Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Remembering the little things: Why it wasn't about the teaching.

Wind blowing around me, whizzing down the road, re-writing the lyrics to songs and singing them to my friend and co-worker, Bouquet who was driving the motorbike we were whizzing by on - it was a moment. One of many. A fleeting, yet warm and fuzzy moment of pure happiness. No cares in the world and presence. I was there, present and connected in that moment. On the bike with Bouquet, singing, laughing and ignoring our hungry bellies as we soared down the road in search of a Monday market - I remembered why I was here.

I did not come to Thailand to change the educational systems and change English in Thailand. I did not come to Thailand to revitalize English in my school and impart English knowledge on my students (although I may have at first thought that was my goal). I did not come to Thailand to become fluent in Thai, to run away from something at home or to be a representation of Americans. 

I came to Thailand to experience and be involved in a new community. To invest myself in a new culture by making new friends and participating in reciprocal learning. To observe a new culture. I came to Thailand to engage in cross-cultural exchanges and enhance mutual understanding. To use teaching English as a way to connect to students and learn myself. As always, I have learned and gained more than I could ever hope to serve my host community and I am forever grateful for being hosted here.  

I realized riding the motorbike with Bouquet that I have accomplished these goals. Fulbright goals and personal goals. In teaching English it became quickly apparent I would not be able to in the same way I hoped. I adapted and realized my goals had to be different. Accepting differences did not mean defeat, but it did mean changing my outlook. For every moment of frustration or loneliness or fear (of which there were many) there have been equally amazing moments of inspiration, beauty and simplicity. 

There have been a thousand moments like this one. Sitting on the pavement playing duck, duck, goose with students, cooking an elaborate Annie's Mac n Cheese meal with my Thai friends and watching a movie together, playing ping pong with my host teacher, eating lunch with my students, laughing hysterically, blasting music in my home and dancing around my empty house, visiting beautiful temples and candle sculptures, riding my own motorbike along windy roads, learning Thai with friends, exploring new areas and growing - always growing.

It is easy to forget in the times of Syria, Israel & Palestine, Ferguson & systematic racism, (and the multitude of other issues not cluttering our social media today but just as critical) that these little moments exist - that people are doing beautiful things and that little moments of happiness are okay to accept and appreciate. With my Facebook newsfeed being overrun with the drama that is our chaotic, broken world today, I remind myself of these small things that make my life, my time in Thailand, so incredibly special and one of a kind. I am lucky to have such privilege that allows me to be here and I can not take it for granted.

Today marks day 326. I've now lived in Thailand for nearly a year. Nearly a year of memories. Though for some fleeting moments I wish I had taken more pictures, learned more Thai, spent more time with xyz or done xyz - I have no regrets. I lived fully, I grew, I learned, I laughed and I was here. 

Though I am eager to return home to the US and begin my next adventure, here are some of experiences I've had that I will miss. 

I will miss:
  • my incredible student teachers/co-workers, Bouquet and Paranee who have given me friendship, love, knowledge and so much laughter  - these moments I can not begin to explain, but will stay with me always. From cooking together, to riding bikes, to movie nights, to endless meals together, to deep conversations and beyond, they have undoubtedly been my rock this semester and have made my experience so wonderful
  • delicious $1 plates of Pad Thai and $7 massages 
  • a variety of flavorful foods easily and affordably accessible 
  • duck, duck goose and indian chief with groups of students
  • Pa'Tong, a woman of incredible strength who works as a janitor at our school, who speaks no English - our communication is limited to Thai and body language
  • copious amounts of alone time to reflect, read, write and relax
  • hearing another language / learning & speaking another language 
  • riding a motorbike along windy, mountainous roads in Pai  - free of traffic 
  • having an office with open doors and fresh air
  • being a 'regular' and being served before I order because they know what I want
  • connections made with students and teachers 
  • an excessive amount weekend trips with Fulbright friends in which we could debrief about our placements and grow closer as friends
  • Thailand. 

This semester, though still teaching, my main job was learning and laughing. My students are wonderful and teaching is challenging and exhausting. Some days were harder than others. Currently, my students are creating their own countries and will present them at the end of the semester. What a whirlwind of a year it has been. 

Time is going by quickly but I still have 5 weeks left of teaching and 1 week of saying goodbye. 

On September 26th 2013, I left the USA and I will return in early November. Sep 29th 2014 I will depart Sansai for Bangkok, say goodbye to my Fulbright family and meet the incoming Fulbrighters, travel with friends in Thailand and Cambodia, visit a Brandeis friend in Indonesia and return home. Only to be greeted with yet a new challenge and exciting adventure: getting a job.

Thank you to everyone for your never-ending support and love. 

With love and hugs,

For the visually inclined * None of these pictures are my own  & all are from Facebook * 

Fulbright Love with Anja Leene, my neighbor and friend!

Riding that motorbike!

Visiting Bouquet's Grandmother and Cousin

Visiting another school! :) 

Anja and her neighbor, Kru Patchy! 

Before a fun night of dinner and shopping

Part of our Fulbright group in our classic awkward ways

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical?

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical? These are the two questions I am asking myself the most.  I have spent the last four plu...