I had just finished six weeks of backpacking and touring throughout Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. You would think that stepping off the plane in Krabi, Thailand, to begin a month of volunteer teaching would not seem too scary after that much travelling. Well, it is.
For a month in February and March, I was living on the small island of Koh Klong, Thailand, with a host family I had never met, and working in an elementary school where the students and teachers spoke very little English. Even so, after the first few days of living with my host family and working at the school, my anxiety went away and I become quite relaxed in my surroundings.
The Thai people are extremely welcoming and friendly towards foreigners. One of their favourite sayings is “Sabai”, which means “Take it easy”. Many of my afternoon hours were spent lying in a hammock on the porch reading a book. The family I lived with was also fun-loving and helped me with many of my travel plans on the weekends.
Although I became acquainted with my environment and my time in Koh Klong was extremely fun, that is not to say my work experience was not without problems. The major challenge that I faced was the language barrier. Only one teacher at the elementary school spoke English. In addition, the younger students did not speak any English while the older students spoke varying amounts. I spent my first week teaching the grade one students to say, “My name is …” using their own name and not mine. It was pretty funny, but very frustrating, as the entire class kept saying, “My name is Carlie!”.
The English speaking teacher created my teaching schedule but did not have any material for me to teach with, which was my second challenge. I was teaching four hundred students a week with no materials to use, so I had to come up with my own. To keep the younger students interested in a Canadian girl speaking a language they did not understand, I resorted to singing songs like Humpty Dumpty and dancing around in front of the classroom. I made a pretty big fool of myself at times just to get a laugh from them, but they seemed to enjoy it.
Since coming home in April from my travels and teaching on Koh Klong, I have gone through the Co-op process of applying for and accepting jobs within the Communication department while taking classes over the summer semester. You may be interested to know that I am writing this article as I am sitting on a plane heading to the final destination of Weifang, China for an international Co-op placement. I am going to be working for CIBT School of Business and Technology as a Development Coordinator.
Preparing for my international Co-op job was hectic, to say the least. I had multiple lists going at all times in an effort to get everything done without straining my memory too much. I would suggest to anyone who is taking classes while applying for Co-op jobs, especially international jobs, that you take one course less than your regular course load because of all the preparations.
The entire month before I left, the idea of moving to China for eight months was surreal. I did not actually believe that I was going, although my sore arm from vaccinations should have been a shot of reality! I now wish I had done a group good-bye, as I did when I left for Southeast Asia, instead of individual ones, because it is a lot less emotional and sad. For four days, before my plane left, I went up to a friend’s cabin to relax and get away from all my preparations. It was the best thing I could have done because I was able to clear my head and have some fun without worrying about packing.
Now that I am on the plane, although it was delayed six hours, it is such a relief because even if I did not pack something I cannot do anything about it now! I should get back to trying to cram as many Mandarin phrases into my head as possible.
Beyond the Blog
To learn more about working internationally, check out the SFU International Co-op Website