It’s a hot-ish Sunday afternoon. I am tucked in the comfort of my room for one, my smallish “home” on campus, appreciating the golden silence.
Silence is not something that comes easily here, a bustling campus of 6000+ students from pre-kindergarden through high school, a campus often filled with after-school and weekend activities. But today there is a distinguishable crispness to the silence that I can’t help but enjoy.
I think in part the silence is due to Friday’s festivities, Sports Day. A much-loved day filled with cheering, cheerleading, and racing competitions, the entire school was peaked with excitement. With so many students, they don’t all fit on campus for the event. The younger students stayed here for their celebration, and the middle and high schools went separately to different stadiums located in Chiang Mai.
Sports day is quite a big deal and students spent weeks preparing their cheers and parade. While the heat of the day was bit much for this teacher, it didn’t seem to damper the spirits and enthusiasm of the students.
And here I am just a few days later basking in the quiet. Kind of like the weekend after Mardi Gras. It seems folks are taking a break.
Being in Chiang Mai and teaching here brings out many of the joys and challenges of living and working in a foreign country. Thailand is by far the most “different” culture I have lived in so far with its combination of flow and freedom partnered paradoxically with a flavor of obedience and tradition. There is an unexpected combination of both disregard for law and the unpredictable fervent use of laws which it seems are always changing. That said… in many ways I like it here and… I am also challenged by it which is part of what keeps life interesting.
Life in the classroom is no different. My classes are filled with bright, spirited enthusiastic students. Of the more than 200 students I teach in total, I can hardly think of a one that I don’t like and appreciate in some way. There is a fun, joy and playfulness to school life here and a surprising amount of independence for the students throughout the course of the day.
The flip side of this that pushes and pulls at my more serious tendencies and my desire for more rule and order is the lighthearted approach to learning. School it seems is more “fun” and learning perhaps is secondary. With much of this I too can be lighthearted and go with the flow but have to admit it can be disheartening when time and time again I see an enthusiastic, bright-eyed student come to say hello. When I ask them “How are you…” quite often I get a panicked look on their face and a response of… “my name is…..” or “I am … years old.” And so it goes.
This enthusiasm also burns through classroom behavior. The students in my classes are not “bad” in any way. They don’t have poor attitudes with me or consistently cause problems. But they do get excited beyond decibels that I have ever experienced before and they do like to talk and this frequently freely flies throughout the class. After being here for nearly four months, I have done some nips and tucks in my classroom management strategies and have experienced some success and improvement. But there is an element of behavior that I believe is mostly cultural that runs free in the classroom. At times the sheer level of noise is a challenge for me or speaking in a class where the students have a tendency to converse loudly and freely to one another while I am talking. I am practicing giving up my “shoulds” about how things should be and doing my best to manage what I can in the classroom, tune into the way things are here and ride the wave. And so the journey and the learning continues…
Thailand has received some international attention lately for the unexpected and devastating bombing in Bangkok. I have kept an eye on the news of late paying attention for updates and new information that would offer a reliable hint to the motivation and perhaps larger climate here in Thailand. As I am in the north of Thailand, I feel geographically removed from any imminent danger and can’t help but continue to feel safe in Chiang Mai. As I learned from my time in South Korea, when unrest arises it is best to stay calm, pay attention, and keep an eye on the local response to the circumstances. But for me at this time in Chiang Mai, all is well.
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