Iain O'Leary - General Teaching Projects in Thailand
Our adventure began on the Thai island of Phi Phi. An odd couple consisting of an American and an Irish man, we had no idea that here we would find absolute beauty. Our introduction to Thai culture was an amazing an exciting experience. Spending a week discovering the islands, the people, the food (and the t-shirts) set us up for a life-changing four weeks in little old Lamae.
Situated in the province of Chumphon, we were assigned to Watpiyawatthanaram primary school, one of the most unpronounceable and indescribable places we experienced. Whatever concerns we might have had about coming to teach English in this remote area were soon dashed as Jamnong, our host father, welcomed us into his home with open arms and a broad smile. For one month, he and his wife Nouie took care of us like we were their own.
From our first day as teachers we were treated as objects of fascination, but the locals were never anything other than infinitely generous to us. Teaching grades 4, 5 and 6 was a challenge (especially the early starts), but soon we and the children got over our nervousness and grew accustomed to practising English together. I will never forget the “Good morning teacher” shouted out by the kids at the start of every class, or their eagerness to learn not only English but about our families and cultures as well.
Buddhist Lent and the Sports Week opening ceremony were undoubtedly two of the major cultural highlights, the latter resulting in an interesting encounter with make-up and seemingly infinite amount of photos as we dressed in Muay Thai (Thai boxing) costume. The Thai philosophy of fun ‘sanuk’ was always clear to see at gatherings such as this and we were blown away by the huge crowd celebrating together all week. Getting to meet and talk to Buddhist monks from the area was also an amazing and eye-opening experience, possibly rivalled only by our visits to the randomly located Tesco store a short drive away.
At weekends we travelled across Thailand, taking in Koh Tao, Krabi, and of course we had to return to the beautiful Phi Phi one more time :). Here we were welcomed back by our local friends from our first week in Thailand, and spent our time soaking in the incredible atmosphere of the village and of course the indescribable Maya Bay. On this island we met some of the most fascinating people from all over the world, each and every one of them with their own story to tell.
And then there was the T-shirt shopping. Oh the T-shirt shopping. Each time we returned to Lamae to begin another week of school work we shared stories with Ms. Saichit, our incredibly patient and dedicated supervisor, and Mind, our guardian angel of the classroom. On our final day we sat with the kids and they gave us gifts of bracelets and necklaces. It was such a positive experience to see people often with so little who were prepared to share all that they had. We left Lamae happy that we had brought a few smiles to the faces of those who had given us so much more in return.
We spent our final days in the crazy capital of Bangkok, a fascinating experience of Thai culture in its most intense. Khao San Road, pad thai and curries for 20 Baht, Chang, Singha, Sangsom and Maekong a-plenty, we finished our trip on a rollercoaster. Seeing the Emerald Buddha was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life; evading the tuk-tuk drivers one of the most nerve-racking but entertaining experiences....and there might have been eh, one or two more t-shirts!
Every day brought a new discovery in Thailand. Whether it was an odd-looking creature in your plate of rice, a toothless old man trying to befriend you, or a politically-incorrect brand name on a Tesco mop, there was always something to make you smile. The landscape is one of absolute perfection. The culture is fascinating and enthralling. The food and drink are unrivalled. The people bring out the best in humanity. Volunteering as English teachers allowed us to experience something that so few had done before. We will never forget the time we spent in Thailand, possibly the greatest time of our entire lives.