My first month in Thailand

by Janet Phelps

I felt my stomach rising towards my throat as our plane approached Bangkok. The young Thai woman next to me grinned up at me disarmingly. “You have been to Bangkok before?,” she asked, showing a mouthful of braces. “Only once,” I swallowed hard and tried to smile. “You like it?” “I’m not sure. I was really young.” “Ah, yes, nobody likes Bangkok,” she said knowingly. She gazed lovingly out the window at the millions of glittering lights growing slowly larger as we approached. “But I love it here. This is my home.”

It’s been almost two months since that night in October. This time in Surat Thani has passed so quickly, as cliché as it may sound. It’s like I blinked as we touched down in Bangkok and opened my eyes eight weeks later. Surat feels as comfortable as an old sweatshirt — although I cannot imagine a sweatshirt being anything near comfortable in this climate. I understand the woman on the plane’s feeling now.

My husband John and I quit our stable, steady jobs in Texas two months before we arrived in Bangkok. My apprehension had been stewing for those months. I had no prior experiencing in teaching, although I lived abroad for most of my life. Will we like it in Surat Thani? Will I like teaching? Am I going to be able to hack it? How can I teach 50 Thai students in a single classroom?

It seems funny now, but as we arrived in Bangkok I thought: If I have a good window in my room I can handle any situation for a year. I pictured us cooking food over a gas stove in our tiny closet room, writing lesson plans until the early hours of the morning in scorching tropical heat. (Not at all accurate, by the way.)

My fears began to ease as soon as I saw our names on a small sign at the airport in Surat Thani. Wen, a Thai staff member at Super English, met us with a warm smile at the baggage claim at Surat Thani’s tiny airport on a blisteringly hot afternoon. She took us to the grocery store, and out to lunch before dropping us off at home.

As she drove through Surat Thani, I stared at the window trying to absorb everything I saw. I didn’t even notice when we pulled up to our house.

“This is it,” Wen said, opening her car door in front of a row of metal shuttered shops. This??

As we struggled with our bags, Wen unlocked one of the metal shutters and hoisted it open with a loud clattering noise. Our home on Chalok Rat Road, which houses five teachers, is really a converted store front. It’s three stories with five bedrooms and has a balcony off the largest bedroom on the top floor. The house was nice, but bare.

I felt a warm surge of joy when I saw our room. TWO windows. That night I watched the sun set in vibrant purples and oranges behind our house — completely happy.

As soon as Wen drove away, we were lost. We didn’t have any idea how to procure food for dinner or breakfast. We had no towels or soap and no transportation or any idea how to catch a tuk-tuk yet. We didn’t speak a single word of Thai other than ‘hello.’ John and I stared dumbly at each other.

“Now what?”

That first night we watched movies on the laptop and drank the souvenir liquor we had brought with us from Spain, savoring the end of one life and the beginning of another. I was so thankful Peter had told us to bring a top sheet, it was comforting although we hadn’t adjusted to the heat enough yet to really enjoy it.

We met the first of our three roommates the next afternoon. Most of the other teachers were on vacation during the October break, but Em was passing through town for a night on her way from one place to another.

She was wonderful. She spent hours filling us in on all of the tricks to the house (keeping the water working, keeping the water heater working, etc) and telling us about Thailand, Surat Thani and the people here. She filled us in on the school and the working environment. She took us out for dinner and drinks. She taught us to count to 10 in Thai and how to order food.

And then she left.

That feeling of lostness returned once we were alone in the house and continued until the other teachers came back from vacation. It persists still in certain situations, but for the most part, Surat is a very easy place to live. There are plenty of great places to eat, bars, restaurants and shops. And plenty of Thai people with patience to try to understand our charades of slurping noodles or changing a lightbulb.

The next week we started training with Peter at Super English. SE’s founder picked John and I and our two fellow new teachers up in his car and took us out to breakfast on the first morning.

We spent four days training with Peter at Super, where there is air conditioning and free wireless. Peter walked us through lesson planning, classroom management and what to expect at our new jobs with an open-minded approach and lots of encouragement. I think everyone felt much more confident by the time we had our final training session with Victoria, the hands-on director.

Vic is an excellent boss. She’s laid-back, accessible and full of good advice. She walked us through our first week of lessons and made us practice our introductions to make sure we were comfortable. Her help was readily available and immensely useful in our first month of teaching. (How do you keep from getting pee on your feet while using a squatty potty? “Lean back.”)

Excited and nervous at the same time, I barely slept at all the night before classes started at Thidamaepra School. I pictured the 200 fourth and fifth-graders that I would meet in my four classes on Monday jeering at me in Thai as I crept away from the room in shame.

On Monday morning, I rode my bike to Thidamaepra and arrived just in time to see hundreds and hundreds of Thai students frozen, lined up and singing the King’s song in unison.

I went into my first class with a brick in my stomach but was immediately charmed by my students. They are adorable — even the rowdy ones. after two months of seeing me every day, they still bring me stickers, candy, toys, paper cranes and folded paper stars, little notes, fruit and flowers. It’s hard not to love them. Within the first ten minutes of my first class, I was hooked.

I teach four intensive English classes, which means I see them for an hour each day. It’s difficult to engage 55 students in a classroom who don’t understand anything you say. They like to have fun, though, and enjoy playing games and any activity that lets them run around, draw pictures or show off how smart they are.

One of the best things about arriving in Surat was walking into an existing community of teachers at SE. The people we met — Peter, Vic, Em, Wen and others — were immediately kind, asking us how we liked Thailand and offering help.

As we learned our way around town a little better and picked up a few basic words in Thai, John and I began filling our bare house with furniture, rugs, tables and pictures. I would not trade our storefront home, our incredible Thai neighbors or our roommates for any other living situation here.

Surat seems like a small town although I know there are several hundred thousand people who live here — squeezed into in-between spaces all over the city. It’s fairly easy to learn your way around, although dodging speeding motorbikes and careless tuk-tuks on a bike while navigating city streets takes some effort.

I am overwhelmed sometimes by how much I still have to learn. I am becoming a teacher every day with the help of Super English and feedback from my students. I can still only order basic things at restaurants (most of which have no English menu). My Thai is rudimentary at best.

It feels like home here now, but there are still moments when I see an elephant walking around town or six people squeezed onto a moped that it hits me: I live in Thailand. I love it here.

Super Teacher Fashion

By Chris Ansell

Thailand is hot, very hot. True, I speak as an Englishman. Like many Englishmen back home, I would consider 20ºC / 70F to be a hot day; worthy of whipping the shirt off in the hope of catching a few of those rare rays! But ask any of our teachers, including those who have left warmer climates than mine, and they will readily agree that Thailand has its own distinct “heat”. What we choose to wear in Surat (both in and out of the classroom) is largely governed by this. Light and breathable fabrics such as cotton will make your day that much more pleasant than spending the day teaching in polyester for example (which another school in town actually have their teachers wear!). Laundry is cheap, which is fortunate as you will be using the service regularly. This is due to the following simple equation:

Heat* + Teaching a lot of kids = Sweat

*the “Heat” can be attributed both to the proximity of Surat Thani to the equator and the vast quantity of chili that the Thais seem to take a sadistic pleasure in adding to most of their dishes!

But heat is not the only factor that determines what people wear in Surat. The Thais are an incredibly nationalistic people. They love the King as one loves their father. There is even a shirt, aptly and ingeniously named the King shirt (a polo shirt with the King’s emblem on it), which is extremely popular amongst the locals and quite acceptable to teach in. These shirts can be purchased on just about every other street in Surat, for roughly the same price as a cheeseburger. Each day of the week has its own colour and so these shirts are available in various colours too (except black). On Mondays, for example, the colour is yellow, whilst on Tuesdays you will see more people looking pretty in pink than any other colour. Wednesdays, like the sky, the sea, and part of the Thai flag, is blue. Thursdays, much like the weather I am used to waking up to back in Blighty, is grey. Fridays is a free choice. It is possible to wear one of these tops every working day of the week, in which case you wouldn’t have to worry about packing your “school uniform” at all!

Very importantly, in terms of clothing in the classroom, the more professional you appear the more respect you will get from both the students and the Thai teacher. This certainly helps discipline in the classroom, which is no bad thing. As far as no no’s are concerned one could consider the little song that you will no doubt use at some stage to teach the kids body parts. You know the one…heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Hats and caps are off limits, as is showing off shoulders, too much leg and tootsies. Jeans are not allowed and would be a rather unwise choice anyway given the heat in the day. You need not pack any teaching garments at all, for Surat can generally provide anything you will require, although the one item I would advise bringing is a pair of dress shoes for work. Thai people tend to have small feet and thus the shoes (as with much of the clothing) aren’t manufactured with westerners in mind. If you have largish feet and do require shoes the best bet will be one of the large supermarkets in town. I managed to find some UK11’s, but as far as women’s sizes are concerned, you will have to search high and low for anything above a number made in heaven…size 7. Hiking boots too would be useful to pack, as the beautiful Khao Sok national park is little more than a stones throw away and offers some great trails.

Clothing and accessories in Surat tend to be cheap. I managed to find a great deal on a set of Ray Bans. The price of 100 Baht (about £2) was so good that I felt it unnecessary to even enter into a bartering battle. There are deals to be found on every street. For the same price as the next can of coke and snickers that you buy, you can pick up a Ralph Lauren polo shirt here in Surat. Further…a bottle of booze = Converse shoes. Oh yes, you can find cheap Armani in Surat Thani. There is a snag. Can you guess? No? Okay, I’ll break it to you gently. They’re all fakes. Don’t despair, however, if you have a penchant for the real article. These can be found as well. There is a new department store on Talad Mai (Talad Mai is to Surat what Oxford Street is to London and 5th Avenue is to New York) where you can buy all the labels you desire, but at a price not too dissimilar from those found in the west.

One of the cheapest places for clothing will be at the day and night markets. Here you can purchase an array of shirts, skirts and shorts for anywhere between 50 – 250 Baht (£1 – £5) and usually towards the lower end of this range. Much like Bangkok, the teens of Surat are a fashion conscious sort, and the designs on display reflect this. Their catwalk is the street. You will see flashes of bold colours and prints. If the wild colours and poorly (although very amusing!) translated tops don’t appeal, then a wider selection of styles and sizes (for much of it has been donated by the farang of yesteryear) can be found at the many second hand stores scattered around. Cowboys are rare in Surat at present, but their old shirts (especially the ones with those neat pearl buttons) frequent these little establishments. Smart clothing, suitable for strolling into a room of up to 55 students, can also be discovered, again, at very agreeable prices. What’s more your Thai numerical skills may be practiced and polished should you wish to barter a little. Finally, if it’s a fancy dress outfit you require (and you will require one at some stage!), you shouldn’t have to search much further than these used clothing outlets (especially if the party happens to have a country western theme).

One little pleasantry of the heat is the heightened pleasure that can be found in submerging oneself in the cool water of a swimming pool. Here it is acceptable to wear just a swimming costume, although the Thai people will usually wear a top as well, which is just not functional when you’ve got a tan to consider! For girls it would be advisable to be slightly more conservative at these pools than when at the beach for example, where sarongs, thongs and suchlike are de rigeur. While dress may be casual, this does not extend to undress: topless sunbathing, which, while it does occur, is frowned upon by Thais who are usually too polite to say anything.

Many of the classroom rules I mentioned earlier should be extended to when visiting Buddhist monasteries or other religious sites. Here girls in particular should cover their shoulders and knees. Revealing shoulders is considered very risqué, more so than revealing cleavage in the West. Girls should be aware of this, especially on a night out or at least traveling home, having painted the town proverbially red. Some of our current teachers take a small, light shirt in their handbag to put on when leaving, which seems a sensible option. As one of only fifty or so white people in a city of two hundred and fifty thousand you will stick out where ever you are, whatever you are doing and whatever you are wearing. Around fellow farang there are no problems but, when it comes to what women wear some Thai men can be guilty of judging books by their covers. Revealing shoulders may be considered as an invitation of sorts so if you wish to remain more inconspicuous, it would be wise to cover up in certain environments.

Size and shape depending, Surat can ultimately cater for all your clothing needs. A tidy-casual look is how I would describe most people’s choice of attire here. Regular teacher attire is clean, neat, and presentable. Think business casual wear for the summer. My advice would be not to try and pack as much of your current wardrobe into your suitcase/backpack as humanely possible but instead only select items you KNOW you will definitely wear and leave everything else. Bon Voyage!

A day in my life……..

by Tristan Rentos

Teaching in Thailand has been a real experience for me, and every day is filled with something crazy, funny, memorable or really special. This is how a typical Friday goes for me:

I wake up around 6.30am, so I can have a shower before my housemate Dave gets up (he starts later than I do) and so I have time to have breakfast. After I make myself look as presentable as possible, I leave for Thida around 7.30am.

It only takes me 5 minutes to get to Thida on my bicycle. I try to get there early so I can find flashcards for the topic I’m teaching and to sort out my paperwork. Thida also has a habit of cancelling/moving classes at the last minute, so I’m always available to sort out any problems.

Classes start at 8.15am. I have taught the same classes with the same kids at Thida since mid May, so all my grade 3 students know how it works when I walk in. My first class on Friday is IEP (Intensive English Program – means they study English everyday as opposed to once a week) Prathom (grade) 3/8. This class is a joy to teach, and I always have fun with them. They are very well behaved, easy to control and genuinely enjoy participating in class. When I walk in, the kids all run up to me for a high 5, which always makes me smile in the morning.

The next class is P3/7. This class is an interesting one and always a challenge for me, as it contains the smartest, most advanced students in P3 but also the noisiest and worst behaved. It took me a while, but I have found an excellent way to manage the class and a way to teach them that keeps their attention. I need to act more like a clown in this class than any other; I also need to keep it fast paced, otherwise the clever students get bored and the naughty students start talking.

My final Thida class on Fridays is P3/6. This class has the friendliest students – when I walk in, 5-6 of them run up, jump on me and try to pull me to the ground. My Thai teacher in this class is very nice and is a great help to me when I need it.

A number of students in the three classes I teach at Thida also come to Super English after school, which has been great for building up the trust and rapport necessary to be an effective teacher here in Thailand.

I eat lunch at Thida everyday at around 11.30am (it’s free for teachers – see, there is such a thing as a free lunch!), and then I go home to clean myself up and get my laptop. I don’t have an internet connection at my house so I use the wireless internet at Super English and also at restaurants around town.

My next class is very rewarding and one that I really enjoy teaching. Three times a week, I give free English lessons to a local girl who, well, let’s just say that her life has not been as privileged as mine has. I meet her at 1pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; the change in her English speaking ability has been remarkable since I started teaching her and I hope to continue doing so for some time yet. I believe that education should be available to those who want it, not just those who can afford it, so this private class is a chance for her to get ahead and learn some English, and a chance for me to become a better teacher.

I get to Super English around 2pm everyday. After a bit of chit chat with Wen and the Thai staff, I set up my laptop and start emailing. Everyone here seems to have a laptop now so like office geeks we all sit around using the internet and not talking (then again, working with young children all day is so crazy that you do need a bit of quiet time). I do my Super lessons plans just before class so I can maximise my ideas and put the most into each lesson.

Super classes start at 4.20pm. My first class is level 7A, which is at a lower intermediate level. The age range of the students is 9 to 14, so it makes teaching this class challenging. It means keeping both an M3 (Mattyom – means high school) student and a P3 student happy when teaching then same topic. This class also has a couple of boys who are often very naughty but the most fun to teach. Mook, who is one of my students from my P3/8 Thida class also comes to this class at Super, which is great for me as I can spend more time to help her get ahead. I have only been teaching these students for 6 weeks, but I am already building up an excellent rapport with all of them.

My final class at Super and for the day is my 9A class, which is at a low advanced level. I have been teaching this class since I started in mid May, and the same core group of students have been coming week in, week out. This class will most probably end up being my finest achievement in my time here at Super (as well as Dylan, who taught them at Thida), as the students are just that good – they are some of the best in their class and year level. Even though these kids are only P4-P5 (grade 4 and 5), their English is so good that they do understand most concepts taught to M1 (year 7) students without that much difficultly. This class also has an excellent dynamic and the work really well as a team. I always look forward to this class and enjoy having fun with these kids.

After I finished work for the day, it is 6.30pm so dinner becomes priority 1. The cheapest, fastest and best way to get dinner is at the night market, which is just around the corner from Super. My favourites are gwey tiao gai tod and muu deng (noodle soup with fried chicken or red pork), muu tod or muu yang (fried pork bits or pork on a stick), bop bia tod (fried spring rolls) and pad thai goong (Thai style stir-fried noodles with shrimp and egg). Food at the night market is so cheap that you can have a substantial three course meal for 90 baht ($3), so I have no problems eating well every night.

When I get home, I catch up with Dave and Sarah to compare days. They work in different places on different schedules to me, so I don’t get to see them during the day. After dinner I watch a bit of TV, review my Thida lesson plan for the next day and get to bed around 10.30pm. Teaching young kids in Thailand is fun but also really tiring!

A Day in the Life…

by David Modini (May, 2009 – March, 2010)

It’s about 7am and my alarm starts buzzing. Too bad I’m already awake thanks to the undetermined amount of roosters near my house. The only thing between me and a stringy, handmade, rooster stew (other than my aversion to killing with my bare hands) is the fact that when I really stop to consider it, I would much rather be woken up by these noisy birds than by my lifeless alarm clock.

Stumbling out of bed provokes the first instance of sweating I will experience today. Immediately I’m confronted with a crucial decision. Should I use the nearby upstairs bathroom or the downstairs one? The upstairs one has the luxury of a proper sit-down toilet, but the downstairs one will welcome me with a warm shower. Yes, the prospect of a warm shower easily outweighs the minor discomfort of using a squat toilet. With that dilemma resolved, I continue my waking-up process. After the warm shower and a not entirely un-western breakfast, I go upstairs to get dressed. What day is it today? Oh yes, it’s Monday, which means I’ll wear my yellow polo shirt to work. And this is the blessing of an unofficial national uniform.

Forty-five minutes after my alarm buzzes (and about eighty after I woke up), I strap my helmet on and head down on the motorbike to the end of the soi with Sarah. One of the most exciting parts of the day is riding my motorbike against traffic for about 50 yards so I can take advantage of a shorter route to school. Not that it feels dangerous at all, it’s just that it’s the first time I get on my motorbike today. Also, even though it’s routine for the Thais to cut corners on road rules, it’s still a novelty to me.

It’s 7:55am and I’ve carefully navigated the traffic of parents in cars, SUVs, motorbikes, and feet to pull into New Thida early – just how I like it. I park the motorbike where it’s sunny now, but will be covered with shade when I leave later on in the day. Now Sarah and I will weave through more walking traffic to stand in front of our teachers’ office. Just enough time to drop off my bag and helmet and find my place outside the office when the national anthem begins playing. Everyone stands still, except for maybe the odd 4 year old running bewildered across the main indoor courtyard. The rather short national anthem ends and the Lord’s Prayer in Thai begins.

After that, the children sing along to the school anthem. I sit back down in the office while other teachers trickle in before 8:30. Actually, maybe I’ll say hi to Nom first. He’s the father of one of my students who studied at university in Kansas and Texas. Emily and I make sure to be in class right by 8:30am. Did I mention our three daily classes at New Thida are air-conditioned? It makes me the envy of every other English teacher in Surat.

The first class of the day is the Prathom 1/1 class, which means they’re six to seven years old. I see them everyday, but they still look at me like I am the most exciting thing in the world. Emily and I head into class and we hear a singular student cry out with carefully parroted inflection, “Stand up, please!” The other students stand up and yell out, “Good morning, teacher!” Emily and I respond simultaneously, and as always, “Good morning, class! How are you?” With all their stored up energy, they all shout together – “I am happy!,” building to a crescendo where they demonstrate “happy” by jumping and throwing their hands up in the air while screaming “Yay!” At this point, half of the class knows what’s coming and are sitting at the end of their seats when Emily calls for her group to line up at the front of the class. Once they’ve left for an empty classroom down the hall, I make sure my half of the class is consolidated and that the troublemakers are not sitting next to each other. I use the term “troublemaker” loosely because, come on, how bad can a six year old be? This is one of the many times during the course of the day I am glad that I made the minimal effort to learn every single name of the students in my three Prathom 1 classes, including those that go with Emily.

This class will be split into two teams, with the children choosing the team names. Team Doraemon and Team Butterfly are rather predictable team names for today. Warm up begins, with the students answering questions from anything we’ve gone over recently. “Who is he? He is a policeman!” “What is her name? Her name is Pearl!” “Can he fly? No, he can’t!” Now they have a visible amount of points which I can manipulate to my own whims. We begin on the target for today, which is “I like __.” I ask them to brainstorm some foods, and I break the ice with “ice cream.” “KFC! French fries! Pizza! Cookies!” After about a dozen foods are up on the board with the appropriate illustrations, I ask a student from each team to come to the front. On the board, I write, “What do you like? I like ___.,” even though today it’s probably unnecessary. I barely need to instruct Eng-eng and Krit on what to do and they are able to ask each other and answer the question perfectly. They give me the obligatory high-five and find their way back to their seats. Ben and Phai handle it well, as expected. So do Cream and Bell. Maybe I should ask some other students? O-Leang and Beam need a little coaxing but in the end, answer it satisfactorily. Well, they’re starting to act out a bit. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ZERO!” and they are all quiet with their hands folded in front of them. Very good, class, and a few more points go up for each team. It’s time for a game now, and the only democratic aspect of class. What do you want to play? I ask them. Hearing more suggestions for Snakes and Ladders than not, I draw a numbered grid on the board and fill it with ladders and some pretty ruthless snakes. Out come the smiley face magnets and whichever team has the most points gets first choice of color. A student from each team comes up and watches me hold the dice in front of them, while their teammates loudly whisper to them the number that will allow them to climb up that prime ladder. “Team Doraemon, 1, 2, 3!” I shout, with Team Doraemon confidently asking their representative, “What do you like?” Ya-moo quietly answers, “I like cake.” She rolls a 5, which is a plain square this time. Same process with Cindy, except she rolls a 4. Team Butterfly erupts in cheers as I move the magnet to square 23. This drama continues for 4 more rounds. I see Emily leading her class down the hall and I get prepared for the slightly chaotic reunion. “Everyone sit down! Get out your Gogo books! Page 23!” Calling students out by name and using the countdown, we manage to get everyone seated with their books out within 30 seconds. Emily leads the class in reading the dialogue from the book aloud while I carefully write the three questions and answers the children will write into their notebooks.

When the dialogue is finished, I lead them in reading the questions I’ve written, and their ability to fill in the blanks on the fly gives me that warm fuzzy feeling. There is a soft murmur as the students write, look for their rulers and erasers. Some of them have a tense, unspoken competition to see who can finish the fastest without having the teachers erase any untidy handwriting. Immediately I make my way towards the back of the classroom, where I’ve noticed some students like Cream sometimes get distracted easily. Some simple coaching goes a long way with Cream and soon enough, Mind approaches me with her finished writing. Other than a missed full-stop which I point out to her, I give her a high-five and wait for the onslaught. At 9:30am precisely, we say goodbye to the class, with another scripted “Stand up please!” “See you tomorrow, class!” we say to them as we head out to P. 1/2.

That’s how the three classes go this Monday, with the brief interlude for a sweet pork donut after the second class. After the third class, it’s time for lunch. Oh good, they have those fried pork and vegetable balls with that orange, green bean curry we like! We love the free lunch at Thida. Seven of us Super English teachers usually eat lunch together, some of them coming from Old Thida. I wolf down the first meal and go for seconds as the students trickle down from eating lunch in their classrooms. After finishing my seconds, I wash my plate and utensils and make the arduous journey through hundreds of curious children towards Old Thida. About a dozen hangers-on and five dozen high-fives later, we break free of New Thida. It’s a rather warm day, which makes me really appreciative of the air-conditioning I had in my previous three classes. Unfortunately, my next class will not be as luxurious. Sarah and I discuss the Prathom 5 class I will be teaching and I brace myself for a rather different experience…

There is a big difference between Old Thida and New Thida . New Thida is more comfortable but a little more sterile. It’s a big, cool, circular building with a lot of natural light tempered by the off-white hues inside. Old Thida is big, square, concrete, and doesn’t care if you are hot or not. Even though the students here still seem to be amazed at the sight of a westerner, they are older and have a bit more attitude. I won’t sugarcoat it – this P5 class is not the same as my first three classes. I’ve only just begun teaching them, and I only see them once a week. I know about 4 or 5 names in the class, and all of the students are very rambunctious. All of my wily tricks I use with the six year olds don’t work on these ten to eleven year olds. Points? They don’t care so much. The countdown gets a very mellow response as well. Once inside the rather warm classroom, I position myself under one of the fans while the children welcome me much like my P1 classes did. For a warm up, I ask them, “What did you do this weekend?” The responses vary from the perfect, “I did homework.” to the not-so-perfect, “I go to swimming.” A little coaching always guarantees the correct response this time. I ask them, “What is the weather today?” “Hot! Cloudy! Warm!” I write their responses on the crinkly board. It’s warm, but there’s a nice breeze blowing through the room. They are noisy but as long as it is below a certain level, I let it slide. “Let’s play Hangman!” The one thing to truly capture their attention. Some of these students would actually do surprisingly well on Wheel of Fortune. They will need to work on their past tense. I write the question “What did you do this weekend?” on the board and I bring up two pairs of students to ask and respond to the questions. There are some troublemakers in this class, but it’s more important right now to keep the ones that are paying attention focused on me. On the board I write two copies of a column of present verbs. Each team (this class likes to split up as boys vs. girls) sends up a representative to see who can write the past equivalent of each verb. My voice is strained a bit more in this class, that’s for sure. There are a few mistakes, but overall, they do a good job. Next, we play some run and touch. I write some past tense verbs on the board and they have to touch the correct one when I say out a present version of the verb. With about 10 minutes left in the class, I think they’ve earned a bit of writing. They are more than capable of handling ten sentences. When they finish, they ask me not just to check it, but to sign off with a red pen. A little different than my P1’s, but that’s ok. A girl has finished her writing and is looking at a English/Thai conversation book. It has definitely been written in Thailand and is filled with errors. How can I in good conscience let her read it the way it is? For about sixty seconds I take my red pen to that book. I only hope that she appreciates what I tried to do and not leave her thinking that sentences like, “I don’ t like romance movie” are correct. I leave that class a little quicker than I leave my P1 classes. It’s hot and I have an hour before my hospital class, so I spend some of it in the air-conditioned internet café.

I always get to the hospital about twenty minutes before class starts. I make my way up to the conference room on the second floor, hoping that it hasn’t been usurped for purposes other than learning English. I walk through the first room, quietly ducking my head as ten nurses turn to see who has interrupted their Powerpoint presented training session. Oh good, no one is in the conference room and my favorite dry erase board is there. I erase everything on it and make sure to have everything ready for my hospital English class. It’s inevitable that the students trickle into class up to 15 minutes after it’s scheduled to begin. After all, they are busy hospital employees. There are twelve students, and half of them are nurses that speak pretty good English. The rest are pharmacists, front desk assistants, customer service representatives, or cashiers. On a Monday especially I try to have a fun warm-up game. Today it’s an “odd one out” game. I write about ten groups of four words on the board. The fun part about this game is that there is not only one correct answer for each group of words. “Bird, helicopter, airplane, bus,” has at least two solutions right off the bat, and it is really nice to see some of the reasonings the students come up with. The nurses tend to dominate the discussion, if only for their superior English skills, but I always try to coax answers out of the more bashful students. It actually takes a few moments for me to change from teaching younger children to teaching adults. I find it more comfortable if I see myself more as a facilitator than a teacher. They are similar to the younger children in the sense that they enjoy games just as much, and they tend to help each other formulate correct answers. After the game, we dive right into the meat of the lesson – the exciting topic of insurance.

The hospital English class is as much a learning experience for me as it is for the students. After all, they have to explain to me their processes in the first place. Even though I worked at a hospital for five years prior to coming to Thailand, there is much that I don’t know about how a hospital works. But what it boils down to, is that the students want to be able to handle the problematic situation in English. So, when they want to discuss insurance, for example, they want to be able to explain to the foreign patient why they will need to pay up front.

We run through a few scenarios, the ones that concern them the most, and while I try to wrap my head around how they deal with foreign insurance companies, I come up with strategies for answering the issues the foreign patient might have. For example, if there is a problem obtaining a payment guarantee from the foreign patient’s insurance company, it comes down to one of two possible responses they can give. The best moments are when you’ve understood the process they explained to you and when you can provide them with a way to respond to a difficult situation. Some of them will parrot what I write on the board, but as long as they know to apply it in the correct situation, I will have considered it a success. That’s what makes the hospital English class such a different organism from the younger students’ classes. It usually feels like there’s not enough time for each hospital class, but I consider that a good thing, because the students there are always filled with questions.

At 4pm, my Monday is officially finished. More often than not, I will head to the night market for a delicious takeaway dinner of Soup Lady’s wonton soup and some spring rolls. Those delicious spring rolls are also a perfect vegan compliment to whatever kind of salad Sarah will make once we get home. The hot Thailand day demands another shower as soon as we step foot in the door, but not quite yet for me. I will relax for an hour or so before I head back out on my motorbike to meet up with Alex, the shop owner and friendly neighbor to the Super English house on Chalokrat Rd. To say Alex is the nicest Thai person I have ever met says more about Alex than it does about the always friendly Thai people. I could gush about Alex for hours, but suffice to say, I meet up with him to jog. Around 6pm we head to the stadium, which is a short walk from his shop and house. “How many laps you do today?” he asks me. “Two if I’m lucky,” I respond. Alex is a very healthy 52 year old man that does not look a day over 40. And he jogs 8km a day easily. We start off jogging together but after about 50 meters he’s already sped far ahead of me. I see him pass me a few times while I stumble my way to almost two jogging laps. By the time we finish, he’s jogged 6km and is sweating much less than I am. That’s alright, he’s always very supportive. He offers me a seat at the table outside his shop and gives me a bottle of water from his stock. Alex always jokingly threatens bodily harm when I offer to pay him money. He’ll sit with me as we recover from the jog, talking about everything from his favorite soccer team Liverpool, to teaching me a few new words in Thai, to telling me a little bit about his effectively bigamist neighbor, Bang. It is not legal to have more than one wife in Thailand but many, many husbands have mistresses they call ‘Giks’. Bang only has one ‘Gik’ and one wife. Another friend of Alex, Woon, has two ‘giks’ and one wife. After a sufficient cool down, I get back on the motorbike to enjoy the delicious soup that’s waiting for me at home. This time, the upstairs bathroom wins the shower sweepstakes. The cool (not cold) water is very welcome, as well as the western toilet. While I slurp down the soup, Sarah and I will watch a few episodes of whatever TV show is on my laptop at the moment. Some days I might be interested in going to Casa or another restaurant for a drink and a chat, but usually not Mondays. They’ re already as full as they can be for me. At this point, most people would say something like, “One down, four to go,” referencing both their aversion to their job and the anticipation of the weekend. As for me, that never really crosses my mind.


by Clair McCalla (May, 2008 – Oct., 2009)

I have been in Surat Thani for 9 months and MAN!! has it been an adventure. I decided to come and teach in Thailand, well, sort of on a whim. I had always wanted to teach ESL after college and Super English was the first school (after months of researching) that came across as a friendly and comfortable school/company where I could learn how to teach. So boom! bam! and I was here about two months after accepting the job. Making friends upon arrival came very natural with the warm Super English staff and before I knew it we were off to Koh Pha-ngnan Island dancing the night away in the jungle!

Then the teaching started…and I will never forget that first day! I completely froze in front of a class of fifty-five 6-year olds. In retrospect I now find the situation quite humorous, but at the time not so much. But that’s the thing about teaching I think– you’ve just got to go through the motions, get into the flow of things and have fun! The first couple of weeks were rocky, I’ll be the first to admit, but as soon as I won the affection of that first class at Thida I knew it was well worth all the nervous anticipation and preparation. These kids rock! and I’ve actually become quite addicted to their affection. Seriously, even if my mood is total crap when I wake up, my face and mind-set always seems to brighten when I roll up to Thida on my trusty two speed, aka Blue Thunder.

At Thida I teach 14 different classes a week, each consisting of 55-60 students who are between the ages of nine and twelve. This leaves me with nearly 800 students! Because I only see each class once a week I try to make the English lessons as fun as possible. We play games, sing songs, and honestly, do a lot of laughing. I regularly attend Thida snack time– you can get some yummy food for cheap– which is fun because I can sit with students and attempt conversation outside of the classroom.

In the afternoon I teach two classes at Super English. My students are around 4, 5, and 6 years-old and full of personality! Super English does an incredible job at helping Thai kids feel comfortable in an English speaking classroom. It is extremely rewarding to see a shy tiny tot become comfortable with me and the other students. The more comfortable they are the more they speak and it’s so cool! Classes are smaller here–I think my biggest class so far has been 12 students. Therefore, it’s my job to nail in the very basics which is simple and tons of fun! > As for life on the town, there is plenty to do. Lately, a couple of trendy cocktail bars have turned up in Surat, as well as, a new restaurant/bar that has free wireless. In fact, wireless connection has increased rapidly since I first arrived–just a little perk that makes Thailand feel more like home. I believe there are about 50 teachers in Surat Thani– most of which I find are looking to have a good time. The weekends are over before you know it, in fact I’ve been here nearly a year and I seriously have no idea where the time has gone!

I strongly recommend working for Super English to anyone interested in teaching ESL in Thailand. Because of the supportive and loving staff, the incredible kids and the easy-going nature of Thai people, I am thankful for my time here and look forward to the next six months!