Judith Reid - General Teaching Projects in Thailand
Teaching in Thailand last year has to have been one of the best experiences of my life. Unlike most other volunteers I was not fresh out of school or college, but in fact had spent 19 years in computing! I wanted to try something different, and having fallen in love with the country a few years back whilst on holiday, it seemed an ideal opportunity to combine my wish for a new experience with that of learning more about a different culture first-hand.
I was posted at Chomsurang Upatham School in Ayutthaya, an all girls school with almost 3000 students ranging from about 12 to 18 years old. On arrival, I was asked to make an opening speech. Quite surprisingly I was unfazed by facing the whole school en masse and my maiden speech in English and Thai (I was coached beautifully in a handful of sentences by two of the teachers!) was received fairly well! I had envisaged being assigned a small number of classes to work with for the very short month I was to be there, but instead the school was eager that as many students as possible have a chance to meet a "real" English person. There were times when I felt like a celebrity: walking in the grounds between classes, it was a rarity for a student to pass by without saying hello; I had offers to carry my books; and in fact was presented with a rose by one girl!! Classes were very big, sometimes with as many as 40 plus students, but by getting the girls to work in groups, holding their attention was on the whole not too much of a problem. The key element to lessons was to make English fun; grammar could be left to the Thai teachers!! A set of simple Pictionary cards, which I had picked up at a local car boot sale and had thrown into my rucksack very much as a last minute thing turned out to be a huge, hit! Emma, a fellow volunteer, and I took several joint lessons playing this game, something which we referred to as our Pictionary roadshow! For anyone thinking of teaching in Thailand, I would recommend Pictionary, lots of postcards of England, a reasonable working knowledge of Harry Potter, and a willingness to let your hair down and sing!!
Ayutthaya, just north of Bangkok, is one of the old capitals of Thailand. Beautiful temples stand on every corner, and each morning on the way to school I would pass some of them looking quite magnificent in the early morning sun. My particular favourite was Wat Rathaburana, which resembled a giant corn on the cob!!! On the same journey I would also see elephants, dressed in their red and yellow "uniforms", ambling in the opposite direction to their place of work. Some twenty or so of them gave rides around the temples to tourists each day. Not a bad start to my day at all!
My host mother, Amporn, was in fact also my supervisor at school. She made me feel at home and went out of her way to explain things about Thai customs, and to involve me in anything she thought would be of interest. She frequently tapped into my brain for particular English words or phrases and when I left she said that she would miss her "long-haired dictionary"!
On the way home from school, Amporn would often give me a lift, and we would call in at the local market, a busy collection of food stalls, with vats of stews, rows of beautiful fruit, garlands etc. Here, we would buy a selection of stews to take home for tea, which we would eat sitting on the floor in true Thai style. On the days that I decided to go solo, I would either take a tuk-tuk or ride on the back of a motorbike (loved that!) to a temple or to see the elephants en route home.
My weekends were free and I opted to leave Ayutthaya to explore elsewhere. My first was spent in Surin, some five hours away by train, but being an elephant lover this had to be done, as the town plays host to an elephant festival during November. On the Sunday morning, a three-hour show was held in the local stadium. I have never seen so many elephants in one place. They re-enacted battles and paraded round the field, but by far the highlight was a football match. Very amusing indeed, although I am not sure which team won, as there was definitely some blatant mis-trunkling of the ball going on!!!!! The next two weekends I joined other volunteers, which was good fun. Bangkok was our first trip and the last weekend was spent at the beach at Ko Samet.
It is easy nowadays to take so much for granted, to rush around and spend little time with others. Taking time out in such a different place made me re-evaluate what is important in life. Both teachers and pupils gave me such a warm welcome and gave of their time generously. I gained a huge sense of achievement, even in the space of only one month, and was made to feel by them that I had made a worthwhile contribution. I remain in contact with a few of my new Thai friends, and have been asked to come back soon.
For anyone considering TEFL, I would strongly recommend it. You see life through different eyes, learn new things and for me it was a great confidence booster. I can now look back and think, "Hey, I did that!"