by Unaree Taladngoen
I know that stepping out of my comfort zone is challenging. However, I keep telling myself that, by exploring the world out there, I can learn a lot of things and gain abundant experiences which I will never get if I insist on staying in my comfort zone. My journey to the States began when I decided to leave my comfort zone.
I applied for a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant position and got selected to teach Thai language and be a cultural ambassador at the Southeast Asia Center at the University of Washington for ten months. The opportunity I received is invaluable. Teaching Thai as a foreign language to international students was new to me. Before I came here, I had a mixed feeling of excitement and nervousness since, back in Thailand, I am a lecturer in English as a foreign language, teaching English to Thai undergraduate students in a small public technological-oriented university in the northern region of Thailand. I could not imagine what teaching my mother-tongue would be like, but I told myself to do my best.
Unaree with other grad students
It is terrific when foreigners can speak my language fluently, and the students in the Advanced Thai class never disappointed me. They were able to communicate in Thai very well. We learned from each other, exchanged language and cultural contents of our countries, and shared a lot of points of view and useful information.
It was also great that international students expressed their interest in learning Thai. They put in a lot of effort to learn to read and write Thai even though the language has no connection to their first language and contains a lot of consonantal and vowel scripts to memorize. It was also amazing that they were able to read and write some simple Thai words within five weeks. They were also excited to be able to learn how to cook a Thai dish. I taught them how to cook one the famous Thai menus called Laab (spicy chicken salad), and they ate it all.
I also got a chance to participate in the 35th Annual COTSEAL Conference held at the University of Washington, Seattle, on May 17-18, 2019. Participation in the conference allowed me to make connections with other teachers of Southeast Asian languages from different universities in the States. During the presentation session, I shared my teaching experience from the 2019 Winter Quarter about the integration of teaching Thai expressions and introducing Thai culture. I felt thankful that one teacher came to me and told me that it was great that I talked about this.
Besides teaching the Thai language and introducing Thai culture, I was able to register for classes that I was intrigued in and expected to gather knowledge for my future professional and academic development. Enrolling in different disciplines permitted me to know myself more about what field I would like to extend my knowledge and skills. I cross my fingers and hope to come back to UW and do a Ph.D. in Multicultural Education soon.
Work-life balance is also essential. During my fellowship, I spent time exploring Seattle and nearby cities. I realized how much I enjoy hiking and loved immersing myself in nature. The beaches in Seattle, like Golden Gardens Beach, and Oregon, like Crescent Beach, are different from those in Thailand, but visitation to the stated beaches made me feel relaxed. Road trips to Leavenworth, the Oregon Coast, the Skagit Tulip Fields, and the Olympic Peninsula were enjoyable and memorable. Eating fresh, tasty seafood at La Conner was the best. Taking a ferry to Bainbridge, Bremerton, and Port Townsend were other significant trips. A boat trip to Blake Island with my landlords, their daughter, and my two housemates allowed me to enjoy the sea breeze. It was great that I had plenty of time to enjoy myself and explore Seattle and other cities.
I can say that I am thankful to the Southeast Asia Center for having me with them for ten months and for giving me a chance to do something new and challenging. It was ten months of joy, laughter, and friendship. Last but not least, I am also grateful that Shannon, Celia, and Russ believe in me and my capacity to fulfill the assigned tasks and allow me to create work in my ways and beyond limitations.
Fulbright FLTA 2018-2019