Every month, Fulbridge interviews an ETA from around the world to get a glimpse of what life is like in different placements. This month, Rebecca Brower, 2015-2018 ETA in South Korea, talked with Sara Guido, a 2016-2017 ETA in Thailand.
1. Why did you choose Thailand?
First and foremost, I wanted a warm country with an expansive culture that I had never experienced before. This is my first time in Thailand, and in Asia in general, and it has been the most incredible and rewarding experience. I had heard and read many wonderful things about Thailand, but reality was tenfold better than I originally anticipated. I am so happy I chose Thailand, and every time I leave Thailand to travel, I miss it and can’t wait to come back!
2. What part of Thailand do you live in, and what school do you teach at?
I teach at Ban Bowin school in Chonburi province, which is in Central Thailand. The school has Anuban (Kindergarten) through Mattayom 3 students (9th grade).
3. Since every country ETA program has different requirements, what all does your grant entail?
Fulbright Thailand begins with a one-month orientation that takes place in Bangkok for all 22 ETAs. This is a wonderful month to give insight to the culture, give advice on teaching English, and allow the ETAs to get to know each other. After that, we head to our schools for a four-month semester with one mid-semester regional meeting that falls on Thanksgiving. After our first semester teaching, we volunteer for a five-week internship with an organization of our choice before having a four-week summer break for travel. We have one more mid-term meeting held in Bangkok with all 22 ETAs before heading back to our schools for our second semester of teaching. The Fulbright Thailand ETA program does not give the option to renew for a second year, so after our second semester of teaching, all 22 ETAs get to meet our successors before heading back to the United States.
4. What does a normal weekday look like for you?
I get driven to school by a colleague around 7:30 am everyday and come home at about 5 pm. On a normal day, I teach between 3 and 6 classes. On my free periods, I lesson plan, correct student work, tutor students, or walk around school and hang out with students who have free periods. Many times, we will play card games, listen to music, or I join them in jump rope or other various activities that they take part in.
5. If you have, how have you gotten more involved with the school outside of the classroom? What are some of your activities outside of school and in the community?
I teach an English/Music club on Tuesday afternoons with Mattayom 1 students (7th grade). There are about 20 students in the club, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to get to know my students in a smaller setting than my usual 40+ student classes. Additionally, I tutor students in speaking for speech competitions and morning assembly “English Talks,” which is a wonderful opportunity to give specific feedback on things that they need more practice with.
6. What have been some challenges?
The biggest challenge for me is not speaking fluent Thai. I can speak conversational Thai, which allows me to have basic conversations, ask for directions, order food, etc. However, being the only native English speaker in my town, it causes some issues when giving directions to students or trying to explain something that isn’t in my Thai vocabulary.
7. What have been some highlights?
The highlight of my year is my students! Their sweet smiling faces ever cease to make me happy. I also love Thai holidays; I celebrated Loy Krathong in November with a teacher and friend in Pattaya, Songkran (Thai New Year) in Chiang Mai over the summer holiday with many ETA friends, and Wai Kru day (Teacher’s Day) at school, and it has been so fun getting to take part in these amazing holidays and have an authentic experience with these holidays. Finally, I LOVE Thai food, so getting to eat it every day has been so wonderful!
8. What was your best lesson plan?
One of my best lesson plans was a weather unit I did early on my first semester teaching. I had my teams in all of my Mattayom (secondary) classes pick a US city and they did research on the weather, tourist activities, and food that is famous to that city and did a mock news report. I absolutely loved how seriously the students took it and they found out so much information so quickly! They were very excited and after that unit, I felt that they were more open to asking me questions and researching information rather than copying what others were writing (which can be a problem at my school when something isn’t considered a “test.”)
9. Describe your placement city.
My placement city is described as “semi-urban.” Bowin is a newly industrialized city that has many factories and young engineers who have moved here for work. I believe I am the only native English speaker in my town.
10. What will you miss the most?
Without a doubt, I will miss my students the most. I teach 800 students every week and their smiles are the thing I look forward to on Mondays. They show me kindness, understanding, and compassion in a way I never thought possible for children their ages. They are some of the most intelligent and joyful people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
11. Why should prospective grantees apply to Thailand?
Thailand’s culture is unlike any culture I’ve ever been in before. Thai people are so warm and caring and always want to make sure you are happy, healthy, and most importantly, full!
12. Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience as a Fulbright ETA in Thailand?
I studied Education at university, but this year has allowed me to grow so much as a teacher and a person. It helped me truly appreciate the little things and let go of things that would normally have stressed me out. I am so thankful for all of my friendships I have made with my fellow teachers, my students, the other ETAs, and neighbors that I have had the opportunity of getting to know. To me, Thailand is one of the happiest places in the world and I feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to spend time here!
Sara Guido is from Long Island, New York. She graduated from the University of Miami in 2016 with a B.S. in Elementary and Secondary education, and minors in Spanish, Italian, and Dance. After Fulbright, she plans on pursuing her master’s degree and teaching in the United States.