Published: November 9th 2011October 27th 2011
The program placed me and two others at a high school in Samut Sakhon teaching conversational English. Samut Sakhon is about a 30 minute drive from the Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal. It being so close to Bangkok, I figured there would be tons to do and see. So before I left Phuket I tried to do some research on the city but could only find two things. One.. that it's a seafood industrial park and two.. people consider it to be the armpit of Thailand. Even though I am not a seafood fan and I heard rumors that it was going to smell like fish everywhere you go I was optimistic about the placement. I was determined to make it work for me.
The first few days in Samut Sakhon were really rough. We were dropped off on the side of the highway at 8 am after a twelve hour night bus journey and told "Samut Sakhon!" The bus then continued on it's way leaving Erika, Nikoo, and I standing there dumbfounded with our luggage. I should mention that Erika and Nikoo were both placed with me at my school. I was told by our correspondent with the placement company
that we were going to be dropped off next to a taxi station… there was no taxi station to be seen. Just a few stray dogs and locals speeding by in their vehicles. Hotel address in hand we flagged down a taxi. The taxi driver didn't know where the hotel was but made the effort to call the hotel to find out. We stuffed ourselves and our massive luggage load into the taxi. It was like being in a clown car. We were wide awake with anticipation of seeing our new home for the first time. We watched the city unfold before us as we drove through it's streets. There wasn't much to see but dirty buildings so I figured we were just on a main road and that there would be more to see once we explored the city some more. After a few wrong turns, the taxi driver brought us to our hotel. We were so happy to arrive and relax a bit before our 10 am appointment with Pak, our placement coordinator's assistant, and our English department director. As soon as we stepped out of the taxi I noticed a smell but figured it was just the
area our hotel was in. I can tell you now though, that smell is everywhere in Samut Sakhon and in some places harsher than others. It's a poopy kind of smell mixed with raw fish… not pleasant at all.
So back to arriving at the hotel… no one at the front desk spoke a lick of English so it took a while for us all to communicate. We arrived too early for check in so we asked if we could leave our luggage while we walked around the area. We all came to an understanding and the three of us were off to explore. Just down the street was a very cute coffee shop with free wifi. Overjoyed for the opportunity for some caffeine, internet, and A/C we hurried in. Bantoon Coffee became our safe haven for the first few days and we were always sad that they would close by 8 pm. A couple hours later we were caffeinated and finally able to check into our hotel room so we headed back just in time to settle in and then meet Pak and our English director. Pak was there to show us our school and help us find
an apartment. It was intimidating meeting the English director after such a long night. We were looking pretty rough and felt it too. She turned out to be a very nice and understanding woman. She only stuck around to show us the school though. We got a quick tour of the English teachers lounge and then were on our way to search for a place to live. This was the most frustrating experience of my life. It was no wonder why the English director opted out. We assumed that Pak (which means Vegetable in Thai) had a plan for finding an apartment. Lesson one in Thailand.. never assume things. We spent seven hours driving around Samut Sakhon looking for buildings that had a yellow sign with the words "for rent" on it. Of course, the "for rent" part is written in Thai so Nikoo, Erika, and I were pointing out any yellow sign we could spot. This was like finding a needle in a hay stack. Many apartments were full due to people fleeing the Bangkok floods. We drove around aimlessly it seemed and Pak had her "A/C" on for us but it was only blowing hot air. It was
used two baby foam mattresses to make my bed a bit softer... The mattress provided is probably just a box spring and that's what I slept on the first night.
cooler outside than in! Don't forget we just arrived Samut Sakhon on an overnight bus and were exhausted to the max. I could barely keep my eyes open past hour 4. We looked at countless places but it was just not working out for us. The apartments were just in an unlivable state. We knew that living in Thailand meant giving up on Western standards but there's a line. Finally, we found a gorgeous house that was for rent. It was two stories, had a garden, kitchen, four bedrooms, and a gate! It was by no means glamorous and was a definite fixer upper but we were in love and already daydreaming about having it as a place to come home to. There are five of us foreign English teachers that we know about in Samut Sakhon and we could have all lived there. After an hour of settling things with the owner, we found out that they wouldn't rent to us for only four months so it was back to the drawing board. We were so crushed and distraught with the entire situation. After some more aimless driving we found an apartment complex that was in our price range
in Thailand (and other places in Asia) they combine the shower and toilet facilities into one room... so the floor is almost always wet... not the best feeling
and had decent rooms. We agreed to live there and Pak took us back to our hotel. By this time it was 7 p.m. , we were exhausted and ready to pass out. The very next morning was our first day of work.
Our director told us to arrive at school at 7 am. Nervous about our first day at work, we planned to wake up at 5:30 am but the four roosters outside had another plan for us. They started cock-a-doodling at about 4 am. By day two we were ready to have us some chicken for breakfast (we decided to move the next day and found a much better apartment to call home)! Anywhoo.. We got up and ready for school and even arrived 10 minutes early. We sat in the English office for an hour before anyone came in to talk to us. Welcome to "Thai Time". Our director greeted us and then beckoned us to follow her. She took us to the morning assembly. Morning assembly starts every school day at 8 am with the director of the school drowning on about various things to the students. This is a sort of morning announcements where
View from my balcony
Won't ever use my balcony b/c 1. it's HOT! and 2. it SMELLS!
the students sit outside in neat lines listening quietly. At 8:25, the director turns to us and passed out our teaching schedules. As we glanced at them we noticed that our first class started in 5 minutes and we yet had to see our classrooms. Panic ensued us as the director then took us to our classrooms. We are conversational English teachers at this school. We each have about 22 classes a week of about 50 students in each class. That means we each see over 1000 students a week!! I still have yet to figure out how I'm supposed to teach Thai teenagers how to speak conversationally when I only see them once a week and there are 50 of them at a time. This is going to be one heck of a learning experience.
My classroom is pretty big and has A/C. I am so grateful to have A/C, or else I'd be a sweaty monster standing there in front of 50 students. Not a pretty sight. I sat and waited for my first class to arrive. Ten minutes passed and I figured the students were running late because it was the first day of school and
Found out today that my apt building is surrounded by 3 factories! There are 5,000 factories in the Samut Sakhon province... no wonder it smells...
maybe assembly ran late. Then 30 minutes passed and I still had no students in my class. Finally, a woman came into my classroom and asked "where are your students?" my reply.. "I don't know..." it seems so comical now. I still have no idea why that entire class never showed up. She laughed and told me to go ahead and go to the break room. I gladly followed her instructions. It wasn't until lunch when the director handed us our semester topic outline. So for the first week they wanted us to just fill in the class time with games and busy work. When I had my second class the students actually showed up. I spent the 50 minutes playing word race, introduce your partner, and other "fun" English warmers. The kids were hard to manage and I was pretty exhausted after the 50 minutes with them. I didn't picture my teaching experience to be anything like this. It was hard to explain the activities to the students and at times, I would just received blank looks from them. That's going to be the hardest part of this job. Figuring out each class' English level and then tailoring the
lesson plan to their levels. This means I'll be writing 22 different lesson plans a week. God help me! I admit after that hour with the students I was very overwhelmed with the entire situation. I didn't like the city and I never imagined that the classes would be like that. I pictured myself living in the rural parts of Thailand, riding a bike to school, teaching 5th graders but instead, I was placed in a seafood industrial park. There was a good portion of my day that I contemplated dropping that placement and finding a different one on my own. Rationalization kicked in and I opted to give it another try after a good night's sleep. My second day of school went much smoother. I taught 5 classes that day and could tell that with time it would get easier. That day though, I had co-teachers in my classroom to help with classroom discipline.. I ask you.. Where were they my first day?! I didn't realize that I had a co-teacher for every class. This makes it easier to manage the class but it also intimidates me because I feel like my teaching methods will be judged.
When we were leaving the school, the director stopped us to announce that the King of Thailand had declared a national 5 day holiday due to the floods. That meant school would be cancelled till Monday! We were so excited! There are other teachers who have yet to start their placements because their schools are affected by the floods. Some schools are actually under water! They were keeping refuge in Kanchanaburi while they waited to hear back about their schools. Erika and I left the next day to join them. A much needed holiday even after just two days. I felt like this was an answered prayer because we were just thrown into this crazy situation so fast that we never had the time to take a breath. In a span of three days we lived in 3 different apartments, travelled 12 hours overnight, moved to a city with absolutely no English, and started a new job.. It was overwhelming. Sadly, Nikoo found another job opportunity back in Phuket and decided to leave us. I hope that my decision to stick this placement out for the four months will pay off. I hope that this post doesn't sound whinny. I just wanted to show how I felt when I finally got thrown into teaching English in a foreign country. I learned that it's not always what you imagine it to be but I also realize you decide if it is a good or bad experience. I am determined to make this a wonderful experience and I thank God for my support system that I do have here in Samut Sakhon, together we will make it home.