My name is Antoine, I am 23, born and raised in France. I am a new on-site intern with ATMA SEVA, and this is my first contribution to the ATMA SEVA blog. I have always been very interested in Asia and South East Asia, and a single ten day trip to Indonesia two years ago was enough to have me obsessed with this region. While teaching French language for a year in Australia, I often thought about Thailand and the surrounding countries. I knew that I would find a way to go there, live there, and feel at home in one of these wonderful places. But I had to wait a full year (completing my 4th year at my university) before I could finally move to Thailand for three months. Now, even though I have only been in Thailand for two weeks, I already feel at home at Bangew in Doi Saket, where I live in a temple with ten young monks and teach English in two government schools. I am very grateful to ATMA SEVA for offering me the opportunity to turn Thailand into one of my homes, making my dream come true.
Living with monks is a truly unique experience. I used to know nothing about Buddhism, and I feel very lucky to be allowed to witness the day-to-day life of these monks, ages 18 to 27. The monks are very friendly with me, always inquiring about my well-being, coming to chat about many different topics, and involving me in all their activities when possible. Since I do not have a motorcycle yet and must still learn how to drive one, for the moment I depend on others for food. The monks are very generous and always offer to share their meals with me.
The schools’ staff are also amazingly kind. They are preparing a new room for me, I eat breakfast and lunch at the school, and they drive me to other school, Bai Mai Dang, for my afternoon classes. Teachers from Bai Mai Dang drive me back to Bangew in the evening. All the teachers are always smiling, caring and happy to help me whenever I have a question about the students and teaching.
Being educated in France, where children are not always respectful and often difficult to deal with, one of the best surprises for me about teaching in Thailand is how wonderful children are. Whenever I enter a classroom, they all stand up and join their hands in front of them to say: “Gooood mooorning teaaacher, how are you today?”. Seeing their smiles when I answer back is the best thing a teacher could wish for. During the classes Thai kids are very lively, talking to each other and sometimes moving from their seats, but when I ask for their attention they have a good capacity to focus and they repeat loudly every word that I say in English. Their ability to repeat English sentences all together gives me the feeling that they are also learning as a group, not only as individuals. When doing exercises or playing games they are always keen to help each other out. I usually encourage this behavior because the helped and the helpers both benefit from this solidarity. In a nutshell, Thai children are just amazing!
Of course, some classes can also be challenging. At Bai Mai Dang the classes are bigger and the students are more self-confident. The older and younger kids are not always easy to manage. The boys who are around 15 years old are trying to “look cool” in front of their peers, that is why they somewhat challenged my authority at the beginning of the first class. However they are actually softer and better educated than most of the French teenagers I was used to dealing with, and I quite easily managed to earn their respect. Furthermore, by making them feel that I believed in their ability to speak good English I got them to study very seriously during this class, and their energy became my strongest support to push the rest of the class forward. They are so dynamic that I really look forward to having our next class together!
Nevertheless I know that with teenagers nothing is ever won forever, that is why I decided to keep up my efforts to have a strong presence and make them feel confident about their English.
I have three other challenging classes : the youngest students of Bai Mai Dang (ages 5 to 7 years old). On Mondays, I am helped by a very nice teacher who can maintain a good discipline in the class while I teach. However in the two other classes there are more students and other teachers are busy. My first class alone with twenty-six six year olds was complete chaos, and during the second class I managed to get their attention for approximately thirty minutes. Even teaching together with Kim did not change much (Kim is also an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA). These kids are just too happy to run wild in the classroom and play, and even though I have a lot of fun watching them and trying to handle them, I need to find a way to teach them English even though I do not speak Thai. While observing the teacher who helped me with my Monday class I have learned a few songs and activities that have helped me get their attention a little longer. Now I have decided to use a trick that I have learned while working as a summer camp counselor : get them tired! That is why next week we will do gymnastics in English!
Teaching Thai children is highly gratifying. They are lovely and dynamic, and some of them even brought me presents, such as this beautiful watermelon from two sisters, both young but exemplary students. I was also lucky because there was a special event during my first week: teacher’s day. Children prepared beautiful bunches of flowers and candles and offered them to their teachers and me during a ceremony at the temple.
I am currently living a life-changing and highly positive experience, sharing my days between my classes with wonderful children and my evenings with friendly and caring Buddhist monks. I have also made a few friends in the village, who take me to local festivals and markets. I already know that I will always feel at home at Bangew and I plan to come back as often as possible to meet all my new friends. I will definitely recommend this experience to all my English speaking friends!
Don’t forget to ‘like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook to follow along for my adventures!
Antoine Gratian, on-site intern