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.
Tag Archives: schools
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!
I find this picture amusing for several reasons, the least of which not being the fact that Thailand seems to have a lot of clocks in this condition. In general, most of the clocks I’ve seen here seem to be broken, which really isn’t a problem because I have come to realize that daily routines are often based on external cues such as weather rather than a watch. For example, if it is raining when I wake up in the morning, I know that my ride to school will be late because these mornings are ideal for sleeping in and everything seems to move a little slower. There is also an enjoyable amount of irony in the posting of this sign. Though I don’t know how long it was standing (maybe just for the quick repair of the clock…), it happens to be located in the hub of Thailand’s railway system, where timeliness is of the essence.
Even if I were to spend ten years in Thailand, I still don’t think I would fully understand (nor appreciate) Thai time. I believe there are just some innate cultural norms and social cues that nothing short of growing up in Thailand could teach. Schedules don’t seem to exist, and when I ask about them (like when school is closed during the semester), I’m told not to worry; the Thai outlook on schedules is summarized perfectly in the words of Pi Med: “We let you know the day before.” As for social plans like dinner parties, five hours is considered advance notice. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to get a text from Steph during a morning class that a party was being thrown that evening. As for punctuality, here is where Thai time truly becomes perplexing. I’ve found that any pick-up time to go somewhere, for example, should come with a “plus-minus one hour sign” as a footnote. The only exception I have noticed is the school day, which (usually) ends at 4:00pm on the dot, regardless of whether or not work is finished. There are some days I will wait with teachers until the clock strikes four, even though we’ve been sitting around with nothing to do for 20 minutes, while other days I have to drop everything I’m doing because it’s 4:00pm and my ride home is practically backing out of her parking spot without me. This may be a result of teachers working as government employees (as they are required to clock a set amount of hours each week) rather than a larger comment on Thai time, but regardless it’s a fascinating inconsistency in the culture here.
My favorite “plus-minus one hour sign” story (though I wish I had known about this footnote at the time) was the morning I was going on a field trip with Wang Yang School. Kru Khem told me the day before that he would pick me up at 6:00am. I set my alarm for 5:00am just to be safe (perhaps I had an inkling of what to expect) and luckily I took a quick shower, because just after I got out, I heard a truck pull up outside the house, followed by Kru Khem “quietly” shouting up to my window, “Bai-Khao! Bai-Khao!” I scrambled to get dressed, twist up my dripping hair, and gather my things for the day before racing down the stairs so as to avoid making him wait. Then we drove to Wang Yang Village and literally sat in the truck for over an hour while students loaded the buses to begin our trip. I have long since let go of the irritable thoughts that bubbled up inside of me that morning, like how much longer I could have slept in, why Kru Khem disregarded his stated time or even bothered to give me a pick-up time in the first place, etc., in similar situations that have since occurred. Now when I find myself waiting or feeling rushed when the plus-minus sign manifests in a situation, I take a deep breath and occupy myself with what is happening in the moment, because that’s what everyone else around me is doing! I could perhaps summarize my year in Thailand as one incredibly long exercise in patience and mindfulness.
And for that, thank you Thailand.