By: Olivia Start & Dagny Helander
Thai and English: two completely different languages with two completely different manuscripts. Despite the barrier, we discovered that no matter what language you speak, you can build bonds and relationships with nearly anyone. Upon arrival we expected to be greeted without hesitation or reservations from the students. As it turns out, not only were many of us out of our comfort zone, but the students were as well. That led to a dramatic increase in the difficulty of forming connections. It appeared that the kids were absolutely terrified of us and some of our group even thought they were disrespectful. However, the two of us among other students quickly learned that if there’s a will to get to know the kids, there is a way.
Timidly, one girl took my hand as we walked from the school to the village on the second afternoon. There was hope, hope to connect with the kids by teaching and playing with them as well as learning from them. The discomfort barrier was no longer an issue and now the difficultly lied in communicating. Walking through a rural village in Northeastern Thailand you can expect to see many dogs and chickens wandering around. So we started simple, by pointing and annunciating the common village animals. By the time we toured the entire village, a group of girls eager to learn English had a game of who could point and say “chicken” or “dog” the fastest as the animals came into sight. It was even challenging to find out something as simple as their names. As we pointed at ourselves trying to tell them our names, they just looked at us and laughed, not sure what to say. With the help of a phrase book, we finally broke the confusion and learned their names and vice versa. At least now we could call them and recognize them by their real names, which resulted in more unbreakable smiles.
We had reached a breakthrough in a matter of only a few hours. This set the tone for the rest of the time at Ban Toon Ting. The few girls we connected with brought more friends with them to learn the common “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” and the continual pointing out of the multiple dogs and chickens. Slowly we were making an impact, yet it was nowhere near the feeling we received in return. Now, not only were we greeted with the polite curtsey and “Sawadee ka” of the first day but there was additional eye contact and a smile forming an indescribable bond that hadn’t been there upon our arrival. The final day came and goodbyes were harder than anyone anticipated. There were smiles, hugs, and tears, overall an overwhelming abundance of emotions. The drastic change in communication and comfort level from the first day to the last is an experience that no words can justify.