Recent college grads return from teaching in Thailand
Two young women from Jamestown have recently returned from a trip to Southeast Asia, where they devoted their time to teaching English to Thai children. Leah Baines and Jacqueline Weixel were overseas for two semesters tutoring the language in the small Thai city of Nakhon Nayok.
Baines grew up in Jamestown and attended school locally before enrolling in American University in Washington, D.C. She graduated with a degree in international relations in 2012 and began looking for travel opportunities. That’s when she learned about a program in Thailand that would certify her to teach English as a foreign language.
Following a two-week certification course in the Thai city of Phuket, Baines and Weixel were put in touch with an agency that set them up with the job. The town was about two hours northeast of Bangkok, and Baines was apprehensive at first because she couldn’t find any information online about the place they were going to. She was happy to have Weixel as a traveling companion.
The pair initially signed up for a semester that lasted from November 2012 to February 2013. Baines taught students who were the Thai equivalent of seventh-, eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders. There were other Western teachers at the school, but living and working in a small town was a decided change from the big-city living they experienced in Phuket and Bangkok.
Baines and Weixel shared a small cottage, close to where the other Western teachers lived. There was no way to cook in the cottage, but eating out was inexpensive. Baines said the food was piquant – she quickly learned to say “not spicy” in Thai.
Baines originally went overseas to travel, and teaching was just a way to pay for her trips. She had no background in teaching and wasn’t sure she would like it. At first she was nervous, but soon got over it.
“Honestly, I loved it,” Baines said. “Everyone was so nice. The students were incredible. They were all so welcoming.”
There were about 45 students in each class, and, according to Baines, they could get rowdy. Fortunately there was a Thai teacher to work alongside the Americans. Together, they were able to manage the youngsters. Baines taught completely in English and wasn’t sure how much of what she was saying was understood. However, she said the language barrier provided motivation for the students to learn English.
“You get there at first and you’re very serious,” Baines said. “Then you realize they didn’t really enjoy that. They enjoyed it more when I introduced songs, dances and silly games. That’s what really made them pay attention.”
At the end of the semester, Baines traveled throughout Asia. She spent a month with Weixel in Bali, an island of Indonesia. She enjoyed the first semester so much she decided to return to Nakhon Nayok to teach again in May. Baines extended her commitment from six months to a year. After the second semester, the women traveled to Malaysia and Cambodia, then Weixel went to Vietnam while Baines visited Myanmar.
The trip to Myanmar, a sovereign state also known as Burma, was Baines’ favorite.
“It was so great to see a culture so untouched by tourism and westernization, yet a little heartbreaking to witness firsthand how the government has affected its people so negatively,” she said.
Weixel also grew up in Jamestown and attended the local schools until the sixth grade. She finished her middle-school career at Pennfield before enrolling at Rocky Hill. Following high school, Weixel attended the College of Wooster in Ohio where she majored in French and anthropology. Weixel and Baines were best friends until Weixel changed school districts and they lost touch.
Following college, Weixel took a two-month road trip around the United States. When she returned to Jamestown, she ran into Baines at the Narragansett Café.
Baines had just applied for the program in Thailand. Weixel was doing seasonal work at a sunglasses shop in Newport, and wasn’t sure what to do when the season was over. The Thailand trip sounded interesting to her, so she decided to apply.
Both women were accepted, and off they went.
Weixel had done a fair amount of traveling in Europe and Africa, but had never been to Asia. She was filled with a mixture of excitement and curiosity as she headed overseas. When she learned she would be going to a small town, Weixel wasn’t sure what she was getting herself into. But as soon as she arrived, she knew everything would be all right.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but the town was more lively than I expected it to be,” she said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”
During the first semester, Weixel taught students who would be considered high-school juniors in the United States. She found the teenagers to be less motivated and less enthusiastic. She had a better experience teaching 12-year-olds in her second semester in Thailand.
“I was nervous they were going to disregard me,” Weixel said about the younger students. “I figured they would know it was my first time teaching, but that wasn’t the case at all. They respected me.”
Another Jamestowner, Harry Scott Bennett, is still teaching in Thailand. Baines and Weixel have only recently returned to the United States and neither is sure what will come next. One thing they agree on: There is more of the world to see, and they want to experience it.