My first four weeks in Chiang Mai

My first four weeks in Chiang Mai

I’m writing this while I sit on a sleeper train on the way to Bangkok. The sun is setting and we are passing the beautiful, remote villages of Thailand. Up until last year I hadn’t even heard of Chiang Mai. But now, as I sit here, I’m thinking back to the incredible people I have met, the stunning places I have visited and the delicious cuisine I have enjoyed during my time here.

Week 1:

We arrived on the 6th of October with a few days to spare before we embarked on our intense CELTA Course at International House Chiang Mai. Lucas and I were not the only ones with no prior teaching experience. I was apprehensive of what our students would be like and whether I’d cope with the workload. Within the first couple of days I was realising that the corporate world I come from should really consist of more personalities like our fellow trainees. A financial gain or high income didn’t seem to be at the forefront of their minds. Instead, they were so eager to learn to teach in the most efficient manner. Their ultimate goal was to pass knowledge in the most effective way possible.

By the third day on the course, I had to devise a lesson plan and teach intermediate Thai students. Upon being introduced to them, I noticed that their name tags consisted of either western names or even nouns. We were informed that the students gave themselves these nicknames in order to make it easier for us to address them. The CELTA course does involve ‘Assisted Lesson Planning’ sessions which were invaluable as I was very much in need of direction from the very skilled tutors. I had run business meetings without a worry in my mind and yet I was shaking like a leaf just before teaching my first lesson.

Having not attended university, I was starting to feel out of my comfort zone. In my career, I’ve never had to complete an assignment and had no idea what an appendix was. This made me question my own intelligence and whether I had the ability to complete this intense course. My motivation was initially my students. Their will and determination to learn the English language was second to none. Most of them were mature women and they truly impressed me. They were independent women who were aware that the English language would broaden their horizons. Some of them attended these classes after having been at work all day, yet they were still full of energy and enthusiasm to learn.

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Week 2:

Having spent most of the weekend with my head buried in my laptop with the first assignment, I had gotten used to the routine of the course. 9am breakfast, 11.30am feedback session from the previous day’s lessons, 12.30pm input session, 2pm lunch, 3pm input session, 4.45pm assisted lesson planning, 5.45pm-8.15pm lessons and 8.15pm dinner! Yes, it was as military as it sounds. Most of our evenings were spent on either lesson planning or working on our assignments, whilst longing to jump in the swimming pool by our terrace doors. I have to say that I developed a new found respect for all the teachers out there. I had never quite realised the amount of time spent on lesson planning.

By the end of the second week, I was eager to leave our studying coccoon at the weekend. On Friday I asked one of my students, Judy, if she could recommend somewhere for us to have breakfast locally. She suggested the local temple as there would be a ceremony and local food. Little did I know that the next morning was about to be a memorable moment of our trip.

Lucas, Chris and I were kindly picked up by Toy, one of the students, and we headed to the temple. After we parked we had to jump on a songthaew (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songthaew) and Lucas and Chris had to hang off the back as there wasn’t enough room for them to sit inside. This was completely acceptable in Thailand! As we reached the temple, Toy explained to us that the event is called Kathina and it recognises the end of Vassa (the three month rainy season retreat for monks).

Judy greeted us in her beautiful, cultural Thai attire and explained that all the food stalls we were surrounded by were giving out food for free as part of this Buddhist ceremony. She took us round to explain all the Thai delicacies and encouraged us to try her favourites. We were overwhelmed by the kindness of the Thai people along with their generosity and selflessness. As we were walking around, we noticed that some people were kneeling on the floor waiting for a particular monk to bless them. In the spirit of being at a temple, we joined in and knelt on the floor. With the most gracious smile, the monk caught our eyes and proceeded towards us to bless us. We were later informed by Toy that he is the most respected monk and to be blessed by him is truly lucky.

As the morning proceeded, Toy invited us to join her in offering new robes to the monks. It felt special to be in the presence of truly devoted beings who have dedicated their lives to their religion. We sat quietly whilst the prayers took place and took a moment to appreciate what we were taking part in. An hour or so later, we returned back to our studying coccoon with beautiful memories.

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Week 3:

Having taught the intermediate students for two weeks, I was now moving on to teaching elementary students as part of the course. Once again the nerves kicked in and I was apprehensive about this bunch. Interestingly, the majority reminded me of myself when I was learning a new language; teenagers who had just spent their day at school and then get brought to the language school by their parents. The main difference being the constant distraction of their mobile phones. I had to put more effort into designing interactive lessons to keep them engaged.

By this week, I was on my third assignment and I had to resubmit my second assignment. I had reached breaking point. I was struggling with a particular part and again, I was questioning myself as to why I was putting myself through this. This angered me and brought me to tears as I couldn’t comprehend why I was struggling. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just figure it out. It felt like I was banging my head against a wall. Lucas was able to calm me down. He reminded me that I can tackle this and I needed to take some time out and approach the problem from a different angle. After finally submitting both assignments, I was ready for another weekend out of the coccoon.

Thankfully, Toy and Judy invited us out on Saturday. We started the day with a buffet breakfast by the river and this time it was four of us from the school and four students. The menu consisted of noodles, curries and rice. Not your typical breakfast but it was all delicious, and definitely the best Thai green curry I’ve ever had!

We then visited a local temple before heading to Judy’s house. This was an experience in itself as she lives in a forest. She has her own lake with a boat and a hut by its edge. We spent the afternoon rowing around the lake and Judy had arranged for four masseuses to come over to give us a traditional Thai massage. I don’t think I could have hoped for a more relaxing afternoon. Later that evening we headed into the city to pay respects to the King of Thailand who passed away the previous week. We lit candles and admired how much the people of Thailand loved their King.

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Week 4:

Finally, I felt like I had overcome the toughest part of the course as I was heading into the final week. There was a light at the end of the tunnel! It was dawning on me that soon I would begin the unpredictable phase of my travelling journey. Between all of us trainees, there was a general sense of relief and we made the most of our last week. Mid-week, we attended the candle ceremony for the King. Thousands of people were present, wearing black as a sign of respect for the King. It was an interesting experience to witness everyone in solidarity for the love of the King. No one complained, everyone walked around peacefully and we were all able to make the most of the moment.

Later that week I felt more relaxed whilst planning my last two lessons and was very much looking forward to teaching the lovely elementary students. Part of me couldn’t wait for the last lesson to be over with but the other part of me was feeling sad about saying farewell to the students. I savoured every moment of my last lesson and I was also informed that I had passed the course! As with every struggle in life, at this point, all the stress seemed to have been worth it. I felt a sense of achievement and was eager to apply what I had learnt.

Over the four weeks great friendships had formed. Having shared this experience, we weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other. Collectively, 10 of us arranged to travel to Pai for a long weekend break. Once again, a place I had never heard of before.

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So, the travelling adventure was about to begin… We didn’t know where we were going to be the following week. There would be no routine. There would be no timetable. Our time will be our time.

One Response to “My first four weeks in Chiang Mai

  • Gagandeep Kang
    9 months ago

    Great story!

    Thai massage in the middle of the forest, can’t get much more spontaneous than that!

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