Lesson #1: In Thailand, time and planing is only a concept.
After arriving at Openmind Projects, you go through an orientation class. It contains a handy run-through of basic Thai (hello, I would like, how much), and some cultural dos and don’ts (like never touch a Thai person’s head, as it holds their wisdom; never kick someone an item you can pass with your hands, as it is a sign of disrespect).
However I think Toto’s advice of ‘time and planning is only a concept’ has to be the most relevant. I have travelled around many countries where buses rarely leave on time, if at all, and attractions shut down because, hey, it’s 2:45 on a Wednesday, why wouldn’t we just close up and go for a drink? But I’ve never had responsibilities or had to actually function there, which made things easier.
Here, we turn up to school and you never really know what class you’ll be teaching or where. Planning things at the weekend is difficult because people don’t answer their phone for weeks at a time. Most people are extremely helpful and willing here, but their idea of helping may take hours whereas you expect it in minutes. It is really forcing me to go from ‘functional, employed, productive’ Emmi (if she ever existed) to ‘chilled, whenever, whichever way the wind blows’ Emmi.
Another interesting cultural difference is that Thai people won’t say no, as they don’t want to offend your feelings. There have been cases of someone saying they know where they’re going, when they don’t, or agreeing to plans even though they know they won’t be around for them. If you ask someone ‘do you understand?’, they will always say yes – which makes teaching difficult!
Lesson #2: Don’t drink tequila the night before teaching a group of naughty children.
OK, so maybe this one should be obvious, but it seemed like a totally groovy idea at the time. Next morning, however, mustering the energy to run around the room with hyperactive children was a real challenge…
Volunteers teach English to children in a number of local schools, and I was given the notoriously naughty school with another volunteer. The children here are from poor backgrounds and aren’t as focused or studious as other schools, so keeping their focus for each hour long lesson is a real accomplishment.
It’s a great experience, especially as I’ve never taught whole classes like this before. The teaching style here is very passive, copying phrases into books, so we try to make our classes as active as possible, getting the children to use English in games and role-play.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be the next Miss Honey, but I do think it’s given me some perspective on how we can all make a small difference.