We did our millionth Teacher Training this week and I agreed to facilitate rather reluctantly. I am usually excited to connect and share with the other teachers, but I was feeling unenthused and uninspired after a busy, exhausting semester of work. It can be very difficult to see the value of the trainings sometimes: Each workshop requires a huge investment of time, money, and resources; there isn’t a lot of carryover between lessons; there’s no monitoring or evaluation to measure the impact on participants or their students. After each event, I go home wondering if anything substantial is being passed on.
The workshop this past weekend was the first time in 1.5 years of trainings that I felt like I could finally see tangible results. One of my PCV neighbors started a Facebook group to connect all the local English teachers, posting weekly challenges (and rewards) to encourage participation and resource sharing. Then, the Education Network invited all the teachers who participated to join a Best Practice Sharing training to close out the school term. Each teacher presented one classroom activity, song, or resource to the group and it was AMAZING. I’ve never seen the teachers so engaged and enthusiastic at a training before! It was really incredible to see the teachers lead student-centered activities, share their experiences, and try new ideas out with the group. One of my co-teachers Ou is a relatively new teacher and one of the few non “English majors” in the network, so she was really really nervous about presenting. She shared a song and dance about ASEAN greetings and totally killed it. So many teachers at the training said that it was their favorite presentation of the day. It’s been really awesome to see her increased confidence in the classroom at school this week. We’ll do a similar training at the end of next semester* and I’m already so excited to see what the teachers come up with.
*Semester FOUR! The Peace Corps finish line is in sight.
One of my neighbors likes to set up shop in front of school every afternoon: He ties his hammock up to his motorcycle and the temple fence, turns his boombox way up, and alternates between napping and chatting up passers by. That is how you chill.
“TWO SUMMERS AGO, I saw a video of my 56-year-old mother zip-lining through a forest in Laos with a group of much younger fellow Peace Corps volunteers. In the video, she seems unaware that she’s doing anything unusual; she calmly asks the instructor if she should clip the carabiner here, if she should tighten it like that. Then she zips out of the shot.
A political refugee and exile by 32, my mother packs a lot of living into her days. Even for a Persian, she’s a fiery soul. She’s been a doctor, a volunteer health-care worker, a radio personality, a pastry chef. She’s served time in an Iranian jail. Adventure and survival are the same to her—she’s brave.”
-Dina Nayeri on Keeping Up with Her Peace Corps Mom (A Thailand 124 PCV!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about “Posh Corps” lately. For those who haven’t heard the phrase before, it’s a dismissive term to categorize Peace Corps service in seemingly more developed countries (particularly Eastern Europe, Thailand, China, and South Africa.). The other volunteers in my area and I have been discussing this a lot recently, as our small province has the highest GDP per capita in Thailand and one of the largest PCV clusters. One new volunteer told us that his co-workers offered to buy him a smart phone, while another told me about how her host family is always worried that she doesn’t earn enough money. My own experience has been a mixed bag: students with iPads studying next to kids with no shoes; neighbors driving swanky, new SUVs on pot-holed roads that haven’t been repaired in years; the new wealth of families who have sold their farmland to foreign companies; a crumbling local infrastructure that hasn’t quite caught up with the influx of money.
While thinking through this, I decided to do some research and put together a list of Peace Corps countries ranked by GDP per capita (according to World Bank data in 2013). Surprisingly, Thailand doesn’t even crack the top 10. Kazakhstan takes the top position with a GDP per capita of $13,172 USD, while Thailand comes in 19th with a GDP per capita of $5,779 USD. On the other hand, my province Rayong has a Gross Provincial Product per capita of $40,277 USD, or more than 6 times the GDP per capita of Thailand and more than 2.5 times the GDP per capita of Palau. If my province was a country, it would rank 18th highest GDP per capita in the world- above New Zealand, The United Kingdom, and Japan! UNREAL.
Obviously, these statistics don’t paint a full picture of any place. GDP per capita estimates vary greatly depending on the reporting agency and don’t account for income disparity within a population. And while Rayong’s GDP per capita may be comparable to New Zealand, The UK, and Japan, those countries are far, far ahead in terms of education, health, and infrastructure development. Yet, I do think these numbers raise an interesting question: At what point of economic development does Peace Corps no longer belong in a country or region? Do we stay until we are asked to leave? Do we stay until it becomes simply unreasonable to live on a volunteer salary? (I can’t imagine living in the UK on less than $300 a month, but it’s perfectly comfortable for my site.) Personally, while I certainly think Peace Corps still has a place in Thailand, I’m not sure that place is Rayong.
Click below for a list of Peace Corps countries by GDP per capita. (Updated 8/31 to include Indonesia. Thanks melaniealeman for pointing out my oversight!)
-So far this semester, I have taught a TON of camps/trainings/workshops:
The upside of trainings is that they are great opportunities to collaborate with other teachers and PCVs in my area. The downside is that over 50% of my normally scheduled classes have been cancelled due to the planning/meetings/mountain of paperwork each workshop involves. Womp womp.
-In light of all our cancelled classes, my counterpart and I decided to change my schedule and add classes with the younger kids to my course load. So now, I am teaching Phonics to kindergarten through 3rd grade. Sound like a lot of work? It’s actually the highlight of my week. The little kids are so fun and enthusiastic and the 3 teachers I am co-teaching the lessons with are all super sweet, smart ladies who I am having a great time partnering with.
-My new puppy best friend ate my running shoes(ANGRY FACE), so I have given up running and started going to aerobics at the wat five times a week.
Good stuff I’ve cooked recently: This orange chicken recipe, sweet potato latkes, my new variation of larb fried chicken where you incorporate larb seasoning into the chicken breading, frozen dragon fruit. Bad stuff I’ve cooked: I made the world’s worst 된장찌개 ever, sorry Korea.
Good stuff I’ve read recently: The Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing, Into Thin Air (never climb Everest), The Magicians Trilogy, Ask the Passengers.
-It is raining like nobody’s business lately. If I have one piece of advice for future Thailand PCVs, it is: Buy cute rubber/plastic flats early and wear them often. Last year, I sacrificed a million pairs of flats to monsoons. This year, I got wise and invested six dollars in a pair of knockoff Crocs. My feet (and wallet) are infinitely happier.
-Sorry not sorry for posting about Ferguson so much. One of the bewildering parts of being a PCV is seeing your home country do terrible, disturbing things and not knowing how to explain it to people or reconcile it with the idealistic portrait of America that’s been shilled overseas.
"This is for real. Armed, mostly white protesters will carry guns through a black neighborhood in Houston, against the wishes of the residents, just because they can. Now just imagine if these were armed, black protesters in Ferguson, Missouri protesting the killing of a young member of the community, not the assumed right to openly carry a handgun in public?
Would we see the NRA and the backers of groups like Open Carry Texas come out to loudly announce their support for that? Would we see armed groups like those who showed up to point weapons at law enforcement during the Cliven Bundy standoff now show up in the streets of Ferguson to protect the crowd? Of course not, because these aren’t white conservatives in the streets demanding a change.”
- Open Carry Texas Plans Armed Demonstration in Black Neighborhood, Manny Schewitz for Forward Progressives (via fellow PCVs on Fbook)