After spending a year teaching English at a primary school in the province of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, WorldTeach volunteer Noam Szoke has returned home to San Francisco. In this blog post, he reflects upon his work in Thailand, and the amazing experiences and friendships that have helped him find his purpose in everything he does. Thanks for sharing, Noam!
The last post is here. It was inevitable.
I still find myself disoriented when I wake up in the middle of the night, and slightly so first thing in the morning. Ah, yes, here I am! I’m eating oranges and apples instead of mangoes and pineapples. No rice fields, no Kwai. In San Francisco we have cold; We also have hot showers and flannel sheets. I’ve been welcomed home by loving friends and family, so very warmly and fully. I am happy to be home and I am nostalgic about Thailand.
But this is the last post and there must be some sort of reflection, some way to wrap it all up! What was it all about? Tell us, Noam!
Doing something for a limited period has the effect of concentrating and magnifying effort and concentration. A year is a very very long limited period. My life was simplified and distilled. At first, it boiled down to the mechanics of keeping on keeping on: food, shelter, clothes, transportation. All new, all different, all necessary almost every day. Beyond that, staying healthy in body and mind meant finding purpose. Where?
Teaching: the thing that got me up in the morning and engaged me in the evening. Teaching in such a different culture tested and reinforced many of my beliefs and put classroom practices in a new light. I had enormous free reign within which to experiment: I was the theorist, the curriculum planner, the textbook designer, the evaluator, the expert, and, of course, the classroom teacher. It was a little like rekindling an old romance: exciting, familiar, fresh. I have a wider and deeper understanding now of words that are so important to my work: creativity, community, relationships.
Friendship: old and new. My sweetheart and my other “old” friends and family back home helped me immensely to cope. There were times of loneliness and angst at having torn myself away from the life I knew and loved to adventure in this great, strange, unknown place. My “new” teacher friends were no less instrumental. Not only were they present in flesh and blood, but they were going through many of the same experiences I was, so there was a strong bond and camraderie between and amongst us. We grew quite close, and our almost weekly time together sustained me when the going was rough. And my Thai comrades were a puzzle that was slowly solved. We pushed through our language and cultural barriers with smiles and nods and we, also, became friends.
Solitude: my other friend. Both a burden (for a social creature such as me) and a gift, the time and seclusion forced me and allowed me to consider and consolidate. I indulged in passions old and new, took long bike rides, delved into photography and blogging, read and wrote and listened to gobs of music. I took in the beauty of the countryside, the animals, the people. I absorbed.
I’m saying goodbye now to you, to my readers. Some of you I took leave of, in person, a month ago. Some I am thrilled to be reunited with again. As blog readers, some of you have been rigorous, some of you sporadic; some have posted responses, some have emailed, and some have taken it in silently. I appreciate you all. My blog drove me crazy at times and helped keep me sane at others, but I am glad I kept at it, just as I am glad that I persevered through the year in Thailand.
I look at my world with slightly fresher eyes and a much slower pace. I feel like an observer still. Of course, I’ve had to engage in everything from shopping to working, so that feeling is changing. Inevitable.
I feel as though I’m not done traveling – indeed, I feel as though I have just traveled here. And if I can maintain that sense of wonder and adventure – happy, lucky me!
I still check my shoes for creatures before I put them on. A vestige of my life in Nakhon Phanom, it makes me smile. I look at the photos of the many places I went, and, especially, of my students, and I am so very grateful to have had this experience. I left a little piece of myself back in Isaan, and I took a little piece of Isaan with me.
I’ll end this with the brilliant words, the first 4 stanzas, of a poem by one of my favorites, Walt Whitman.
Song of the Open Road Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)