A year, almost to the day, from when I was accepted into CIEE’s Teach in Thailand program, I was introduced as the new English teacher during Kwang Tong School’s morning assembly. It is now Friday evening, and I have just finished my first week of classes. I am exhausted, excited, and relieved to have made it through a whirlwind week of first times.
This week was not only my first day of teaching but also my first day of teaching online from the school, and my first day of teaching online from home, all of which presented their own unique challenges.
By the time my bus pulled into Sukhothai around 9pm on Sunday night, my neck was sore from straining to see the landscape of my new home around the Emergency Exit sticker plastered on my window. We arrived ahead of schedule, so I parked myself and my hefty luggage on a central, entrance-facing bench. Eager and anxious, I scanned the crowd in the station for the staff member who was scheduled to pick me up, who fortunately, had added me on Facebook ahead of time, giving me the opportunity to study his face before trying to identify him. My blonde hair made me stand out anyway, and I knew he would find me quickly.
He loaded my two suitcases into the back of his truck and dropped me off at my new apartment only a few minutes away. Because the attendants at my apartment building speak limited English, I was deposited in my room without much information. The only things I understood from the exchange were that I could not keep the sheets on the bed and that I was being picked up at 7:30 the next morning. I sat cross-legged on the floor for the next twenty minutes.
I had finally made it, and I had no idea what that was going to mean.
When I was flocked by students chirping, “Teacher, Teacher” the next morning, I knew I would find a home here. The students were as excited as I was to meet, and I felt immediately welcomed. After morning assembly and a brief tour, I was shown to my first class, Nursery (preschool), and then three of my Anuban (kindergarten) classes. We danced, played games, practiced numbers and the ABC’s, and looked at postcards from my former home states of Colorado and Utah.
Just as I was starting to feel like I was getting the hang of things, it was announced that the next day, my second day of teaching, our school would be transitioning to online instruction for the foreseeable future because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in Thailand. Teachers would be teaching from the classrooms in the school. I did not have my new teaching schedule until that Tuesday morning and had to quickly adapt all the lessons I had planned for online teaching.
Halfway through a day of technology difficulties and miscommunications with the Thai teachers, several of the other foreign teachers in my office were notified that they had been exposed to the coronavirus at a local bar and at a wedding. The entire office was immediately sent home. I left discouraged and dreading another two-week quarantine. I was sure I would starve, as I hadn’t had time to stock my apartment with food yet, and we were not to leave our homes. All foreign teachers were instructed to get tested for COVID-19 at the hospital that afternoon, but those of us who were not directly exposed were turned away.
And that is why, on my third day of teaching, I was teaching online from home. I did not have many materials but improvised with songs and storytime. When all the teachers who were tested received a negative result, we were allowed to return to the school, so I have been teaching online from the school again for the last two days.
I am settling into a routine, have met all of my students, and (mostly) know my way around the school. This week has been hard, and I am celebrating the fact that I was able to adapt to so many sudden changes and finish the first week feeling positively about my future here. It can only get easier, and I am sure that in addition to being the most challenging thing I have ever done, teaching abroad will also be the most rewarding. Right now though, I am taking it one day at a time.