Tag - university

Isaan Life – New Year

New Year in Issan
issaan_new_year_2
New Year in Issan
New Year in Issan
issaan_new_year_6

There are places along Isaan’s Korat Plateau, framed by the wandering Mae Khong, dotted with centuries-old rice paddies, lumbering, long-horned water buffalo and forgotten villages influenced by the Lao culture to the north that are so stunning, so awe-inspiring that words are inadequate to describe them. Phachnadai Cliff, 45 kilometers from Khon Chiem and a six-klick hike straight up from Ban San Som, a sleepy 200-member farm community of wooden huts built on long poles, is an unusual place to greet the New Year. But then Isaan is an unusual place, a special place and teetering and shivering through the night toward dawn in a brisk, cold wind on the edge of a 15 meter black cliff with a dozen friends and 200 strangers was the perfect way to greet the New Year, a year sure to be filled with beauty, adventure and opportunity.

Our journey began 175 kilometers away at my home in Ubon Rachathani in southeast Isaan on the north bank of the Mun River, a tributary of the Mae Khong. We traveled north by motorcycle toward Ban San Som, a village that does not appear on any western map buts sits less than an hour from Laos. Neither Ban San Som nor Phachanadai Cliff produce even one hit on a Google search. It is not a destination resort. It is however a very special place to welcome the New Year.
 
Ban San Som in January is surrounded by freshly harvested rice fields and wandering water buffalo, eyeing the newly harvested rice strewn through the fields. In theory, there are two ways up the mountain. It’s a six kilometer hike straight up or a 13 kilometer overland trek by motorcycle. In reality, the hike is probably the way to go. A combination of laziness and rapidly disappearing sunlight produced a quick decision; the motorcycle seemed a quicker, less strenuous option. Unfortunately we were not ready for the unbeaten, unmarked track that lay in before us.
 
There is no visible road up the mountain. There are ruts and rocks and roots that slowed our progress to a crawl. Deep sands as shifty and slick as sheer ice blocked our path in places reminding me it’s the heart of winter back home in Vermont, USA. And at times murky brown water covered the track making it impossible to know how deep and passable it was at any given point. Nittaya Saebut, a fourth year student at Ubon Ratchathani University, described the journey charitably as “unpredictable.” Surasak Witton, a third year at Ubon Rachathani University, carried Sukie, a second year student from Rachabhat University who knew the area quite well. He said his rider made it hard to focus on the path. Surasak explained, “It was hard for me having Sukie on the bike because she would tell me about different areas of the mountain and if I took my eyes off the road for one second conditions would change and a different type of terrain would jump up in front of me.”
 
We made it to the top in darkness; the view would have to wait until morning: the New Year. A sheer black rock covered the peak, a lava-like geological formation though there is no volcano near Phachanadai Cliff. The difficult path to the summit didn’t keep some 200 others from making the journey to greet the New Year. Camp fires fueled with wood scavenged from nearby forest sprinkled across the black rock lit the landscape like lights on a Christmas tree. There was even New Year’s entertainment on the top of that mountain. A stage set up in the midst of the waving fires offered an assortment of colorful dancers and songs through the evening. There was even a “Cow Gee” eating contest which I entered immediately as the journey produced a severe hunger deep in the pit of my stomach. Cow Gee is sticky rice grilled with egg. I stuffed my face full of the deliciousness
and finished second among 16 other contestants. My stomach full I realized I’d won 200 baht! Being paid to overeat; Isaan is a wonderful place!
 
Sleeping was impossible! The wind howled constantly sending a chill deep into my spine. At 5:30 a.m. everyone that wasn’t knocked out from the New Year celebration, clustered on the 15 meter cliff to watch the sunrise. The cliff drops straight down to the ancient Mae Khong. The rising sun slowly revealed the misty mountains of Laos covered in early morning fog and produced an immense cheer from the crowd. It brought a tear to my eye, and I wished everyone “Sa Wa Dee Bee Mai.” Happy New Year 2008/2551.
 
About the author:
Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a “young blood writer” living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan – Northeastern Thailand. He’s been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.

So you want to teach in Thailand?

Teaching in Thailand
Teaching in Thailand
Teaching in Thailand

Easygoing people, fantastic climate, great cuisine, low cost of living; it’s no wonder so many travellers visit Thailand and decide to stay. Thailand’s ESL teaching scene is on the rise and companies like ECC and English Plus are cropping up all across the country. A teaching job can be fun and breezy for some, stressful and draining for others. Below is a list of tips for potential teachers.
Expect Options

ESL teachers have options in Thailand; those with English degrees and/or impressive teaching resumes should look into university teaching jobs where the students are keener and the holidays are usually paid.

Teachers who work for language schools can expect evening and weekend classes with good resources but a wide range of levels. A typical teacher’s schedule may include private lessons with a 5-year-old, advanced business English for adults, and anything in between.

Teachers who work in public elementary or high schools have lighter schedules but bigger classes; often 40 or more kids per class. These teachers might also participate in school events like sports days or campus television shows.

Expect Variety

Some language schools give you a fantastic course textbook and a library full of additional resources, and all you need to do is teach from the book and add extra activities as you see fit. With other classes, you may find yourself in a room full of students with one pen between them, and you’re forced to design every lesson plan and write up your own tests. You should figure out how much input you want in course outlines, and find a school to meet your expectations.

Expect Surprises

As far as teaching jobs go, you may be told with a few days notice of a new class to teach, a test that’s to be given, or a school holiday. This may be the mark of a disorganized company, but it’s most likely just another difference between western jobs and Thailand jobs. Your best bet is to try and adopt the “mai pen rai,” attitude and not get stressed over small matters.

Expect Visa Hassles

The Thai policies regarding non-immigrant work visas seem to be ever-changing. While your school will handle the application process, you may be asked to produce documents that weren’t required two months ago, like a letter of confirmation from your university, or a letter from your TEFL instructor.

For the many teachers working in Thailand on tourist visas, monthly border runs are a necessary while their paperwork comes through. If you’re close to the embassy in Bangkok, a 2-month visa from Cambodia or Laos can be arranged in advance. If you’re crossing the border once a month, ask your school about their policy on refunding your travel costs, as many will comply and remember – new visa regulations suggest you can only do this for 90 days in any 6 months. All details regarding your work visa should be addressed before any contract is signed. In addition, remember that you can…

Expect the Taboo

If you’re teaching children, it can be difficult to control a classroom. Public schools often have classes of 50-plus students, and Thai co-teachers might treat your class as an optional commitment. It’s said that Thai classrooms are sometimes a bit unruly so even seasoned ESL teachers will have to figure out the best way to keep order. Never touch a student in any way to discipline him or her. It’s best to discuss discipline techniques with Thai teachers before starting and they are likely offer some good tips.

Expect to Make Connections

To live in Thailand, a teacher will see up-close how different things can be for tourists. A smart newcomer will learn the “Thai price” for taxi rides, food stall dishes, and admission costs, and learn enough Thai to haggle it down. Even if you’re living as a local, you’ll still be met with the inflated tourist prices on some goods. It’s smart to master how to count in Thai so that price-bargaining goes smoothly.

You’ll likely be approached for private lessons from many people, and many teachers find it useful to swap Thai lessons with English lessons in order to best pick up the language. If your schedule is full, politely refer the person to your language school, and they can arrange one-on-one classes from there.

Expect Scrutiny

Unless you’re living in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket, your arrival in town will be discussed and scrutinized. Most teachers don’t realize how much they’re talked about, but the truth is that foreigners stand out a mile away and for Thai people, make great fodder for gossip. Whether you’re arguing with someone at the market or drunk at the pub, don’t forget that people talk. Some discretion on your part will make life much easier. Schools have been known to fire teachers if their public reputations start concerning parents and students.   
  
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.