It is 6 o’clock in the morning and my alarm wakes me up with its soft tunes – if the loud birds and roosters outside haven’t done so beforehand. I put on my running clothes and shoes and head to the local sports compound for a few rounds. I am not the only one here: The pupils of the nearby Secondary School “École Sportif” also prefer to do sports in the morning when it is comparatively cool and the air is still fresh. By 6.45 a.m. I am on my way back home, passing by a few street food sellers, who are preparing their BBQ grills, greeting them with a friendly smile and a Lao “Sabaidee!” After a refreshing shower I get dressed appropriately for school, which means wearing clothes that cover knees and shoulders. I got myself a Lao skirt tailored and I really like it!
Then it is time for breakfast and I usually enjoy a hot cup of tea and muesli (cereal) with delicious fruit, such as mini banana, dragon fruit, papaya or watermelon.
On my way to Phang Heng Primary School I pass by a little street shop run by a Lao woman named Miaa. It started with a daily “Sabaidee” and when I stopped by one day and I introduced myself in Lao we became friends. Now each morning she waves at me and greets me in English!
Lots of people on motorbikes and tuk-tuks pass me by on their way to Trio, a textile factory in Sikeud village, where many people from the surrounding villages work. (Trio used to be the largest private employer in Laos, with 1,600 employees, and it was our host Gerlinde Engel who set up this factory here in 1995 for the Austrian company KTC.) I also have to cross the very busy “Street 13”, a road that connects the West of Laos vertically in approximately 670 km between Nateuy near the Chinese border in the North and the Lao capital Vientiane. It is rush hour, so there is a lot of traffic and thus polluted air. As Lao traffic follows its own rules, I’m always happy to make it to school alive and unhurt.
As I enter the school’s compound, a lot of children pass me, greeting me with big smiles and a friendly “Good Morning, Isa!” What a good start into the day this is! And yes, this happens every single day.
I teach English with the hand puppet dog Mopsy in two pre-school classes every week, which I and (as I think) the children really enjoy. Mopsy is such a cute character you just have to adore!
Afterwards it is time for my English group with Loungsay and Lathsamy, both English teachers at the Ban Phang Heng primary school. Together we discuss their English lessons, talk about didactics and develop strategies for implementing better-suited methodological approaches and techniques in their foreign language classrooms. Grammar and pronunciation are two major topics of our meetings, since improving their own English proficiency is another goal of the project. At the end of our meeting, there is always time for intercultural learning through conversation, e.g. about life and teaching in Laos and Germany, cultural differences, and so on, or a game to consolidate lexis, e.g. (the politically somewhat incorrect) “hangman” or charades.
Before lunch break, I usually visit either Lathsamy’s or Loungsay’s English lesson to observe their teaching. I take notes, which form the basis for our subsequent discussion about what went well and what could be improved. Nevertheless, the highly repetitive method whereby the pupils simply echo in chorus whatever the teachers says (all day long, year in, year out), which is so typical and omnipresent in Lao classrooms, is present in every lesson. Afterwards, my ears usually ache from all the pupils’ shouted repetitions.
During lunch time (11.30 a.m. – 12.20 p.m.) I meet the other two German volunteers Jule and Jana at the Trio VIP canteen where we enjoy a delicious three-course meal, often featuring a starter such as chicken curry or laap (Lao dish), then fried vegetables, steamed rice and meat as a main dish, with a variety of fresh fruit for dessert. During lunchtime we usually discuss current issues from our respective AfC schools.
This is not a long break for me since I have to head back to school to teach English to the non-English-teachers Dia and Khoun at 12.30 p.m. Usually, I start the lesson with a word game (charades or “hangman”) and then we deal with grammar and pronunciation or other topics they both want to learn about, and pragmatics. I have to say that they are very eager to learn English and they invest a lot of effort, especially in the field of pronunciation.
If I have not visited and observed an English lesson in the morning, I do so in the afternoon. Even though this time of the year (February-March) is by far not the hottest in Laos, the classroom situation can become almost unbearable if a power cut occurs and interrupts the aircon – it can get very hot and quite smelly in the classrooms. Yes, even Lao people sweat!
3 p.m.: School is over! After school I conduct an “English activity” during “Activity time”, and the students are already waiting for me. Together we sing and play English songs and games: “Simon Says” is very popular at the moment. At about 4 p.m. the pupils grab their schoolbags and head home. And so do I. “Goodbye, Isa!”
Back at home, relieved to put on some shorter clothes, I turn on my laptop to plan the next lessons, write my weekly teaching report, or manage my special task as the multimedia manager of Team II.
After a quite busy day, I enjoy a healthy dinner “German style” with Jule and Jana prepared by our generous and friendly host Gerlinde Engel.
In the evening we sit together on the balcony of our villa overlooking the Sikeud Primary School’s compound, drink a refreshing Beerlao and let the day fade away.
Text & photos by: I. Stryj