Inside Thailand

The following “letter” is actually a creative essay written by Inside Thailand ’97 alumna, Colleen Barrett. Colleen went on to Cornell, visited us in Pah Leurat after her graduation, and is continuing to exercise her talents as a gifted young writer.
Dear Navin,

I have been meaning to write this letter to you ever since I left Thailand three months ago. I am writing this letter to express to you exactly in writing what I would tell you verbally if the barrier of two different languages did not inhibit us. You and everyone in your village of Pah Leurat have made a lasting impression on me and have reserved a permanent place in my heart.

I was first attracted to Inside Thailand because of the description that we would be teaching English in a small, rural village. However, that description proved to be a drastic understatement of what the program turned out to be for me. I realized just how special your village was the first day we arrived. Men working in the rice fields, women bathing their babies and children walking home from school, all came out to welcome the six foreigners from America, even if they could not say a word to us that we would understand. They did not need to though; their smiles said everything. In addition, the willingness of the villagers to open their homes to foreigners from a country they had only heard myths about was exhilarating. My new home for the next month immediately took on a character of genuine love and intimacy.

Any previous worries or uneasiness that I had about teaching forty school children, all of whom had been limited in English to the extent of the alphabet and basic numbers, disappeared on the first day. I could feel your entire class hanging onto each one of our words as we attempted to explain what we would be doing for the next month. The apprehension toward our every move could be felt in the air as we stood in front of the class. Each night as we made the lesson plan for the next day, I would visualize all of your reactions and enthusiasm. The sight of your own eager face, always appearing in the front row, and never failing to have a huge grin on it was the best thing I could have seen each morning. Each day we would look out to a sea of eyes open wide in excited anticipation of what we would be doing that day in school. The feedback we received from your class would be enough to motivate any teacher for a lifetime. However, my personal motivation came more from myself. I wanted to contribute something to your life, essentially knowledge of the English language. However, I did not expect the intellectual longing I encountered for a teacher who truly cared about his/her students’ intellects and futures. Any bit of English or American culture was food to feed the undying curiosity of you and all your classmates. Nothing has been more inspirational to me than your demonstration of passion and devotion to learning. As a result, I have come to appreciate more deeply my own future and opportunities for education.

Although you might have thought that I was the one who taught you, you taught me just as much. The countless hours that you would spend trying to teach me Thai, as I repeatedly made mistakes, showed remarkable patience and devotion. Although hopelessly unable to speak Thai, I learned a new language; a language without words. We both became quite fluent in it over time, as it was our means of communication while I was staying in Pah Leurat. This universal language of friendship and love was not inhibited by our two different cultures, which only made our relationship richer. Your favorite swimming spot on the river that you shared with me, and the bamboo bridge that you somehow convinced me was safe to cross are both experiences I will never forget. I looked forward each day to the volleyball games we played after school, and the ghost stories about the temple you told to terrify us. The flowers you picked for me each day on the way home from school and the drawing you made for me of your family will always be cherished. In allowing me to share in your culture with you, you caused me to fall in love with it and its values.

Being part of the community of Pah Leurat for a month helped me to evaluate my own sense of values as well. In an effort to assimilate with the Thai culture, I became immersed in as many parts of it as possible. I witnessed how in your society, money has no value, and neither do material possessions, of which there were few. I discovered how much this beautiful, relatively obscure culture has to teach the world while ironically, its people appeared to me to feel inferior in the face of the technological advances of modernized countries. In contrast, I hold the highest esteem for your culture, and for your sense of community and devotion to family, which has made a lasting impression on me. I will forever hold you and the entire village of Pah Leurat in my heart. In allowing me to share in your village community for a short month, I think I am a more generous and caring person, certainly less materialistic. Consequently, I believe I will be a contributor; one who will make a difference for others.


Colleen Barrett

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