stakes are high: if I win, I could get delicious chicken breast or leg, but if I lose I could get feet, liver, neck, or a multitude of other mystery parts. The next phase in our evolution was to learn how to ask for food that is only a little spicy. This was an overt waste of my time. Even food that is only “a little” spicy is hot enough to make me salivate fire for several hours. I try and pull back my lips when I eat, effectively looking like the Grinch, to avoid a searing lip burn. If I’m over-zealous with my use of lip, the aftermath looks like I’m wearing red lipstick, or was stung on the lips by a bee. Or a swarm of bees. Actually, make them bloodthirsty wasps, attacking repeatedly. Yeah my palette is only a little Irish, why do you ask?

Thanks for your patience with my rapid succession posting as I try to make up for lost time. Happy hump-day from my home to yours!

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Spicy? Only a little!

I imagine much of the followership of this blog is comprised of other potential program members, so I’m going to start this post off with some accommodation-based tips. First, let’s talk about roommates. Learning to live with a new roommate from a different region, with different mannerisms can be tricky to navigate but I’ve found that tolerance and patience are they keys to coexisting peacefully. Take my roommate for example. He has eight eyes, about 17,000 limbs, a thorax about the size of my fist, and isn’t much of a talker. Initially, our differences greatly concerned me; how could we possibly make this work? Luckily, over time we’ve found balance and adapted to each other’s lifestyles. During the day while I’m at school, my roommate has the place to himself, a time that he valuably uses to eat some of the ants around. When I come home and slam door, he is quick on the social cue uptake, returning to his portion of the apartment behind my bathroom mirror. But tread cautiously, this brings me to my second tip: not all roommates will be so accommodating. In these situations, stand up for your own self interest! My other, smaller, multiple-limbed roommates are far less conscious of my boundaries. They take up the entire bathroom, refusing to leave when it’s my turn, and invite friends over at all hours of the day and night. They have moved in in such hordes that I have begun operating by a trust no freckle philosophy. So, driven by necessity, I forcefully evacuate them daily by spraying them with the bum gun attached to my toilet and getting some target practice with the drain at the far end of my bathroom.

Despite my pesky, uninvited roommates, my apartment has pleasantly surprised me. It has most of the modern amenities I’m used to including air conditioning, a real toilet, and WiFi that functions whenever the mood befalls it. I’m willing to overlook the fact that my “shower” is a haphazardly hung faucet without walls (that inevitably soaks everything I’ve ever owned when I rinse off) because I actually have warm water - an absolute blessing for this anemic weenie. Even my stone-solid mattress has become tolerable, although I’m not sure I’ll ever wake up not feeling as though I was hit by a small bus in the middle of the night. We decidedly will not part as friends, but for a prodigious night-thrasher I have adapted better than expected. My apartment feels very safe with two keys required for entry and a security guard posted out front at all night hours. The guard is lovely and a great resource for practicing my Thai. I ask his name, he asks mine. He asks where I’m from, I tell him. He says other words, I smile blankly. We have this interaction anywhere from three to five times a week; I can’t help but be impressed that we are already reaching such existential topics this early in our blossoming friendship.

Predictably, my apartment complex is not the only place I have run into this barrier to communication. Ordering food is either a terrifying brush with the unknown or an exciting opportunity for discovery depending on what kind of person you are. Though there are some restaurants, street food stalls are more common and economical. The stalls don’t have menus, or more alarmingly, pictures, so we have had to get creative with the ways in which we ask for food. At first, our chosen method was to walk up, look into the stall owner’s eyes, and confidently say “one” in Thai. This was usually met with a confused look or an indiscernible follow-up question. This would prompt me to re-plant my feet, puff up my chest, and firmly insist once more, “one” in Thai. At this point the stall owner would usually take it upon himself or herself to give me the whitest thing they offered. Then, I would usually turn to Emily and say, “This is going well don’t you think! Should I ask what their name is?” The answer is no, it is not going well, and yes, I will try to ask their name anyway. The effectiveness rate of this probing question, and I’m rounding up here, is probably about zero percent. According to simple adapt or die philosophies, we have since improved our food ordering mechanisms. We now know how to ask, “Do you have chicken?” (or pork, or beef, etc.) and though this has improved our confidence interval, we still don’t know how to specify further. Thus, I can order chicken but it’s still an unnerving game of poultry roulette. The stakes are high: if I win, I could get delicious chicken breast or leg, but if I lose I could get feet, liver, neck, or a multitude of other mystery parts. The next phase in our evolution was to learn how to ask for food that is only a little spicy. This was an overt waste of my time. Even food that is only “a little” spicy is hot enough to make me salivate fire for several hours. I try and pull back my lips when I eat, effectively looking like the Grinch, to avoid searing lip burn. If I’m over zealous with my use of lip, the aftermath looks like I’m wearing red lipstick, or was stung on the lips by a bee. Or a swarm of bees. Actually, make them bloodthirsty wasps, attacking repeatedly. Yeah my palette is only a little Irish, why do you ask?

Thanks for your patience with my rapid succession posting as I try to make up for lost time. Happy hump-day from my home to yours!

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Farang Nation

First of all, I apologize for the delayed first blog post. As usual, I have watched my fellow writers be on top of the ball while watching the ball roll away in my rearview mirror. Turns out, adapting to an entirely new language, place, culture, and job is fairly time consuming – who knew! I’ve got a lot to tell, but if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole, the gist of this post is holy shit I moved to Thailand. It has been, predictably, a blood bath and simultaneously some of the best adventures and most fun I've ever had. The enormity of that realization evaded me until the end of our week-long orientation. The program exhaustively trained 200 teachers-to-be in a conference style format in Bangkok. The week was a whirlwind as we battled jetlag, general adjustments, and the figurative stampede to make as many friends as possible, especially those placed in close proximity to our own provinces. At orientation I was lucky to get some uplifting insight on all the things that could possibly kill me during my time in Thailand, including but not limited to: malaria, dehydration, rabid monkeys, crime, motorbikes, and Japanese encephalitis induced brain decay. Awesome.

Jokes aside, the program worked diligently to prepare us for all eventualities in our new homes, which I think the jittery participants appreciated. During the week I formed valuable friendships with fellow adventurers looking to travel on weekends, assimilate to the culture, and have an authentic experience. Alcohol consumption was only a lot involved in this bond forming. My parents remain very proud of my social prowess. At the week's end, it was very difficult to say goodbye to these support systems as we were carted off to remote regions throughout the country. Being filed into the buzzing banquet hall of Thai school coordinators to meet the person who would be responsible for dictating what every detail of my life would look like for the next 6 months remains one of most anxiety inducing situations I’ve ever endured. Upon meeting our coordinator, Dao, Emily and I were herded into a van where we spent the consequent 9 hours trying to discern information about our school from broken English.

At 2am, Emily and I finally reached our province. For reference, Emily is my collegiate best friend turned fellow Thai teacher – I’m so lucky to have her even though the Thai populace is never sure what to do with her boisterous mannerisms or distinct eyebrows. Sensing our exhaustion from the taxing week, Dao insisted that we would have minimal obligations that day. Lesson 1: Thai people are notorious for changing their minds at rapid intervals. After sleeping for a couple of hours on my incognito marble slab disguised as a mattress, Dao was back to fetch the dilapidated Americans and take them to work. Upon arriving at our school, Anuban Amnatcharoen, the car was immediately flooded by a sea of tiny Thai humans yelling, “TEACHAAA” and grabbing at us for any limb they could get ahold of. This, I imagine, is what Justin Beiber must feel like. After introducing ourselves to an assembly of 2000 1st through 6th graders, the cat was out of the bag – fresh meat in town. We had to teach despite a lack of preparation and lesson plans because the students were simply so excited. At the end of the day, we were sent to a meeting with all of the school’s parents (who we absolutely could not communicate with) for introductions and to allow the administration to flex their muscles for having acquired foreign teachers, a rarity in many parts of Thailand.

Our province, Amnatcharoen (pronounced Amnat juh-learn) is a fairly rural area to the far East of Thailand with a population of 375,380. Most locals have never seen a tourist much less a blonde haired (grease-level dependent) and green-eyed American. Suffice it to say Emily and I are the newest local celebs. The novelty is kind of fun but also incredibly exhausting. People stare everywhere we go and are eternally pointing at us and calling us 'farang' (the Thai word for foreigner, not at all derogatory). The Thai people are amazing and kind, there's a reason they call it the land of smiles; however, living here is still fairly isolating. Outside of the school no one speaks English and the people that know a few words or phrases are wary to say them to us because of the Thai shyness complex and the mantra of "saving face".

We're trying to learn Thai to communicate better but the sounds in their alphabet are nearly impossible for non-native speakers to distinguish. There are 32 vowels and 44 consonants and every word can be said in one of five tones (low, high, low then high crescendo, etc.), each of which drastically alters the meaning. The locals have so little practice trying to communicate with non-native speakers, that they often fail to use context clues to meet us halfway with our cringe-worthy pronunciations. I could walk up a food stall and ask if they sell fish or “paa”, only to be met with a look of utter horror and confusion from Thais who have wrongly understood me to be asking if they have any sugar daddies, which is also “paa” but with nuanced tonal differences. So yeah, hard to meet people would be an understatement. Luckily, the co-teachers in our school, who stand in the back of class and clarify for students when communication barriers arise, are lovely, welcoming and very receptive to showing us around outside of school. I'm also in the process of trying to unofficially adopt a dog. By that I mean, I bought some Asian dog treats and try to lure homeless dogs back to my apartment with me in a I-have-some-candy-in-my-windowless-van type of way. No takers yet which is maybe better for me since I cut some corners on the rabies vaccines.

I'm teaching English to 1st-3rd graders and math to 4th-6th graders at school. In case you've never had to teach prime factorization to kids who don't speak English, let me save you the time: 0/10 would not recommend. Don't get me wrong, the kids are amazing, sweet (they call me TEACHAAA DEE and I melt every time) and so excited to have Westerners to learn English from, but I am adorably under-qualified to teach them. Additionally, the school has an appalling lack of resources, which makes it difficult to discern what they've already learned and to get even the most rudimentary resources, like textbooks. I am, as the kids say, free-balling. The flush-less squatty potties at school terrify me so sometimes at lunch I sprint home to poop, but otherwise the other kun kruu (teachers) and I eat buffet style authentic Thai food and sit together in the teachers lounge. Everything is really difficult but also incredible and fun and rewarding. Overall it is a complicated emotional amalgam but definitely net positive. I am happy to be here and doing this. I'm looking forward to slowly making Thailand more comfortable for myself pending I don't die on my motorbike first (my bike is neither a gentleman nor a scholar and the roads are anarchy here, I don't know why they even bother having lanes).

Until next time!

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My Reasons

I've been in Thailand for almost 4 months now. Everything about it has been a wild experience (some great, and some not so great). Although I am supposed to go home next month, I have decided to push my return date back until (at least) April. 

Why?

1) My students

First and foremost, my students are the reason that I am extending my stay here. They are the light of my life. There are few things that I enjoy more than  walking into the classroom or to the cafeteria or even home for the day and seeing their smiling faces. I have begun to develop relationships and even inside jokes with a number of them. And yes, while they can be annoying and noisy at times, the times that they've made me laugh far outweigh the times they have made me angry.

The young men (and few young women) that I teach are my heart, my soul, and the number one reason I'm staying in Thailand. 

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2) The relaxed, "mai pen rai" lifestyle. 

Being in Thailand has made me realize how far too often Americans worry about things that are unnecessary. We worry about things that are beyond our control or blow things out of proportion.

This lifestyle can be difficult to understand unless you experience it. 

One night a few of us were getting dinner at the town next to us. While we were walking down the sidewalk, we saw a baby taking a  bath in a little bucket on the sidewalk. It was an adorable sight. We started taking pictures. That's when the mother walked up and asked us about our lives, where we're from, what we're doing here, etc. When we went to leave, she leaned down next to her baby, grabbed his hand, and made a waving motion at us as if to say bye. 

As we were walking away, we realized that no parent would EVER have let us say hi to their baby back home. We would've gotten the cops called on us. But here, the parents know when something is harmless and when something is a cause for concern.

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**also the children here are out of this world cute

3) There's no rush in settling down.

Before I came here, I felt unfulfilled. Almost everyone I knew was getting prepared to start their full-time job and move to a city that they might never leave. Was I making a mistake not following suit? After being here, I have realized that there is plenty of time to get a job and settle down. What's the rush? This is the perfect time in my life to try a new adventure. Even if I found that it wasn't for me, it would've been a great learning experience. 

4) I am constantly exploring new, beautiful, exciting places.

One weekend I'm exploring ancient ruins the next I'm climbing a mountain; the possibilities of this country are absolutely endless. Traveling around Thailand is so easy and offers so much more than any other country I've been to thus far. Thailand is such a diverse country with a deep cultural history. Whether it's near or far, there's always somewhere breathtaking to discover.

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5) I've made amazing friends and have started to establish my life here.

My friends that I have made here are some of the best people I have ever met. We share a bond over this incredible adventure that we're all on together. But I've also been able to make some Thai friends. Friends that can show me around my town and give me a deeper insight into their culture. 

Additionally, I have joined a gym, decorated my apartment, and have begun to make this town feel like home. At the end of the weekend, no matter where I am, I'm always eager to get back to my apartment. It may have a hard bed and no hot water, but it is my space. I have began to establish my life here. 

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Sometimes it is still hard to believe that this is my life. I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity and to have loved it as much as I have. 

By staying here, I'm not putting off real life or running away from anything; I'm finding my purpose.

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!

@pinnella_ice

A Weekend in the (Phetcha)boonies

This weekend was one of our three long weekends that we have this semester. Where to go...the islands? Too expensive. Chiang Mai? Been there done that. How about some camping and trekking in Phetchabun

Laura, Deanna, and I set off for our weekend adventure at 4:45am on Friday. We caught the first bus to Bangkok from Chonburi. Once we were in Chonburi, we caught the 11am bus to Lom Sak (we wanted the 9am bus but it was full). Once we were in Lom Sak, we caught a bus to Nom Nao National Park. Once we were at Nam Nao Park, we got a ride in the back of a truck to the campground. And finally, at 9pm, 16 hours after our initial departure, we arrived at our destination of Nam Nao National Park.

Nam Nao nat park
 

Unfortunately, once we got to the campsite it was dark out. We were having a difficult time setting up the tent that we rented. Seeing us struggle, one of the campers near us asked if we wanted help. Of course we wouldn't turn down an extra set of hands. As soon as we said yes, 6 other people came and helped (when I say helped I mean they set it up for us). They asked us how long we've been in Thailand, why we're here, etc, etc. After about 10 minutes, they had it all set up, including our sleeping bags laid out inside the tent. We thanked them and they went back to their tents. 

Thai people really are the best people on this planet. They are so nice, helpful, and eager to learn about your culture. 

The next morning, we woke up at 5am. We wanted to go to a place in the park called the Sunrise Viewpoint. Unfortunately, we didn't wake up quite early enough so we didn't make it for the sunrise. However, we still trekked the 3ish miles to the viewpoint. We might not have seen the sunrise, but the view was far from disappointing. You could see the fog rising over the lush green mountains. Pictures don't even come close to doing it justice. 

Viewpoints 2

After spending some time at the viewpoint, we decided to walk to a cave that we saw was nearby. It was only about 8 kilometers from the viewpoint so we figured we would walk along the main street to the cave. After about 4 kilometers, we got tired and lost so we decided to hitch a ride in the back of a truck to the cave. 

The man dropped us off at the Sunset Viewpoint. However, according to the map we saw it was still about 2 more kilometers away. The man seemed confused when he picked us up, so we figured he misunderstood where we wanted to go (that tends to happen when you speak two completely different languages). We kept walking and walking. Finally, after 30 minutes of walking and still not seeing any signs for the cave, we decided to map it. I saw that it was only another 2 kilometers away. We were almost there! Then...we weren't. After walking way more than 2 kilometers, I decided to check the map again. I realized that it was 2 kilometers from where we started...the opposite way of where we were headed. At that point we decided to give up and hitch a ride back to the campsite.

Elephant crossing

After about 10 minutes, a nice group of young Thai friends stopped and were able to squeeze us in there car. We passed by the Sunset Viewpoint again and saw a sign for the cave...the first person we got a ride from was right. At this point it was too late and we too little energy to stop. Moral of the story: always listen to Thai people - they know what they're doing. 

The drivers decided to stop off at the Sunrise Viewpoint. Once we were up there, the driver picked a leaf off a tree and started eating it. I'm enjoying the view and all I hear is Laura say, "Uhm is he eating a tree?" I looked over and sure enough, that's exactly what he was doing. Him and his friends pointed to a sign on the tree that was in Thai and said that it was good to eat. So we all decided to pick a leaf and try it. The flavor was like a strong mint mixed with sap. Basically, it tasted like you would expect a leaf to taste. We still aren't sure if it was actually a thing to eat this type of tree or if they were just messing with us stupid Americans. 

Once we were back at the campsite, we packed up our stuff, returned the tent, and waited for the bus back to Lom Sak. 

After an hour bus ride, we were back at the Lom Sak bus station. There, we found out that there is a bus that you can hop on for 40 baht that would take you to the bottom of the mountain where the magnificent temple Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is. 

After we got on the bus, we were on our way to Wat Pha Sorn Kaew. We drove down a twisty highway through the mountains. It was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen.

About an hour later (there was some confusion with our songthaew driver that took us up the mountain to the temple), we were there. 

We were starving and getting hangry, so we went to a little cafe right next to the temple called Piney. They had great food and tables on a picturesque patio overlooking the mountains. 

Piney

Once we ate, we went to the temple. 

The temple was absolutely breathtaking. Between the cloud covered mountains in the background, the white Buddha temple, and the mosaics,  it was a unique sight that left me speechless. 

Temple
Temple
Temple
Temple
Temple

After the temple, we went back to the Lom Sak bus station (yes for the fourth time in 24 hours) and caught a bus back to Bangkok. 

It was a long and tiring weekend, but the things I saw were one of a kind. While we spent most of the time on transportation of some kind, it was all worth it. The air was fresh, the people were nice, and the views were beautiful. 10 out of 10 would recommend Phetchabun.

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Back to school

    Back to school back to school to prove to dad I’m not a fool! Today was my first day teaching at the Saritdidet School in Chanthaburi, so that phrase has been stuck in my head all day (thanks Adam Sandler). The school is huge, and each grade is in a different building within the campus. I am teaching Prathom 3 and 4 (aka third and fourth grade), and I move around between 2 different third grade classrooms and 3 different fourth grade classrooms. I was able to pick between teaching first and second or third and fourth, and I happily chose third and fourth as my sister is a fourth-grade teacher in Delaware and I met my boyfriend in fourth grade (aww). All of my classes have around 40 children in them, which as you can imagine has already been somewhat difficult to manage.

    All teachers sign in at 7:15-7:30 in the morning prior to gathering in the dome gymnasium for morning announcements and the national anthem. All Thai people highly revere the king, and they are a bit of a nationalist country. There are pictures of the king absolutely everywhere. It is very common to have a picture of the king in front of your school, street, home, storefront, etc. So, the morning anthem is a big deal and is taken seriously every morning. This morning, all of the foreign teachers for grades 1 through 12 (there were about 9 of us) had to stand in front of the school and introduce ourselves. It was actually cute rather than nerve wracking once I looked out to see the hundreds of smiling Thai children with the same haircut and uniform waving back at me with excitement. The children here warmly respect their elders, and many of them would bow as they walked past me when I was sitting down as to not be taller than me (a sign of respect) or wai me (a less formal sign of respect where one bows with their hands pressed together in front of the face). It’s really cute how giddy they all get to see a new farang (white foreigner) teacher around school.

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Foreign teachers introducing ourselves to the hundreds of students (not nearly all pictured)

 

    My first class of the day was a third-grade class (known here as P3). When you walk in, they all stand up and wait for you to say the learned phrase “Good morning class,” to which they reply, “Good morning teacha!” Then the teacher says “how are you today?” and the students say “I’m fine thank you. And you?” and so on. This is a universal thing in Thailand, I’m really not sure who implemented it but I learned in orientation that it’s definitely a thing. I showed a PowerPoint about myself and asked them to make nametags with their nickname and their favorite animal. In Thailand, most kids go by an American nickname because Thai names are too long to pronounce. Most are random words, car names, etc. In my first class I had kids named Jigsaw, PeePee, Santa and Gun. These children love anything creative, so making their nametags as beautiful as possible took up a good 35 minutes of the class. After that I spent the leftover time singing songs like “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” and playing Simon Says. There is some actual curriculum for the classes to work with for future lessons, which is nice. Some schools here in Thailand throw you in with absolutely no curriculum or knowledge of the skill level of your students. In my other classes I did about the same thing. One fourth grade class was especially flattering, and wrote compliments to me on their name tags. I’ll try not to pick favorites though…

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The outside of one of one of my P3 classrooms

 

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One of the student's name tags from a P4 class. Like I said, I"ll try not to pick favorites..

 

    Oh, did I mention it’s hot as all h*ll in this school? Some of the classrooms and offices have air conditioning, but I was told they don’t always have it on. As I write this in my office with beads of sweat dripping down my face, I’m assuming they haven’t turned it on at all.  Plenty of schools do not have air conditioning at all however, so I really can’t complain. At least it’s giving me more of a chance to really assimilate to the Thai way of life. I’m sure there are plenty of things I left out about the school and there will be plenty more school experiences to come so I will check back in a later post!

 

Sawatdee-kha!

 

Teacha Angie

(oh…did I mention I strongly dislike being called Angie? Well, that’s how Thai people say my name. Learning to embrace it :)

 

5 Underestimated Truths of Teaching Abroad

This will be my final post, even though I could talk endless amounts about this experience, and I want to leave a reflection about the majority of what I was feeling during my last week in Thailand.

1. Everything changes

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Photos taken: West Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach, Krabi

Your perspective of the world, yourself, your place in the world… everything. It’s beautiful. I stopped wearing makeup as often; I wasn't afraid to stick out or fit in; I found my focus shifting towards things that really matter.

2. The country isn’t how its perceived by people who have never been there

 

My students' performance embodying the experience of losing their King

Living in a place is completely different than any amount of photo scrolling or video watching. It’s the same comparison to learning from a textbook versus learning from experience. Both are good, but you can’t fully comprehend the reality and full truth until you experience it! Moral of this story: go to Thailand!!!

3. You’re a real teacher, so you impact the students accordingly

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If you come for one semester — especially if you teach older students — they’re craving consistency, and the students might even have abandonment issues with teachers coming and going. It’s hard for me to include this one, but even though you may see it as a means to travel, your students see you as their teacher.

4. Leaving is painful

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My seniors gave me this with a heart-felt "thank you" message on the last day of school [followed by a group hug]

That being said, leaving is incredibly hard to cope with. There’s guilt from the realization that you’re ditching your students when you can see that a consistent teacher would benefit them. There’s love for your students that you didn’t think was humanly possible for someone else. There’s a sense of loss when you have to say goodbye to that. There’s simply the feeling of missing the individuality, personalities and charm, of not only your students, but your coworkers and new friends as well.

5. You miss out on things at home

When I thought about coming abroad, I felt like this was better than anything else going on at home, and I didn’t think I’d feel like I really missed anything. I figured, if I missed anything at all, it would feel minor and that my present life would feel way more exciting. The reality is that you can miss things like an election, the Cubs winning the World Series after 108 years, and marching for women’s rights. You have to be ready to lose touch with these events that will inevitably happen while you're gone. However, if you’re like me, the pros of going abroad outweigh the cons of missing out on things at home.

One of the many reasons I chose to move to Thailand - to go to an elephant sanctuary!

I can’t convey how hard it was to leave Thailand, my coworkers and new friends, and my students. It was so hard that I knew I might pull a Rachel Greene and not get on the plane… except, instead of Ross, my love is Thailand. I felt like, if I didn’t know the next time I’d be back to SE Asia, my heart would rip in half. That’s why my boyfriend and I booked our tickets for a six week backpacking trip in July and August! I hope to teach abroad in SE Asia again in the future too because the Land of Smiles leaves an incredible imprint on your heart and soul.

This adventure has been the gateway to many more. Thanks to everyone who has read my posts!

-G

Farang Friendly: On Privilege

"Ah, you are English kru [teacher]?! I am looking for someone to teach me English; I want to get better — maybe online?” a taxi driver says to me while I’m on vacation. 

A white, American expat says to his five-year-old, half-Thai daughter at the grocery store, “wow, Ellya, look! Someone for you to practice English with! Why don’t you introduce yourself?” Five minutes later he follows up with: “we’d like to take you out to dinner sometime, so she can practice her English; she will send you an email” *hands iPad.*

“Oh, okay, okay, so Kru G at Sunflower School. I will remember you; will you remember me?” a taxi driver from my local area smiles. A few weeks later, students bring me this message:

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There’s an undeniable privilege that comes with being a native English-speaking, white person. Opportunities throw themselves at you, such as these examples above. It becomes increasingly apparent in smaller, more frequent, everyday examples in Thailand. In Bangkok, its surrounding areas and touristy places, signs commonly feature English. Many malls are ‘farang' friendly. In my experience, local people show additional warmth once they learn that you’re an English teacher here and not just a tourist. Aside from this, I can get away with speaking very little of the native tongue while being able to function just fine. Sure, a lot of this is Thai culture being friendly and nice. It’s what this culture is known for, but it’s also intermingled with the combination of racial and linguistic privilege that English-speaking white people innately get.

This innate privilege is how I was able to get a job like this so easily. It’s how I (like all others from CIEE) now have a pool of opportunities* to choose from when applying to future jobs. 

"Requirements: citizenship of an English-speaking country, bachelor’s degree from a university, TEFL certification is a plus." — the majority of ESL teaching jobs out there

*See: Dave's ESL Cafe

Like, are you serious? Because I’m American and graduated with my bachelor’s degree [not in education], I’m qualified to apply for this? I shelled out less than $300 to get a TEFL certification online, so now you’re more likely to hire me?

Oh, but it goes beyond this.

When you’re white, you stick out here. This is why I get random opportunities — for teaching and other things — just in passing, such as with the examples like the taxi drivers and the family at the grocery store. It’s because I’m blatantly farang, so people rightly assume that I am an English speaker. English is spreading across the globe like wildfire. Many people want to learn or improve their English skills, so opportunities for work in this field are abundant. The way that the opportunities find you is THE definition of privilege.

Here’s my point: This is a great opportunity to grab ahold of. You open a whole world of possibility — to live an international life for as long as you want and to continue to have more and better opportunities — by taking the first step by going abroad with a company like CIEE. However when you do, count your blessings because you have an unfair advantage. Take the opportunities you are graciously given and focus on how you can share or enhance opportunities with people who don’t have the privilege that you do. Strive for equality, not martyrdom or a superiority complex. Humble yourself. Each time I feel myself yearning to complain about something, I stop and count my lucky stars in order to recharge and recenter my perspective. I’ve been challenged with maintaining this practice during my semester in Thailand, but equality and understanding a culture’s relative perspective are so, incredibly important. This is what Thailand has taught me.

Comment with questions or insight!

- G

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