Over the hump.

A week of practicum has flown by! So this is what all that taco tech has been for. All those hours learning about lesson plan objectives and classroom management come together (right now, over me! Sorry, I just had to go with the Beatles on that). I still need to get the hang of lesson planning and then actually sticking to what is on the paper, but it’s coming along. Even more difficult is lesson planning with other people, something we got a taste of Monday in taco tech when they did a demo of ‘co-teaching’ should be. See, TCCO isn’t about being an English teacher in a foreign country. Our focus is to work with a Thai counterpart and helping them become better teachers. Last Monday, we had our counterparts come in so that we could share our ideas with them. My counterpart is actually my host Meh’s younger brother. Oh life’s little circumstances. This person saw me with chopsticks in my mouth as I pretended to be a walrus. Awesome.
The cool thing about Monday’s ‘hub day’ was that one of the higher up monks in Thailand came to speak to us about the Buddhist influence in Thailand. Don’t ask me to pronounce his name, all I could probably get is Venerable something or other. When you think of the stereotypical monk, the look of this man is what comes to mind. Amazingly enough he is able to trace his heritage and Thai Buddhists recognize him as a blood descendant of the Buddha. Bad Ass. He discussed the role of Monks in Thai society and important functions they serve to the people in their communities. Answering all of our questions about time (it’s infinite, think that there is no past but your past does affect your present which is technically right now, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it because you can’t change what is going to happen because whatever you do to prepare for it will change so live in the moment and so on and so forth, yes this sentence is way too long, I know). The calm he evoked was incredible. He had an answer for everything. He talked about how awesome it was to not have to make choices because he doesn’t buy food. Monks rely on the local people ‘sai bot’ or giving merit (in this case, in the form of food). I do this with Meh a lot. A little chuckle of a story will be coming up about this. Essentially he has little to no possessions and dedicates himself to teaching people about true Buddhism, not the animalism practices that we hear about. He also carries a MacBook Pro and is pushy about keeping to his presentation’s time limits. Irony, dear friend of mine, you make me giggle.
In PST, we’re taught to honor the extremely high social status of monks in Thai society. As a female, I’m not allowed to touch or give anything directly to a monk. Given these rules (for lack of a better word), I’m a little star struck when I see a monk. Basically, I’m frightened to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing and making a terrible cultural faux pas. PST suggested though to take part in our family’s sai bot, if invited, as a way to show our respect. So Meh and I usually leave our house about 6:15 am and walk to the end of our driveway to give some of our food to two local monks. Back when I was sick, this amount of exercise was enough to send me into a coughing fit suitable for someone with emphysema. I tried really hard not to in front of the monks, but I couldn’t help myself! So after another round of Japanese Encephalitis immunization, I was feeling a little mai sa bi (sick) and didn’t go with Meh to sai bot. She comes back that day and tells me that the monk asked about me!!!!!!!! What?!!? This is like Brad Pitt, a senator, and Oprah rolled into one inquiring about my health because they noticed I had a terrible ai (cough) the previous day. Even thinking back about it is blowing my mind. I realize I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it probably actually was, but still, it’s a monk!
Speaking of celebrity though, the best part of my day is rocking up to school in the morning. Biking down the school driveway and towards the parking lot, you would think that this would be a normal everyday activity. Nay, friends, nay. This is about the closest equivalent I will ever get to opening the door to a limo at a red carpet event and I’m Lady Gaga in the meat dress. Thai people have been pretty chill about the whole foreigner thing. Yeah, there has been some curiosity and people calling things out to us as we bike along, but compared to China this past summer, this has been not a big deal. Well, that was before practicum. The first day I biked to school in the morning to go to language class I got the royal treatment. I foolishly rang my bell to get the attention of Tammy, another trainee, to wave hello. Out of nowhere, about 50 screeching elementary school kids start chasing me to the bike area. And when I say screeching, I mean screeching. There is a particular tone that only 6,7, and 8 year olds can reach and when they do it in unison, it can be quite overwhelming. If they had cameras, the flash bulbs would set the place ablaze. The funny thing is, after sprinting after me, paying respect with wai-ing and sawatdi-ing, they are amazingly silent as they watch me get off my bike, lock it up, and walk into class. My Thai is still pretty limited, so that all I can really do is ask them how they are and tell them I’m going to school. Besides that, as a teacher, I’m supposed to reinforce the hierarchy between us, something that I’m definitely struggling with in my class. Nevertheless though, I always give them a smile and indulge their giggling faces with a bell ring. This is one ego boost that I’ll take every time.
Everyone has probably heard of the Bill Crosby show “Kids say the Darnedest Things” or something to that effect. Well imagine that, but in Thai. This is my life in practicum. I won’t go through a daily list of how each day went because that would be terribly boring for you, so we’ll stick to the Sports Center moments. In the middle of a lesson, one boy asked me a question, in Thai, which I didn’t understand. This is hardly unusual because while I am learning a ton of Thai right now (I’ve graduated to making statements like ‘I do not like bananas because I think they smell,’ this is no small feat here friends), I have trouble with listening comprehension when someone speaks at a normal pace. Unsatisfied with my lack of answer, the boy then walks up to the teacher and asks him the question. His question wasn’t too out of the ordinary for a curious 12 year old, he wanted to know why my eyes were blue and not brown. Again, still pretty normal. But then, my coteacher asked me, like really asked me, what the reason was for why my eyes are blue!! I mean, how do you explain genetics to a bunch of eager eyed 12 year olds and a teacher that wants to know too?! There were some more easily answerable questions like how old are you, how tall are you (eye roll), and where are you from, but they were all in Thai making it a bit of a challenge for me, one I enjoyed immensely. I made the most progress with one gal that one the first day wouldn’t even look me in the eye. She would physically turn her head away so that I couldn’t see her face. Aai (shy) to the max. But on Thursday, she was one of the only students that actually did their homework of drawing a picture of their family members. I gave her a big gang mak ka (great job!) and she blushed furiously, but seemed pleased. One thing the resource volunteers have mentioned to us is the time and effort Thai kids will put in to drawing pictures and I can see what they mean. On Friday, once everyone brought their pictures in, there were some absolutely beautiful drawings that were, for the most part, colored in and extremely detailed. The best one had to be from one of the troublesome boys though. Instead of drawing all of his family members, he gave me a picture of himself in the style of Frankenstein but bloodier. It was hard not to laugh and applaud the appalling picture. This is the life of a teacher.
In other news, we have a practice LPI (language proficiency interview) this week to monitor our progress in Thai. I know that I shouldn’t be, but I’m kind of nervous for it because it’s with the different directors of our program. Our real LPI is in about a month with hired language analysts. Technically we’re supposed to reach a certain level of proficiency, but it seems that as long as you demonstrate a strong desire to improve, they’ll let you swear-in. A list of important dates include, February 15th site interview when we get to state our preferences of where we’re going to spend the next two years, finding out on the 21st where we’ll actually be, going to BKK on the 24th (!!!) and then spending five days at site from the 25th to the 1st of March, LPI on March 12th (EEK!!!!), another week in homestays with a farewell party on the 19th, swearing in (and finally being a volunteer instead of a trainee!) on March 21st and then moving to site three days later! When I look at the schedule in this kind of format, it seems like the blink of an eye. Especially with how quickly last week seemed to move, we’re definitely finished with a solid part of PST. I know I still have time left, but I’m almost missing my homestay family and other trainees already. I get to see them everyday, tell them funny little tidbits, and learn from them all the time. Having my independence taken away was thoroughly annoying at first, but now that I’ve gotten somewhat used to it, it’ll be almost weird to have it back. Not being exhausted at 8:30 every night? Having free time of which I can do what ever I want? Being allowed to go places and do things by myself without someone else there too? This is a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it’ll be nice to have the whole weekend off to go and do what I please. Granted I’ll be in the middle of a rice field, it’ll be 100 degrees, and the closest Tesco will be a 20 km bike ride (if I’m lucky), but I could still do it, if I wanted to. This is what I signed up for though and so far, it’s been pretty phenomenal.

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2 thoughts on “Over the hump.

  1. Sounds like you are winning the place over! I am really excited for you. All is well in Oregon. We are all running a lot and still dedicated to yoga. Its been warm here and sunny – today was in the sixties. Poor Grammy has really had to endure a tough winter – good thing she is tough, too.

    I hope the teaching goes well – you’ll become a pro lesson planner in no time 🙂

  2. Sounds amaaaazing! Just a little teacher comment – don’t worry toooo much about sticking to what’s on paper. You’ll spend at least half the time adapting and flying by the seat of your pants 🙂 Let me know where you end up for your placement. I’ll be in Chiang Mai as of August for two years teaching kindergarten 🙂

    -Kailyn

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