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Volunthai’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 21 Feb 2010

Location: Thailand

MapJohn Wood, America

My homestay was in Tambol Sai O, a tiny rural township of 5,800 people. My school was the largest one in the area serving more than 800 students from kindergarten to high school. On the first day I was terrified and exhilarated. Would I adapt to the culture? Would the students accept me? How would I teach kids who don’t even understand English? What was to become the adventure of my life began. I was met at the bus stop by Yai, the school’s head English instructor, a pleasant young man who, despite his calm exterior, was perpetually stressed out and worried about his students’ studies and future. “Please, this way,” he said as he led me under the school’s enormous gateway entrance on my first day of school. Every uniformed student stopped, stared, and pointed at their new volunteer teacher from America. Smiling, I said, “Sa-wat-dee krup” and bowed with my palms pressed together in the common “wai” greeting that Ae’s family had drummed into me.
My typical day began at 7 with a morning wake-up serenade of dogs, roosters, tuk-tuks , scooter beeps, cling-clinging bicycles, laughing children, and Thai ballads played over the community loudspeaker. Although annoying at first, I gradually learned to accept the cacophony. By the time I left, I craved it. I still miss it to this day. At school, it was always the same mixture of delights and oddities: the sudden, bold “Hello!” from packs of girls, followed by giggling shrieks and the constant looking down, averted eyes, and wisecracks from the boys. Their school uniforms concealed their poverty. Walking into my first class of first-graders let me know what being a rock singer or superstar athlete must be like. The children literally bounced off walls with delight, surrounding me before, after, and sometimes during the lesson, and they shrieked when I gave them American coins or stickers after their games and lessons. After one week, one teacher began to use me as a disciplinary measure. (“If you’re good, Teacher John may visit you today.” YAAAY!!) I bought badminton equipment and started games after school for kids who had to wait several hours to be picked up. It became a huge hit. Soon a small army of them gathered every afternoon, waiting for me to arrive. My biggest joy was convincing the girls to finally join in (they wouldn’t at first, letting the boys play). By the time I left, the games were coed and hotly contested. My saddest moment was on my last day when the sweet boy who always fought to be my partner stuck his fingers through the school’s fence and asked me why I wasn’t playing that day, and I had to tell him I was leaving for America that evening.