Linda Smittle, 128 TCCS
Hot. Cold. We started with easy words.
Fat. Thin. We added adjectives to describe objects.
Happy. Sad. We used facial expressions and body language to understand emotions.
Fast. Slow. After moving quickly or slowly, the students listened to the story of The Tortoise and the Hare.
Up. Down. We walked to the stairs. Students gave and followed directions. Go up three steps. Go down two steps. Bonus: Go to the top. Go to the bottom.
Open. Close. We practiced the action commands using nearby objects. Close your eyes. Open your mouth. Close your hands. Open your book. Close the door. Open the window.
As the students learned pairs of opposites, I considered how the pairs represent my Peace Corps service in Thailand.
Hot / Cold: With temperatures in the 90s-100s and humidity in the 80s and 90s, I feel very hot most of the time. I sweat from places I didn’t know had sweat glands. When temperatures drop to the 70s, students wear jackets to school. The seven times I’ve felt cold in the past eighteen months, I wore long-sleeve shirts, drank more hot tea, and heated water for my bucket bath.
Fat / Thin: I feel enormous when I hold up a pair of 5X slacks at a local market and realize the waist might fit around my thighs. Luckily, it’s not because my weight has increased to 150 kilograms (330 pounds). It’s because sizes marked in Thai clothing reflect the average Thai body rather than the average American body. I feel thin when I put on clothes from America that fit a bit looser than they did when I arrived in the Land of Smiles – even if the extra space is only because the elastic has stretched.
Happy / Sad: I’m happy (delighted or thrilled might be better adjectives) to be going back to America in seven months to reconnect with family and friends. When I think of leaving my friends and surrogate family in Thailand, I feel very sad. The goodbyes in Thailand and the hellos in America will be bitter-sweet.
Fast / Slow: Because the sense of time is different for Thais and Americans, the concept of speed (fast/slow) is also different. Punctuality is not seen as a virtue in Thailand. A meeting’s start is delayed until the most important person arrives. Classes scheduled to start on the half hour may start at 35 or 40 of 50 minutes after the hour. If I’m slow getting ready in the morning and notice it’s time to be at school instead of time to be brushing my teeth, I feel no obligation to hurry (as long as I can suppress my White Rabbit “I’m late. I’m late – for a very important date” mentality.) I don’t slow down, but I don’t worry about going warp speed. It’s acceptable – maybe even expected – to show up at school 5-20 minutes after the suggested 7:30 teacher arrival time.
Up / Down: The students learned about the physical distinction or relative location for up and down. PCVs around the world experience emotional highs and lows. I’m “up” when students remember what we’ve taught or excitedly greet me at the market with a “Hello, Teacher Linda!” and then respond to my “How are you?” with an appropriate “I’m hungry.” or “I’m great.” I’m “down” when classes are cancelled at the last minute or I’m trying to teach and students bounce around the room paying attention to anything and everything except the strange-sounding English words coming from my mouth.
Open / Close: I focus on being open to new experiences, accepting, respecting and adapting to a different culture. It’s easy to keep my eyes open – watching and observing. It’s sometimes more challenging to keep my heart open – looking for the reason for unexpected (but culturally appropriate behaviors. And when I need some alone time to process my experiences, I go home and close my curtains and door. I sit quietly, close my eyes, rest, and recharge.
Hot. Cold. Fat. Thin. Happy. Sad. Fast. Slow. Up. Down. Open. Close.
Almost all the students know these pairs of opposites in English. And I have memorized most of the Thai words for the pairs. The students point to an unhappy or crying face and say, “sad” in English. After a fun weekend exploring Thailand with the teachers, I tell the principal, “I’m very happy.” in both English and Thai.
Our challenge will be to use the opposite pairs – and all the other words, grammar, and sentence structures we’re learning – frequently. Then the new vocabulary will become part of our readily-accessible word-bank instead of just memorized sounds.