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Freestyle Fridays

My teaching schedule has become more and more irregular as the school year comes to a close. I feel like the Thai educational system is testing my students just about every week now. At the beginning of February the sixth graders were put through a series of national exams and just this past week the same happened for third graders. At my roommate Steph’s high school, her students have also gone through a series of national exams that were held last weekend! The annual Boy Scouts camp and a surprise field trip also contributed to another three days of cancelled class, between my two schools. On top of that, I’ve also left work early multiple days in the past few weeks for various reasons, ranging from school being suddenly cancelled because the staff was invited to a village wedding celebration to my ride having to go home to take care of her husband who had fallen ill. My Fridays have been impacted the most, leaving me with some good stories to share.

Three Fridays ago I was invited to help with English Camp at Taworn Naudom Elementary School, a neighboring school that does not have a native English speaking volunteer. Since class was cancelled at Pla Pak Noi for the Boy Scouts camp, I agreed, and spent the day completing various tasks at the request of the teaching staff. The day started off with introductions and I greeted the students, showing them my beloved state on the handy National Geographic United States map I take with me everywhere, teaching them how to say “Wis-con-sin.” Then I was asked to teach the alphabet to about 65 students of varying levels. It was an interesting 20 minutes or so but things fell apart after I tried an interactive matching game with flashcards, an activity the Thai teachers were not fully understanding either. I pulled it together eventually but it was a rough start to the day. Then I was asked to “sing a song” (a common request by students and teachers alike in Thailand), in which I first responded by saying I had no song to sing, and then gave in and stumbled through my best rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it. “It ended in an unsuccessful verse of “If you’re

Making sandwiches with students at English Camp

Students making sandwiches at English Camp

happy and you know it, give a high-five” since the high-five is not a well-known gesture here. Despite this minor set-back I approached the afternoon with gusto because it combined two great passions of mine-teaching and food. I was asked to hold an easy “American” food demonstration and I decided on the ultimate American culinary experience: the sandwich. To the right is a nice shot of the demo.

The afternoon progressed nicely, until I was asked to read “Jack and the Beanstalk” to the students from a book that was written only in Thai. When I pointed this out to the head teacher, she asked me “Is that okay?” and then “Do you remember the story?” So yes, I sat down in front of the students and read them my made up version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” that was completely based on the book’s illustrations. As I turned to each new page, the story came back to me in waves like a dream you don’t remember when you wake up but recover bits and pieces of as you go about your day. It ended with an anti-climatic declaration of “…and then Jack cut down the beanstalk. And the giant fell.” Well done Caitlyn, well done.

The day ended with a ceremony congratulating the students for their participation in the camp. I was given the honor of handing out the certificates, which proved to be a bit of an awkward interaction with the students because I was instructed by the principal to shake each of their hands (another custom not common here). This really threw the students through a loop because they are accustomed to wai-ing before receiving something from persons of higher status (the practice of pressing the hands together in a lotus position and raising them to the chest, mouth, or eyebrows, depending on the status difference). Adding a hand-shake into the mix was just too much. I had some students hand-shaking and half wai-ing, others stopping mid-wai for a hand-shake, and a few just freezing completely. After 65 encounters of this nature, I was happy to thank the teachers and students and head home after a long day!

Last Friday I was invited to attend an educational field trip with Pla Pak Noi School. I accepted, of course. When I asked what I should wear for the trip one of my fellow teachers exclaimed, “Freestyle!”, hence the inspiration for my blog title. I climbed onto the bus at 8:30am and my students were awaiting me with big smiles. When I asked my daily question “How are you?” they shouted in unison, “I am WONDERFUL!!!” We spent the day touring some great sites, including Nakhon Phanom Airport, the Mekong Underwater World, That Phanom, and Our Lady of the Martyrs of Thailand Shrine.

Below are a few pictures from our adventures:

Students arriving at NKP Airport

Bus arrives at NKP Airport

Me with small stunt plane

NKP International Aviation College

Students at the Mekong Underwater World

Students at the Mekong Underwater World

Me at wat in That Phanom

Visiting the temple in That Phanom

This Sunday is Makha Bucha Day so the government gives everyone the day off on Monday to compensate. For fun Steph and I are heading into NKP tomorrow and enjoying lunch with the other volunteers. We’re excited for a little free-time, even though we are so close to our summer vacation starting in April. I only have a few weeks left of school and I am looking forward to the stories I can collect before break. I will be sure to share them!

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