It’s been a week and a half at my homestay in Salanongkhon and I’ve learned to take on the Thai way of thinking. Mai bpen rai – or no problem, no big deal – is what Thai people live by. So mai bpen rai when it comes to the bugs and the bites. It’s me against the mosquitos and they way outnumber me, like the Lilliputians outnumbered Gulliver. Mai bpen rai when it comes to the heat and humidity. I got an extra fan for my room and have just accepted that I’ll be sweaty and dirty. That’s why Thai people bathe twice a day. With this way of thinking, I think I’ll be a happier person, even when I leave Thailand.
This past week, we’ve had more people around the house than my first few days here. When I arrived, I thought it was just going to be Pi Su (my host teacher) and me. But Pi Su’s husband – Pi Sem – and his mother – Ya (grandma) – live full time in Salanongkhon, which I hadn’t realized, since they were in Korat when I first got here. So I’ve had more of that family atmosphere I was hoping for.
At night after dinner, Pi Su likes to watch a drama on TV about a princess and her slave who switch places, so the princess can find her brother who left the palace several years ago (of course, the princess’s family can’t tell the two apart :P). While she’s pretending to be a slave, a prince falls in love with her, but the slave pretending to be the princess is in love with the prince. Typical soap opera love triangle. It’s a pretty silly and overly dramatic show with scenes in slow motion and all, but I’ve found myself getting into it, too, especially since Pi Su and I can discuss it, like teenagers watching Beverly Hills 90210.
Earlier this week, Pi Su gave me a journal from past volunteers who’ve documented the lessons they taught each class and a brief summary of their experience in Salanongkhon – a useful reference. For now, I’ve generally been sticking to learning each other’s names, spelling them and a simple lesson with the alphabet or colors.
In the journal, I read how one volunteer started an after-school tutoring program. I started one, too, this past Tuesday, so the students who want to learn more English can get more personal attention from me. It’s extra work, but I’d much rather stay at school helping them than sit in my hot room bored, waiting for the bugs to get me.
My two main after-school students are a boy, named Pi, and a girl, named Moaht – so cute and eager to learn. Other students have been stopping by on different days. One of them – a chubby, smiley boy, named Fem. Just looking at him makes me smile. This past week, I’ve helped them recognize letters and colors with the foam learning toys I bought at home, thanks to the donations I received from friends and family. I also taught them the words and meanings of today, tomorrow, yesterday and the days of the week. They’re pretty competitive, so it’s fun – and effective – to put them up against each other. I reward them with chewy fruit snacks I bought from Costco before I left on my trip. After about 50 minutes or so, we play with the jump ropes I bought for the kids last weekend in Korat – thanks, again, to the donation money. The kids always ask to play with the jump ropes – only it sounds like “junk rose”, so I keep correcting them, in hopes it’ll sink in one day.
The students always want to play games – like any kid – so I try to incorporate them into the lesson. One they’ve liked so far is BINGO. I ask them to draw out four lines across and four lines down, then fill the squares with random letters. Sounds easy enough to explain, right? It’s not. The most common phrase of every school day between me and the students (going both ways) – “mai khao jai” – which means “don’t understand.” Without knowing how to explain how the letters need to be random and different from anyone else’s, some of them write the letters in alphabetical order or just copy each other. I ended up borrowing someone’s English-Thai dictionary and asking a student to help translate. After everyone is finally done drawing their BINGO pages, I say a letter, they find it on their page, then color it in. Surprisingly, many of the students don’t know their letters, especially out of order. When I say “H”, most of them think “X”, or when I say “R”, many think “I”. Something I’ll need to work on with them. After they get it and start getting 4 or 5 letters in a row, they get excited and don’t want to stop playing!
So after a week and a half I’m getting a grasp on the students’ skill levels and how I can teach them more effectively. I’m hoping these next two weeks I have left at the school will make a lasting impact on them. My mom, and a women’s group she’s a member of, have decided to adopt Salanongkhon School to donate books and supplies. I was so moved to hear they wanted to do that. The first package is already on its way. At least I know that after I leave, I’ll still be able to help the students – even from the other side of the world.