Tag Archives: Koh Tao School

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.