by Jillian Bourdon (Winter, 2007)
After spending a year teaching in South Korea, I was interested in experiencing a part of Asia that hadn’t yet become an echo of Western influence. With its tropical weather, BBQ buffet of travel options, and a culture uniquely its own, Thailand strongly appealed to me. After some research, I discovered Super English and intuitively felt that it was the right choice. Peter was and remains extremely helpful throughout the entire time that I have known him. From the initial emails and abundance of provided information about the school, to his commitment to open communication amongst teachers and management, as well as his genuine interest in the life quality of his teachers, Peter definitely goes above and beyond any boss I have had in the past, and it is much appreciated. When moving to a foreign country, one always runs a risk of feeling like an outsider and a stranger in a strange land. With Peter’s and my co-workers’ hospitality, I fortunately never had to experience that here. Amongst our various dinners, department store shopping trips, and various Thai-styled outings, I realized that I was given a pseudo Thai family when I signed my Super English contract.
Suratthani is an interesting place. I have also found it to be a city of contradictions, both good and bad (as contradictions tend to be). The cost of living here is very cheap. Since the teacher’s housing was provided by Super English and there were no rental costs, if I stayed in town, I was able to get by on as little as 1000 baht per week. However, I found that traveling to any of the nearby, more expensive tourist destinations drastically upped my weekly expenses. I found the salary to be more than enough if staying local, just enough to include one or two traveling excursions per month, and not really enough to have any savings left over. It became a great money lesson for me, and after living so frugally, I have truly learned the value of money and product utility. After paying 10 baht (about 40 cents) for a local coffee, throwing down 250 baht (about 7 US dollars) for my local Starbucks grande soy latte is going to cut me deep.
The quality of life here can also be a bit contradictory. Also, though it seems obvious, as someone living in Thailand, I had to adapt to living like someone living in Thailand. My cheap bicycle would break often. The water in the house periodically would not work. I was zapped multiple times by faulty Thai wiring while stringing up Christmas lights. I dropped my phone in a squat toilet. The dogs chased me in the streets just like they chased everyone else. But I must say that I learned from it all. I learned how to fix my bicycle, the beauty of hand sanitizer, and to plug in Christmas lights while wearing a rubber glove. I bought a new phone. I learned that when the street dogs come barking and running, bark back louder. In short, I learned how to take care of myself. > Many people come here to party. There is a substantial bar/club scene available at one’s clammy fingertips if they choose. I (surprisingly) found that I was suddenly not as interested in such social conventions as I used to be (this whole ‘getting older’ thing can be so bothersome at times). Fortunately for me, Thailand is also a place in which one can find fulfillment beyond the social watering hole realm. I’ve discovered a great yoga teacher, running track, various meditation retreat opportunities, as well a beautiful landscape of parks and palm trees in which to practice this whole ‘inner peace’ thing. Essentially I found that my experience here was what exactly I made of it. My peace and satisfaction wasn’t handed to me on a plate of pad thai; I had to go out and find it for myself.
I found the job itself to be both easy and challenging (there are those contradictions again). Peter gives his teachers a lot of creative freedom with their curriculums, and that can be both fun and daunting to a new teacher. Although at times I wished for more level standards, I also understand that education in Thailand is much more relaxed than the rigid test-oriented formats of Korea, and as a local teacher, I would have to adapt accordingly. When Thailand’ s social convention of ‘relaxed’ lead to the consequence of ‘frustrating’, fortunately it also produced the twins of ‘freedom’ and ‘acceptance’. I found that my students encompassed all four of these qualities. I’ve taught in Korea, Taiwan, and the USA, but have yet to meet such vibrant and genuine children as the ones I’ve met in Thailand. They are far from perfect, but there is something very open and honest about their imperfections. I’ve had numerous students break into song and dance during class. One time, approaching Father’s Day, I walked into my class of 55 nine year olds at Thidamaepra, finding most of them in tears and wiping their faces with their little pink handkerchiefs. When I asked why they were crying, I got several tearful adamant responses of “We love our fathers!” I had another 12 year old student in my Super English class, downcast and devastated because her “family had too much money”. Honest and genuine. Free to be themselves and free to accept each other. These kids are great.
My time in Suratthani was not all roses and full moon parties. Nor would I have learned much if it had been. When I made the choice to come to Thailand, I did so because I wanted something real, an experience different than any ideal or preconceived notion I might have held about Southeast Asia. When I signed on to work at Super English, reality is what I got, and I feel that I am a better, stronger person because of it.