Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Livin' in a foreign land

So, with just about a month left of teaching before we head off on the next stage of our adventure, I wanted to do a bit of reflection on our experience here. We have experienced some major ups and downs since we have been here. I'm sure we will in the next month as well, but somehow, with only a month left, each day seems sweeter and sweeter.

We left the Bay Area when we were loving it more than ever. We felt so comfotable in our situation, but we both felt unready to committ to grad school or long-term jobs without getting out and seeing the world a bit. I felt a bit restless, uncomfotable with my comfort, wanting the absolute most out of life, etc, etc. The point is, we loved where we were, but we were both so ready for a big change. I knew that the adventure was not a brainless vacation on a beach. I knew it was going to be challenging, but I was so ready to be positive and take the experience for what it was worth, I somehow thought that in my mind I would be able to create a reality that would be as amazing, and relaxing, as a beach vacation. Ha!

Orientation was great, but intense. We were jetlagged after our whirlwind trip around the world and our 23 hours in Beijing, and we were instantly thrown into a room with 80 other people. What do I wear? What jokes are inappropriate? How do I present myself? It felt like college all over again! But we learned a lot and came out of it with a number of lifelong friends.

Our first month in Dan Chang was great. Everything was so new and exciting, and we love the camping house (where we live) and our city was bigger than we thought it would be, with a river and a reservoir close by! The teaching was challenging, but with our fellow teachers Matt and Sel to show us the ropes, we learned a ton very quickly. Standing in front of 45 kids who don't speak your language is intimidating! You have to keep them entertained for an hour, you have no idea what their skill level is, and you don't know when another teacher or parent will step in and give you "the look." I.e. why are all the kids running around? But, again, we adapted quickly and no longer feel overwhelmed stepping in front of a room full of people not knowing what we are supposed to say or do. I feel like I could be the next President! Haha, oh no. I would cry too much and people would think I was a baby. There goes that dream. :) We were so excited about our new place and we got to see a lot of cool places on the weekends, as we learned about Thailand and its people. It was a magical first month or two.

Anyways, around the holidays we really started to miss our friends and families! We were in the thick of teaching, and were unpleasantly surprised by some of the school politics that we unintentionally became a part of. We had a great New Years, but we were tired and ready for the next step, which wasn't going to happen for months. We felt trapped in our town, as going anywhere takes 6+ hours, and unsure in our school situation. A month of difficulties and subsequent growth followed, and we have metamorphosed into worldly butterflies. Seriously though, living in a different country is wonderful, and challenging. We have been shaken up, but we have learned so much about ourselves and our culture in the process it has been very rewarding still, if not a bit painful.

While we have yet to do the extensive traveling part of our trip, since we have been here we have really been able to experience a different culture. And since we emerged from our tunnel, we have really loved it! I am going to miss teaching and the kids sooo much! I am going to miss our beautiful camping house, and sitting alone outside at night, feeding mosquitoes while looking at the crescent moon and having deep thoughts about life. We still have a month of teaching, but now that time is winding down (time flies!) I have become a bit more reflective on our time here.

On another note, this past weekend was a great one, filled with friends! Matt and Sel returned after 2 and a half months of traveling, and they gave us all sorts of tips and insights, and it was great to see them! We hung by the pool one day, had a great night tasting the delicious food at a new restaurant opening in town (Route 333, it was the best meal we have had in a while!) and dancing to music that Graham and I deejayed at our friend Mink's bar, O2. We walked to a carnival on the temple grounds by our house, and went on a big small rollercoaster, and checked out the random scene (oh Thailand!) of the empty carnival. We talked with old expats over whiskey and watched movies. Sometimes it is nice to slow down and just be home! And it was great to hang out with our Dan Chang crew so much!

Lots of exciting things coming up! I can't believe we have already been gone for 4 months! We are really happy over here, but miss everyone a ton!

Graham vs 4th Grade Girl........Fight!

Yesterday was a tough one.  I confiscated a girls phone after she was sitting down playing on it during PE and after she'd flatly told me, no, she would not stand up and do anything. I told her she could have it back after class if she participated but still she refused to. Not only did she refuse, but she got a bunch of her girlfriends to stop playing too and to follow me around with their hands out saying

Anyway, after class she was like, ok, I want it back now, and I told her no, that she hadn't participated, and that she could have it back the following morning. I went back to my office and about twenty minutes later a teacher and throng of 4-5 of these girls came in. The teacher said I needed to give her phone back. I explained the situation to the teacher as best I could (she speaks alright English) and she was like, ok, that makes sense, I will explain it to her, and they left.

About 10 minutes after that they come back with another teacher, and they are like, we understand where you are coming from, but this girl's parents are really rich and she has threatened to have them call the cops on you, so you definitely need to give it back. At first I was like, fine, call the cops, they will see how ridiculous this is! The teachers were like, you don't understand, in Thai culture they are going to do what the rich people want, plus they won't be able to understand you anyway.

 I was so frustrated! I didn't want to let this little brat win! Natalie, thankfully, was like, Graham, why don't you just give it back, who cares, we won't be here much longer anyway. In the end me and the teachers and a guy who I think is like the vice principal made a deal that the home teacher would keep it overnight. They might have just told me that so I would feel better though, because after they sent the girl to talk to the home teacher, and I think to get her phone back right then. I don't know for sure, I didn't understand what anyone was saying!

The attitudes of some of these kids are ridiculous, and stories like this one make it so obvious why- because they get whatever they want! And these were my 4th graders!

It's so funny to be in a position where I am saying - kids these days..... on a common basis :) I think Natalie is hoping that this experience hasn't backfired and  left me scarred and scared away from kids for life. I don't know, but I am definitly looking forward to some detox when we finish in a month! Then its only seventh graders and older if you want to hang out with me :)

Thanks for reading and have have a great day! The subtext is that everything is going well in general, and we had a great weekend with some of our local friends. Natalie is working on a post to that effect which should be hitting a desktop near you soon! Bye!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Final Day of School In Sight - India booked!

Hola faithful readers! Wanted to do a small update because a couple cool/significant things have happened lately.  The big one is that we found round-trip flights to India for $180, booked them, and are going to be able to add another country and world wonder, the Taj Mahal,  to our trip. We're super excited, although it is a bit bittersweet because it means pushing back our return date a couple weeks (which is now a very solid June 15th), and we are missing home and friends and family a ton already. It's a destination we have both dreamed of visiting though, and who knows when we will be on this side of the world again??

Next, and this is more exciting than words can describe, we have an official end date for school!!! Planning is a laughable word in Thailand, at least the rural part of Thailand where we are based, and so from our school coordinator, to the head of the English program, to the Principal's secretary, to the other English teachers, no one knows when the last day of school is. And besides being not far away, their estimates vary across the timespan of a month! We signed a completely Thai contract that supposedly says we finish at the end of March, but everyone said not to pay attention to that, that it is just symbolic.  As the potential dates draw near, we've started to panic a bit about planning and visas, and finally in desperation contacted the program we came through, CIEE. They came back saying that we would be finishing at the end of February - just a few weeks away! We panicked a bit, and after some back and forth, finalized a final day of March 10th (thank you CIEE for you help!). We didn't have a strong preference to end at any specific time, but after so much work that went into figuring it out, we are just super excited to have a date set! That means that in just about a month we can start traveling, which is good for you also because we will have a lot more interesting posts and pictures that will be coming your way - win, win :)

Anyway miss you all and we will post again soon, next time with some new pics....till then, this is Grahamalie signing out

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle/Chatty Cathy was my favorite doll

(This is our first blog where we are experimenting with a new format of both Natalie and I writing parts, rather than just one of us doing the whole thing- let us know in the comments what your preference is!)

(Natalie)Why is it that I always feel inspired to name our blogs some cheesy/bad song title or lyrics? "I will Survive" and "I can't live, with or without you!" have both popped into my mind as potential blog titles that would snag peoples' interest enough to entice them to read about our lives. But in this case, it is rather descriptive of what I did this weekend, which I guess makes sense, and I get to quote a song from a band that I used to think was the coolest of the cool. No, now I think the coolest of the cool are the 3 other girls I got to spend a lot of time with this weekend in Thailand's second largest National Park, Khao Yai.

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