February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Kate Curlis, Group 111, Life in the "Large Pool of Dust"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Kate Curlis, Group 111, Life in the "Large Pool of Dust"

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 6:33 pm: Edit Post

Kate Curlis, Group 111, Life in the "Large Pool of Dust"

Kate Curlis, Group 111, Life in the "Large Pool of Dust"

Kate Curlis, Group 111, Life in the "Large Pool of Dust"

For the past two years I have been living in a small town in the province of Mahasarakham, Eastern Thailand a.k.a. "Essan". Originally assigned to the Office of Primary Education, I began working in a few village schools and getting acquainted with the eastern dialect, culture, students, teachers, teaching techniques, and overall education structure. There were many lessons to learn; from how to understand the nuances of indirect communication, to what a school principal's goals for a village school are, to how to read the karaoke screen fast enough in order to sing along, to how to say in Thai, "I don't want any raw meat for lunch today, thank you."

After spending time in Essan and getting more comfortable with all the adjustments (but never, ever, the free-range chickens), I visited a village called Ban Nnong Pong: the "Large Pool of Dust" village, in English. The students, teachers, principal and even the janitor made me feel welcome. The English teacher at the school used "student centered" learning techniques and seemed keen on improving her English, so we began co-teaching together. The principal, one of only two female principals in a 31-school structure, was open to new ideas about education. They helped me with my Thai, I helped them with their English and teaching techniques, and we slowly developed a friendship of mutual respect.

After some time, we began talking about needs assessment at school. What the teachers considered important and what I deemed important weren't always the same thing, but we continued our discussions nonetheless. The old cultural concept of form versus function became the usual range of these conversation: while I, the Westerner, was more concerned with improving the function of the school, the Thai teachers were more concerned with improving the way the school looked. But we both had the welfare of the school in mind.
Although I continued to do projects at other schools, the large part of my work occurred at the Nong Pong School. Together, we wrote grants to build a chemical-free vegetable garden and a project to improve the school's fishpond. Both projects were aimed at enhancing the school lunch program. The 6th grade students, English teacher, and I created a World Map for the school and wrote, directed and performed an English school play. We had a "learning styles" teacher training. We explored ecology topics and made recycled paper. Throughout this time, I stayed in the village at the health station (along with a teacher, her husband, their baby and various students) in an effort at getting to know the community more immediately.
During this period, I started to understand more of what work as a foreign volunteer entailed. Western educational models aren't always culturally appropriate, but the perspective and support that a foreign volunteer can give to a Thai teacher is positive. Relationships with Thai teachers, principals, students and villagers became the most important part of my work, as I found meaningful development occurred on a one-on-one level. And so my work became a sort of "teaching through example" initiative; when working, I made sure to show up on time, teach in ways that involved students of all learning styles, and generally create an atmosphere that made learning fun.

And while I look back at my work these past 2 years and see what I could have done differently then with the insight I have now, I am patient. Two of the three goals of Peace Corps are in regard to cultural exchange, and after the events of September 11th, those goals are clearly quite important. Working and living with the wonderful people of Nong Pong village has broadened my imagination and lengthened my perspective, and I intend to apply this education toward doing my part in creating a better American society.

Kate Curlis, Group 111

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; PCVs in the Field - Thailand



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