Friday Photos #3: English Camp on Cape Panwa

20150115-121733It’s been a tiring week as I’ve spent Monday through Thursday working at an English camp on Phuket’s rural Cape Panwa.  Thus, the theme for this installment of Friday Photos.  Conducting these camps is strenuous by itself but I’ve also been teaching my regular evening lessons all week as well.

What is an English camp?  Well, the agency I work for – ECC Thailand – uses them primarily to introduce English language instruction to schools that we don’t yet have under contract.  It’s basically an audition so is taken very seriously by my boss.  We go into a school for several days and teach a bit of English – conversation, vocabulary, a bit of grammar – and play a lot of games.

20150115-132200Because 2015 is the inaugural year of the Asian Economic Community, the focus of our recent camps has been to teach the students about the other nations in ASEAN.  However, it still frustrates me a little that a large portion of these English camps are conducted in Thai.   At any rate, this week’s camp was one of the best that I’ve participated in.

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This week’s camp was held at Ban Aonambor School which sits in a lovely jungle setting not far from the Port of Phuket.  Just getting from one school building to another was a workout of climbing hilly and rocky paths through lush vegetation  amidst the mostly wooden classroom buildings and teachers’ accommodations.  I much prefer these to the concrete used in more affluent schools; the open design and the breathability of the wood allows for much cooler classrooms.  However, it seems like every school I’ve visited in Thailand has a modern, air-conditioned library and this one was no different.  There are also two large football pitches (one of which is a practice field for FC Phuket/FIFA), a basketball court and several other sporting facilities.  The playground was a bit small, however, but had some interesting things to climb on and ride.

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My favorite part of visiting these far-flung schools is meeting the children.  The students of Ban Aonambor were amongst the best-behaved students I have encountered in Thailand as well as being the friendliest.  Never have I felt so welcomed from the very first day (usually, it takes “new” students a week or more before they start spontaneously shouting “Teacher Mark” or “I love you” every time they see me).  That, and the beautiful setting made me wish I lived nearby so I could teach there if they award ECC the contract (and it does appear likely).

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This time around, we took just two English teachers – myself and Rod from Australia.  We also had Bombam and Nuy from our office and part-timer Earn.  Earn was actually one of my very first adult students about three years ago (one of a four woman class that remains my all-time favorite).  She was my classroom assistant all week and shot the photos of me teaching that appear here.  After looking through these photos, I’ve decided that I really need to lose some weight!

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The classrooms may have been old, but they all had whiteboards and that made me very happy!  At the last English camp I participated in, my assigned classroom had a blackboard that was so ancient you couldn’t even write on it due to it being sanded down too many times.

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During the first two days of the camp, I taught two small (24 kids each) groups of high school students while on the third and fourth days I had two large (40 plus) groups made up of students in grades four, five and six.  The Matyoms were extremely clever and respectful while the Prathoms were rather loud at times (causing me to blow my whistle several times on day three) with the majority being very kind towards their teacher.  There were only a couple of trouble-maker boys on Wednesday but they soon realized that I don’t stand for naughtiness in my lessons.

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As ECC’s “ASEAN expert”, I taught each of my groups how to say the names of the ten member nations in English as well as their capital cities and currencies.  The first day of each session was the “learning day” while day two was “game day”.  My games were ASEAN hangman (which included some fairly long sentences towards the end) and the ASEAN letter game in which teams had to find as many English words as they could out of their assigned country name (I’ve found almost sixty in “Singapore”).  In the latter, I awarded points for each letter in each word so a few teams came from behind to win when I added their scores to those of hangman.

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Our branch manager at ECC came down to the camp in the mornings and during lunch time for MC duties.  His wife provided the food for teachers and students alike and it was a definite step up from the “cuisine” of the previous English camp.  If any complaints are to be said it would be that the liquid refreshment ran out too quickly each day.  Even that was pretty minor as our staff occasionally retrieved something from a local mini-mart while Rod and I were doing activities.

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Bombam, Nuy and Earn did a great job leading the non-classroom activities although they tended towards repetition of the most inane games during the first couple of days.  The entire purpose of these seem to be to extract enough “losers” in order to humiliate them in front of their friends.  Ninety percent of the staff-led games were in Thai.  The end result is having those pulled out for wrong answers or actions do a dance that, in America at least, would be considered inappropriately sexual.  Nobody here seems to have a problem with eight-year boys thrusting their hips about or prancing around like drag-queens.

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Even our office staff were dismayed by the one game conducted by our boss, something we nicknamed “Love me, love my dog.”  At least towards the end of the camp, Bombam asked Rod and I for a bit of English input to the whole-group sessions.  She’s always so wonderful as MC that we’re reluctant to take over!  On the final day, she thought up a version of Chinese whispers using greetings in the languages of the different ASEAN member countries which was my favorite non-English activity of the entire camp.

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At lunch-time during the final day, kids started coming up to me with their notebooks asking for my “license”.  I knew from past experience that this meant they wanted my autograph which I always find odd.  Before long, I had a line of kids wanting to sign their books – I always add a little drawing (this time, I drew cats for the girls and lions for the boys with the rare elephant thrown in for variety).  I then suggested that they go ask Rod and the office ladies for their autographs as well.  I don’t think any of them had ever encountered something like that and they felt like superstars if only for a moment.

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Whenever we have these camps, I always create plenty of materials.  This time I made a number of worksheets – some to reinforce what I taught and some just for fun.  They proved to be quite popular and a few of the children asked for additional copies to give friends or siblings.  It always makes me feel good to see kids enjoying something I made.

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Yes, this was one of my favorite English camps that I’ve participated in.  There were a few glitches, of course, and one or two frustrating moments but the students made it a really enjoyable experience.  The satisfaction I gained made all the hard work and exhaustion pale in comparison.  It will be difficult to top the English camp at Ban Aonambor School on Cape Panwa, Phuket, Thailand.

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