Teaching was the main reason why I decided to come back to Laos after my 4 week stay in August 2012. I had instantly fallen in love with my novice students at Wat Taohai and wanted to bridge my eight months with living and teaching in Luang Prabang before starting afresh with a new education and career. But already in January 2013 I changed my plan once again when I realized that 8 months weren’t going to be enough time to get to know the country, culture and people well (especially not while having a full time job ‘on the side’ besides teaching).
It is impossible to put into words the extensive experiences I have had (I tried to do my best in my previous blog ‘My 2013 in Laos’), but teaching was definitely one of the most enriching of them.
I often planned to keep a little notebook where I would write down the funny things that happened during my classes but unfortunately I didn’t. Nevertheless I want to recap a few of my highlights.
- Trying to make my students be on time was an undertaking that clearly failed. Neither the explanation of the importance of being on time nor threats such as ‘you have to buy me a drink every time you come late’ or ‘I will lock the door after 10 minutes and you cannot come in after that anymore’ didn’t really work.
- Working in groups is something that isn’t taught at schools so getting students to work together was one of my biggest challenges. I didn’t give up on my attempts to have the students share ONE copy and fill it out together or do some group exercises- but simply snatching the paper away from the other person is the usual way to do it in Laos.
- Teaching in Laos made me realize how lucky we are in the Western world regarding the level and quality of our education. I often was very upset when I heard stories from my students about their teachers. They either didn’t show up at all, came late, left early (walking out of class when the phone is ringing and not returning for a while is very common among teachers) or taught them incorect grammar ror things which were far too difficult for the students’ level or quite irrelevant. It became clear to me that as the teachers didn’t set a good example on basic manners the students couldn’t have know how important it is to be on time, listen, etc.
- All students would like to see real snow. I brought some artificial snow with me from Austria and preparing the snow and then making a snowball fight was one of the most fun activities we had done (the funniest was actually 2 of my students acting out Cinderella after we had read the story. Phan as Cinderella was simply unbeatable!). The sparks in the students’ eyes when they saw the powder expanding after mixing it with water and then trying to form balls was simply heartwarming.
- I wasn’t able to convince my favourite little novice that I could try to smuggle him to Austria in my hand luggage. He eventually told me he didn’t want to be cold and prefers to look at snow on TV. I understand him very well.
- Most students think of the word iPhone when you ask them to name a word that starts with the letter ‘I’. This made me realize that that even in underdeveloped and remote areas the apple (and consumerism) is omnipresent.
- L and N are most likely to be confused and ‘TH’ and “SH” is sooo hard to pronounce!
- There were moments where I doubted myself but many more times where I got a real ‘high’ at the end of the class. Through teaching I learned that I truly enjoy working with people in a field where I can contribute to making something (at least a bit) better. This is something I missed throughout most of my work life and it showed me that I want to change my (work) life and do something that really makes “sense” to me. I am eternally grateful for this insight and for getting the courage to make a 180 degree change in my career. Without the experiences I got through teaching in Laos I wouldn’t have gotten so much clarity.
- My students have tried hard to teach me Lao too and I remember so many situations where I laughed and almost became desperate at the same time, struggling with the tricky intonation of the language.
- 8 out of 10 times I left the temples with the biggest smile on my face after class. The fulfilment I got from teaching 1-2 hours every day couldn’t be topped.
- Besides improving my Lao I also learned a lot about the life of a novice or monk and it gave me a much more realistic picture of what temple life means. Understanding them and their lives better really made me respect them for they surely don’t have such an easy life as it might seem at first.
- I also learned a lot about myself – dealing with the frustration after some not-so-good classes was very challenging.
- Sayings like “”Okidoki”, “Yummie yummie in my tummy” or “see you when I see you” stuck to the students’ brains and every time they would use those phrases they made me laugh.
- I never had much contact with young people and growing up without siblings I always felt I wasn’t good at communicating with kids or teenagers. After teaching for one and a half years I see that I have learned so much in terms of interaction with young people.
The biggest gift of all is that I got to know truly wonderful people through teaching. My novice and monk students at the temples are all unique in their own way and I enjoy their company, they made me laugh and we even managed to have some really interesting discussions. Seeing some of their eagerness to learn and the fun they can have (e.g. when trying to pronounce a tough word and getting stuck over and over again) warms my heart and makes me smile.
This blog is dedicated to all my students: Kham, Ben, Nor, Phan, To, Phet, Chanpang, Kham Loun, Mee, Vee, Noy, Ay, Tiam, Khone, Thong, Kham Sone, Tony, Nyai, Nui, Khoumpha, Si, Lee and all the others who attended my classes – THANK YOU SO MUCH for being my students! Teaching you was the best experience I had ever had in my life!