Thursday, September 26, 2013

CVK Animal Kingdom: It's a Wild, Colorful World

 I have fallen in love with my students. For the most part, they are overwhelmingly sweet and loving. My days are made up of hugs, high fives, and games. (And sometimes cheek kisses, which occasionally turn into group cheek kisses, which end with students kissing teacher on the lips, at which point we have a weeklong cheek kiss. But that is neither here nor there.) We sing and dance, do arts and crafts, and read stories together. Even when they do misbehave, it’s mostly just because they’re kids being kids, and I don’t really have the wherewithal to stay mad at them.

This past weekend, all that love and affection, all that desire to have fun, really paid dividends. Well, that plus two months of seriously intense planning by myself and my Thai co-teacher, supplemented by heaps of help from Win. Thanks to all that preparation and hard work, we were able to give our students the most colorful English Day Camp you’ll ever see! 1, 2, 3, YAY!

Choosing to make the only goals those of a) having fun and b) playing games in English, we went all out. Basically, we gave 250 first, second, and third grade students an animal-themed English carnival day. They got different colored shirts and bags, nametags and pencil cases, ridiculous animal-shaped snacks, spaghetti for lunch, and a parade just for the school. Each foreign teacher planned one games, through which the students would cycle, while being bombarded with intense, joyful, loving energy.

They tossed balls, popped balloons, made masks, drew, spun roulette wheels, fished, acted, sang, spelled, and balloon animal-ed their way through the most absurdly exhausting day ever. And, damn, if all that planning, exhaustion, frustration, and difficulty wasn’t completely and totally worth it. The pure joy radiating out of their little faces made all the hard work seem like nothing.

This might be what people mean when they say ‘maternal instinct.’ That is, if that maternal instinct rolled around a color wheel and ended up with screaming, enthusiastic games, giant smiles, and lots of English. If ‘maternal instinct’ means never having to apologize for wearing yellow and orange leopard print leggings paired with a yellow t-shirt and yellow and orange feather earrings. Well, and if ‘maternal instinct’ includes the desire to avoid seeing any children for at least 48 hours after spending 8 hours straight entertaining them.

As an addendum of sorts, I have since learned that the day of our English Camp, September 21, is World Gratitude Day. Personally, this feels fitting in a way. It’s not always easy to teach such small children, especially when they don’t speak your language – sometimes it requires an immense amount of work, time, patience, and equanimity – but it is worth the effort to be able to help these children grow and flourish. The laughter and smiles are truly a gift that fills my life with immeasurable joy.

I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful blessings that have allowed me to becoming a teacher of young learners. And I am grateful for the students themselves; they help me to see when I am taking myself too seriously, they help me to tap into the creative parts of my brain, they let me use my imagination and act like a complete fool, they are forgiving and loving and constantly remind me that the world is a big, beautiful, amazing place. And all this without even being able to speak the same language. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Home Away From Home(land)

It’s an odd sensation, returning to a foreign country and experiencing a feeling of homecoming. It’s strange, a language re-emerging from forgotten corners of your mind. It’s interesting, something so exotic feeling so normal, so commonplace.

As we found ourselves back in Thailand for a second round, we were dealing with new classes, new students, new friends, new restaurants, and wholly new experiences. But, here we are in the same culture, speaking the same language, working with the same Thai co-workers, at the same loving, supportive school. It’s not quite the same, but neither is it drastically different.

Things we missed about Thailand –
  • ·         The food. Hands down, Thailand has some of the most diverse, delicious food selection we have encountered in all our travels. We started anticipating, and salivating over, specific meals months before we landed back in Thailand.
  • ·         The generosity. The Thais are some of the most giving, loving, supportive people you could ever hope to meet. Whether co-workers, strangers, or government employees, we have always been surprised by the lengths to which the Thais will go to help a fellow human.
  • ·         The cost of living. No, seriously, it is just so easy to stretch the baht you make working in Thailand. It’s not hard to live without budgeting, travel for three months of the year, and still return home without emptying your wallet.
  • ·         The compassion for street animals. As I have mentioned before, the way that Thais treat stray animals is far and away one of the most heartwarming examples I have ever witnessed of a culture having respect for the life of all beings.
  • ·         The acceptance. It is amazing to see an entire country that is willing to accept homosexuality from childhood. Especially when teaching children and witnessing those who would be bullied and harassed in the US rise to the top of their class.

Things we didn’t miss about Thailand –
  • ·         Tonal language. Despite being not-so-bad at Thai, I am still not a robot. And while I can effectively communicate here, divorcing emotion from inflection is incredibly difficult. Win, on the other hand, has such a hard time with it that all we can do is laugh and not worry too much.
  • ·         Gossip and bizarrely insulting cultural tendencies. Though by no means exclusive to Thailand, it is difficult to constantly be asked why I do things and why I am fat. (As an addendum of sorts, we recently discovered that the asking about weight is the Thai way of saying that you care about someone and their health. But I could still do without someone rubbing my belly while saying, “baby?”)

Things that probably belong on the latter list, but don’t bother us enough to make the cut –
  • ·         Squat toilets. Okay, in our travels we have definitely encountered far worse than those in Thailand. Plus, I like to think of it as a bit of a game. Target practice, if you will. (It’s entirely possible that that is nothing more than a coping mechanism when faced with something unpleasant.)
  • ·         “Thai time”. It is a common joke in Thailand that things happen on “Thai time”. Typically, this means things happen eventually, but never when they were supposed to happen. Meeting at 7 can mean 8, and when something would be done by Tuesday it will almost certainly be finished no later than Friday. But, this is also something that we have encountered in numerous places and to worse degrees. Apparently, if you want things to happen promptly, move to the US or Europe; otherwise, just roll with it.

Of course when returning to anywhere there is the fear that it will not be the same. That you might in some way ruin your good memories with a new, worse experience. That it doesn’t live up to the memories you have.

We have been lucky in that regard; the Thailand we remember is intact and the Thailand we live in now is just as good (and, in some ways, just as bad). When all is said and done, we are thrilled to be back in Thailand.

It’s a wonderful feeling: to find home in the most faraway of destinations, and to know that, despite the common saying, sometimes you can, indeed, go back.