English in the Hills

by   |  09.01.11  |  Honors Student Achievements

Today is a cooler day in Chiang Mai, and I’ve spent the a!ernoon napping and sitting at one of the picnic tables on the Payap campus, smelling the bougainvillea and plumeria trees. We counted today and realized that we only have about nine days left in Thailand. But whatever profound thoughts or realizations I might have gained from the summer will probably come more in retrospect— maybe on, say, a 17-hour plane ride home. So for now, here’s just more of what we’ve been up to and why we probably won’t feel ready in nine days to get on an airplane.

On Friday we woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 so that we could be well-caffeined and in the cars by 6:00 to head up into the mountains to a village called Bakaew, where we spent the day teaching an English Day Camp for some of the students at the school. The drive to Bakaew was beautiful, even if it was along some unbelievably winding, steep, and half-paved roads while we sat scrunched together in the back of the car. But some of the sights along the way were fantastic— I think we happened to spend the summer in the most beautiful parts of Thailand, by the way (above).

For nearly all of the 500 some students at the school, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, English will be their third language; Thai is their second already, since they all come from a variety of hill tribes surrounding Bakaew, including the
Hmong. Several of the students were even dressed in their more traditional outfits.

We started the day with some big group activities, then headed to various stations for the groups of students to rotate through. Our students were mostly middle-school-aged, and all acted like middle-schoolers do when they meet adults: shy. Couple that with the fact that we were a big, loud group of farongs speaking English, and I think we all understood why they were hesitant to even look at us.

I taught at a station with Greg and Taylor, and we’d decided to teach body parts. We went well- equipped with Simon Says, the Hokey Pokey, Mad Libs, and a pin-the-different-pieces-of-theface-on-the-face game. The Hokey Pokey produced some good laughs—mostly at us and not with us—and Simon Says proved incredibly easy for them because, not speaking any English, all they had to listen for was whether or not we’d said “Simon Says.” So never play a non-English speaker at that game and expect to win. But the real success, at least in most groups, seemed to be the face game, which produced some hilarious and very “naa kleeat” (ugly) Picasso-looking faces.

The main reason for us being there was just to get them excited about and interested in learning English. Evidently, our groups have been going up every year for almost 10 years, and this school has always scored higher on tests than others in the area. Maybe it’s the day camp—likely it’s just good teachers.

Either way, it’s a day for everyone to have fun and to meet people who, at the surface, have nothing in common. But  neither language nor culture stopped us from being invited to games of tag and duck-duck-goose with the children, and by the end of the day we’d made several friends who waied us and waved at us as we were leaving. The day, as far as we could tell, was a success.

Oh, and in a gesture procuring the awed applause of his friends, one little boy even blew me a kiss as we were leaving.

Juliana Kocsis
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tuesday, July 26, 2011