New Year’s in February

 

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I’ve written about New Year’s before…aside from Independence Day, it’s the biggest day of the year.

Life can be hard here. No power. Fetching water every day. Working in the fields. Sweating. So that’s why parties mean so much. They’re a break from the every day. And they are so.much.fun. They’re also an opportunity for my students to take a break, socialize, and get me to take their picture ūüôā

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I’ll leave you here with a visual account of my day. Not pictured: the late-night sweaty disco party or the dead zebu, sacrificed to the school, which fed about 600 people.

Happy 2019. Arabaina!

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With colleagues after the traditional meal of rice and zebu meat
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Seventh graders…enough said…

 

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Deuces for the chefs
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Attempt #1,250 to take an organized picture…

One Month In: A Short Picture Book and Musings on Language Learning

This is my life right now…

Every morning I wake up at seven thirty to go to work. But it’s okay, because I wake up to this…

I teach outside of the city, but it’s okay because I like the quiet. When I’m anxious for culture, I can go here

 
 
Or see this.
 
 
 
I get lost amid statues,
 

 
 
pay respects on the way,
 
 
have lunch on a boat dock
 
 
or buy jars made from clay.
 
 
If I need a reminder of why I came so far away from home, I find it in God’s simple pleasures, like a mooncake, a coconut, or a trip to Silom.
 

 

 
Of course life isn’t like this every day. This pictures were taken almost a month ago. I’m going on week four of teaching, and that is an adventure in itself! But I needed a reminder this morning of just how magnificent Thai culture really is. You can never boil it down to little quips and phrases, and I refuse to do so. To try to understand Thai culture from the perspective of a foreigner, a “farang,” is like trying to guess the color of a fruit flesh’s without peeling the skin. It’s impossible to know.¬† Thailand has a huge tourism industry; everywhere I go I see tourists, mostly Westerners. Bangkok has a massive ex-pat retiree community and many more sex tourists. (For more information on the sex trade in Thailand, go here.) One of the biggest complaints I hear is that Thai people don’t understand Westerners. For English teachers like me, it can be frustrating trying to communicate in a language that many people don’t understand or seem motivated to learn. Indeed, Thailand is ranked near the bottom of Southeast Asian countries for English speaking ability. Many are concerned about the effects this will have on Thailand and its economy with the launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) incentive in 2015. After all, the official language of Asean will be English–not so much to communicate with the Western world, but to communicate with each other. Isn’t it curious that English is becoming the common language of the Asian world?
 
I could go on and on about the sociocultural implications of a world gone mad with English fever. For a wonderful Ted talk on the subject, click here. But the fact still remains that millions of Thais speak little to no English in an economy increasingly reliant on foreign (mostly English-speaking) tourism.
 
So should they learn?
 
Many of my students are here because they want to take over a family business, work in tourism or work with foreigners, and they know English will allow them to get there. But my¬†students–university students in general–area small percentage of the population, most of¬†which exists in the rural provinces of the country.¬† I know nothing about the schooling system in¬†Thailand, except that it is compulsory. I do not know the level of English language teaching in the school system. But classes are obviously conducted in Thai–the native language to so many.
 
Which leads me back to the question: should Thai people learn English to communicate with foreigners or for international business? For¬†the latter, perhaps, but I’ll skip that debate for now. How about the former: foreigners? Tourists? Visiting English professors?
 
Or should we learn Thai? Wouldn’t that be more helpful?
 
Or maybe a little of both?
 
So¬†much upset in one’s daily life–regardless of location–comes from miscommunications¬†that¬†get blown out of proportion.¬†It seems to me that this can be easily remedied through language learning, not just Thai speakers learning English, but English speakers learning Thai (like myself). I feel frustrated when I can’t connect more deeply with someone because of a language barrier. This is something I want to change. But I think there needs to be more emphasis on language learning, as opposed to just English language learning. If language learning is one-sided, there can be no cultural exchange, only cultural domination. This is not what the world needs.
 
My goal for this year, before I arrived, was to learn how to be a teacher. I am learning, but I’m realizing that building relationships with my students–and anyone else from Thailand, for that matter–requires more work on my part, because I have to find ways to put myself in their shoes…and their sandals ūüôā
 
I think learning language is a beautiful way to do that.
ÔĽŅ
 
 
 
 

Chapter One: A Very Slow Start to a Very Long Year

The first week of teaching is over. The second week of teaching has just begun.¬† I write happily from the comfort of my apartment in my pajamas–this is my day off.

The first week was everything: exhilarating, terrifying, irritating, rewarding, and (literally) nauseating. I teach nineteen and a half hours a week.¬† While I thought that was completely normal, even a bit easy¬†(given that most full time American jobs in the professional world run anywhere form forty to eighty hours in a week), I quickly realized that nineteen and a half hours of teaching really means nineteen and half hours of performing stand-up comedy routines. And that’s exhausting.

In many ways I think I came to immortalize teaching much as I used to immortalize acting (which I find rather hilarious, since I’m starting to see so many similarities between the two jobs). I convinced myself over the last year that teaching was one of the most noble professions a person could pursue and that therefore, I should do it. I convinced myself of this so that I would feel better about moving to a corner of this globe I barely knew existed. Of course, I still do (and always will) believe that teaching is a very noble profession. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for my teachers. I mean that. But being noble doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t plagued with doubt, fear, irritation, and those pesky little calls of nature that you just can’t answer because you’re already late to your next class and it’s twenty minutes away on the second floor of a building that doesn’t have stairs.

(Deep breath).

This past week, as I bulldozed my way through seas of giggly students, I began to feel¬†a change¬†in my own skin. First of all, I knew that I was being watched. It’s impossible to avoid being seen, because students wear uniforms and¬†teachers do not. If you’re not in uniform, you’re a teacher, and everybody knows it.

I never thought I would be cursing self expression!

I’ve always, always tried to blend in with the crowd, to avoid feeling put on the spot and to be able to watch life unfold from the safety of the wallpaper. But now I feel like I’m suddenly in the hot, bright spotlight–and I’ve only been teaching for a week of my life.

My dream is to use this awkward position of authority to my advantage–not to self-aggrandize myself, but to catalyze the respect teachers are supposedly garnered into challenging my students further in the classroom. Ok…but how?

I’m torn halfway between wanting to throw myself full-heartedly into this profession and wanting to lace up my boots, grab a backpack and hit the road.

I’ll go ahead and say it: it is not easy working in a foreign country. Nothing makes¬†sense to me. The bureaucracy of Thailand isn’t my bureaucracy, so instead of brushing it off as “typical,” I get more and more frustrated. Every day I get more blank stares from students who would rather be on their cell phones or shopping at the mall than sitting in my classroom listening to me explain non-countable nouns.

What the hell are non-countable nouns, anyway???

Maybe I would be less frustrated if I had indeed finished an English as a Second Language training course. That’s probably what any logical, foreword-thinking person would do. But part of me thinks that no matter how “prepared” you are for a job, nothing can prepare you for getting smacked in the face by the unpredictability of human beings. Whether they are above or below you in “rank” (which is very big here in Thailand), human beings are just as messy, confused, and wanting to be loved as you.

If only I could hug everyone instead of having to smile politely and say “kap kun ma ka” for God only knows what.