Friday, January 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I (Amy) would like this blog to have glimpses of the daily, to give someone the ability to see just a little of what it is like to be here. Alas, doing small things (like updating a blog) are difficult to do faithfully. I have been putting off writing for about a month now because so much has happened that I don't know where to start and we have been so busy. This is my honest effort to start writing again, even if it is not much. Hopefully I will get better at this as the year goes on.
Sarah and I received our TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification right before Christmas. This involved taking a 4 week intensive course that lasted 7 or 8 hours most days. Because we will be teaching conversational English classes to Thai students at Payap in the next few months, this course was particularly helpful. We were able to think about teaching techniques, like classroom management and methodology of teaching, as well as learn specific games or activities that we will be able to use with future classes. One of the teachers, a very humble man, was particularly inspiring to me. Everything he taught us or explained took his students into careful consideration; the lessons were for them only. Teaching English, even at the college level, cannot be lecture-based. It must be highly interactive, getting students to speak as much as possible. This is more difficult than it sounds because it is so natural to feel that, as a teacher, you must explain everything or they won't learn.
We finished teaching the poetry section of our Intro to Poetry and Drama class at Payap. I recently saw a professor who told me that in teaching you have to expect to make mistakes because it is the only way to learn how. Some days feel just like that: long strings of mistakes and seemingly unorganized activities that just don't go the way Sarah and I envision them at all. But other days are good; students seem to care about the material and we get to enjoy them as people. Poetry was difficult for me to teach sometimes. As it is one of the things I love most in this world (and probably always will be), I could feel my inability to communicate why it is essential, why it matters, why it . I would teach a poem and then feel I had not done it justice, sometimes wishing I had never tried at all, almost as if I had wrecked it. Sadly, loving a subject does not make you a good teacher. I think Sarah and I are probably learning in ways we don't see on a daily level. I still don't like being in front of people, but I am far more comfortable than I used to be. The drama section just started and we continue to try new things and laugh a lot.
My family came for about a week and a half for Christmas...it was wonderful to see them. Showing them this place that I have told them so much about and watching them experience Thai food and culture for themselves brought back memories from family vacations as a child. We did lots of touristy things like going on an elephant ride, to the zoo, to museums, on Flight of the Gibbon (a zipline through the jungle), and eating lots of Thai food. Probably my favorite part of their visit was getting to talk with each of them by themselves. I took each of them to a good spot in Chiang Mai, whether it be a little coffee shop with a strange name or a bar that overlooks the river. It is strange to think about the lives that continue in the West without me. Being here feels like stepping outside of time, but it keeps going and turning without me. I have never understood change well.
It doesn't feel much like a new year so far. There are no cold, silent afternoons to wait for snow to fall and we are in the middle of a semester, but I feel a determined excitement about the weeks and months to come. Watching Anna be at home in Chiang Mai and seeing the delight on her face and the sheer familiarity she felt encourages me. I have been blessed time and time again in ways I cannot hope (and should not try) to ever repay. I came to the conclusion one day recently that I often expect life to be easier than it is. I also often do not expect joy to be as rich as it is...there is a strange depth to being here that I have trouble even writing about in my journal these days.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
I never quite pictured my first day of teaching to be like it was. Sarah and I returned to Payap from our three day trip to Chiang Rai on Sunday night and worked on finishing our lecture far into the night. (We are teaching Introduction to Poetry and Drama at the International School of Payap University, a 300 level college course, for those of you that don’t know.) We got up at a ridiculous hour, trying to figure out how to look professional. Mostly we just wanted to look old enough. We arrived at the international campus at least an hour early and a kind janitor let us into our room, but the computer would not turn on. A nervous student wandered in after about twenty minutes, and while we frantically tried to locate our supervisor, got it to work somehow. He apologized profusely even as we tried to thank him, which quickly became confusing to all of us. Our PowerPoint would not load and Sarah sat down to figure it out. There was no one around to ask questions of…we were foreigners, or “farang,” in the middle of the Thai education system.
I then tried to locate a copy booth. As far as I can tell Thai culture does not observe copyright laws, meaning if you want a copy of a book, you take the entire thing to a little copy booth and they copy the whole thing for you in about a day. I only needed to copy a poem we were going over. I went to our department and they sent a student with me to help. The copy booth in the building is supposed to open at 8, but at 8:15 it was still closed. The student took me to one nearby; it was about ¼ a mile away. So I walked as quickly as possible, picturing Sarah standing before an expanse of students without a PowerPoint or anything to say. After making the copies, the student insisted on paying for them. I tried to explain that they were for our class and it was not at all necessary, but he shook his head firmly and insisted we were friends now. I hesitantly agreed. When we got back, around 8 students had arrived and the PowerPoint still was not working. We clicked on it a few more times, just to try, thinking we would probably just have to remember as much as we could and wing it, and it somehow worked. We started our class, complete with PowerPoint and copies only about 5 minutes late. It was only later that I learned back in the United States my parents and around 30 friends gathered at our house for a dinner were praying for us. Written out like this, the whole situation seems frustrating, but it was ridiculously funny to us at the time. Considering we were told we could teach whatever we wanted the week before and did not know where or what time our class would be until the last minute, it all came together very nicely.
Our students are from countries all over the world: China, England, Burma, Turkey, here in Thailand, and America to name a few. Naturally their English speaking abilities vary greatly, ranging from those who have trouble piecing together a sentence to native English speakers. One student in particular, a grad student from the US, seems to have quite a literary background. In our first class he referenced several literary figures I had not heard of, explained that he writes “poet” for his occupation on job applications, and announced that he is now trying to learn Chinese because he has Thai down. Lovely. Perhaps our biggest challenge in teaching will be figuring out how to make the literature accessible to everyone, but still interesting.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a fear of speaking in front of large groups of people. Whitworth and Tall Timber both did their best to cure me of these qualms and, while I know I have come a long way, being in front is not my natural stance. Standing in front of our class the first day, however, I felt a strange excitement that I wasn’t prepared for. Being able to discuss poems with a class, to ask them questions and to listen to their responses, felt wonderful, like a strange sharing. The few nods or flashes of understanding in students’ eyes as they listened to our presentation were so encouraging to me. There were, of course, students sitting in the back, that did not comment on anything; I am not sure they understood at all. Thinking about the entire course is very intimidating, but having a plan for tomorrow can be done. Next time we will ask all the students to sit towards the front as they come in and assign discussion groups to mix up their abilities. We are writing our own curriculum, which is very time consuming, and are not sure exactly how it will work, but we are trying to take it one day at a time. For now, that is enough.
I do not expect to be good at this. I have watched enough friends struggle through student teaching, an honest gleam of humility knotted in the way they explain it, to know that experience is perhaps the most important part of learning to teach. Education majors take four years preparing to teach and I have not done any of that. I am trying to take on the attitude of a student myself. If explaining something entirely fails or a poem just does not make sense, we will try again the next day. I am trying to give myself space to grow, not expecting it to all work, but expecting to try my best and hopefully learn.
Actually, being in Thailand at all takes that attitude. We have had lots of “unproductive” days, days in which we finally figure out how to tell a driver where we want to go only to find it is randomly closed, or days in which we wander around looking for a building for hours and never find it because all of it is in Thai. Thais have different expectations of what getting things done means. They do not set goals and finish them as much as live life and see what happens…men pen rai…it’ll be fine. Thus far, Sarah and I have been able to laugh at ourselves pretty well. But it is definitely a process to learn. I have done lots of heart-felt praying since being here. God is faithful. Not always, or even usually, in the way I want Him to be, but He is faithful. And it is better that way.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
We met an array of characters on the plane, including enthusiastic Americans, who thrilled at traveling without any plans whatsoever, a kindly old gentleman who calmly gave us directions, and an older man who heard we were going to be in Thailand a year and grimly shook his head, “You’ll never make it.” Each flight served us at least one full meal, most of which we could not identify. After over twenty-four hours of traveling, we were very ready to be there.
Upon finally arriving in Chiang Mai, Ozzie (our friend from Whitworth who has been here since May) and a team from Payap met us with cheery smiles. Everyone was extremely welcoming and neither of us could stop smiling. Back at Payap, we met our supervisor in the dorms, Ajaan Rujira, as well as the Dean of Nursing. The room we were given is actually more of an apartment: it has a bedroom, bathroom, and living room complete with a television and a few couches. Most importantly, perhaps, it has air conditioning. In leaving the airport even, the heat seemed to hang on top of us, but we have gotten a little more used to it even in a few days. Our room also has a little balcony overlooking part of campus that we will use to hang clothes for drying. We might even sit out there after mosquito season.
Ozzie and Shanna (the other Ra who is from Canada) have been so kind in taking us around Chiang Mai on their motorbikes. Motorbikes are the main mode of transportation here, weaving in and out of cars quickly, so closely in fact that I kept almost screaming at first. Sarah and I clung to the back handles, grinning furiously to ourselves beneath our helmets.We planned on walking or biking here, neither of which is very safe, but are thinking about getting motorbikes after we get used to it a little. Nothing stops even for crosswalks.
Our responsibilities at Payap will include English tutoring for students and faculty in the Writing Center a few times a week, co-teaching Intro to Poetry and Drama for the English Communications department at the international school, and building community as RA’s in the nursing dorms, among many other things. Sarah will probably teach voice lessons for the music school as well.
Having just completed their first semester, most of the nursing students went home for the two week holiday, but now they are starting to trickle back. They are very gracious and reassuring in helping us with Thai pronunciation (Thai has five different tones, so the same sound said in each tone means something completely different) and with orienting us to Chiang Mai. Most are very shy, however, especially about their English, so relationships may take quite a while to develop. Their nicknames are quite interesting. So far we have met a “Newt”, a “Bla”, and a “Boom” among many others.
We have been able to laugh at our feeble attempts at Thai culture. Upon arriving , Ozzie taught us to “wai” our supervisors. When you “wai” someone you bow your head and lift your hands together right and say “sawadee ka” softly, which means hello. Sarah and I practiced carefully and successfully managed to “wai” everyone we saw, mostly street vendors, students, or janitors at Payap. The Thai people responded with smiles or giggles, “wai-ing” us back shyly. We later learned that you only “wai” direct supervisors or anyone who is your superior. Their smiles were not for our kind attempt to be Thai, but because they saw the humor in our efforts.
For those of you that know Anna (our college roommate who grew up in Chiang Mai), it is easy to see pieces of her everywhere. She is in the easy attitude that everything will work out…even if we are teachinga class in a week and don’t have a syllabus (having books is way ahead, apparently). She is in the way Thai people fully appreciate humor and find it in even the smallest of situations. She is in the way plants grow out of the sidewalk. She is in the dinner plate of Thai food that mingles spicy with sweet, salty, and sour all at once. You should probably come to her wedding in August here if you really want to know what I mean.