:McGarry Lily Frances
British Volunteer in MLTV2201-4 Intercultural and Language (ICL)- RPK24 Phayao Thailand 1-29 July

It may sound cliché but when I arrived at the Rajapranugroh 24 school I really had no idea what to expect. The four weeks I have spent here have been truly incredible. 

We arrived late on a Friday night and spent two hours driving through the rain into the jungle of Phayao. The next morning’s jet lag was quickly forgotten as we saw the school and the beautiful surrounding mountains for the first time. On our walk to breakfast we met lots of smiley students, some tiny ones, only 6 years old, some older ones only a couple of years younger than me. We were greeted with “Sawadee kraps and kas” and little shy giggles. After our first tasty Thai dinner getting involved with volleyball and football down at the school’s huge playing field seemed like a good way to break the ice. I exchanged names with more students than names I can remember and felt immediately welcomed into the school community.

Reflecting on my time at the school, I have so many great things to take away but I will try to describe a few of the highlights for me.

Firstly, I found watching the children gain confidence in their English speaking ability very rewarding. During the first week conversation was limited to greetings - perhaps due to fear of mispronunciation - but by the end of week 2 new students were approaching us with new questions and before long we were getting to know their favourite colours, films, animals and sports. This was partly due to some of our teaching but predominantly due to their own hard work and dictionary scrawling outside of lessons. I hope that during my short time as a teacher and a friend to the students I encouraged them to enjoy the English learning process. 

Secondly, the skills that the students and teachers have shared with us outside of English lessons allowed us to really embrace Thai culture. RPK 24 offered activities such as Thai traditional dance classes, handicraft, cooking and music. My personal favourite was joining a cookery class where we made rice paper rolls filled with vegetables grown in the school farm. Once they were ready we walked round the school selling the rolls to students and teachers. I was useless at the bamboo and art crafts but it was great fun to learn skills that have been forgotten in my own country.

In addition to the normal daily timetable the we were lucky that the project coincided with Big Buddha holiday so we could join in with the march and temple ceremonies and also be taken on a day trip to Phayao where we partnered with a student to be our tour guide. The students taught me more about Buddhist religion and I felt very privileged to join their traditions. On big Buddha day we walked behind RPKs incredible marching band to a local temple where we listened to prayers led by a monk and watched the students perform a traditional Thai dance. The following day we piled into the back of truck and headed to Phayao lake via a series of temples. My guide “Im” told me about the ancient temples and then we shared one of her favourite local dishes “Khao Soi”.

On top of my unforgettable experiences with the students and teachers I also loved getting to know my fellow volunteers and group leader better. We were all thrown into a new situation together ,whether that was avoiding lizards in the toilet or teaching a lesson in front of thirty students for the first time. I am so happy to have shared such an amazing experience with a lovely bunch of positive people. There were definitely times where the language barrier proved a challenge but we worked together to overcome this in lessons, turning to google translate or some questionable miming. We also got the chance to explore Chiangrai and Chiangmai as well as the local street food places at the weekends. On top teaching, I feel like I have had the most exciting and enriching time in Northern Thailand possible. 

As our bonds with the students grew we spent the evenings dancing and laughing with them and they shared their own stories with us. They have undergone struggles that I have no experience of but remain overwhelmingly generous and caring. I have never met kinder people than those at the school.

I feel so fortunate to have been involved in this project. I sincerely hope that the students continue their enthusiasm for English after we have left. Finally, I will really miss all of the students, teachers and volunteers I have spent the month with. Saying goodbye was really tough but I can only be very grateful for the memories. I have made friends for life and hope that I will cross paths with both the students and teachers in the future. I really had the best month of my life on this project.