I still remember my first day of Kindergarten. I had butterflies in my stomach. I couldn't muster the courage to talk to the other children, let alone play with them. Just like Kindergarten, I will never forget my first day at Phanom Adun Wittaya School. When I walked through the gate of the school courtyard, I had the same flutters in my stomach and I was just as intimidated by all the students. The only real difference was that this time I wasn't worried about them making fun of my Cat in the Hat lunchbox but rather laughing at my first attempt to teach an English lesson. Yet by the time school was out that day, it was Kindergarten all over again. I had had a ton of fun, made loads of friends and I couldn't wait to come back the next day.
Fortunately, I had a comrade in arms to help combat my nerves that first day. Mike was another American teacher who had just arrived in Phanom Sarakham with me to begin teaching. Mike, from Michigan, loved basketball. Unapparent to me, this is an obvious conclusion drawn just by looking at Mike. Within two minutes of sitting down to discuss our schedules with the English Department chair, Mike had already been asked to teach the Basketball P.E. class. I've been an athlete all my life and that sure sounded like fun to me, so I quickly stuttered, "I can teach P.E. too." My department chair eyed me up and down and with a wry smile said, "Are you sure?" "Absolutely," I responded while thinking to myself, ‘I know a whole lot more about zone defense than the pluperfect.' "Alright Tim, you can teach the 11th graders Rhythm and Dance." Excuse me? What did I just sign myself up for? "Rhythm and Dance?" I said bewilderedly, thinking about all those high school dances I spent doing anything but dancing. "You can also teach the 7th graders Ping Pong." Take it or leave it I thought, "That sounds great."
I had a lot of worries coming to Thailand but my dancing ability, or lack thereof, had not been one of them. Yet I soon discovered that in the eyes of a thirteen year old Thai student a 25 year old American appears quite the expert. So whether it was from the past participle to the present, forehands to backhands, the waltz to the worm, I soon established myself as the reigning authority in Phanom Sarakham. Sometimes that meant singing Video Killed the Radio Star in the classroom, dancing to Jingle Bells in the sweltering heat and humidity of June, and being humiliated by the senior captain of the schools ping pong team in front of the rapt attention of my 7th grade class. I've never had so much fun.
I quickly learned in my first days in Thailand that the first step in any process is always the hardest. I had never taught a day in my life. I had never even taken a single education class in college or high school. So walking through the classroom door for my first English lesson was one of the most nerve wracking experiences I've endured. But it didn't take long to realize that as a native English speaker, there are few subjects I know better than the English language. I also quickly discovered that I did know an awful lot about teaching; after all, from Pre-K through college, I'd been in school almost all my life. With these realizations it became easier and more fun to get up in front of the whiteboard every day.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is never simple. But once you take that first step you realize it wasn't so hard and the next time is a little bit easier. It is like standing atop a high-dive. It's easy to question your motive for being there, but once you jump the only thing left to do is yell "Cannonball!" Not only did I have the time of my life, but Thailand helped me push my boundaries and grow as a person. I have some amazing memories but more importantly I've since found it easier to challenge myself and be flexible in adverse situations. So take a leap and make a big splash, you won't regret it.