Reflection on my first week at ERI

A week has passed since I arrived in Chiangmai and started my internship at EarthRights International School. My experiences here have provided me a valuable opportunity to reflect on what I have learned in the Education program at Illinois Wesleyan University, especially lesson planning and teaching a group of students from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Before coming to the school, I read Pedagogy Of The Oppressed by Paulo Piere as a part of my training. The book really emphasized that the relationship between teachers and students should be reciprocal. The teachers should not only teach but also learn from the students. Since each student is different, teachers have to learn about their individuality and cultural background to connect better with students. Furthermore, especially when students are people suffering from oppression, teachers should provide a chance for the students to think for themselves and find their authentic solution to the problem. Guidance from the teachers should only be in conversational form because the students are not blank slates. They come in with different experiences and different opinions. Teachers should not be “correcting” and “dictating” how students think and see the world.  The values mentioned in Piere’s book governs how teaching and learning take place in EarthRights International School. At ERI School, the staff strives to achieve that balance between teaching and learning. Most of the staff are from the United States and speak fluent Thai, some learning from the students instead of formal learning. They know about the history of students’ countries and are aware of current issues that are threatening their countries, so they are able to take examples from several cultures and make the lesson more relevant to each student. Teachers of ERI value open dialogue with students. More than half of the lesson consists of discussion and activities that involve student contribution. Students freely express their situation at home, in their hometown, and how they feel about the issues threatening their livelihood. The teachers successfully create a safe space for all students to share and they also contribute to that conversation themselves.  Also, since students come in with varying levels of English, instructions are given in English and also their native tongue. Students are given a journal to reflect on everyday learning experience and are occasionally asked to share their writing with the class. In addition, they are given a lot of personal attention by having interns and alumni with the students the majority of the time, having conversations with students in English and helping with their reading and writing. This method of student-focused teaching is not a new concept, however, in traditional classrooms, it is still a challenge for this method to be applied. The difference is that students here are adult learners, therefore their motivation to study is much different from that of young students. The students here are motivated to do their work because they understand the need for better communication with the international audience and they want better job’s prospect. However, younger students may not be able to find the motivation to study in the same sense of necessity. Being here and witnessing how the school operates have really inspired me to ponder upon how this format of schooling can be utilized in traditional classrooms and how I can motivate younger students to actively participate in their education.

This is the first time I am involved in adult education, therefore working with EarthRights has enabled me to explore this new and exciting topic. Initially, I thought that teaching adults would be far different from teaching children. However, the students here really showed me that despite their age, everyone likes to have fun while learning. The classes always start with a game to cheer up the atmosphere and have short breaks so that students can stay focused better. Furthermore, students do not have to take a lot of notes. Most of the time, they have a discussion in a circle or play out scenarios, rather than sitting at their desks silently doing their work. They draw, sing, make charts, do presentations, and work in groups. Also, the teacher is the mood-maker, who make jokes and be humorous when appropriate and lead the class to calm down (such as let the whole class mediate) for more serious and sensitive conversations. The most important thing is to make learning seems effortless so that the students are not discouraged from going to class and participating in activities during the lessons. This should also be true for teachers and schools working with a younger audience. The goal should be for students to find the class interesting and enjoyable. Instead, the traditional classrooms are too uptight and require students to be sitting in their seats for an extended period of time. This makes the learning process less natural and more forceful, which in turns kills creativity and motivation. The atmosphere and energy that the classes in ERI School have really prove that the traditional approach to education should change, and educators, like myself, must also advocate for better educational practices and better programs to engage students in their learning process.

Although it has only been a week since I have arrived in Chiangmai, this city has welcomed me with beautiful sunshine, delicious food, and invaluable lessons on how to organize, plan, and lead better classes, as well as inspire me to reconsider the traditional way of learning. I cannot wait to start a new week with the incredible students and learn more.

Travelling to Chiang Mai

All journeys start with packing your bags and worrying about what you need versus the amount of space you have available in your suitcase. It was no difference for me since I started packing 2 days before the trip.

To give you an idea of how I packed for the trip to Chiang  Mai, I will list only the essentials that you will definitely be needing.

  1. Clothing: The temperature here is hot and very humid, therefore you do not need to pack any fall/winter clothes.
    Dress code in Thailand differs according to the situation. If you are working (for example, a school setting in my case), wear appropriate attires (no shorts, no tank tops. T-shirts and shirts should cover your shoulder. Jeans, leggings, skirts, and dresses are okay, but nothing above the knee. In more casual events, you can dress comfortably and there are no restrictions (but still, dress appropriately).
    For temples, you should dress respectfully and neatly, or else you will not be allowed in! Make sure that it is something you can be active in, because some temples are in the mountainous area.
    Shoes: expect a lot of walking, so a nice pair of sneakers would be necessary.
  2. Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses,… and an umbrella: Summer is hot and sunny, but it is also rainy. The roads can also get flooded when it rains, so wear flip flops when you think it is going to rain. (You can also purchase these when you get there, but it is good to come prepared.)
  3. Unlocked phone: Yes, do not forget that you need an unlocked phone for the SIM card to work outside of the U.S. Roaming is expensive. You can easily get a SIM card at the airport as well. I got a free tourist SIM card from TrueMove.
  4. Cash: Thai people use Baht, however, you can bring U.S dollars (or European currency) to exchange at the airport. You will feel rich instantly with thousands of bahts.
  5. Some basic Thai phrases: It is simply polite to know the basic Hello and Thank you. In Chiang Mai, especially the area around the school, few people speak English. If you want to ask for direction, at least know the name of the place, or have someone write it down for you in Thai. The signs are all in Thai, therefore it is hard to distinguish between streets.

Other things can be bought from a close-by 7 Eleven, therefore if you want to save space for gifts, it is wise to only bring what you cannot live without. Pack light but wise!

My trip to Chiang Mai was really pleasant. We flew from Hanoi to Chiang Mai in a total of 4 hours, transiting at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok. Bangkok Airways is a great airline and offers amazing services. We only flew for more than an hour, but still, we had a delicious meal on the plane! Aside from the smooth travel, two things we learned that there are two things we should be mindful about when doing custom check in Bangkok: One is that you need to fill out a declaration form that asks for your address in Thailand, so make sure to have that address handy. Another thing is that when they stamp your passport, check if they have the right page and dates to avoid complications of exceeding your visa’s allowed time.

These are some tips for travelling to Chiang Mai. Do enjoy your trip and I will be back with more about EarthRights Mekong Schools and the wonderful students that we have met here.

Thank you for reading.

What to expect?

Oh hey there! Welcome to my blog, where I will passionately and excessively rant about my upcoming trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand and my experience working with EarthRights International School. My trip is planned on June 25th, therefore until then, let’s talk about some preparation that I have been doing for this internship.

Since I will be working in an university setting, I was introduced to the training teacher and director of the program. Through exchanging emails, we got to know one another and I was assigned to watching videos on their website to know more about the work and achievements that students here are making. If you are curious about the touching stories of students’, alumni’s, and staff’s courage and relentlessness in the fight for freedom and human rights, read more at this link. What’s more, I have been reading Pedagogy for the Oppressed by Paulo Freire to get some insights on how the format of the classroom in EarthRights School will be structured. The book defines oppression and discusses how education contributes to the existing system if not practiced in a liberating, anti-oppressive way. This book has been a great read. It challenges my perception of the reality that faces education nowadays and calls for a change in how educators should teach. Nevertheless, it is not too much to say that I have learned so much even before my journey starts.

In a few days, I will be talking in more details about the packing process and my flight to Thailand. Stay tuned!

Thank you for reading.