maandag 12 december 2016

Singing Nomad: Wherever I'm going

Getting the Indian visa was a mission. I little video compilation of the musical adventures on the way...

It's not about the destination, it's about the Journey. And the Journey is NOW. Whatever you are doing, even if it's not always going the way you want it to, learn from it and move on. The world wants you to smile. It's highly contagious, you see.

donderdag 12 november 2015

Teaching in Thailand vs. teaching in the Netherlands. Part 3

I started writing this blog in August 2013 and I'm happy that I did. It's a memory of an incredible journey. A journey that taught me so much about myself, the world and the amazing connections we can make with the people around us. A journey I love to share with you all.

After one year of working in Thailand I thought it was time to go back home, the Netherlands. Eventually I decided to stay longer. Why? Because I'm completely happy with what I'm doing with my life at the moment. In this blog I will tell you more about my teaching experiences in Thailand. I have the most incredible job teaching a different language to these beautiful, young souls. They warm my heart with joy when they laugh and they learn so fast. I've been very lucky that most of my family and close friends had the chance to visit and see how I live my life on the other side of the world.

The last 1,5 years I've been teaching in Thailand at a primary school with an English program. I have two kindergarten classes with 20 - 30 students in each class. Or let's just say... kids. Because that's what they are. I call them "my kids". I teach them throughout the whole year. After my second year I can say that I had the privilege of teaching about one hundred (mostly Thai) children their first words of English <3

When my kids start school, most of them don't speak any English. Some of them don't even speak at all. Hearing them say English words and understanding what I'm saying at some point is... it sounds cliche, but yes; Fulfilling.
I'm not gonna lie. It's not easy teaching kindergarten. There are a lot of students in one class. In the beginning of the year most of them cry because it's their first days in school. I'm so thankful for the Thai teachers I'm working with. I have two Thai teachers in each class and they're very helpful. I try to help them and show my appreciation as much as I can. They hardly speak English but we find our way by being friendly. With good intentions we work together. Sadly, there's a huge gap between the Thai teachers and the English teachers in the school. Most teachers find it hard to communicate with each other. Of course there is a language barrier and working together is not easy because of that reason. Also because of cultural differences working together can be challenging. Thai teachers have a different culture than Western teachers. But Americans also have a different culture than South Africans. Western teachers get treated better; we get a higher salary, work shorter days and we get more days off. It's simply not fair.

I share an office with all the kindergarten teachers. Around six teachers for Kindergarten 1 to Kindergarten 3. Also the number of teachers in our office changes regularly. It's a bunch of people far away from home so you can imagine that stuff happens all the time. Also the school can decide to not extend your contract after a year or after probation (three months).

In the morning my little ones have to sit and stand in a perfectly straight line of boys and girls. We have no such thing in the Netherlands so I'll try to explain what the morning assembly's like. The assembly takes part in a big hall with all the kindergarten classes. They have to sit, stand, listen, sing, dance and even meditate in this first half an hour of school, without complaining. Most of them don't complain, they just do it. It's not always fun and very interactive, but I can understand that from their perspective, it's important to do this.

The Kings Song will be played and we all have to stand up before assembly starts. Every once in a while I have assembly duty in which I have to sing, dance or do something with all the kindergarten students. As long as it's educational. The Thai teachers love to dance with the students. Many times we are dancing with them on Thai pop music.

After assembly I have coffee and prepare my lessons and materials I need for the day. Some days are very busy and other days it's easier to get things done. It's still a job that requires a lot of preparation. Every quarter of the year there are tests, evaluation schedules and scores that need to be put on paper. Every half a year there is the final test. In these times my kids have to sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and make English and Math tests.

Some of them can barely hold the pencil, simply because they are too young to do this. We also do oral tests with the students which is, to my opinion, more accurate. The tests are made by teachers according to the course outlines. We follow the course outlines that are based on the English and Math books we teach.
Kindergarten, lower primary and upper primary have their own coordinator who basically makes sure that everyone does what they have to do. Being a coordinator is not an easy job. You're also dealing with people that have never really wanted to be teachers and have troubles teaching. I understand that they teach anyway, just because they can and because they want to have that experience. Not to forget, it's a way of affording to stay in beautiful Thailand. Unfortunately some people don't think of the fact that they are working with children. It's really not fair to them if you're not capable to do this job and decide to leave. You are an inspiration and an example to them. They learn from YOU!

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all - Aristotle. 

Before I started teaching in Thailand I was teaching full time at a Primary school in the Netherlands.
 I had to find my own way by mixing what I know and learned from teaching back home and what is expected here in Thailand. Here in Thailand, I've seen that it's very important to show the parents, in many ways, that the students are learning English. Sounds logical. But "how it looks" is the main focus, how it actually works best, is not. Whereas in the Netherlands we are extremely focused on what works best and eventually end up having too many rules and regulations. In Thailand there are rules and regulations, but they're not as solid and clear. We show scores on paper and give (mostly positive) comments about the students. The parents want to look inside the classroom and see perfectly lined up students looking and listening to the teacher. Their clothes perfectly ironed and washed, their hair nicely combed. A lot of students get extra English lessons after school. They really want their child to preform well. They want people to notice and show their admiration.

Math and English involves all around the understanding of numbers and letters and basic knowledge about these subjects. I practice with my students by using a lot of flashcards and by songs, drilling (letting the students repeat and say the words), playing games, roll-play, arts and crafts, reading stories etc. The students have expected learning outcomes for each subject. They have pages of work that need to be done. The students learn to write numbers and letters in their first year of school. How I actually reach the goals, is mostly up to me. It works for me, but if you're an inexperienced teacher you will find that this is a big challenge. I love the fact that I can be creative and think of fun new ways of teaching these subjects. This year we have new books and with this book I can be more interactive with the students and teach them how to answer basic questions like: "What do you want?", "What do you like?", "What is this?" etc. I make my kids answer in full sentences, and they can do it. I'm proud of how much they learn even within half a year time.

All teachers probably wonder how I deal with the differences of the students in my classroom. In this school they don't divide the students in different level groups. I have to teach classical. Classical teaching is not allowed in the Netherlands anymore. The education system in Thailand is quite like the Dutch education system 20 years ago. I teach classical for about 20 minutes and after that the students do book work. The same thing is expected from every one of them. I know that there are students that can't reach all the expected learning outcomes. The differences are huge.

In Primary some students will most definitely struggle and there's nothing you can really do.  The only thing you can do is advise the parents and tell them their child needs extra lessons. My main goal is to teach my kids how to be motivated by positive reinforcement and rewarding them. I give them extra guidance in groups or one by one. Most important is that they are having fun while learning English. Every day I enter the classroom to teach my kids I see their cute little faces light up when they see me. It's priceless."Cute" is an understatement.

Happiness doesn't result from what we get, but what we give. - Ben Carson

My kids say "thank you" all the time, as well as the parents. Thailand's culture is pleasant, soft, respectful. Time slows down and people smile a lot. The parents show their appreciation by giving treats, telling and/or writing me how their child loves to learn English.

Once a year there's "Wai Kru" day; teacher appreciation day. They students bring flowers for the teachers. They kneel down in front of you and "wai". For a Westerner, it can be awkward. I notice a difference in Thailand when it comes to how teachers are treated. The fact that it's already part of their culture to respect teachers definitely helps. Students and parents are mostly polite and giving. Everywhere I go, when I tell them "khun kru", which means: I'm a teacher, they show their appreciation giving discounts or giving you the best service you could get and of course a lot of smiles and "wai's". The way they greet in Thailand, by putting their hands together, is to me, a beautiful and respectful gesture.

There is so much more I could tell you about my teaching experiences. I hope that I answered some questions and have given you a good impression of what it's like. Feel free to ask more questions. Remember that this is my experience and I'm not saying that every school in Thailand is the same. I'm sure that Western teachers have totally different experiences over here.
The people that I'm surrounded with have always been supportive and inspiring. I miss my friends and family back home. Especially when I can't be there for special occasions. It's also because of them that I am the person I am today. Home will always be home, but after this amount of time of being here, I can say that Thailand is starting to feel like home too.

I went back to the Netherlands for one month and then came back to Thailand. I found a new beautiful apartment in one day. In that same week life also gave me a big slap in the face. It might look like I live this perfect life, but I also have my ups and downs. It makes me realize what a strong woman I have become. I know what's good for me and what's not.
My work is not stressful, I enjoy teaching. That helps a lot. Almost every day I leave work feeling good about myself. I can decide if I want to watch the sunset on the beach, go home and be lazy, get creative or go out with friends. All I need is myself, love, all that I can give and create.

woensdag 14 oktober 2015

Teaching in Thailand vs. teaching in the Netherlands. Part 2

How it all started
I traveled through Southeast Asia for four months. I couldn’t get enough of Asia. But my money was running out… I decided to extend my stay by working in a hostel on an island called “Koh Rong” in Cambodia. Really nothing could Koh Rong there. Living on an island for one month, it was exactly what I needed. Honestly, I was just escaping from “real life” for a little longer…
You can read more about my island life in Cambodia here:
I was trying to think of the moments that I really enjoyed teaching and trust me, there are many. I’ve always enjoyed my time studying and doing internships, teaching different grades and getting more experienced. The full time job after graduating was the bitter aftertaste that didn’t leave my mouth. Maybe I’m more ready to face it now? Maybe I was too young to be dealing with all those responsibilities? But even thinking about it made my heart race, like the nights I couldn’t sleep after long days of work. That same feeling that I had back then, it came back to me. I’ve learned many things while traveling, one thing is: follow your gut. This feeling definitely told me: DON’T DO IT!
When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” - Eckhart Tolle
There I was stuck on an island, not sure what to do next. It sounds horrible, but there was a strange sort of excitement getting to me. I was surrounded by clear blue water, white sandy beaches and travelers, mostly, very inspiring people. I realized how blessed I am. I can do anything that I want to, I can go wherever I want to go. The only thing I have to do is; make a plan, and just do it!
So I flew to Phuket -Thailand and did the TEFL (teach English to foreign learners) course. Other teachers and travelers had told me about it and it was the perfect way to gain more experience and get confident again. You can also do this course online but I don’t think you will learn as much. In this course you’ll practice what you’ve learned by teaching actual students. Besides, it’s more fun when you meet new people too. Easing my way into it, it felt good. I already knew that, no matter what, it WILL be an EXPERIENCE. Good or bad. I would never forget it and I would never regret it. I could always say; damn right I did that, and I’m proud!
You can read more about my TEFL experience here:

I have to say, I’ve always had the confidence to do it because of the support from my family and friends back home. I see travelers seeking for freedom but get lost somewhere, influenced by the feeling of uncertainty and guilt of leaving family members behind. My mom is a traveler herself and my parents always supported every decision I made. 
With the help of some (teacher) friends I had met in Phuket I was sorted with a job, a house and a bike within a couple weeks. I applied to one of the schools in Phuket by sending my resume and application letter through e-mail. We arranged a skype interview and before I knew it I had the job. I arranged it all online while being at home with my family. I love it when things fall into place like that! It gives me the feeling that I’m doing the right thing.
Sitting in a plane, knowing that you’re flying to the other side of the world, to start a new life for a whole year, it’s freaking weird. I am actually doing this. All by myself...

If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough”
My non- B visa was arranged and I was ready to get my stamp to get into Thailand after a 17 hour long flight. The immigration officer looked in my passport and then looked at me again and asked: “You teacher?” I said: “Yes.” He put his hands together and gave me a ‘Wai’ which means many things; in this case, I respect you. He said: “Aaaaah welcoooome teachaaa, welcome to Thailaaaaand.” I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a good start of a new life. Thai people are mostly warm and welcoming people.

The lifestyle

Compared to the Netherlands I have a higher standard of life and I'm spending much less money. You can choose to live in a condo (mostly provided with a pool and/or gym),or you can share a house with some (teacher) friends. I've always been living with other teachers. It makes being far away from home and family easier, you'll never feel alone. Friends become your family. I've made some really special connections over time.

Unfortunately people come and go all the time. That's one thing that makes living in a place like this hard and is also the reason I have moved a couple times from place to place. One of the houses I've lived in was like a dream. It was huge! Surrounded by beautiful nature. It had two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a big living area, a dining area, a kitchen and we only paid 18.000 baht for the whole house. That's 9000 baht each. That is not even 250 euro's each!! In Holland I would have to be a doctor to be able to afford a house like this.

I love my bike. It gives me total freedom. I go everywhere on it. I rent my bike for 2500 baht a month which is about 60 euro's. Some people say it's better to buy a bike. It's definitly cheaper than renting but my bike get's checked every couple months. For someone that doesn't know a thing about bikes it's the safer option, I think. Yes, traffic is crazy sometimes. Just be careful, and get comfortable driving it.

In Thailand I almost never cook because I can afford to go out and eat. It's mostly cheaper than buying all the groceries yourself anyway. Friends and good food is the perfect combination.We order everything delicious on the menu and share! Massaman curry, pineapple fried rice, penang curry, pad thai, grilled spicy fish. Talking about life with our bare feet sticking in the sand...

Long weekends or holidays off from work is the time to travel around Asia or beautiful islands nearby. I never get bored of Thailands beauty.

I've been teaching in Thailand for 1,5 years now, and I still love it. I teach about 19 hours a week. I have two kindergarten classes. Both of them have English and Math classes. In each class I have 25 – 30 students. My working hours are like heaven compared to what I was used to. I have long breaks in between my teaching hours. In this time I can prepare my lessons, mark my books, get creative and make fun teaching materials, do whatever needs to be done, or just relax and drink coffee. I NEVER take work home with me.

We all know that teachers in Western countries get underpaid work incredibly hard. I have so much respect for all the teachers out there giving all their heart and life for the purpose of teaching. I hope some day we get a wake up call and finally see that education is what keeps countries going. Good teachers inspire and have an impact on this generation, our future. How can we underappreciate that so much?

In my next blog you can have a look in my classroom! I will write what and how I teach my kids in Thailand, Thai education and their culture. 


donderdag 8 oktober 2015

Teaching in the Netherlands vs. teaching in Thailand.

In July 2013 I quit my job to travel, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I was a primary teacher in the Netherlands. I was teaching 9/10 year old students, I had my own very cute and cozy apartment in the vibrant city Rotterdam. I had a full-time job, a cat, a car… In my weekends I was hanging out with my friends, having fun, I was dating, I was working out and feeling healthy. I had everything a girl wants at 23. I finished my degree in Education and was very lucky to find a full time teaching job in Rotterdam. Even though, I realized this life was not what I expected and wanted it to be.
I was very excited to start my first “real” job as a teacher in my beautiful, modern and multicultural city, Rotterdam. The school was going through a lot of changes when I started working there because it got a score of “very low” based on the test - scores of the students. It was a time of hard work and many meetings. I had some experience teaching during my studies. But this was my first time working a “9 to 5 job” as they call it...
I woke up at 6.30 in the morning to be at work at 7.30 to prepare my lessons and get ready for the day. The students will come in at 8.30 and then you teach whatever is on the schedule for that day. Math, English, Geography, History, Dutch language, Arts.. The students have lunch at 12. In that time I quickly ate my sandwich, drank my coffee and finish a part of my never-ending to do list. My “break” was never longer than 20 min. The students come back at 1 o’clock. Then you teach again till 3.30. After 3.30 it’s time to mark, grade, make individual plans, make group plans, write reports, fill in scores, meetings etc. Most of the time I didn’t even find time to actually plan my lessons for the next day, so I had to be at school early to quickly read through what I’m supposed to teach that day. I never left work with the feeling that I had finished everything that I had to do for the day, there was ALWAYS something else that needed to be done. Often I’d left work at 5 or 5.30 with books and/or tests to mark at home. The part I enjoy most; being creative and making my lessons fun for the students, I didn’t find time to do this. I thought this is something I just need to get used to, it will all get easier after some time.
Rules, rules and more rules
Education is very organized in the Netherlands. There are certain rules we need to follow as teachers. We can’t teach classical, we have to teach in different level groups. These groups are based on their scores in the so-called “CITO” test. This is a national test that grades all students on their knowledge in each subject. Based on those scores we teach the students giving divided attention to “their needs.” It sounds great, but this way of teaching requires a lot of preparation and in the end, it’s based on scores. It doesn’t measure creativity, social interaction, critical thinking, leadership, flexibility, motivation, curiosity, humor, will-power, discipline, empathy and so much more qualities that are definitely something to focus on when we are educating the new generation to real life! It only measures their basic knowledge about these subjects. There is no room for learning about yourself, what compliments you, what makes you happy as an individual.
In the Netherlands we are trying so hard, too hard, we are forgetting the purpose of teaching. I can speak from my own experience that I was focused on “getting it all done on time” instead of really getting to know my students and enjoying all their unique characters. I need to learn about my students to know how to teach them. I didn’t realize until later that I couldn’t, purely because I was too stressed. I was working till late every day and even in the weekends. I was not enjoying my work anymore. In the Netherlands we love to complain. As a teacher it’s hard to get the respect you deserve from parents and/or students. Basically, you are working your ass off and no one will notice or say a thing. When you make a mistake, like we do as human-beings, you bet you’ll hear it! My sleeping patterns were becoming abnormal. It got to the point that I could only sleep 3 hours a night. Not being able to fall asleep, and waking up hours before my alarm clock, thinking about what I still had to do and what a bad day it was at work. I felt that I was failing; I felt that I had made the wrong decision to become a teacher.
When nothing goes right… go left.
So that was me, just graduated, started an incredibly challenging job at a very challenging school, just trying to get it all done and barely sleeping at night. I was so stressed, I started to get a rash on my arms, legs and even in my face and around my eyes. It was a lack of sleep and a lack of happiness getting to me. My body was saying: “no more”. With some thick make up around my eyes, hiding the red rash on my face, I just kept on going.
One day, just after the bell rang, three parents came into my classroom pointing their finger at me, with my students there, saying how their child failed the test and it was my fault. I never felt this disrespected and under-appreciated in my life. I totally broke. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I stayed at home for a week, did a lot of yoga and meditation. I took my well deserved rest and decided that I was not going to continue like this. All through this my co-workers and the school have been very helpful,they never doubted me as a teacher. I'm thankful for that.
I was happy that I had saved some money over the last 6 months of working, purely because I was too tired to go out and spend it. I had enough to travel for at least 4 months. I told the school I was going to leave. It felt so good. I needed time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I hope it was a good read for you!
In my next blog I will write about my experiences teaching in Thailand.