The Anatomy of an English Camp

Or teacher training for that matter. With the hailstorm of these raining down on me (in the past two weeks/this upcoming week I’ll have been in two teacher trainings and two English camps) I figured I would give a little explanation of what goes down during these things outside of the numerous awkward photos I’m asked to take with complete and total randoms.

Example schedule from a teacher training I went to last year:
7.00 – 9.00 Registration, Orientation, Opening Ceremony
9.00 – 10.30 From Curriculum to Classroom
10.30 – 10.40 Morning Break
10.40 – 11.00 Group Activity
11.00 – 12.30 Rotation #1
12.30 – 13.30 Lunch
13.30 – 13.50 Group Activity
13.50 – 15.15 Rotation #2
15.15 – 15.30 Afternoon Break
15.30 – 17.00 Rotation #3
17.00 – 18.00 Group Activity

Registration/Opening Ceremony
Yes, it says registration starts at seven in the morning. Usually the opening ceremony is supposed to start at eight. Guess what time the majority of Thai people show up…  well if you had fifteen-twenty after eight, you would be in the right. Even better, the person that ‘officiates’ the opening ceremony (typically a self-centered Thai male bureaucrat that spends the majority of his working hours in ‘meetings’ (ie eating and/or consuming alcohol)) is even later than all the normal Thai people because he doesn’t have to greng-jai the measly normal teachers or much less, the children. But don’t forget, there is usually an introducer to the introducer, that no one actually listens to, who also manages to be more awkward than this hot mess.

The opening ceremony consists of lighting candles, incense, a short prayer, a ‘how you doin’ to the obligatory photo of the king, and then another speech that people openly talk to others throughout (usually about the importance of education despite the fact these events are usually on weekdays, disturbing the learning schedule), even the person that is supposed to be giving said speech. I’ve been to an English camp of about 200 kids and the head of the school directors answer his cell phone and has a five-minute conversation while everyone is sitting and waiting for the completion of his introduction. We had to wait thirty minutes for him to show up, then talk to other people for another ten minutes, and then he answers his phone during his own speech. Buddha bless Thailand.

Oh hey, thanks for finally showing up.

This is a good view of the stage from the teacher training I went to a few weeks ago. You can see the lit candles on the left next to the photo of the king.

These usually focus on the four skills, reading, writing, listening, and speaking. At camp, there’s minimal time put into vocabulary/actual learning and more focus on just getting kids interested in English in general. Teacher trainings are more of an attempt to disseminate information about how to teach to the four skills more effectively.

Unfortunately, due to unorganized schedules and the fluidity of ‘Thai time,’ more often than not, whole rotations are sometimes cut out to try to get back on track. Another Volunteer from my group beat the system and managed the miraculous: cutting out the opening ceremony speech. Gee Thailand, doesn’t that make sense? It came at the cost of breaking some face with her principal, but maybe it’ll help to check this guy’s ego and the kids that are trying to learn a difficult second language.

During one of the rotations at the teacher training, people bingo. We have to take pictures of ourselves at these events to show us ‘working.’ Yes that is a child in the background. A teacher brought him to a conference at a relatively fancy hotel dress in typical village attire.

My coteacher, on the left, just creeped up to them for the photo. I love her.

The best events to be a part of are planned by both Thais and PCVs. This way both representatives of the groups are (fairly) well-informed and are able to keep the other participants in the know. Naturally, this perfect blend of circumstances can be rare to find in a country that embraces ambiguity like most Americans accept Big Macs (is that even a viable cultural reference anymore? Let’s try, ‘like most Americans accept the LGBT community.’ Only the crazies ask for straight answers and are wary of the gays!).

Frequently, Thais like to bring in Volunteers to ‘help out,’ but most of the time want them to be in the middle of things, giving speeches, heading up huge group games, and emceeing a 200 person event notifying them only fifteen minutes ahead of time (yes, all of these things have happened to me at Thai organized events). Along with the lack of knowledge about what the Buddha is going on, the pressure to keep your Thai shit eating grin-face on as hundreds of people stare, point, and laugh at your presence on earth is, frankly, fucking exhausting.

Adrenaline usually takes over and I act a fool for the entertainment of Thai kids and adults alike and we all have a grand time. Seriously, we do. Unfortunately, the crash afterwards almost always makes me want to hermit up in my house for days at a time and crave for normalcy with my own students. An event every few months is enough for me, but, as I said, I’ve had four in June alone with two camps back to back, both two days each. Ironically, my friend Jeff who is in the CBOD (ie non-teaching program) has been to way more English camps than I have. He’s coming in tomorrow for the two-day camp at my school. When the school that is hosting the camp I’m going to on Monday heard that another farang was in town, they begged me to get him to stay for theirs as well. Jeff is the lucky one.

The last, undisclosed, part of the schedule is the hundreds of photos people want to take with you. Thais have a thing for wanting to take pictures with the people who ‘trained’ them. Maybe because they’re perceived as higher in the hierarchy of things, but I’ve had quite a few teachers tell me how excited they were to show their students they went to a training with a farang or students lining up to take pictures with their phones to show their friends that weren’t at camp. I can only guess how many pictures of me are floating around this country with people I’ll likely never see again, but I think it’s better not to seriously consider it. Much like a lot of things in Thailand.

The head trainer is on my left. Everyone is holding their certificates. And then needed a photo with us as double proof. I added my camera to the pile.

My all time favorite English camp photo from our PST English camp. Do you get the joke we were going for?

Expect a visual representation of English camp/teacher trainings in the video for the week, though it might have to wait until Sunday, the second day of camp at my school. Let me know if you want to see more awkward photos with Thai people. Apparently, it’s what I do best.


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