Reposing on Safe Shores
In this article, I alert readers that my “Views from the Outside” series was coming to its logical end. My tourism students were graduating, and no new students would be permitted to enroll. In fact, the International Studies center was about to be permanently shut down. I started my series in hopes of saving the program and making a lasting imprint on the local tourism industry. In the end, only three out of 23 students found jobs in the tourism industry. Student felt the tour guide salary was too low and worried about various kickback they would be required to pay. They didn’t want the responsibility that came with the job and disliked working in the heat. Most of this class eventually became teachers or found jobs at local factories.
Graduating is not a final act. It is only a transition before the next chapter of learning. My 4th year students are sailing off with their BA degrees in hand. They will be met with many hardships as they try to find work and build a life for themselves. I wish them luck because this transition to responsibility can be more troublesome then they may anticipate. Nevertheless, it is their fight; not mine. I hope that my teaching has set them on the right course, provided them with survival skills, and sparked the curiosity needed for lifelong learning. Meanwhile, I remain on the shores of my university classroom, watching as they vanish on the horizon.
Many of my students will be back. They often return to ask questions or to seek help with problems after graduation. I am grateful whenever my former students perceive me as accessible. It means that I have successfully built trust and a sense of rapport that goes beyond the classroom. I feel like an ambassador sometimes as a foreign teacher in Thailand. We teachers provide an amiable human face for our native countries, which can transcend more negative images inspired by governmental actions abroad. As an American living in Thailand this is more important than ever. I like to think I made imprints that can be used as positive examples. I hope that I have built respect with my intensive local research, community development, and student networking within the city’s tourism industry. Time will tell, for sure. Ayutthaya is a small city and I will continue to run into my students everywhere.
It does fill me with regret, then, that my Learning Post series is about to reach its logical conclusion. My final assessment will be revealed next week. In the past six months I have essentially told the story about the learning process of a class of tourism students. I trained them for two semesters using experimental, western-influenced, methodology. I challenged them to produce new learning resources with group projects (map making, ethnographic research, artwork, etc.), and they topped it off by creating original tours within the Ayutthaya province – and actually testing these excursions out with participants from other universities.
Basically, I was trying to persuade my students to take interest in Ayutthaya, so that they might confidently lift the local tourism industry to a higher level. Now, the class has finished and the future is in their hands. It is time for me to move on as well.
This series would not have been possible without the support of the International Studies Center at Rajabhat University Phranakorn Si Ayutthaya. This program was established in 1995 by Ajarn Laddawan and Ajarn Khonchai. Both these directors took a very progressive, pro-active, stance for English language learning. They exclusively hired native English speakers, encouraged learning-by-doing methodology, and promoted the idea of content based coursework. Both of them spoke English fluently and communicated skillfully with western teaching staff about program objectives. They gave us a lot of freedom in our classrooms to experiment with new methods and encouraged us to continue learning as teachers. Teachers can accomplish amazing things when given such administrative support.
To my regret, the International Studies Center is approaching its end. It must compete with several different language programs at the same university for limited funds – and interdepartmental politics aren’t making this task any easier. There is much more difficulty in recruiting new admissions because Rajabhat schools have a poor reputation, so potential candidates are taking advantage of student loans to pay tuition at better locations. The desire to study in Bangkok also persists.
Our program has stopped accepting new students. Those that remain will continue for two more years until they finish. Then it all ends. However, more importantly for me, the last class of tourism majors is now finished. There will not be any more tourism majors to continue the activities that we have started. Ayutthaya will lose its only English based tourism program, which was crucial for training tour guides to greet the one million foreign visitors who come to this city every year.
I must confess though, I knew our tourism program was ending when I started to author these Learning Post articles. I wished that my material might somehow save the program by all the attention; perhaps even by increasing funding. I hoped these pieces would bring light to amazing student potential even at the Rajabhat level.
Moreover, I wondered if my contributions could somehow alter the local tourism industry so that new tours would be offered. The local travel agencies are offering the same excursion that they did ten years ago, and Bangkok agencies still have a larger role. During the past 3-4 years I have fallen in love with Ayutthaya and want people to know that there is much more to see and do then anyone could realize. Therefore, when I reread my earlier article, I was surprised at how much desperation is hidden beneath them like a subtext. I was trying to make a lasting impact and promote education, but it was a futile attempt for a foreigner to make in many ways.
Ayutthaya’s past was always dependent on its precious water ways. I am also convinced today that the city’s future will continue to rely on its water. Therefore, I made strides to convince my students to enjoy their own city. The source of this classroom then, for the most part, focused on learning about this city via boat. Students were often piled onto these vehicles to see the city in the eyes of a tourist. They were introduced to entire networks of temples that they never saw before. In this way, I imagine that students may grow to love and appreciate Thailand.
Perhaps they will start asking questions of their own and seek knowledge with post graduate research. You never know. Sometimes fate progresses in surprising ways. Nevertheless, what I have learned at the end of this class is that Ayutthaya’s future is not just about its waterways, ancient temples, or natural environment. Ayutthaya’s future depends on investing in the education of its youth. Take away the desire to learn, the innovative creativity, and the pursuit of changing hope – and all of this raw potential will wash downstream after graduation like expendable debris.