Through the Eyes of an Educator: Bangkok, Thailand

by Stacey Ebert / Aug 01, 2016 /

It was only my second time on the continent of Asia when I stepped off the plane in Bangkok, Thailand. The excitement of something new mixed with that slight trepidation of the unknown was palpable. I’d heard great things, researched as much as I possibly could without my eyes falling out of my head, and of course, as is with all things new, had to leap a little. Sometimes, I think, it’s better not to prepare to a fault and leave a bit of room for spontaneity, surprise, and to find a way to embrace the unknown. That’s true about life plans, as well. 

Those are lessons that our students can learn, if only we have the power to teach them. Every classroom, every district, every city, and every school–each one is different. If curriculum is ruled solely by centralized standards, rubrics, and funding, there are times that it’s difficult for individual creativity and development. Today’s US school system is heading in a test-centered direction – wouldn’t it be great if alongside reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, students would be given the power to explore instead of solely test prep? That’s what that element of travel provides. Whether you’re interacting with locals through a Skype session, Face timing relatives on the other side of the world, taking your schooling on the road, or setting out for your own adventure – travel teaches. The test-centered focus isn’t all there is. Travel isn’t a negative – it provides for some of the world’s most positive teachable moments. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Bangkok, Thailand

Travel uncovers, delves further, develops, challenges, investigates, discovers, debates, and so many more of the verbs in today’s Common Core rubrics. Travel has more of a place in education than we think, and those who are lucky enough to experience it are all the wiser. That’s what I want for my students. That’s what I want for my colleagues, and that’s what I want for my nieces and nephews to be able to find later in life. To have the opportunity of those experiences where they’re out of their comfort zone, forced to communicate with others, tasting different cultural delights, and seeing first-hand another way of life. Leave the school building to enter the world’s classroom. Bangkok is one of the many courses you might take if your unit of study was the Asian continent. What would you learn?

I headed into Bangkok with all senses on alert. The noise is different. The air is different. The street food is definitely different. Motorbikes in Bangkok are New York City’s yellow taxis. They zoom past, swerving around tuk-tuk drivers and pedestrians – this is only part of the noise of Bangkok. Market stalls flood with shoppers while hawkers work the barter trade with the best of them. Street food vendors create food art as you pick up your mango and sticky rice and all types of assorted colorful fruits in a cup. The education that happens on the longest Bangkok street of Sukhamvit and its many Sois (sub-streets) would take chapters in a textbook to cover. There’s the interaction between vendors and patrons while they communicate in various languages, currencies, and using a whole lot of mathematics. There are the new modes of transport, since those used to only cars are often new to the world of speed demon open-aired tuk-tuks. And there are the flavors of Thailand as they waft through the streets coming off of carts, stalls, or out of restaurants enticing even the wariest traveler to experience anew…and that all takes place before you even turn a corner.

A tuk-tuk. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Bangkok, Thailand

We’ve now been back a few times, and each time is different. For those visiting the first time, it’s a fabulous entrée into the Asian continent. You can work with your translation and linguistics skills to decipher a language other than your own. You can challenge your conversion skills while purchasing anything. You can experience the constant motion of a thriving city that merges cultures, economics, and tourism fluidly. If you’re looking for a treat, try an experience of having clothes custom made. Whether it’s your first or fourteenth time, it’s exciting. Head to a tailor to choose your fabrics, pick out your designs, have a few fittings, and leave with a new wardrobe at a price considerably different than what you might pay at home. Interact with local merchants, work on your currency skills, channel your inner designer, and know that whenever you wear these creations, you’ll remember Bangkok.

Have your clothes custom made in Thailand. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Bangkok, Thailand

Get your history and spirituality lessons taken care of at the Grand Palace and the varied temples (known as Wats). The official residence of the once King of Siam, the Grand Palace is truly glistening with gold. Wander the grounds, photograph the sparkly outside, and check out the life of the ruling class. History here is taught by doing, exploring, and learning while stepping into the footsteps of life of the royal family. Check out the Wat Phrakeaw (on the grounds of the palace) to see the Emerald Buddha, who is carved from a block of jade. Wat Pho and Wat Arun are two other spectacular temples to see. From the outside, Wat Arun is the husband’s favorite (with intricate carvings of spectacular materials) and you can get a head to toe view of the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. Learn about the beliefs and spirituality, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, or simply take in the beauty of the space. In these sacred spots, education isn’t housed in a Venn diagram or PowerPoint presentation. There’s no chalkboard lesson or document-based questions to answers. These are the documents and you are the one to ask the questions. If only they dare to seek, travelers are the perfect example of active and engaged learners.

The Grand Palace, Bangkok. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Bangkok, Thailand

Take your interested parties to check out the Floating Markets. This was our first experience with a market on the water and it is something truly different and special. Hop in a boat and sit one behind the other. Notice the colors, sounds, aromas, and noise around you as vendors float by with all sorts of fruits, vegetables, trinkets, and meals waiting to dock next to you for your purchasing pleasure. If you’re in Bangkok over a weekend, head to Chatachuk Market. The largest open-air market in Thailand, you could spend an hour or the entire weekend and never see the same aisle twice. A lesson in life, exploration, haggling, mathematics, and more - bring toilet paper, a backpack, and keep your wits about you. You’re bound to return home with a few favorite finds from your market adventure. Turn your journey into a scavenger hunt or daily learning exercise by creating a game with questions and encounters for your children to answer and have. Perhaps you will both learn more than you ever expected.

Floating Markets. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Bangkok, Thailand

For a different type of afternoon adventure in history and the silk fabric industry, take a look at the Jim Thompson House. Born in Delaware, an architect who graduated from two Ivy League institutions, Jim Thompson first went to Thailand with the army and following his discharge, later returned to live there. When you visit, you get a full tour of his Thailand house and learn how he revitalized the Thai silk industry and reinvigorated an entire business with his charisma, flair, and keen eyes for color. You learn about his life, his service, and his legendary status, as after heading out for a walk on a holiday in Malaysia, he was never seen again. Bring your artists, budding designers, fashion sense, business acumen, and more on this tour of an architect turned servicemen turned businessman who had a love affair with Thailand.

Bangkok is filled with life. Our students are the same. Thriving, striving, exploring, changing, growing, and experiencing constant waves of diversity and new – Bangkok teaches and travelers grow. Whether you’re passing through to a beach holiday in Phuket, resting up for a few days before a Hong Kong adventure, heading home, or if this city is your destination – there’s much to learn in Bangkok. Upon each visit, there will be something to return to with a smile and experience anew. The same can be said for learning. As students age, we often have them revisit a topic with a bit more fierce resolve while adding on with something new. Head to Bangkok - and I’m sure before you leave, you’ll find one reason or another to return.

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
 
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert

 

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