Kim, a volunteer from Keele University, spent six weeks this summer (2013) volunteering in a school in Chiang Rai District in Thailand. Here Kim reflects on her time overseas, how it has helped her in her career path and the challenges she faced and conquered.
You can see a clip of Kim teaching in our video!
The prospect of travelling to Thailand to teach for six weeks both simultaneously excited and scared me. I have always loved working with children, and previous volunteering experiences certified this to me. This project was a chance to broaden my experiences and discover new avenues in my career path.
As a native speaker, I would teach the students basic English as well as conversational skills they could potentially utilise later in life, however, I had no estimation of their existing level of ability, and did not know which age groups I would teach, but knew I would be faced with a bewildering language barrier and was apprehensive that this would be difficult to cross. I approached this situation with an open mind and was eager to try new techniques to ensure this barrier would be crossed.
One of the best techniques I found was to learn some simple Thai phrases, as well as numbers, and confidently demonstrate to the students what I had learned – amusing them with my foreign accent and pronunciation, thus opening a door to sharing a language, which in turn gave them an opportunity to confidently attempt the English language without feeling intimidated or apprehensive that their pronunciation was foreign to mine. I ensured that each lesson incorporated drawing, writing, singing, pronunciation techniques, games and activities. Before I knew it, they were eager to be taught by me, asking the teachers when I would be teaching them and their excited beaming faces and whispers of ‘Kru Kim’ (teacher Kim) would greet me as I entered the classroom.
As a volunteer who would only teach for six weeks, hearing the students practice what I had taught them, even though the lesson had ended brought a smile to my face as I knew that once my project was over, they would still utilise the skills I had taught them. They were eager to learn and excelled in effort. They grew in confidence and within a couple of weeks they would approach me to speak to me personally, not just as ‘Kru Kim’.
These past few weeks have definitely taught me a lot about myself and having taught a variety of ages from 4-15 years, I have verified that I can teach and more than this, that I enjoy teaching. I have spent a long period of time in a foreign country and I felt at home; I embraced the culture and in turn was embraced into the community, thus an emotional bond was formed with both the teachers and the students.
I have grown in confidence and have learned a valuable lesson that life is full of choices – on several occasions I was faced with a situation where the teachers and the students would speak to each other in their native tongue whilst I could not understand a word, I was faced with a choice to accept this situation and be apart from the group, or to embrace this new and exciting cultural change and join in, enquiring them about their language and cultural quirks; this excited them and they in turn accepted me further and my experience was even further enriched.
This project has been a worthwhile enriching experience I thank VESL wholeheartedly for this opportunity.