May 20, 2013

The Places Life Takes Us and the People We Meet

After my college graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do. I wasn't focusing on what I was going to do after college, but what was going on in my life right then. I was stressed trying to finish my senior requirements, sad to be leaving, and just tired. I was lucky enough to hear about an extraordinary opportunity teaching English in Thailand and applied. When I received my acceptance letter, it was a huge relief to know what I was doing for the next nine months.

The school that I taught at was located just north of Phuket on the west coast of Thailand. The town was one of the hardest hit areas from the 2004 tsunami. The tsunami devastated the coast of many southeast Asian countries with little warning. Most of the town was destroyed and many people lost their lives on that day. It was after the tsunami that my school was built as one of The King's Schools. It was created as an orphanage for the surviving children. It is one of the only public boarding schools in the area and has become essential to the areas recovery.

When I first got to the school, I was nervous beyond belief. I had never taught before and I didn't know any Thai. Before I was sent off into the classroom, I had a brief orientation about the school and the students. Initially it started as an orphanage for children who had lost their parents in the Tsunami, but as the years went by it became a place not only for orphans, but for students with troubled family life or broken families. My supervisor told me that the students will probably misbehave and to try not to feel frustrated if the classroom experience is a little different than what I'm use to. Teaching would get easier as I taught more and understood Thai culture a little, but nothing really prepared me for the road ahead.

Let's just say the first week wasn't a lot of fun for me. The students were all troublemakers! They would leave the classroom when they wanted, sleep, and copy each other's work. There were always a few students that would try for the first 15 minutes of class, but would get bored. It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I tried to make the classes more interesting, but rarely succeeded in holding all of my students attention. The funny thing is, as much as I frustrated with my students, well, as students, I can't think of a single one of them that I didn't like.

Part of being a teacher at this school meant that I had to live on the school campus with 700 of my students. Outside of the classroom, they were all amazing people and would try to help me learn Thai and come up and talk to me in English. It was absolutely wonderful. Living on the campus gave me a better idea of who the students were and how they interacted with one another. There were mixed ages in the dorms and you could really tell that each student looked out for the other. Most conflicts on campus were settled between the students and not by the teachers. Each student had duties around the campus such as; cleaning the campus, serving food, feeding the cows, or attending the rubber tree farm. It was a dynamic campus that relied on the students to keep it maintained. The students were there to learn, but got so much more than an education. For some of the students, their classmates and teachers were the only family they had. For others, it was a family they created.

During my time in Thailand I learned a lot about myself and what I think is important to have in my life. One of those things is defiantly family or rather community. I created special bonds with my students as their teacher and as their friend. It made me reflect on the other families I've created over the years. Family isn't always through blood, but with people you create a connection with when you need it the most. Your family is the made up of the people that let you grow and help you when it's needed. I expect that I'll be part of more families and communities in the future, but I'll never forget the important ones from the past. They have helped me become who I am and deserve a little acknowledgement.


Lauren Brougham (Beta Phi-Whitman College) recently moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area. She's excited to become involved with the alumnae in the area. She enjoys being outdoors and active. 

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