8/20/13

Reflections on a Year Teaching in Thailand

Molly Linnell reflects on her experience in Thailand and the ups and downs that have led her to appreciate Thai culture and her experience as well as feel grateful for things back home.

I am now in my final month of teaching and preparing for my return home. I know that I will miss Thailand, after a year away, I am so excited to come home. When I reflect on my thoughts and feelings throughout the year, I remember the very beginning when I fell in love with Thailand. I remember thinking about how much better Thailand is than America, my thoughts were filled with everything I hated about America and loved about Thailand. I remember feeling so high on life from the excitement of the new experiences that I thought I would never leave. As the months progressed, I dug deeper and deeper into the culture, adapting to this new life and trying to make sense of how I felt about things. I recall moments when I would be smiling on the outside but on the inside my head I was screaming at everyone to stop being so Thai. Moments when I wanted nothing more than to escape and crawl back to America, but those moments were only followed by moments when I would feel more happier and at peace here than I have ever felt in my life. What I have come to realize is that in the end there is no perfect country. No matter where you go in the world there will be things you find so brilliantly wonderful and things you find so dreadfully awful that in the end all you can do is appreciate the things you enjoy about where you are and try to make sense of the things that bother you. I know that even in my lowest of moments here in Thailand, I have not once, not even for a second regretted my decision to come. A year was a big commitment, but I am so glad I did it through because a year's time brought me through the ups and downs I needed to experience to fully dig deep into this culture and experience. 
Now that I am in my final month I try to soak up every last day as much as I can, because I know that even the things that annoy me today I will someday either miss or have a good laugh about. I show up to school and the teachers are eating large bugs over rice for breakfast when all I want is some banana pancakes. I stop and remember that I have the rest of my life to make pancakes, but when in my life will breakfast be so amusing as a bunch Thai women laughing at me as they jokingly pretend to throw the bugs at me before munching them down? The moments in teaching like when a monsoon rolls in and the students break out into screaming chaos running in and out as the rain whips in the windows and my lesson becomes a hopeless attempt…those are the moments when I have to remind myself how sad I will be to never see some of these students again. Though I obviously won’t be leaving my students all fluent English speakers at the end of this year, in fact some of them still struggle to recite the alphabet, I believe I have left them with something else. I have been a friend to them, I have done the best I can to show them who I am and where I come from, and I have shown them that English class can be fun. In this area, it is possible that many of these students will never meet another foreigner again. So for this year of their lives they have had a foreign friend, and that is a lot more than almost everyone around here can say. I certainly didn’t spend as many hours actually teaching as I had anticipated, but it was those moments when class was cancelled for some ridiculous reason or ceremony that I learned the most about the education system around here. After countless hours spent working my butt off teaching in Vermont with strict structure, routines, and regulations, coming here was the exact opposite experience. Now I have seen both extremes. Why do we hover and hound over our students so much in America so do their work? Well I have now seen what happens when you don’t, when you leave the students responsible for their own education…and what you end up with is half a class of sixth graders who still can’t read and half a class of sixth graders desperate to learn but held back by the boys literally screaming for the teacher’s attention in the back of the room. I have seen what happens when the only method of discipline used is physical. I have seen what happens when the students are left alone in the classroom for hours on end without anyone there to teach them…you walk in to find little boys charging each other with spears they made from the table they just broke. While I love my students, my director, and all of the teachers at my school, what I have seen in the education system here has given me a whole new appreciation for our school systems in America. I feel so blessed to have been born in a place where a solid education could be provided for me. I feel so blessed to be born in a country where I have the opportunities to travel and find out for myself what goes on here on the other side of the planet. 

What will I miss the most about Thailand? The nights sitting out with my neighbors at dinner. I remember back in the beginning when I would quietly walk by not knowing what to say, too intimidated by the awkwardness of the language barrier to sit down with them…to the point where we are now, where they introduce me as their daughter and if I’m not outside at dinner time, someone is yelling in my window to see where I am. Now each night they joke with me, we converse back and forth in broken English/Thai/hand gestures, they talk about how much they will miss me and their dreams of coming to stay at my house in America to “eat moose intestines and pick apples with me” (they are under the impression that I own apple trees and eat moose...miscommunications are funny). Getting to know each other has been a beautiful process. We made it through that initial awkwardness, language barriers and cultural differences to build a friendship...they are family to me now and I will consider them family for the rest of my life. I have shown them who I am and they have taught me so much through showing me who they are. I am ecstatic about coming home and sharing a meal with my own family, and I probably won't miss choking on fish bones and picking bugs out of my meal, but I will forever miss and cherish those nights sitting around a giant basket of sticky rice with some crazy weird concoction that Lucticomb has pounded out in the mortar pestle. 
A year ago I sat on a plane staring at the map on the screen in front of me watching the little plane move further and further from America and everything I have ever known. I had no idea what to expect of the year to come, but had I never imagined that in just one year I could ever receive so much love from so many people. I will forever be blown away by the people I have met here and their willingness to open up their homes and share everything they have with anyone who walks by. Their Buddhist beliefs in karma and fate seem to carry them through each day with reassurance that no matter what happens everything will work out. Their attitudes towards life are attitudes that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. After all, I came here with intentions of giving and in the end I received more than I had ever imagined

- Molly Linnell, WorldTeach Thailand '12

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