Sophie Ramshaw a trainee teacher from Hull University spent 4 weeks of her summer teaching English in a rural school in Chiang Rai. Sophie has written an insightful blog about her experience, from bonding with her host Mum to teaching her classes outside…
Travelling over to Thailand filled me with excitement, for some reason I wasn’t nervous or apprehensive I just couldn’t wait to start. It wasn’t until the 23rd July (the day I had to meet my host mother) that the nerves hit me. I started to regret my decision to come over and teach. Part of me wished I had visited the country for a holiday where I could stay in nice hotels and go to the beach. In hindsight I was proved completely wrong. I have been to many countries all over the world but I have never got to know the culture of a country. Staying with a local family and working in a local school meant that I got to learn so much more and it really has made me see Thailand for the beautiful place that it is!
I can remember hugging Lauren (VESL programme manager) in the car park of my hotel and leaving her to go in the car with my host mother… I just wanted to run back and get Lauren and tell her I couldn’t do it. It took me only two days for me to change my opinion. I didn’t want to try any of the food and so I stopped eating and nipped to the local shop to buy biscuits now and again. My host family thought I was on a diet. However, after the second day it hit home that I was only there once (or so I thought at the time) so I needed to just go for it.
I started to bond with the family really easily, I made sure that whatever they did I did too so that I could experience every bit of their day-to-day life. In the UK I am very much a mummy’s girl and the same happened in Thailand, I was so close to my Thai mother whilst Yasmin (my project partner) was very close to our Thai dad.
The days and the evenings in Thailand are completely different. I would spend the nights having indoor BBQ’s, going to hot spring baths and eating crickets and worms (I just wanted to try out the local delicacy’s.) The teachers were also so generous to us both. One weekend they took us to the White Temple followed by KFC and then an Elephant ride whilst on other weekend we visited a waterfall, a market and the Golden Triangle. Thai people are so generous, they will do anything for you and I have made friends for life!
The week days consisted of getting up at around 6:30am to leave for school at 7:30am. The school was only a 5-minute drive from the house and was such a beautiful building. It was small but really homily and because it only had a small amount of pupils it was easy to get to know everyone. Being a trainee teacher I thought I would know exactly what to teach but for some reason it took me a while to think. However once I found an idea the rest just followed. I would recommend not to plan your lessons thoroughly. The lessons I did weren’t the best and the hour lesson felt like it lasted half the day. On days when I had rough ideas of what I was teaching the hour went so fast and I didn’t want to stop teaching the children.
I taught Pratom (primary) 1, 2 and 3 each class for an hour a day so my lessons were quite basic compared to Yasmin’s. I decided to teach in weekly blocks so in week 1, I taught family members and greetings. In week 2, I decided I couldn’t teach in the small cramped classrooms anymore so I took the children to the outside area which excited them everyday! We started week 2 learning body parts and putting them into the song ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’. This led nicely into teaching items of clothing.
In week 3, we went through different types of weather. At the end of the week I filmed my class singing ‘I hear Thunder’ which they had learnt by heart. I put the video on Facebook to show everyone who had donated what their money had gone towards and it got many likes because the children were so impressive, I was so proud!!
In the final week I taught rooms in the house. I had been reading their English texts books and found that in their tests they needed to know rooms in the house and the items you would find in them. In one lesson where I taught this, my host mum observed and told me afterwards that actually these children have one room in their house and so might not understand what I meant. However on my second to last day at the school one of the girls from my class asked if I wanted to go to the dining room with her. It brought a tear to my eye knowing the impact I had on their learning. That day my host mum took Yasmin and I to see where the children actually lived. It was so hard to see these amazing children cycle for 30 minutes to reach a hut where they would most likely sleep on the floor and eat hardly anything. However to look at the children you wouldn’t know this was the case. They were so polite and intellectual which just goes to show that money isn’t everything! In the last week I held an English Camp for all 60 of the pupils I taught. We went into the large Music room where I taught them conversational techniques, colours and hobbies for the whole day. We played games and sang songs that helped to develop their English Vocabulary.
The last day at the school broke my heart! The morning started with the teachers making us over in to Thai girls. They bought us new clothes and did our make up and hair. It was the Buddest festival of light so in the morning we travelled to the local temple. It was so nice to witness the children and teachers being respectful to their faith. Afterwards we returned back to school where the teachers had planned a lunch for us.
The children had been asked to bring in their own food and the teachers had made the adults a special picnic so that we could eat on the floor with the children! It was so lovely. Following this, Yasmin and I had to perform jingle bells on Thai instruments that we had been learning through out our time at the school. We were then presented with gifts from the teachers and the children, I just couldn’t believe they had gone to so much effort for us!
So that is my experience of volunteering with VESL. I couldn’t possibly include all of it, this is literally only a fraction of what I did but everyone’s experience will be different. As you can probably tell my family were quite well off so I lived in a modern western style house but the time I spent in the house was so little that it wouldn’t have mattered where I lived. Thailand felt like a home from home for me and that is because the people are so welcoming. I can now say that I have family and friends in a different part of the world and I keep in touch with them all the time. I skype my host family at least once a week and my Thai mum even got Facebook so she can message Yasmin and I. Although everyone’s experience will be different one thing I would say is put everything into this experience. Don’t waste time doing things that you can do in the UK. Take part in whatever you can so that you too can come home with many a tale to tell like me!