Sleepy eyed and sore after a 13-hour rollercoaster bus ride up and down, and all around the mountainside, myself and my fellow teacher Kelly finally arrived in the cute little town of Chai Prakan in Northern Chiang Mai. After jumping off the bus with our backpacks in tow, we looked around thinking, “what the heck do we do now?”. That’s when a man with a grin the size of Texas walks up to us and hands us his cellphone. “Teachas?”, he says in a thick Thai accent. We take the phone, and to our surprise it’s our school director Watsa, saying to go with the random man who will take us to our school in his pickup truck. Now if I were to be anywhere but Thailand, I would probably be terrified to get into a random man’s vehicle. But in we jumped, anxious to get to our new home and meet our new friends and students.
I kid you not, the mountains are the most jaw-dropping landscape I have ever seen in my life. I still find myself with my mouth open in awe every time I see them. Our little village, Banmai, is in the very middle of the surrounding mountains, like a little crevasse. Everywhere you look is green, green, and even more green. The temperature is always hot, and though we sweat like ice cream on a sweltering summer’s day, the warmth of the sun always makes me feel happy and full of life.
Watsa, a kind selfless man, was there to greet us in front of our new home, full of smiles. We have the cutest little house, which includes two bathrooms (and hot water), a small kitchen with a fridge, hotplate, kettle, and microwave, two bedrooms with AC (bonus!!!) and our own little zen-den for our morning meditation and yoga. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, it’s my first ever house I’ve lived in on my own and to think it’s in Thailand? Such a cool thing to experience!
We spent our first day in the village meeting our other fellow English teachers, Kayla and Shannon, and walking around to meet our new students. I was told I would be teaching 1 grade one class, 4 grade two classes, and 4 grade three classes (9 different groups of students – roughly 230 kids). I would see each class twice a week, 2 hours in total.
I got to admit, I was stressed as heck in my first week of school (understandably so). Here I was in a brand-new environment, with brand new faces and no curriculum to follow. We were told to teach whatever would be beneficial to our students (who were in the process of learning not only English, but Thai and Mandarin as well – most of our population is Chinese). It was a whirlwind of emotions, but now looking back at how I felt a month ago, I laugh. We’re a month in and I feel like I’m at home (Google maps even pins my location as “home”).
Now, I wake up every morning ready to start the day and see my kiddies. Meditation and headstands have become part of the daily routine, then I gather my teaching bag and laptop and head to class. Morning assembly outside starts at 8am where all the students and teachers gather on the basketball court for prayer and announcements. There’s even a little band of students with their instruments who play the national anthem, banging their drums and fluting their flutes.
I’m always greeted by smiles, high-five’s and hugs. I feel somewhat like a celebrity here. We are the only 4 foreign teachers in the village, so we do get some weird looks but always ending with a smile – they’re not wrong when people tell you Thailand is “the land of smiles”. All my students are so respectful and are so eager to learn, as soon as I walk into the classroom I’m greeted by excited screams, “teachaaaaa”. They all stand up to greet me, and we end each class with me going up to every student for a high-5 and “good job!”. I can’t express the immense love I feel from all the kids, it’s such an amazing feeling knowing that I am being a positive adult figure in their life and helping them learn English. I try my best to make the classroom time fun and educational, full of videos and games. I’ve gotten into the habit that if they listen during our lesson time, I will put on uplifting music while they do their work – win/win because I love listening to music too!
I feel like I’ve become a part of the community and that Banmai has become my home. Our house is right on the school property with the volleyball, basketball court and soccer field right outside our doors. Every evening, locals gather to play outside, and we are always invited to join in. I feel very fortunate to be placed in such a small, tight knit area. Everyone knows everyone, and they are all so welcoming.
Our little motorbike is perfect for getting to and from the town, which hosts my favorite coffee shop Poppey’s and a 7-eleven (got to have my ham and cheese toasties). Our closest mall is 3 hours away, and there are no clubs in our area. But that just makes it all the better and traveling is very easy to do on the weekends. Living the authentic Thai culture, experiencing the food inside our neighbor’s homes, going to daily markets to get fresh fruits and vegetables, and befriending all the stray dogs (of course, we’ve named every single one).
Only a month in, and I feel like I’ve been here forever. I can’t wait to experience the rest of this journey and to share it among my friends and family. It’s a life changing adventure, and I feel so appreciative of everything I’ve come to learn and will learn in the future. I recommend to anyone who feels stuck in life and needs a change, to travel to a new foreign place for a few months and fully immerse themselves into their culture. I honestly think this is the best decision I have ever made, and I have zero regrets doing so. I feel that travel is the best thing to do, and I will forever make travel a large part of my life. To new journeys, beginnings, and happiness.
Happy travels to all!!