28/10/2015

Teaching in Thailand: an emotional roller coaster

And there I was, wearing a pink traditional Thai dress, heavy make-up and even heavier jewelry. I was about to tell the children who have been my students for the last six weeks, how much I will miss them. Someone played a sad song in the background and I realized how much this experience meant for me…

Teaching in Thailand was quite an emotional roller coaster. There’s the excitement before you get on, many ups and downs during the ride, and finally the happy ending.


The excitement

Before I left Belgium, I was nervous about how it was going to be. Will the children like me, can I be a good teacher and will they actually understand English? Of course, I was also curious about my host family. The idea of spending six weeks with a family who might not even speak English, sounded very challenging.

Once I arrived in Thailand, things turned out better than expected! My host sister spoke perfect English, I was allowed to teach each class at least once a week, and the students were even more excited than I was. My stay already looked very promising.

The ups and downs

My first classes were amazing! Getting to know everyone, gaining the respect as a teacher and proving yourself in difficult situations. It wasn’t always easy, especially when no Thai teacher was around to translate. But my students were patient, and so was I, or at least, I learned to be. Playing volleyball together after school, talking about music and boyfriends during a break and getting your hair done daily by the students, I was seriously thinking about a career move!

Once the excitement had passed and I got into a routine, I also encountered some difficulties.

No matter how hard I tried, in six weeks it was impossible to teach the students how to speak English well. Most of the students only knew a couple of words, but could not form any sentences. It was difficult to explain anything in English, but it was wonderful to see how creative you can get. I remember explaining to the children what a ponytail is and how I drew a pony and its tail. Nowadays we don’t even think about where the words come from so I definitely enjoyed thinking differently. In class it was more about creating fun for them in learning English – and fun we had!

And there was also the culture clash, that made things complicated. Thai people take things easy, which I found very relaxing in the beginning. For example, classes got canceled because of something unexpected (and you were lucky if someone informed you on this last-minute cancellation). However, you could also receive some huge tasks on short notice, like organizing an English camp for 350 students. As I am an extremely organized person who loves to plan things in advance, I had to get used to the Thai way of living without worrying too much about deadlines and clear schedules.

The highlight of my stay was the English camp I organized. During two days the children were singing, playing, and dancing! We had a talent show, a fashion show and many other activities. It is incredible how creative Thai children are. The preparation was very bumpy but the result was amazing.

The happy ending

For my last day at school I was dressed in a typical Thai outfit with traditional make-up. They made a video for me, prepared a speech for me, sang for me, and each student gave me a rose. It was hard not to cry. It is incredible how deeply you can bond in such a short time. One thing is for sure, I have to go back.

Once you get off the roller coaster, you are happy it’s over. But all you can think of is: I want to do it again!

 

Author: Irina Hauser. You can connect with Irina on LinkedIn