Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Experience as a Teacher in Issan (Northeast Thailand) versus Volunteering in Chiang Mai

I am fortunate enough to be a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Thailand that began about 5 months ago.  Since that time I have taught English in the Northeastern region of Thailand, known as Isaan.  Isaan is a largely ignored area even though it is home to a third of Thailand’s population.  It is exceptionally hot and is the poorest region of the country, largely due to the lack of tourism.  Less than 1% of tourists visit this region, so foreigners are few and far between. I am the only white woman in my town and as such I get many stares from people who have never seen a Caucasian woman before.  It is this lack of global attention combined with other factors such as poverty that lead to Isaan people getting passed over. The people of Isaan are often written off as poor, uneducated and unimportant.  The rest of the world tends to ignore this region and its people.

On the other hand, people the world over recognize Chiang Mai.  It is a place brimming with tourism, where the pace of life is faster, where one can hear several languages being spoken at any given time and where a variety of global cuisines line the streets.  When I first came Chiang Mai, it seemed that such a diverse city must a place for everyone to thrive in.  Yet there are still those who are written off, those who are brushed aside.  These are the groups that ARI shines a light on:  children who are seen as defective, women who are viewed as tainted and men who are regarded as useless. 

What I love about working with ARI is that they have the same goal for the overlooked people in Chiang Mai as I have for my overlooked students in Isaan: letting them know their worth and learning from them.  Showing them that their opinions are valid by listening to what they have to say.  Providing opportunities for them to express their ideas.  Letting them know that there are people who care about them by being a smiling face in their day.  And showing them that they are valuable by being open to learning from them.  My experience here at ARI has inspired me with ways that I can further teach and learn from my students back in Isaan and I am so grateful for that.

- Written by 6-week Art Relief International volunteer, Sarah C.