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Volunthai’s Travel Diary

Monday, 23 Aug 2010

Location: Manchester, Connecticut, USA

MapDonna Plen, USA
So, how does one sum up the impressions and pleasures of an adventure like this? Perhaps the most impressive is the mellow nature of every Thai person I encountered. In almost a month, I never heard anyone raise their voice or get uptight! 'Mai bpen rai' (no problem). I almost ran over a man on a motorcycle and...Mai bpen rai!

The people in Isaan (the Northeast, where Volunthai operates) were warm and welcoming. I stayed with teachers at Ban Nong Plong School. One of the English teachers, Tik, was my guide and mentor. She and her husband Dee, and Praew and Tawan (my hosts) were hospitable and generous beyond measure. They welcomed me into their homes and families and shared their resources, time, and efforts in order to make me feel at home and to help me learn and enjoy this experience as much as possible. Other teachers and the school's director did the same. They went above and beyond any expectations that either I (and maybe even Volunthai) had. We became friends and family.

People (students, teachers, and community members) really appreciated my being there, even if they were nervous about possibly being put on the spot to speak English! They also appreciated my efforts to learn some Thai. There are certain sounds and phonetic blends in our language that are very difficult for Thai people to pronounce and, likewise, ones in their language that are difficult for English speakers. The students, teachers, and I learned, laughed and struggled together! I enjoyed the jokes that Praew and I shared despite (or often because of) our language difficulties! Now everyone there is using the expression "Old balain!"(brain) the way we refer to "senior moments" [I'm older than the average Volunthai volunteer]. When something was pretty, my Thai friends would say, "Velly Beeooteefool!" I would say the Thai version, "Sooay Makh Makh!" After a bit, they finally told me that depending upon the intonation, I was sometimes saying, "very beautiful" and other times, "Bad Luck"!

I loved hearing the Thai greeting, "Sawadee ka" (or "sawadee krub" for men). I truly enjoyed the status I had, not just because I was a visiting teacher from abroad, but because of my age. Once I got past thinking that people were making me feel old, I realized that I was being honored. I loved it when the younger teachers called me "Mum". To Tik's two-year old son Tutor, I am "Yai Donna" (grandmom). And to the students I am Kun Kroo or Teacher Donna.

I love seeing the students in school uniforms. They look like they're ready to learn. I adore the end of school routine when a student leader gets each class started in reciting their math tables in loud unison before they leave for home! It was wonderful to see the students take responsibility for caring for both their school and teachers. Without being told, students cleaned the classrooms and brought teachers' dirty dishes back to the kitchen, among other things. At the end of each lesson, a student leader announces, "Stand up, please" and the students thank their teacher in unison. Working with the students was awesome! Despite their fear of being put on the spot they were enthusiastic learners.