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Report of Tim Klabunde on His Term as the First Native English Teacher in Moo Baan Chang Ban Ta Klang, Thailand

November 20, 2015 Elephant Village Moo Baan Chang Surin

 Tim Klabunde just completed his term as the first native English teacher in the primary and secondary schools in Moo Baan Chang, Ban Ta Klang under the sponsorship of The Elephant Story through the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. Tim began this adventure at the age of 26 with an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and extensive educational and cultural training in Thailand. Nonetheless, as his personal account below indicates, very little could have prepared him for his experience at Chang Boon Wittaya school.

I (Tim) constantly joke that living here has made me bipolar. Some days I feel like I'm conquering the world, living my dream of teaching and living abroad, and other days I feel like a complete failure, alone and exhausted, ready to pack up and move on with my life. Living and working in the small, remote village of Ban Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand has been a special kind of personal quest, my experience constantly testing and pushing me to the extremes, finding new limits, in regards to my physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual condition. Because of this, I know that I have grown and changed more than I possibly ever could have imagined over the course of these past few months.

The following is a collection of reflections and thoughts of mine on the joys and struggles of living and teaching in Ban Ta Klang:

Unique & Diverse: This village is unlike any other in so many ways. First and probably most obvious is the fact that it is inhabited by the world's largest domesticated elephant population. If that's not enough, the local people speak 4 languages natively: Lao, Khmer, Thai, and Soai or Kui, the local tribal language of the Soai people, a language that has no written form and is spoken nowhere else in the world, let alone by other Thais not from the village. Riding an elephant down the road and switching languages in daily communication depending on the context are just common realities for these incredible people.

Sabai Sabai: The people of Ban Ta Klang take the whole "Thai hospitality" thing to a whole new level. They are all seriously some of the nicest, most generous people I've ever met. They definitely "mai pen rai," or 'don't worry about it' better than anyone else I know as well. Life is calm and steady here, and that's the way they like it. Besides obvious revenue coming from ecotourism in regards to the elephants, the primary industry of the region is agriculture. So when it comes to scenic, the simple rice and sugar cane fields that span in every direction from the village, as far as the eye can see, under the gorgeous Isan sunsets, are something to behold and cherish.

Isolation: The nearest bank, 7-11, or hospital is about a half hour drive away, and to get to any form of mass transportation (bus, train, or plane), it's closer to an hour. There's not many people between the ages of high school graduation to roughly early 30s; the youth all either move away for school or to places like Bangkok to seek work. What is left is school aged children and their parents and aging grandparents. Everything in the village closes down around 8:30-9:00pm at the very latest. This kind of social make-up leaves little opportunity for having any friends or a social life. And life can get pretty intensely boring.

School Organizational Shortcomings: Some days, Thai schools definitely feel more like daycare or religious and nationalist indoctrination camps than they do schools. That's because classes are cancelled all the time for the sake of religious ceremonies, scout events, sports events, cultural events, etc. These kinds of activities are all things that are an aspect of western educational institutions as well, but the difference is that they are considered extra-curricular activities, and classes are not cancelled so that they may take place. It is difficult to form any cohesive or consistent curriculum around this type of a schedule. Even with a sound curriculum, it would be difficult to implement it due to the fact that across the board, at least for English, the level of proficiency is generally speaking quite low and similarly so when comparing several grades together; there's not that much difference in proficiency. Yet, at the same time, each class has several students that are far above the rest, perhaps one or two special needs students (whom I'm pretty much advised to not worry about), and a chunk of students that rarely come to class and only disrupt the other students when they do, knowing that failing school is not a possibility, as all Thai students automatically pass regardless of effort or ability in a given subject. All of these characteristics make it incredibly challenging to run an effective educational institution, and even more impressive that the Thais still kind of pull it off.

Ultimately, my time here has formed what will surely be an unforgettable and perspective challenging experience and collection of memories, forever having a profound impact on my life. I hope that the same could be said someday by my students, and the people of Ban Ta Klang, in regards to my presence in their lives.

Directly inspired by Indian culture, french jeweler and New Delhi resident Olivia Dar puts a fresh face on traditional indian crafts, making exquisite handcrafted bags and jewelry.

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