Ashley / Bangkok / Expat life

Making Meaning of It All

Tuesday all of the returning teachers came to school to join the new teachers in the opening of the 2011-2012 school year. Just as I was starting to get the hang of everyone’s names, faces and roles in the school they went and added hundreds more names, faces and roles to get straight. To say that I’m overwhelmed is an understatement.

This seems to be a constant feeling in my world right now, not being sure of who to ask questions to, how to say things, or where to go. I like to think at the same time, I’m actively putting myself into these challenging situations, professionally, culturally, and socially that will help me emerge a newer, stronger person. It doesn’t make it any less stressful though. Take Monday for instance…

Monday I took my first hot yoga class ever. Not only was this my first hot yoga class, but it was my first hot yoga class…in Thai. The expatriate fitness scene has not yet ramped up as families don’t have to be here till school starts next week. After my summer of private yoga sessions I was antsy to get find somewhere to keep up my “practice” so I took a 65 baht taxi ride to the nearby sports city to investigate their Absolute Yoga studio.

The two women at the front desk of the studio were rather shaken by my arrival, a foreigner or as they say in Thai, farang, inquiring on class costs. Much body language ensued. Finally the teacher of the class came to my rescue and cleared up the confusion on how much I needed to pay and pointed me to the locker room (the class wasn’t cheap – a single class cost 650 baht, about 21 dollars!).

Before I headed out to put my stuff away the teacher asked me if I speak Thai, to which I answered, definitely not. She informed me that the classes were taught in Thai (which I was already aware of) and that she was concerned I would not be able to follow along. I asked her, if she didn’t mind, to let me take the class and I would try to use visual clues and content as much as possible. She could teach it in Thai and I would figure it out.

The studio, mats and towels were clean, the clientele were all local Thai women. As there was no talking in the yoga room everyone kind of kept to themselves and we all started with meditation. The class, however, was not one the most relaxing things I’ve ever lived through. Basically it went like this:

“Thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai use your left hand thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai no the other way thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai stretch you body more thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai thai keep your belly in thai thai thai…”

In a class of three or four people it would have been fine that the teacher felt the need to switch to English for me every time I was doing something wrong. But the class had about 30 people in it, people who all understood Thai except for me, I was embarrassed and felt incredibly selfish for causing such an interruption to the flow of the class.

Leaving the studio I wondered: Was I in the wrong for trying out that class? Is it inappropriate to use something such as a local fitness class for language learning or a medium for cultural understanding? How would I feel if I was presented with a English yoga class and my teacher had to swap languages for another student in the class?

On Tuesday, for our opening meeting as a faculty, our keynote speaker was a consultant who works on curriculum development in education, more specifically with Understanding by Design. She spoke about ways we can truly help our students achieve understanding in what we’re teaching them, in focusing on acquiring knowledge, making meaning of that knowledge, and transferring that knowledge to real life situations and context. More importantly she said, for understanding to be truly achieved, we must do all three in our classes.

I thought a lot about my recent move to Thailand and how I’m in a constant flux between acquiring new knowledge (like the fact that during Ramadan you cannot buy alcohol before 5pm), making meaning of the knowledge (like finally understanding the wonderful luxury of living in a culture that truly values service) and transferring that knowledge to real life situations (like hearing “left” and “right” in Thai during yoga). I don’t think I’ve quite achieved understanding yet and I’ve got a couple cycles of each to go through before life gets a bit easier.

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