So Many Stories (of where I’ve been)

So Many Stories (of where I’ve been)

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” -Arthur Golden

It’s been far too long since I’ve written a blog post, but as is the case with most things, life happened instead. (I also wrote an entire update, only to lose it to a frozen browser)

I have felt almost every emotion since moving to Banphai and establishing myself as an English teacher in a small Thai community, but as I reflect upon all of my most difficult moments, I am certain this is what I came here for. To leave western civilization and travel halfway across the world is to experience a certain level of culture shock, and after coming home from a long weekend to ten cockroaches in my room, I know this to be true. But with that shock comes a newfound level of resilience and patience, which I have adopted alongside the wonderful people I come into contact with every day.

Thailand has thrown me into the roach pit more than once, but it has also given me a heightened sense of clarity and perspective. I remind myself every day that being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing – that fear is only what you make of it – and I feel myself breaking ground.

I am no longer just a tourist in the “Land of Smiles”; I am a contributing member of the educational system in a nation that is looking to improve its standard of living. My work is done in the poorest region of Thailand, which is home to one-third of the total population. But what Isan lacks in resources, it makes up for in genuine hospitality and camaraderie. I am constantly humbled by my students’ parents, smiling in appreciation every time I see them, presenting me with homemade treats, and lighting up when their children are able to retain the slightest bit of English. They think it’s cute that the kids have adopted my Northern American accent, and they want me to stay in Banphai for a second semester. It took almost 8 weeks of teaching to feel completely settled, but I finally feel at home in this little town. The spectacle of the newest farangs (foreigners) has died down, and I no longer feel like a circus act, which is both refreshing and invigorating. I know I will never blend into the crowd in such a small place, and I will never escape the reality of being the “other,” but it feels good to be accepted as an effective teacher in the Thai community.

I would not consider my job an easy one, and sometimes I get so frustrated with my little kindergarteners: but then I remember that if they can go home at the end of the semester with even the tiniest hint of English conversation in their sponge-brains, I’ve done something effective that has the potential to help them out in the future. And if not, I still come home every day exhausted but knowing I gave it everything I could. There’s only so much we can do as ESL teachers in Thailand, with most kids coming from a place where opportunities for growth are scarce, and where they may not have the motivation or faith to get out of the society they grew up in. With that being said, I love my students, and I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced something as rewarding as that “light bulb” moment, when 90%+ of the class seems to fully grasp the concept we’ve been working on for the past couple weeks. At the end of the day, that’s enough to keep me going, and since my little ones are only 4-6 years old, they have plenty of time to do what they want with their English skills (or lack thereof). I’m just happy to be the smallest part of their journey, and even if they don’t remember my influence on them, I hope I will have given them a nice foundation to build on once I’m gone.

Since I started teaching in May, each week has posed a new challenge – to help paint a picture of my internal struggle, I created a short breakdown of each week in Banphai, focusing on the highlights:

Week 1 – “Everything is brand new and exciting; our neighbor has a puppy, our Thai teachers like whiskey, and life is good. We had this week to get to know our town a bit before teaching, and we got to do some serious exploring. The generosity of our Thai friends has allowed us to try several new foods, some of which originated in the Isan region, and I can’t wait to continue this strange journey for my taste buds. We also managed to visit Khon Kaen city (~45 minutes away) for some temple hopping and lakeside chillin.”

Week 2 – “Favorite weird delicacy in Isan?… Cooked baby ants with Thai seasoning (check it out here). Least favorite weird delicacy in Isan?… Stinky fish papaya salad (#3 on this list). Favorite memory of a Thai student so far?… A 6-year-old boy named O.T. decided he will be giving me back massages at the end of every day, and I taught him a hand clapping game. Least favorite memory of a Thai student so far?… A 5-year-old girl [appropriately] named Punch is wayyy too assertive about grabbing all of my lady parts and trying to flip up my skirt. I disciplined her in front of the class, so here’s hoping she doesn’t find it quite so funny next time. #teacherproblems”

Week 3 – “The language barrier has caused some slight administrative failures at school, but it’s nothing our agency can’t clear up. We are still adjusting as kindergarten teachers, but overall, I can’t complain. I took my second trip to Khon Kaen city, and I managed to get my fix of western food at a restaurant called Didines: owned by an American who initially started off teaching in Thailand, this place knows how to make a quality burger, and I plan to revisit it real soon. I also got to meet up with one of my backpacking buds, explore the nightlife, and indulge in a post-midnight swim in the hotel pool.”

Week 4- “I made the 6-hour mission on a bus to Bangkok to celebrate a lovely friend’s birthday, and the trip proved to be 100% worth it. I got to reunite with a couple other girls from our TESOL course, one of which was my Hua Hin roommate who I missed dearly, and for 36 hours I forgot all responsibility. We made the most of our weekend, going out on the town AFTER uniting in the airbnb (I didn’t get there until 11pm), and we rallied the next day for Bangkok: part 2. We had a beautiful view of the city from the 29th floor, and we spent our days bonding over things that no one outside of our situation could possibly understand. Being an English teacher in Thailand is not always easy, but when you have so many amazing people struggling through the same experience, it makes all the difference. I came back to Banphai refreshed, enlightened, and filled with enough laughter and memories to get me through another week.”

Week 5 – My accommodation situation has become unbearable after a month and a half: between clogged sink and shower drains, monsoons flooding my porch, and dead bugs scattered all over my enclosed “laundry space,” I am ready to get out of this place. Yet, despite avoiding my apartment at all costs, my experiences with my students and my Thai friends have kept me afloat. After a trip to the grocery store for cleaning supplies and a night at the newest club in Banphai, my status went from deflated to inspired. I developed a knack for overcoming adversity since moving to Isan, and as I slept in my bare essentials room, I vowed to find a better place to live within the next week. To help sustain my sanity, Julia and I met up with several others from our TESOL group in Khon Kaen over the weekend, including my Canadian duo. I experienced some quality friend time, danced my stress away, and rode home in the back of a pickup truck with my new moped. ;]

Week 6 – “Leah reached her breaking point as the solo English teacher of a K2 class at our school (5-year-olds), and she completely bailed on the job by the end of the week without informing the school. Julia and I dealt with the consequences of Leah’s lack of professionalism as gracefully as we could, reassuring our school that we would NOT be leaving until our contracts expired, and that they had nothing to worry about. We continued to get up, dress up, and show up, and the staff gained a newfound respect for us. The head nun also helped us find a new apartment building to move into (which we did immediately after touring it), and I finally began feeling settled into my life in Banphai. We were shown a beautiful pool in our town just a 5 minute moped ride away, and we stumbled upon a hidden gem of a temple on our way back from swimming this weekend. #diamondsintherough”

Week 7 – “Despite the backlash of Leah leaving her job without mentioning it to our school administrators, Julia and I managed to find our niche as kindergarten teachers. Now we live directly next door to the school instead of 10 minutes away, and we have reached an equilibrium between what the school expects from us and what we are willing to deliver. Without the negative energy associated with Leah’s obvious struggles (she is much happier in her new school with older kids), Julia and I have worked with the school to find balance, and we have embraced our titles as English teachers at Prakumanjesu Banphai School. We are each responsible for teaching the after school program (Julia teaches K3, I teach K1), and we alternate teaching the Thai teachers every Monday. The head nun has approached us more than once to tell us how much the students, teachers, and parents appreciate us, and we have taken on some extra responsibilities in Leah’s absence. Because of this, we have officially gained the respect of our colleagues, and the daily routine has become an established comfort. I visited several friends in Chaiyaphum over the weekend, which is the second largest city in Isan. We met some neighborhood kittens, got rained out on our way to a local waterfall, and indulged in the beauty of mixing street smoothies with vodka at the bar. Everything felt right, and I am hoping to take a second trip to Chaiyaphum before the semester is over.

Week 8 – My students mastered the emotions/feelings unit, and they love to present their knowledge to me outside of the classroom: “Teacher! I am happy!” is heard through half-open windows, shouted from busy sidewalks, and accompanied by clapping hands. I am so proud of my little ones, and their joy is intoxicating. It carried me through another wonderful weekend spent with TESOL friends in Khon Kaen, and I felt love for this country in a new way; Even when I’m at my worst, my students seem to snap me out of it simply by being kids. The innocence of a child is something that crosses cultures, and their uninhibited way of life keeps me smiling through the most stressful moments.

Week 9 & 10 – I had two of my best weekends so far, hiking through the beautiful Kao Yai National Park with my Canadian friends, and exploring ancient ruins in Korat/going out on the town with my fellow Banphai westerner. But I will feature those trips in detail in my next post(s), because they truly deserve their own space. :]

Until then, here’s to taking chances, feeding my soul’s need for adventure, and finding comfort in the uncertainty that lies ahead.

My Thai Backyard :)
One of many meals with our Thai friends
Exploring the lake in Khon Kaen
Julia's Mandatory Jumping Pic at the lake!
Temple #1
Temple #2

Temple #3

Temple #4

Collage of our first trip to Khon Kaen city
My first week as a teacher at IJS Banphai
Our beautiful town pool
The local gem that we stumbled upon

Jumping pic masters ;)
K1 After School Program selfie!
K1 After School Program selfie #2!
<img width=”150″ height=”113″ src=”″ class=”attachment-thumbnail” alt=”My solo sunset journey

Reunion for my 2nd trip to KK
Exploring the 2nd temple in Banphai

Visiting friends in Chaiyaphum!
<img width=”84″ height=”150″ src=”″ class=”attachment-thumbnail” alt=”
These girls keep me grounded, Isan style.

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