Final words

So, my internship in Chiang Mai, Thailand has officially come to an end. I felt both rejoice because my internship ended well with great memories, but also with regrets that I had so much more to offer and to learn from the students.

From this internship, I learned a golden rule to make this experience the best one that you can ever have: To take initiative! So here are some tips for the incoming interns for ERS.

First, when staying in a foreign country, it is hard to fit in and get accustomed to the food, climate, and culture change. However, knowing that you are on a greater mission to integrate into the culture and build friendships with local people, you can gain so much more by being open and receptive to changes. Take the first bite of that strange dish on the table with curiosity and appreciation. Open a conversation with someone you do not know. Be patient with someone who is trying to make a conversation with you and help them out if they need it! There are so many ways to be actively involved in making yourself more acquainted to your new home. Furthermore, having new friends will make your time here more enjoyable and fast-fleeting.

Second, as an ERS internship, you will need to develop good teaching skills and work ethics. Since you will be teaching adult ESL learners, be mindful of their backgrounds, English levels, interests, work, and motivation. These will provide you with plenty of information to build your lessons around. One useful method for getting to know the students is to shadow them in the classroom. When you are shadowing a student, you will learn their habits, their preferred place to sit in the class, the rate to which they raise their hand in class, how motivated to learn the materials they are, and eventually, how to improve their learning experience in your classroom. After that, the curriculum should be customized according to your students’ liking. I knew that my students had more interest in playing fun games and learning conversational English than formal English writing through getting to know them and asking about their needs. As a result, I was able to create a classroom that would attract the students’ interests and fit their levels. It is a good practice to shadow your students and know them well.

Third, since you will only spend a short time working with the students at ERS, you would want to help build autonomous learners, not learners that would depend on you for every assignment that they write. In order to accomplish that, you should find resources online and share with the students for them to study on their own. Give them simple homework to prepare individually or with a friend. Teach them skills so that they can search on Google for the information they need. It is important that they learn the skills necessary to be successful independently. As a teacher, do not presume that they already have the most basic skills to work in English. I have encountered countless times when students came to me with technical problems, problems with not knowing how to look for a word’s past tense, and problems with expressing their ideas into a complete English sentence. Then, how they can search for the information is crucial to their learning. If you teach them to follow you once, they will only know that one instance. Instead, if you teach them how to solve their problems, they will never have to ask again!

Lastly, enjoy yourself! Do not be intimidated by the amount of work that you have to do, or that you have never worked with an adult learner before. It will all boil down to how much you can adapt and learn from your students. Therefore, make your number one priority when arriving at ERS having as much fun as you can with the students. Then, you will naturally know your way around with the students. Also, making the classroom a fun, inviting, and safe place is extremely important to create a good learning environment. Include games that you enjoy playing like Taboo, Speak with your body, Role-play, or songs and movie clips into the classroom. You will have so much fun watching the students figure out the games and competing against each other. In addition, they are great conversational practices for the students without feeling like a ton of work!

I am sure that my experience is unique to me as others’ is unique to them. However, these general tips will provide new interns an idea of how to manage their time as well as some strategies to use inside and outside the classroom. I hope that this internship will be continued and more people will learn about the Southeast Asia region and fall in love with its beauty and its people as I did.

 

 

 

“Younger teacher, where are you going?”

At ERS, I am the second youngest (after my fellow intern here), but also a “teacher” to the students. Therefore, they came up with this nickname for me. Every time I arrive at the school, I hear not my name being called, but “younger teacher”. It made me feel loved as a younger sister to all of the students, but also respected for my work here as an ESL supporter. Although it can seem funny to other cultures, Asian cultures have high respect for teachers, therefore, despite my young age, the students are still very polite and attentive to my sharings and opinions. Having received so much love and learned so much from the students, I could not imagine my daily life without them, that soon I will not be attending classes with them, eating with them, going out every weekend with them, and organizing English classes for them. Although the interns have one more week left at the school, all students are going on a field trip to Myanmar to learn about a development project’s impact on communities for a week. This makes it impossible for me to spend time with the students before I leave for home. With my heavy heart, I think back to all our memories together, as well as what I have learned through the course of 6 weeks in EarthRights School.

Having the opportunity to sit inside the classroom and record lesson plans, I learned so much from the teachers as well as the students of ERS. The way information is delivered in ERS is unique and student-centered, unlike in most of the traditional classroom that I have been a part of. The teachers design various activities for students to participate during class time, and students are expected to come up with questions or comments after every class. Truly, I have always automatically put down reflection or recap session for every lesson plan. This method is great because it prompts the students to form authentic opinions and to frequently voice those ideas. As lawyers, NGO workers, and community leaders, these skills are imperative for their lines of work and professional development. Furthermore, initially, some students had difficulties overcoming the habits of staying passive and quiet in class. This was evident because, during group presentations, a minority of students would always be the representative of the groups while others stayed on the sideline. However, after 6 weeks, I can clearly see the changes in the students. Most of them are now used to activities such as sharing experiences and feelings in a closed circle, therefore are much more likely to share. Some students have really opened up to the class and become a lot livelier and more articulate compared to when I first met them. Apart from the training that students received from ERS teachers, students are able to improve so much thanks to the warm and welcoming learning community that the school has successfully fostered. Even though students were from various walks of life, the school tries to provide equal opportunity for all students, such as giving students computer lessons on how to effectively use the Internet for research and how to protect their identities online for people who are not familiar with using computers. Also, the school has spare laptops for students to use if they do not have one. In addition, everyone shares a living space together and quickly develops friendships. On top of that, they have only one option, English, to communicate with their new friends. Interestingly, some researchers suggest that there is less emotional resonance when using a foreign language, therefore, students felt more comfortable sharing their private emotions and opinions using English rather than their native tongue (Reference), which relates to the positive change in the students. All these factors contribute to the success of ERS, producing such outstanding students, as well as activists and leaders.

Although my goal for the future is not to become a teacher, working with ERS allowed me to discover my strengths and weaknesses as an ESL teacher and an educator, as well as develop valuable teaching strategies. Before I started organizing English classes, I had little experience in teaching adult learners and teaching ESL. Maybe I taught my mother a few English words in the past, but that could not possibly fill in the huge gap of expertise. However, I was still up for the challenge. For the first time, I had an opportunity to design my lesson plans and led my class. I was so excited and ready to experiment with new teaching methods. While planning my first lesson, I was ambitious and put down a lot of activities for the students without realizing that I needed to take into account the different level of English and learning speed of each student. What’s more, my nervousness made me speak at lightning speed, so it was hard for the students to follow at times. However, I keep all the feedbacks from students in mind to refine my lesson plans for next classes. One strategy I found really helpful was to employ group work in the classes. Students were put into pairs, small groups, or big groups, depending on the activity, to maximize their learning capacities and create a positive learning environment. Since I have strong interpersonal skills, it helped that I know the students well on a personal level, and I could match not only their level of English but also their personality traits so that the students could learn from each other. Also, the students’ native languages were utilized to help them understand abstract concepts. In other words, it was hard for students who knew less vocabulary to understand difficult, abstract concepts, even if the explanation in English was simplified. Therefore, with the help of a partner, students would not need to clutch to a dictionary and could orient their attention more towards what they understood. On the other hand, giving students individual attention is also necessary to motivate students to participate. In addition to group work, there should be parts in which students are thinking independently, at least before coming back as a group. This is important in terms of developing autonomous learner. Therefore, in order to achieve a balance in the lesson plans, I included activities that required individual work, such as writing down ideas before sharing aloud with the group, or games that required students to participate as an individual while belonging to a team. This prevents students from relying on only one person in their teams. Some other strategies I have discovered through the help of my supervisors and have successfully implemented are using multimedia in the classroom, acknowledging and fostering different types of learners in the classroom, and focusing on making meaningful conversations instead of accuracy. What I have learned through preparing lesson plans and performing the role of an ESL teacher is that the teacher has to be flexible. They need to adapt to different needs of the students and incorporate different methods to create a fun, captivating, and meaningful lesson that is worth students’ attention. Even though I have a tact for teaching, I still find myself struggling to bring life into the classroom and truly help the students reach their full potential. It will always be a challenge, but I love everything about it.

Referring back to the title of today’s blog, I wish to explain the question “where are you going?” This question is frequently asked by students who see me leaving my usual spot in the school. However, to me, it holds a special meaning. To me, the question begs for my future plans and where I am headed in terms of career. It is obvious that I am pursuing an occupation in education, but I am also interested in psychology and the human mind. I am trying to make ends meet by looking for a crossover in these two fields. This internship is a decisive experience for me because of the confirmation that I find happiness and fulfillment in working with students. Also, it opens up a new opportunity to work with adult learners. It is still too soon to answer the question “where are you going?”, but thanks to this internship, I am one step closer to the answer.

 

 

 

Ban Tha Ta Fang and its raw beauty

Recently, I got back from a four-day trip to Ban Tha Ta Fang, near the Salween River with my students at ERS. There are so many stories to tell and so many memories I cherish with the students! Before I embarked on this trip, I was a bit nervous and afraid because I heard that the village did not have electricity or clean water, not to mention mobile reception! However, bravely took the challenge of not having contact with the online world for 4 days, I received the best reward of friendship and nature’s beauty. The area belongs to a national park, therefore the forests are protected by local people as well as the government. It was so beautiful and breathtaking for me to see the rawness of nature after such a long time living in the city. The hills and mountains were all covered in an emerald shade and the atmosphere was pure and cool. The Salween River, near the Tha Ta Fang village, is the soul of life for people. It flows freely, carrying the natural fertilizing minerals on its path, and helps grow organic rice. People farmed, fished, and made a living while lived in harmony with nature. I got to see and hear how people of the village did low-land and high-land farming, as well as how they became independent and self-reliance by sustaining their food and water sources. Those stories really changed my mind about way of life in such a remote area. People here were not uneducated and foolish. They had a rich local knowledge and could survive without support from the government. The locals protected their culture and their lands for more than a hundred years. Most importantly, they fought for their rights and their livelihood every day to keep their traditions and way of life. The trip made me understand and respect a different lifestyle than that of my own. I also realized how much fun I could have without the presence of my phone!

Here are some of the pictures I took during the trip so you can experience to some extent the beauty of Tha Ta Fang village.

 

What can you do in three weeks?

This question was on my mind when I realized that I have completed half of my internship. At this point, I have familiarized myself with the students and the school. I no longer feel the nervousness and uncertainty if I am doing well while working on assignments. Although I am still lacking in my skills, helping the students with their English and receiving feedbacks have fostered my confidence and composure. Sadly, as I gain self-assurance, my time at ERI School is running out. Including last week, I will have three more weeks with the students, because they will spend one week on a trip to Myanmar while I stay behind working on a project for the school. I pondered upon what more I could do for the students during my limited time here. Therefore, recently, I have started a series of English night classes with another intern at the school and we had our first two classes last week. I received a go-ahead from the field supervisor after some training and we quickly prepared a lesson plan for the students.

During my time at Wesleyan, I have some experiences preparing informal lesson plans since I had to mentor an elementary student as a part of my course work. However, it was my first time teaching adult ESL learners and I had little idea what I should be preparing for. Luckily, my site supervisor and faculty supervisor provided me with various resources and got me started with some examples I could include in my lesson plans. Furthermore, I found inspirations from the courses I took at IWU. I took classes in the Education department where being a culturally relevant teacher were emphasized, so the experience assisted me in finding ways to integrate my students’ cultures into the classroom. In addition, I took a class on Language, Communication, and Culture last semester, which reinforced my knowledge about the elements of a language and how fluency in a language is acquired. With all the assistance and inspiration that I received, my lesson plans comprised mainly of games and fun activities in which students could work together because meaningful communication among a learning community is crucial to learning a new language. Furthermore, I used multimedia to stimulate students’ mind because each student has a preferred way of learning which enables them to get information faster ( a reference to Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner). It was amazing to witness theories learned in school to be applied to a practical situation. As an aspiring educator, I cherish these experiences because they work to solidify my foundation to become better and more conscious of my practices.

As far as the experience went, standing in front of a body of students and pouring my heart out to share the little that I know in the vast universe of the unknown was an unforgettable experience. Although my goal is not to become a teacher, I respect the profession and the people who work hard to spark a love for knowledge in students. Even though the class was optional, I had a good turnout when 15 out of 16 students came to class ready to learn, their eyes sparkled excitement. It became an honor as well as a burden shared between us two interns to meet that expectation. However, students were engaged in the activities and enjoyed the class despite it ending an hour later than expected. I received compliments on how well the class was structured and that it was easy to understand for the students. Also, I got great feedbacks on ways in which I could improve my class such as encouraging students to speak up and paying more attention to the slower students in the class. Another great advice I received was that I was speaking too fast even with an adjusted speed: “Even if you think your food is not that spicy, I can still taste the spiciness.” I realized that I should be more considerate to the students’ need and make more accommodations for them to make their learning experience more meaningful and pleasant.

Having taught two English classes at ERI school, I have accumulated some skills in both lesson planning and teaching ESL. These skills will come in handy once I develop my career as an educator in the future and help me assess my skills and practices. I am hopeful for the few coming classes remained to be the better than the last two as I work on the pieces of advice given and come up with new ideas to make the English class more stimulating and engrossing to the students.

 

Sawatdikha, pom cheu Linh ka.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.”
– Nelson Mandela.
You may be wondering what my title means, or you have guessed it. Having stayed in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 3 weeks, I have picked up some basic Thai phrases from my dear Thai friends in the school. The phrase in the title means “Hello, my name is Linh”. “Raa khaa tao rai?” means “How much is this?”.”Khop khun ka”, “Khot thot ka”, and “May pan lai ka” are “Thank you”, “Sorry”, and “No problem/You are welcome.” Of course, this will not qualify me to say that I can speak Thai, but if you can ask a shop owner for an item’s price and say “Thank you” in Thai, that shop owner is much more likely to give you a discount on your purchase. Also, learning a new language can give you insights about the culture as well. If you look closely at the sentences in Thai that I have listed above, you will notice that at the end of every sentence I added “ka.” In Thai, men say “krap” at the end of their sentences to show respect, while women add “ka.” These are called ending particles. These make Thai unique from English and Vietnamese and carries a cultural significance in their functions. Furthermore, people can use these ending particles alone to display agreement. Interestingly, when talking to children, usually mothers can change “ka” to “krap” for their sons to easily follow and imitate.

On the topic of language and culture, I noticed one thing about myself recently when I switch from English to Vietnamese when talking to the two Vietnamese students at the school. Many Asian cultures value age and experience as deserving respect while Western cultures do not emphasize on such a value. Therefore, when speaking with others in English, I feel more equal and open to express my opinion without being afraid that I would make mistakes not being polite enough to people older and more experienced than I am. For example, all of the students at the school are adults who are working in NGOs or are lawyers, teachers in their communities so I am much younger than them. However, as their English mentor, I am paid more respect than a young person like me would normally be receiving in Asian countries as conservative as Thailand and Vietnam. They jokingly address me as “younger teacher” and always say “Thank you, teacher” after I helped them with their homework or essays. Because of how we communicate, I do not feel the age difference when talking to the students. However, with the two Vietnamese students, since the first day, I had asked for their ages and determine which pronounce to use (in Vietnamese, there are pronouns to indicate if you are older or younger) and which ending particle to add as to appear polite and well-mannered. I am always aware that I am much younger and have to be as polite to them as I can, even when I am closer to them than other students in the school. Funnily, since I have to go back and forth between English and Vietnamese sometimes, I get age-indicating pronouns confused and get teased by the Vietnamese students a lot.

What I find most amazing about the students here is that all of them speaks more than 2 languages. Most of them speak three languages: their ethnics’ language, their country’s official language, and English. I know 2 Laos students who speak five: their ethnic group’s language, Lao language, Thai, Vietnamese, and English. Living near the borders made learning different languages an essential skill for trade. In this sense, I am already lagging behind because I only speak 2 languages fluently. Although they did not learn languages in a structured way, they are great at picking up new vocabularies and expressions. On top of that, it is their eagerness and enthusiasm that help with learning these languages faster and enable them to learn so many. Concerning English, the students do not have perfect sentence structures and perfect grammar, however, they can communicate decently and reveals their quick wittedness. For example, during a sharing exercise, the students were talking about events that formed their identity so it was very personal and touching. Then, one student said: “I have never felt my heart go disco like this in my entire life!” While “my heart go disco” is not a correct expression, we could still understand clearly what the student wanted to convey. It also created laughter around the classroom and lifted everyone’s mood. That saying also caught on like fire in the classroom. As the English mentor for the students, I could fix that expression for the students. However, in doing that, I might discourage students from compositing authentic and unique sentences and may cause them to be afraid of making mistakes. In my opinion, the students already have the necessary skills to effectively learn many different languages and can produce meaningful sentences in English, therefore my job is only to remind them of the rules in an appropriate setting (e.g. in the English class or when doing one-on-one mentoring), not to be an “English police”. This is something that I make effort to keep in mind while working with students. Furthermore, having studied English for more than 10 years, I envy the students for their ability to be creative with the language to express their ideas, which is important especially in making connections with others through communicating. Once I have mastered a large portion of the language, I became a robot that produces fixed expressions that I have heard from teachers, friends, songs, and TV shows. I no longer can use English as a tool as freely as my students do. Upon reflection, I am inspired to learn from my students, from their sense of humor and their love for knowledge, to persist on improving my own English skills.

Theatre of the Oppressed: what I learned from this educational method and my students

Last Wednesday, there was a big change in the curriculum for the students. Instead of having a class with the regular teachers, we welcomed six new guest speakers. They were all alumni of EarthRights School and came from different countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Despite the fact that students thought the alumni were there to share their experiences with EarthRights School, the guest speakers came a long way not as visiting alumni but as “Jokers” and wanted to introduce a popular educational movement that incorporates arts and activism to the students. It is Forum Theatre, one of the methods of Theatre of the Oppressed, developed by Augusto Boal – a Brazillian theater director, writer, and politician. Interestingly, he was also influenced by Paulo Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed which I read as part of my training before arriving at the school.

What makes Forum Theatre special, inviting, and different from Traditional Theatre lies with the audience. In Traditional Theatre, the audience is “Spectators”, which means that they passively watch, listen, and feel without leaving their seats. The audience is separated from the play and bears no weight on what happens in the play. However, when it comes to Forum Theatre, the audience gets a chance to be the main character who experienced oppression and gives a go at changing the despairing situation for that character. After being shown the whole play up until the climax of conflict, the audience can see the play again. At any point, they can stop the performance to replace one character and make an effort to transform the situation in their unique way. This was Boal’s attempt to reform the traditional ways of theatre and put the audience into the performance. This way, the audience has a chance to reflect on the situation presented by the play as well as the actions that can be taken to solve the problem. Going back to Freire, this method also supports having dialogues and teaching with the oppressed, not for the oppressed.

During the workshops, students familiarized themselves with this method through a series of games and discussions about what Forum Theatre signified and how students could convey a message through their plays. The games were cleverly developed to hide their intention of training the students to express themselves more through actions and emotions instead of words. The students were unconsciously learning a great amount while having fun! Furthermore, the discussions about Forum Theatre really opened up a space to investigate what problems the communities in the Mekong region are facing. An activity that I really liked from the workshop was when the students got into groups and did a brief research on the land-grabbing issue in their home countries. While learning about Social Context and its importance in Forum Theatre, students looked into online newspapers in their language and wrote down the headlines and main points of the articles that they found. With that data, the students came up with still images to illustrate the information that they had gathered from the articles. This exercise highlighted students’ ability to critically reflect on issues in their home countries and turn that into theatre. Another activity that I found helpful for students to learn about the dramaturgy of Forum Theatre was when each student paired up with a classmates and tried different ways to put weight onto the other person (for example: using hands to push, holding hands and pulling each other, having their backs together and sitting down). In normal games, you would imagine the goal in a game such as this would be to knock your partner down. However, in this activity, the students were instructed to depend on their partners and not to use too much strength when pushing or pulling. They needed to find a balance between themselves and the one working with them. This was to demonstrate role-playing as a protagonist and antagonist in a Forum Theatre’s play. You are not trying to win, you are trying to have a dialogue and explore the topic with your audience. Therefore, as the Jokers described, “if your partner is strong, you should be weak; if your partner is speaking, you should be quiet and listening. Then, everyone will have a chance to express themselves clearly. This is the intention of Forum Theatre”.

As an intern responsible for helping students at EarthRights School with ESL, I was more interested in what aspects of this workshop assisted students in learning to converse and developing their English skills. First of all, I noticed that the facilitators did their best to help students with new concepts introduced. Since students have varying level of English competency, the Jokers were always willing to repeat something twice, even three times in English, then have someone translate in the students’ native languages so that everyone could really absorb the materials. It was evident that when the facilitators did not show any frustration and annoyance while explaining abstract concepts, the students were also more willing to listen and pick up words that they could understand. Second, since the students were asked to prepare lines in English for a play, they challenged themselves with something they have never accomplished before and had to experiment with coming up with full English sentences to describe a theme or feeling. I even witnessed one student, while playing table tennis, was practising his lines out loud over and over again so he would not forget. Once he had memorized his lines, he said that he felt a great sense of achievement that he had never felt before during his time learning English. For an ESL student, a proud moment like this may be exciting for them and can become a great motivation to continue learning. Third, and most important, I saw an application of “Whole-language learning” strategies in the workshop. According to David Schwarzer, whole-language learning consists of “all language skills…, class participants learn about the cultures of their peers and their communities, social rules are openly discussed, and class activities incorporate the students’ knowledge and talents”. Schwarzer emphasizes on seeing ESL learners as individuals with individual styles, strengths, and interests; therefore, ESL teaching must also take these differences into consideration and bring them into the lessons. During the workshop, students could freely discuss their ideas and felt comfortable suggesting new details that could be added into their plays. Furthermore, the plays reflected a profound problem in the students’ communities. Students had seen land being taken away from indigenous people who lived their whole lives there and felt the desperate need to protect the land and livelihood of their people. All their experiences and emotions were captured and understood by the facilitators and well-developed into a play about the students, about people of the Mekong region. As a result, the images that students created, the lines that they rehearsed, the discussions that they had all held a great meaning to them. This allowed the students to be authentic and passionate when learning to speak up about their real problems. Also, it was helpful for students to learn new vocabulary related to land laws, human rights, and campaigning because these topics relate to their profession and interest in real life. Last, having this opportunity to work closely with each other in a play had enabled the students to make connections with one another and trust one another more than before. This has created the learning community that is welcoming and caring to the students’ needs and challenges.

Today was the day of the performance. Watching their final product being shown, performed all in English, and showered with applause, I felt proud and confident in the students that they would make even more impressive improvements in the future with the help of their peers and the companion of EarthRights Schools.

My first two weeks #throwback

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Just a few thoughts:

These photos are from my weekends’ visits to Wat Phra That Doi Su Thep which is a sacred place for Thai people to come and pray, and Tha Phae Gate which was the gate surrounding the old capital city of “Lanna Thai”. I was fascinated with the architectures as well as the cultural piece while visiting these places.

I really enjoyed going out with new friends from EarthRights International Mekong School. A lot of them spoke fluent Thai because their hometowns are at the border between two countries, therefore sightseeing or going shopping with them was easy and pleasant. Especially while shopping, Thai people like to negotiate the price a bit because it makes the transaction satisfying for both parties. I found this difficult for Westerners because it is not a culture they are used to having. Even for me, after studying in the U.S for two years, I felt slightly uncomfortable to do so. However, with my friends’ help, I was able to gather more courage and try this strategy. It was a lot of fun! If you do not know any Thai, do not fret because people in the city center knew English and could assist you with anything.

Another aspect of Chiang Mai that I drew my attention from the trips was the traffic. As a Hanoian (how people from Hanoi, Vietnam call themselves), I have all kinds of experiences with bad traffic. We have cars, motorbikes, and buses running 24/7 on the streets of Hanoi and it could be dangerous if you do not know the underlying rules to getting around in Hanoi. Coming to Chiang Mai, I thought that I would escape that craziness and stuffiness for a while. Only if I knew I could be so wrong. Chiang Mai’s traffic works in an absolute contradiction to the traffic I know in Hanoi. People drive on the left side instead of the right. There are more cars than motorbikes and there are hardly any buses around. For public transportations, they have red trucks called “Songthaew”, which are shared taxis and can hold up to 10 people. One of my students wittily described these trucks as “the owners of the road because they can pull up anywhere on the road to pick up customers”. As a result, you need to be extremely careful walking around the streets because there are almost no sidewalks. While crossing the streets, wait for all vehicles to stop before you cross. Do not look for signal lights because you will never really see them. Nevertheless, I do not think my escape from the city life was that successful.