I have officially reached the one month mark here in Thailand and move to my new town on Wednesday! After so much anticipation, I am overwhelmed with excitement and anxiousness. My life is about to completely change. Again. Bangkok has given me many comforts of home – air conditioning, some western food, wifi, and a group of very like-minded American friends. It has challenged me in many ways already, but nothing like what is about to come. I have spent weeks learning about Thai culture and strategies to teach English as a second language and feel ready to put what I am learning into action. I can’t believe my time in Bangkok is already over, but I am ready for my next challenge. There is so much to write about, but here are a few highlights and thoughts from my past few weeks!
- Erawan National Park
My entire Fulbright group packed up for the weekend and loaded into vans headed to Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It felt amazing to be out of a big city and finally felt like I was in a developing country. We spent the weekend hiking up to see seven layers of beautiful waterfalls. We swam at different layers in crystal clear water, some even had rocks to slide down. The water was full of huge fish who really enjoyed nibbling at the dead skin on your feet. It was an extremely weird feeling, but hey some people pay lots of money for that kind of pedicure treatment! We made the most of it and always kept our feet moving in the water. I also got to explore the small town and see the Bridge Over River Kwai, known as Death Railway. This bridge was built during WWII by the Japanese to connect Thailand and Myanmar to transport cargo. The Japenese forced prisoners of war to build the bridge and over 10,000 POWs died while constructing it. The history and the beauty of the city made for a magical setting
2. Floating Market
One of my favorites in Bangkok so far! This was a little, quaint market on the river. The vendors rode around on boats selling all different types of delicious food. I had little tastes of Thai desserts, fruits, and snacks. We also got to go on an hour long boat ride around the canals, which was beautiful and a whole different side on Bangkok. Every single person we passed while on the boat gave us a huge smile and a wave. This place proves over and over to be the Land of Smiles.
- Practice Teaching!
Last week we went to a real school to try out teaching English as a second language. Everyone is on school vacation right now, but we had children volunteer to come be our students and learn some English. When we got to the school on our first day we were greeted with drinks and snacks. All of the students were sitting outside in rows with a huge banner that read, “Welcome Teachers in Training from America.” All of the Fulbrighters were given chairs in a line in front of the students. Each of us had a student line up in front of us, get on their knees, and present us with beautifully crafted flowers. The students then bowed to the ground in front of us (Thai people use a wai to greet each other – putting your hands together at your chest and slightly bowing) – they used the wai of the upmost respect for us. This is the same one they would give to a monk. It felt very uncomfortable to have a student bowing on their knees in front of me. Thoughts ran through my head wondering why they were doing this and not feeling like I deserved it. I wanted to shake my head and say no need to do that! But this is a cultural thing and they wanted to show their respect. I smiled a huge smile back and said a heartfelt thank you in Thai.
Once the students lead me to the classroom, the students all stood and greeted me in unison. I was partnered up with another girl from Fulbright and given two hours to teach anything we wanted. We had a class of M1 students which is equivalent to 7th graders. They laughed, felt awkward, and talked out of turn every once in a while. No matter what country it is, they are still 7th graders. It was humbling to realize how low their English was and how challenging this year of teaching will be. Even though all Thai students are required to take English starting in Kindergarten, the level is very low because they have no opportunities to practice. Every single activity I tried and direction I gave was a struggle. I had to act out every word, speak super slowly, and repeat myself a lot. However, we all had fun learning together and constantly smiling. It felt so good to be back in front of a classroom and was a huge reminder to a big reason of why I am here – to teach. Even just over a week, I felt a huge connection to the students. They were so genuinely excited to see us every day. They smiled, gave us hugs, and told us they loved us. On the last day of our teaching the students once again bowed to us and individually poured rose waters into our hands – another sign of respect.
- Weekend at Ko Phi Phi (aka the beach)
This past weekend our group boarded a 13 hour overnight bus and headed to the south for some much needed beach time. Getting to and from the beach was an adventure in itself. Some memorable travel moments included booking tickets for the wrong night, ending up on a hot, crowded van after thinking we would be on a sleeper bus, having the bus blast Fast and Furious in Thai over the whole bus, stopping at random places, an overflowing toilet on the bus, and lights and music videos that decided to come on at random hours of the night. Despite all of this, I managed to sleep pretty well. The island was beautiful and despite some bad weather, I was able to get in some swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and quite a few beach bars. Overall it was a lot of traveling but an unforgettable experience and great bonding time with the other Fulbrighters.
Today we spent a lot of time reflecting on what we are most anxious about as we move to our provinces and what we are most excited about. It was comforting to hear all the Fulbrighters experiencing the same emotions about many of the same things. I am anxious about learning Thai. I am anxious about connecting with my students and my community when there is such a large language barrier. I am anxious about being alone and isolated in a town where I know no one. I am anxious about getting lost and making my lesson plans meaningful. I am anxious about missing home and about all the interesting food I am going to have to eat.
Above all of these worries I am excited. I am excited to meet my students and other teachers in my school. I am excited to settle into a new community that will be my home for the next 11 months. I am excited to have time to myself to reflect and learn more about myself. I am excited to actually start teaching and have my own classroom. I am excited to have time to try out some new hobbies. I am excited to travel and see new things. I am excited to think more about my future and what I want to do. I am excited to learn more about Thai culture and Thai people. I am excited for all the ups and downs of this year!
Alone time is something I have always feared. An extrovert’s worst nightmare. Being alone is something I’ve never been good at, but also something I’ve never really had the opportunity to do. Right now, a huge peace has come over me about my upcoming alone time and is something I am looking forward to. A new challenge to help me be happy by myself. As I continue pondering my goals for the year, a huge one is to learn to love some introverted time. While those who know me well may laugh at this thought, I’m excited to pick up some new hobbies and give some alone time a shot! All in all, I’m ready to feel every emotion that is thrown at me this year.
Next update will come from Si Racha, Chon Buri, Thailand!