Finding peace in a chaotic symphony is something of a paradox. Prior to my arrival, I rarely found peace in what I did. My mind was always preoccupied with the worries of tomorrow. It could be the deadline for a school assignment or an exam that is many months away. If I was not studying, I was filled with guilt, only occasionally distracting myself by indulging in my vices. It was hard for me to live life in the moment, as my mind was always racing. In a way, I found comfort in my racing thoughts. Being slightly distressed was, in itself, a comforting state. It was what I had grown accustomed to. When I was given the chance to travel abroad and teach at KSDC in Northern Thailand, it was a golden opportunity to question my assumptions about the world, a chance to learn how to become comfortable with discomfort, and find peace within myself. A comprehensive pre-departure with the other interns helped ease some of the tensions I had felt. However, I also knew that experience is the best teacher, so I tried to go in with few expectations. It is, however, impossible not to imagine what life would be like. I anticipated that the food would be vastly different from what I was used to. I had also been warned that the days would be much hotter, exacerbated by the lack of AC. Many of the typical living standards I implicitly learned to take for granted were to be thrown out the window. One thing I knew for sure was that I would not fully come to realize how different life would be until I was actually face-to-face with this novelty. What was more unexpected was how I would react to it.

I first landed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on May 25th, but I didn’t arrive at the school until roughly a week later, on June 1st. I began by setting up my room, the room I would be staying in for the next 6 months. It came with my very own bamboo stick to hang my clothes, and a few 4×2 planks that stuck out of the wall to produce something like a shelf. I hung my bed net, drapped my sheets upon the mattress, and stepped back, proudly gazing upon my fully furnished room for the first time. I started to feel more at home. The stiff mattress was not dissimilar to the couch I fell asleep on during many nights of the week in Victoria. This somewhat helped me adapt to the new sleeping situation, although there were still a few restless nights in the beginning. I very quickly got to know some of my students. During dinner on the first day, I noticed that one was playing the guitar. The weekend prior, I had purchased a used guitar in the town of Mae Hong Son, as I knew that music was an integral part of the students lives. Also, considering the time I would have, I thought it was the perfect excuse and opportunity to fine tune my skills. I grabbed my guitar and raced back to join him. The student was Moris, and he explained that his friend and fellow student Fray Do was quite the gifted musician. Soon, I was joined by them both, and despite the fact that the language barrier was quite predominant, the music provided a common language for us to bond. It was a beautiful thing. It was almost as beautiful as the sound of all the students voices when they sang together, harmonizing with each other and creating a gorgeous melody. The students would sing together in preparation for the various events, such as orientation and others around the community.

The air is frequently filled with the sound of music. Whether a student is listening to a song out-loud on their phone, singing whatever song is stuck in their head, or the students who can play guitar are strumming away, more often than not the sound of music fills the air. They had even made a make-shift flute out of wood. Yet, it is not only music that fills the air. One of the things that I learned very quickly about this place is that there is never a quiet moment. The roosters are crowing, the dogs and cats are scrapping, the various insects even singing songs of their own. Frogs are ribbiting, fans are blowing, and the students are always laughing. All of these sounds create something like a rural symphony. I have never heard a group of individuals laugh as much as my students do. For some, including me, perhaps somewhat of a shocking revelation. Considering their situation and all they have gone through, it is astonishing not only their ability to smile, but also to make me feel welcomed. I had only moments ago returned from the near-by town of Nai Soi, where I visited the local markets with some of my students. The tables were filled with many snacks and sweets, as I gazed upon the treats I had asked my student Shar Reh which was his favourite, when he pointed out some kind of bread filled with red jelly stuffing, he said, “this is my favourite but I cannot buy I have no money”. He then asked which was my favourite, upon telling him he immediately had said, “I will buy for you”. Of course I declined, though this is a shining example of not only his character, but an attitude of generosity that is shared by all of the students. They are very caring, and always willing to help despite having much less than I. This is demonstrated by a unanimous desire to give back to their community. On the ride back from the market, my student had informed me that he felt bad for not being able to work and give more money to his family at home, many miles away who he can barely talk to since his phone quite recently was destroyed by water damage.

Me and my student Shar Reh
Moris’s Birthday

A perfect representation of their generosity took place during one of the student, Moris’ birthday. He had bought food, drinks, and even a cake to celebrate the occasion. The lights were dimmed and all the students joined together to sing him happy birthday while Fray Do led with the guitar. Afterwards, we had all sat down to enjoy a delicious dinner together. During this meal, Moris went around with a larger piece from a smaller cake, sharing a bite with every one of the students. Even I got to enjoy a small piece. I can never emphasize enough how inspiring their desire to help and give to others despite having so little is.

Teacher Matthew

One thing I had learned very quickly is that not only would I be there to teach, but that I would have so much to learn from them as well. Whether that be explicitly, in situations where I was taught new activities like the sport of cane-ball, or implicitly, like how to care for others in your community. Canada is a very individualistic place. People are far less generous despite having so much more, and this is not necessarily the fault of anyone. It is embedded within the culture to be self-sufficient, gain an education in order to provide a better future for yourself and perhaps your immediate family. There are exceptions to every rule, we are also encouraged to contribute to our communities, but generally speaking people in Canada are taught to look out for themselves, the individual. It was quite shocking then to come here, and to bear witness to individuals that have so much less, be so much more willing to share what they have. Ask anyone’s goal of why they want to learn English, and most reasons in some way or another relate to contributing to their community and giving back to their people. They want to learn english to teach others, to get jobs in order send money back home, to inspire the future generations to continue to learn and grow, so that one day they can escape the grasps of the authoritarian regime in Myanmar and become an independent democratic state. Suffice it to say, the message is not to abandon your jobs and work for non-profits, or become a wholly sustainable business, but in your day-to-day be more generous with those around us. Even in little ways or to those of us we do not personally know. One day I went out to buy chicken at a local food vendor, a steamy piece reminiscent of something to be purchased at a Pop-eye’s caught my eye, but there was no vendor in sight. I was ready to give up and leave, but a stranger, seemingly out of no where drove over to me. He hopped off his bike and although he spoke no english, he understood that what I wanted was some chicken. He ran inside the owner of the chicken stand’s home and yelled that there was a customer, after she came out to sell me the chicken I looked to thank the man, but as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone. Like an angel from the heavens disappearing upon fulfilling his duty. An interaction that would rarely, if ever happen back home but is a daily occurrence here. Although he did not know me or expect anything in return, he recognized I was in need and was quick to offer some assistance. This is the kind of sense of community, and giving that I feel is heavily lacking back home, and one I find to be greatly inspiring. Being friendly to your fellow neighbour and willing to have conversations or help strangers without expecting anything in return.

Initially, the rural symphony can be quite overwhelming, although I did not realize how comforting it truly was until the students had left for the weekend. It was Karenni national day, and everyone had left the school except for two of the students. Suddenly, it grew very quiet. The roosters still crowed, the crickets still chirped, yet the area grew lifeless. The rural symphony ceased, and I realized that what brought life to KSDC was the students. Their absence created a feeling of discomfort. Some mornings, the students will rub the floor outside my room with waxy coconuts. It was a means of polishing them. It is quite loud, sometimes waking me up as early as 5 am. The students are always up before 6 am to clean the premises and cook breakfast for all. When they were gone, I began to miss those sounds. The laughter, the smiles, and the welcoming nature. The place felt quite desolate. My time here has provided a great opportunity for me to try and find peace in what I did. To find peace in a chaotic symphony is quite the paradox, but I was missing the noise. Perhaps I replaced the internally racing thoughts with an external alternative, but I also realized the importance of community. How comforting it is to not be so alone, not be preoccupied with the worries of tomorrow, but to embrace the moment for what it offers. I hope to provide this welcoming feeling for others when I return home. No matter who they may be or what they may need, there are always things we can do to make others feel welcomed.

  1. I caught some frogs with my students. ↩︎
On the way to Mae Hong Son from KSDC