Thursday, February 27, 2014

School's Out

It's funny how many things become so familiar after spending only five months in my classroom. I have been thinking of this familiarity, having spent the last two weeks in Chon Buri with more than an abundance of time to think. There has been a lot to think about, past, present, and future. Normally I'm not one for reflection, but it has been difficult not to with the school year coming to a quick end. Today, I did a lot of thinking about my school, my students, and the eventual familiarity that comes with residing in a new place.

When I first began teaching, I was in a constant state of stress and the nerves would never subside. I rushed into school 45 minutes early every day. I always wanted to make sure that I had papers printed and copied on time, and also that I had all of my PowerPoints and videos downloaded on the classroom computer each morning. Not that I don't want things done ahead of time anymore, but after about a month, my nerves finally began to fade. I got into a routine where I never had to stress about these things. The kids could wait a couple of minutes for me to pull up my lessons, and I now know that copying takes a whopping six minutes, which could be done on any number of my free periods during the week. I have gotten very comfortable in this position. As I think about the future, I see that any new job I get will be scary at first, but the nervousness of a new job always goes away eventually, especially with gained experience.

When I began at Anubanchonburi School, I was overwhelmed with learning 36 students' names. Each student has a number, and I was certain that I would only learn numbers, not nicknames. On the first day of school, I went through the 36 numbers and had each student say and spell his or her name for me so I could make a list. I referred to that list often in the first month to try and remember who was who and to put numbers to names to faces. Proudly, I now know all of my students nicknames, and I even know some of their Thai names. This is a big accomplishment for me!

As I sit at my desk grading grammar homework, I notice the familiarity of my students' handwriting. It is amazing how I doubted learning all of my kids' names, and now I can even identify most of their handwriting. Even when they forget to write their names (a teacher's biggest pet peeve), I can still identify the student. 

Their excitement of the smallest things will always put a smile on my face. My students never fail to have to show me their newest purchase from the store. It is usually the same kids over and over who do so. For example, Yok, my quietest 8 year old, just whispered to me from three desks away in the middle of art. Teacha, Teacha Laura.. and she holds up a pack of Hello Kitty erasers with the largest smile ever. I smile back, and nod as if to say, get back to paying attention (our art teacher teaches in our classroom). It's little things like this that make me love them so much. They care to tell me these momentous happenings in their lives, and it means the world. As I write, I am getting bombarded with the pastel pictures they are making. I appreciate that they want to share with me so badly. Small things like this shows me that whatever job comes my way next, I know I want it to be with children. A majority of my thoughts this past month have been about the future, about finding a career at home. One week I thought about opening a coffee shop. The next week I wanted to open a book store. The next week was a bakery and the next week I wanted to open a coffee shop/bookstore/bakery. I've even toyed with the idea of writing a book. All of those ideas sound great and could always have potential, but what I really want to be doing is teaching. Therefore, teaching is what I will try my best to do when I get home.
Making the phases of the moon with Oreos
Learning about patterns
Outside for a spelling word scavenger hunt
Testing our wind mills

So, as I am ready to leave the school, I am not as ready to leave my students. They have become such a familiar part of my life, and not knowing what I will be doing at home makes me not want to leave them. The tears already began to flow on Tuesday. The students had an assignment to write a letter to someone telling him or her about the weather in Thailand. When Non showed me his, I immediately teared up because his letter was written to me. It also had zero mention of the weather, so I made him write the last sentence.

I don't think it would have mattered if I was with my second graders in Thailand, with fourth graders in Japan, or with sixth graders in America. Any teaching experience is rewarding and is one that forces you to grow as a teacher. I feel ready to move on to a new job in America, and I have this experience to thank for that. If I could succeed here, I am confident that I will be a great teacher in America. And the kids will adore me, I hope.

Tomorrow (Friday the 28th) is my last official teaching day, followed by a week of English and Thai finals. It surprises me every day how fast this term at Anuban has gone. I will be very sad to say goodbye on the 10th, but ready to move on to exciting new adventures with the friends I have made along the way, as well as friends I have had for a lifetime!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Khao Yai

This weekend was certainly one of highs and lows. It seems that no matter how hard we try, traveling this country never ceases to amaze and anger me at the same time.

Using the word ka can go a long way, especially when trying to barter. In Bangkok, we needed a taxi to take us to the bus station. The man who stopped for us offered 200 baht, which Amelia was quick to counter, 150 ka. He immediately accepted with a big smile on his face! Ka is a word that is put on the end of a word or phrase to show respect. After we were on the way, the man proceeded to profess his love to Amelia while holding his heart and calling her 'young'. A handful of kissy noises later, I was crying of laughter and this became the running joke of the weekend. Being nice and respectful can go a long way no matter where you are, and possibly even find you a stalker!

Friday night and Saturday morning were both met with pure frustration. Long story short: My friends planned on running a race, and not being able to get a concrete answer for anything in this country, we had traveled to the completely wrong location. Race missed. People (my three friends) angry and upset.

Just hanging out at our hostel
We finally got our bearings and showed up at Green Leaf, where we were staying Saturday and Sunday nights. Luckily we had something to do Saturday afternoon to somewhat take our minds off of the disappointment. Why not go hang out with bugs and bats?! With a guided tour, we piled in a songtao and headed for the bat cave! Another adventure, another guide sensing something from me. This time wasn't necessarily fear, but more like disgust and.. Okay yeah, a little bit of fear. Bugs and bats? Not normally my thing. Our guide immediately learned my name and picked on me the rest of the night. Hold the white snake? Fine, snakes I'm okay with after picking up garter snakes in my garden all those years growing up. Hold a scorpion spider? Not so fine. Our guide basically held onto my hand and forced me to hold it, but I did it and am living to tell about it! Go into a cave with over 500 bats? Definitely not my thing and I was not excited for this at all, but it seems that in Thailand I give everything a chance. Luckily I did because it was SO COOL! Absolutely smelly, but incredible. We all had flashlights, or torches as they called them. Looking up with the flashlights, all you could see was the ceiling of the cave littered with bats hanging upside down. Then, we drove to another cave where we stood below and watched 2 billion bats leave the bat cave. Again, SO COOL. It didn't seem like it was ever going to end as it took about a half hour, but as they flew, it was hard not to be awestruck. Doing something like that makes me think, hm, now I don't feel like I need to duck for cover on my deck when the bats come out on a summer night.

White Snake

Scorpion Spider

Bat Cave


Millions leaving the cave
Sunday was a full day of pure jungle. With a new guide and stylish leech socks, we took on Khao Yai National Park. The guide pulled the songtao over at any sign of wildlife. These men are so good at spotting animals and they are pros at what they do. Our first stop was for a hornbill. Toucan I asked? No, hornbill. (I later asked if other birds were toucans just to joke with our guide and I don't think he thought it was very funny) Next on the tour were the gibbons. Gibbons are not birds, as I honestly have always thought. Gibbons are actually similar to a gorilla. Another animal that truly amazed me. Here I was in the middle of this park and there were gibbons swinging from tree to tree with their families in their natural habitats. A couple of times I had to remind myself that I wasn't in a zoo. It was unreal. We followed them through the jungle to get great pictures, and we could hear the gibbons calling throughout the whole day! Other animals we ran into were green vipers, deer, and macaques (aka the nasty monkeys I ran into a couple of months ago), then of course the jungle itself was thrilling to walk through. The big draw for this tour was of course.. Elephants!! You could imagine my disappointment when we drove around for two hours looking for at least one out of the 200 living freely in the park, but, no dice. As sad as it was to miss them, it was exciting 'looking' for them all day, and just knowing that these elephants are safe living in the jungle environment made up for it. So what, they didn't feel like going for a stroll down the park road. Guess I can't blame them!

Leech Socks



Green Viper

After spending a weekend amongst such wildlife, it's hard not to think about nature in general. It's amazing what happens in the world surrounding us. I would have never thought that a bat was such an interesting animal if I never experienced their exit of the cave firsthand. These animals are so lucky that they are still living in their natural habitats in Thailand, and I'm so glad I got to witness them!

On our songtao back to Green Leaf, as the two girls from California and the couple from Belgium probably thought we were insane, we were having an amazing time. We were singing some of our favorite songs from 15 years ago and trying to remember some hand games from elementary/middle school. It made me feel like I was with friends that I have had for a long time. I don't censor myself around them. I say whatever may be on my mind, whether it be smart or completely unintelligent. I eat nonstop with them. I laugh so hard with them, like with Amelia's new taxi driver boyfriend. I never really thought I would find friends as good as the ones I have at home, but I don't belive you can ever have enough great friends. I am happy and thankful to have found Amelia and Brittany in Thailand! Without them I would be completely lost!!

Brittany, Amelia, me, and Jason