What kind of crazy people decide to run away to Thailand to teach without knowing what the hell they’re doing? I hope to find out with this new series of posts about some of my TEFL course classmates.
26 years old from Syracuse, New York
If you asked Nick to describe himself in five adjectives, he might say
- and, Lost
the first of which is completely untrue. I can vouch for flexible though – he makes crazy contortionist handstands a regular part of our daily workout routine.
If you asked me to describe Nick I would instead mention that he’s wildly motivated, liguistically talented, extraordinarily well-traveled, and generally hilarious. I imagine Nick would make a wonderful travel companion, even though the extent of my travel experience with him is limited to traversing up and down Ramkhamhaeng Road looking for chicken on sticks.
Nick’s been to about 30 countries but cites Belgium as his favorite, mostly for its food: “I had constant good experiences there. The meat, the cheese, the french fries, the bread…” So why has Nick committed to living in Asia for the next year? “I like Asia better because it’s cheaper so I can stay here longer and not struggle.”
Forget Asia and Europe; Nick’s first taste of international travel was an 8th grade class field trip to Mexico.
Suddenly feeling “freakishly determined to leave home,” Nick took advantage of the opportunity to live and study in Venezuela as an exchange student in high school a few years later.
“I’m obsessed with language. There’s a whole world out there.”
Nick hasn’t just explored other cultures; he becomes them. He’s a language guru, a linguistical genius, a lexicological sage. If you ask him, he may claim to know only “3.5” languages (English, Spanish, and French) but I can’t even count the number of times his proficiency in Thai has set us free from the bondage of the omnipresent and very encumbering language barrier.
You only want 15 baht of mangosteens instead of 35 baht? Nick’s got this. He knows how to communicate that. Don’t know where to get off the bus? Ask Nick – oh, he’s already figuring it out. We still get stuck every now and then (like the other day when I wanted to trade the rice in my KFC fried chicken dish to mashed potatoes but then I wanted to change the mashed potatoes to french fries) but life would be far, far more difficult without Nick around. (I’m not using him for his Thai, I swear!)
It’s not just Thai – he picks up languages and their corresponding accents like loose change: “Grammar is limited but I find it’s easy to get the accent. I pay attention to the paradigm of a language’s sentence structure so when I learn new words I know where to put them.” The accent, he claims, just takes some extra listening. Thai, specifically, sounds like a song to him. He says to speak in the accent you must simply “open up your throat.”
His interest in languages developed upon listening to his aunt’s stories from her travels to Swaziland. As a child, he was shocked to learn everyone doesn’t just say “hello” to say “hello.”
It should come as no surprise that Nick studied Spanish and Linguistics with the intent to become a speech therapist. I’m not too sure if he’s completely given up on that dream or not, but it seems “laziness” has gotten in the way, along with the desire to impress in young children the same passion for language that inspires Nick. Even though “some people are against teaching English because it seems like a form of colonization,” it allows Nick to earn money while soaking up the vibrant energy of children and experiencing the world.
“I hope my passion will keep them motivated. By tuning into what they like, I can create that passion within them and show them why it would be with in their personal interest to learn another language.”
He’s excited to be working in The Singaporean International School on the border of Samut Prakan and Bangkok this coming school year, and I’m very jealous of his awesome teaching placement. But just when I begin to express my anxiety about my own teaching placement out in Nonthaburi, Nick playfully suggests that “we go eat about it.”
And that’s generally what we go do.