By Ayesha Baker

ICL camp@RPK24 Phayao, Thailand

1-29 July 2022

"Good morning teacher" *pause* "I'm good thank you. And you?"

This was how lessons began at Rajaprajanugroh 24 School, with the children chanting rote learnt phrases at me and me laughing nervously. It took me a few days to learn the script (although they would still say they were "good thank you" even if I never asked how they were) and even longer to realize they wouldn't sit down until I told them to. One week in I got confident enough to change up the script and asked them "how are you doing" instead of "how are you" and they panicked because they thought I was asking what they were doing, and these were mat-tay-yom 6 (Year 12) students. It was quite common for the students to know specific phrases but not variations of them, so often it took me a few tries to get the phrasing they knew.

Despite this, the students were so desperate to talk to us volunteers. They would get their textbooks out and practice a single question in a group for 5 minutes before the most confident one would ask it to me. They were obsessed with perfection, I swear the main smell in the classroom was Tipp-Ex, which was particularly difficult for fast writing games. The shyness meant that a lot of times it was the few confident ones that did all the talking. A week in one of the girls told me the pra-tom (Primary) students really wanted to talk to me but did not think their English was good enough. Luckily with it being a month-long project, they had time to get to know us better and got more confident. It definitely helped a lot once I’d learnt basic Thai! While I write this I’m sitting next to Chocolate, a 7-year-old boy who’s been following me around this last week, although I think that’s more to do with my great piggyback skills than my company.

The interest I garnered was not just because of my stellar personality but also because for a lot of them we were the first farang (foreigner) they had ever seen. It was a surreal experience. I went into the local town one day and a child pointed at me from the back of a motorbike shouting “farang farang” and people would bring their children up to me in the streets so they could practice English. Overall, this attention was positive, although it was uncomfortable being praised for my pale skin (which turned red very fast).

Although a month was too short a time to be able to teach 1000 children much English, I believe we were able to motivate them to want to work harder in their studies. I saw many children reading their English textbooks during their lunch break which I am sure they weren’t doing before meeting us! As I am nearing the end of my stay here, I hope that our visit has improved their confidence, as their English is definitely better than my basic Thai.

Goodbye mozzies, hello being able to flush loo roll.