Smile and wave boys, smile and wave. That has been my philosophy over the past month in my new town. Everywhere I go “Hello!” with a smile and a wave. Being in a new culture surrounded by a different language all the time is exhausting. Simple things like trying to order food, asking how are you, and walking anywhere without being stared out is difficult to say the least. Maybe twice over the past month have I actually eaten what I thought I was ordering. I can be in sports clothes, no make-up, and having just finished a run and as I walk down the street and at least 3 different people tell me I’m beautiful. Smile and wave. I feel like a superstar. I walk down my road to 7/11 and everyone stares and whispers to their friends as if to say “OMG did you just see that walk by?!” Yup, that was me. A foreigner who speaks English. It is impossible to blend here.
Coming along with all this attention also means that I have gotten to meet so many people and everyone has been incredible to me. My teachers welcome me with food in the morning and are so excited to practice their English with me. Our office is full with food, laughter, a little English, and lots of Thai. No matter what language is being spoken, it is great company. I was given a welcome party by my school that included lots of whiskey, LOTS of karaoke, and some impromptu dancing. I was pushed on stage to give a speech and sing karaoke. Thai people love to eat and to feed me. People are constantly giving me food and even if I have no idea what it is, I answer with “arroy ka” meaning very delicious as I attempt to keep a smile on my face. My amazing host teachers have taken me out to countless meals already, and I am so beyond thankful for them and the love I feel from them every single day.
It is impossible to write about everything that has come along with my first month here in my town, but let’s just say it has already been full of very high highs and very low lows. I can go from laughing to crying in 0.3 seconds. I’ve cried after an hour long meeting about my lessons and my teaching that was completely in Thai. And I’ve laughed after a little boy runs up, hugs me, and yells “I’m happy!” I’ve cried from missing home, familiarity, and (let’s be real) cheese. And I’ve laughed after being brought out for whiskey smoothies and teaching my host teachers “Hit me again” as they passed back their shot glasses.
One of the biggest highlights has been meeting my neighbors and spending almost every evening with them. They have welcomed me into their family, and despite their little English, we always have a good time. I have been tutoring their 11-year-old son and 2 three-year-old granddaughters. Each evening is full of songs, laughter, and usually some Uno or Banana Grams. The 11-year-old son is the best at English in the family and is quickly becoming one of my best friends in my community.
Now for teaching. So much to say about teaching. Most classes I leave with a smile on my face. Every class I leave and take a deep breath. Imagine standing in front of a room of 45 fourth graders who don’t speak any English. I have seriously been practicing my acting skills. I teach about 800 students for one hour once a week ranging from 3rd grade to 10th grade. That is a lot of students and a lot of names! Only seeing my students one time per week is really hard, but I am doing my best to try and build connections.
One sixth grade class I had last week drove me to tears. They were loud, obnoxious, and did not listen at all. I attempted to play a game and they were just so out of control – nothing I said got through to them. The language barrier made it so difficult to communicate expectations. I took a deep breath, got through what I could and left the class more upset than I’ve been since I arrived here. Even in Thailand, 6th grade boys can be… well 6th grade boys. I went to the bathroom and as tears began to fall thought “What the hell am I doing here?” After taking a few deep breaths and giving myself a mini pep talk, I walked back into my office. That same afternoon a group of 6th grade girls walked into my office just to see me. I taught them English words and they taught me Thai words. We used google translator and laughed every time we couldn’t understand each other. We then had an hour long dance party to American pop music as well as some Thai hits, and they attempted to sing along to Katy Perry. Then I remembered, this is why I’m here. This is what Fulbright is all about. Not every moment is perfect. Not every class understands what I am saying. Not every day ends with huge successes. But everyday a student runs up to hug me and says good morning. Everyday my co-workers go out of their way to make me feel at home. And everyday I have new experiences and meet new people. Little moments like dance parties, hugs, learning new words, finally having the moment of understanding when communicating, and students running up to me yelling an English word they remember from class make everyday unforgettable and worthwhile.
Sri Racha is already feeling like home. Even on the other side of the world, Monday mornings still drag on and Friday afternoons come with a huge sense of relief. I still crash on my bed after work. I still enjoy snacking and watching Netflix. I still only sometimes clean my room and still listen to music as I fall asleep. Even on the other side of the world I am still me and life is still life. After one month I am optimistic about what the year will bring, the people I will meet, and the adventures I will have. So much excitement awaits me in December!
After one month – all is well
Until next time