Peace Corps, Andaman Discoveries team up to help Thai youth

Chris Allen, Peace Corps volunteer, with students participating in English language exercises.

Removed from the tourist path, the Kuraburi area provides insight into Thai life. The downside: It is a challenge to find farang. They are a rare sight, especially in low season.

A United States Peace Corps volunteer traveled to Kuraburi in search of native-English speakers. Chris Allen, from Indiana, needed farangs (foreigners in Thai) to be themselves to assist in a mock exercise in Ban Triam village.

For more than a year, Chris has been at Ban Triam village, focusing on teacher collaboration and community outreach in his role with the Peace Corps. Ban Triam is about 20 kilometers from Kuraburi.

Chris’s search for native-English speakers led him to Andaman Discoveries. Karen Spackman, from Scotland, and LesIie Welshimer, from the U.S., agreed to travel to Ban Triam School and be themselves – farangs.

“If there is one thing I can do well in Thailand, it’s to speak fluent English and broken Thai,” Leslie said. “I had previously thought being a farang, who speaks broken Thai, was a weakness. Then in May I was sought out for doing what I do best – be myself, a confused farang for a day.”

Ajan Phahon, a remarkable teacher at Ban Triam, is completing his thesis on task-based learning. He has been a teacher at Ban Triam for 12 years. Four years ago he went to Bangkok to earn his master’s degree in teaching English as a second language.

Chris said, “Phahon is much more than an English teacher at the Ban Triam School. He teaches math, computers and dedicates his time as a volleyball coach. He’s a great teacher to work with, and it’s motivating to see the progress from the students practicing his task-based concepts.”

Ajan Phahon with Andaman Discoveries’ team members, Karen and Leslie.

To help teach the students learn English, Phahon arranged several real-life (task-based) situations for them to practice. One of Phahon’s goals was to help the students improve their confidence in speaking with farang.

The first task-based lesson was at a beach-view restaurant at Ao Khoei Beach. Chris, Karen and Leslie sat at the restaurant, enjoyed the view and played the part of customers. The students assumed the role of hostesses and waiters. They took food orders and ensured guest comfort, while they practiced speaking and listening in English.

The second lesson was held at bungalows near the restaurant. Karen and Leslie pretended to be customers looking for accommodations. The exercise involved asking questions like: How much does a room cost, does the room have air conditioning or fan, does the shower have hot or cold water and can I see the room?

The students gave a tour of the bungalows. Karen and Leslie asked more questions while looking at the bungalows. Karen said, “While I was helping the students practice English, I also found myself being sold on a night at this place. The sound of the ocean, comfortable rooms and the friendly service nearly caused me to open my wallet, forgetting it was all a mock exercise.”

Students successfully completed the third English exercise of the day with Chris, Karen and Leslie.

The final task-based situation was to go shopping at a small convenience store. The students practiced the role of customer service providers, while Chris, Karen and Leslie asked a variety of questions, like: What beverage do you recommend, how far away is the bus station and where I can find soap?

“Despite having few opportunities to communicate with English speakers, the students clearly had a significant grasp on the language. They were kind, attentive and displayed how much youth can excel with the dedication of good teachers like Chris and Phahon,” Karen said.

Chris continues to contribute his skills in Ban Triam and surrounding communities. He is actively planning an English language camp this month to help youth increase their confidence in conversing.