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Volunthai’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 23 Apr 2008

Location: Kaeng Sanam Nang, Thailand

MapJames Pengelley (thehairychef@gmail.com)

To be honest, I was very nervous about going to Thailand to teach English. But there was something about hearing other people's experiences, and understanding that I wanted a challenge and a chance to prove something to myself, that kept convincing me that I wasn't crazy. I really had very little idea what I was getting myself into - in fact only 8 days before I arrived at my homestay in rural Issan, I was skiing the slopes of Whistler in Canada with my family - needless to say the culture shock was pretty intense.
Sure enough, it didn't take long for my Thai experience to start changing my mind, and as my nerves settled, my eyes opened, and my appetite returned, the smiles started to shine more and more frequently.
I was based at Bung Palai school, near Kaeng Sanam Nang (about 1 hour from Chaiyaphum) - a school of about 600 students, many of them from farming (predominantly sugar cane and rice) families in very poor villages. Two of the three rooms I taught in had no tables or chairs for the students, and my class sizes ranged from 17 to 55 kids.
I have to say it really was the Thai kids that made my experience as fantastic as it was. There is something about the smiles and mischevousness of the Thai students I spent my time with that put a lot of things in perspective for me. It's a strange thing to say, but until I went to Thailand I had never experienced a room full of people who were all smiling and filled with a pure happiness.
A lot of this is, of course, very easy to say in hindsight, but that is not to detract from the difficulties I experienced in finding my own rythym in the classroom. Being alone in the classroom with students who would rather be playing Takraw (traditional Thai ball game) than listen to me (ajarn farang)...not to mention English teachers who hardly can speak English...but at the end of the day I believe I made a difference to far more children than I had ever anticipated and I feel very lucky to have been given that chance. However, I don't think the lining of my stomach will ever fully recover from the amount chili I ate during those six weeks...not that I'm complaining...however I'm still trying to decide whether or not my chili-eating habits constitute substance abuse...

Michael adds: Chili eating is encouraged but not required at homestays!