August 12, 2016

Once again living the (evolving) dream

When I set out to be a language teacher living abroad, I had some pretty grand ideas about what it would be like--exotic locations, strange fruits, some fame (though not much fortune). Throughout my master’s program, I developed what I thought were some impressive academic credentials in methodology, assessment, curriculum design, and even sociolinguistics. The professors told us that one day we’d probably be asked to give some workshops to train other teachers, local teachers.

Last night, pausing to savor the cool evening air, I stood barefoot on a bamboo bridge in the middle of Lake Phayao. The lake water lapped between the bamboo, gently wetting my feet with lukewarm water. The sun had set behind green hills far in the distance, casting a periwinkle glow in the sky and on the water. The bridge from the shore to the mid-lake island temple was lit by small white lights, a beautifully festive scene all around. Lilypads dotted the water nearer to the shore and light Thai music floated on the air from a nearby exercise court. I had to stop and try to absorb the incredible atmosphere that seemed to be straight out of my grand ideas of what teaching abroad would be like. I was, once again, living the dream.

I managed to ignore my preoccupation that I’d either contract a horrible parasite through some imperceptible opening in my foot, or that I’d flat out step on a nail on the delightfully ramshackle bridge. I had taken off my nearly brand new athletic shoes to prevent them from getting soaked by the murky lake water. The trade off of nail stepping for preserving new shoes seems pretty silly, but feeling the bamboo creak under my bare feet added to my experience, so the risk was tolerable.
The view from the bridge
Teachers from Phayao and Phrae

On the tiny island, subtle lights illuminated a tree covered in strips of orange cloth, each symbolizing the wish of someone who had tied it on. Some people knelt to pray nearby, while others reached for their selfie sticks to snap some photos overlooking the lake. The sound of a delicate gong divided moments between people’s prayers and others’ selfies. Children dropped coins into an old canoe filled with water and floating flower candles. High school students wandered onto the island clad in their uniforms with the unattractive shoes. Women in sparkling sandals had made the trip across the bridge unscathed. Men, ever protective of new sneakers, appeared from the bridge like me, barefoot and carrying their footwear.

Lacing my shoes back up after returning to dry land, I contemplated the choices I had made to get myself to this very interesting place in time. I also wondered where I could get some ice cream, or maybe some more of that sour mango with sugar and chili (strange fruit is everywhere here).

Although the bridge event in itself was worth the trip to Phayao, in the past three days, I can say that I got to live another one of my dreams. A doctoral candidate where I teach asked me to be a teacher trainer as part of her dissertation research. My task was to deliver a 12.5-hour workshop on pragmatics over the course of three days. I traveled with her to Phayao, Thailand to give the workshop at the university there. I instructed the teachers about some nuances of English use regarding speech acts such as compliments, refusals, and criticisms. We watched movie clips and did activities to practice what they were learning. It was intensely academic and a bit of a stretch for me, as I have been out of school for a few years. However, it was also very intellectually stimulating and invigorating for me. Teaching other teachers means that I can potentially impact hundreds of students' education. I hope that something I mentioned at the workshop helps a student somewhere down the line.

The teacher-trainer lifestyle has seemed very appealing for a long time because it includes the pleasant parts of teaching (e.g., motivated students and reward of students’ progress) without the drain (e.g., grading). Maybe it's worth investigating how I can do more cool stuff like this!

Teacher by day, bridge-goer by night. Seems like a good lifestyle to me.