Missie Opsahl of Cokato visits Thailand on teaching adventure
By Kristen Miller
THAILAND - Riding an elephant, visiting a grand palace, and zip-lining through the rainforest isn’t necessarily a typical summer vacation for Missie Opsahl of Cokato.
They are, however, a few of the perks for volunteering her time instructing Thai teachers regarding subjects taught in English.
Opsahl, who is a first grade teacher at Dassel Elementary, was invited to travel to Thailand, along with her husband, Brent, for 13 days from June 17 through June 29.
For the trip, she was to create a lesson plan to teach to Thai teachers in small group sessions at a two-day conference, with the subject being color.
During these sessions, Opsahl would teach different games on colors in English that the Thai teachers could take back to their own classrooms.
The conference was in Cha-am, on the coast of Thailand. Some Thai teachers drove 12 hours for the conference, Opsahl said.
A big part of the conference was teaching how the native teachers can interactively teach their students.
For example, getting kids up and moving around rather than using the lecture format, Opsahl explained.
Though the conference was American teachers instructing Thai teachers, Opsahl learned a lot about the Thai culture and its education system.
In a typical Thai school, there are about 50 students per classroom. In the mountains of Thailand, there are about 50 to 60 students in one-room schools of all grade levels.
“I will never complain about too many kids in my classroom,” Opsahl said.
There is also a lot of problems with discipline, possibly due to the large number of children in one room, Opsahl explained.
Another problem Thai teachers face is the lack of supplies needed for basic instruction in the classroom, such as pencils, Opsahl said.
Before she left on the trip she had one week to make a decision Opsahl collected two 50-pound bags of books that were donated by local teachers and parents of her students.
“It was a life-changing experience for me to see how the [Thai] schools are run. It’s not like here in America,” Opsahl said.
One aspect of the Thai culture Opsahl was impressed with was the showing of appreciation.
Each Thai teacher who attended the conference was acknowledged with a certificate and a photo with the conference leader.
To show appreciation to the American teachers, they were each presented with handmade Thai silk bedspreads.
“It was such a neat experience seeing the difference in cultures. The teachers were so appreciative of us,” she said.
Following the conference, the group of American teachers (about 11) were guided through Thailand on 10 days of adventure and travel.
Some of the highlights were visiting a silk factory, the Chiang Mai Zoo, and eating at authentic Thai restaurants, where an elephant strolled in while dining.
“We were treated like royalty,” Opsahl said, having been served eight-course meals.
Also part of the adventure was visiting a long-neck tribe where the women progressively add rings around their necks, watching a Thai boxing event which Brent enjoyed, and attending a Thai cooking school.
Not only were they able to bring back a lot of souvenirs (the Thai currency is about half of the US dollar), but they also brought back priceless memories.
“Nobody can ever buy the experience we had,” Opsahl said.