Angry

Angry

IMG_4325Even after two years this country still manages to bewilder me, confuse me, and anger me. I am angry that no one informs us about assemblies or schedule changes so that we show up to class only to find that our students are missing—gone on a field trip or visiting with monks in the cafeteria or seeing the dentist in the meeting room downstairs. I am angry that when I first visit local food carts, I am overlooked and only attended to after all the locals have been offered food first, even if they arrived twenty minutes after me. I am angry that our school still puts our lunch out every day, placing our meals on silver trays next to the director’s seat, a clear sign that we are socially above all the other teachers even though none of us have any actual teaching experience. I am angry that we are treated differently everywhere we go, that we are simultaneously like celebrities, random women grabbing our wrists and directing us into selfies, while also being a circus side show, small children gawking in awe at our white skin and blonde hair and shouting after us FARANG FARANG (a.k.a. foreigner). I am angry that no one thinks to mention to us that we need to wear orange on a certain day and then show up to school to find that all of the teachers are not only dressed in that color but wearing identical shirts. I am angry that the way of life here forces my students onto motorbikes each day, most without helmets and all without a say. I am angry that one particular student suffered the consequences of this lifestyle when she was involved in an accident last year and now has a completely scarred leg due to her injuries. I am angry that for the first time in my life I am made aware of my gender in a way that not only makes me uncomfortable but makes me want to shout and scream WOMEN ARE JUST AS GOOD AS MEN!

This is a wide but not all encompassing list that has accumulated
throughout my time here. I realize that this is not my usual positive self speaking about students that make me smile and landscapes that take my breath away, or even experiences that challenge me and make me learn something. This is a stark reality check. When I came home for the months of April and May I was astounded at what most people thought my daily life was like. You’re living in Thailand. That must be wonderful. I think some people imagine me sitting on the beach most weekends, sipping a cocktail, and reading a book. Others see exotic fruits, steaming curries and an unfathomable language. And then the smaller percentage pictures shouting children, chalk dust and sticky marker covered hands. In reality my life is a little of all of these things, mostly the latter, and very little of the former. But most importantly, my life is made up of reflecting on my emotions, managing them and directing that energy in a positive way. I have learned over the last year ways to manage my anger. However, that doesn’t mean that still aren’t moments where I am threatened, where I feel I am about to be unraveled, where I don’t know how to suppress that anger any longer.

Over thIMG_4336e past couple of weeks I have struggled with one such scenario, an anger that feels raw and untouched mostly because I have never had to experience this sort of adversity in the States. Gender inequality. It is something that I noticed from my first couple of months here last year. No girls seemed to run around the track, or play sports, or really have any muscle tone what so ever. All the women had a style that I would describe as overly feminine and girly giant bows tacked onto the end of their ponytails, small shiny belts accentuating their unbelievably small waistlines. The gender discrimination only became more apparent the longer I lived here. Some hotel managers only addressed the male in a group, never speaking to the women, some even implying that the male must be married to one or all of the women. I was told I couldn’t lift tables or chairs in the classroom, that I couldn’t carry my students’ books from one side of the school to another. Only men, a good Thai friend told me one time when I asked if we could help move a new table into our home. At first I found this all a bit comical. That is until this whole sexism thing started to affect my daily decisions.

I wanted to play soccer again. After having been off the field for a year, I finally found a fellow American friend who played three times a week with some locals. I asked to join and headed to a sport’s store to pick up some cleats. The woman who ran the shop was perpetually confused by me. When I first pointed to the cleats I wanted to try on she looked at me skeptically, saying they were for football.

“I know. I know,” I said. But still she was hesitant.

After I perused the shelves for a few more minutes and she saw that I wasn’t fooling around, she pulled a pair out of the glass casing for me. I was probably the only girl she had ever helped to buy cleats, I thought as she packaged up the red and white ones I had chosen.

I expected to get some backlash when I first walked out onto the field, expected for the men to not totally accept me. Yet, I was so so glad that I was brave enough to go play, after a year of not playing, on a field in hot, humid Thailand among all older men who could say anything they wanted about me and I would have no idea what they were saying. That night on the field, the men seemed welcoming and yet subtly hostile towards me. They told me good job and tried to translate for me as we switched activities. And yet they snickered at me when I ran, saying I was a foreigner, a girl. I imagined that they discussed my audacity to come play with them in the first place. It wasn’t until the next day when I told my mother over the phone, glowingly I might add, that I had played for the first time since moving here. Be careful, she warned. You can’t change a culture, Brenna.

And this, my friends, is where I started to feel uncomfortable. And angry. I was angry that when my male, American friend said he wouldn’t be going to practice for the next week in order to nurse a nagging Achilles’ heel, that it meant I couldn’t play either. I was angry that I had to be afraid of what could happen if I was on this field alone without a friend to “look out for me.” I was angry that these images even came to mind, that I even had to assume this of the men here. I was angry that girls are not encouraged to play sports here, angry that they didn’t have the same opportunities as boys, angry that these deeply engrained cultural values were now affecting me.

I remembered the man that owned the sports’ shop where I bought my cleats, how he sat at a table with a bowl of porridge in front of him and the TV on, not even acknowledging the sales woman when she asked him for change, wordlessly shooing his wife over to do the petty task. I was angry that men here could get away with doing nothing and still have all the wealth and power. I was angry that my girls, my brilliantly beautiful girls, could out perform the boys on every single task in school and yet they would still have less because of where they live, because of the gender inequality that exists here. I was angry that I was conscious of my gender, conscious of my limitations because of it. I was angry that I had grown up in a country where I had the opportunity to play, angry that my girls didn’t have the same opportunity. I was angry. So angry that I was nearly swallowed in tears as I tried to calmly explain to friends why I felt uncomfortable to go play soccer without a male counterpart. So angry that I didn’t want to think about my anger, didn’t want to think about the gender stereotypes that pervade this culture, didn’t want to think about how this would affect my young girls’ lives, how they would be shut out of so many opportunities simply because they had breasts and a vagina.

I haven’t been to practice for about a week and a half now. My cleats sit out on the back porch, grass and mud still clinging to their new surface. And I am still angry.

I am still angry.


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Tiny Beautiful Moments — Math Class

Tiny Beautiful Moments — Math Class

The rainy season has finally begun, which means I now I wake to roosters and raindrops.  It means that the morning market now smells like damp fish instead of grilled bananas and curry.  It means that classrooms are filled with barefoot children, their socks hanging on the railing to dry.  It means that colorful umbrellas dot the school yard and that my hair is too big not to pull back into a ponytail. 

All of this, though, are tinier, beautiful moments tucked between the stories.  For now, let me present you to the final installment (at least in the first volume) of Tiny Beautiful Moments.  It’s sort of a two-part finale.

Enjoy.


Earth comes to the front of the room, bouncing up and down, his contagious smile so wide that his eyes must narrow to make room for it on his small face. I ask the question: Write the number thirty-five. Earth puts his whole body into the piece of chalk, scrawling the numbers largely on the board, thrusting his hand into the air when he is finished.

“Correct,” I say before handing him the makeshift ball.

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Earth is on the left.

We are playing math basketball. I ask the students to write a number that I say out loud. The fastest student then shoots the sock puppet (there was no small ball in our office to use) into the pink bucket placed on a chair near the window. Standing at different distances from the chair, the students have tested just how many points they can get, Bombay (not one of my athletically gifted students) shooting from across the entire room to boldly try and earn ten points. When he made the basket, the sock puppet flying swiftly and perfectly into the bucket, the kids erupted with laughter and cheers, Bombay himself jumping into the air, his pudgy hands held high. Bombay’s victory made all the kids want to try for the ten point basket, each of them walking across the classroom when they got a correct answer. Some of the smaller girls who looked hesitant to try for ten points were pressured by Earth, who whispered loudly through cupped hands “Ten points, ten points!”

So when I finally call Earth forward and it is his time to shoot for the basket, he scoots back, near the door, swinging the puppet around his head with the small string attached to its head. (Let me a take a minute here to describe this sock puppet. It was given to me last year by a kindergartner, a small sock stuffed with cotton to make a head, tied with a rubber band and a face drawn on in marker. The rest of the sock dangles freely, strings hanging from its hollow body as if they are its two legs. This puppet is what I brought to class for the kids to play basketball with. The same puppet Earth now has suspended above his head.) Around and around it goes until he releases . . . and it flies straight out the open window. I immediately start laughing. Earth jumps up and down, a little too pleased with himself. The Thai teacher however, is not happy. She folds her arms, her normal smile replaced with a scowl. Oh, shoot, I think, I should probably be mad too.

“Well, now the game is over,” I say to the class, my greatest attempt at trying to be upset, although I can’t quite stifle my smile or my laughter. I turn to the board to add up the points of each team, and giggle into the chalk written tallies.

As I hand out the worksheet for that day, my kids shrug their shoulders and say Mai bpen lai, the Thai equivalent of No worries.

            “Mai bpen lai,” I say back to them, all of us smiling.

When I reach Earth’s desk, his smile is perhaps bigger than I’ve ever seen it.

“Next time, throw a bit softer, Earth.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and stands on his tippy toes, a gesture I have become all too familiar with in this last year as his teacher. He nods his head, as if he really can understand me.

“And good job,” I say before I walk from desk to desk, making sure everyone is completing their work.

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Earth at last year’s school exhibition.

“You’re students are awesome,” she says to me just as I go to brush my teeth.

She arrived this morning. It was a visit I was nervous for, not having ever really spoken to her outside of camp.

“I know,” I try to say with a mouthful of toothpaste.

I brought her to class with me, my students nearly tackling her when she tried to play a game with them, the girls scooting close to her during the whole period, whispering to her in a mixture of Thai and English. They are fearless and accepting, asking the next day where Teacher Roohie has gone.

“She went to see the temples,” I will say and they will sigh, already missing their new friend.

“I don’t know how you’re going to leave them,” Roohie says to me now, standing just outside the doorway to the bathroom. “I fell in love with them in just one day. I can’t imagine what must happen in a year.”

“I know,” I say, spitting my toothpaste into the sink. “And I’ve been with them for two.”

We are both silent. We have talked too much this last day about med school and the future.

“I don’t want to think about it,” I say before slipping past her, both of us retreating to our rooms to sleep.

My second grade class after making American flags for a Fourth of July Craft.
My second grade class after making American flags for a Fourth of July Craft.

Tiny Beautiful Moments — Sukothai

Tiny Beautiful Moments — Sukothai

As I was writing this third installment for Tiny Beautiful Moments, I realized that in some way I had stolen the name for this series of posts.  Cheryl Strayed has a book called Tiny Beautiful Things filled with excerpts from a column she wrote entitled Dear Sugar.  Two of my housemates brought this book with them to Thailand and consequently all of us, except myself, have now read the book.  As they were reading, they would share small moments with me, quotes that they couldn’t stop rereading and chapters that touched them in an especially profound way.  Although I have yet to read the book, I already feel connected to it in this deep and unexplainable way.  It seems appropriated that without ever consciously making the decision to mimic Cheryl Strayed’s title, I came up with a title so strikingly similar to hers.  So thank you Cheryl Strayed and your delightful book I have yet to read.  You have already inspired me greatly.


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The heat bears down on us all day, riding our bikes for hours in between ruins of Buddhas and temples, relics of a long ago world that is hard for any of us to imagine. We take cat naps under trees with wide leaves and white flowers that look as if they have been painted there. We snap pictures of one another looking at the giant towers and columns of what used to be a magnificient kingdom. With our heads cocked to the side and the palm of our hand shading our eyes from the hot sun, we look at the crumbling buddhas carved into the foundation, the head of one remaining Buddha near the top.

We have traveled to Sukothai, taking a five-hour bus ride early Friday morning, after learning of an unexpected three day weekend. We rent bikes and ride along the perfectly manicured paths of this national park that has so acutely preserved the remains of this former Thai capital, a place where Thai language and writing originated and Thai art was born. As we ride along a small path next to a lake, I look to my right, the ruins spread out before me, the sun shining bright. This cannot be real, I think.

We ride along un-shaded roads into the countryside, leaving the park for a drier, more unkempt part of this ancient kingdom. Scattered among houses and restaurants, tiny ancient temples lie basking in the sun. We nearly push our bikes a mile uphill to a small temple that Ali claims will be beautiful. She saw pictures of it in the museum we visited earlier that morning and at lunch insisted that we all go. As I feel my skin turning beet red in the sun, I debate whether it will be so beautiful.

After twenty minutes of biking on roads that, sorry for the cliché here, could fry an egg (one of us really did see a fried egg on the road), we arrive at a small hill with a standing Buddha almost perfectly preserved at the top. We buy water from a man in a hut near by and begin to climb the cobbled steps. When we reach the top only minutes later, we finish off our water and sit in the shade offered by the Buddha. We sit in absolute silence for nearly 20 minutes, none of us saying a word. We look into the vast distance, all of Sukothai spread out before us. I think about the plaque at the bottom of the hill, the one saying the king of Sukothai used to ride here on his elephant to worship on holidays. I can imagine him now, standing on this hillside in sparkly clothes, a whole procession of people following him and waiting at the bottom. I can imagine him looking out across this great expanse, just as I do now, thinking that his kingdom is very grand indeed.

Buddha at the top of the hill.
Buddha at the top of the hill.


We hardly say a word as we gather our things and reluctantly walk back down to our bikes. We thank Ali for showing us this lovely place, as if she has been here a million times before. We reapply sunscreen and take note of one another’s red patches, the skin that we will have to nurse when we get back to the hotel. We throw away empty water bottles and strap our purses to the back of our bikes, having no basket to put them in. We mount our seats, each of us silently groaning. The sun seems almost hotter now.

“Can’t we just all ride an elephant back?” Ana says as we all kick off and begin our ride back into town.

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Tiny Beautiful Moments — Yoga

We are dressed in tiny booty shorts and tank tops, desperately wanting to rip our t-shirts off, use them as towels to wipe the sweat from our eyes. We resist. Our mats are sprawled on the tile floor, the windows all flayed open in the hopes that a breeze will bring some cool air, if only for a second. Our limbs move in synchronized fashion, legs twisting above our heads, arms strong, hands slipping as sweat drips from our hair onto the mat.

We have dubbed the downstairs of our townhouse the yoga studio. Devoid of any furniture, it perfectly fits our four mats side by side so that we can each see the computer screen where we stream a new yoga video each day. We only moved in to the townhouse yesterday, finally unpacking our suitcases for the first time since we got to Thailand.

We sweat and cling to our mats with desperate strength as only ten minutes into the yoga class, we realize how we have gotten a free hot yoga session, the tropical climate not allowing for anything else. We are wearing too much clothes, having experimented with how little clothing we could possibly wear with a floor to ceiling glass door only for a Thai man to drive by two minutes later, sending us all rushing upstairs for more clothing.

Sweat rolls down our backs and between our thighs, coming from places I wasn’t even sure entirely existed. We lie down on our backs. We twist to the left and right, our eyes starting to close and the sweat still pooling on our mats. The instructor asks us to twist back to the right. We do so. We focus on our fingertips. I focus on the . . .whose shoes are those? Whose hand is on our front door handle? Yup, our landlady is here.

She begins to knock lightly on the front door, sliding it open before waiting for us to get up from our positions on the ground. I immediately jump to my feet and rush over to her.

“The keys,” she mutters handing over a set of two keys, each with a small colored dolphin keychain attached.

“One, tii nii,” she says in a mixture of Thai and English. She squints her eyes as she talks to us, as if she can’t see us clearly.

She nods when we clarify, making a small grunting sound like a baby gorilla. I flinch just slightly.

She then points to the ceiling, and the bathroom, the door in the far corner, saying words I do not know. Somehow I hear that the roof is on fire, in some sort of strange mixture of English and Thai.  I ask her to slow down. She doesn’t. She only says new words. New words I do not understand. Finally, I smile and say, “Ohhh,” like it has suddenly dawned on me what she has said. She squints her eyes, makes a soft gorilla grunt, and then before she goes snickers a bit under her breath.

“You like yoga?”

“Yes, yes,” we all coo. This we understand.

“Very good,” she says, then turns to leave.

“What did she say?” the others ask.

“I don’t know,” I say before we return to our mats and resume the video.

We are back to twisting left, twisting right, twisting left . . .

“Hello,” a small voice comes from the window. “Hello?”

I hear footsteps on the pavement outside and see the top of a woman’s black hair through the bars of our window.

I get up once again, this time adjusting my t-shirt and shorts before opening the front door.

“Hello,” the woman says handing me a giant green basket filled with multiple bags.             “Rice for you.”

“Kop kun kaa,” I say, bowing slightly before taking the basket from her hands.

She looks inside, sees Erin, Ana, Ali sitting cross-legged on their mats. She waves hello. They say hello back.

“Yoga,” she says to us, as if she is teaching us this word for the first time. “You like yoga?”

We smile and all nod yes.

“I like yoga too. Good for you.”

She smiles. “I am teacher.”

She says good bye and we all bow slightly again, saying thank you to her in Thai.

I slip back inside, placing the basket on the ground behind my mat, Erin pushing the play button only for the instructor to ask us to lay on our backs for savasana.

Our living room is now dark, the sun setting during the course of our class. We all giggle to ourselves as we lie back, closing our eyes.

“We have to get curtains for those windows,” Ana says before we all fall into a settling meditation.

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Tiny Beautiful Moments — Pua

Tiny Beautiful Moments — Pua

I’ve been in Nan for exactly one month now and I’m finally starting to feel more settled. Me and the three other American English teachers working at my school moved to a new townhouse about 2 weeks ago. Nestled in a cobblestoned street back neighborhood, we have enjoyed our quieter evenings spent doing yoga, journaling, and completing puzzles to Nicki Minaj music in the background (okay, maybe we don’t always have quiet evenings). I am teaching first and second grade this year (last year I taught first through third with a little kindergarten sprinkled in). And while teaching definitely feels easier, I am learning that even after a year, I still make mistakes daily and learn something from my students every day.

Much like last year, I struggle at times to find an appropriate format and theme for these blog posts.  Living and working abroad can come with grand revelations, worthy of an entire three page post itself, but many times I find that my time in Thailand is made up of tiny, beautiful moments woven together into the tapestry of my everyday life, so that if I don’t look hard enough these moments can zip right by. Last year I wrote a post entitled “Snapshots of Nan”, a sporadic arrangement of small stories from my everyday life.   I wanted to try something similar to that. I will be posting a new installment of this blog every day for the next week or so. Each is a small story that I have collected during my time here. Whether it be about one my students, a moment where I learn just how friendly Thai people can be, or even the tiny adventures that seem to present themselves to me here.   Whatever it may be, this is my attempt to show all of you some of the tiny, beautiful moments that make up my life here in Nan.

Without further ado, I present you all to Pua.


Pua

When I call Pua forward for a math game, his entire team moans, some of them throwing their fists to the desks. I scold them, but I know what they’re thinking—Pua won’t get them a point. He is up against one of the smartest students in the class and the person to finish the fastest will win. Pua isn’t fast. At least not in a thinking, academic way.

IMG_4077Pua was one of the first names I learned last year. I knew Pua’s name because I said it more in an hour than all of my other students’ names combined; and not because his hand was constantly raised. No. Pua had a habit of flinging himself to the ground, falling out of his chair and usually hitting other students in the process. Pua shouted in the middle of class and hardly ever listened. Whenever I called Pua’s name, his eyes would roll in this way that reminded me of a cartoon character, big and dramatic and yet, not responding to my discipline methods at all.

Starting second semester last year I made a commitment to work with Pua every class period, hoping this would make his behavior improve. What I found was shocking. Pua couldn’t read. He didn’t know the alphabet and all the letters and words seemed to appear mixed and mashed to him. In the small moments I was able to work with him, Pua seemed to improve enormously. He started to recognize some words and even understood what I was asking him to do. He would hand in his worksheets with a giant smile glued to his face so proud of himself for actually completing his work. Pua quickly became one of my favorite students to work with.

Now in second grade, Pua is still behind many of his classmates. So even though I thoroughly enjoy his hysterics, I don’t expect much from him when I call him up for the game. I read the question.

“Write the number thirty-two.”

Pua’s chalk races across the board and his hand zooms straight up, signifying his completion of the math problem. I am shocked.

“Pua is the winner!”

Pua jumps and spins in the air, his limbs flailing in all directions. His entire team erupts in cheers and Pua sprints back to his desk, doing these quick sharp movements, which I have come to love, reminding me of a comic strip character with large gestures and even larger facial expressions. He shouts out several times during the period, giving away the answers for other kids. But I only look at him slightly stern, my eyes still bright and a smile still on my face. I am so proud of him. I can’t even begin to discipline him today.

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Pua

Back Home

I have dreamt of this moment since the day I set foot back in the States. The moment when I would arrive in Nan again, when I would see my students again, their smiling faces and their clammy hands wrapping around me. When I would hold them and tell them “See, I told you I would come back.” And yet all this happened today and still, I feel like it’s not quite real.

Maybe it has to do with the stuffed up nose and still plugged ears from a long 24 hour journey, filled with 4 plane flights and a groggy overnight stay in Bangkok. Maybe I still can’t really believe I am here. I mean two days ago I was at camp, screaming my heart out over dinner and loving the color purple. I was giving endless piggy-back rides and eating raw onions with kids screaming in my face “Just put it all in your mouth.” Maybe it is the fact that even though I have done this all before I am still desperately nervous, frightened of the homesickness and the inevitable bouts of loneliness.

I know that all of this will pass. That in a week’s time I will wonder how I ever felt this way at all. I will step back into the classroom and remember why I love this job so much, why I decided to sacrifice my time with family, put off medical school one more year, and sweat my butt off in a un-air-conditioned classroom.

Yet I have fears. Fears that this year will not nearly be as wonderful and successful as last year. Fears that everything that frustrated before will only make me more frustrated this year. Fears that somehow teaching will be different with new students and new English teachers surrounding me.

I don’t want make it seem like I don’t want be here. Because I do. I made that decision long ago. I just wanted to share these conflicting thoughts I have on my first day back in a town that I came to love and now suddenly seems so alien to me. I think this whole experience is so jarring because rarely do we get to experience a foreign culture so intimately and then immediately return to it after a short respite at home. Maybe the amenities of America have taunted me. Maybe getting a taste of home—all the burgers and steaks, carpet beneath my toes, sweaters and boots, soft beds, and wait for it . . . snow—has made this place seem a little more complicated.

It’s all a little difficult to explain. I’ve never felt this way in my entire life. It as if I am going through some weird Déjà vu but certain parts are missing—the two other teachers I worked with last year for instance, and even the rooms of the school (they built a whole new building while I was gone and now suddenly I don’t know where anything is). Everything more or less looks the same yet it is so completely different. I wake up and still wonder where I am for a second before I realize I am back in the tiny Thai town that I love. And yet this tiny town almost seems dreamlike itself, as if all the buildings will suddenly dissolve around me and I will find myself sitting on my couch back home, waking from a short nap during a commercial break of some TV show I could care less about.

I’m thinking a little more sleep and a few more days in town will make me feel like I never left at all. At least that is what I found of my time at home. It’s interesting how you can be gone from somewhere for so long and yet within days you feel as if you never left, as if nothing changed, and no one even really ever missed you because now you are home.

Now you are home.

Me and my second grade girls on the last day of school last year.
Me and my second grade girls on the last day of school last year.

The Official Announcement

Me and third grade make a field trip to a temple.
Me and third grade make a field trip to a temple.

It’s official! I am teaching for another year in Thailand. Wow, never thought I would say that when I started this whole journey.

But somehow throughout the course of this year I fell in love with teaching. I fell in love with this community. I fell in love with this culture—the colors and traditions and language that still continues to baffle my ear.

It is difficult to explain in words the happiness that I have found here; especially when there are still many days where I become frustrated with the qualms of working in a foreign country, the moments where I cannot understand a word that is being said around me, the times where I miss my family desperately and just want to go home. I don’t know if I will ever be able to explain why I want to stay, why I feel I must stay.

The reasons are hidden the in small victories in my classroom, moments spent doing yoga on a porch in the setting sun, writing in the quiet light of morning, and evenings spent surrounded by people who have suddenly become my family.  The reasons are buried somewhere in my everyday life

It is when one child who has barely spoken all year decides to volunteer to spell the bonus word for the spelling test on the board. She gets it right and as soon as I turn to her and tell her she is correct, a smile lights up her eyes and she stands a little taller. She doesn’t say a word, only returns to her desk and keeps smiling.

It is in the moments where I have kids coming up to me all day during school, placing stickers all over my skirt and shirt so that any time I leave the office I add three more to my collection and by the end of the day when I am sitting in my first grade classroom, they can count 19 stickers on me.

One girl reaches up and places one more near my neck. “Twenty,” she says with a smile.

“Thank you,” I say, completely satisfied with where I am—surrounded by forty six-year-olds who never fail to make me smile and laugh.

It is in the moments where I am with the fifteen other foreign teachers who live in Nan, sitting at a bar, playing Cards Against Humanity and having to scream at one another so that we can be heard over the music coming from the five different bars around us. It is when we all keel over laughing at something that is not even particularly funny. What gets a party going? Dwarf tossing.

These moments and so many others have infused my life with energy and joy to a capacity that I didn’t even know existed.

The afternoon I officially decided I was going to stay in Nan for another year was the day before Children’s Day here in Thailand. My second grade class was having a party at the end of the day, each student giving one another a gift to celebrate. When I walked into their classroom that day after lunch, I was greeted with orange and pink balloons and kids shouting at the top of their lungs. Hands started to shove rubber shells of balloons at me, indicating with pursed lips that I was to blow them up.

“Teacher!” one student shouted from across the room. I looked up as she let a blown balloon fly from her hand, the orange rubber dancing around in the air until it flailed to the ground.

I laughed. This was the chaos I had come to love. It seemed only appropriate that minutes earlier I had admitted to my friend in the café across the street that I was going to stay another year. I had taken a big breath inward and said I’m going to stay as quickly as possible. I had to say it out loud to really believe myself, believe that this was what I really wanted. I had then said it slower—I’m going to stay. I had gotten over my fear of putting off medical school for another year, my fear of what people back home would think when I told them that I was staying in this very foreign country to continue teaching. I got over the fear of being away from my family and home for yet another year and finally said what had been in my heart for months and which, for a long time I had tried to stifle. I love it here. I love teaching. I love my students. I’m not ready to leave this all behind quite yet.

It was as if my kids somehow knew that day that I had decided to stay, even though I hadn’t said a word to anyone else. They continued to throw the balloons into the air, giggling and laughing. They thrust balloons into my hand one after the other until the room was filled with pink and orange floating circles. At the end of twenty minutes I was out breath and my fingers were sore from tying so many balloons. Yet, I couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to bottle this moment and keep it in my pocket forever. This was pure joy. And as I reluctantly tried to calm my students down so we could at least do a little classwork that day, I couldn’t help but think this was not simply a celebration for Children’s Day, but a celebration for me. A celebration of all that had already happened this year. A celebration of everything I had accomplished, and the bigger adventures that were still yet to come.

One of my first graders Earth took this picture on my phone right before class without me noticing.