Category Archives: Koh Tao

Goodbye Koh Tao!

This morning as I look around my room, all traces of my existence in this space are packed away tidily into airtight and compact bags. Even the Bukowski quote that I put on my mirror is now gone and placed into my personal diary. That quote kept me persevering despite the many challenges of Koh Tao School.

“dismiss perfection as an ache of the
but do not give in to the mass modesty of
easy imperfection.

and remember
the belly of the whale is laden with
great men.”

-“Advice for some young man in the year 2064 A.D.” by Charles Bukowski

I have made a long list of all the people and students I will miss from Koh Tao. I have either had dinner with or said goodbye to each person. Also, I have never lived on an island before, but the ocean and the stars at night will be sorely missed as well. Last night, I just laid on the beach looking at the moon and clouds wishing there was a way to take that form of grandeur back to Nashville with me.

Looking forward, I have some visa business to settle on the big island, Koh Samui today and tomorrow. I am staying with a friend who is a teacher as well. Her name is Lynn and she has taught in Thailand for over 3 years now. On Saturday, I will fly to Bangkok and take a bus to my next teaching location- Sing Buri. In a total contrast to Koh Tao, Sing Buri is a mountainous region that hardly any Westerners visit.

Despite the excitement of new adventures, I am sad to leave the connections and way of life that I began here. These children and their sweetness will always be remembered before any of the challenges that arose. To all my new found friends, do stay in touch.  I have had some great conversations with many Thai people despite our language barrier. In fact, I was thinking yesterday- I have more Thai friends than other farang (foreigner) volunteer friends. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that I was wondering how to adapt? Here’s to Koh Tao and all that it gave me- friends, family, sea, and stars. All various forms of vast beauty in this crazy thing we call life. I am forever grateful.

The Sunset on Sairee Beach

Wonder: In all its forms…

Despite the fact that we only had two days of class this week, the week was pretty eventful. The days I was in class, we began reviewing their English vocabulary for the upcoming exams at the end of term. Also, they finished their final drafts of the penpal letter. The letters are incredibly cute with handmade drawings, but many are still a little rough grammatically and in content. The Thai teachers had a training in Suratthani, the mainland, so we had school holidays Wednesday through Friday. During the day, I have been recording, writing, reading, and researching different class strategies for the English review. Also, due to the fact that I am leaving this week to go to the North, I tried to spend more quality time with the families I know here.  I have become intimately acquainted with Grand Master Somsak and the Lofts. Also, Nikki invited Gregg and I to have dinner with her.

This is the template we put on the board for their letters...

Wednesday night, for the first time in almost two months, I had a home-cooked meal. That morning, I had helped Grand Master Somsak finish some English translations for reflexology. After about two hours and a lot of explaining, I think I managed to put together a cohesive document detailing his method. As a thank you, Grand Master Somsak had invited me for dinner and a cooking class with his close friend who happens to be a chef in a nearby restaurant. I was more than stoked about the idea.  Gregg and I followed him up a wandering, uphill trail into the rural part of the island. We arrived at a Thai farm. There were ducks, chickens, roosters, cats, and even cows scattered across the plot of land. In the center, there was a wood house built out of humble implements. The table was set with several small dishes of prepared vegetables and I soon met my teacher, P’Tik. She was using her lunch break to make dinner and teach me. I am very grateful.

I quickly gave Gregg the photography and recording duties while I tried to understand the names of the ingredients and instructions. We made tom yam (a lemongrass and ginger soup), laab (a spicy, ground pork salad), green curry chicken, no-name chicken curry, and fried shrimp. Here are a few pictures of me learning to cook authentic Thai food and the tasty results:

Our dining area and a view of the farm

Grand Master Somsak: The Finest Thai Massage on Sairee Beach and Sweetheart of a Gentleman

Attempting to cook Thai food...

P’Tik: Awesome Thai Chef and my Instructor

Gregg, P’Tik, and Me with an amazing dinner that we prepared ourselves!

Thursday night, we were gifted another home-cooked meal at P’Jin’s house. Many of our students live in the same apartment complex as the Lofts, so we had the opportunity to play with the kids and help make dinner. It was so nice to just play with them in a non-school environment. At one point in our playtime, I had two children clobbering me. I would carry Tara or Charlie on my back while simultaneously carrying Fasai or Sun on my foot. I got quite the workout. Their laughter, screaming, and smiling just makes me happy. I made not understand their language, but there is a universal language for excitement and shrill screams of happiness. Meanwhile, P’Jin made laab, Massaman curry, and spring rolls. I had my first 100% grape juice since I have been here. I thought it didn’t exist! Here are a few pictures from that night as well:

Tara, Sun, Charlie, and Gam looking at P’Jin and Kevin’s Wedding Album with me

Pem, one of my tutoring pupils and 2nd graders, and I making the best face ever.

Dinner at P’Jin’s House... Bottom to top: Pork Laab, Spring Rolls with Sweet and Spicy sauce, and Massaman Curry

The lovely Kevin and Jintana Loft. Incredibly sweet people. I owe them so much.

Friday night, we were again granted great company and good food as we went to a dinner with Nikki and Petter. They are currently living on the top of one of the mountains on the island. It was quite a trek to get up there on a scooter. The pitch black night in combination with winding 80 degree angles on the roads made things interesting. I hid behind Petter’s back on the scooter not wanting to look down lest I have a heart attack. Once we were close enough to the spot, I walked up the hill because the scooter wouldn’t have made it with two people. The view from their bungalow was amazing. It was too dark to capture with the camera, but all I can say is that the vastness of the sky, stars, and sea is unfathomable. The skyline glittered with lights from the boats which were more numerous than I thought before. If Nikki didn’t inform me, I would have thought it was part of the glow from the mainland.  A few of Petter’s friends from the dive school came, barbecued, and talked the night away. It reminded me of my friends from home and our dinner parties from time to time.

Saturday was pretty amazing too. As I finished my lesson plans for Monday, I thought it would be good to get in some traveling around the island and snorkeling. I am 100% obsessed with snorkeling. I had never been snorkeling before I came on this trip. Something about being a part of the ocean just resonates with me. After a long day teaching, nothing could be better than relaxing in the ocean pretending that I’m a fish. Gregg and I booked  a snorkeling trip across 5 different locations. We visited Shark Bay, Hin Wong Pinnacle, Aowl Leuk, Mango Bay, and Nang Yuan. Though we didn’t see much in the way of larger marine animals (like sharks, sting rays, or turtles), we made some new friends and great memories. It is amazing how the ocean unfolds in front of you. One second you think that a cloud of water has nothing interesting. In the next moment, you could be seeing the sun-catching scales of a large school of fish feeding off a reef.

On the coast of Nang Yuan, a tiny island adjacent to Koh Tao. After 3 hours of snorkeling, I was totally exhausted.

Koh Tao has surprised me and enthralled me in many ways. I believed my purpose to be single-minded. I came here to teach. I left home to make a difference in the lives of children. I discovered this week that until I learn to appreciate the natural beauty and families surrounding a location as much as my commitment to one purpose, I could never really accomplish that very task. I can’t report many breakthroughs in the classroom this week. However, I can report a major breakthrough in my normally goal-oriented, analytical, and logical mind. That breakthrough is the sincerely deepened love of my heart for these people and this island.

Penpals and Friendship Bracelets

This week, I feel like I have grown to love Koh Tao for what it is. Despite all the crazy tourists and weird positions I have found myself in, it has become a kind of home. Having taught here for nearly 2 months now, the children and their parents like to hang out with me. I have built friendships with shop keepers and know their stories. Then again, just when I feel like I’m adapting and really getting to understand, I know that I am leaving in about 11 days for Sing Buri.

This week school was a little strange. I learned that the kids do have an English exam along with the rest of their finals. The problem is that because the volunteers are teaching the classes, the Thai teachers who make the exam do not know what to put on it. The classes have changed hands with volunteers probably about 4 to 5 times in one semester alone. While teaching a lesson on meal vocabulary and consonants, a Thai teacher handed me freshly copied “Test 2” which was an activity asking the kids to match the days of the week, color, and write English words. The instructions were in Thai and I was confused about two things 1)where we had a copier and 2) how we could afford to have whole sheets of paper for a worksheet. I’m hoping that I can review the basics of English- alphabet, basic vocabulary, and greetings for the exam. Hopefully, the Thai teachers will consult me or Nikki about what to put on the test.

In addition to our meal vocabulary and consonants this week, Nikki has arranged a penpal class in the US for the kids.  We put up a letter template and asked the kids to fill in the blanks. The template is as follows:

“Dear Penpal,

Hello! My name is ________. I am _____ years old.  I am in the 2nd/3rd grade. I live in Koh Tao, Thailand. My favorite color is _____. What is your favorite color? My favorite animal is a _____. My favorite food is _____. Where do you live? Write me soon!

Your Friend,


The issue becomes that if the kids are rowdy, we can’t get to do anything cool like letters to their penpals. In one class, only half finished their rough draft. We took pictures of the kids who finished and saved their drafts for the next class. I give Nikki complete credit for thinking of the idea, and I’m hoping we can make it work. It work be really cool for both classes to begin an exploration into another culture via letters.

After school tutoring is working well, with the exception of Saturday. The tutoring pupils I have are beginning to sound out words when reading. It’s really amazing to watch them remember and trying to work out the phonetics of a word. The entire time they are trying to remember I feel all excited and nervous waiting for that *click* in their brain. On Saturdays, the kids or the parents generally forget about their lessons. It makes me sad that they are not taking advantage of the opportunity, but at least I have the ability to offer. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The kids who are drinking are really making progress. though.

Other than teaching, I realized this week that I only have 30 pictures from the past month and a half. I started taking a lot more because I don’t have much time left here. Saturday was a great day to take pictures. I went to the island’s Buddhist temple with P’Lake (my guesthouse owner’s wife), met a teacher from Koh Samui on the beach randomly, and had dinner with P’Jin and her family.

Temple was really incredible. It was such a gift to get to share in the meditation and rituals of the temple. All the ladies brought savory curries, sweets, and flowers for Buddha. All of these items were shared on the altar. The monks performed chants and we all were supposed to repeat in Thai. I didn’t want to offend anyone with my mispronunciation, so I chose to not attempt. After the service, the monks ate and then shared the rest with the community present. I met P’Lake’s mother-in-law and many other ladies in the community. They were all so kind to me. We all sat in a few large circles with dozens of small bowls filled with spicy, homemade curries. A large bowl of rice was passed around. Then, you were free to pick your favorite curries to top it. After the meal, we shared fruit and sweets. I tried a coconut jelly sweet, jackfruit, and a sticky, egg-flavored sweet. The ladies of Koh Tao are very talented cooks.

From left to right: P’Na (a local massage therapist), Me, and P’Lake.

“P” added to the beginning of someone’s name is a form of respect for your elders.

If they are a grandmother/grandfather, “Boo” is used instead.


In the evening, I went out for dinner with the Lofts (P’Jin, her husband Kevin, and their two daughters, Tara and Charlie). Kevin is from Australia and P’Jin is from mainland Thailand. They met here years ago when Kevin was a dive instructor. Their eldest daughter, Tara, is in my 2nd grade class. When I first came to the island, I went to their technology shop looking for a case for my camera and came away with a friend. I noticed Tara’s picture on the wall and started chatting with Kevin. P’Jin has been instrumental in helping me arrange my tutoring lessons. She’s also become a really great friend. Whenever I have a question about anything- school, snorkeling, life, or where to go to eat- I ask her and she helps me out. I feel so lucky to have them in my life, and they will be missed terribly when I leave. I bought the girls bright pink bracelets and P’Jin a blue bracelet to remember me by.

In the pink, holding the heart- Tara

In the blue, making a face- Charlie

Front to back: Tara, Charlie, and Fasai (another 2nd grader whose mother works at the dive shop across from Kevin’s shop)

P’Jin and Me after dinner. Charlie was running around with my camera taking pictures of random people. Haha!

Friendship bracelets, the eternal sign of friendship. I’m pretty sure I made my first one in 3rd grade, yet they are still so relevant.

Muay Thai and more Friends…

This week in school was an interesting turning point. With the discovery that the children cannot read, Nikki, Gregg, and I revamped our teaching plan. We decided that we would start teaching them to read. We began incorporating vowels with new vocabulary and exercises this week. One of these new exercises was a alphabet decoding scavenger hunt at the end of the week with grade 3. Despite the fact that not all of them are grasping the concept, many are beginning to attempt sounding out words. I am happy that we have had a change of pace in the classrooms.

In grade 1, we began teaching the class with the help of the Tuk. Tuk is their usual teacher. She is quite a sweet lady. Tuk has been staying in the classroom to help us manage and translate. I absolutely appreciate everything that she is doing to help us. A few days ago, she had a chart on the board with body parts in Thai. Improvising our lesson plan for the day, Gregg and I switched to using the diagram to teach the children more specific parts of the body in English in addition to vowels.

This is a picture of Tuk and me from last night:

Although, we have made positive advances in the classroom teaching, it seems that my tutoring students are becoming less interested. Tuesday, both students fell asleep while I was trying to run phonetics flashcards that were more complex than what we are working on in class. Thursday, only one student stayed focused enough to try to complete reading the book. Today, all the pupils either forgot or were sick, thus no one came. I’m not discouraged though. I think that they might just need a moment to get into the swing of things. Then again, I literally have only 2 and a half more weeks in Koh Tao. In that short time, I hope to get a lot more accomplished.

Despite the fact that I was stood up, I still had the chance to hang out and teach a girl from my grade 2 class, Pen. It was her birthday yesterday.  After going over a few things and coloring, we went to get her a chocolate for her birthday. She was so excited to have someone want to read to her, spend the time drawing, and go out to get a birthday gift. I really enjoyed getting to spend time with her.

Other than teaching, I am really getting to know the people here very well. Grand Master Somsak, the massage therapist on the beach, sat down with me today and we looked at the reflexology terms he needs me to translate. I had lunch today with P’Jin and her daughters, Tara and Charlie. P’Jin commented that I eat like a monk because I mix my rice with the other dishes. I thought that was just an Indian thing to do!

Also, the English teachers and Thai teachers are trying to get together more now. Nikki’s boyfriend, Peter, Nikki, Gregg, Simon, Tuk, and I all went out to dinner last night. After dinner, Simon, Gregg, Tuk, and I went to a Muay Thai match off Sairee Beach. It was a really intense experience. Their rituals along with the fighting interest me the most. A few “farangs” (foreigners) fought in the match. A few of the fighters were as young as 8 or 9 years old. I felt odd watching them fight, but then again, this is their culture and this is an honor for them.

Tuk, Simon, and Gregg at Sairee Stadium

 A young man preparing for his match...

Two young men fighting...

From left to right: Gregg, Simon, Me, Peter, and Nikki

Adventures will never end for the adventuresome. 😀

Also, I am incredibly grateful to be granted the opportunity by Lumos to be the change I want to see in the world. (Gandhi)

It’s All About Literacy

This week, the whole experience of teaching changed with the change of volunteers. Gregg and Nikki are a great pair of volunteers for me. We work well together. Every night before school, we plan, prepare props, and put together a coherent plan of what we are going to do in class the next day. The unused second bed in my room is used to store all the supplies that we brought here ourselves or picked off from the old supplies.

My tutoring sessions have revealed a whole new layer in the conundrum of language acquisition and culture on the island. I get a closer look at the student’s abilities, their family, and myself as a teacher. With the exception of two students, all of my tutoring students cannot read English. When asked to recognize a word to symbol, the ones they have memorized in shape will stand out. However, generally, the problem comes down to the fact that they do not know how to read. I’m hoping that I might be able to switch from having them memorize English phrases to memorizing phonetics. If they can learn to read, everything else about the language will click better. Rome was not built in a day, but I do intend to at least put forth a valid effort in bringing the students up to check in reading.

Another benefit of tutoring is the time I spend getting to know their families. Word seems to be passing around Koh Tao that I am willing to do free private tutoring. When I go to a new place for dinner, someone will ask me if I’m that teacher from the school. Also, other needs in the community are brought to my attention. A massage therapist located opposite the spot where I tutor on Saturdays asked me to help him translate some terminology about reflexology to English.

Saturday was my perfect day in Koh Tao. I spent the morning tutoring the kids, hung out with the kids while swimming for a few hours, talked with P’Jin and split fruit all afternoon, and ran off to my last tutoring session of the day with Zoe and her brother, Lucas.

Zoe, Lucas, and their mother, Sandrine, are pretty interesting to watch in action. After my tutoring session with the kids, I ate dinner with their family. I watched as Sandrine spoke in French to her children, asked me questions in English, and ordered from the server in Thai. In addition to French, English, and Thai, she speaks Italian and German. I think it is absolutely crazy that she can just flip the switch in her brain that quickly from language to language.

With Monday through Saturday filled with lesson planning, tutoring, and school, the only day I have completely off from all things teaching related is Sunday. Today, I went to Chalok Beach with Gregg to swim and relax. I’m finding that even workaholics need a day of rest. That said, I would rather have the well earned rest after a busy week than spend my time being bored on the beach. This week restored my faith in my cause here in Koh Tao. The families have really welcomed me to Koh Tao and their children are a gift to teach. I’m so excited about my last month here. On the 27th of August, I will go to Koh Samui to finish a visa extension and then I will be on a flight to Bangkok. From Bangkok, a bus will take me to my next English teaching camp in Singburi, just two hours outside of Bangkok. From the beach to the mountains, I’m thrilled to serve through teaching English!

Note: I would post more pictures, but the internet connection is being really slow right now... 🙁 Sorry Friends.



Up until this point, I have been learning from the other volunteer teachers how to go about the tricky parts of this position. From everything from cultural, administrative, and resource issues at hand, there are a lot of compromises from the ideal way of doing things, but I am glad that we are finding ways to convert the situation. Alie and Fatemah left this past weekend, and they are dearly missed! Last Friday, we took some pictures of them with our students in Grade 1. Below are some of their cute faces... and our not-so attractive ones. Then again, I don’t think being a teacher means that you necessarily look fashionable all the time. Generally, by the end of our day, I am literally covered in chalk. The kids were copying down the alphabet with accompanying pictures for each letter. They *love* to color.

Alie... much more attractive than my picture!

^The absolute most attractive face I’ve ever made in my life ^

The above picture was better. Also, our incredibly cute kids and their great model faces below...

^Zoe, our resident four language speaker. She has French and German parents, and they own a dive school on the island. As a result, she has learned German, French, English, and Thai. Did I mention she is only 7 years old? Yeah.

One of the sweetest little girls in Grade 1. Her favorite task is giving out the spoons at lunch to all her classmates. So freakin’ adorable!

After Fatemah and Alie left last week, I was at a loss to figure out how to go down to just one teacher and maintain teaching. I asked for the Thai teachers to stay in the room if I was going to be alone, but I think they had some lesson planning to do. I managed to some degree on Monday, but I did have to ask for help to get the kids to listen. Gratefully, a former volunteer teacher, Nikki has come back. She remembered the scenario of no resources last time, and she brought a ton of literature and ideas with her. She seems really committed to the cause. Also, we have a new guy volunteer from England, Gregg. He is a first time teacher, but he did get to go to Frontier’s TEFL weekend. Hopefully that will help him with the transition from textbooks to reality. With a brand new team assembled, I’m sure that the vibe will be different. Nevertheless, I expect that we will find ways of our own to teach the kids.

Today, I tried a new team game. I scrambled letters on the board, put an image up, and blanks. Grade 3 was split into 2 teams. The teams would send one member each to try to unscramble the letters. The competition got pretty intense and they really got into it. I was so excited that I found something that caught their interest.  Eventually, the game disintegrated into mass chaos, but if we can find a way to calm them a little more during those kind of games, I think they will really learn at least vocabulary and basic structures. I’m happy to be the cool, fun teacher instead of the constant authoritarian.

Other than school, exciting events this weekend were 1) I was not sick on the weekend for the first time (YAY!!) 2) jam session with guitar players and 3) amazing Thai food at the top of one of the mountains on the island. The jam session taught me a very simple truth. You can take the girl out of Nashville, but you can’t take the Nashville out of the girl. I played in a metal band for 3.5 years, so the guys were really interested to see if I could live up to my past. I was thrilled to get to play guitar and sing with a bunch of similar guys. I haven’t played in a round like that in at least a year or two.

The Thai food we had Sunday night was an amazing meal. Because I had gone to Chalok beach to say goodbye to Alie, I had already been munching around on things and met a good Israeli friend of hers, May. Nevertheless, I tried to be polite at Fatemah’s farewell dinner with Kob and PiPi when we went to Lung Pae Restaurant. There was a veritable feast on the table: steamed seafood with egg, fried chicken, tom kha (spicy sweet coconut soup with chicken), fried pork, and rice. Though I felt like I was going to bowl over from the food, we had a journey back down the mountain via scooter. My fullness was replaced by fear as we descended hills at about 5 miles per hour at 80 degrees. Haha. Oh the many adventures.

Teacher or Student?


The past couple of days have been an interesting exploration in the school for me. We have come to the conclusion that there are very few resources for us to use. As a result, instead of copying or using the school’s paper, I use my own personal funds to pay for paper or write out copies of the worksheets. By cutting the sheets into eighths, we are able to supply our total 80 students with one worksheet a piece with just 10 sheets of paper. More often than not, they end up not valuing the effort (i.e. it ends up on the floor or in a waste basket), but at least they had the opportunity for a written exercise.

Currently, there are three volunteers. Fatemah, Alie, and I have been working with the children the past week. We have decided the best way to keep the children’s attention span is to split the hour-long class three ways, in short-form 20/20/20. This 20/20/20 structure allows us to give them a positive incentive, normally a game or drawing, last. Generally, the structure ends up being composed of three things:

1st 20 minutes: Drills (Using vocabulary, songs, and chants, we have the children repeat what we say orally)

2nd 20 minutes: Written exercise (Using the new vocabulary and reviewing the old, the children write down what is on the board. When they finish, they are allowed to move on to the game or creative project for the day)

3rd 20 minutes: Game or drawing/coloring project utilizing the new vocabulary

What’s even more successful to regain classroom control is if we can split the class into groups. Instead of being 3 teachers to 20-25 students, one teacher to 6-8 students is easier to work with. Today, we rotated the students between the three teachers. Tomorrow, we are going to see if one teacher can rotate the group through all three activities. Sadly, Fatemah and Alie are both leaving Koh Tao this weekend. I have heard from one of the in-country coordinators here that a new volunteer should be here Monday. Without the new volunteer, I am scared that I won’t be able to both teach and control the class at the same time. The true test of my effectiveness and how much respect I have earned with the children happens the minute I become a solo teacher.

Also, I will check back with P’Jin about the tutoring schedule at the end of the week. I’m hoping that I have a full tutoring list. I am really excited to see what I can help them learn in a smaller situation. All for the hopes of bridging the gap between the students who have potential to be challenged further and the students who really need the outside help.

Outside of school, I enjoy the culinary experience. Absolutely positively awesome. Last night, three of us went to a Chinese hot pot restaurant. I have never in my life seen anything like this. In some ways, it could be compared to French fondue or Japanese shabu shabu, but basically, you make your own food. I will put pictures up of the food soon. I’m also learning that my immune system is not sure about Thai pathogens. I have been sick a number of times in the past 3 weeks and I continue to have iffy, sometimes nauseated moments. Here’s to hoping that goes away soon!

Overall, I’m truly enjoying the new challenge of teaching in this setting and exploring Thai culture. Somehow, the most applicable advice comes from the Thai motto- Mai Pen Rai (pronunciation: My Pen Rye). Basically, this translates to “don’t worry about it”.  Plans and structure aren’t everything to the Thai. I go into every class having a plan, just like I go into my life. The reality is that one must adapt to whatever the situation at hand might be. In the classroom, that might mean modifying an original structure to the current situation of caffeinated and sugared up children. In life, that might mean adjusting your view of reality. An example of this would be last week when a centipede bit me on my way back to the guesthouse. Looking back on it, it’s kind of hilarious because a random, kind Thai gentleman went to his backyard, ground up a leaf, and pressed it into my calf. His generosity became my saving grace that night. Ultimately, between “mai pen rai” and the Thai principle of saving face with patience, switching roles to teacher, as opposed to the student, will probably teach me more than I have learned ever before.

All the Small Things

I’m finding that so much of what I miss in telling the story of the culture and people of Koh Tao is in the small things. There are a couple specific things having nothing to do with what happened today or yesterday that are so fascinating to me.

Kingfisher image
The kingfisher is honored all over the island through various images posted in public locations. Every shop has a kingfisher in a cage nearby. Also, there is a field close to the center of town where locals bring their kingfishers for a kind of contest. I have asked a few people what the meaning or goal behind the contest is, but no one has given me a conclusive answer. I did some research into the Thai cultural perception of the kingfisher. It seems that the kingfisher stole fire from the gods and gave it to the people of the Andaman Sea region. According to one website, the translation of the myth is as follows: “The kingfisher stole the fire and ran away with it. He made a fire and cooked some fish. When he had filled his belly, he went to sleep. The dove then stole the fire from the kingfisher and ran away. The implication is that it was the last of the thieves who gave the fire to the ancestors of the Andamanese.”

The generosity of the Thai people amazes me more daily. At first, they did not know how a farang would get along with them. “Farang” is a word used to describe mainly peoples of European descent, but they also call me a farang because I am a Westerner. Each day I spend here, people warm up more to me. Slowly, they learn to really like my company. For example, there is a young lady who I buy breakfast from every morning. Friday, she knew that I would come the next morning and informed me that she is going back to the mainland for the day. She was trying to look out for me and let me know to get breakfast somewhere else.
Also, a woman that works at the Koh Tao Info Shop here is very kind to me. The Koh Tao Info Shop runs the guesthouse and sometimes I sit with her to talk. She teaches me a bit of Thai, I help her practice her English, and she gives me drinks and snacks in a kind, sweet gesture. I have learned that she reads several Thai romance novels between customers. I asked if she wants to marry or be in love. We share a cultural similarity that Thai women want to be fair just as Indian women want to be fair too. Through her eyes, I learn more about what it is like to be a Thai woman.
The many languages heard on the island
Through trial and error I have learned that if I try to speak whatever language another person speaks, they are more likely to attempt English as well. No one wants to sound childish in someone else’s tongue and be seen as stupid for it. On this island, there are so many people from so many different countries. Walking down Sairee Beach one night, I might hear a group of Italians, French, German, and Thai. I took French in high school and college; so, I try my hand at conversing with the French speakers. Because I tried to practice my French with Fabienne, she would practice her English with me. The exchange enriches both of our lives. Having all these other cultures here makes this experience more multifaceted than I expected.


As an update on my teaching progress, I talked to Tara’s parents, P’Jin and Kevin. They are happy to ask their friends to sign up students for 30 minute sessions with me once a week. In the classroom, things just get so unruly without a Thai teacher and so many kids are at so many varying levels of knowledge that I feel the tutoring will really bridge the gap. My schedule for now will be with just seven students beginning on the 27th of August, but if the demand for tutoring sessions becomes higher, I will open up more sessions on the weekends. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will tutor for an hour after school. Saturdays, I will tutor for an hour an a half. I’m really excited to make headway on something that I came up with myself in addition to the classes. I came here for these children and I don’t mind the extra effort to  help them. This idea that in the small things the difference for change is really made sinks in more daily.

School Days and Mountain-Top Experiences

The weekend brought some interesting adventures, mainly in my own brain. I spent much of the time writing, reading, and researching possible lesson plans for the children. I was excited to begin teaching on Monday, only to go to the school and find out that it was another school holiday!

I went out to a local coffee shop, Cappuccino, and a photography store, Tao Technologies, to talk to some parents about possibly private tutoring their children in English. Since I have time on weekday evenings and weekends, I am looking to find more time with the children.

School begins at 8:30, but I only teach 3 hours a day Monday through Friday. The average school day for me goes like this:

9:30 Get to school and make preparations for the lesson (copies/worksheets)
10:30 Grade 1
11:30 Lunch
12:30 Grade 3
1:30 Grade 2

Often, teaching in this setting is hard because we don’t have real control over the class. With no translator or local teacher in the classroom, the children are less likely to listen. Nevertheless, we find games and demonstrations that get them interested. For example, on Tuesday, in the classes we played “one of these things is not like the other”. I would draw shapes on the board and ask the children tell me in English which shape is which and which did not belong in the grouping. Afterwards, we did worksheets asking them to identify the number of animals in a drawing and then write the answers in English. If they finished that, we would take them outside to play Duck, Duck, Goose or toss the ball. During the ball games, we ask them to say things like their favorite food, favorite color, or count when the ball is thrown to them.

The most entertaining thing that happened on Tuesday was tug-of-war using my body. Once we got back to the classroom, a few of the kids decided them wanted to hug me all at once. That hug turned into 5 children pulling on my left arm and 5 children pulling on my right. My torso turned into a flag. Haha!

On Wednesday, we didn’t have class again because of school-wide exams. I was going to go to another part of the island with my friend Fabienne. Mango Bay was our destination, but it was too far to walk. Ultimately, we rented a scooter, but the mountains on the island were a little too precarious for my liking. Climbing at an 80 degree angle, the scooter was just not going to make it with two people. I hopped off and walked all the way back to my apartment, then passed out for three hours from exhaustion. Mountain-top experiences? Oh yes, I’ve had them!

First Impressions


With almost a week behind me since I left home, there is so much to write about I don’t think I could cover it all.

When I arrived in Koh Tao, there were a number of expectations I had due to an agreement with the company I am volunteering with here. Many of these expectations were not fulfilled due to various situations. I am making the best of it. Fatima, another volunteer, has been the main reason that I have gotten some sense of an orientation with the town and school.

There are so many wonderful little things about Koh Tao that I have discovered. First off, the people here are incredibly kind, generous, and friendly. From the time that I arrived at the airport hotel, people were always curious about why I was traveling alone. I have answered honestly and told them I am going to work with the children of the Koh Tao School.

Here begins the contradiction. The Koh Tao School is a part of the local culture which is a direct opposite of the Western tourists here on the island. While there are a limited number of transports to the island per day, there are almost an equal number of tourists to the local population. The locals live in very basic living conditions while the tourists live in luxury. For example, I arrived after a four day water shortage and electricity had been off for two days. The children of the Koh Tao School hardly have resources for themselves- i.e. pencils, notebooks, and socks with no holes. These children are still incredibly happy and curious about all that their Western volunteer teachers have to offer. Many times, some of the tourists will walk in to the school and ask to help teach. Nevertheless, one half of the island struggles to meet basic needs while the other goes out to party perpetually. Every night, one can see the difference between the living conditions of the locals in cottages, villas, and sometimes in their own stores. Home and store becomes one. Meanwhile, the tourists are out on the beach, at bars, drinking, dancing, and partying.

A cohesive curriculum for teaching English at the school is nonexistent. Because we are teaching primary school, years 1-3, keeping the students’ attention is of utmost importance. Each volunteer from the gap year companies makes his or her own lesson plans and tries to teach using games. Mainly because of the language barrier, we are unable to really command the classroom in a way that would allow for us to teach rigidly to a plan. Volunteer teachers come and go, thus many times lessons are repeated sheerly because they were successful last time and somehow never remembered.

Despite all the obstacles, there are bits of beauty and kindness everyday. Every night, the volunteers go out for dinner together and watch the fire dancers on the beach. Below, I have included several pictures because I’m not sure there is a way to capture the beauty of this sport.


Another beautiful aspect of the Thai culture as expressed in the Mother’s Day Festival today is respect. Sunday is Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s birthday and it is also celebrated as Mother’s Day in Thailand. Since it is on a weekend, the school celebrated today. With everything from music, dancing, and ceremony, it was the expression of how seriously the Thai view respect for one’s elders and parents. At one point, children that have no mother came up to sing. It was quite moving as some of the teachers cried alongside those students.

These are a few of the younger students dressed in traditional Thai dancing costumes. A few of the grades presented dances. These little girls were among the cutest! I wondered how those heavy earrings stayed on their ears sometimes.

Following the festivities, each child takes his or her mother on the stage, gives them a chain made of jasmine, and then bows to them. This is a picture of one of the teachers, Eve, and her daughter, Nam King. Nam King is bowing to her mother in respect and love.

Also, the food is killer. For lunch, I had a healthy papaya hot and sour salad- shredded papaya with lime juice, carrots, and beans. Every fruit juice stand and pancake stand is fantastic too. The pancake stands make these delectable crepes. My favorite so far is banana and nutella. They spread the crepe, slice bananas, spread nutella over the filled crepe, and then drizzle sweetened condensed milk to top it. After being cut into bite size pieces, this is a sweet worth every calorie.

Overall, I’m excited to begin leading class soon. Because Friday was a holiday, I only got one day in class. Next week, the real fun begins!