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Welcome to the North

Hello hello hello!

I know that it has been a few weeks, so let’s get right to it. Currently I’m in Chiang Rai, located in northern Thailand, doing a month long internship at Camillian Social Center Chiang Rai. This is one of many locations throughout Thailand that performs three main functions…

  1. It was started by a Catholic priest, so there are seminaries for those wanting to become priests as well.
  2. There is a school and living facility for children with disabilities (which is where my work is focused).
  3. They also provide housing, care, and transportation to school for any children whose families don’t have the financial means to support them and/or their villages don’t have schools for them to go to. This is pretty common as there are many minority groups living in the mountains who have a difficult time finding work.

As a part of Fulbright it is a requirement to do a month long internship during the time when our host schools are on summer break. I think that this is a cool way to let Fulbrighters explore areas of interest that go beyond the classroom. That being said, one month is a relatively small amount of time, and I feel that the biggest benefit of it goes to the interns and what we learn at our placements. And, similar to voluntourism, there are some pros and cons to this that I was concerned about. My biggest fear was that I would make a more negative impact here by building relationships with the children just to leave. However, foreign volunteers often come here and since the kids also have their constant Thai staff they seem unaffected by how fleeting their relationships with volunteers are. Also, despite my initial concern about the lack of organization in their English curriculum, the children here speak English fairly well thanks to how many farang volunteer here.

As with any transition, there have been some growing pains during my time here. I think the most difficult one has been the lack of organization in my teaching schedule and the fact that no one here knows English enough to communicate on a conversational level. I’m fortunate to know some Thai by now to have basic conversations, and it would be ridiculous of me to expect them to know English since I’m the one who is a foreigner, but nonetheless, I feel that I can’t develop any deep relationships based off of how limited we can actually get to know each other. This also leads to many situations where I just have to sit, smile, and become more comfortable with silence (which perhaps isn’t such a bad thing).

Fortunately my co-workers are all very kinds and have taken me around to explore the area. For example, last week I went to Phu Chi Fa, which is a mountainous national park that overlooks the Laos border. We got up early to see the mist on the mountain and it was quite beautiful!

I also got to feed some elephants this past weekend (which was my first time seeing actual elephants here). While I was there I decided not to ride the elephants because ethically there are a lot of things to consider. A friend of mine who worked at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand told me a bit about the issues so I’ll summarize, but by no means is it an easy one…

Essentially elephants used to be used for logging in Thailand and the ways they were tamed in order to do so were not so ethical. But then logging was outlawed and families had all of these elephants that they didn’t know what to do with. There is a saying that goes something along the lines of, “If you want to destroy your enemy then give them an elephant as a gift” since elephants eat so much and can bankrupt anyone. Therefore, families had to choose to either kill the elephants or find another use for them. This is where tourism comes in. And since elephants live a long time many of them were already trained before animal ethics became something to consider. On the other hand, the elephants that I saw were kept in small dusty stalls and were doing a swaying thing that indicates signs of sever boredom that, according to this website, can lead to mental illness. So is there a simple answer to whether or not riding the elephants is ethical? Nope. But I felt like feeding them was an okay alternative.

This grabby elephant was impatient about how slowly I was apparently feeding him. I also rode up the side of a mountain on a moped with this eight month old munchkin strapped to me. It’s a normal thing to do here but I was slightly terrified the whole time!

Anywhoozle, I have a lot of built up words thanks to my limited daily conversations, but I do value all of your time and will try to keep it short today. As always, thanks for taking the time to keep up with my journey. See you in another week or so! 🙂

Oh I almost forgot… if you are a climber, you should check out Tonsai beach in the Krabi province. It is internationally re-known for climbers. My friend is into rock climbing so I went with her during my week off before internship month. It’s some pretty hardcore stuff though, so I didn’t climb but I did enjoy plenty of sunshine, ocean breeze, and beautiful scenery. One day I kayaked out on the ocean and when I got out to snorkel I almost ran into a giant pink jellyfish!

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Reflections from the Water

Friends and fiends, greetings!

What is paradise to you? Is it an island getaway? How about a cozy cabin in the mountains? Even if you haven’t been there, I hope that you have some sort of idea in your head about what your happy place is like. Personally, I think that my happy place could be a lot of places. It really just depends of the company I keep. After all, even if I were to go on a luxury cruise with someone I dislike it still wouldn’t be as fun as taking a drive to the dump with my best friend. With that being said, I do feel like I got to experience a bit of paradise last weekend as I celebrated “Galentine’s Day” with my best gal pals.

Promptly after school on Friday we hopped on a van and headed to Trang province to escape for our three day weekend (we had an extra day off because Saturday was Makha Bucha Day for my Buddhist friends). We ended up at one of the most beautiful islands I’d ever been to. The water was crystal clear and cutting the horizon were jagged mountains that were topped with puffy clouds and blue skies. You could go there being a mediocre photographer and still go home with photos that look like pro took them because it was all so picturesque. But the scenery wasn’t the only thing that made it special. There were lots of cool sea critters among the exposed rocks during low tide. I saw a three different kinds of starfish, big hermit crabs, sea urchins, and even a spotted eel (which was cool, but made me want to stay out of the water for awhile).

20170212_185841In the evenings we splurged on farang food. The pizza we had was made by an Italian chef and it paired perfectly with a cold Chang (which is a cheap Thai beer that I normally don’t like, but what goes better with pizza?). I’m sure any kind of pizza would’ve tasted delicious because I hadn’t had it in so long, but this was superb. I think a day spent outside under the sun also adds to how satisfying food tastes, don’t you think?

The beaches were a bit crowded during the days, but the mornings and evenings were calm. And just when I thought my mini paradise couldn’t get more beautiful, there was a full moon in the evenings that lit up the beach. I’m sure it was the perfect romantic weekend for all of the couples who were there. My gal pals and I, on the other hand, had a perfectly fun weekend. After our tasty meal in a cozy cabana on the beach, we went back to our rooms and sang along to the ukulele that one of my friends brought along. It all sounds a bit cliché, but I suppose clichés are started because of how well they fit into whatever situation they describe…and similar to pizza and beer, islands and ukuleles just seem to go together.

20170211_165148One negative aspect of my generally positive weekend was the bit of sadness that I felt as I walked among the rocks at the beaches. While there were quite a few animals to be seen, I couldn’t help noticing how much dead coral there was as well. As I was thinking about it, I thought about how cool it is that if left alone, nature will inevitably heal itself. But the key thing is left alone and I realized in that moment that I didn’t believe that nature and human beings could coexist harmoniously.

I pride myself in being a generally positive person, so this realization came as a surprise to me as well. The thing is, I know that there are pockets of the world where people can exist with nature without having adverse effects on it. This kind of utopia is present and real. I experienced it briefly while working on a permaculture farm in Costa Rica. However, when I honestly think about the whole world with its masses of people and how deep our environmental problems are, I don’t think that peaceful cohabitation on a global level is something that is in our future without a drastic change in our current social and political world climate. That doesn’t mean that I won’t keep hoping for the best and that I won’t keep trying to do my part to be an eco-conscious member of society. We’ve still got to “dream big” after all. However, the realization I had is important for me because I want to recognize all of my beliefs in order to understand how they shape my actions. Then I can make a deliberate effort to change them. I want my actions to reflect my goals of having a healthier planet, rather than supporting this negative perspective on the world instead.

At some point during the weekend I also realized that I need to stop thinking of myself as “the other.” Even though I’m unlike other tourists in that I’m here for a whole year, I’m not too different than “them.” It’s easy to snub my nose at the gaggles of people in obnoxious orange life jackets who crowd to the shores of the prettiest beaches. However, the thing is, I’m the same as all of them. I also want to experience the beauties of nature and actually partook in one of those tourist trips a few months ago. And just because I’m aware of the environmental and economic impacts that these cause to tourist areas (such as all of the gentrification that I saw along the shores), it’s unfair of me to think that I’m somehow beyond that. Just by being on the island I used up some of its limited resources. Even if I recycle or try to be environmentally conscious while I’m there, perhaps the places I patronized did not. And even if they did, the natural environment has a capacity to which I may or may not have played a part in overextending and overusing.

A quote that aptly describes these thoughts is, “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” And while I think that it’s okay if I feel special and unique in my own ways (which, after experiencing the collectivist culture of Thailand, I’ve realized is not something that is so highly valued in other cultures), I think that this perspective does go astray when it leads me to believe that I am exempt from anything that I need to take ownership in.

Anyways, I suppose that about does it for this week. My apologies if the tone of this week’s post was a bit more serious. Sometimes that can be okay though. And this blog is just as much a way for me to reflect on my travels as it is a way for me to keep you all up to date on my goings on in Thailand. So you’re welcome for this little tidbit into my mind. I hope you enjoyed 😉

Toodles,

Madison

P.S. I’ve officially finished writing for Reach the World; a program that connects students in the states with travelers in order to teach them more about different cultures. If you want to check out what I’ve been writing for them these past few months check it out here!

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I’m not sure what I was trying to do here… but it made me laugh and life is too short to only share your “good” photos!
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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Hey everybody!

For those of you who don’t follow my adventures via Facebook, recently one of my old high school friends came to visit me in Thailand. A month ago she started her own journey with Fulbright Malaysia, and after learning from a mutual friend that I was just a jump, skip, and a hop away, she took her time off during the Chinese New Year to visit me. The unique thing about us is that even though we hadn’t really stayed in touch during our college years, our lives paralleled each other in many ways. For example, we had met up once during college at a Model United Nations conference that we had both attended, and obviously our interests aligned enough that we both ended up being English teachers for Fulbright. Having her here with me made me reflect a little more on friendships and how my thoughts of them have changed over the years…

As what I imagine is pretty typical, when I was younger I always thought that my elementary friends would be my BFFLs (best friends for life). We even would buy cute

11221292_10209849725986663_6568865594731840297_n
My cousin, Beth, was one of my best friends growing up.

friendship necklaces to let the world know our friendship status. Then in high school I realized that people change, especially during those formative teenage years, and that it’s okay to change alliances and find new best friends. But now that I knew a bit more about who I was growing up to be, I was sure that these new best friends were truly the real deal. And no, I didn’t get best friend necklaces with them. However, my gal pals and I did make matching bracelets where everyone chose a different bead to represent themself. It was actually pretty cute. But then we decided that being “blood sisters” and cutting our hands/mixing our blood like you sometimes see in the movies was too unhygenic… therefore, one day we all spit onto the sidewalk and mixed that with a stick. That’s where the cuteness was lost. Haha!

In college I discovered how difficult it is to stay in touch with all of the people who you thought you’d grow old together with. After all, it’s difficult to really enjoy the present when you’re too preoccupied with the past. While I was in college I made a few good friends, but as classes and alliances changed, so did the status of those friendships. Near the end of college I was pretty discouraged as I realized how fleeting friendships can be. This perhaps isn’t the case with everyone, but for awhile I felt like all of my friendships were doomed to end eventually.

This brings us to my time working as a camp counselor after graduation. I had a few really great roommates and friends with whom I clicked really well. However, when our summer jobs ended and we went our separate ways I knew that while we might not stay in touch as much as we’d like, we’d still have those memories together and perhaps that was enough. I also thought about how maybe it’s not so bad to let long distant friendships take a back burner. I’ve often found that if they were really so good, then when getting back together you should be able to just pick up where you left off. I also made the realization that in order to make the new friends that then become equally important in your life, sometimes you have to let go of the old ones a bit. I don’t think that this implies a lack of quality of the prior friendships, rather, it indicates your willingness to make room in your life for other people. I also think that the fact that there are so many friendship-worthy people out there waiting to be met says something positive about mankind and how many kind and just decent human beings there are out there in our big wide world.

My final thought on the nature of friendships and even identity ties back to a time when I got coffee with an old high school friend of mine. I mentioned how I felt like I had changed a lot during college, but he seemed surprised by this. This made me reevaluate my statement and I realized that what had really happened was just that I had grown a lot in life experience. The true core of my being, however, had really stayed pretty similar to how I was growing up. Perhaps I let certain passions flourish and others die away, and perhaps I felt more confident in who I was, but was still the same quirky, creative, and friendly gal that I have always been (or at least I hope those are accurate personality descriptions). This epiphany was confirmed last weekend when my friend came to visit. We reminisced a lot about high school and our memories together, and even though we hadn’t stayed in touch for many years, we still were able to rekindle that old friendship we had. I think that a lot of this has to do with the fact that our core personalities were still there and what had brought us together as friends in the first place still remained.

So now, even though it does make me a bit sad when I move onto new chapters of my life and say goodbye to those I’m close with, I feel reassured that in doing so I’m making room for more friendships that I’ll one day cherish equally. I also trust that when the day comes to reunite with my old friends, we will be able to start up again just where we left off. Anyways, thank you for reading my ponderings this week. I’d be interested in hearing what your thoughts on friendships are.

Until Next Time,

Madison

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My Thai School: Part 2

Family, friends, and internet creeps..hello!

My travel adventures this past month warranted some down time, so I’ve been taking it easy the past few weeks. Because of this I don’t have anything too noteworthy to share, therefore, I thought that this would be the optimal time to tell you the rest of what I had about my school. This may be more interesting for educators, so I apologize in advance, but feel free to just look at the pictures if you prefer 🙂

Curriculum

In Thailand kindergarten is called aunuban, elementary grades are called prathome, and secondary grades are matome. For example, fifth grade is prathome 5. I teach prathome 3-5. Students start taking English while in anuban (kingergarten). Their other classes are pretty standard…math, science, social studies, etc. They also have a their project based learning class at 2:30 Monday-Thursday, and on Fridays that time is for groups and clubs. This is when I have an English club with the students. We’re doing a video exchange with a few classrooms back in the states. Something I’ve noticed about my school is that unlike back home, there aren’t as many after school programs. Perhaps this is because I’m at the elementary school, but I believe that the high schools (matome) also don’t have as many extracurricular activities that take place outside school hours.

At my school, students are divided into five classes per grade depending how how they score on end of the year tests. Prathome 4-1 are the better testers and 4-5 did more poorly on the tests. Personally, I don’t think that testing skills necessarily equate to knowledge or desire to learn, but as there are so many students per grade (around 200), this system does prove to be a bit useful when pacing my lessons. I’ve learned that other schools in Thailand don’t do this grouping system, so it’s something that’s up to individual schools to decide.

Technology

My school is still rocking chalkboards, however, each room has a big tv mounted on the wall that a laptop can be connected to. I don’t see too many teachers using this, but maybe it’s because they have to bring in their own laptops in order to do so. There is also a “Smart Room” with a desktop computer, big tv, white board, and air conditioning. This is one of the few places at school with AC. I’ve seen other sorts of computer rooms near prathome 6, but since I don’t teach there I don’t know much about how they’re used.

Uniforms

All students in Thailand wear uniforms (even university students). You can see from the pictures I’ve posted in past blogs that girls wear navy skirts and a white collared blouse. Boys wear khakies and a white collared shirt as well. In addition to providing lunch and books, the government also pays for their school uniforms. They have uniform haircuts (which vary depending on the grade) as well, and it’s not unheard of for a teacher to shave or cut a part of an offending student’s hair in order to make them go get it cut…

Scouts

They have a Thai version of  boy/girl scouts that is coed. From what I’ve been told, it’s pretty similar to scouts in the US (but I still haven’t been able to find girl scout cookies!), and that their activities mainly take part during the day. Students must pay extra to be a scout, so if they aren’t one, then they have time to play or study during the designated scout time. They all wear their scout outfits (see below) on Thursdays. The little boys remind me of the kid from Up. They even have little hats that go with their outfits. Too dang cute! The teachers who were scouts all wear their outfits on Tuesdays. The adult outfits are identical to the kid ones. Is that how it is in the US? I wasn’t a scout so I don’t know.. but seeing them in the same uniforms is pretty cute. 🙂

Specials Classes

Students have art, physical education, and music about once a week. The music and art classes are taught by the same guy. He is really impressive for being both a great musician and a very skilled artist. He told me that his favorite kind of music is bluegrass music from the US. I thought this was pretty neat that bluegrass was able to make its way around the world. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, but I always associated this type of music as being so grassroots and local.

In music class the students play some of the same instruments you’re probably used to…percussion, trumpets, etc., but some of their instruments are from Thailand too. I didn’t gather too much more information on them, but I took some photos at least!

Meds & Special Needs

Many of the things that children in the US have prescriptions for (ADD, ADHD, etc.) don’t seem to be as prevalent here. This isn’t to say that students do or don’t have these disorders, I just don’t think medications are as commonly used. If they were I think my scho20161222_133558ol would at least have a nurse. Instead, they have a room where students can go and lay down if they don’t feel well, but their teachers will just keep and eye on them. The “head nurse” position just goes to whoever happens to have some experience in that field. This being said, I think there’s a lot that I miss just because I don’t speak very much Thai. For example, some teachers found out that a student couldn’t see well out of one eye (they do eye exams and lice screenings here, too) and they said they were going to take care of him. I’m not sure how, but it’ll get done.

As far as students with learning or physical disabilities go, I have been told that there is a special education teacher, however I haven’t observed what her classes look like. She is primarily for younger grades with the idea that they will phase out and become integrated back into the classroom. As far as my students go, I have one student with a prosthetic arm and another who seems to have something along the lines of muscular dystrophy or maybe cerebral palsy. From what I’ve observed, my students are very kind and inclusive to the students who could be marked “different.”

There aren’t student aides here, and though it is a very minimal population, I find myself struggling to meet the needs of my students who do need some extra support in the classroom. The classes are sorted into five different levels, but I’m not sure how much differentiation (modifying instruction to meet different student needs) happens after that. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that it is common to walk by a classroom while students are working and a teacher is not in the classroom with them. Often they are working on projects, but nonetheless, this contrasts what I was taught about formative assessment (informally assessing student knowledge), being a support system, and just managing classroom behavior (even though the students at my school do seem to be able to be on their own and not lose their shit).

Now, if a student has more profound needs, there are boarding schools specifically for them. I volunteered for a morning at one such school and was pretty impressed with it. One student who seemed to be overwhelmed by the noise and commotion sat down and took a moment to meditate and calm down. Very cool! And even though it’s a boarding school, students go home with their families every weekend (families just may not have the resources to care for them on work days). However, it is an interesting contrast that the culture for dependent elderly people is to stay home and be cared for by families.

Discipline

I think that a good talking to is the most common type of discipline, however most classes have switch sticks on the teacher’s desk. I use them to help me point to things and would like to think that that’s their only purpose, but to think they’ve never been used for discipline may be naive. My friends and I have discussed this though, and we think that just the intimidation factor is enough for most students and therefore it’s there but rarely used. I know there’re used at other schools, but I’ve never seen it at mine.

Something that I have seen is playful hitting between students and from teachers to students. A smack on the back of the head for a cheeky student is not uncommon, but based on going from somewhere that I have to very carefully consider any physical action with a student, this was a bit surprising to see. Students themselves are very rough and tumble. They’re definitely not coddled here. In the states I would ration out band-aides since everyone wanted one for even the smallest of scrapes. Here most kids who fall just get up and start running again. It’s kind of refreshing actually. A little dirt in the blood is good for ya..connects you to nature 😉

Parent Involvement

I don’t think that there are any helicopter parents here. I think that a part of this is the respect and prestige that khrus (teachers) have. The job that they’re doing as trained professionals just isn’t questioned as much. This is another area that I think I miss a lot of  information about because of the language barrier, but I don’t think that the school to home connection is as emphasized. I certainly haven’t seen any classroom news letters go out.

About once every few month teachers will have office duty on the weekend. This just ensures that if someone needs to get in contact with the school on any day of the week, there will be someone there to talk to. When school was cancelled due to the floods parents would call in to confirm this. There was also a sign on the school gate. More importantly, the school Facebook page made a post about it. Due to Facebook’s popularity here, this was probably adequate notice (assuming all families still had working wifi at this time).

The King

Every morning students sing the king’s song. His pictures also have a prevalent place in the school. I don’t know to what extent they learn about him, but I thought you might be interested in seeing all of the pictures. I’m not sure when they’ll put up the new king’s photos, but I believe that they’ll leave many of these ones up.

Around School

I don’t want to overwhelm you with words, so just read the captions if you’re interested. My school has several different buildings, so we get a lot of sunshine throughout the day!

Potty Break

Instead of flushing toilets, a big bucket of water is at standby and then you scoop water from that into the toilet to “flush.” For the most part this probably saves water, so that’s cool and whatnot, but it means that often the seat is wet when you sit on it from the water that splashed during the pouring process. This is pretty typical for Thai toilets. Oh and used toilet paper is thrown in the garbage.

 

Anyways, that about covers everything. If I’ve left anything out that you’re curious about please let me know. Otherwise, thanks for taking the time to read this all of the way through. I hope you learned something new!

 

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My Thai Road Trip

Sawadii kha tukkon (hello everyone),

Did you have a happy new years? Any resolutions? I made lots of goals to do while in Thailand so I think I’m just going to stick with those, rather than making a bunch of new ones.

captureThe past week and a half I have been travelling all over. Apparently every year each school can take a week for teacher vacation and my school chose dates that just happened to fall on the same days as a standard US winter break. Therefore I spent my Christmas in northern Thailand with a bunch of teachers from my school.

This trip was the most intense road trip I have ever taken. We rented out a double decker van and spent the next week visiting so many different provinces! My teachers also pooled their money and paid for my entire trip. Their generosity just seems to overflow.

The 3 highlights of the trip were:

  1. Building relationships with teachers with whom I rarely get a chance to interact with during the school day.
  2. Becoming much more comfortable in speaking Thai and learning many new words.
  3. Getting to experience Northern Thailand and be up in the mountains.

That being said, this trip was also a test of patience and cultural sensitivity. Do you know how if there is a baby or cute animal in the room everyone’s attention will focus on it and will comment on everything it does? Well that’s kind of what it was like being the only foreigner, and the youngest, on this trip.

Additionally, I got to experience Thai love of picture taking to its fullest… While we did go to many different places, I didn’t feel like I always got to enjoy them in their entirety because we would hop off the bus, take a bunch of selfies, buy some food, and then go. It seemed that the goal was quantity of locations rather than quality. Nonetheless, I’m thankful that I got to experience a Thai style of vacationing.

…I was incorrect in thinking that I’d have to take less photos if I started making silly faces.

Now, for a bit about Northern Thailand:

-It is much more mountainous that where I’m living, and we got up before sunrise a couple of days so that we could watch it from the mountain tops. It was very beautiful. I was also happy to be in a colder climate, if only briefly.

-Many of Thailand’s ethnic minorities live up in the mountains. I do not know much about Hill Tribe people, but from what I’ve gathered, many of the problems that plague minority people in the states are similar to what Hill Tribe people also experience. Here’s a few articles if you’re interested in learning more. First Article & Second Article

-There is also an abundance of different types of produce there. I saw orange groves, strawberry fields, corn fields, bell peppers, avocados, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Apparently drug plants used to be grown up on the mountains, but Thailand’s late king brought in foreign fruits and vegetables for them to grow. This also drew in more tourists which further helped the economies of these communities.

capture2I had a quick turn over from this trip, and as soon as I got home I was off to Malaysia with one of my Fulbright friends. We went to George Town, Penang in order to celebrate the new year. George Town is really unique in many ways. It has the largest collection of pre WWII buildings in Southeast Asia and the older portion of town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a plethora of street art there that we got lots of selfies next to (I think some of my Thai trip was wearing off on me). George Town is a cultural hub and while there we saw a Chinese temple next to a Muslim mosque next to a Hindu temple. We also got some very tasty Indian food in little India. Due to these things it was very touristy, but I’m glad I got to go and spend some time with my friend. This trip was also a valuable learning experience as we figured out how to exchange money, use public transportation, and get correct visas. I feel like it really improved my confidence and would consider it a gateway trip to many more awesome adventures.

Bon Voyage,

Madison

*In other news, the south is flooding again and my school has been cancelled for two days. I think it’s worse than the last time that this happened because the canal that kept my school from floods last time is starting to flow over. There were even landslides in another province.

Bangkok Post article on the floods. 

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My Thai School: Part 1

Hey everyone!

I know that the holidays are very busy, but just in case you have a moment to spare, here’s another post for ya! Today I thought that it might be fun to share with you a little bit about my Thai school. Even if you aren’t an educator, you went to school once too… so hopefully it’ll be interesting for everyone! Please note, though, that this represents just one Thai school and, as it is in the states, all schools do things a bit differently. I have tried to get everything as accurate as possible, and one of my Thai teachers was kind enough to check this over for me, but with the language/culture barrier please keep in mind that there is still a potential for error. Nonetheless, happy reading!

Morning Routine

Each morning there are a few Thai teachers who wait at the gate to greet the students. When I greet students I usually give them high fives, which maybe isn’t too sanitary, but fun nonetheless. However, the typical greeting is to wai, or head bow with your palms together. How high you put your hands depends on the hierarchy of the person. For example, when wai-ing to a monk you would bring your thumb up to your nose. Teachers wai to each other as a way of greeting in the morning as well.

Students do the main cleaning of the school, which is pretty cool if you ask me. All of prathom 4-6 (equivalent to 4th-6th grade) are assigned a certain day of the week and location to clean. This happened at 7:30-8:00. This is also a time when they can buy breakfast at school. There are several little food stands in the canteen that have various Thai foods, but also foods I’m familiar with, such as chicken strips. Students buy their breakfasts if they want (which are very cheap), but lunch is free. They also have a school store where snacks and school supplies can be bought.

The morning is also the time for students to stop by the school bank. This is an actually bank for students to put money in as a way to practice saving money and knowing how to manage funds. Students run the bank with a teacher supervisor. Recently, the student body saved a total of 4 million baht (which they’d been saving over the course of 3 years), so there was a little assembly where they had a drawing for students to get gifts. This replaced their usual holiday celebration (where a Santa handed out presents and they sang carols) because, due to the passing of their king, the government said not to have big parties/celebrations for the year long mourning period.

Every day at 8:00-8:30, we have morning assembly. During this time students raise the flag, sing the national anthem, do a Buddhist Prayer called Flowers Bloom, and then sing the king’s song. This is also a time for announcements. Something special for this week was that students performed some of the songs that they’ll be singing/playing at a nationwide competition that’s going on this week. From my understanding of it, it’s a bit like All State, but rather than being just for fine arts, it’s for all areas of study. They compete at the regional level and then the winners go to Bangkok to compete again.

Classes

Classes start at 8:30 and are an hour long. Students take their shoes off before going into the classroom, but teachers wear their shoes. I’ve tried to walk around school with my shoes off a few times (it’s just easier when there are so many puddles), but this is a bit scandalous.

At the start of every class there is a certain dialogue we follow. In my classes they say it in English, but they say the Thai equivalent in their other classes.

Class leader: Please stand up. [everyone stands]
Class: Good morning/afternoon teacher!
Me: Good morning/afternoon class. How are you?
Class: I’m fine thanks. And you?
Me: I’m fine thanks. Please sit down.
Class: Thank you teacher. 

Student Lunch

Lunches are staggered based on grade. When it’s their time for lunch, the students grab their silverware, which they bring from home, and then go to the canteen area. Teachers help serve their food and then they choose where they sit among all of the tables that are set up. When they are finished they clean their own plates, brush their teeth, and then play outside.

Teacher Lunch

After getting the students settled with their lunches, teachers go to a separate room by the kitchen to eat. It has air conditioning! All of the meals are prepared ahead of time in massive woks and are then put in big silver serving trays. The biggest portion of the tray is reserved for your daily helping of either brown or white rice. The meals often are a piece of fish which is served in traditional Thai style with the scales, fins, and head still intact. There is usually some sort of curry or soup to go with that as well. For fresh veggies there’s always a try of cucumbers and Thai eggplant. Another source of veggies are edible leaves of some sort. The first time I ate the leaves I had no idea how to eat them… wrap around food, chop up, eat plain? I’ve since realized that you just pick the leaf of the little branch and eat it like that. They tend to be pretty bitter though, so I stick to cucumbers. The cooks at my school are very kind and always make sure that I have food that isn’t too spicy to eat. This sometimes means that I get to eat what the kids are eating that day or sometimes they make a special omelet for me.

One of my favorite meals is massaman guy. This is a chicken curry with sweet potatoes and peanuts. It’s very delicious. I like that there always seems to be more chicken breast in it (rather than other chicken parts). This is important because meat here is much less processed than in the states. This means that there is still gristle and bones in most dishes. Since knives aren’t standard eating utensils, it took me awhile to figure out how to get to the good meat with a spoon and fork. The spoon is the main utensil and the fork functions the knife.

Recess

Recess is a pretty informal affair when compared to the States. There aren’t any playground monitors or teachers on duty. There isn’t a designated area to play either. There is play equipment, but most students play with their friends throughout the school grounds. Many of the girls like to play a jumping game where they have a giant rubber band chain that two students stretch around themselves. The other students then jump between the bands for X amount of times before the bands are raised. It’s super impressive how high they can get their little legs to go! I’ve tried playing it with them a few times but am pretty bad at it. Mainly I worry about flashing someone or falling and breaking my face. The boys like to play soccer/futbol with various little balls they have. I sometimes play this with them too and have lots of fun. It’s nice building relationships with the kiddos outside of the classroom.

My Kitty

20161216_124045Stray animals are pretty common in Thailand. There is one particular stray kitten at school that I accidentally adopted. The kitty was pretty scrawny, so one day I saved my fish from lunch to feed it. I asked the kids to help me find her, and ever since then they all know her as my cat. That means that whenever I’m walking across the school grounds usually someone comes running with the scared little kitty to give to me. This happens as I’m on my bike leaving school, trying to do work in the library, anytime… So while I do really enjoy Orange, she is kind of hard to escape. I’ll set her down to go teach and then a new student will “find” her to bring to me.  lol

Afternoons

In the afternoon they have class for another few hours. At 2:30 they all do some sort of project based activity to improve their 4h’s: health, head, heart, and hands (handicrafts). This is a new government initiative for Thai schools. One day I was really confused to see a whole class sitting outside making sandwiches. I believe that this was a part of the initiative. However, the sandwiches they made looked pretty disgusting. They ate them anyways, but I think that more practice is in order.

Handicrafts are another part of the 4h’s, and I have joined my fourth graders a few times to make some. It’s lots of fun! So far we’ve made flower garlands, cut fruits/veggies into flower decorations, and made flower bouquets from the long leaves of a local plant. My goal is to do another separate post on some of the things that we’ve done in the future. For the health part of the initiative students play sports and once a week we also do school wide aerobics. This is a great idea in theory, getting students invested in their health, however the follow through of the aerobics is a bit chaotic.

In the afternoon the students also have their second milk break. They don’t really drink milk at lunch, so they get a break in the morning and afternoon in order to do so. Also in the afternoons, I find that students often surround my desk wanting to play card games and hangout. I thought that maybe they had another recess. Turns out that this is often not the case and they just know that I don’t know the schedule well enough to send them away. Oops! Today I learned how to say, “go back to class,” so hopefully we’ll fix that soon. Although generally I like their company and take it as an opportunity for informal English lessons.

Going Home

Students go home at 3:30 (2:30 for anubon) via lots of different types of transportation. They take song taos, buses, and mopeds primarily. There are also snack stands that are set up in the afternoon for the kids to purchase all sorts of different goodies.

 

Well guys, that about wraps up the school day! I hope you enjoyed it because next week I’ll have more about school. Happy holidays! Eat some extra cookies on my behalf, please. 🙂

Madison

 

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Watery Weekends

20161214_213712Hey hey hey!

How’s prep for the holidays going? The hotel place I’m staying at set up a beautiful little Christmas tree last week (complete with fake presents set up beneath it)! Despite wanting to avoid the holidays in order to prevent homesickness, it has been nice having that one little slice of home here. I’ve also been prepping my holiday lessons and have yet to get too homesick either. Perhaps it’s because the tropical climate makes it difficult to really get into that holiday spirit. No fret though, my lack of homesickness doesn’t mean that I don’t miss all of you hooligans back home!

 

My past few weekends were long ones. On December 5th it was the king’s birthday, which corresponds with Father’s Day, so we had the day off. My school got cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday as well because of flooding. It down poured for about four days straight (which is a lot more than normal, even for rainy season). The drainage systems here are pretty advanced, but many homes still flooded and in the city many streets were closed. Once the rain stopped Thasala cleared out pretty quickly because of our close proximity to the ocean. However, other towns were not so lucky. Here’s a news post that talks a bit more about it.

This most recent weekend I also had Monday off for Constitution Day. Since we were rained out of our plans before, the Southern Belles headed to Koh Samoi for a mini island getaway! It was the perfect R&R. I even got my first Thai massage, which cost me the equivalent of about $5.30 for an hour. We stayed by Lamai beach, which was pretty touristy, but that meant that most people spoke a fair amount of English and all of the menus I could actually read (which really does affect the whole dining out experience)! I was happy to find lots of sea glass on the beach, but it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the pollution in the area. In addition to being a beach bum with my gal pals, I also got up early a couple of times to go running and then cool off with a dip in the ocean. That was one of my highlights of the weekend because as I floated there, breathing in that salty ocean air that I love so much, I remembered to send out my gratitude to the universe for leading me to where I am today. Now that I’m more settled into my province and have established some routines, it is easy to forget to do so, but I feel that stopping to count your thanks and appreciate your surroundings is really quite important in living a happy life.

Speaking of gratitude, in order to show appreciation to my school for all that they’ve done for me, I started a gofundme project to raise money to buy  more English books for their library. In under a week the goal of $50o was reached, which is absolutely amazing! Thank you so much to everyone who supported that! If you didn’t have a chance to donate and would like to here’s the link. Any extra money raised will just allow me to buy even more books for the kiddos. Tonight I’m going to prep the postcards for the thank yous that the kids will be making. I can’t wait!

 

Well folks, that’s all I have for today. Thanks again for reading. I’m working on a post about Thai daily life and am trying to get some pictures of different Thai households for you. If there’s anything else in particular you want me to write about or share photos of please let me know!

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My Uno crew!

 

 

 

 

 

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Rebirth and Regurgitation

What’s up everyone?

Sorry it has been a few weeks since I last wrote. I was pretty busy during Thanksgiving weekend, as I’m sure you were too. I got to spend part of it in Nakhon Si Thammarot with four other ETAs for some Fulbright meetings. We talked about our experiences thus far and got some feedback on our teaching. A special thing that we also got to do this year was  a little English camp on the morning of Thanksgiving at a school for students with special needs. It was the first time for Fulbright to do this, and although it ended up being a bit chaotic,  the kiddos had fun (which is all that really matters). I enjoyed being back to working with this population. I’m hoping to work with people with special needs during my internship month in March since I miss my campers from back home. What I really appreciate about working in this type of community is how authentic and generally happy they are. Those who gravitate to working them are also such caring and down to earth individuals. It’s incredibly rewarding.

It was difficult to be away from my family on Thanksgiving, but I was thankful that I got to celebrate with a small part of my Fulbright family. We went out to a steak restaurant and had food that was much closer to a Thanksgiving dinner than I anticipated. One of the women on Fulbright staff also surprised us with a pumpkin pie she brought all the way from Bangkok. It was such a sweet gesture (literally)! Also, even though I really do enjoy being there, it was nice to get a little break from school. It can be very exhausting being treated like a celebrity every day. Sometimes when I’m trying to work the kiddos will swarm around my desk and just stare at me! It makes it difficult to get anything done. Usually I have to hide if I actually plan on being productive.

Once our meetings were over, I went to the city of Trang with some of the other ETAs and one of the host teachers. We spent Saturday doing some island hopping. It was amazing! Our first stop led us to Morakot Cave where everyone on the boat had to hold onto each other and swim though it like a giant aquatic caterpillar. It was a funny and awkward experience… one of many on our “Thai family vacation” as we later dubbed it. The cave

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Caterpillaring our way through the cave! #thaifamilyvacation

was pretty large and after a few turns and lots of awkward swimming, we entered into a really cool little beach area where pirates used to hide with their booty and seek shelter from storms. The way back out of the cave was a bit claustrophobic as we navigated around two other human caterpillars (the funny/awkward and not creepy kind). However, it felt like we were being re birthed into paradise once we got out of there.

We had lunch on the boat and then visited a few more islands to swim and snorkel. I had never see water so blue! Most of the day I had my sketchbook out. Man made things are cool and all, but there is nothing as inspiring to me as nature.

The next day we went on a boat tour of Le Khaokob Cave. Beforehand our Thai friend told us that many foreigners liked to go there because at certain points in the tour we’d have to lay down on the boat to accommodate for how narrow the cave would become. I was expecting the experience to be pretty touristy and the claims about it to be exaggerations and whatnot. The parts that we got to walk out and go through the cave were neat, but nothing too out of the ordinary when it comes to tourist caves. They also smelled like stinky feet. However, my opinion of the whole experience greatly improved when we went through “the dragon’s belly” (the part where we had to lay down). For parts of it I even sucked in my belly/held my breath  because that’s how close we were to the rocks! The two Thai guys who were steering the boat couldn’t even paddle. They had to lie down as well and just grabbed the rocks and pulled in order to move us. It was very intense! After “the dragon’s belly” we went through its heart and then were regurgitated our on the other side of the cave. So even though it was a bit standard in the beginning, the ending to the cave experience made up for it.

On our way home we stopped at some waterfalls as well. As usual, those were also beautiful. I could’ve spent way more time at them, but my friend had a plane to catch. That isn’t to say I wasn’t happy to be home. I love being out and about, but I’d consider myself an in-the-closet-introvert and some me time at home was the cherry on top to my fun filled weekend with friends.

 

 

 

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Ponderings of a Local Thai Celebrity

Hey everyone!

Right now I’m jamming to some throwback Miley Cyrus songs. I know, I know… I’ve just been on a kick of listening to oldies of my youth lately. There’s nothing like getting pumped for a long run than listening to some Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls. Having my own room has been nice… there’s no one here to make fun of all of the dance parties I have. Ha!

Last Saturday I got up early to go with my friend to her school’s parent day. In the States I had been told a lot about how important it is to include families in the school so that all of the people who are most invested in the children’s learning can be on the same page (among several other reasons), therefore, I was pretty curious about the role of families in Thai schools. From what I’d heard before coming here, it’s uncommon to ask parents and guardians to help students with reading, writing, or other coursework. Thai teachers are really respected and treated as professionals. Asking for parent support would suggest that maybe they weren’t doing their job at school. Also, many parents live in Bangkok so that they can work and send money home to their families. Grandparents care for the kids and don’t necessarily have the energy to have the same kind of helicopter parenting style with which we are familiar. However, for the school’s parent day, all of the families came to watch the student choir and band perform, listen to the director (principal) speak, and then go to the rooms to hear from the teachers. I was glad that they were included in the school in this way. Oh yeah, they also got to hear a spontaneous speech given by their new English teacher and her two American friends… good thing I had to give a speech at my school already so I had something I could say!

Afterwards us Southern Belles went to Kiriwong Village for some delicious kanome jean (noodles and special sauce) and sight seeing. Kiriwong Village is famous for having the cleanest air in all of Thailand. The water and mountains there were stunning! Something funny that happened was when my friend told a Thai woman that her baby was cute…  the woman promptly shoved the baby in her arms and started taking pictures. Thus began Let’s Take Photos with the Foreigners, Part 2. I’m telling you, I really feel like a celebrity when I’m here! Family, please be prepared to take pictures of me all the time and tell me how beautiful I am when I get back… you know, to ease the culture shock. 😉

I was a bit bummed when I couldn’t sleep in on Sunday either, but it was because I got to go to a huge morning market with my Thai mom and dad, so at least there was a good reason for it. I know I’ve already talked about how impressed I am with their markets, but guys, there were so many different goods sold there! I was especially impressed with the seafood. There were freshly caught fish of all sizes and variety (many still alive and trying to breath, which I felt a bit badly about), skates (I think they were this at least… it’s a fish species similar to a stingray), frogs, and turtles (to be eaten or taken as pets, I’m not sure). The meat section was strange to me because all of the meat was just sitting out. It’s definitely not similar to the packaged and refrigerated stuff you get at a grocery store, although I’m sure that it is fresher and more natural. The whole market scene is really great because although it’s not certified or anything, I’m sure quite a bit of it is natural and it supports local Thai people. It’s similar to farmer’s markets, but there’s more variety, I think it’s generally cheaper than shopping at the grocery store, and they have markets going on all of the time and not just one day per week.

After going there, I got to go back to my parents’ house to learn how to make some Thai dishes. We made veggies, fried pork, and a Thai style omelet. What I discovered was that to season (both the veggies and omelet) you just add a bit of soy sauce and sugar. Then it’s cooked in rice bran oil. I was told “a little” oil, but it my opinion it was a lot. The results were definitely delicious though! I had been wanting to learn how they cooked veggies here. I had tried before without knowing and ended up just using soy sauce… it was edible, but not very tasty.

On Monday we celebrated Loi Krathong, a big festival in Thai culture. It was difficult to pin down exactly what the meaning and purpose of the festival was, but wikipedia confirmed what I had been told in broken English that, “Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.” Therefore it’s kind of like a moon festival, but then krathongs are floated down waterways to thank the river spirits. Krathongs are small basket type things that you put small change in, a bit of your hair, and a few nail clippings. They all have some incense and a candle in them that you light and then put in the water to float away. As you do so you make a prayer/wish. The base of my krathong was made from a coconut and the decorative part was made out of dyed corn husks. The students at my school glued together ice cream cones. In this regard they are somewhat biodegradable and not too harmful to the environment. However, not every aspect of them were and not all krathongs were made with this concern in mind. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to get to take part in. This year it was a pretty relaxed event because of the mourning period, but I’ve been told that usual it’s a much more festive experience with dancing and music. Maybe I’ll stick around long enough next year to see it in all of its glory.

This week I also began teaching prepositions (in front of, behind, next to, etc.) with my third and fourth grade classes. Supposedly this was review for them and I was just reinforcing what they’d been taught by their Thai teachers only this time with an emphasis on speaking. It didn’t exactly go as well as I thought it would though. At times trying to get them to speak was like pulling teeth. I’ve found that the kids are used to mainly repeating everything that’s being said, without any concern as to the meaning behind the words. For example, if I say, “girls, please say, ‘where is the dad?'” they will say, “girls, please say….” I feel like I was able to modify my lessons each time to make them a little better, but it’s tricky because it has been difficult to anticipate where the students will have challenges. I need to find ways to get them to think more about word meaning. It’s like teaching little parrots!

Well anyways, I hope you’re all doing well. I know that winter is quickly approaching for many of you, so keep warm and drink a peppermint mocha for me!

Your friendly parrot trainer,

Madison

 

 

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Money Trees and Thai Feasts

Hey everyone!

What’s up? This is the phrase that I’m going to teach the teachers at my school this coming week. Does anyone have any more suggestions? I’ve been trying to think of phrases and slang that they may actually encounter with native English speakers.

This past weekend I had fun getting to know one of the teachers at my school better. On Saturday she invited me to hang out with her and her daughter. Her daughter was my age and had studied English for a year in Australia, so having her to help facilitate the language barrier between her mother and me was really nice. It’s not that I don’t mind trying to communicate with Thais who know limited English, it just can be pretty exhausting.

To start we went swimming at a really nice hotel’s pool. It wasn’t really the exercise type swimming I had anticipated, but it was nice to just float around and enjoy the day. Then we ate at MK, a chain restaurant in Thailand. The food served there is somewhat similar to sukiyaki in Japan or shabu-shabu in China. How it works is there is a hot plate built into the table where you boil a pot of water. Then you order plates of raw meats and veggies that you add to the water. After it’s done cooking everyone serves up massive amounts of this delicious and healthy soup in their boils (seasonings are added to the individual bowls and not the whole pot). Both times I went there I also got to try duck as an appetizer. It was so delicious! In typical Thai fashion, I practically had to waddle out the door by the time we left!

That evening we prepared for the Kathin festival which was going to be at the local Buddhist temple the next morning. For Kathin, rather than donating money on a weekly or monthly basis, schools, businesses, and families donate annually (during this day). They get fresh bills and clip them onto what looks like a small money tree. The tree that I helped to prepare was with the donations from my school. In addition to that, the monks are given new robes. I was told that usually there is dancing and more of a festive vibe, but since we are still in a period of mourning for the king, when we got to the temple we enjoyed some food (given by the temple in thanks for the donations) and then calmly paraded around the temple square with our money trees. This was followed by the giving of the robes and then some teachings from the monks (which I couldn’t understand a single word of, unfortunately). I was surprised by how casual this last part was. In a way, it reminded me of my experiences at church in the states. The older women were very pious and attentive during all of the teachings while the younger generations felt comfortable being on their phones sometimes having whispered conversations. Overall it was a very neat experience that I felt fortunate to be a part of.

For school this week I had fun teaching my classes the American Sign Language alphabet. I wanted to do this for several reasons… I hoped it would help reinforce the alphabet, I wanted to use it as a way to begin to include kinesthetic learning into my classroom, I have found that students have a hard time differentiating between letters when they just hear it (s and x, for example), and it’s just fun. I’d say that the lessons went really well and the kiddos had fun learning how to sign their names (which reinforced what I taught them about introducing themselves from the week prior).

On Wednesday I didn’t end up teaching any classes. In the morning all of the students and teachers were orchestrated into making a giant number nine (in Thai, obviously), which is the king’s symbol since he was the ninth king of this era. Then aerial photos were taken of it. From what I’ve heard, most of the schools have been doing this. I was really impressed by the students’ discipline because it took awhile and was so hot that morning.

Afterwards nine monks came and we all donated food to them. Monks live off of food donations and when you give them food it’s called “making merit.” However, quite a bit of the food also went to a homeless shelter. I got to go and donate the fodonationod with other teachers that afternoon. It seemed like quite a few of the residents at the shelter had some sort of disability, but I wasn’t sure if everyone did. I wish that I could’ve found out more information on the place, such as how the homeless are viewed in Thailand (Do they have negative stereotypes associated with them like in the states?), but the language barrier made it difficult. It’s also a sensitive topic and I don’t want to accidentally offend my Thai hosts.

I have mentioned before how kind and generous all Thais have been to be, which is super amazing, but it started to get a bit frustrating at times this week. Mainly, they feed me too much. Everyone is always giving me some kind of food, and it makes them so happy when I try everything. How can I be convincing that “yes, it is aroi mak mak” when I only try a little? It’s also difficult that I can’t understand the language. For example, I was treated to dinner at a very nice restaurant by one of my Thai teachers this week. She kept scooping food on my plate until I thought I was ready to explode. Then she told the waiter something that I couldn’t understand and moments later he brought out a big helping of dessert.

In a different food related situation, I was hoping to keep the dinners that I cook pretty light to make up for all of the other food that I’m given during the day. However, my hosts were appalled when they found out that I wasn’t eating rice with every meal! The very next day I was given a rice cooker and three big bags of rice. Their concern was endearing and I’m looking forward to trying some rice cooker baking recipes (suggestions anyone?), but I didn’t necessarily need it. I must check my privilege though and in all reality, if too much food is my only complaint then I’m really going to have a great year! Ahem, four years. I’ve decided to stay a little longer in light of recent events. 😉

Toodles!