Guest Post: Learning from students on the Thai-Burma border

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This guest post comes from Evan, an intern with ERI’s Burma Alumni Program, who recently spent two weeks living at the Social Development Center (SDC), on the Thai-Burma border, where he taught research and report writing. The SDC was founded by alumni from the EarthRights School Burma and has been training human rights and environmental defenders since 2003.


 

I recently had the privilege of teaching for two weeks in a village in Mae Hong Sorn Province. Initially, I was off-put by the small village (“it’s rustic!” I wrote, facetiously, to my friends in Chiang Mai), and I also had my reservations about the work, worrying about how the students would view me and whether I could communicate with them effectively, in English.

After just a few days, however, these initial concerns vanished and were replaced with a new concern: spending as much time with the students as possible, without crowding their demanding schedules. Getting to know the students was an enormous pleasure – I loved learning about their backgrounds, and the stories that preceded their lives in the camp and school.  More than once I found myself up late, long past the village bedtime, chatting with students and neighbors. I also learned, through my new friendships, that I am terrible at table tennis, incapable of doing backflips off rocks near the waterfall, and my Burmese pronunciation is… lacking.

When the weekend came, and I went into town for laundry and other errands, I found the first opportunity I could to run back to the village in order to hang out a little longer with the students. When it came time to leave, after the second week, saying goodbye was a lot tougher than I ever imagined.  We promised that we would stay in contact through e-mail and Facebook, one student climbed a palm tree to get a coconut for me, and though I tried to restrain my own emotions I had trouble getting away from the hugs and well wishes in time to catch my bus back to Chiang Mai.

I’ve always heard teachers claim to get more from their students than they give. While I have a year of teaching under my belt, I’d never actually felt that way myself… but after just two weeks of exposure to the village and the awesome SDC students, I finally understood what they meant.

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