Ariana Anderson learned about the educational system in Thailand - and even more about herself - during a student teaching experience in Udon Thani, Thailand.
Anderson is a senior communication arts major from Cottonwood. She and fellow SMSU student Mackenzie Kegley journeyed 8,000 miles to Udon Thani on New Year's Eve day, 2013, and returned Feb. 24. Anderson is now completing her student teaching at RTR High School.
The two got thrown something of a curve upon arrival. They thought they would be team teaching literature to seventh- and eighth-graders. Instead, they were told they'd be teaching English as a Second Language to that same age group.
"The students could speak English at a kindergarten or first-grade level," said Anderson.
SMSU Professor of Education Dr. Dennis Lamb happened to be at nearby Udon Thani Rajabhat University and supervised their student teaching experience. Lamb is a visiting professor at the Thailand university, which annually sends some of its doctoral students to SMSU to learn more about the educational system in the U.S.
"We brainstormed with him. We were able to handle it. We had a base point where to start because their English level was so low," said Anderson.
She loved the experience.
"I like to travel," she said, naming San Francisco as her favorite place, so far. "There are very few native English speakers who are Americans there. There are English, a couple of Australians, but only a handful of young American women there."
She describes the Thai culture as "welcoming. There's a lot of gift giving and a lot of ceremony. Our class sizes were 45 to 50 students, and Mackenzie and I taught 16 classes per week."
She credits Thai students "with picking thing up quickly. They are very quick learners, and they are good listeners."
The educational system in Thailand isn't quite as rigorous as Anderson is accustomed.
"I guess the challenging thing for me was how they view the educational system," she said. "It's very relaxed there. We had some students come in with seven minutes left in the period, and there were no consequences."
One memory that sticks with her is that of a Thai student being slapped in the face by a teacher.
"They say that's Thai culture, but here you'd be in a lot of trouble," she said.
On the weekends, she and Kegley would travel to various parts of Thailand, a nation of 67 million people. Udon Thani's population is 440,000.
"It's a very beautiful country. We saw a lot,"?she said.
She likes her bacon and eggs in the morning, so adjusting to the Thai diet took a while.
"They don't do pancakes or eggs or bacon," she said. "You will find rice and pork, corn on the cob, things like that. They don't eat much bread or cheese, those are not staples in their diet. I just happen to like breakfast and bread and cheese," she said with a chuckle.
The experience will only increase her career options when she graduates in May.
"I recommend it to anyone wanting to go on and teach abroad," she said.
Having a simple conversation is something we do many times a day, yet that's what Anderson missed most during her time in Thailand.
"I missed speaking at a normal English conversational rate," she said. "Mackenzie and I had each other, but that was it. We picked up key words we needed - yes, no, meat, how to let them know not to add chili peppers - but there weren't a lot of English speakers."
Anderson is appreciative of the education program at SMSU. She earned enough PSEO credits to start her college career as a sophomore. After a year at , she transferred to SMSU and likes the fact "that you are in the classroom right away. It's very hand-on, and that was beneficial to me."
She is the daughter of Dennis and Cindy Anderson of Cottonwood.
Anderson and Kegley are the first two students from SMSU to student teach in Thailand. They returned with a lot of stories to tell and new experiences to draw upon as they pursue their teaching careers after graduation.