Megan Ziegler, 129 TCCS
“You will not see tangible results of change within your two years of service”, we were warned during training.
“You may never see results, and that’s ok.” was good to hear in theory to prepare us for life at site, but in practice not being able to see the results of our efforts or to know if they even matter is exhausting. It’s most of the time not simply that we don’t see results or change, we are additionally often not given the appropriate time to even try to facilitate the work that we came here to do.
“You must focus on your relationships within your community if you want to be successful, you must integrate” was reiterated to us over and over and over again during training. To be successful at a normal job – you’d never think you’d have to integrate to be able to get something done. We are so used to this idea of productivity being something we can directly control.
What I’ve realized though, is that integration is important to our success because some days our relationships at site are our work. Most days there are no camps, maybe there’s not class or there’s no one to train or lesson plan with, maybe our current secondary projects are stalling – but so long as we’re still affecting the lives of those around us we’re still being productive.
This is Cream. Well, her nickname is Cream, in Thai culture nicknames are very common and often used in social settings instead of formal names. I refer to her as ‘Noong Cream’ because aside from being my student, she is also my younger host sister.
*Please keep in mind this conversation was conducted in Thai and then translated into English*
M: Where in Thailand are you from?
C: My family is from Trang, we have lived in the same village in Trang for a very long time. I think my family will stay here for a long time unless the canal is built.
M: The canal?
C: The Thai government has talked for a long time about building a trade route for boats through the south of Thailand. If it is ever funded and built, our village won’t exist anymore.
M: Have you always lived there?
C: Yes, but I do travel sometimes. Sometimes to other districts and sometimes to Phuket.
M: Who do you live with?
C: I live with my grandmother, grandfather, and my older cousin. My cousin is my Aunt’s oldest son, and I am my mother’s oldest daughter. It is normal in Thailand that the oldest grandchild or oldest child should stay with the families elders to take care of them.
M: What do your grandparents do?
C: Now they are retired. They used to work on the rubber tree farms, now they own some – sometimes they will still go out in the fields and then go and sell the rubber. My Grandfather, he does other stuff too. He is very good with mechanics – he likes to fix things.
M: What about your Mother?
C: She makes Pizza! The Pizzas are very good. If any of your friends ever go to Phuket they should try her Pizza!
M: Where does the rest of your family live?
C: My Mother lives in Phuket with my two younger brothers and my aunt lives two towns over with my younger cousin and my uncle.
M: Do they speak English or Thai with you?
C: Most of our family speaks Thai. My Mom though – she married a foreigner – so she speaks English and my younger brothers can too. When I visit they try to only speak Thai so I can understand. I think my younger brothers prefer Thai too, they know it better.
M: What do you like about school?
C: I like to come here and see my friends.
M: What do you like to study?
C: I like to study music and dance. I don’t study dance at school though, I study dance near the temple. It’s traditional Thai dance – but I want to study other kinds of dance too, something more modern.
M: What do you and your friends do for fun?
C: We like to listen to music and we like to sing. I know many American songs, I can sing all the words. I like Katy Perry. Sometimes we’ll come to the school when it’s closed and just hang out. It’s somewhere to go. Sometimes we are bored but we always have each other.
M: What do you want to be when you grow up?
C: *giggles* – I want to be a singer
M: Is it strange having a foreigner in your village?
C: Not for me, because there is one in my family. But I think for everyone else. For many of the students, you might be the first they’ve met. Sometimes people pass through here but very rarely – there’s not much here. There’s little interaction with people from other countries, little understanding. Even though we have to learn english in school, we have little exposure to it.
M: Are you nervous to start Matayom (Middle/High school) next year?
C: No, I’m excited. It means that I get to grow my hair out – because the appearance expectations are different from Pratom (Primary).
M: Will you miss Pratom school?
C: Yes. I like living so close to school.
M: Do you think next year you will keep studying English?
C: *laughs nervously* I think I’ll have to study more, I think they are supposed to learn more in Matayom.
As one of my students and part of my Thai family Noong Cream is a part of my service, a part of my integration, and therefore a part of my work here. Over the school break she would go biking and jogging with me. She would laugh when I got nervous around the dogs and taught me to bike very slowly past them so that they don’t chase me. She was my number one source of communication with my host grandmother because I only speak and understand central Thai and Yai Keed (the grandmother) spoke/understood mostly the southern dialect.
I’m not going to see tangible results within my service. I’m ok with that. Because when I look back on my 24 months I’m not going to remember my best lessons or how many hours I actually taught. I’m going to remember my students, students like Cream. I’m going to remember how she and her mother helped me integrate, and how excited she was to see me every day. I’m going to remember sitting around with her and her friends after lunch as they asked me questions about America and for new English vocab. Maybe success isn’t in the results, maybe it’s in the lives we touch.
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