The Life of a Teacher Abroad

The Life of a Teacher Abroad

Thailand…the place where old men smokes cigarettes on school campus…the place where students are given 200 BHT to speak English in front of 3000 other students…the place where fruit smells like feet but tastes like sweet, caramelized onions (so I’ve heard)…the place where street food is on every corner…the place where you can’t go two miles without seeing a breathtaking temple…the place where condensed milk is preferred over regular milk in your overly sweetened coffee (shout out, Carter)…the place where toilet paper and soap are HOT commodities…the place where you sweat all day in your clothes but know you still have a few good wears before you need to wash them again…Thailand…the place I currently call home.

The girls and I have moved into our respective rooms at our accommodation. They are similar to dorm rooms and Lauren and I still debate whether or not it would be considered living alone (we definitely live alone!). The rooms are small, quaint and have a distinct, almost repugnant, odor to them. Although we have aircon (air conditioning) in our rooms, I sleep without it to prevent from having a big electricity bill (my father will be both shocked and proud when he reads this 😉 ). The money saved will hopefully be used towards travel expenses. Although I have not been able to travel too far just yet, plans are in the making. We’re looking at booking flights to Phuket for New Years to join several others from our TESOL course.

Conveniently for us girls, we all three live on the same floor, practically right next to one another. For someone who cherishes alone time, normally this might be considered a nuisance for me; however, I am elated to live so close to them. If I need to say something to them and the Wi-Fi is acting up (because it typically is), then I just walk on over, crawl on to their bed and the conversation begins. I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time with people as I have these two girls over the past month and a half, and I truly cherish our time together. We take a van to work every day and some days the girls and I don’t ride together. The other morning, Sara took the early van ride and I couldn’t wait to see and hug her. That might sound peculiar and a bit obsessive, but emotions have been running high lately. One of our dear friends from the TESOL course was deported a couple of weeks ago. The news came out of nowhere and has been a really disheartening ordeal. Immigration came to his school his very first day of class. He and one of his fellow teachers had an education visa and you are unable to work on an education visa; however, if you get caught with it, you typically aren’t kicked out of the country (at least in Thailand). The details are still a little fuzzy and in my opinion, there is something far deeper going on. I’m sure we’ll never know.

Where one boy leaves the story (but not our hearts), another one enters. Carter. Carter is the only other American teacher at our school. He reminds me of my little brother in an uncanny and endearing way. I am sitting in our teachers’ office and I actually just watched him sing the U.S. National Anthem to one of the Thai assistants…he’s a good guy. He’s also our other partner-in-crime and although I’m sure he’s not ecstatic about all the estrogen he’s surrounded by, I think he’s pretty happy to have us around.

In addition to Carter, there are other foreigner teachers but from all over. There is a teacher from Japan, one from China, five from the Philippines, and one from Uganda. People from all over the world teaching in one school…I’m always learning something new about other cultures and countries and I absolutely love it!

I’ve been teaching for almost 2 weeks now, and the time in the classroom is always entertaining. On the first day of school, the Vice Director asked me, Lauren, Carter and Sara to get on stage in front of the other teachers and the 3,000 students to introduce ourselves. Normally a daunting task, I’d like to think I pulled it off well. The Vice Director pulled the most proficient English speaking student on stage and had him ask us some questions: “How old are you?” and “Are you single?”…these are the two most common questions asked by students and adults alike in Thailand. They sure know how to get right to the point.

Inside the classroom, the students are typically a bit rambunctious and majority of them don’t speak English well. I have 14 classes in total but technically only 7 different ones because I see each of the classes twice throughout the week. Right now, I’m in the process of learning how to effectively teach each of the different levels by attempting to make lessons and activities fun and engaging. I, like most people who decide to teach abroad, want to see an improvement in each of my students (all 245+ of them). When I see the light bulb turn on in a brain every now and then, I am overwhelmed with feelings of pride and gratification. I’m also attempting to learn all of my students’ names…well, nicknames. Nicknames are very common in Thailand, and I’m still not exactly sure why. My assumption is because their names are difficult to remember or pronounce for foreigners, and while this is true, their nicknames are also difficult to remember or pronounce. Nonetheless, I am going to give it my all and show them that I am really trying…even when I’m battling the incessant giggles from saying a student’s nickname incorrectly. Speaking of, I’m “Teacher Holly”…instead of teacher “Teacher Hillary”. This wise suggestion was given to me by one of the Thai assistants that I adore very much. There was a constant struggle to try and say my name correctly, so one day, she said, “Can I call you Teacher Holly instead?” Of course I said yes. It’s catching on quite nicely, and I almost always respond when a student calls out “Teacher Holly!” as I’m walking by.

When the semester first began, the directors asked me and the girls to participate in the Loy Krathong festival. It is rare that you turn down a request or invitation so we instinctively obliged. Loy Krathong is celebrated once a year and is intended to send away misfortune and bad things from the past and ask for good things in the future by launching your krathong into the river, pond or canal. The krathongs are typically a slice of a banana trunk decorated elaborately with a banana leaf, a candle, incense sticks, flowers and one even had small little fireworks on it. It is customary to dress up in traditional Thai costumes…so that is exactly what we did. After two hours of sweating, smiling and waving, we climbed off the decorated truck and made our way home so we could participate in sending off our krathongs at the nearest temple.

Things are never boring here. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to go home and turn on the TV and just relax. Right now, I’m about to get ready to jump on a bus, head to the local mall and grab a bite to eat with my crew. I can’t complain.

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