Miss Universe Goes to School

Miss Universe Goes to School
Sawatdee ka from Pathum Thani! I’ve had a full week in my new home and I already feel like so much has happened. We left Hua Hin early on Saturday, October 25th and were transported via van to a hotel somewhere (still can’t tell you where I was if my life depended on it) near our final placement. In addition to Sara, Hillary, and me we had our fellow Greenhearter Kirstie along for the ride. Kirstie is working with the same agent and is being placed in nearby Bang Bon. We assumed Saturday would be spent apartment hunting, but instead we had the day to just hang at the hotel. We’d been informed the night before that Saturday evening there would be a welcome party for us in conjunction with a birthday party. I had no idea what to expect, as is quite often the case these days, so we dressed conservatively to be on the safe side and awaited our 6 pm pick up. We arrived at a cute little restaurant that, as it turns out, belongs to our agent. I had no idea who I was about to meet or what was about to happen, but it ended up being a wonderful night. In addition to our group of girls, we spent the evening with our agent Khun Neung, her righthand man Johnny, the birthday girl Shiny (who teaches at a different school), a few Thai assistants, and a few fellow foreign language teachers from our new school (there are 15 of us total in the foreign language department!). One of these teachers just so happened to be a fellow Greenhearter as well which was a fun surprise. Carter is from Arizona and had taken the TESOL a month prior to us. Luckily, he had been around Pathum Thani for a while to show us the ropes. We enjoyed an endless feast that evening and indulged in BIRTHDAY CAKE! (much thanks to Shiny for the occasion) Best of all, there was a stage and karaoke- cue ‘’Hit Me Baby One More Time’’ and ‘’Killing Me Softly’’….
During the course of our dinner we found out what our accommodation options were going to be. Because transportation is included in our contracts, it only made sense that teachers all lived in the same spot for an easy pick up. That spot has the ever glorious name of Progress Mansion. On Sunday, we made the trip to Progress (as I shall call it going forward) and learned very quickly that our American standards needed to be thrown out the window. First of all, only one room out of 3 was available for move-in that day. This meant the 3 musketeers would be spending the next 3 days sharing one room together. This room would become mine after an intense rock-paper-scissors match. First impressions are obviously important and upon getting off at the 4th floor we were greeted with a wide, pitch black hallway. Like, horror movie style hallway. The room itself isn’t terrible by any means, we were just a bit surprised as our stay in Hua Hin had been quite comfy in comparison. It’s a one bedroom studio with very sterile (and by sterile I mean white, I’m sure they’re actually not sterile at all) walls and floors. There is a king sized bed with a slightly cushier mattress than I’ve experienced so far. Almost makes up for the death stain on it. But hey, nothing a mattress cover can’t disguise, right? There is a pretty efficient and roomy wardrobe, a table and two chairs, and a vanity. If you step outside there is a small porch with a sink, and next to that is the bathroom. There is a Western style toilet (which I’d like to advise you to learn to appreciate), a shower, and another sink. It’s not the prettiest bathroom you ever did see, but it will definitely suffice. I feel like I’m in college again, and I kind of don’t hate it. The girls have since moved to their respective rooms, also on the same floor and just across the hall. There are some perks to Progress, and those would be the pool and the gym. The only problem is, these suckers want us to pay 80 baht each time we use the gym or pool. 80 baht is only about $2.50, but when you’re making what we’re making, that adds up!
We spent the following day exploring our new school. Samkhok is a high school and is located about 15 minutes from our apartment. We met the mayor of Pathum Thani as soon as we arrived, and though the man speaks absolutely no English aside from ‘good morning’ I could tell he was very kind. We met the director and vice director, at which time I was addressed as Miss Universe. I’m sure I turned 50 shades of red, but, I’ll take that compliment any day. Apparently the Thais are big on their pageants here, and according to them I resemble Miss Universe 2005 (9 years ago, really!?). We were told that the school recently had a huge influx of 700 students and as a result they are building an addition to help accommodate them. In the meantime, they have some ‘natural classrooms’ which are essentially outdoor classrooms held in a  row of huts. A significant percentage of my classes will be held out there. It’s funny, I find the school to be a bit of a contradiction (as most things are in Thailand) because it is a very strange mix of modern and, well, the complete opposite. There’s a pretty impressive movie theater space, a computer lab, and an air conditioned teacher’s room, but yet the classrooms are quite old school. Some have A/C, more do not. The lack of A/C is a fun one in this heat, but my body seems to be adjusting. I’ll skip ahead to the joy that was Thursday- our first official day of classes. This was a day I will NEVER forget.

Day One (a recap in quick short phrases so as to indicate the rapid/frustrated pace of my brain that day)

Wake up at 5 am. Take an excessive amount of time getting ready. Put on the black skirt and blue flowered shirt I’ve been provided specifically for Thursdays. ‘All eyes will be on you’ I was told.  Hop on van at 6:30 am. Pray that I survive the crazy drive (speed limits supposedly exist but are not abided by.) Arrive at school. Put bag in teacher lounge. Walk to front of school for assembly. Stare at 3,000 faces lined up across the entire parking lot. Stand still and listen to people speak Thai for a really long time. Copy the actions of everyone around me. Listen to some songs. Bow my head a few times. Sweat a lot. Suppress bouts of anxiety. Walk towards the stage when ‘’new teachers’’ are called. Blush profusely when addressed as Miss Universe again. Walk up on stage. Listen to Hillary introduce herself. Smile for the pictures. Take microphone. Address the masses. “Hello! How are you? My name is Lauren. I come from America. I teach English.” Listen to the other introductions. Respond to questions asked by proficient Thai student. Clap. Walk off stage. 

Go to teacher lounge. Prepare for first class at 10:10 am. M1 students, so 12 and 13 years old. Walk into class. 20 students. Not too bad. Oh look, the smart one who was asking the questions on stage. Perfect. Write basic information on the board. My name is Teacher Lauren. I am from America. I like soccer. I like movies. Write 5 rules on the board. No cell phones. Raise your hand. Stay seated. 1 person to restroom at a time. Speak English. Have students write their own introductions. Laugh at some of the answers such as ‘’I like Walking Dead’’. Ask students to read their papers aloud. Think of the girl from Pitch Perfect again as they speak at a decibel below normal hearing capacity. Give high fives. Introduce topic of telling time. Finish with a board race. Draw two blank clocks. Make two teams. Yell out a time. Have students race to draw the clock hands. Say goodbye and exhale.

Back to teacher lounge. Look at schedule (which I got at 10 pm last night). Second class at 12:00. Look at lesson plan. “How to read and write about the future”. Oh, these are normal vocabulary words: ‘’benefit, explore, fantasy, interact, limitation, realistic, social’’. Right. Run up to class. Walk into a room with 4 boys. Assume everyone’s coming late because that’s what they do in Thailand. Ask students if they are the class that is on my schedule. Receive a confident yes and some confused looks. Student shows me his schedule. My class is listed at 11 am. Cue my own confused looks. I missed my class. “No teacher so Thai teacher come!’’ they tell me. Oh, that’s super. Back to teacher lounge. Explain to the administrators what happened. No one seems alarmed or bothered by this. “We will fix. First day.’’ Sit down at my desk. Browse schedule for reminder of week. 4 classes on Friday. Oh! That’s new. I didn’t know I had 3 of these. I was told I had 3 different classes that I’d see multiple times a week. Now I have 6 (basically this just means a lot more lesson planning for me). The structured, punctual American in me inwardly dies. Sit in teacher lounge and type up semi-venting blog post to cope. 

There are 3 things I will learn in Thailand. 1. patience (the power in my building just legit went out as I’m typing this) 2. generosity and 3. to be ok with NEVER knowing what’s going on at any given time. I am in this country for various reasons of my own, but I do want to make a difference in the lives of these teenagers. I’m being confronted with the fact that it is going to be a difficult task, however. Image is SO important here in Thailand. As Westerners, I truly feel like we are here for show. The emphasis is on image over substance, and a lot of these children don’t give a shit if they learn English or not. We teach in a country where these kids pass regardless of their grades. Most go on to work at 7 Elevens, KFC’s, etc. I had several more classes on Friday and witnessed two completely different ends of the English spectrum. I had children that could not spell their name in English. They could not write “I am from Thailand’’. They looked at me blankly, messed around in the back of the classroom, and kicked each other. I also had a class entirely made up of girls who I had full blown conversations with. We talked about America, Halloween, boys, and my ‘’prominent nose’’ as indicated by the translator on my student’s phone. So far I have had no Thai assistants in my classrooms, so getting messages across is quite difficult. A few times I had to take attendance, and spent about 10 minutes cracking these kids up as I tried to pronounce their insanely long names. It doesn’t help that ‘porn’ is a common ending to their names. ‘’Supaporn’’ is one of those names you’d really like to avoid reading out loud. That being said, I’m going to do my best to help these students understand how beneficial the English language is in bettering their lives. I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but I’m sure as hell going to try. If high school is the end of the education road for most of these kids, and most likely it will be, I need to stuff as much motivation into their brains as I can. 

Today is Sunday and we were asked by the school’s director to attend a parent’s meeting. I got up at 6:30 am for an 8 am arrival. We sat in rows beside a stage and listened to hours of Thai. Our moment of glory was brief as we were brought on stage once more for introductions to the parents of our students. Carter took one for the team and spoke on our behalf. I’m fairly certain he could have sang the ABC’s and they wouldn’t have known the difference, but nevertheless we did our part just by showing our American faces. I have quite a bit of lesson planning to get to now for the upcoming week. I should have a pretty interesting tale to tell after this Thursday, which is a national holiday here in Thailand. November 6th will be a full moon and the holiday is called Loy Krathong. In honor of this day, the girls and I were asked to be a part of the river parade. I’ll speak more about the meaning of the day and details when the time comes, but I’ll be dressed up in traditional Thai garb waving from a lotus flower on a float. I feel quite honored to be given this opportunity, and I’m certain it will be unforgettable. Until next time…


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