Friday, July 5, 2013

On Progress (Part 2)

Aforementioned in an entry from a few weeks ago, my school is partaking in a two day long sporting event July 18th and 19th. The last hour of the day for the previous two weeks, and next two weeks, have been dedicated to practicing the various sports that will be the heart of the competition, from football to bocce ball, to dancing, to running. Of course, I was assigned to "coach" the running kids, with which I felt generally fine.

However, since I broke my foot and not having total control of my own life by virtue of living with host families for the last six months, I haven't been able to run at all since coming to Thailand. For as critical as it was to have in my life from late 2011 until January 2013, running has been but a dream since. I have literally run two handfuls of times, and as a result, have put on a few extra pounds of fat, lost strength and explosiveness in my legs, and felt my lung capacity shrink considerably. To put it simply, this has been soul-crushing. I run shorter distances slower and more painfully. Recovery takes longer. Mentally, I struggle to sort out daily events and reflect properly, as running provided a mental outlet for me. Self image and self worth have taken measurable hits. The times I have run, I can only focus on how poorly I do it now, as opposed to framing it in the light of my literal inability to run and the inevitable loss of conditioning that accompanies it, or even remembering why I run- it's just fun to go as fast as you can.

Regardless, I figured that I could still help out with the running kids. Figuring "this is Thailand," I assumed the training wouldn't be much more than giving kids a fifty meter strip of land generally free of obstruction and send wave after wave of runners. This assumption was virtually dead on, minus the "obstructions" part and included very scary, uneven ground. I decided I'd run with the kids and give them the whole "gazelle/lion" aspect of running. You take ten meters on me, and don't let me chase you down because I'm going to eat you alive. Don't make the only mistake you can't make. Inevitably, they'll run harder to flee from me and (provided I was running against like competition) I'd work harder to devour them.

Much to my surprise, when watching the kids run, I saw in their faces exactly what I've been missing since February- running to run. Running against another. Running for fun. Running because "fast" is exhilarating. I couldn't help but get out there and just run, solely because I can. At times I sprinted to my ability. Other times I pushed kids to get the most out of those fifty meters. If you had asked me before Tuesday to hit the track asphalt loop at the stadium weed field with bleachers and goal posts and bust out fifteen fifty meter dashes, I would have laughed at you, strongly doubting my ability to do anything of the sort. Tuesday itself? I rattled them off in forty-five minutes, and would have continued should practice have lasted longer.

It was exactly what I needed to break through this mental brick wall that's been constructed in lieu of my usual adoration for running. After sprints Tuesday, I moved into my new home (more later). Immediately after Wednesday and Thursday's sprints, I hopped on my bike and did a quick fourteen mile ride to the beach and back just because I have the ability to do so. Just like that, I sprinted right through the brick wall, crushing it, and leaving it in my wake, all thanks to my kids. Resolve was back. Confidence had returned. Desire was high again. At this point, it's all about just getting out there and doing it. Progress.

Additionally this week, along with the successful lesson plans and execution, Kru Oy and I have experienced and shared some promising successes and, well, progress. On Sunday, she understood the need to have to meet outside of class to lesson plan because we were unable to fit it all in during the week. She even ended a fun trip out with friends to get work done. By her own accord. After watching me teach a lesson on "this/that/these/those" a couple of times, a tricky concept in general, she wanted to try to lead the lesson on her own and have me give her pointers. Kru Oy did so well! I really tried to stress to her how good all the little changes that she implemented were. From what I know about Thai culture (teachers specifically), she definitely appears to contrast it, being brave and open-minded. I feel fortunate to work with an individual who is very open to learning, realizing that I am in no way criticizing her or her talents, but rather trying to complement them with new ideas to integrate and make her own. To have a teacher already want to take the lead and practice ideas that are freshly introduced, I do feel lucky and happy for my school's kids.

Perhaps the neatest thing all week was when Kru Oy and I were reflecting on a lesson she lead. We spoke about the strengths of the lesson, what teachers could improve, and things that were and were not within our control as adults and facilitators. After noting how much fun the kids have in English class now and that I'm "very popular" with the students, we were just about to end the conversation, and she says, "Me too! I love Peace Corps!" and flashed a beaming smile.

How awesome. Kru Oy is not only open minded, open to hearing constructive criticism, and wanting to improve her craft and herself, but she's enthusiastic about it all. Please know that, from my Western perspective, Thais are often times not easily open minded, don't share criticism openly due to the concept of keeping/breaking face, and are rarely the subject of needing to improve performance, as Thailand is, in many ways, all facade and no substance, with no accountability for a poor job done (face concept). In no way, shape, or form, should I expect her to act in any way opposite than this, which isn't at all a judgment. It's merely Thai culture, and she is Thai. Just as deeply rooted individualism is rooted in American culture, these concepts are infallibly Thai. I shouldn't expect her to not act this way, but she does, and for that I am thankful.

Her comment about loving Peace Corps was huge affirmation for me. I know I'm on the right track, doing what was expected of me by both PC and myself. I am serving in order to change lives. Right now, I believe I am in the process of doing so. Progress.


  1. Very uplifting! I am so happy that you have made so many breakthroughs recently!

  2. beautifully written.......your words felt