Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Sun, The Sand, The Sea…

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been a bit busy these last couple of weeks. The last one was pretty long though, so I figured I’d wait a bit till I asked you all to read another. 

Children in traditional costumes of respective ASEAN countries

So unfortunately I didn’t make it to the beach at Songkhla a few weeks ago – the camp was pretty intense, and in the end it turned out that there just wasn’t time. We had to wake up at about 6am, and worked till about 9. While parts of it were undoubtedly fun, most of the kids were great to teach (their English being better than your average Thai student), and the ASEAN cultural show at the end was truly amazing, the song and dance that accompanied every new activity started to grate pretty fast. And I don’t just mean that there was a lot of hassle involved. I mean there was a literal song and dance, sometimes two or three, that occurred before we could move onto whatever else was planned next. There is, somewhere, video evidence of me taking part in this, which I sincerely hope never sees the light of day. We were also expected to come up with 3 hours of activities and lessons within about 15 mins, which was a bit outrageous to say the least. But in my short time in Thailand I’ve already learned not to expect any prior warning of things like lesson cancellations or room changes, so I can’t say this really surprised me or phased me too much.

The Seven Dwarves practicing their lines

For the most part I am actually enjoying teaching. The boys in the school love the fact that I play football (I have been likened to both Messi AND Ronaldo, and I’ve even started bringing kit to school on Mondays and Thursdays), and I’ll never get tired of being told I’m “perfect” by the girls. At the ASEAN camp I actually played guitar while a couple of the Thai girls, but when we started trying to find English songs, it became quickly apparent that we had wildly differing tastes. The songs they wanted to sing were truly terrible ballads – think Robbie Williams album filler – and even when I offered to compromise on ‘Better Together’ by Jack Johnson or ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz, they would not agree to anything else. So I have begun a campaign to introduce some not horrendous songs into the repertoire at my school. First up was ‘You Are My Sunshine’, which actually went pretty well, even if it did take ages to get Thai students to start counting in 4 and not in 3. Next up are ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘If I were a Boy’ – I’ll probably have to sing one of these myself at some point, god help us, so I’m definitely going to need to find somewhere to practice.

‘You Are My Sunshine’ as pictures!

While these ‘extra curricular’ activities are going well and are a lot of fun, I also think I’m definitely becoming a better teacher. Or at least I’m better at thinking up lesson plans that actually work in the class. I have started to prepare worksheets and to include activities that I can easily monitor, and do not allow half the class to zone-out, which happened with a couple of my overly-ambitious lesson plans in the first couple of weeks. I have to admit that I would probably fail any PGCE/TEFL/CELTA qualification if I performed one of my lessons for assessment, but then the techniques encouraged by those courses is not designed for classes of 40+ teenage Thai kids who barely speak a word of English. While I’m well aware that I could do better, I do think I’m doing OK so far, and according to another teacher, the kids do actually remember what I teach them!

Nearly all the children I teach are actually quite nice, and while their level of English can be frustrating, there are very few unpleasant children in the school. However, I am unfortunate in that I do teach one class recognised throughout the staff body as a horrible one to teach. My first lesson with this class was the only time that anyone has deliberately tried to make me uncomfortable or physically intimidate me in Thailand. But given the boys in question are in a low set in a school that is not particularly good even by Thai standards, I find it hard to get worked up about what they think of me. And although it’s early days just yet, they do seem to have realised that I’m not particularly bothered by their attempts to weird me out, and they’ve started to get on quietly with their business of sitting in the back of the class not doing anything. As long as they don’t interrupt me or the rest of the class I don’t mind, and they are welcome to get involved in the lesson whenever they want. It’s an arrangement which I guess works for all of us.

Holiday Project!

There is another class that I have found difficult to teach, but not because of any malice on behalf of the students (in fact I quite enjoy teaching this lot). Thai boys are very affectionate towards each other, and will quite happily spend an afternoon with their arms round each other or lying with their head in another’s lap – Thailand’s attitude towards sexuality and gender is pretty well documented elsewhere, so I don’t really need to go into any great depth – and I really have no problem with it. If anything, I think it’s pretty cool that boys in Thailand can express their affection for each other in such a way without it necessarily being ‘gay’ to do so. But I have to admit that when the boys will not do any work or sit still because they are too busy stroking each other, I do come close to asking my Thai assistant to ‘tell the boys to keep their hands to themselves for just half an hour’, something I never thought I’d have to say in the class room.

Outside of work, I am gradually settling into life in Hat Yai. Slowly, I am accumulating a circle of friends, although at times it can still be pretty lonely and a bit boring. But the same was true of my first couple of months in Holland, and my exchange year ended up being the best year of my life so far, so I’m not too worried about this just yet – I know from experience not to expect everything to be perfect straight away when you move away from your friends and family. While I don’t particularly like being the ‘new guy’, (who does?) it’s just something I’ll have to deal with. But I do now have a gym to go to, I get the odd game of football, and I have even started to take advantage of the 50m swimming pool just down the road. And there is always the opportunity to go out every Friday or Saturday if I want to take it – at the moment I’m on one night a week, but as I get used to waking up at 6 o’clock every morning I might graduate to two.

Buddha statue overlooking Hat Yai

Anyway, that’s all for now. I guess I’ll try and make my next post after the three day weekend or the 8-10 December, by which time I should have done a ‘visa run’ to Malaysia and actually made it to a beach.

Hope you’re all well, and thanks for the kind messages saying you actually enjoy reading this thing!

Horsinho xxx

Cheer Up Sleepy Lean…

Hat Yai

I wanted to wait till I sorted out a job and apartment etc before I posted again, and about 10 days into my trip, I finally have done so. I am living in Hat Yai and working just outside of it – the taxi driver who gave me a lift from the airport told me it only gets bombed 3 or 4 times a year…

Although I feel that I now know my way around a bit, I feel like I should admit just how laughably out of my depth I was at first. I really didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t know what the food was, I didn’t know where anything was, I didn’t know how the transport system worked and most importantly, I didn’t know anyone. For a couple of days I didn’t eat a lot, and a lot of time was spent in hotel/hostel rooms waiting for interviews. And when I didn’t have much to do, it was far too hot in the middle of the day to do anything (it still is, and probably will be all year in the South), so I would quite often spend that in my room and then go out in the evening.

Luckily, there isn’t much to the centre of Hat Yai, and on my second night I met two other English teachers in a pub , and within about an hour I had an offer of a game of football and was told where to be for a Saturday night. When I went to grab some food a couple of nights later I walked past the bars where I was told other English teachers would hang out – I saw the two I had met before and they introduced me to their friends. Meeting people has been fairly easy so far, and in the apartment complex I live in there are a number of other expats, so in terms of settling in the social side seems to be going ok.

Hat Yai Floating Market – I haven’t actually been to this yet.

As far as living goes, I am staying about a ten-minute motorcycle ride outside of the centre of Hat Yai. My ‘apartment’ is pretty much the standard room you might get in University halls, although it does have aircon and a fridge. It also has a bathroom, and although the water in the shower does not get very hot, I don’t really want too many hot showers over here, so that’s not really a problem. At the moment I am sleeping on a mattress cover and using my very thin sleeping bag as a blanket – I still need to find bed sheets, but that sort of thing will sort itself out in time. And it’s not as if I need proper covers to keep me warm here anyway.

As I mentioned in the first bit of this post, I have also managed to find a job! Avid readers of my first post will remember that I came over with two interviews lined up – well, I ended up having three. Two with schools just outside of Hat Yai, and one with an agency inside Hat Yai to teach at a Technological University in the centre. Of the three interviews I had, I was successful with two – I lost out on the other job to a girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, a PHD and experience as a supply teacher, which is hardly a surprise. Of the other two jobs, one was at a school that I really liked the look of, and I was told by someone who worked there that it was a nice place to work. After seeing this school, the next day I went to look at the Technological University. I had already received an offer from the Technological University of Rayong, and when I researched it I found that it had similar resources you might expect from an English University – a large, well-equipped campus, with a well organised curriculum and staff body. It had an impressive list of awards and the students had many well recognised accomplishments. I cannot say the same for Hat Yai – the guy recruiting me made constant references to the student’s low level of English and how hard they could be to control. When I looked in on some of the classes, that certainly seemed to be the case, and I figured that having sold out once already, this time I should go for the option that seemed the most fun, and not the one that paid the most.

So I am now an English teacher to high school children at Patongwittayamulnithi School just outside of Hat Yai. It is quite a large school (I think, although all Thai schools seem to be huge), with three other native English speaking teachers (well, two South Africans and one Swede). I also have my own Thai assistant, June, who yells at the children and hits them if they don’t listen to me, as well as some times translating things if the students really don’t get it. So far I have really enjoyed it – the children seem to quite like me, and the Thai staff are really nice. I am regularly told by both boys and girls that I am handsome, and that they love me. My hair is also a beautiful colour apparently. I am also in demand as a guitarist and singer. I’ve so far refused to sing – but Thais love singing ballads – I have seen a group of fifteen year old boys sit around a guitar all singing (badly) with each other in a class room, which does NOT happen in England – and I personally find it hilarious when they sing songs in English and have little idea what the words are, and even less what they are about (see post title). I guess I’m going to have to give in at some point though, so suggestions are welcome.

Glaid (Swedish guy) and some kids from our school

However, there are a couple of difficulties. One is the commute – it is not that far outside of Hat Yai, but in the morning and afternoon traffic it takes about 45 minutes to get there in the morning and to get back home in the afternoon. I guess if I got a bike I could take some time off that journey, but at the moment I’m still terrified of doing that (as far as I can tell, there are no rules when it comes to driving in Thailand, and some guy laughed at me when I put on my seatbelt. But #yolo. Also, teaching teenagers is quite difficult. Just like coaching football, teaching is most fun when you teach complete beginners and advanced students. In the first case, you can just teach five words or one skill, and then play silly games for the rest of the lesson. With the latter, you can start to do some really interesting stuff, like explaining different tactics or discussing songs and poetry. But when it comes to teaching/coaching most teenagers, they are too old/good for the simple exercises and games, but not good enough for particularly interesting lessons. As a result, there is a lot of repetition involved, practicing essential vocabulary and skills that are required in order to improve. This means that it is quite a challenge to come up with exercises and topics that will maintain their interest, but are also at a level that they can understand. I could go on about this, but I’ll probably do a post about teaching in Thailand in general at some point, so I’ll talk about this in greater depth at some point.

Trousers for PE, shorts and skirts for the classroom…

 Also, because of the way the school system in Thailand works and the student body at my school, I am the only dedicated native English teacher in the high school (we have both a primary and high school). My contact hours are basically the same, but because I teach a greater variety of levels, I have far more lesson planning to do. To try and put this into perspective, It is quite common for English teachers to take on private students in the evenings, but if I want to do my job to an at least satisfactory standard, then the amount of planning I have to do coupled with the commute to work makes it very unlikely that I will be able to do this until next semester (April), especially if I want to do things like play football and go to the gym or have any kind of social life.

I have no idea what time this starts, but thank fuck I don’t have to be there for all of it!

 Anyway, tomorrow I’m off to some ASEAN sponsored school camp in Songkhla (the neighbouring city and provincial capital) with 25 kids from the school and the other English teachers – I’m not really too sure what I have to do at this thing, but it should be interesting, and Songkhla has a beach, which can’t be said for Hat Yai. And my tan is still quite disappointing – one girl found it absolutely hilarious how pale I was compared to her.

Also, to answer the questions I asked at the end of my last post – I can’t teach in a vest and shorts, I have to wear a trousers and shirt. While I appreciate that a short sleeved t-shirt is never really acceptable, there is just no way I could manage wearing one in this heat. I have to stay clean-shaven (I have been told my appearance is my strongest asset in Thailand – apparently it’s what has got me hired). And no I won’t get fat – I hardly eat here because it’s so hot, and I will start going to the gym next week 🙂

#swag

Anyway, that’s all for now. Sorry it’s such a long one, but quite a lot has happened!

Also, props to Bente Zwankhuizen for coming up with the name ThaiALAN, which really should have been the name for this blog…

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