Sports Day in Thailand is perhaps one of my favourite things that the school organises. ‘Sports’ is used a bit loosely in Thailand as the athletic events are normally all different (and slightly unequal) lengths of track. The different running events took on average four hours of the day and towards the end of the day, in the heat of the sun, students started dropping like proverbial flies. What starts as maybe a teenager skipped on their breakfast and genuinely faints becomes a contagious epidemic of youngsters just managing to cross the finish line before dramatically falling into the arms of their friends.
Funnily enough, this isn’t why Sports Day is my favourite event of Assumption. Everyone in Thailand knows that Sports Day isn’t about putting on a pair of trainers as much as it is about team colours, glitter, sequins and make up. There’s a lot of opportunities for students to dress up, but it is normally in an inherently Thai fashion for traditional Thai events. Sports Day is a student’s ticket to unhinging their imaginations and getting an approved creative license for the day.
Some students will wake up as early as 3 am to prepare for Sports Day, ready for a procession starting at 7.30. A parade moved down from the neighbouring school to Assumption’s sports field, led by the school’s marching band (who I noticed the majority of are actually my students!)
It seems that a Sports Day isn’t a sports day without an opening ceremony and the opening ceremony at Assumption was weirdly longer than the one for the 2012 Olympics (just kidding, but it was close). Primary 4, 5 and 6 together presented a giant aerobics show to the Thai equivalent of Eye of The Tiger.
The piece de resistance of the day was the handful of cheerleading presentations from each team colour. Many have themes – this year, a team of gladiators shook in their suits against galactic star warriors and personified swans. A lot of time, energy and effort goes into all aspects of these dances, and the general high standard makes even the good attempts look sloppy and like they lack effort. Combined with the day’s many many many runs, this year’s winner was a team of orange Asian warriors!
Roll up! Roll up! Yet another term is about to bite the dust at Assumption. It’s difficult not to compare where we, the ‘new farang teachers’, stood this time last year in the school term with this year; I think all of our perceptions have changed over our experience. I won’t lie – it was almost exactly one year ago I remember trailing as slowly as I could from one class to another just to eat up some time, thinking, “It’s okay to go. No one will think bad of you.Heck, these people don’t even know you.” The image of small groups of Thai children sat eagerly, ready and willing to learn was quickly scrapped when on my first day, I had classes of over 50 hyper kids drumming Isaan beats on their desk and screaming over each other. It seemed every question I asked was met by blank faces asking “arai na?” This is literally a polite way of saying “eh?”
Perhaps it was determination or just sheer stubbornness that was something in the back of my mind, telling me to sleep it off and try again tomorrow. I felt stupid that after hearing from others what an amazing experience they’d had, I seemed to have left my sense of adventure back at home. I missed my family and friends. I missed food. I missed the beautiful architecture of the city I’d called home for the past three years and understanding what most people are trying to say to me. For one month, the list spiralled on, put on hiatus only by the constant string of activities happening.
For anyone who is considering teaching English abroad – the truth is that this feeling is normal and only time will settle it. Telling people about feeling a bit lost and homesick made me realise that I wasn’t the only one going through it. Some people began to feel comfortable before others and that’s okay. Take some extra time getting to know your new home and the people in it, learn what you need to in the mother tongue to get yourself understood and your entire experience will do a 180°. If you’re feeling alone, ask someone if they want to grab a coffee sometime. Most importantly, be patient with what you’re doing. It takes time to see change, but when it happens, you’ll probably not wish it any other way.