An academic training course in Weiherhammer and a family reunification in Toulouse – Ms Ketsana’s journey to Europe

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Editor’s note: The “Recruitment and Training Programme” hosted by BHS Corrugated at the Lao-German Technical College (LGTC) in Vientiane does not only focus on the technical training of Lao apprentices, but also on the further education of their teachers, trainers, and administrative employees. Due to the school’s exchange with German partners and the close cooperation in the fields of vocational training between Lao PDR and the former German Democratic Republic in the 1970s and 1980s, the Lao Ministry of Education and Sports decided to develop vocational education in Laos according to the German role model. Therefore two key missions of the LGTC are to develop their personnel and to improve the management of the schools’ activities, especially in the fields of Dual Cooperative Training (DCT) – the adapted concept of the internationally recognized German dual training system.

In order to support these goals and to improve the efficacy of its own programme, BHS Corrugated invited Ms Ketsana Siphonephath for a three-week training course on academic affairs and vocational education administration in the UeBZO (Ueberbetriebliches Bildungs Zentrum in Ostbayern = inter-company education center in Eastern Bavaria; former subsidiary of BHS Corrugated), with full expenses paid. So, in July 2018, Ms Ketsana spent time in the different departments of the UeBZO and BHS Corrugated in order to gain insights into the operations and organization of a provider of vocational education services in Germany. Ms Ketsana Siphonepath was the third LGTC teacher to be invited for a training course at the UeBZO in Weiherhammer, after her colleagues Mr Phonesouk Inthaxay and Mr Phonesavanh Chachueyang spent eight weeks in Weiherhammer in July and August last year, in 2017.

The “Recruiment and Training Programme” is funded by the sequa gGmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development within the develoPPP programme. The programme hosts its own blog.

Ketsana Siphonephath
Hello, my name is Ketsana but everybody call me “Ket” I am a physics teacher in Lao-German Technical College and I also work in academic affair section as well. I have long story about transferred from a teacher in high school to be a teacher in vocational school where I’ve worked so far. I was really scare to move from my hometown to another place in the first time because I hoped to spend the whole my life in countryside that is my hometown after I graduated from University but I can stay at there only 5 years and then I had to change my mind because I found my true self and confident to pursue my dream that is working in the vocational school where I can use my powerful to work more and do what I like. So I decided to move to work in Lao-German Technical College. That was the beginning of my life in Vientiane I have never thought before that I would get a good chance to work with international companies, I stand at the important position in LGTC (I don’t mean I am a high position and important person but my work is very important in LGTC). It looked perfect for me to get chance to work with them but the problem was my English was very poor in the first year and I cannot communicate with foreigners because they could not understand me. Fortunately, BHS corrugated company came to our college and brought very good chances to LGTC by helping us to find the volunteers of English teacher from Germany. After I started to learn English with volunteer teachers I have got not only knowledge in English but they offered me different opportunity; the most best is friendship between I and all volunteers, it haven’t ended after they went back Germany when I knew that I was invited to go to training in Germany by BHS corrugated for improving my work skills, I was very excited to learn German administration in vocational institution and by the way I could see my lovely friends again I got the best of both worlds.


Arrival in Weiherhammer

9 April 2018 (Ketsana Siphonephath)

The day in Germany had arrived, I was picked up by BHS Corrugated driver from Munich airport on April 9th, 2018. I was worry a little bit about starting work with German guys while I was driving to Weiherhamer where I had to go to training, I heard some information that German guys are very serious when they work “Do you know why?” because for Lao people we are quite relax when we work and then I had to change my mind again it wasn’t horrible as I thought, I got very warm welcome from Uebzo team they were very friendly and helped me very thing, we did many activities together on break times and after work I have learned a lot from Uebzo team.

I went to visit Würzburg on the weekend it was very wonderful city, there are beautiful Castles, so many people enjoy their wine on the old main bridge. I wish to come back here again in one day.

After I finished training I went to visit Karlsruhe where I wished to go before. I spent time with my friends in Karlsruhe for one week, we did many thing together, walk a lot (LOL) I have never walked so much in Laos but I did a lot in Germany.

Arrival in Karlsruhe

28th April 2018 (Sandra Uhlig)

On April 28th, a Saturday evening, I (Sandra from Team V) went to the central station in Karlsruhe to pick up my friend from Laos – Ketsana, a teacher of the LGTC. Ket had planned to stay in Karlsruhe for a week after having finished her workshop/training at BHS in Weiherhammer. I was really exited – how great that she got the chance to come to Germany!

Even though it was a very special feeling to have Ket here in Germany, everything was so normal at the same time: No strange feelings this time, no language problems that could not be solved – the beginning of a few awesome days together in Karlsruhe. After going to the supermarket to equip Ket with some vegetables and sausages for breakfast (eating cereals is not her kind of thing), dinner on my balcony and some chatting, we ended this day with a thrill of anticipation of the next day.

Sandra and Ket

29 April 2018

Funnily (for me at least), Ket woke up a bit confused the next morning by church bells ringing – a sound that was new to her (“Sandra, what is this ding-dong-ding-dooooong?! And why so early???”). We prepared a little breakfast – German and Lao style – together with Ariane (Team V as well), who came over and spent the whole sunny day with us. We enjoyed walking through the castle park and gardens together, had a little picnic in front of the beautiful castle, and got some coffee.

A very relaxing and beautiful day – which was to end with a little surprise for Ket…

29 April, 6:30 p.m. (Isabel Martin)

I had received a message inviting me to join Ket and the volunteers for dinner at 6:30 at the Oxford Pub. “The Oxford” is a notorious student place with dark wooden furniture and chips with a great selection of burgers on the menu, but I had not been there before, only seen it. Another engagement had finished at 6:15 and I was glad to find a parking space straightaway very near the place. I arrived just on time, went through the restaurant, saw nobody, went into the “beer garden”, again saw nobody, and decided to wait at the only free table outside.

When the minutes passed, I started wondering how long I would be able to wait because my working day was not over yet – I would need to get back to my desk after dinner to prepare my classes for the next day. After about 15 minutes, I had the good sense to doubt myself because volunteers would normally text me to say that something had come up and they would be late. There was no new text. I checked the original message: Yes, “Oxford Pub”. After a moment of bewilderment, I double-checked in the menu: “Oxford Café”.

The Oxford Pub was luckily just around the corner. When I arrived, the next surprise was waiting for me: Volunteers from each LGTC team (Team III, IV, V) were there together with Ket, also the two “Sunshine School” (Vientiane) volunteers of Team III, plus two friends, and when the last one (“Dennis” aka Denise, Team III) arrived shortly after me, Ket had a moment of great emotion. This touched all of us.

Not much later, Marie (Team V) suddenly walked towards our table and said “I am not Marie”. Then she said, “Hi everybody, I know you are the Laos group and I hope you’re having a great evening. I am Franziska, Marie’s twin.”
I thought this would be good raw material for a short story: Double location, double people, double strands of thought and experiences for both sides, German and Lao, first in Laos, now in Germany, there and back.
In our real-life case: No complication, climax, or catastrophe, but a special get-together and lovely evening.

30 April 2018 (Sandra Uhlig)

On Monday, I had to attend my seminar “Classroom management” and asked Ket if she wanted to join me, to experience a day at the College of Education Karlsruhe. Even though the seminar was held in German, it seemed to be very interesting for her as she could see how German lecturers (not everyone, of course, but she got a good example) act in front of students with regard to body language, tone, and interaction.

(Ketsana Siphonephath)

I got very warm welcome from my friends, I was invited to visit PH-Karlsruhe University in that day I joined Psychology lecture with Sandra I really liked it, a teacher made me interested in her teaching I saw she led her class as professional.

(Sandra Uhlig)

After this, Ket accompanied me to our seminar “Global English(es): Teaching English in Asia”. The syllabus for this day: “Special guest from Laos; Methodology: “How to” English workshops for tandem-teachers abroad: “How to embed experiments in science lessons”, “Picture books”, “Storytelling for young learners”, “Working with a triangle and compass”, “How to work with ‘Technical English'”, “Classroom English”, “Opening the Didactics Room”.

(Shirin Ud-Din from Team VI, “Global English(es)” tutor)

Ms Ketsana was invited as a “special guest from Laos” to the “Global English(es)” seminar at the PH by Prof. Martin. She had come to Karlsruhe after her further education at BHS and was glad to visit the place where all the PH-students who had come to Laos study. During my time in Laos, I did not have the chance to meet her because I was based at the school in Ban Phang Heng, so I was glad to finally meet her myself. Ms Ketsana is a very outgoing person and does not hesitate to communicate in English. We returnee-volunteers were full of anticipation, the participants of the seminar who had not been in Laos probably even more so – this was the great majority – and those who were in two minds about whether or not to apply for the next internship were probably most excited. The room was packed.

Prof. Martin welcomed Ms Ketsana, brought her to the front of the class and asked her to introduce herself and “maybe also talk for a few minutes – if you like – about your experiences in the project – maybe also tell us some of your thoughts about the work with the German volunteers”. What we expected – that she would introduce herself and then the seminar would move on to the model workshops, that is – was a complete misconception (yet again).

Ms Ketsana spoke for 20 minutes without stopping about her on-going education, the project, and the issues Lao people have in learning English. We were all hugely impressed by her fluency and her apparent lack of shyness: Most Lao people are afraid of talking English in a group – and she did it in front of an audience of 50 German students. Her speech was very impressive, and it was absolutely quiet in the room while she spoke.

When it was time for questions, it was the Germans’ turn to be shy. Nobody asked anything. Prof. Martin wrapped up the talk and invited everyone to start work at the seven different learning stations that the former volunteers had prepared to present their workshops, but also to use the opportunity to talk to Ketsana in between, which was very interesting for everybody. All in all, I can say that the visit of Ms Ketsana was enriching for the seminar and got even more students interested in the “Teaching English in Laos” project.

(Ketsana Siphonephath)

We went on to joined Prof. Martin lecture then I may met the new team there it was very nice talking with people in there and that the first time that I had talked on the stage in English…I hoped it was good…

1 May 2018 (Ariane Kummetz)

The first of May is a public national holiday in Germany and also known as “Labor day” or “Worker’s day”. In some areas of Germany, the night before still has a special ancient meaning and serves as a tradition of welcoming spring and sometimes even as a (mock-)expulsion of “evil spirits”. Therefore, some people light bonfires (anciently to ward off the witches) the night before the 1st of May, which is also called “Walpurgis night“, in commemoration of St Walpurga and her battle against “witchcraft”. Some young people may go outside to play pranks on neighbors such as wrapping toilet paper around car mirrors or dislocating their dustbins. In the Rhineland, young men may erect a birch tree stem or large birch branch decorated with colorful ribbons in the garden of the girl they fancy.

The day itself is often celebrated by going hiking, having picnics, enjoying outdoors, and being surrounded by friends or family – or joining the marches celebrating workers’ rights. However, the weather was not on our side so we decided to celebrate indoors and have a “picnic” inside and to play games together. Some of Sandra and my (Ariane from Team V) friends came over to my place to spend the day with us and also to meet Ket. Everyone brought some delicious finger food such as pastries, vegetables with various dips, or “pizza snails”. We played some rounds of “Mäxle” (engl. “Mia” or “Liar’s dice”), which we had already introduced in Laos, and other games, had a lot of chats and enjoyed the afternoon together. What Sandra and I noticed again while playing “Mäxle”: Lao people are not good liars!

Since the weather cleared up in the afternoon and as we had already explored the area around the castle with Ket, we took the chance to show her another wonderful spot in Karlsruhe: The Günther-Klotz-Anlage (a public park). Summer was on its way and we enjoyed the splendid fresh air and first sun rays of the day.

Eventually, after our friends had left, Ket, my flatmate and I prepared dinner together, and we gave Ket a taste of a good German red wine as our day drew to a close.


2 May 2018 (Ariane Kummetz)

Ket’s last day in Karlsruhe started with breakfast Lao-style again, more precisely fried eggs and mushrooms with a good amount of spices. Afterwards we explored the inner city of Karlsruhe, had a look around in some stores, and I also showed her some delicious culinary delights of German bakeries.

Additionally, we went to surprise Sandra, who was working in the Thalia book store and happy to see us. (Over 60% of German students have small jobs on the side.) Unfortunately, then it was time for Ket to pack her bags and I sent her off on her next adventures, which included seeing Nina of Team V and her uncle in France again – as well as having her first actual snow experience.


Arrival in Bittelbronn

2 – 4 May 2018 (Ariane Kummetz)

Due to some complications regarding the train, Ket arrived very late in the evening at Nina’s place and the two of them finished the day with a homely get-together and some good chats. The next day Nina had to go to school as she is presently in her 18-month practice teaching phase (between graduation and one’s first teaching post). Since the weather was quite bad, Ket enjoyed having a long morning and some time to settle. After Nina came home, the two of them had the chance to explore the beautiful surroundings and walk through long colorful rapeseed fields and the woods. In the evening it was time for a movie night!

On Friday afternoon, the two of them went to the town where Nina spends a lot of time due to her tuition-seminars, Freudenstadt. They strolled along doing some shopping and picking up some good food along the way. Afterwards they met Denise of Team III and the day came to an end. Sadly, the end of the day also meant another good-bye…

… and Ket went on to the next chapter of her journey: France!


Arrival in Toulouse

(Ketsana Siphonephath)

I flied from Frankfurt to Toulouse for visiting my uncle and his family, we didn’t see each other almost 10 years, it was surprise him that we can see each other again in France, I spent two weeks in France and Span as well, we went to visit Dali museum in Span and Neige mountain in France… It was the first time I touched snow.

I went to visit the City de Carcassone, France.  It was very beautiful.

I am thankful to get selected to share my experience this time in Europe. I would like to share with you some stories that I got from BHS Corrugated. I can make tour this time that because of my English is more improved I will keep on to learn English from new volunteers team. Thank you very much BHS Corrugated and all Volunteer teachers from PH-Karlsruhe University. I have never will forgot this time.


Text by S. Uhlig, S. Ud-Din, I. Martin, J. Zeck, A. Kummetz & K. Siphonephat

Photos by S. Uhlig, I. Martin, J. Zeck, A. Kummetz & K. Siphonephat

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