I arrived in Nong Khai expecting to stay there for one week, to be introduced to teaching English in Thailand. My induction ended up lasting one day! The next day I taught a dance class (my idea of dance is aerobics. I don't think the children were prepared for me..), and the day after I had to leave for my placement school. I'm not going to lie, there was an element of disorganisation with regards to my placement which had me at one point wanting to give up before I'd even started! I was tired and fed-up of travelling. Also, the friends I'd made in Nong Khai were awesome, and I didn't want to leave them so soon to be shipped off to a place that I couldn't pronounce the name of, where I'd be teaching (unprepared as I was) by myself! ...But, I didn't want to take my grievances out on the school. So I decided to follow my commitment through, and now I'm really happy that I did!
I'm living in Nongbualamphu (pronounced "Nong boo-ahh lamp-oo." Don't worry, it took me a while!) with a family. I actually opted to live with a family rather than alone because I wanted to cook for myself (and living alone means no access to a kitchen). What I was unprepared for was how much the family want to look after me! I'd never before met a group of people so happy to bend over backwards to meet my every need! They are so excited to be putting me up, and they do everything with me (even the things they don't like, like exercise!). They take me places and keep trying to buy me food/other things I need. And when I leave them, they worry about me more than my own mum. On one level it's a little hard for me to adjust to - I'm very independent. On another level, they are simply the best host family I could ever have imagined!
The school I'm teaching at is big - 3000 students. The students are enthusiastic. Their English is often quite broken, but their smiles make up for it. (<-wow, you can't pay someone to write cheesy things like this! This is natural talent baby.) I only arrived at the school on Wednesday, but by Thursday I was immersed deep in the classes, teaching English all by myself. It turns out I was more prepared than I knew (thanks to my experience teaching English in Uganda). And I was wrong, I am not alone. There are five permanently employed native English-speakers at my school, and they're all very nice. The food at the school is great, and you get whole meals for only 20 baht (under 50p) in the canteen. The school also give me 100 baht per day for my lunch, so there's actually opportunity to make a profit! (Although I don't. I'm quite happy to eat five meals in my school day. That's just my style!)
Now for the truth... I'm only here for 3 weeks, and I take long weekends to go travelling. One of the weeks (this week in fact) I don't have any teaching because of the mid-term tests. As a result, the impact I can make is limited. Furthermore, anyone who comes to a non-first-world country to teach and expects the children to be grateful for the opportunity, unusually attentive and dedicated to their studies is just naive! These are teenage children - they'd prefer to be hanging out with their mates than sitting in my English classes. Although they have a lot of excitement and want to be taught by me, after about 40 minutes I see many students slyly stifling their yawns on the hot afternoons while I try to fix their broken English. And trying to make classes interactive when the kids can't understand you is a feat to say the least! ...Basically, teaching English in a government school in Thailand is not easy. But it is fun, it is challenging, and it is rewarding. And I like to believe I'm less naive than many - I realize that my potential impact is limited, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent! These children need to practice their English with a native speaker. Many of them work very hard and deserve to do well. I might not be able to fix their English while I'm here, but I can help - and this is good enough for now.
Another update will follow soon.