Living in Surat and Housing

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  • First Impressions by Jessica Gallant 2010

    I came into this experience knowing that I had to give everything I was going to encounter a fair chance. I knew I had to have an open mind, and never forget that although the Thai way of life may be foreign to me, I am the foreigner here. I am the weird, different, unusual one, and it is I who has to adapt. I am so happy that I fully embraced this mindset, because I think that it has made my acclimation a lot easier. So far it may sound as though this wonderful frame of mind is the sole thing that has caused my first couple of weeks to be a success. This is far from the truth. I would not be where I am in this adventure if it were not for the kindness, friendship, and help of many people from Super English and people of Surat.

    I have only been in Surat Thani for 38 days now, so I am still slowly reforming and shedding first impressions. I can’t believe it has only been 38 days! It feels like a lot longer than that. I don’t mean that to sound negative at all, because it is not. It’s just that going through so much change in such a short period of time can really make you feel like you’ve lived a lifetime. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to run a range of emotions, being that in the past few weeks I have moved to a new country, got new roommates, and started a new job. It’s a lot to process.

    When I first got off the plane I was surprised. My plane was the only one on the runway; the only one in the entire Surat Thani airport. That was a first for me. I got off of the plane and Peter was waiting for me. I was so relieved; not only was he an American who spoke English, but he was as cool and nice in person as he was via the internet. We walked out of the airport and the heat hit me. I had read about, had been told about it, but you don’t really have any idea until you’ve been in it. It reminded me of a heat wave in Philly, but it was just a normal day. Then we got in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side, and everyone was driving on the left side of the road. The ride from the airport to Surat Thani was unreal. I saw what looked like the jungle in every movie ever made about the Vietnam War. I saw countless motorbikes with little kids squished in the front not wearing helmets. I saw ramshackle stands by the side of the road selling everything you could ever want. Peter then brought me to my new house, and he brought me and my new roommates out to eat. The first impression that I love the most was that of the town itself. That night my roommates and I decided to take a tuk tuk into town and see what it was like. We flagged one down and the driver had the cutest puppy in the tuk tuk with him! He let us hold the puppy for the entire ride, and dropped us off near Coliseum. I had no idea what Coliseum was at the time, but this quasi-mall has become an important landmark in my navigation of Surat. We wandered around looking for the night market and happened upon a huge Buddhist temple observing the Vegetarian Festival. We looked in and were immediately invited inside by the elders. They showed us how to properly light and place incense around the monument and tables, and then invited us to eat for free! They gave us many delicious curries and other vegetable dishes, and plenty of rice. One of the elder women sat down at the table with us and ate. We could not speak the same language, but there was a beautiful understanding that made me feel really welcome. It was the perfect first night here in Surat Thani.

    When we first got to Super English for our training, my immediate thought was just, wow! It is a beautiful building. It is very nice on the inside, and it is huge! I was a little surprised, actually, at how nice it really is. I was also really happy to find that it is fully air-conditioned and has internet access. I was in heaven. The classrooms were all well equipped,of comfortable size, and my room for the little kids is just adorable. The training was really very informative. Peter is an excellent teacher, and he was able to give us some tips on teaching in Thailand. He especially helped me in preparing for my level 3A class at Super English; a class made up of 3-6 year olds who know very little English. This was an intimidating undertaking for me, as I had just come off teaching four years of high school in the United States. It took a little bit for me to get out of the history teacher to high school seniors mode and into the preschool mentality. Peter was really helpful in this, because he is really good at it. He had to tell me more than once to relax, to be goofy, and to just have fun. After I stopped worrying so much about being serious and producing perfect little speakers of English, things got a lot easier for me.

    My first impression of the students at Super English was “Oh my goodness they are too adorable!” which they are. There is something about 3-6 year old Thai kids that is just too damn cute for words. They are generally really happy, excited, and easily entertained. Classes are fun, and the students seem to really enjoy themselves. As a teacher it is fun because they actually want to be there, which was not always my experience teaching high school in the United States. It is also really challenging, since a three year old can’t even understand mewhen I say “Please sit down”, but it makes it all that more rewarding in the end.

    At first I was totally overwhelmed, but luckily this impression has faded away. There is just so much energy in a room full of 3-6 year old kids, and trying to channel that energy can be extra difficult when we cannot understand each other. But things have been much easier lately. After I built a rapport with my students, they began to really open up to me. Even if we cannot have a long, in-depth conversation, I feel as if I know them pretty well at this point. Every afternoon when I walk into the lobby to gather up my kids to go upstairs to class I have such a blast. They hug me and bring me donuts and run toy cars over my feet.  Although fifteen students feels like a million at times, it is really such a wonderfully small number. I can actually have (limited) conversations with each of them individually, which is something that is an impossibility at the Thai schools. I can assess each of their strengths and weaknesses and really try to help them with what they need most, which is really every teacher’s dream.

    I think that overall my first impressions hold true to the reputation that Thailand has as being the Land of Smiles. Almost every person I have encountered has been so genuinely kind to me. People are not only nice, but really willing to help out in any circumstances that they are able to help out in. I have had Thai people take me to the beach, give me rides home, help clean up my yard, and invite me out for dinner. There is so much warmth and hospitality that it is not hard to feel comfortable right away. In addition to the kindness of the Thai people here, the expat community, and the Super English family in particular, has made the adjustment period so much fun. Other teachers are really eager to show us new things, take us places, and just hang out in general. They are also incredibly helpful in helping us to develop as teachers. I have had no moments of despair as of yet, because there is always someone right there to catch me if I fall.