I am now on week three of the new semester. So far we’ve been off to a great start! I feel like I’m able to accomplish a lot more in my classes now that I’ve gone through an entire semester, having a better understanding of the Thai school system and know the students better. I’ve been trying to do more interactive activities with the students to encourage them to practice speaking English. One fun project we just did is called “Global Art Project” with an organization called “One World Classroom” in Massachusetts, USA. Students from all over the world create artwork to represent different aspects of their culture and then send them to One World Classroom. The organization then redistributes the pictures and sends some back to your school from all over the world. I thought this would be a nice way to get the students to think creatively and learn more about geography while practicing English.
My 8th grade class was in the middle of a chapter on adjectives, so it worked perfectly for this project. Each student made a drawing that reflects parts of Thai culture they think are important to the country, or to themselves personally. Afterward we practiced making sentences using the adjectives we learned to describe the pictures. The students seemed to have a lot of fun doing this project-and I learned a lot from it too! I was able to see Thai culture through their eyes; to see what they think are the most important parts of their own culture. Living in a different country so many things seem different and stick out, it is often overwhelming. It was interesting to see how my students view their own culture instead of the view of a foreigner looking in.
There were a number of themes students chose to include in their drawings. Many people included monks, specifically meditating or waking by collecting food in their alms bowls. Buddhism is a part of everyday life in Thailand, so it is no surprise that this is an important part of the students’ lives. A lot of students drew rice fields. This surprised me at first, because here in Chumphon there are not nearly as many rice fields as central Thailand. In Suphanburi, where I did my Peace Corps training, rice fields spanned as far as the eye could see. It seemed like every family had at least one person that worked in the rice fields. But here in Chumphon rubber trees and palm oil are the largest natural resources, yet everyone drew rice fields. After thinking about it though, it makes sense. Food is a huge part of the culture here, and rice is by far the most important. It is eaten with every meal. If you ask someone if they have eaten yet, you ask “Gin-kao leeo ru yang?” literally meaning “Have you eaten rice yet?” When talking about eating the word rice is usually attached to the word eat. Furthermore, as of lately there has been a lot of controversy over the rice pledging scheme, so this popular topic is frequently a topic of discussion on the nightly news. It is no wonder that the students consider rice to be a central part of their culture. Some other popular topics were Thai dance, depictions of traditional Thai houses made of wood, and the festival Loy Graton that Thailand just celebrated.
It was also interesting to notice what the students did not chose to include in their drawings, possibly because to them these things seem natural and it never occurred to them that to other cultures they are unique. Nobody drew the Thai way of eating a meal, which to me is very different from the culture in the USA. In Thailand, everyone has their own plate of rice and spoon small portions of the different dishes onto their plate as they eat. You sit on the floor with your legs crossed, and usually use a Chinese soup spoon to eat the rice. Some other things that in my eyes are distinctively Thai are the King, Scout Day (when teachers and students alike come to school in full scout uniforms), Thai clothing like the sarong-like skirt called a “paa-tung” that women wear, Karaoke, the Thai New Year festival called Songkran, and Muay Thai. To an average Thai student these things probably seem normal, a part of everyday life. To me, someone who thought Thais ate every meal with chopsticks and admits embarrassingly that I don’t think I even knew Thailand had a king before learning I would be living here, they stick out.
Next month we will hopefully receive art work from other schools around the world. I’m interested to hear what my students see when looking at another culture as the outsider!