This is a guest blog by Cheron Gelber.
I first fell in love with Thailand and its people when I traveled there in 2003 on one of Kasma’s wonderful trips. We ate our way through the country and I’m sure we saw much more of the “real Thailand” than many other tourists. I was determined to go back.
But I never really thought that many years later, I’d be standing in a classroom in Thailand, saying, “Nut, Porn, Pis, do you have your homework assignments?”
Photogenic Thai children
Have you ever thought about teaching English in Thailand?
Here I was at a grade school in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching English to a bunch of eager students, three of whom are named Nut, Porn, and Pis. The truth is, I don’t even like kids that much. But these kids stole my heart. Most of the children come from poor families. It was heart-warming to see that in many ways, these children seem to be some of the happiest in the world.
(Click on an image to see a larger version.)
Focused kindergarten class
My cousin and I taught at the school for the hot month of August, and we had the time of our lives. The kids live just outside the city of Chiang Mai and don’t see many farangs (foreigners), so we were a novelty to them. We could tell they were puzzled that we couldn’t speak their language and confused by our feeble attempts to try. They probably wondered, “Why are these grownups so stupid that they don’t know how to talk right?”
We, on the other hand, marveled at their eagerness to learn English. We smiled when we called their names, many of which have such funny translations in English. And we loved to hear them count—“twelve, threeteen, fourteen, fiveteen, sixteen,” which reminded us of how inconsistent English is and how difficult it must be to learn.
Playing bingo with the alphabet
Every day, we were treated to a delicious Thai lunch with the school’s headmaster and other teachers. The resident “English” teacher was excited to practice our language. He dutifully copied all our lessons onto his computer, so he could use them when we left. The other teachers know a lot less English than he does, so communicating at lunch was interesting to say the least. But it was clear that the staff was thrilled to have us there, and we got by with sign language and the little bit of Thai we’ve picked up. The headmaster wanted us to learn at least one Thai word a day, and we were definitely up to the challenge.
Music for the Children’s Day parade
The English teacher is from a Karen Hill tribe village with its own language, so English is actually his third language. He wanted us to visit his home village. His dream is to start an English teaching program there, as he knows that learning English is often a key to a better future for the children of Thailand.
During our free time, we visited temples, an elephant camp, and an orchid farm–there’s so much to do in Chiang Mai! We went zip lining in the jungle, and of course got lots of wonderful and inexpensive Thai massages. We even went to Laos for a weekend. And naturally, we feasted on wonderful Thai food every day and shopped the many large outdoor markets of Chiang Mai.
Volunteers show off their student’s work
One of the highlights of our teaching experience was that our student, Mong, the son of illegal Burmese immigrants, won the paper-airplane-throwing contest for all of Thailand. He created a national stir when he could not get a passport to travel to Japan for the “all Asia” competition because he was not a Thai citizen. Finally, the Prime Minister of Thailand agreed to grant him a temporary passport and he was able to go to Japan. He came in first in the group competition and third in the solo competition, and we were able to proudly watch videos of our little winner. Mong has a dream to become a pilot some day, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t make it.
Working with these children who are so polite and so appreciative of our efforts was an incredible experience. I returned home vowing to recruit many more volunteers to share in this way to “pay it forward.”
Come join us – NO teaching experience necessary.
Happy Thai twins
Written by Cheron Gelber, October 2010