Korat, Thailand: “Teacha Ewwin”

As most of you know I am not a teacher by trade making this entire experience uncharted territory.

Three months have passed since I moved to Korat to teach. Although I requested a rural area, the city life is growing on me. Korat has everything you could possibly need; two state of the art malls, a Costco-like supermarket (Makro), along with bus and train stations making travel around Thailand very easy. Down the road from our accommodation is a grocery store, pharmacy, KFC & Swensons (famous Bangkok based ice-cream shop). We’ve even discovered a pizza company that delivers, although we often find a pile cheese in the corner of the box (the downside of delivering pizza on a motorbike).

XploreAsia placed the four of us at Anuban Korat Ratchasima School, a large government school, in central Korat. The school has 1,000 kindergarten (anuban) students and 4,000 primary (pratom) students.

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Kindergarten army

The four of us have very different teaching roles at Anuban Korat Ratchasima School. Claire and Rachel, who both have teaching degrees from America, are homeroom kindergarten teachers. They spend all day with their 30+ students and have gotten to know them and their Thai co-teachers pretty well. Ella and I, who don’t have teaching degrees, are the “rotating” kindergarten teachers. We teach 30 classes a week (30 mins/class) and have over 400 students . Ella teaches K2 (ages 5-6) and I teach K1 (ages 4-5).

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The “falang” teaching squad
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Morning assembly

A day in the life 

  1. 6:00am: Roll out of bed. Put on all black (year-long mourning period for the King)
  2. 6:30: Say goodbye to Superman (our security guard) and start the 1.5 mile walk to school
  3. 6:45am: Grab a coffee at 7-11 or fried bananas from a food stall
  4. 7:00am: Say hello to the donut workers (who speak little English but are always excited to see us) and their pup Lil’ Lady
  5. 7:15am: Arrive at school
  6. 7:45am: Morning assembly
  7. 8:30am: First class
  8. 9:00am: Second class
  9. 9:30am: Third class
  10. 10:00am: Fourth class
  11. 10:30am-12:00pm: Relax before lunch (lesson plan if the wifi is working)
  12. 12:00pm-1:00pm: Free lunch at the school canteen
  13. 1:00pm-2:30pm: Relax, lesson plan, nap
  14. 2:30pm-3:00pm: Fifth class
  15. 3:00pm – 3:30pm: Sixth class
  16. 3:30pm: Walk the 1.5 miles home
  17. 4:00pm: Go for a run at the Rajamangala University of Technology Isan track / get stared at
  18. 6:00pm: Grab dinner at the nearby night market or food stall (mom & pops is our favorite)
  19. 7:00pm: Indulge in some Gilmore Girls or OSTNB. Thank you Netflix!
  20. 10:00pm: Zzzz
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Cooking @ mom and pop’s food stall
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Our Thai momma (Meme)

The days can be tiring, especially because my classrooms don’t have A/C, however, I will admit I love my job. The little ones have grown on me…much more than I expected.

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Favorite class (K1-10)
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K 1/8
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K 1/8

The Thai kindies

  1. They are nothing short of adorable.
  2. They love to pet, kiss, hug, and lick you. I’ll be mid-teaching and one kindie will be rubbing my leg while another will be petting my hair.
  3. Stickers are dangerous. Give one away and a stampede is eminent. Brace yourself.
  4. High-fives are just (if not more) dangerous than stickers. My favorite type of high-five is “the post nose pick high-five”.
  5. Speaking of boogers, they are everywhere. Hanging out of noses. Smeared on shirts. Covering hands. In Thailand, it is impolite to blow your nose in public thus making my job booger central.
  6. Little kids can be gross! Not only does the school not provide toilet paper (typical in Thailand-hello bum gun) but there isn’t any soap in the bathrooms -use your imagination on that one. This makes for a lot of mysterious brown stains.
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Lego showing off his muscles
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Three best friends
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K 1/10
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Children’s Day

The Thai classroom

  1. There are normally three teachers in each Kindergarten classroom: a head Thai teacher (who rarely teaches and is never in the room), the assistant teacher (who does most of the teaching but has no say in classroom decisions) and the assistant (who cleans up and disciplines the kids).
  2. Salaries for these 3 positions vary greatly. The head Thai teacher is employed by the government and gets a raise each year (~30,000+). The assistant teacher is employed by the school and makes significantly less even though they do most of the teaching (~15,000). The assistant is also employed by the school and makes even less (~6,000). For perspective, I make 34,000 (including the housing allowance), which equals ~ $900 USD / month.
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Coffee lunchtime break with Claire & Rachel’s assistant teachers
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Fellow teachers

The Thai school system

  1. Everything is extremely disorganized and inefficient. You are rarely told about school events and no one keeps you in the loop. Even the other falangs (foreign teachers) at our school are extremely distant. Half the time, I never know if I am supposed to teach or not.
  2. Hierarchy is extremely important. How you treat others is dependent on where you and they fall in the hierarchy. Age and position are the two greatest indicators of status. For example, I initiate the wai to my older head Thai teachers while the younger student assistants initiate the wai to me. The school director should receive a “deeper” wai than a head Thai teacher.
  3. Appearance is everything. How you dress is a huge reflection of your status and a popular conversation topic. Many of the Thai head teachers dress to the 9’s: silk skirt suits, perfect hair, high heels, and lipstick. Ella wore lipstick to school one day and she instantly became a celebrity- every Thai teacher wanted a picture with her.
  4. Thais are obsessed with weight. It is a topic of conversation on a daily basis. On our first day at the school we were given cake by the director and department head. When we offered them a slice they responded with a very matter-of-fact: “We don’t want to get fat.” Better yet, when we finished one of the teachers pointed at each of us and repeated  “fat, fat, fat, and fat.” Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
  5. Kids with “disabilities” are often ignored, pushed to the side, or labeled as “crazy.” Many kids who are difficult to control are automatically labeled as LD regardless of whether or not they have a true learning disability.
  6. Corporal punishment is the main form of discipline. Hitting, smacking, slapping, & public humiliation are commonly used. Often, the little ones are forced to tears.

 

Korat, Thailand: My New Home

Before arriving in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) I knew very little about the city. I heard it was big but I had no idea how big. Korat (also known as the “gateway” to Isan) is home to over 500,000 people and is the third largest city in Thailand. The city is booming and has been growing drastically over the years.

What really caught me by surprise was the distinct economic inequality among Thais in Korat. The rich are extremely rich and the poor are incredibly poor. You see Thais with run down motorbikes driving alongside Thais with BMWs and luxury SUVs. The Korat Mall was another surprise. It is just as if not more luxurious than any mall in the States. Not only does it have designer stores (which I can’t afford even with a foreign teacher’s salary) but it has a 4D movie theatre, ice rink, and water park -quite the contrast to the dilapidated homes and businesses just outside.

After orientation in Bangkok, we took a 4 hour bus ride to Korat. Finding a place to live was a nightmare. The accommodation our teaching agency set up fell through 2 hours before our arrival. As a result, we booked a hotel for a couple of nights while the Thai teachers from our school drove us around to explore places to live. Without them, we never would have found an accomodation.

We opted for Ploy Place, a long-term “hotel style” accommodation (common in Thailand) just outside the city center. Ploy Place is by no means cozy (imagine white tile floors and white walls) but it is very clean and much newer than other housing in the city. It is also near two of Korat’s universities so we are surrounded by college students and bars (a nuisance on the weekdays when the music is blasting but a good time on the weekends). Speaking of music, that’s another thing I’ve noticed about Thailand – everything they do is exceptionally loud. The movie theatre is loud, the bar music is loud, and the singing is loud –  my ears are constantly ringing!

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Nearby college bar
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Our security guard (Superman) acting out Thai beers (Singha beer – lion)

What surprised me even more about Korat is that no one walks – using your two feet to go somewhere is a foreign concept. No one does it! Instead, Thais motorbike, tuk tuk, or songtaew around the city (songtaews cost 8 Baht / 22 cents). This has made us farangs (foreigners) quite the spectacle because we walk everywhere: to the night market, to the Rajamangala University of Technology track, to the restaurants and even to and from school (1.5 miles). It’s quite humorous; every time we tell a Thai we are walking their reaction is always the same: an appalled “NO! You’re going to walk?!”

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Our favorite tuk tuk driver
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Mr. Cookie’s pimped out tuk tuk
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Friendsgiving in Korat with Mr. Cookie

To make us even more peculiar, Ella and I have been befriending the guard dogs (oops) and strays on the way to and from school. We’ve already named 7 of them (embarrassing I know but for those who know me you know I can’t resist).

There’s: Limpus (he has an awkward limp and hated us at first but we quickly won him over), Spot, Lola, Blackey, Nugget (puppy), Tiny (5 day old sick puppy who passed away last week), Wolverine (he’s terrified of farangs – particularly me), and my favorite Lil’ Lady.

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Spot
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My main man Limpus
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Lola and Spot

So, not only are we farangs (there are very few in Korat), but we are farangs who walk everywhere and befriend the dogs. Say hello to your newest Korat freak show!