Teacher Journal: Katie
Katie (from Chicago, IL - USA)
Taught in Bangkok, Thailand
"Sawaat di Ka" ("hello" in Thai) to everyone.
I am currently in an intensive five-week course to receive my TEFL certificate to teach English to native Thai speakers. In a few weeks I will be placed into a paid teaching assignment somewhere in this beautiful country. There are a number of different kinds of schools that I could be placed in, teaching students ranging from 6-year-olds to University level. This course is training me to be able to teach students that have little or no prior knowledge of English.
I have been here for about a week now, and oh my God I love it! This place is unreal. It is nothing like I expected, and at the same time far better than I could have ever dreamed. I am in a small town called Ban Phe (about two hours from Bangkok). I am staying at the school, which is about 100 meters from the beach. It is a lot like a dormitory - sort of! We have no hot water, but it's not that bad - the cool shower feels so nice because of the heat! Today, during the lunch break, I took a swim in the Gulf. It is just so beautiful. I wake up to roosters in the morning. I am actually typing on a computer while a chicken is walking past me... unbelievable!
The class and the people are great. It is wonderful because there is so much diversity in the population of students. There are 28 students, ranging in age from 22 to 55. We have Aussies, Brits, Americans, Thais, and Canadians. We even have married couples in the group. It is a great dynamic and works very well in the classroom.
A little bit about my daily life here... we wake up between 6 and 6:30 in the morning. Once the rooster crows, you know it's time to get up! I go for a nice 30-minute walk down the beach, then go back to school, shower and get ready for the day. Often, we have breakfast right next to the beach. There are tables, and you can just sit back and look at the beautiful scenery. I either get banana pancakes called "arroima ka" - delicious! - or a lovely plate of fresh fruit. School begins at 9.
The LanguageCorps TEFL course is great; I am learning so much. It is not like normal school, where you take notes all day. It is interactive and focused on helping us learn how difficult learning English will be for Thais, and well as helping us as teachers learn different ways to use gestures, visuals and sounds to help the students understand. During lunch break, you can run into town, or just sit at the beach. Recently, after class ended at 5PM, some other teacher trainees and I went to the beach to do yoga. One of the members of our group used to be a yoga instructor and has graciously offered to be our instructor here. It has been wonderful! Such a release after a day of class.
To tell you something of Thailand that I know so far... There are stray dogs everywhere. They walk into the shops and it seems that everyone around just takes care of them. It is very normal to see chickens, roosters and other such animals just walking around. Rayong is a larger city not far from Ban Phe. That's where you go to do any kind of real shopping. I went into town the other day - and what a sight! First, I took a bus to Rayong. A bus here is not what you might think. It is a pick-up truck with a top put on and two benches put on each side. It really is so much fun! I haven't yet gotten onto a motorbike (they are taxis here), but I am sure I will soon.
The people here are so wonderful and open. They smile and try and help you all the time. I walked into Ban Phe the other night, and a man kept signaling me down. I thought he was asking if I wanted a taxi, so I kept saying no. He then turned his motorbike around and stopped. He asked me if I was a teacher at the school. When I said yes, he told me he would see me at five o'clock (this was all in very hard to understand English). I thought he was taking English courses at the school, so I said goodbye and went on my way. I found out later that he wanted me to teach him English! Turns out he's approached many members of our group playing out the same scenario. I thought this to be so wonderful - to see his desire to learn English and use it whenever he sees me (which can be a few times per day!). You can see that he gets to practice his English, even if it is very little.
This weekend, our group is taking a trip to Ko Samet, a nearby island. It is supposed to be very beautiful and I am looking forward to it very much. Last night, the LanguageCorps staff had a party for us...it was so nice. They had traditional Thai dancing and music. These little girls were dressed up in such beautiful outfits, moving so gracefully to the music - a great sight!
Let's start with a celebration because I have a job! Things went really well at the interview and I just signed a contract today. The pay is pretty good, and the contract is only through the end of February. The Thai summer is in March and April, so I'll probably spend most of the time traveling around Thailand. March and April are the best times to come and visit me! I'm really excited! In May, I will either sign another contract with the school through November or maybe look at another location in Thailand (my LanguageCorps Corps Advocate will help me with that!).
I went apartment hunting - what a crazy experience! The first place that they showed us was a room with a double bed, no window, a small bathroom, and no kitchen. I would compare it to a really bad hotel room. Next they took us to what you'd probably call a duplex - really nice looking, but without furnishings. I think it's important to feel comfortable, seeing as I will spend a bit of time there. Until then we are staying at a guesthouse in central Bangkok, but not near Kao Sahn Road (the westerners area) ...that place in way overpriced and way too many westerners. I don't mind going in the area to hang out or watch a movie, but honestly...it's kind of a silly "mecca" of hippie-sorts looking for a way to reach nirvana or something! Which is not to say that I haven't met some really neat and interesting people while on Kao Sahn Road.
So, about my apartment - it's great! Perhaps not the western idea of what's great, but it is. It is one room, with a bathroom, a couch, a table, a bed and a balcony overlooking the expressway. I would say it's about the size of a bedroom plus a half a room. But I like it! My building is really nice - 24-hour security, an email cafe, a laundry place, a mini mart (like a 7-Eleven), a pool and a restaurant.
I'll start my training and work on Monday. I have three days of training before school begins - getting acquainted with the texts, and teaching 50 kids, and the school policies. I actually think it is going to be very beneficial. Then I start work! When I finish work on Friday, I'll take the bus back down to Ban Phe for a Halloween party (I'm a nurse from World War II!). Then on Saturday back up to Bangkok to sign my lease, move in on Sunday, and begin real teaching on Monday. Somewhere in the midst I have to find transportation to and from work, either a bike or a used motor bike - which will be really cool!
My teaching assignment is at Wat Song Tam school. It's a Buddhist temple school on the outskirts of Bangkok, near the river. It is a high school, with 2,500 students. I will teach around 20-25 classes a week, one hour each. I'll usually have 50 students in one class; that will take some getting used to, but I'm sure I can do it. When I'm not in class, I do lesson plans, or help the other Thai teachers. It will be a very interesting few months! Becki (my friend from LanguageCorps training) and I are also planning on starting some sports teams. Becki plays basketball and I play volleyball; so we are going to put up some signs and start some teams! I think it will go really well, and it will be so much fun to coach - in Thailand!
I am enjoying finally getting settled down in Bangkok. Teaching is still going great. I really enjoy the students, and the Thai teachers are so wonderful. This past Friday there was a banquet at school. There is a new director here, so the party was to initiate him. It was great! They had Thai dancing, karaoke (which I joined after much coaxing from other teachers), great food, a formal presentation and the school band. For me, it brought me closer by seeing how the teachers interact outside of the classroom, and for them I think they appreciated me being a part of the celebration. It was one more terrific experience here.
Let me tell about a great evening I had recently. Our group from LanguageCorps had made friends with a bunch of Thai locals - Somsak, K, and Noi. They're great! First, Somsak went bowling with us, then asked if we wanted to go play pool that night. So about nine of us go to the local pool hall - what a sight! There were snooker tables, and we would have never known of the place if it hadn't been for these new friends. Each Thai had a motor bike, and there were two falangs (non-Thai people) on the back of each. It was really funny! We all learned how to play snooke, then went to "sing a song." I must explain that the Thais are obsessed with karaoke - they love it! So, we had to go. It was really funny - and educational! I learned a few new Thai words. A great night.
Two of my friends are going with Somsak and Noi (who are brothers) to Chantaburi (about two hours from Ban Phe) to go fishing and spend a few days with their family. Honestly - how amazing! Thai people are so giving. They have opened to doors to us and invited us into their families' homes. They want us to see Thailand. It's really beautiful. I've wondered about what I have to give in in return; but our Thai friends say that having the opportunity to practice English and show off their beautiful country is enough.