17 January, 2017

Dance with Teacher Sara, the cha-cha in Si Racha

Sara Guido is from Long Island, New York. She graduated from the University of Miami in 2016 with a B.S. in Elementary and Secondary education, and minors in Spanish, Italian, and Dance. She is a 2016-17 Fulbright-AMCHAM ETA at Ban Bowin School in Chonburi province. When she is not teaching, Sara enjoys scuba diving, trying different Thai foods, practicing yoga, and exploring her province as well as other cities in Thailand. After Fulbright, she plans on pursuing her master’s degree and teaching in the United States. 

“Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.” ~Martha Graham

I grew up in a house full of music. While never a musical prodigy myself, my father is a musician and I always associated music with happiness. When going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, people often tell you that a smile represents a universal language. However, many people don't realize that music and dance can also be shared and understood as universal communication. In the past four months, I have found that Thailand is full of music and dancing. If anyone wants to disagree with me, they clearly have never been to a Thai party!

Selfie with Mattayom 2

My school hosted a party for the associate director who was transferring to another school. At this party, we celebrated by dining, giving gifts, and relaxing. It seemed as though it was like any going away party would be in the United States, with one exception. As soon as the party started, so did the karaoke. While I’m not a huge singer myself, I watched as my teachers belted out popular Thai songs and owned the stage. After declining several requests to sing any song I wanted, I watched as some of the teachers supported each other by going up to the stage to be back-up dancers for the teachers who were singing. I went up and danced to Isan music that I had never heard before and had a blast. It was so much fun getting to know teachers from other departments, which may have never happened if it weren’t for dance.

I am grateful for the chance to teach 800 beautiful students ages 8-15. They are enthusiastic, intelligent, artistic, spunky, and most of all, loving. Teaching these students makes me a happier person every day. Teaching this wide span of grade levels in the same semester is a challenge, but one that I am fortunate to be able to undertake. I am able to sing songs and play games with my prathom 2 (2nd grade) students, while I’m able to have discussions with my mattayom 3 students (9th grade) students about their goals and what they want to do when they finish school. Each grade presents me with new challenges, yet gives me very rewarding experiences. These students make me smile and laugh, teach me Thai, and remind me what it feels like to be a kid again.

Prathom 6 students holding up the "U" for the University of Miami

At my time at the University of Miami, I took a course with the amazing Professor Kaminsky, which was titled, “Teaching Dance to Children.” When filling out my Fulbright application, I wrote that I would love to involve my community and students in dance. Everyone loves to dance, though everyone may not admit it. “I can’t dance” is something you will hear at every middle school dance, but it’s not true. Everyone can dance, and everyone should!

Prathom 3 preparing for the Christmas Celebration

Tuesday afternoons are my favorite at Ban Bowin. The last period of the day is a “club” period and I get to lead dance club, also known as “hip hop” club, with 20 prathom (primary) students. It was started the year before I arrived at school, and the students were thrilled when I decided to continue it. We meet for 50 minutes and practice for events, such as the Christmas celebration. We make music videos, or simply have a dance party to enjoy the afternoon. While this time is about dancing, it is also about relaxing and having fun. I get to interact with my students in a totally different way than I would be able to in a traditional classroom setting. We compare artists (Justin Bieber always wins, with the students’ favorite song, “Baby”), take selfies, and I am able to get to know their individual personalities in a way that simply cannot happen when you have 45 students learning in a classroom. We also are able to learn new words that we wouldn’t in class. I’ve learned words in Thai and taught my students words in English related to music and dance, and I love the way we are able to communicate with our combination of English and Thai.

I was so proud watching my students perform for my school’s Christmas celebration. They all took the time to coordinate by wearing all black, wearing matching hats, and even put on some makeup so that they would look like performers. They truly shined on the stage. My students may not be learning traditional dance, ballet, tap, modern, etc. They are learning important life skills: how to be a part of a team, how to help each other and be kind, and most importantly, how to have fun and be themselves.

Dance Club after their Christmas Performance

One of my favorite memories so far this school year is Scout Camp. For those who don’t know, Scout Camp is when the high school boy and girl scouts go to an army base and learn valuable skills from the local military such as how to cook food and hike. It is a wonderful, unique, and fun learning experience for these students. They are very interested in learning outside of the classroom, thus enhancing their learning experience. On the last night of Scout Camp, there was a celebration for the students to congratulate them on what they had learned by throwing a dance party. I had so much fun listening to the music and dancing with my students. They even taught me a little bit of the Thai traditional dance hand movements. With my students becoming the teacher, I am able to understand their thought processes and how they learn. I have found this exchange of information between myself and my students, through both language comprehension and dance, to be a useful tool in recognizing the best teaching methods to use in the classroom setting.

Selfie with Mattayom 3 students at Scout Camp

I am here in Thailand to teach the English language and American culture. However, my ultimate goal at the end of this year is not to have my students fluent in English (while that would be pretty great!). Instead, my goal at the end of this year is to make learning English fun. I want my students to know that they are loved, supported, and that they each have a bright future ahead of them. I want them to discover what they want out of this world, and strive to realize their dreams. I want my students to embrace the learning of new information and languages in the same way they enjoy music and dancing, and to understand that there is happiness in every minute and every day.

“I do not teach children, I give them joy.” ~ Isadora Duncan

05 January, 2017

It’s the Little Things


Linda Mathew is a 2016-17 Fulbright-AMCHAM English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at Rajapracha Nukroh 8 School in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. She is from Long Island, New York. She graduated with her BA in Elementary Education and Psychology and later completed her Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). When she's not lesson planning, she enjoys trying out new food and exploring her town. After her time as a Fulbright ETA, Linda plans on teaching English in New York, or wherever her wanderlust takes her. She hopes to one day write children's literature to promote understanding of educational systems from around the world.

It’s the little things.

I sit here with the rain drumming outside my window, tired from all the brainstorming I’ve done for my upcoming lessons. The past few weeks have definitely been tough ones. I have made many accomplishments that have me beaming with pride, but to another extreme,I have also found myself questioning my abilities, giving into frustration and feeling like a failure. I think this is the most relevant description I can give when it comes to putting my feelings into words.

Being a Fulbright ETA requires us not only to teach, but to be cultural ambassadors. With my teaching background, it’s sometimes difficult not to be so hard on myself about the educational aspect when the cultural educational aspect is important too.

There are days where I feel so defeated that I can’t comprehend what I am doing wrong. During my self-reflection process, I had to define what it meant to be a failure. After taking time to dissect what was dictating my emotions, I realized that it was things that I had no control over that were bringing me down! I realized that harboring negative energy was not very culturally parallel and that by focusing on the little things, I would find myself in a better place. After all, the big picture is made up of all the little things! I had to embrace the sabai sabai* lifestyle a little more and let go of wanting to control everything. The sabai sabai lifestyle is similar to having a “go with the flow” attitude. This cultural norm that I am trying to adopt into my lifestyle has drastically improved the way I see and approach my ability to teach and interact with my community.

I would often find myself feeling defeated when after spending hours on a lesson, a student could (maybe) say one vocabulary word. Full of defeat and frustration, I would trudge on with the lesson, doubting whether I was even making an impact. Then one day, I was calling out names via name tags (for attendance), when a student beside me said, “Teacher, Aartip, ::cough:: sick.” It was exactly the way I taught them feelings and in the most appropriate context. It may not have been all 28 of my students, but it meant the world to me.

My school's field trip

It’s the little things.

“Good morning teacher,” followed by Anubahn (kindergarten) students running with open arms ready to clasp themselves around me. When I’m free, I try to teach the kindergarteners a song or two. Whether it’s teaching them the “English” version of “If you’re happy and you know it,” or animals with “Old MacDonald,” their enthusiasm is what energizes me! After naptime, I walk to one of the kindergarten rooms as the children wake up from their slumber. Once the teacher says, “get ready for songs with Teacher Linda,” the children bounce up to wash their faces and line up to sing with me. Even the students from the other classes run in to join the party! Feeling this kind of love while singing the simplest of songs is hard to beat.

It’s the little things.

Anubahn Love

Being a part of my community has been something I’ve been so excited to do. With my limited Thai, I was told to introduce myself to the whole school during Parent Teacher Day. Nervous, I found my way to the microphone to fumble out the Thai I had been practicing over and over again since I stepped off the plane to Nakhon Si Thammarat. “Sawatdeeka! Chan chue Linda na ka. Chan gum lung rian pasa thai dtae puut pasa thai dai nid noi. Kor tot ka mae rue puut pasa thai mak. Bpen kru pasa angriid na ka. Ma jaak Amerigaka. Chop sawn ti rongrian Rajapracha Nukroh 8 na ka. Kopkunmak naka.” Very loosely translated, “Hello, my name is Linda. I am learning Thai but I speak very little. I am sorry that I don’t speak a lot of Thai. I am an English teacher and I am from America. I like to teach at Rajapracha Nukroh 8 School. Thank you.”

As embarrassed as I was at my mediocre Thai, I didn’t realize what an impact that had with the parents. After a few claps and giggles, I later found out that parents expressed being more comfortable with approaching me outside of school because I “spoke a little Thai.” I even got a thumbs up from a dad sitting in the crowd as I sat down!

It’s the little things.

Huge turnout for Parents’ Day! 

Classroom management has never been my forte; throw in a language barrier and I figured I might as well wave my white flag now. As I took the opportunity to learn more about my school and the way classes are, I witnessed my students acting just the same in their other classes. It’s refreshing to realize that troublemakers are universal, and it’s not just in Teacher Linda’s English class that boys rough-house and girls giggle in the corner. Obviously, I can’t express my feelings with the students in their language, so facial expressions have been my only support. One day, during a very rowdy P4 class, I stopped talking and expressed my discontent with their behavior through my silence and piercing eyes. Then from the front of the class, a whisper,


I couldn’t help but burst into laughter and say, “yes, angry,” feeling more triumphant about his use of vocabulary than anger.

It’s the little things.

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to go through the holidays without my family and friends.

I was feeling a bit sad and lonely, but my community didn’t allow me to wallow in those feelings. My host teacher and family took it upon themselves to research and find a local church and attended the entire service with me. At dinner that evening, she turned to me and said, “In America you would be eating dinner with your family, so today, you will eat dinner with your family.”

It’s the little things.

My Thai family

The pace of life here is pretty different from the hustle bustle New York lifestyle I am used to. People do their own thing at their own time. I had always approached teaching with the mentality that I had to finish everything that I planned. Adding the fact that I only see my students once a week for maybe an hour increases pressure exponentially. I am learning to take things slower and acknowledge that every interaction
be it big or smallis an exchange of ideas, knowledge, energy and culture. 

At the end of the day, 

it’s the little things that bring a whole lot of happiness.