By Elizabeth Pratt, English Teaching Assistant, 2006
As Christmas is around the corner again, Elizabeth Pratt looked back to her days working as English Teaching Assistant in a school in Roi-et. She shared with us the following story:
The director of my school announced this solution at a staff meeting when it became apparent that there was a conflict between the Christmas celebration the English department had been planning and another school event. The Christmas activities that the English Program students and teachers had been preparing for Christmas day would instead be combined with the school wide New Year’s celebration the next week. That statement was a pretty clear reminder that I wasn’t in the US anymore - as if I needed one. Although I had noticed bits of commercialized Christmas pop up all over the shopping malls in Bangkok, back in my quiet town of Pathumrat the only sign that Christmas was approaching was a miniature Christmas tree for sale beside the sticky rice in the market and a flurry of teachers and students asking how to spell “mistletoe” and what “eggnog” is.
Needless to say, this was not going to be the Christmas I was used to. But then again, maybe it was.
Ajarn Bian, whom the Filipino and Chinese teachers and I affectionately called Ate (which is the Philippine equivalent of “Pii” in Tagalog) knew this was a special holiday that would be sad for those of us far from our homes and families. Not one to watch others be sad, she promptly purchased that two-foot tree and announced that we would have a Christmas Eve party at her house , complete with food (of course!), a gift exchange, and Karaoke. Thrilled, we all got ready. I bought my gift for the exchange at a store in town (and got funny looks and a chorus of “Teacher, can I help you?”s as I rode my bicycle home with a large straw mat under one arm) and specially made a bowl of spaghetti for the homesick Filipino teachers.
We all gathered at Ate’s house for our Thai-Chinese-Philippine-American Christmas party. We had a potluck dinner outside under the stars, Guya Mar and Ate Felda taught us Philippine dances, Ajarn Meechai serenaded us with American 1980’s love ballads I didn’t even know, Ate Bian helped me read the Karaoke of classic Thai songs, and her daughter Ing led the gift exchange.
For me, Christmas had always been a time to share laughter, food, and fun with my family. It turns out I got that after all, just with a new kind of family.
Back at school, the English Department spent the rest of the week preparing for the school-wide celebration. We made Christmas decorations while practicing vocabulary for crafts and useful phrases like “Excuse me, may I borrow that?” and learned songs to practice pronunciation and listening. ( In an unfortunate episode while trying to teach pronunciation I had an entire class repeat after me an innocent syllable in English that was actually a crude word in Thai. Only later did I find out why the students were all giggling).
The school-wide Christmas-New Year celebration finally came with a bang. Students from our Mini English Program shared Christmas songs, dances, and performances on stage. We even had a “Santa” who showed up to throw out candy and gifts. And after the students cleaned up and all went home, we had another party for the teachers, with more gifts, food, and – of course – karaoke!
It certainly wasn’t the Christmas I was used to, but all of the important ingredients, laughter, friends, “family” were there – and so were karaoke and sticky rice!
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