Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone...
What an amazing last few weeks. After our first week of fun we really hit the ground running and jumped right into our TESOL course. I came into this having zero teaching experience aside from my few years of 1:1 early intervention with autistic children. It seems almost magical how this course has transformed us all into well-prepared teachers in such a short time. Yesterday we took our final exam and thankfully all passed- I officially have my certification to teach English. Saying goodbye to our course instructor, Jon, was emotional for every one of us. Hell, even the goodbye to our daily songthaew driver was hard. It’s amazing the bonds that can form in such a short period of time. We all joke about how truly baffling it is that we like every single person in our group- I mean, how likely is it that 27 people will ALL get along? But believe it or not, we did. That being said, this afternoon was full of tears when about half the group packed up to leave for Bangkok, and ultimately go to their placements. I knew I loved every single one of those people but I had no idea it was going to hit me so hard until it did. It’s equal parts wonderful and cruel to spend every day with people only to have to separate. I think the hardest part of all of this is the fact that the group gets so close and almost codependent only for some of us to end up in the middle of nowhere by ourselves. For this reason, I am SO thankful for Hillary and Sara. I’m also thankful that I have friends sprinkled throughout the entire country. What an amazing network to have.
That leads me to my next point which is that I have officially accepted a teaching placement! I am incredibly lucky as XploreAsia was able to place Hillary, Sara, and me in the same school. Details are still a little bit hazy but we have the essential facts of location, salary, and benefits. Our school is in Rangsit, Thailand, which is about a 30-40 minute drive North of Bangkok. From what I understand it’s an extension of Bangkok and is pretty urban. I’ll be teaching high school, which is a slight turn of events because I initially came into this experience wanting kindergarteners. This changed a few weeks ago when we had the opportunity to practice our teaching at an English camp held at the school we’ve been taking our course at. Something like 1,200 kids came for the two-day camp. I was in a group of 3 and we prepared two lesson plans. Day 1 we taught the really young kids colors. Attention spans are obviously short so we found ourselves in a constant state of exhaustion trying to entertain and manage this age group. Day 2 we taught high school, and what an incredible change of pace it was. Our lesson was on family. I actually used my own for our flashcards and the family tree, so to my dear parents, grandparents, and siblings- hundreds of Thai children have seen your smiling faces :) It was actually really special to be able to have my family involved in that lesson. Both days were incredible, but the latter just went above and beyond. These high schoolers were so warm and friendly. They wanted to participate. They were engaged. And best of all, they wanted my autograph and pictures as the end of every class. Some even drew pictures of me! My heart was literally bursting with joy by the end of this camp.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. If we thought we had an emotional day with the course final and goodbyes, it was about to increase tenfold, but in the best possible way. The director of XploreAsia asked if 8 people from our group would like to have dinner with his friend’s Thai students. He preferred those of us with highschool placements to volunteer, and so, I did. The Thai students were about 13-27 and partaking in an English camp. Their night with us was a wrap up to the camp and a chance to practice their English in a social setting. All of us who volunteered were essentially blubbering idiots on the way to the student’s hotel, having just said goodbye to all of our friends. As a result we weren’t feeling particularly enthused about this little outing we’d agreed to. I knew, however, that it was going to be amazing before it even started. I know how the Thai people perceive us as Westerners and I knew these kids were probably pumped as all hell to hang out with us. Just knowing that made me rise to the occasion. We arrived at the hotel and Hillary and I were actually the first to walk through the door since the others were still a bit further behind. We walked into a lobby full of Thai students who upon seeing us burst into a round of applause. I mean, this shit does not happen in America. Not even close. Their director took us aside to give us a quick overview of the situation and we were each assigned a group of 3-4 students to spend time with. They were allotted a budget to take us out for food at the night market which was pretty awesome (who doesn’t like free food).
When I walked out into the lobby I threw two fingers in the air and looked around for the members assigned to group 2. I caught eyes with a boy who nodded enthusiastically and introduced himself as ‘’Pom’’ which mind you was spelled on his name tag as ‘’Prom’’. He summoned two others, a girl and a boy, named “Oi’’ (spelled Oil) and Tung. Prom is 17, Oil is 15, and Tung is 21. They successfully introduced themselves as such and we were off to a good start. We discussed where we were all from as well then headed off to the night market. Initial conversation was difficult and awkward, as it usually is in situations such as these, and I found myself gesticulating quite a bit. For instance, “Are you hungry?’’ (rubs stomach). We walked through the market and used the things around us as conversation starters. ‘’Do you like…ice cream? Fried chicken? Watermelon?’’ etc. I found that Prom had pretty decent English. He asked me many questions and even told me I was beautiful a few times (I really could get used to this). Our first stop was to a rotee stand. Now, rotee is this amazing crepe-like sweet made to order. I take mine with banana and Nutella when possible and it’s quite literally the most addicting food I have found here. The kicker? I’m pretty sure it’s of Indian origin, not Thai. Hands down one of my favorite night market treats in Thailand. We continued to walk and point out the various things for sale at the market. Lots of ‘do you like’ questions ensued. We ducked into a movie stall and talked about which movies we liked. We’re all Disney fans, so at least we had that going for us. The most difficult question I received all night was this: ‘’Lauren, why did you come to Thailand?’’. I believe my first words were ‘’oh boy’’. In the simplest way that I could I explained, “I was not happy with my job in America, and I love to travel’’ (‘’Oooooh’’ Prom and Oil replied, followed by translation to Tung who really didn’t understand me at all).
As the night went on, we all became more comfortable. There were plenty of moments where Prom and I looked at each other completely dumbfounded because we couldn’t understand a single word coming out of each other’s mouths, but then we’d laugh it off and move on. We covered the basic topics…’’what sports do you like?’’ ‘’how many siblings do you have?’’ ‘’do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?’’ etc. Occasionally one of them would disappear and I slowly caught on to the fact that they were putting together a gift for me. Earlier in the night I had mentioned that I loved elephants. “‘Why do you love elephants?’’ they asked. ‘’I don’t know, because we do not have them in America’’ I replied. At the end of the night, I was given an elephant magnet (I love elephants, I love Thailand, it read) as well as a post card for the Hua Hin Elephant Sanctuary. On the back, each student had written me a personalized note. ‘’Thank you for everything, I love you’’ (times two, as I think one copied the other one) and ‘’Thank you for all, your eyes so beautiful’’. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t THIS close to bursting into tears. It’s indescribable. No matter how hard I try I cannot properly convey to outsiders how this country and it’s people make me feel. The show appreciation and love to the highest degree. They made me feel so special. I enjoyed my time with them so much, and had fun getting my own mini lessons in Thai. We took a few photos together and I gave them each a big hug. Tung and I are now Instagram buddies, and Oil friended me on Facebook. I’ve been warned that if you accept a Thai on Facebook, everything you post will be liked. Also, their friends will friend you, too. So far I can confirm this is all true. I can honestly say this experience was the highest of highs and a strong front runner for best experience in Thailand thus far. It gives me so much hope for my high school placement, having experienced what it’s like to hangout with 3 older Thai students. I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to meet them. It meant more to me than I’m sure they realize!
As I write this I’m currently enjoying my first day off in a while with zero homework or lesson plans to do. I’ll be staying in Hua Hin for another full day, and then Saturday morning we’re off to Bangkok to meet with the school agent. What happens from there is a complete and total mystery, but that is how they roll in Thailand. We just hand over the control and try to enjoy the ride. All I know is that we have to find an apartment and prepare to potentially start teaching on October 29th. So wish me luck on that front, the next few days should be very, very interesting. Much love to you all back home, hope everyone is doing well! xoxo