Finished with Week 1!

Wow, this first week in Chiangkham has been a whirlwind of emotions. We arrived very early, around 7AM on Friday, November 3rd, after our long, long, long, long bus ride. It ended up being around 12 hours, and while it wasn’t terrible, I definitely was feeling pretty exhausted after getting off. We met our coordinators at the bus stop, and they took us to where we would be living for the next few months. Emma and I are living in the same little house, but it is completely split in half, almost into two little apartments. The 3 other English teachers we came with from CIEE are living on the same property in a different house, and so are a few English teachers from the Philippines. My room is tiny, but pretty nice. Definitely better than I was expecting! I have a queen bed, a table with 2 chairs, a dresser, a fan, a refrigerator, seated toilet, shower head and hot water. There is also a little area in the back of the house to wash and dry dishes which is handy. Here’s some pictures so you can visualize!

 

After we unpacked, we were able to go to the local Tesco Lotus (Thai equivalent to Walmart) to get some things for our apartment. I bought a yoga mat (since I wasn’t able to bring mine with me), some cereal, fruit and crackers, tape to hang up my pictures, and a bunch of school supplies!

I hadn’t thought of it while we were there, but Bangkok definitely felt like a mix of a vacation and college orientation. It didn’t quite seem real that we were there to learn about teaching English and the job that we had signed a contract for for the next 5-ish months. My school’s semester goes from November 1st to March 16th. Schools here seem to be different than America in that they do not have any type of “school calendar” with days off, or the end of school listed. This is definitely stressful, but I am trying to use it as a way to learn how to go with the flow and live in the moment, but DEFINITELY something I am not used to.

My schools name is Sathitwittaya Chiangkham School or Sathit School for short. It’s about a 10 minute bike ride from my living accommodation, and right nearby the local Tesco Lotus , which is very convenient if I need to grab anything after school. The school is fun so far, I met two other Farang (Thai word for foreign) teachers, both from the Philippines and they have been super helpful filling me in on what colors to wear on what days, and other little tidbits about the school that I didn’t know yet. Turns out although I thought I would just be teaching kindergarten, I’m actually teaching all of the grades at the school! Pre-K all the way through P6, or 6th grade. That means I’m seeing around 300 students per week, in 19 different classes, meeting with every class only once a week (besides one class I see twice). This was definitely a terrifying revelation, but day by day it seemed less scary than the day before. It probably means I won’t learn all of my students names by the time I leave, but it does mean I get to work with all different ages and English levels which definitely a good experience to have for the future.

The language barrier is so real. At school, when trying to order dinner, when trying to pay our cell phone bills. Not a huge surprise since I had only been to Europe and the Caribbean before this, but it is definitely the largest language barrier I have ever experienced. My coordinator speaks some English, but has mostly directed me to my co-teacher for any questions I have. My co-teacher is so sweet, but sometimes our Thai/English conversations can be frustrating because I have no idea what is going on!!! Same thing happens when we try to order food. Emma is a vegetarian and I have been eating vegetarian for the most part since we have been here, but when we tell some of the street vendors “mang-sa-wi-rat” they just laugh or show us a head of lettuce. Luckily, we have found a few different vendors who will whip us up a fun surprise if we tell them, and they already recognize us since we are two of the very few Westerners in our town.

On that topic, since we don’t have a stove/toaster/oven of any kind, we eat dinner out almost every night. It was hard to navigate at first because it is so tempting to just order pad thai every time, but slowly we have been able to find other soup-like dishes or different types of veggie dishes. The closer we get to a routine, the better I feel about living so far away for the next 4ish months. That being said, even though we eat out almost every night, dinner is about $1. It’s usually around 30-40 baht for fried rice, soup, or a noodle dish, and the conversation is about 33 baht to every 1 American dollar. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of converting, but I think once I get my first paycheck it will be a little easier to think in baht. I also get free lunch at my school every day! Most days it’s white rice or noodles with some type of mystery meat, so I’ve resorted to eating the rice with a little bit of broth and soy sauce I bought at Tesco. Not the most diverse meal plan I’ve ever had, but it does the trick!

Just to give you an idea of how much things general cost:

Pad thai dinner- 40 baht or $1.20

Monthly unlimited data phone plan- 450 baht or $13

Iced latte- 30 baht or .90 cents

(I’ll write more about how much things cost as time goes on!)

While I’m still missing home a lot and sometimes feeling like March 16th is a long ways away, it has been getting easier as time goes by and my routine gets more sturdy. It’s excited to have fun things to look forward to on the weekends to get me through school during the week. Up next, first trip to Chiang Mai!

 

 

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Home for the next few months

 

Orientation in Bangkok!

We finally landed in Bangkok around noon on Friday morning and grabbed the shuttle provided by OEG to the Royal River Hotel where we would be staying. It was the biggest relief to finally dump our bags and be able to take things out! Luckily, none of Emma or my stuff was taken by security or customs on the way over (we were really worried about the peanut butter we brought)!! On Friday we just went our rooms, got our new Thai sim cards, relaxed and got dinner before heading to bed early. I have never been so exhausted in my life, but it was so exciting to finally be in Thailand!

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First Thai dinner

 

Jetlag is so real!!! I woke up before 6 AM the next morning, and could not fall back asleep so I headed out onto our balcony where Emma had already been awake for 2 hours! Despite the jetlag, we were able to watch our first Thai sunrise over the Bangkok skyline and it was truly beautiful. That morning we had our welcome to the OEG Teach in Thailand program, and met Kristen and Derik, the two coordinators from the program. We were introduced to Thailand, our program, and began to meet some of the 200ish other teachers on the program with us. It was overwhelming to say the least! Then we had our first Thai lesson! Our Thai teacher, Fluke, was so sweet and funny, and taught us so much Thai in just the short week we were there. A quick Thai lesson:

Sawatdee ka- Hello!

Khun chu arai ka?- What is your name?

Chan chu Emily.- My name is Emily.

Yin dee tee dai roo jak ka- It is nice to meet you.

Chan ma jaak pra ted America- I am from America.

Sanuk- Fun!

Definitely have lots more to learn!!

We also had our first TEFL class where we learned about lesson planning and discipline within the classroom. This course definitely made me feel a bit more prepared and ready to begin teaching!

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Sunrise over Bangkok

Our second day was mostly the same, we had our Thai lesson and TEFL class, and at the end of the day we were welcomed to Thailand with a Thai Traditional Welcome Ceremony! It was very beautiful and we were each given a small white piece of string to wear on our wrist as a reminder of our beginning in Thailand and to wish us good luck.

Most of our days of orientation were the same with different sessions every day on things like Visas, work permits, ethics and culture. We also had a session with the U.S. embassy on all the precautions we should take while abroad.

My favorite part of orientation was our day trip to the Grand Palace. It was surreal to look at how ornate and large the Palace and Temple were. We were also able to see the Crematorium where the King had been cremated the week before which was amazing because it will only be there for a few more weeks. I loved seeing the Palace in all its splendor, and would definitely recommend visiting there if you are ever in Bangkok.

Despite the jetlag, Emma and I really took advantage of our evenings there and tried to see as much as possible. Early on in the week we went to Asiatique, a night market right on the river. It was large and had a Ferris Wheel (which we of course had to go on), and lots of small vendors. It definitely seemed like a more touristy market, but it was colorful and fun and a great evening out. We took our first übers here which we found to be helpful because they have a set price so we didn’t have to deal with bargaining with the taxi drivers. That night for dinner we had our first street food! It was a delicious crepe like dessert made with eggs, bananas, and sweetened condensed milk (a HUGE staple here). Another night we ventured to the famous Khao San Road, a major attraction for tourists all over the world. It was bright, touristy, dirty, and overpriced but nevertheless we felt we had to stop by while we were there. That evening we ate at a vegetarian/ vegan restaurant, and were able to relax a bit knowing we weren’t eating any random meat in our meal like we had been the rest of the week.

We were also able to go to a local flower market one afternoon which was full of wonderful flower arrangements of all different colors and shapes. I had never seen anything like it, and would definitely recommend to others who may be visiting in the future. It was nice to see a less touristy part of the city!

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Local Flower Market

On our last night in Bangkok, we explored a few different parts of the city! We went to the Ratchada Train Night Market and ventured up to the top of a garage to get a great view, took our first tuk-tuk (and bargained it down!!) and went to The Sirocco & Sky Bar which overlooked all of New Bangkok (and was also in The Hangover 2). Lot’s of adventure packed into just a few days but it was all worth it because Bangkok is pretty far from us and who knows when we will be able to go back!

 

Our last day of orientation, we went on a bus journey to Kanchanaburi, a region in Central Thailand. We walked through the local market, visited a temple, and had dinner on this raft floating down the river with beautiful views of mountains and trees. We stayed in a different hotel that evening and were able to enjoy the pool the next morning before heading back to Bangkok to begin our journey all the way up north! Orientation was great and we were able to meet some really cool and interesting people, but by the end I was definitely feeling ready to settle in to my new apartment and meet my students! Up next, the journey to Phayao and my first week in Chiangkham!

 

Beginning the Adventure

First blog post!

Why a blog you may ask? After being here in Thailand for just over a week, I have realized how tough it can be to communicate with friends and family back home. It seems that almost every time I’m waking up, it is almost bedtime back in New York, and when I am getting ready for bed, the people I would love to chat to are getting ready for work! I decided a blog would be a good way to keep people updated with what I’m doing and how life is going, especially for those times that it may be tricky to catch each other.

Now a little background..

I decided I wanted to teach abroad sometime early on in senior year of college. I wasn’t exactly sure where yet, I thought about South America, Spain and Asia, but nothing seemed to be quite the right fit. Thailand was floating around in my mind, but I really did not know anything about it yet! Then my friend, Emily Heath, came back from teaching in Thailand for a wedding, and we got to chatting about her experience and how things were going for her. I could tell from the way she was glowing, how special of a place Thailand really was. I began to look into it a bit more, and more specifically the CIEE Teach in Thailand program. I remember starting my application so early knowing I would not find out if I got accepted for months, but I was so excited about the prospect of traveling to a whole new continent and exploring new cultures that I knew very little about.

I was accepted to the program sometime in March, but even at that point all I knew was that I was accepted! Finally in August, I got the exciting news that I had been placed at Sathitwittaya Chiangkham School to teach Kindergarten. I was so excited and also relieved to find out that my bff, Emma, who I would be traveling with had been placed in the same town at a different school. Things were finally starting to feel real.

After I found out my school, I had to start getting all my paperwork together to apply for my visa. One criminal background check, 2 passport photos, my diploma and a bunch of other paperwork later, and I had my visa! Once we had our visas, we could book our flights. Our big adventure was finally so close.

The week before my flight was one of the most intense/ strange weeks of my life. I was constantly going back and forth between being excited and wondering if this was really the right decision for me. Finally, Tuesday came (the night before my flight) and it was time for one last family dinner and to say goodbye to all of my extended family. We had a delicious dinner (Christmas shrimp) made by my grandma since I would be missing Christmas, and my mom made a delicious apple pie for dessert. It was really hard for me to say goodbye to my aunts, uncles and cousins, but especially to my grandparents. I found comfort in knowing that everyone is always a flight away and that it is only 6 months, but it was still a very tearful goodbye.

My first flight was Flight QR 702 from JFK to Doha Hamad International Airport in Qatar. After a long day of running last minute errands, saying tough goodbyes to my dad, brother and dogs, my mom and I headed to JFK. After shifting all of my bags around to meet luggage requirements (they even weighed my carry-on and it was 11 pounds overweight!!), Mom and I got my bags checked in and headed towards security.

Even at 22, saying goodbye to my Mom continues to be one of, if not the toughest thing I have had to do. Lots of tears were shed, but I know my parents are so proud of me for going on this adventure and I can’t wait for them to *fingers crossed* come visit me.

11 hours later and I landed in Doha Airport and quickly found my adventure buddy and partner in crime, Emma. It was so comforting to see a familiar face in this totally unfamiliar place, and I immediately felt a bit of relief. Unfortunately, our plane was delayed by 10-ish hours, so we waited, and ate some pizza, and napped, and waited some more, and finally it was time to get on our flight to Bangkok.

Our second flight was Flight QR 830, and it was by far the nicest plane I have ever been on. I unfortunately wasn’t able to sleep very much, but luckily they had a big movie selection. I found Eat, Pray, Love especially fitting to watch as I was beginning this little journey of my own (half kidding, half not). We finally landed in Bangkok 8 hours later and I had no idea what to think….

Coming in my next blog post: my first week in Thailand and all about Bangkok!