A high-five can cure anything.

Drawing near the end of the second week teaching English and I’m TIRED. I have a new appreciation for teachers in general, especially the ones who teach little kids day in and out. It’s tough! I have come to learn that with teaching you really have no idea what each class period is going to entail. One hour I’m confidently instructing a class of forty 5 year olds who are engaged, excited, and all around happy to be with me. Cue to the next hour where no one wants to play and learn, they just want to pick their noses and run amok while I chase them; barefoot and sweating in my knee length skirt.

I left school last Thursday for my much anticipated three day weekend feeling successful about my job, even if it was only a little bit. These kids are so young. My K1 students are about three years old. This is their first experience in a school setting and it shows on their tiny faces. They are terrified. Here comes this big farang into the classroom singing and dancing and acting like an all around fool, just to get their attention. I start with a loud and warm, “Hello, class!” or “Good Morning!”, and sometimes I get a response back. “Are you ready?” I shout. “YEAH!” forty tiny voices shout back. Then to focus their attention on me (or to literally wake them up) I play a physical response game. “Stand up, sit down, turn around, clap clap clap!” I instruct the class and have them repeat after me. “Walk walk walk. Run run run run run!” They love that one. You have to be careful though because when a class full of kindergartners gets overly excited, it usually ends in a pile of students on the ground in hysterics and it takes another five minutes to calm them down. “FREEZE!” is my favorite, for obvious reasons. I slap my arms to my sides and stand at attention while the kids follow suit.

I’ve played Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes with all my classes. And the response is wildly unique with each level of students. My K1 classes watch apprehensively, while slowly gaining comprehension of what body parts I’m singing. They go NUTS when I speed up the song. It’s hilarious to watch them all freak out, laughing and clumsily pointing to eyes and ears and mouth and nose.

I had big plans on Monday to teach my K3 classes The Beatle’s song “Hello, Goodbye”. I played it a few times and sung along while they watched in confusion and semi-interest. Then I attempted to teach the vocab words from the song; “high, low; stop, go”. It takes trial, error, and patience when you can only teach 4 words max in a class period. What got the ball rolling with the vocab words was when my amazing co-teacher, Pi Poo, took the reins and turned the vocab lesson into a game of duck duck goose. Sitting in a circle, the class repeats and acts out the words while a student taps on their classmate’s heads. Ending with the word “GO!” (equivalent of goose in the game) the students chase each other around the circle. It was hilarious and within a few minutes 40 hands were shooting up in the air to go next. I still don’t think they really remembered the words, but it was fun for everyone. Pretty soon I was sweating yet again (shocker) as I was running around the circle with the students yelling and clapping “Go, go, go!”

I’m grateful that I don’t have to create advanced lesson plans and assessments every day, but classes like this are exhausting, mentally and physically. I’m trying to not be so hard on myself and the students. I’m an alien to them, speaking in tongues and towering over their miniature red and white sailor-esque uniforms. I have to remember to speak slowly and clearly, not an easy task for a girl from the East Coast. My favorite part of this week was teaching the song “If you’re happy and you know it”. K3 has started to sing along and they love the action parts of the song. “If you’re tired and you know it, fall asleep” is the best. I literally lay down on the floor and snore loudly for a few seconds before jumping up screaming, “wake up, wake up, wake up!!!!!!”

All of the stress and confusion I’m facing right now is quelled when I walk through the hallway and class after class cranes their head out the window to say “Hello, teacha!” to me, some running up to me and hugging me around my legs; and they sure as hell love giving me high-fives.

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Introducing: Teacher Pizza!

Arriving at school Monday morning, I was rearing and ready to start my first ever week of teaching. I shuffle around from class to class with my energetic Thai co-teacher, Pi Poo (known as Teacher Pinky to students). I introduce myself as Teacher Krista from America. English sounds are difficult for Thai people, especially the letter ‘r’ and ‘t’. All that these 3-5 year old students hear is something like “Kwissa”, which immediately comes out sounding like the word: pizza. Teacher Pizza is standing there in front of a class smiling like a fool not catching onto this flub until Pi Poo starts laughing, “Mai chai pizza! Not pizza. Not food. KRIS-TA.” Realizing that the students are addressing me as one of my favorite foods in the whole world, I start laughing along with everyone else. Damn, I wish I could have some pizza right now. Thanks for the reminder.After being introduced to about 15 classes, Pi Poo tells me I’m done for the day, I start teaching TOMORROW. Okay, then! Day one ends about 1 hour after it begins.

Day Two: Finally, I begin teaching. Actually, there was no real teaching taking place in my classes today. The first class I attempted to teach them a song where they sing, “Hello, hello. What’s your name? …My name is _______.” (Sung to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb). Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. 5 year old Thai students that are probably scared of me and know hardly any English end up just staring at me in confusion as I sing and clap along. These kids had SO much energy. One student wouldn’t sit down at all, he ended up just playing in the corner the whole time while I failed miserably at teaching his peers some songs and how to say “my name is.” I wasn’t too hard on myself being that this was my first time teaching in my life (in Thailand of all places). I quickly changed it up to have the students color on some paper. I told them to draw themselves, so I drew an embarrassingly bad drawing off myself on the board and said “draw!” Cue 30 five year olds all drawing exactly what I had drawn on the board: me. Good enough for me.

My next two classes went better. My technique is gradually progressing. In my second class I had two teams lined up at the board while I showed them random letters on flash cards. First kid to say the letter got a point. That actually worked great and they were super pumped about it. It’s just that 7-10 minutes in, I notice a group of students playing on the floor, another group fooling around doing who knows what. MAXIMUM Energy level . LOW Attention span . By the third class I actually got them to sit in a circle while I rolled a ball around and they said, “My name is whisperwhisperwhisper.” Success! All the classes ended in me passing out a sheet to color and attempting to talk to students one on one and find out their names. Not happening, Pizza. I really have no idea what to start with when it comes to the second class. It seems as if my biggest obstacle is to get them to just sit quietly and LISTEN. Miming and using my loud voice just isn’t cutting it. It would be a lot easier if they had a workbook of any sort so I could actually have an idea of what they need to learn and in what succession. I guess the internet is going to become my best friend.

Best point of the day: Pi Poo giving me a garland of jasmine flowers as a good luck gesture for my first day.

Next up: afternoon nap; dreaming of pizza. The food, not myself.

‘Daeng It

Before I came here I had emailed a former American teacher at my school in Thailand asking how his experience both in the area and at the school were for him. He said he considered himself very lucky to be placed at Amnuayvidhya School in Phrapradaeng, and hoped I would feel the same way. How right he was! We’ve only been here about a week and so far we love our little town across the river from Bangkok. We are so close to the city bus that we can hop on a city for about 15 minutes, walk to the BTS station (Bangkok’s Sky Train: the most immaculate and modern public transport I’ve ever seen) and be on our way to anywhere in the city. With that being said, at the same time we are very removed from the craziness that Bangkok has to offer. There are virtually no Westerners here (I’ve seen about two older British men in the supermarket with Thai wives. Shocker.) Us five American ladies are stared at everywhere we go. Not in a bad way, it’s more of a “Whoa, look at that foreigner!” kind of stare. Mostly the stares are met with shy smiles and a “hello!!” from people on passing motorbikes. Everyone we’ve met tells us that we are “suay ma”, very beautiful. We’ve been helped by many strangers who see us on the bus wondering where to get off or where something is. One woman who spoke quite good English walked with us from the bus stop to the BTS Station to make sure we didn’t get lost. The kindness of Thai people makes being in a foreign country much easier when you can hardly speak ten Thai words.

Caitlin, Me, Taylor, our coordinator (one of the cutest women alive) Pi Tuk, Aubin, and Rachel

 Samut Prakan is the province that encompasses the area south and southeast of Bangkok, along the Gulf. We live in Phrapradaeng, a bustling town located on the southern edge of the Chao Praya River. It’s definitely no where as crazy at Bangkok but it has everything and anything we could need. There is a large superstore similar to Walmart just about a 10 minutes ride away in the Songthaew (a large pickup truck with a covered bed with benches that serves as an open air communal taxi), a 7-11, tons of shops on the main road, and a market with stalls that sell clothing, food, and DOUGHNUTS! There is a beautiful temple just around the corner from our apartment building. We’ve yet to check it out because everything we pass we’re not dressed appropriately. You have to have a skirt or pants down to your knee and covered shoulders. Thailand is hot as hell this time of year so you can imagine I’m hardly ever dressed like this, except for going to school. There are apparently a couple of great parks nearby which I’m planning on checking out this weekend. The surrounding area including Bangkok offer some pretty options to check out on a weekend that I plan on staying in Phrapradaeng. There is the city of course, with tons of shopping at markets and stores alike, food options, etc. We went and got Mexican food the other night in Bangkok which was AMAZING but very expensive (Western prices) compared to Thai food. If you’re ever in Bangkok and craving some Mexican, check out La Monita near the Ploen Chit BTS stop. Some of the islands are only a few hours away on bus. Being so close to Bangkok means I can easily get on a bus to anywhere in Thailand just by heading into the city which is about 20-40 minutes by city bus depending on where you want to go.

sunset on the Chao Praya

This Tuesday we went to school for a staff meeting to meet our director and fellow Thai teachers. After the meeting we were served lunch with the heads of school who were all related in some way and welcomed us into their family. Each American teacher was partnered up with a Thai teacher who we will be co-teaching with. I found out that I would be teaching at the Anuban school, which is a smaller school across the street that is for kindergartners. They start the kids in kindergarten around age 3 in Thailand, so I will be teaching K1-K3, ages 3-5. The other teachers were given their class schedules but I was told mine was not ready. My teacher is named Pi Poo (Pi is a word used for someone older, to refer to them as older brother or sister.) She is super cute and excited to have me teaching with her. She immediately was asking about my family and told me that I was now her new daughter.

We discussed what the kindergartners would be learning throughout the year. I don’t have any workbooks since they are too young, so I will most likely be doing games and songs with them all year while I teach them very slowly about letters, numbers, fruits and veggies, etc.  On Wednesday, we went to school to work on lesson plans. It was basically us sitting around on the internet searching for games and songs and coming up with a basic first two days of lessons. I looked through the school’s library and found some very basic books to borrow for class about the ABC’s and basic greetings in Thai and English. At the end of the day, I went over to the Anuban school to meet Pi Poo, and she showed me around the school a bit. Then she told me I wouldn’t be teaching until Monday! That’s how Thailand rolls I’ve come to find out, sometimes you find out things with no notice whatsoever. Amnuayvidhya’s main school started today, Thursday, but the younger kids don’t come in until next week. Even though I will be separated from my friends during class hours, I’ll be able to walk across the street to eat lunch with them and visit when I want. I can’t wait to meet my classes, I’m sure they will be adorable and probably scared of me at first. I’m happy with my placement, since I have so much experience nannying toddlers and young kids, I know that age. After school, four of us new teachers were talking to the Songthaew to go to the Big C (Thai Walmart) and all of a sudden Pi Poo pulls up in her car. “I take you to Big C”, she tells us. And without hesitation, packs us into her backseat and carts us to the store.

Pat and Pi Poo

Pat and Pi Poo

seriously, how cute is my school?

seriously, how cute is my school?

This weekend I’m staying here in Phrapradaeng with my friends. We’re going to hit up a weekend market called Chatuchak in Bangkok and where you can buy tons of clothes for very cheap. Next week we have Friday off of school, so I’m planning on going to an island that’s about 3 hours away by bus and ferry with a couple of my friends and fellow teachers. I can’t wait to lay on a beach and see the beauty that Thailand has to offer down South. It’s so hot here right now that swimming in the Gulf is going to be heavenly. I’m so happy with where I’m living and the people I was placed with. I got really lucky in that sense, that I love each one of the girls here and can’t wait to see what the year has in store for us!

one of the many local strays

one of the many local strays

 

 

 

Escape from Bangkok

The last days of our OEG orientation pulled us out of the classroom and we were offered with some amazing activities around Thailand. The night before we were supposed to leave Bangkok to head to Kanchanaburi (3 hours away), I went into Bangkok’s Chinatown with a few girls to grab dinner. We ate at a little street stall and most of us had a crab dish. Fast forward to 3 am and I am stricken with super fun food poisoning in my hotel room. I won’t go into details but I was basically half dead for the rest of the night and into the morning. We had to give our teaching presentations that next morning, and I opted out being that I couldn’t stand up without being sick. Everyone was SO nice about it. OEG Staff members came to check on me, and my friends all came to bring me medicine and even bring down my luggage since we were checking out of the hotel. I barely made it onto the bus by 1 pm for our three hour ride to Kanchanaburi. I’m so glad that I did though, it was the best part of orientation and no crab from Chinatown was going to stop me. We stopped at the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, which connect the “Death Railway”. It’s a bridge that sadly is a mass grave sight for Allied POWs from WWI that the Japanese worked to death to link Thailand with Burma. The railway was intended to move Japanese supplies to the front line in Burma where they were fighting the British. The Bridge is now a big tourist sight with tons of shops and souvenier stands along the river edge. However, the area is absolutely beautiful and it was interesting to see such a historical monument in rural Thailand.

Bridge over River Kwai Photo by Rachel Turner

Bridge over River Kwai
Photo by Rachel Turner

We then ventured to a floating restaurant for dinner. I still didn’t feel 100% so I passed on the food but the cool evening breeze felt amazing and the sun setting along the river was just incredible. It was basically a dinner/dance party on this big floating restaurant that was pulled by a small boat. All the boats on the river were BLASTING obnoxious dance music like Gangham Style. It was hilarious and all I could do was laugh at the horrible music playing in this gorgeous rural river setting. My friend Rachel captured amazing photos:

Copyright Rachel Turner

Copyright Rachel Turner

River Kwai sunset Photo by Rachel Turner

River Kwai sunset
Photo by Rachel Turner

OEG dance party Photo by Rachel Turner

OEG dance party
Photo by Rachel Turner

That night we checked into The Pavilion Rim Kwai Resort hotel, a beautiful hotel that reminded me of Jurassic Park. It felt great to be out of the city and breathe the fresh Thai air and see all the beautiful tropical plants. We rose early the next morning with much excitment; we were going to ride ELEPHANTS along the River Kwai! It was just as awesome as it sounds, I wish the ride was longer but we were with a huge group so that would have been impossible. We floated on bamboo rafts down the river and even got to jump in. The water felt amazing and we ignored the fact that there may or may not have been river creatures down below. After the swim, we rode the elephants. It was bumpy and strange and I felt like our little chair atop the elephant’s back was going to fall off but it was so great at the same time. We laughed a lot and tried to take in the fact that we were in Thailand riding elephants.

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The elephant camp also had a baby goat that I got to feed with a baby bottle. Honestly, that was one of my favorite moments so far. He was as big as a cat and just loved the milk in the bottle.

feeding baby goat!

feeding baby goat!

kristagoat

In love

In love

 

 

This is Thailand.

I suppose I need to put this whole Thailand adventure into context for the start of my blog. About 8 months ago, I started getting the travel itch like no other. I wanted to travel somewhere while doing something that enriched not only my life, but made a difference in the world, no matter how small. I chatted with friends about teaching abroad, and the research began. I came across a program called CIEE

leaving for Thailand!

(The Council on International Education Exchange) that has been around since the 1950s and places students and teachers around the world into positions for teaching abroad or studying abroad. They were a reputable organization consisting of real people rather than some scammy website. Many, many blog and Google searches later, I found that CIEE had a program that brought US teachers to Thailand for 5 or 10 months. A bachelor’s degree, some recommendations, and a bunch of other paperwork was all you needed to apply for this program. I was immediately sucked in and I became obsessed with Thailand and its culture and people. OBSESSED. I had never wanted anything so badly, even though it seemed pretty far out of my grasp. Months later, many conversations with my parents and friends and competing my application turned into an acceptance into CIEE’s 10 month teaching in Thailand program. I was ecstatic. It was really happening! From my small town in NJ where I had lived my whole existence, I was going to be living in a country halfway around the world in a culture so unlike what I know. The months passed and many tearful goodbyes came and went, and I was leaving for my trip.

Fast forward about a week later. I’ve been in Thailand for four days now, but it feels like so much longer. CIEE and its partner organization in Thailand, OEG (Overseas Education Group), has our entire first week planned out to the hour. About 60 of us soon to be teachers have flown here into Bangkok to begin our life changing experiences. We have been staying at a hotel, with teacher training, Thai language classes, and a myriad of other activities to keep us busy, and hungry and tired. I’ve been meeting like minded people from all over the US, Canada, and a couple Australians and New Zealanders as well. We’ve all been thrown into not only a new profession, but a new country, and completely new culture.

vegetarian ramen!

 

This orientation week has helped make the transition easier, we’re getting prepped before being thrown out into this new world. This new world that consists of tropical weather, spicy new foods, warm and generous people, and a beautiful religion and culture. I couldn’t be more thrilled to actually be living out this dream I cooked up so many months ago. It’s been overwhelming and it hardly even begun. Slowly learning phrases in Thai like “sa what dee kah” (Hello!), “Khap khun kah” (Thank you), and “Chan ghin jei” (I eat vegetarian). The Thai people like when you speak their language and put in a little effort. Some man even let us in to use his home’s bathroom yesterday when we needed it. When does that happen in the US?

The highlight so far was visiting the Grand Palace today to see the Emerald Buddha and all the various structures that the Kings have lived in. I’ll blog about the King and Queen another time since it’s a whole topic in itself, but let me just say that the current king, King Rama IX is the longest reigning monarch ever and the Thais love him more than anything. The King and Queen have done amazing things for their country and people. Tonight at dinner we were presented with traditional Thai dancing which is so beautiful and graceful. OEG has really made an effort to make us feel welcome and excited about being in this wonderful country.

digging the Thai architecture

IMG_7793 digging the Thai architecture

 

I am SO excited (and so nervous) about starting to teaching next week. I will be teaching primary school (elementary age) kids in a smaller city/town outside of central Bangkok called Phrapradaeng, Samut Prakan. My school is called Amnuayvidyha and it’s right on the Chao Praya river, which is the central river running through the country. In the next couple days before we leave to our respected towns and schools, we will be visiting the bridge on the River Kwai and riding elephants at an elephant camp. There is so much to look forward to and I can’t wait to share.

Phrapradaeng, where I will be living for the next 10 months!

Phrapradaeng, where I will be living for the next 10 months!

From La La Land to the T(h)ai’s

Hello from Taipei, Taiwan! Well, hello from the airport terminal hotel. I made it all the way across the Pacific to my layover destination. EVA Air was impressive for economy; two vegetarian meals complete with fresh fruit and veggies, juice, and beer. I ordered a Hindu meal and I got some pretty good rice and spicy veggies. The flight wasn’t full so I moved to the and got to stretch across two seats. After the meal and a corny Barbra Streisand Seth Rogan comedy, I popped my ZzQuil and was out for a glorious 10 hours, give or take. My rear end was numb a few times but overall it was good. My suggestions for anyone embarking on a long flight, bring an eye-mask, earplugs, snacks, LOTS of water, socks, and a light pullover in case it’s chilly. The ear plugs kept me sane from the baby in the row ahead crying on and off the entire flight. Many hours later I made it to Novotel for a few hours of sleep before I have to be back on the plane for another 5 or so hours to Thailand. It’s so close I can almost touch it! Almost.
Feeling happy, healthy, and hopeful.