Teaching English in Thailand, Take 1

P1070753 2Back to the land of smiles I go, or, as I like to call it, the land of contradiction.

Ten months after returning from Phuket, I am thankful, excited and inspired to have the fantastic opportunity to travel to a new part of Thailand and experience Thai life from a new angle. I will be working as a teaching assistant in a school in Surat Thani, in collaboration with the British Council and the Thai Ministry of Education.

I know that my time teaching will be invaluable to deepening my understanding of Thailand. I go with no assumptions that as a teacher I will be doing all of the teaching; I am one hundred percent certain that I will be learning just as much, if not more, from my students.

I would like to preface this by noting that never have I loved a country or a people more, yet simultaneously, been so frustrated.

My 2014 journey is beginning with an introductory day, with talks from the British council, Thai embassy and past teaching assistants, alongside some preliminary teacher training.

So, jump on board what promises to be a bumpy but beautiful ride, and let’s start with the talk given by a representative from the Thai embassy at my induction day.

Sitting in this introductory talk for my “Teaching English in Thailand” programme (henceforth TET), I was rather disappointed by the information on ‘Thai life and culture’ that was churned out by the Thai embassy.

The picture perfect postcard version of Thailand was pieced together by what I can only assume were photos pulled directly from adverts for “Amazing Thailand”, paired with recycled descriptions about country, king and religion. Whilst the talk left many of my fellow future teaching assistants starry-eyed and eager to dive head first into crystal clear waters, beautiful air hostesses and temples, I was left feeling frustrated by such a vapid introduction that did not do Thailand justice.

The thirty minute long talk can only be described as propaganda. Temples, Tom yum goong, Buddhism, some more temples, the Thai flag, and then the monarchy; not to forget some spiel on the self sufficiency economy. It was only a few weeks ago that I read about the economic initiative of “walking backwards into a khlong”, and now a few weeks later, I experience the propagation of this concept first hand.

I am not sure how knowing that “The Beach” was filmed in Phuket is going to imbue anyone with information necessary to visiting Thailand. However, it will further misconceptions about Thailand as an exotic and exciting Other, rather than creating a forum to discuss the beautiful realities of life in Thailand. Whatever happened to imparting upon us local knowledge and wisdom to ease us into Thai life? I will leave that for you to decide.

Religion was, of course, touched upon. Buddhism, temples…temples, monks and some more Buddhism. There was a small statistic denoting a Muslim community, but this was left undiscussed. This religious silence becomes questionable considering the fact that about a quarter or more of all TET placements are in the South, where there is a majority Muslim population.

As for food, we are taken on a whistle-stop tour through the culinary cliches of pad thai, tom yum goong and som tum, before the embassy representative scared everyone away from durian and strange northeastern food; cue a gory photo of ‘lab luad’ (minced meat in blood) and a few whelps of disgust from the audience. It reminds me of naive western horror stories about the native Vietnamese who barbarically eat dog. I am not sure who is really behind this talk, an ad agency or a mouth piece.

The talk finishes with a thank you and a photo of a young, pretty Thai woman holding an umbrella. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up your free “Amazing Thailand” goody bag on the way out.

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