First impressions, culture shock, & teaching the novices

Hi! My name is Marcia and I am from Mexico. I am currently volunteering at Wat Doi Saket as an English Teacher with ATMA SEVA Ambassadors. I will be here for at least 4 months.

I have been here for a month already, I cannot believe how fast time flies. I arrived in Chiang Mai’s airport and Dave and Natch were there to pick me up. (Dave is the program director and Natch is the English teacher at Wat Doi Saket) Both of them have been amazing all this time. Dave has introduced me to the Thai culture teaching me something new everyday. He showed me around Doi Saket and has taken me around Chiang Mai also. I have never felt alone. He speaks quite a bit of Thai and he has been incredibly helpful, friendly, and supportive. Natch is the School’s English Teacher and in charge of the English Language department amongst many other activities in school and the Wat as well. Natch has also helped me tons! He has made me feel welcome and needed at the school. He is eager to learn more English and always has a smile on his face! He is very optimistic and loves working for the kids. He wants the students to find learning English fun and attractive and has asked me to prepare classes which involve conversation, listening, and speaking activities.

I must say that the culture shock during the first week was unexpected. Accustomed to ‘America’s luxuries’ and taken those for granted, my first glance at the bathroom threw me off… the extent of thinking that this arrangement might not work for me. Now, it all seems very nice and I feel comfortable using water instead of toilet paper!! I remember Dave mentioning how it all was a shock for him too, and now he has ‘switched to water’; I never thought I would say this but: ‘me too’! I could have switched to a nicer place with my own bathroom but I decided to stay here at the Wat and experience the culture instead of isolating myself somewhere else.

One of the hardest things has been coordinating with the meals’ schedule. Food does not stay warm long, so I have been eating cold eggs, cold rice, cold fried chicken, etc.  I have yet to eat cold soup, just can’t. When I eat cold meals, I try to feel grateful for having food on my table, unlike many other people whom might not. But I miss having a microwave!! 🙂

The food is super different compared to what I am used to. Rice is present in almost every meal, if not rice, rice noodles or rice flour snacks. They even eat it with fruits, coconut, and condensed milk. The only way I used to eat sweet rice was in rice pudding but here the possibilities are endless! Being mexican and loving spicy food has been of great help with the spicy dishes; the other day at the market I bought some chilies and the lady who sold them looked at me in a very funny/strange/surprised kind of way; I guess they are not used to seeing ‘farangs’ (foreigners) eat chilies.

One of the funniest things that happens everyday is in regard to the amazed looks and gossip that goes on every time someone sees my electric scooter. Being somewhat handicapped by Chemo induced peripheral neuropathy I travel with my scooter and use it to go places. I think seeing one for the first time causes incredible surprise and curiosity especially amongst the ones who would love to have one due to their age or disabilities. More than once Thais have approached me and began talking to me signaling the scooter, I listen to them deeply wishing I could understand what they are saying and talk to them but I just smile and say: sorry, I do not understand. One day I hope to be able to speak Thai so I can establish at least a simple conversation with them.

Learning Thai has not been easy. I have learned a few sentences but Thai language has 5 different tones to the same vowel and this is haaaaard! But I am getting there.

Teaching young Buddhist novices has been an amazing experience. They are novice monks, wear robes, and are treated with deference but they are still kids nonetheless. A regular teaching schedule has not been able to be set up due to all the holidays but hopefully in January things will get back to a somewhat normal schedule.

We have reorganized the English classroom and it looks cozier and inviting. Dave got a few boards and we covered one of the walls in hopes to fill it with student’s work. I am looking forward to more teaching. I will also be working on an English Curriculum for the volunteers in the future.

Sa wa dee ka!

Marcia Somellera


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