After almost three years absence, KHT’s volunteer teachers are back in Khun Yuam! Read about Eabha’s first impressions and how she has found teaching in school so far!
When I first arrived, I made my way into Khun Yuam Wittaya (‘Wittaya’ in Thai means ‘secondary school’) where I went to meet the team of English teachers. They were more than welcoming; everyone introduced themselves, using their best English. We created a timetable where I could work with all of the teachers a few times a week and get to know the students in their classes before the October holidays began. My first day of school came around and I was so nervous, however, my nerves were quickly soothed by the amazing teachers and students. I was introduced during their assembly by the head of English and one of the wise directors. I was given flowers and gifts all whilst being photographed by students and other teachers. I introduced myself to the 1000 students staring up at me; explaining what I was doing there, how old I was, where I’m from and how long and where I was staying. In every first lesson with each teacher, I was asked to introduce myself again and then students introduced themselves back. Either using their Thai, Karen or Hmong (another ethnic group in Northern Thailand) name or even just their nickname.
One of my favourite things from the first week was what students and teachers wore on different days of the week. Twice a week, Monday and Wednesday, everyone wears either their military, cadets or school army uniform. On Fridays, everyone wears a tribal and traditional clothing, whether that be Karen, Hmong or Thai. It is an incredible sight to witness and to be a part of, being immersed in such a way in their different cultures is something you can very rarely experience.
Within a few days of teaching at the school, I had already created very meaningful relationships with students and teachers. I was invited out to lunch every day by teachers who always made sure I felt supported and happy being in a very new environment. It was overwhelming at times at the start especially with the students being so polite and respectful, I know that sounds odd, but it was.
Did you know? In Thailand as a sign of respect you ‘wai’, which is a movement with your hands together either thumbs resting on your chest, your nose or between your eyes. Whilst doing this you bow your head, the higher your hands the more respect you have for the person you are bowing to (or the older they are). The hands by your forehead are only for Buddhists when they are praying.
Throughout school, almost all students bow to you as a sign of respect and at times I have found myself walking to the offices without moving my hands back down to my sides. It is such a beautiful gesture and part of their culture.
Around 150 of the students at school live in on-site dormitories, whether it’s because they live in villages too far away or they don’t have the resources to get to and from school every day. At the end of the first week at school, I was asked if I wanted to help cook lunch for the dorm students on Saturday. Donors for the dorms had donated extra money that week so they decided to create a buffet of food to celebrate! We made ‘lab’, spicy pork and herbs; ‘greow’, which are deep-fried pastries with meat inside; ‘som tum’, spicy papaya salad and Thai tea which is very sweet and can be made to be iced or hot, among other foods too. I loved the opportunity to be able to learn how to make favourite meals/foods in Thai culture and also work alongside the students to make and taste them too.
Another amazing part of Thai culture is how much people care for their parents. They become entirely responsible for their parent’s welfare and living after a certain age. Whether this means giving them money for things, bringing freshly cooked meals for them any time of the day, or driving them to doctor appointments, the list continues. I experienced this first-hand while having dinner with a teacher and her family and she mentioned she needed to drive her mother to Chiang Mai for a doctor’s appointment on the coming Friday so wouldn’t be able to attend our double lesson. She gave me the options of the lesson being cancelled or me running it on my own with her lesson plan. I said I would think about it because the idea made me quite anxious. I thought it over and decided it would be a great opportunity for me to practise my Thai, which was at that point the bare minimum, and for the students to have the majority of a lesson in English rather than Thai. The lesson went well to my surprise and in this lesson, we were focused on airports, we worked through worksheets whilst reading, writing and speaking English. I learned quite a few Thai words for this lesson to make the students feel more comfortable because how can I expect them to want to speak and learn my language confidently if I am not making the same effort for theirs? This caused a few laughs, but I didn’t mind. It added to their confidence, in knowing it wasn’t an issue if they messed up or misspoke and it increased the level of participation from everyone. We finished the lesson off by making paper aeroplanes and seeing how the students could get the most points for their team by flying them the furthest, while of course correctly answering a question in English first.
I can’t wait to continue learning and building relationships with the teachers and students. These experiences, memories and relationships will last a lifetime.