An open letter to the students of Thailand

I am sorry.

Before I explain further my reason for apologizing, allow me to illustrate an event that has played out before me countless times since moving to Thailand:

A parent/teacher/adult will notice me, the lone farang English teacher, and excitedly push their child/student towards me. The kid and I will look at each other with a mixture of surprise and terror. “Speak English!” the person demands of both of us, a command not unlike one you might give a pet dog. “Hello,” I say sheepishly, trying to gauge the kid’s reaction. I smile big. I try to make it painless for everyone involved. “What’s your name?” I ask. “My name is Rae.” Now sometimes (maybe 1/3 of the time), the kid is old enough and knows enough English to reply to me. They’ll shyly tell me their name and then run away. Yet the majority of the time, the child will look at me blankly or worse, with dread on their face. Their parent/teacher repeats the command: “Speak English!” At this point, the kid is obviously overwhelmed at being put on the spot in the presence of a stranger. “Mai bpen rai,” I offer, trying to soothe the kid and let them know that it’s really okay, you don’t have to perform for me. Unfortunately, oftentimes they are pushed again and again by their elders. One kid cried, saying “Mai ru, mai ru” over and over again. Another kid could barely speak any Thai, and yet was being commanded to speak English– he totally shut down and started pulling on his hair. One kid was called stupid and naughty because he only knew one sentence in English.

Back to my apology–

I am deeply sorry that my presence here is causing you any level of discomfort. I know with time and proximity, the terror will wear away. But for now, I know it must be difficult. When I see you cry or run away or hide, it breaks my heart because I see your pain. I see you stop learning because of the trauma.

I don’t know enough Thai to fully express how I feel about you but I hope you will come to know that I am not here to trick you or make you perform for me or for anyone. I am here to help you along your journey. I am here to create a space where you feel comfortable to learn English.

Yes, I am going to push you. I am going to ask you to trust me in doing a lot of things you’ve never done before. There will be entire lessons and units that we will struggle through together. And I know learning a new language is scary, believe me. It is terrifying and uncomfortable and frankly, exhausting. I cannot promise it will be easy but I can promise that I will never ever trick you or force you to do anything.

You are the future of the world– I believe this fully and without reservation– and as best as I can, I hope to enrich your learning experience, not scare you from learning. You are more capable than you (or anyone) give you credit for being– I cannot wait to see all of the ways you grow in the next two years.






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