by Liz O’Sullivan
Liz O’Sullivan began her mentoring role in late January 2020 to assist local Thai and Karen teachers at Bankhlotor and Umphang Public Schools in developing English basic proficiency, global citizenship awareness through teaching, and specific outdoor activities.
This time last year I had just come home from my Palms Encounter trip to Timor. I was inspired by what I had seen, who I had met and what I had experienced on the trip. I was still deciding what my future path would entail and was looking at the option of applying for a teaching assignment overseas with Palms.
Fast forward to April 2020. Who would’ve predicted the world would be where it is now? We are in the middle of a pandemic affecting just about every person globally. Seemingly everyday life is not what it was a few weeks ago.
As for me, I am living in the safe surrounds of a large convent school in North Thailand. For now, work in the outside communities has been put on hold and like many others I am not sure when things will return to ‘normal’. What is ‘normal’ in this kind of situation, however, remains to be seen.
I made the decision to stay after knowing that I would be safe and well cared for here in Thailand. I was keen to complete my placement and be involved in work here in whatever capacity I could. While things remain somewhat in limbo, I have had some time to reflect on why I am here and what I can learn from this experience.
Always be grateful
The words from my late father always come back to me. He would remind me to always to be grateful. Gratitude can be challenging at times, and particularly so when you see so much suffering around the world. I find myself looking at my situation and realising how lucky I really am.
I am grateful for being safe and secure where I am. The sisters here look out for me. With life in Thailand always centered around meal times, I know I won’t go hungry. There is an abundance of rice, vegetables and fish. The cook brings me a plate every day with a warm smile. I am even getting used to the spicy food.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to study the Thai language. It is very challenging, but I am able to practice with whichever teacher is assigned to be in the school office for the day. The school is closed, but there are still teachers who have to come into work.
I am grateful for technology and internet access. I have been able to stay in touch with family and friends; I regularly facetime my lovely mum in Australia. I can do online workouts in my room, practice reading Thai, download books, look at teaching resources and generally keep myself entertained. While I am not leaving the school compound, I can definitely stay connected to the outside world.
I am grateful for my support network. I am grateful for the staff and sisters here at the school. I am thankful for Father Reynaldo who is managing my assignment here in Thailand providing so much guidance, care and inspiration. I am grateful for my network of family and friends. Of course I am also grateful for the Palms staff, in particular Christine who always checks in to see how things are going.
I am grateful to still be able to teach. My classroom is a table and my current class size is two. My two students live in the school compound with their parents who work here. Kitchen and maintenance staff are on duty every day. When these students are not cleaning or helping prepare meals, they come to me for English lessons. At the beginning of every lesson they sit attentively with a smile on their faces and at the end of each lesson they leave with a polite, “Thank you teacher.”
I am also grateful for the little things:
For the young nun who played badminton with me and showed me how to make an origami rabbit for Easter.
For the treat of a fresh coconut, for the girls who gave me snacks when I told them I could not leave the school compound to buy my own, for the teacher who gave me packets of hot chocolate and joyfully helped me with my Thai pronunciation,
…for the man on the path who told me I was doing a good job speaking Thai, for having enough toilet paper, for the kind young teacher living upstairs who chats with me and for the warm smiles and greetings of ‘Hello teacher’ from the people here at St Joseph School.
We are living in uncertain times but we will return to some kind of normal again. For now I challenge everyone to search for positives and embrace gratitude where you can.
Message of support
To keep our personnel safe and support our communities during this pandemic please donate here.