I’ve been working in a small school in Thailand since November. For five months, I’ll be teaching English and supporting the students as a ‘big brother’ figure – called ‘Kylianmitta’. The only catch is that my Thai is very basic and focuses on survival. I doubt that I’d be talking to the students about vegan food or bathrooms very often.
After the first month, I found that my mind was a whirlwind. Frustration, anger, fear, embarassment all came up quite regularly. The language barrier was intense at times and I felt a strong disconnect from the vast majority of the community. School events and functions were just noise to me. The same went for conversations at dinner if I didn’t sit next to the two other native English speakers. As I was told, Thai folk are shy to use their English and most of the time, I was gently ignored. I would spend long stretches of time, days sometimes, not talking to anyone.
After a month of this, I started getting headaches. I would feel growly at times, like a grumpy wild animal. When I found out that one of the school’s HR ladies’ father had died over the weekend, I said of course that I would go to the funeral. I didnt fully mean it at the time because my mind was feeling threatened and a bit pissed off.
I didn’t fully mean it until I reflected on it later. She had spent hours helping me apply for my work permit. Now, she was devestated and hurting. Maybe I couldn’t say anything in Thai to comfort her but I could offer her my presence during this very difficult time. She deserved to be supported. I could look past my grumbling, angry mind to show support at the funeral.
Although this gesture felt small to me, it seemed to make a difference to her. By trying harder to offer something to the community, I felt more included in it. The tension in my shoulders and head loosened noticibly. It was a good reminder that we all have something we can offer to others – big or small.