Goodbyes came faster and hit me harder than I thought they ever would. The past week has been a whirlwind of string tying ceremonies, dinner parties, and hugs. I still find it hard to believe that I will no longer go to my schools every day, and that by Tuesday morning I will be in Kuala Lumpur to start my backpacking trip in Malaysia. Despite all the heartache I’ve felt, and will continue to feel for some time when I think of my students, I am also leaving with a very full and happy heart. It has been an honor to teach these students for a year; they have filled my life with so much joy and happiness, at times I didn’t know what to do with it. The last few days at my schools were wonderful and we celebrated with lots of dancing and laughter. I only hope I was able to leave them with even a portion of the love they gave me.
Category Archives: Teaching
Working as a volunteer English teacher in Northeastern Thailand has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. Much of this sentiment can be attributed to the small groups of people with whom I spent the most work time, my co-teachers. The relationships I have built with my co-teachers are incredibly complex; I am amazed at how frustrating their behavior is to me in one instance, like seeing the use of corporal punishment or taking frequent naps at school, and then in the next moment watching a teacher help a student use chopsticks or tend to the scrapes and bumps students acquire during playtime, throwing my perceptions of them through a loop. In these latter moments it is obvious to me that teachers in Thailand have the privilege, and responsibility, of assisting in the upbringing of students that reaches far beyond the classroom. I have heard Thais say many times over the past year that children have two sets of parents, one that lives at home, and the other that works at the school. Pla Pak Noi Elementary School in particular has an incredible sense of family; from preparing meals to cleaning dishes, students from every grade help with the day-to-day chores and the teachers act more as caregivers than academic instructors.
I am quite certain that my co-teachers gave me much more than I could have ever given. These are the people who taught me most of my Thai and Isaan, how to read basic Thai script, how to cook some of my favorite dishes, how to act properly in social gatherings, and perhaps most importantly, how to laugh at myself when my attempts at communication failed.
Well it’s time for me to get to the other things on my to-do list, which unfortunately continues to grow, despite the fact that time here is quickly winding down. I am half-way done with my string-typing ceremonies (Wang Yang on Thursday and Pla Pak Noi on Friday) then I will be in sorting, donating, packing, sending mode until my room is neatly collected in the two pieces of luggage I came with. Wish me luck!
As a volunteer elementary school teacher, one thing I quickly learned from my students was that animals in Thailand have their own language, too! Cows maw, chickens ek ee ek ek, ducks gaap, pigs oot, frogs aep, cats mee-o and dogs hong. There were many days when both my students and I would fall silent to each others’ attempts to imitate animals. They would curiously look on as I moo-ed and ribbet-ed to no avail and I would become utterly confused as they started to jiak when I told them to act like a monkey. Since then our communication via animal sounds has improved greatly and now a moo seems out of place. Something I haven’t gotten quite used to, though, is hearing the actual mawing of cows coming from the fields at school. Cows (and herds of buffaloes!) are led to graze on the schools’ football fields and sometimes they even stray closer. Just last week as I was sitting at my desk I heard the tinkling of a cowbell and looked up to see a cow and her calf roaming past my window, not five feet from me!
In addition to animal sounds, here are some others I’ve come to love, or at least find amusing, as there really is no escape from them in Thailand:
- The resonating sound of the temple gong in the morning, calling monks to prayer or breakfast, and the rhythmic sound of the monks chanting prayers
- The inescapable sounds of chatter, shouting, and laughter between neighbors floating through my windows in the early mornings, often rousing me well before my alarm clock has its chance
- The entertaining yet sometimes painful daily rendition of the Thai national anthem by my harmonically-challenged elementary school students
- The scraping sound of Steph’s uneven door that drags across the floor every time she goes in or out of her room
- The deafening sound of motorcycles zooming past, sorely in need of a working muffler; anyone who’s Skyped with me this past year knows how amplified this sound is in my bedroom!
- The cacophony of insects each night coming from the fields surrounding our house
- The pounding downpours or light sprinkling of rain on our metal rooftop when I’m relaxing at home
- The Isaan language; still a largely mysterious language I have nonetheless grown to absolutely love, filling my days with its short, punctuated phrasing and clever vocabulary (the word for “fork” in Isaan translates to mueh ling or “monkey hand”)