For the English teaching placement we were placed in a small town called MoungChoum, 20 minutes from Fang. It was here that we moved into our own Thai house. The house which was located only a 5 minute bicycle ride from school had all the modern features that you would expect from a Thai house – a squat toilet and a cold shower. To begin with it was an experience, but we soon got use to it. Looking back at our time teaching, staying in MoungChoum was probably one of the best decisions we made. We became totally immersed in village life from being invited around people's homes to being known by all the villagers.
Our first week in MoungChoum involved us cleaning the house with the help of Jildou and her friend Rosalie. It took one long day to clean everything and move into the house, but it was also a time when we met many of the villagers. The arrival of Farang (Foreigners) created quite a stir in the village and it was nice to meet so many of them. Khum PC, an old lady offered to do our washing – a favour she must have regretted by the end! But joking aside, she was so kind and friendly that it was easy to fit in. Arriving at one of only two restaurants on the first we met our friend Khum Bock, the village spokesman, who helped us when we did not know what to eat. To our surprise, the restaurant only had two dishes either pork and dried blood, or pork and dried blood (but cooked). The latter option quickly seemed more appealing. Being invited to Khum Bock's home was another one of those unexpected things that happened in the first week.
I did not know what to expect from the teaching – would I be able to cope, would the language barrier be a problem, would it be an enjoyable experience? The first week at MoungChoum school completely put me at ease. The invitation to visit a nearby National Park from Khum Pwe offered a unique experience of school life. Khum Pwe, an inspiring woman who spoke very good English and was also our link was there to help us if we ever had problems. We arrived at the National Park to be confronted with hundreds of young boys and girls in scout uniform. The schools in the local area had congregated in this National Park as part of a two day camp. Scouts is not separate to school like in most western countries, all the leaders were teachers. As soon as we got there we were thrown into singing and dancing with the leaders, which proved to be hilarious. Two farangs making idiots of themselves in front of school students had many laughing and the girls screaming excitingly as they do in Thailand.
The Thai people were very hospitable towards us. We met a great friend – a director of a local school who invited us to have lunch with him and his teachers. We ended up eating soup which contained hard-boiled eggs and fish stomach and we also had a spicy salad. The variety of Thai dishes ranged from salads, to green curries cooked using bamboo, all of which were delicious. After lunch, we jumped at the chance to take part in some scouting activities such as rope walks across lakes, zip wires and team activities. Our attempt at walking on bamboo over a lake provided much entertainment to the scouts with some of them rolling around in fits of laughter. Later in the day we were encouraged by the teachers to play the drums while the scouts sung and danced. The scout camp showed how friendly, kind and generous the Thai people were.
Within the first week of living in our house, the pump attached to our well stopped working. As a result, we had no water for showers or the squat toilet and had to result to other ways of having a shower. This involved filing up a large container of water for showers from across the road using the towns water supply. However, in Jamie's quest to show his manly strength he ended up breaking the water pipe as he removed the hose pipe. Water started pouring everywhere and within the space of a couple of minutes the neighbours were outside. Although we felt awful at breaking the main pipe of the town's water supply, the villages were reassuringly calm. Passing villagers on motorbikes and bicycles stopped to have a look and talk to us in Thai to which we nodded and smiled, not understanding what they were saying. However, the villagers soon turned the supply off and fixed the pipe with a smile and reassurances that no damage had been done. Looking back they probably thought 'Stupid Farang.'
Teaching at MoungChoum School in the first week involved getting to know the teachers and students. Arriving on our bicycles we were greeted with 'Hello' from the students, all eager eyed and excited at seeing farang. Some of the younger students were admittedly shy but still shouting 'Farang!Farang!' With us armed with our teaching timetable, we were ready to be let loose on unsuspecting students. The first week of lessons centred on introductions both for us and the students in order to gain a better understanding of the tasks ahead. We were able to formulate lesson plans accordingly in response to their levels of English. One of things that I remember of the first week was how polite and respectful the students were. At the beginning of the lessons, they would recite at once “Good Morning Teacher, how are you?” followed at the end of the lesson with 'Thank you teacher, see you next week.” The lessons were rewarding and it was obvious that the students wanted to learn.
Our timetable included a variety of classes that ranged from grades 1 to 8 and a number of P.E lessons. It was really good to be able to do sport with the children and teach a variety of grades and classes. Playing football with grade 8 boys definitely taught us a lesson, while playing volleyball with the girls certainly improved our volleyball skills. It also offered us an opportunity to get to know the students and I really felt that even by the end of the first week we had bonded well with the teachers and students.
Although I have only described the first week in MoungChoum, I hope it shows you how varied and unexpected life in MoungChoum can be. Even in the first week, I felt at ease and at home. The teachers and the villagers were welcoming, as shown by Khum Tik unexpectedly bringing us KFC to our home in the evening. It would not be until we were due to leave that I would hear how worried some of the teachers were in meeting us. Nevertheless, they came across friendly and it wasn't long until we were laughing and joking with the teachers. One thing that stayed with me from the start was what one teacher had said: 'The teachers at MoungChoum are like family' and you really do feel that. If you are thinking of coming to MoungChoum to teach English or just help Blood Foundation, I would have no qualms in recommending the school and the village to you. Although this was only a snap shot of the first week and many great things happened after it, I would not hesitate to say that MoungChoum was one of the best experiences of my life.