Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's Tuesday of week 2. Yesterday went by really quickly. I guess it's because I only had three classes and then went to bed at 8:30 due to a nasty cold. Hopefully it'll go away soon...

I had a class 1st period this morning, but 20 minutes into the period the room was still empty. It's normal for kids to be late, since there's no built in passing time between classes, but 20 minutes is extreme. Finally, my co-teacher came in and told me that they were taking a class photo or something. It would have been nice if someone told me! On one hand it's nice to have an extra hour off today, but on the other hand, how the heck am I supposed to catch them up to the curriculum? I still haven't truly figured out how serious this school is. Compared to what I'm hearing from other teachers around Thailand, I have a lot more guidance and rules. I definitely appreciate that, but I'm hearing from my co-teachers at my school that there's quite a lot of wiggle room. Do I have to make sure that every single class has grades for each unit, like I was told? It's not my fault if they take away class time for a week or two in a row. Last Wednesday I had no afternoon classes because the students were building krathongs for the holiday. This Wednesday I have no classes. At all. Now they'e two weeks--a whole unit--behind. What do I do about that? Oy..

Anyway. This weekend was pretty spectacular. Even the storm that brought major flooding to my street was a kind of fun, authentic experience. Check it out:

This wasn't even the deepest part of the water
This is the face of unsure positivity. That's the same thumb that got me in the back of this pickup

I made my way to Kanchanaburi where I met up with Katrina, Jade, and Sam; friends from orientation. There were also four boys in our group: Mike x2, Scott, and Seth. The boys were in the other hotel during orientation, so the girls and boys didn't know each other. It ended up working out nicely! The first night we spent at a really charming guesthouse ON the River Kwai. I really mean on--the rooms were on docks. I was oddly lazy about my camera so I don't really have many of my own photos to show. I only brought my 50mm lens with me and I was more focused on living in the moment than capturing it for later. Luckily, everyone else seemed to take a lot of pictures, and one even had a GoPro that caught a lot of footage. Here's a view from our room porch in the morning:

View of the River Kwai from our guesthouse porch in Kanchanaburi

How gorgeous is that?! Our crew went out surprisingly late (for me) on Friday night. The first bar we stumbled in was a really, really awesome reggae bar. I literally didn't even sit down or get a drink or anything for probably about 45 minutes. The live band gestured to the various percussion instruments and microphones and I hesitated not. I even took the liberty of handing out maracas and cowbells to others. It was great fun! We happily ran into two other CIEE/OEG friends, Morgan and Kristen. Here's a video I stole from Sam of everyone loving on each other and singing Country Roads. I, surprisingly, was not on stage at this point in the night:

After the reggae bar, we found ourselves in another bar almost by accident. Katrina and I were looking for some vegetarian noodles (as I've said, it's hard to come by, especially late at night) and finally found a place that would make them. They took at LEAST an hour to bring us our food, so we hung out there for a while. We had fun playing Connect Four and Jenga, with our own There-Are-No-Rules rules. We were also entertained by a very enthusiastic ladyboy with pretty much zero inhibitions. That was fun.

The next morning we woke up pretty early (a little earlier than necessary...boys are bad at getting up in the morning). The plan was to head out to Erawan National Park around 7 or 7:30. Yeahhhh we didn't end up catching a bus there until 10:30 and we got in close to noon. Not to worry! We climbed to I think five or six tiers of breathtaking waterfalls. The water was so incredibly clear. And so incredibly full of fish. If any of you know me well enough, you'll know that I am stupidly terrified of fish. I can look at them and then can be far away, but they sure as hell better not touch me. And these fish were huge. And the ones that weren't huge were the ones that sucked on your feet. No. Thanks. But I ended up facing my fear and getting in the water via the most direct way to a giant rock I could stand on. Friends are awesome and made big splashes to scare the fish away before my entrance. Bless them. I ended up taking a couple jumps off the rock! I'm so glad I did. Thanks, friends, for helping me face my fear and allowing myself to have fun :)

Tier 1 waterfall
FISH. Even just looking at this picture makes my heart rate go up

We found a spot at another waterfall where we sat atop the falls (fish free!) and even set up a hammock! That was awesome. Good call Mr. Spielman on the hammock. Here are six of the eight of us sitting on said ledge:

New friends at Erawan National Park.
Photo by Scott Moll, stolen from Seth Berry

That night we camped out in the park! I'm really glad I brought my own Thermarest, I heard the mattresses the others rented weren't so great. We had a lovely view of the lake, despite the tents practically being on top of each other. Not a whole lot of privacy. I spent a while (definitely over an hour) reading to the crew. That was awesome! I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and The Name of the Wind obbbbviously by my boy Patrick Rothfuss. Please read these books if you haven't already. Please. Pretty please. I actually bought copies of Pat Rothfuss' books to send and lend to my friends (that is awesome rhyming right there). I'm sending The Name of the Wind to its first recipient today! Hopefully it makes it to Northern Thailand okay. If you want to be on my loaner list, let me know :)

The school day is coming to a close soon and I think I'm going to take it really easy again tonight. Stupid cold. Maybe try out my new blender and see if I have any smoothie skills. 

Until next time, friends.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Week 1: Conquered

Woo! It's Friday of my first week on the job and I only have two classes left today. I think I can safely say that I DID IT! I mostly have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm feeling more comfortable just winging it and feeling out each class. The abilities are verrrrrry mixed within each grade and each class. It's tough. Yesterday, I had a minor freak out when I walked into one of my classes. Written on the board was basically the exact same lesson that I had planned for that class. They had just done it with one of the other (Thai) English teachers. Uhhhh.... I went to my coordinator in a minor panic and he told me to just work on speaking, listening, and pronunciation. I had to wing it but it actually worked out! I wish I could meet with all the teachers (I guess we have meetings during the last period on Mondays) and figure out who is doing what. Telling me my unit is "jobs" doesn't really tell me a whole lot about how to work in tandem with their other lessons.

Ooh, I had one class earlier in the week and I was, once again, kind of freaking out because I had no idea what to do with them. I had just learned that I need to teach something other than what I had prepared for. They actually ended up being my favorite class! So clever, quiet, respectful, and fun. And obviously adorable. The topic was jobs, and at the end of class I had each of them stand up and say what they wanted to be when they grew up. I'm not sure how many of them just said something easy and how many were truthful, but all the same, I'm proud of their reportings! A lot of the doctor and engineer responses were from girls (as was ambassador!)

7th grade career ambitions

On Tuesday I showed up to marching band rehearsal. The band teacher who sort of speaks English wasn't there, so it was a bit of a challenge with the other teacher. I thought I would just watch or help with visuals, but it ends up that Tuesday was just a music day. And there is no woodwinds teacher. So I ended up leading the saxophone section rehearsal. Whaaaaat. I'm not really that good at saxophone and the language barrier was hard. But, nonetheless, I had them do some nitty-gritty rehearsal of half a Sousa march. It was kind of fun but also intimidating!

Marching band saxophone section at the end of our rehearsal

This week I hosted my first Couch Surfer in my new apartment! His name is Alan and he's from the Ukraine (though he's been on the road for 4 years). He stayed for three nights. Apparently my couch isn't actually all that comfortable. Whoops. Luckily he'll be in Bangkok for a while (a month, maybe?) and he's on a budget, so he didn't mind that I've been really low-key. I'm getting a lotttttt of Couch Requests... We'll see how many people I actually host. I want to help out but I also don't want to deplete my resources. Couch Surfing is not about being a mooch and I'm scared that some people see it that way.

Full moon on Loy Krathong
Last night was Loy Krathong, a festival of lights (of sorts) celebrating and giving thanks to the water spirits. Traditionally, you make a wish as you cast your krathong, which is a decorative floating "basket" of sorts with lights and candles. It falls on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar. I went to the riverfront in Bangkok with Alan and my fellow teacher friend, Cassie. She's also here through the same program, but she's teaching at a kindergarten in the city.
Me and Cassie with our krathongs
To be completely honest, the whole experience was a little underwhelming, but I'm glad I did it. I was really special to cast off my own krathong and take part in a special celebration. There were a few performances but mostly just crowds. By 8:30 I was ready to go home and so I did. Though once home, I was able to see floating lanterns and fireworks from my balcony! Next time I'm in Thailand for Loy Krathong I'll have to go to Chiang Mai to be among the thousands of floating lanterns. That looks incredible. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the festivities:
Cassie casting her krathong into the river
Sharing my flame with a krathong that was actually a pastry
My krathong is lowered into the river and catches up with its friends
Today after work I'm heading to Kanchanaburi! I think it'll be my third time there. A bunch of CIEE/OEG participants are meeting up to spend the weekend in nature. We'll go to the waterfalls and hopefully caves and go ziplining! There may also be a night of camping involved. Katrina and I are going together and I'm excited :D I hope I get a chance to sleep in a little bit. I've been waking up around 5:50 am every day. Yuck. Though I have a feeling it's going to be difficult to stay awake past 10:30 pm. We shall see. A relaxing weekend sounds good, but I'm definitely excited to be surrounded by the gorgeous landscapes and a wonderful friend!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A lot of down time

        So, I'm in Thailand now. I'm sitting at my desk at the Rattanankosinsomphod Bangkhunthian School. Or RST. It's my first day as an English teacher here and so far so good. Despite my long hours (7:15 am - 4:30 pm), I'm only actually teaching three 55 minute classes today. I teach four classes each day except for Mondays. The rest of the time is spent sitting at my desk, getting lunch, or maybe walking around the campus a bit. I'm sure as the semester goes on I'll have to be at my desk more so students can come to me if they have questions or need help. I'm going to tryyyyy to not be on the internet as much, as that would be a real waste of time. Getting ahead on lesson plans, practicing Thai, interacting with students, and reading sound like better ways to spend my time. I might have to start using the SelfControl MacBook app (it blacklists certain websites for a set amount of time). Though maybe this all means that I'll actually start writing here once again!

        I taught my first class at 9:05, and I'm about to leave for my second (at 12:45). The first class had 38 students, grade 10. They were pretty decent! I did an introduction activity so they could learn about me and I can see their basic grammatical abilities as well as how confident they are to speak. They're really adorable and I loved them! My biggest complaint was the noise level, but it's hard to control a class of 38 students, especially when I don't know how strict their other/previous teachers are. My class asked me what kind of music I like, and I ended up telling them that I sing. At the end of class I said if no one was talking by the time I counted to three, then I would sing the American national anthem. I did. They loved it. I sang again for my third class and they too erupted in applause.

        I have 19 classes each week, which you may have figured out by my numbers in the previous paragraph. I teach year 7 and year 10 fundamentals. Each class only meets once a week. I'm a little nervous for this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, how are they supposed to learn and practice English if they only have 55 minutes of combined instruction and practice each week? I need to somehow get them practicing outside class. I would love to find them pen pals in the US.... Secondly, I'm hoping I don't get bored teaching the same thing over and over and over again each week. I also feel bad for Monday's classes, they're kind of the lesson plan guinea pigs. By the time I get to Friday I bet I'll have them down pretty solid.

        I just finished teaching my third and final class of the day. Yikes. The students are sweet and lively, but the levels are kind of mixed and the classes are so big. I do, however, feel lots of love from them and that feels nice.

        Ooh there's a marching band here! And a cheerleading team! I want to get involved in both!! I'll talk to my coordinator, Willy, and see how we can get the ball rolling with that. I think that'd really enrich my experience here.

        As for my living situation, my apartment is really nice. It'd be nicer if it had a kitchen, though. I bought a blender and an electric kettle so that'll have to do for now. I don't quite have the budget for a hotplate or toaster oven just yet. I'm shocked at how hard it is to be a vegetarian here. One of the precepts of Buddhism is "don't kill." Oddly enough, this translates usually to "don't eat anything that someone has killed specifically for you." So if it was killed for anyone in general to it, it's fair game (pardon the pun). It's even the Vegetarian Festival and I'm still seeing a LOT of meat and not a whole lot of anything else. Luckily my coordinator is also a vegetarian and he'll help point me in the right direction. So far I've been eating a lot of fruit and noodles whenever I can find some without meat. 

        I have some pictures of my apartment but they're from when I just moved in. It looks a lot more homey now :) I have plates and mugs in the display cabinet, speakers on my desk (definitely wasn't surviving long without a subwoofer and decent sound...) and little postcards and such on the walls.
Oh hey! Send me a postcard!!! I want to decorate my walls with them. My address is:

Jemma Stember-Young
Apt #801
51 Soi Rama II Soi 69 Yak 3 Samaedam
Bangkhunthian, Bangkok 10150

Okay this is a really long post. Oops. I guess that happens.
Negev Desert, Israel
Asi River - Nir David kibbutz, Israel
Aliyah and Omry's wedding - Haifa, Israel
As we can see, I've been pretty awful about keeping this up to date. It's really a shame, I love going back through my journals and posts and reading about exactly what I did and how awesome it was. I failed to write about my entire European adventure last year, as well as my time staffing my Birthright trip. Maybe I should just post a bunch of pictures and let them do the talking. I'm having a terrible time putting them in chronological order (or really any order at all)...so they're not. The summer of 2013 went Portugal, Rome, Sardinia, Corsica, Saorge, Switzerland. Then Israel (May-June 2014).
French Alpes
Sunrise on Masada, Israel
Shavuot celebration with the Freifeld family - Ashdod, Israel

Belem Tower - Lisbon, Portugal

Sardinia, Italy
Theodore at The Vatican - Vatican City

Fete de Geneve - Geneva, Switzerland
Saorge, France
Sardinia, Italy

Beautiful crown made by Angelo
Berne, Switzerland
Saorge, France
Western most point of Europe - Cabo da Roca, Portugal
Sardinia, Italy
Rome, Italy

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Oops... Oh well

So it looks like I totally fell off the face of the earth when it came to documenting the rest of my Israeli adventures. I also didn't write a single thing about living in Lisbon and traveling to Rome, Sardinia, Corsica, Saorge (France), and then back to Lisbon/Tel Aviv! Maybe I'll give some recaps and pictures at a later date. For now I'm preparing to STAFF a Birthright trip in just two short days! I'm excited and I definitely hope I can keep up with the posts. Maybe it'll be helpful for other future staff members!

Until then :)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

June 9, 2013

So I'm behind on posts, and I'm really tired so...can't guarantee that this will be very good.

On Wednesday, we spent all day (11 am-10+ pm) at a mega event for all Birthright groups currently in Israel. It started off really fun and I was really into it, but then it got so hot and the day just seemed super long. Shockingly, I didn't complain! I actually had a pretty good time. I represented our group on the volleyball, basketball, and soccer teams. I also climbed a rock wall, shot a paintball gun, did Zumba, and kicked ass at various army training activities such as monkey bars, parallel bars, and doing those jumping in and out of tires thing. The day ended with a little ceremony of sorts and some music. The ceremony was meh, but there was actually pretty awesome live music that we missed because we hit the road. I was happy to leave, but that would have been awesome! Oh, I brought my hoop with me because I thought it could potentially give my team some extra spirit points (a real thing). A girl discovered me hooping and it turns out she's been hooping for six years...and she's from New York...and we have a few mutual Burning Man friends from the city! Of course, right? At the end of the day I met another hooper girl and she was super good.

Yesterday was an interesting day... we finally went to Tel Aviv, but honestly we weren't there long and didn't do much. I'm DEFINITELY glad to be returning for a weekend in August! The gay pride parade was going on, which we didn't see, though we certainly saw a lot of eccentric people and lots of rainbow flags. We went to Robin Square and then did an activity called "Our Street." We were broken up into groups and had scavenger hunts. Our theme was graffiti. We went around to specific graffiti and had to ask passers-by about their opinions on political statements and blah blah blah. Honestly I wasn't paying much attention. I thought it was unfortunate that we had to go from point A to point B and not discover things on our own. Most people were looking at the ground or talking with each other instead of looking around and exploring. One part that I really enjoyed was our last assignment for the scavenger hunt. We had to tape up a piece of paper, write an issue in the middle, and ask 15 people to write their opinions/draw/whatever on it. It seemed appropriate to choose "gay marriage." I actually really like the way it came out! I have lots of pictures. I love that it's in English and in Hebrew and even has a few little pictures.

After that we were on our own for lunch--only 30 minutes. A lot of people on this trip are really bad about being on time, so we were late to our next activity. I'm talking 40 minutes late. Ridiculous! I managed to find some cheap Brooklyn pizza only two blocks from our meeting spot so I decided that would be delicious. And it was. We then walked about a block (or less) to Independence Hall, where we learned about Israel becoming an independent state. Pretty cool.

After, we went back to the hotel and got ready for our Shabbat "service"/dinner. Let's just say two people were not in an appropriate state for Shabbat and will be sent home from the trip early. That's all I'll say about that... So that definitely caused drama within the group. I ended up hanging out with everyone at night in a room for the first time since I got here! I didn't drink or anything but it was still fun to hang out.

Today I got to sleep in! It's sad when sleeping in is 8:30. Breakfast at 9, thennnnn beach at 10!! My first time in the Mediterranean Sea :) I wanted to go in the water but there were fish and I don't do that... I was happy to lie around and hoop a bit! We were only there for two hours. Now I'm back at the hotel, it's 4 pm, and I've got another two and a half hours before we meet for an "activity." No idea what we're doing. I'm really glad I've gotten to hang out by the pool and relax today. A nap would be great... Maybe I'll do that right now! Tonight we're going out so I'm sure I'll want to rest up.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June 4, 2013

So I've been on the go since noon on Sunday, June 2nd. Tons of traffic on the way to JFK, I ended up getting there an hour after the meeting time. Whoops. Though it wasn't bad because the leaders of the group built in a big cushion for things like that. Blah blah blah, boarded a flight to Vienna and was stuck in a middle seat between an Austrian mother and her son. Not only did they talk to each other every now and then, but they both managed to spill into my tiny little seat. I have never been so uncomfortable on a flight before. I managed to sleep maybe two hours of the seven. Yuck. Our flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv was delayed about three hours, which was a little annoying. Luckily, this time I had a window seat and slept literally the entire four hour flight.

Once we got out of the Tel Aviv airport, I exchanged some money and then we had to drive yet another two hours to our hotel in Tiberius. I went to sleep immediately (midnight) but some people in our 40 person group stayed up drinking until 4:30. Pretty stupid, if you ask me. So this morning we were up at 6:30 (not enough sleep!), had a breakfast at 7, a little chat with the director of Yael Adventures, and were on the bus by 8. We went hiking for maybe two hours and it was super beautiful. I forget the name but I'll be back with it later...if I remember to do so. I brought my hoop in case of an awesome photo op on a mountain, but I might save that for later (especially the sunrise hike!).

Next we went to Tzfat and got lunch and shopped around. I bought a really beautiful (c)hamsa necklace, which is the only thing I will be purchasing in Israel that is not a meal. We went into two temples, but honestly it just reminded me of going into so many different wats in SE Asia. Starts to get tiresome... We went to a place called Ascent where we did an activity with biblical text and relating it to modern day issues. We then returned to the hotel, where I was able to shower, take a small nap, then eat dinner! We had a discussion about different aspects of Judaism and how we rank their importance in our personal and collective Jewish lives.

Now I'm desperately trying to go to sleep! It's nearly 11 pm and I'm once again waking up at 6:30. Tomorrow we have another hike and will be kayaking in the Jordan River! Hopefully I'll start posting pictures tomorrow, as it gets a little intimidating when they all accumulate.