Thursday, March 31, 2011

One Semester Down

I feel like I’m supposed to deliver some sort of epiphany about my experience teaching in a Thai school for a semester. The semester has been over for several weeks now, and such revelations are not particularly forthcoming. So here is what you get instead.

Many, many people have been here much, much longer than I have. My observations only carry as much weight as my time here, and are really only relevant to Bangkok and not Thailand as a whole. Even then, every school here is very different.

Take 97.5% of what you know about education through methods courses and experience in America, box it up and put it on a mental shelf.

Some schools have 6th year students (seniors) that will stare at you and say “arrai na?” (what?) when you ask where their book is, three times slowly. However, the students in my program know A LOT more than that. Especially if they spend their summers in Malaysia.

Be thankful for the cards you have been dealt, even when the racial, gender and aesthetic privilege makes you feel sick. These things also equate to job security in Thailand, especially the gender card.

Be thankful the circumstances at your school regarding pay, legal residency and student ability/behavior are not worse; many places are much worse.

The most pointless question you will ever ask in Thailand is “why?”

If ever there was a place for the saying “rules are made to be broken,” it is Thailand. Trying to follow all the rules is worse than breaking all of them. You will not always be given a choice as to what rules you break. Choose wisely when you do have a choice. Try not to freak out when you don’t.

Laugh when you realize you spent three weeks telling people you are allergic to water.

Get on motorbikes from the left.

It is completely appropriate to wear the “I’m on a mission death stare” and ignore all persons who try to approach you when walking around the Khao Sarn Rd area; though this will not serve nearly any other place in Thailand. Portions of Siam are also acceptable for this scowl. Don’t wear it to work.

Spatial awareness is not part of Thai culture. More on that another time.

Try not to get mad when your boss constantly focuses on your weight, your barely noticeable scars (OMG your arm isn’t completely white! What’s wrong!?) and other such maddening physicalities.

You might be surprised to experience more culture shock with fellow ‘westerners’ than with Thais.

Age is very important to the Thai social hierarchy. You will constantly be asked, and disbelieved, in my case. And then the dating setups will begin…

Heavy shampoo bottles are great for killing roaches.

Your battles with Immigration are not necessarily over; do not be lulled into a false sense of security.

Do not give Thai guys your phone number until at least a second date. You dropped your phone in the toilet or it was stolen or something. Trust me.

Get out of teaching computers. No really, get out of it. Find a way.

Remember that despite these maddening times of sitting at a desk, with no students, no idea of what curriculum to plan, seemingly no direction and little more to go on than sit here and act professional – the students will return, and that is why you are still doing this.

Today some of the students were at school to pickup transcripts, first time I’d seen them in two weeks; and some of them asked me if I would be returning. They seemed genuinely distraught that I might not return, as at least two teachers from this year are leaving or already gone. And that folks, is the reason I’m still hacking it.

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