From November 23th-25th, I joined Kru Nok and some foreign teachers to teach English at our school’s STEM camp for students aged 13-15 at the beach in Pattaya.
The Journey Down South//
Kru Nok picked me up from my house at 4 am to take me to school, where we would board the bus for the STEM camp in Pattaya. I had been invited to the camp to teach English with Kru Nok and the other foreign teachers to kids aged 13-15 in the STEM program. There were probably sixty people on the trip in total. I had never travelled this far south and I didn’t really know what to expect of the trip as I had been given very little information beforehand. As we boarded the bus, I was told to sit by the other foreign teachers. I hadn’t met them yet, as I spend all of my time in the English department whereas they teach math and science classes. I sat by a computer science teacher named Paul from England and in front of us were a math teacher named Sean from Scotland and an English for STEM teacher named Sean from America. Before the bus left, someone asked me how old I was and when I said I was sixteen, everyone was a little blown away and began comparing what they were doing at sixteen. This sparked a conversation that carried on for a while with my seatmate, Paul. We talked for maybe an hour or more about how we got to Thailand, what we wanted to do after Thailand, and about life abroad. Everyone eventually fell asleep until lunch at a buffet on the way. When we made our way into Pattaya at around 3 pm and could see the beach in the distance, the bus became electrified with chatter. We arrived at a luxurious resort that I couldn’t believe we were staying in. The resort had easy access to the beach but also an entire water-park, as well as a monorail, amusement park, and a revolving restaurant. We checked in first but our rooms weren’t ready yet, so we began lessons.
Day 1 of Lessons//
On the first day, I didn’t do a whole lot of teaching. There were separate lessons going on all throughout the resort’s wooded area along the main sidewalk. Everyone was pretty exhausted from the bus ride so we all started off slow with games. I mostly stayed near American Sean’s lesson, who was playing Truth or Dare with the students. I watched Mole (pronounced as Mon), a sweet nine-year-old who is the host sister of one of my exchange student friends and the daughter of a chemistry teacher at my school. We played Uno with another young child of a teacher, speaking a mix of Thai and English. I found it pretty funny to see the look of shock tourists had when passing by our game and hearing me speak Thai. However, Mole is far more impressive. She loves to speak English and she is astounding at it. Her vocabulary is extensive and her grammar is stunningly accurate for a nine-year-old. After a few rounds of Uno, I joined in Sean’s lesson until we broke off to see our rooms. Kru Nok, another teacher running the camp, and I were sharing a suite. I had a room to myself with a king-sized bed and a balcony. We shared a Western-style bathroom in the middle of our rooms. When we walked in for the first time, Kru Nok ushered me to the balcony where we admired the resort and beach.
After I took a shower and changed clothes, I went downstairs for dinner in the hotel. I sat by the foreign teachers and Kru Nok, who sat with me for long enough to make sure I was having fun and then sat by the Thai teachers. I ate some vegetables and fruit, but I wasn’t very hungry. This led to some jokes about how I eat very little, which then turned into a conversation about vegetarianism. I actually enjoyed talking about it and hearing some other points of view. After eating, we had a session for team-building in the hotel common room. The foreign teachers led a game of Mafia to break the ice. When everyone was feeling more energetic, classes of kids presented skits they had prepared in English onstage. The most noteworthy was a scary story skit about a crow that stole a child’s eyes for making selfish wishes, which was pretty disturbing but entertaining. Us foreign teachers did not know what to expect but it certainly wasn’t that. Kru Nok finished the night off by giving instructions for the next day.
We were dismissed and given cups of tea and cake. I sat by myself, looking up at the tower of rooms and wondering what the next day would bring. I met Kru Nok in our room at around 9 pm and I had a group call with my American friends in Thailand, as well as some of the alumni from the year before. Kru Nok said hello to everyone happily before saying goodnight to me. Kru Nok is the best advisor I could ever ask for, as she always has my best interests at heart and is an amazing friend. Everything is better when she is around and I was pleased that my friends had the chance to meet her, one of the most important people in my life, if only for a few minutes. I tucked into bed early that night and slept peacefully.
Day 2 of Lessons//
In the morning, I woke up at around 7 am and got ready fast. Today was our beach day! After discussion with Kru Nok, I was told to wear my swimsuit (a one-piece with sleeves) underneath a STEM camp matching shirt and pants. I also had to wear a jacket over it. I have to admit, this is one cultural difference that I definitely still struggle to understand. In Thailand, I always wear sleeves and long pants, which I don’t have any problems with. However, I thought that being at a beach with temperatures of 25-31°C (77-88 °F), where plenty of other foreigners were wearing revealing swimsuits would give me a little leeway. I was hoping to lose the jacket and wear shorts in place of pants. Nevertheless, I respected when I was told that wasn’t the case. Kru Nok explained in a friendly way that I am different from the tourists. In Thailand, I am a friend, a student, a teacher, a sister, a daughter, and a community member. My disappointment faded rapidly as I realized that she had told me that I had truly begun assimilating. I had already built a reputation as being a trustworthy person, here to learn and respect Thai culture. I went on with my day, grabbing a quick breakfast of vegetables and fruit before heading to lessons on the beach.
I was teaching my own classes that day and helping out when I could with other lessons. All of the classes were taught in English and the students were rotating learning math, science, computer science, and English every hour. Typically, three teachers were teaching each class with some exceptions. I first took over for an English teacher that was feeling a little sick for two rotations. As this class was unexpected, I didn’t really have a lesson plan and all of a sudden, had twelve kids looking up at me for instruction. I decided to get them up off their feet, something the teachers were encouraging, and play a game of Duck Duck Goose. My twist was to have the winners ask other students questions in English. The kids had never played this before and really loved the game. When the teacher returned, he abandoned his lesson plan and continued what I did, which I was pretty proud of. I next joined my normally scheduled class with a TA and a young teacher, both of whom are Thai and work in the STEM department. I knew them from being friends with my Thai teachers. Our game had much more substance and was loosely based off of a popular Thai game show. Four students were blindfolded and stood in a row in front of the other kids. I would read a clue describing an English word while each of the kids were each given a foam letter of the alphabet. They had ten seconds to figure out what letter it was by touching it and then had to coordinate with the other kids while blindfolded to unscramble the word I had described in my clue. When things seemed too easy, we would make five-letter words. We were all laughing a ton as the kids struggled to piece together words.
We broke off early for lunch and as I was walking back, I watched the tail-end of the most fun lesson the kids had. It was a game where the students had to individually run around unscrambling and ordering huge blocks of cardboard with printed numbers on them until there were two towers with the numbers in the right order.
The rules were a bit more complex but I didn’t really know them as I was just an onlooker. All of the kids and teachers watching were screaming with laughter and cheers in Thai, including me. This lesson was the best as you didn’t have to learn anything, you just had to have fun. After we wrapped up this intense lesson, I realized I was not the only person watching the festivities. A large group of foreigners were curiously peering into our game, some even videotaping until us teachers nicely asked them to stop. I had no problem explaining what we were doing when asked. People were in awe that their vacation in paradise is our school field trip. I was a little in awe myself and felt very lucky that Kru Nok invited me.
We had a quick lunch and then I returned to my lesson, just in a different location because the Thai teachers were worried that we were disturbing the tourists. My class was a bit more isolated than the other classes, in a shady area near the park. It took kids about ten minutes to get there from the pavement the other classes were located, though I doubt they were in a hurry. I didn’t mind as it left us teachers more time to chat and they taught me some Thai beach vocabulary. I was amazed to see bushy black squirrels weaving through the trees all around us.
I taught a few more rotations but the tone was more relaxed in the afternoon, as everyone knew we would shortly have free time. The kids even talked with me in Thai and asked me some questions in English about myself. Our last lesson of the day was around 2 pm. We stayed where we were, as our shady spot was the meeting place for all of the other lessons. Sean from Scotland led some competitive games like three-legged or wheelbarrow races. I kept tally for several games until we crowned winners. As the sun and the silliness was peaking, everyone became more enthused about free time. After the Thai teachers gave a few instructions, we were released and the kids went wild running through the resort.
Free Time at the Beach//
I had to grab a towel from my room before I could join the fun. My “quick” trip turned into an hour long wait for the key to my room, which was with some teachers on the other side of the park. As I waited, I spotted the teachers I had worked with all day on lessons and some students. They were in line for the monorail. I decided that would be a fun way to pass the time, as it was cheap enough and looked like it could offer a lovely view of the park. It was a lot slower than I thought it would be, taking fifteen minutes, but I was right in that I could see the reach of the sea and the more beautiful aspects of the resort. I enjoyed continuing the conversation I was having earlier with the teachers and taking photos.
After that trip, one of the teachers helped me find the person who had my room key. I got my towel and then I walked down to the main pool where I presumed everyone was. I quickly spotted Mole splashing about in the water, followed by all of the foreign teachers. They eagerly dared me to go down a long, yellow slide in the middle of the park. I nervously agreed as Mole told me she had done it before too. We walked up some flights of stairs until eventually reaching the top of the slides. I foolishly let everyone go before me and then went on my own. I rapidly shot down and then after a bump, was sent almost straight down, all the while being bombarded with water. The teachers greeted me laughing about my face as I hit the bump, which I’m sure was hilarious. We stuck around for a little while and I played with Mole until one of the teachers had the idea of going down to the actual beach, which was right outside of the main park area. We had taught classes there before but not actually gone swimming.
I joined two of them and we walked down the path. On the way, I ordered us all smoothies from a stand, which surprised a lot of local vendors and made me proud of my skills. As I was so busy with teaching, I hadn’t taken in the true beauty of the sea yet. Sipping a banana smoothie and basking in the warm sun and deep blue waters made me feel magical. I wasn’t worried about a thing or really even thinking, but instead just enjoying the moment completely. We swam for about an hour and then made our way back to the hotel. I took a shower, changed clothes, and Kru Nok and I walked to the lobby to prepare for a very special dinner.
The Revolving Restaurant & End of Camp//
Our school had made reservations at a revolving restaurant on the 52nd floor, meaning the dining area shifts slowly throughout dinner to give you a 360° view of Pattaya, the beach, and the islands in the distance. It took us a little while in the elevator to reach the top but I was completely astonished by the view. We arrived just before sunset and the sun was bright red and reflecting on the sea.
There was a buffet with a specialty of seafood. As a vegetarian, my options were rather limited but I managed to get enough to eat with picking around dishes, some vegetables and fruit, and bread rolls. I was specially invited to sit by the Thai teachers and Mole, which I happily agreed to. I sat next to Kru Nok and across from Mole and her mother. The sushi buffet in particular was a special treat for Mole and the other teachers and everyone was in high spirits. I would often get up to get juice or some rice, only to find that my seating area had slowly shifted to a completely different space than I last recalled. We finished the night off with some ice cream and I sat by the foreign teachers and some younger Thai teachers as well. We talked about learning new languages and reading books. Sean from Scotland speaks fluent Chinese, I speak intermediate Spanish, and the Thai teachers all spoke English and sometimes an additional language like Malay or Chinese. I was interested in their learning methods. Sean and I talked about learning Thai, as he became very proficient in Thai in only two or three years. I was nowhere near his level but I could communicate enough. I was proud to say that I could read Thai, which many foreigners can’t do or don’t even bother trying to. The Thai teachers were very dedicated to learning English and I admired them for their hard work. One of my colleagues from the afternoon’s lessons showed me her English book, a simplified version of Sherlock Holmes with little bubbles explaining difficult vocabulary. She had many other books similar to that and Sean and I wished we had resources like that for Thai. By this point, the sky was pitch black and everyone was finished eating. We had one last session downstairs in the hotel common room.
The last session was high-energy, as we had games and a special ending to the night. However, we first had to follow up on the days lessons. The kids had about half an hour to make posters about what they had learned that day and then present in groups of about ten. I was in charge of music this time and the foreign teachers grinned at me from across the room as I played lively American pop music from 2014, the golden year of music. The presentations went well albeit long. Some of the students even said how much they enjoyed my lessons, which made me feel like I had succeeded in my goal for the camp. Then, after some party games, we got to the kids’ highlight of the evening: the beauty pageant. The most outspoken girls and boys had already teamed up and the foreign teachers began judging or leading the activities. I remained on music duty, which was more to my liking. The pairs of kids began with a catwalk, doing poses and dancing. The crowd went wild, all giggling at the craziness and creativity of the kids on stage. Next, they had interviews with questions asked by the judges and students. Some were easy and others were more personal but the kids’ responses for every question were hysterical. Lastly, they had a talent portion where everyone chose to sing. Guitars were passed around and the lights were dimmed as we had about twenty minutes of kids singing and playing instruments. The audience took out their phone flashlights and swayed along to the music. We then crowned our winners and everyone was both exhausted and cheerful from the fun day. Kru Nok gave parting words and we headed up to bed.
I took a shower and got in my pajamas. Kru Nok came into my room at around 10 pm and invited me onto my balcony. There was a perfectly warm breeze and we just stood speechless by the two sides of our view: the racing city, a blur of yellow and colourful lights from the street, and the waves silently rolling in under the white moon. We stood agape for a minute or two and then she asked me a few questions, prompting us into conversation. How I felt about Thailand, what I wanted to change, what I didn’t understand, what I was excited for, my life in America, just anything. Kru Nok told me about her life too and gave me a lot of valuable insights. I felt so at ease and open with her and I enjoyed the view on the balcony so completely. It was hard to take my eyes off of it. We eventually turned into bed and I dozed off quickly. The trip back was long but we stopped at a zoo, where we watched a pretty offensive Wild West show that I did not enjoy and a dolphin show, which was actually rather fun. Two additional highlights of that trip included visiting what was voted as Thailand’s Best Toilet of the Year (a rightly earned title) and getting stuck getting out of the open zoo part, where tigers, lions, and other animals roamed freely.
We arrived home in the evening and I thanked Kru Nok for the great experience. When I walked in my living room, my host parents had pizza waiting for me and we talked about my fun first time at the beach in Thailand.