It is hard to write these blog posts without reflecting back on all I have learned and experienced since November, but I will do my best. As I had mentioned, Friday night came quickly and I was extremely tired. I napped for a few hours at the Teacher House before Raquel and Stephanie convinced me to go into the city with them for the Halloween Party. We opted to be the Aristocats: I was the white kitten. We made due with the clothes in our bags and some make-up. Then we set off to the main road to catch a tuk-tuk… at around 9pm. Well, there were none. I can still remember vividly how exposed I had felt with a tube-top on and nothing covering my shoulders. Many drivers on motorbikes or in vehicles honked their horns. This is not extremely unusual to me as it happens in Boston as well, but I felt different. I was embarrassed and very aware that we were standing out and not in a positive way. We ended up calling our agent and she arranged for a tuk-tuk driver to pick us up. Those 30 minutes waiting on the side of the road still stands out in my mind even after all these weeks. I go out in the city now in shorts and a tank top, but it feels different. The Teacher House was in a smaller village called Ban Phru. One day during lunch a Thai English teacher told me another Thai teacher mentioned she had seen me in Ban Phru. I remember flushing red as I smiled and nodded, all the while hoping it was not that Friday night.
After some wrong turns and stopping for help a few times, we arrived at Hive. I quickly felt at ease as I saw many farangs in costumes much more ridiculous and revealing than mine. I look back at this night fondly. It was the first time I met most of the people I am now friends with and spend my weekends with. It is funny that it took weeks for me to realize who was who and often mid conversation I would shout “Oh yeah! You were _________ at Halloween!!” I am very glad I went and it was just what I needed to prepare me for all the hard times ahead of me that week. I am most grateful for a late night exchange of information between myself and four foreigners I had met earlier in the week on a songtaew. They just arrived in Hat Yai as well. Kate and Lisa are sisters from South Africa; while Jon and Kevin are friends from New Jersey.
Saturday afternoon, our apartment at Napalai Place was ready for us to move into. I packed up my backpack and wondered what it would be like to live in one place for months after backpacking for two months. Our apartment is really luxurious compared to others I have seen in Thailand. It is a condominium complex complete with a gym, lap pool, restaurant, coffee shop and convenience store. My rent is only about $165, including utilities! Once we dropped our bags off, we knew we had to go to Tesco to buy everything from sheets to toilet paper to utensils. After a few hours, lots of groceries, two pizzas and one full tuk-tuk, we went home to unpack and settle in. My mom always said if you have your bathroom clean and your bed made, you can do everything else later. So I made my bed, rinsed down the bathroom, and fell asleep. Sunday we explored the local department store complex called “Diana.” It has some clothes stores, a grocery store, coffee shops, restaurants, and even a movie theatre on the top floor. That day I think I visited Diana four different times until I had everything I needed for the weeks and months to come. Here’s a peek at my apartment and the incredible view outside my window.
That evening I settled at the kitchen table and began lesson planning for the upcoming week. I decided to start with lessons on occupations for the majority of the classes, and technology lessons for the college students. I learned so little about their proficiency after our quick lessons last week, so I opted to start with some simple positions and skills associated with them. I tried to take into account some of the jobs students mentioned last week.
Monday morning, Stephanie and I left around 6:45am in order to arrive at work by 7:45am. We walked about 15 minutes to the main road, then caught a songtaew and rode it for about 40 minutes until we arrived at school. The reality of commuting 45 minutes to an hour everyday became quite overwhelming. My agent had said my school was only about 30 minutes away from Hat Yai city… I made the mistake of believing her. As the week went on, I decided I definitely needed to rent or purchase a scooter to drive to and from school.
On my Monday schedule I had four classes, I went through the same introduction dialogue with all my classes. Around lunchtime, P Juliette told me I would be doing an English Club in the afternoon from 2:30-3:20. She briefly explained that it would be to play games, be social, and enjoy speaking English. My schedule was now up to 28 periods a week, this felt like a lot and more than I had expected to be teaching. I had no plan for an English club, so we just spent the time learning each other’s names and sharing about our families. I quickly realized these girls, although eager to learn English, knew very little. During the rest of my free time that day I browsed the Internet and prepared materials for Wednesday’s lessons.
Tuesday came and went without much change. I did take the advice of a fellow farang teacher that has been a teachers in Hat Yai for over a year. He suggested creating a Facebook account to use with my students and colleagues. He explained how sometimes he will get posts or messages from students and it is an opportunity for them to practice their English. Some students are too shy to use English in class, Facebook gives them a computer to hide behind and google translate at their fingertips. I made a new account and simply named myself “Laura Thailand.” In the days to come, I shared this information with my students and the friend requests quickly accumulated. Although there was one awkward moment when I offered my Facebook information to one of the college classes. Heem called out “No… Fake Facebook.” I was immediately mortified, but recovered by trying to convey that if he worked hard and practiced English with me over the next few months, I would give him my real Facebook account when the term endedWednesday was the first day I would be implementing my actual lessons plans. I created them around the TESOL teaching theories incorporating direct methodology and the communicative approach. However, the majority of the lessons included a lot of drilling and repetition. I can clearly remember standing at assembly, fumbling with my fingers as I thought of all the things that could go wrong: the students would be horribly bored, the students would not participate, the students would laugh, the students would not listen, the students would walk out, and the list went on. As I look back now, I am so grateful that I implemented the lesson for the first time with my Wednesday classes. They are my most attentive and engaged students. They genuinely enjoy English class and all the students come to each class. I am grateful for them because I was able to leave Wednesday afternoon feeling successful and with a huge smile on my face. Due to the timing of the classes, I was only able to really help the students pronounce the key vocabulary words and elicit 1-2 dialogue couplets. I had two games planned to start the class and end the class. With a few of the classes, we did play team telephone and I was able to see the true Thai competitive side. The students went out of their way to cheat in order to win. Although it was not completely successful, we ended each class with laughs and excitement. Jaco’s voice was echoing in my head telling me that you need to end class this way so the students are eager to return the following week.
Thursday was extremely exhausting. Not only do I have my youngest students, but I also have 7 classes with only one break for lunch. It was challenging to manage M 1/1 because it is a large class of 12-13 year olds, most of whom are boys. It was hard to get them to listen, but it was great to see them respond to the obstacle course. I quickly began to figure out which classes would be able to successfully complete my lessons, and which classes I would have to adjust the lessons for to better suit the needs of the students.That weekend was exciting as I bought my scooter! It was very expensive, even in American dollars. However, I felt more comfortable buying a slightly used scooter from my agent’s cousin rather than renting one from a stranger. The plan is to sell it back in March. My first ride home after picking up the bike Friday was quite an adventure. I had to go about 10 km into the city and it was during one of the first rallies by the supporters of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Among hundreds of Thais on motorbikes, waving flags and blowing whistles, I had to navigate the crowded Route 4 to Napalai Place. As I pulled into the garage of my condo, I was relieved to have made it home safely and decided if I could maneuver through that, I would be alright driving to work everyday.
To celebrate our first week in the apartment, Raquel, Steph, and I treated ourselves to some wine and card games. We laughed and enjoyed each others’ company. As Sunday came, I was again hit in the face with the reality of work. Although I’m living abroad and traveling, I have come to dread Sunday nights again, as I know every teacher does: they are filled with lesson planning, grocery shopping, and laundry.