A Thai Diary

Sa waa dee ka! (Hello)

Our first official day of teaching! I’m teaching at the Nam Phong Primary school in Khon Kaen, Thailand with four other university students representing the Australian Thai Youth Ambassador Programme. And what a fantastic day it was!! We were picked up at 8:00am from Bouranyat Hotel in Khon Kaen and it took a full hour drive to reach the school. We had prepared content and worksheets to teach the day before. The school we have been allocated is huge with over 1100 students from Kindy to Year 6. Each class has a maximum of 40 students but its more like 35 in each class so far. We were pleasantly surprised at how much English the children knew… In comparison to other schools it’s quite a lot.

This morning I taught a year 3 class for 1.5 hours and this particular class was so well behaved and willingly to learn. It was a joy to teach and their resident Thai English teacher is very friendly and lovely to work with. With some things, she would have to translate to the class what I was wanting the kids to do.

Some kids are so determined to learn English, it motivates me to teach them as best as I can and I really hope that by the end of the three weeks that their speaking and written English have improved. After teaching year 3, the school provided us with a beautiful table setting in the open prayer hall of the school. We were served a seafood hotpot with rice and egg omelette and fresh watermelon and rose apple (rose apple and apples grown in Australia have little in common. They share the same outside colour and are grown on a tree however rose apples are much sweeter, have an elongated shape and are almost transparent inside). Next came home made coconut ice cream which was aroy! (delicious).

The afternoon consisted of three periods. I taught two year 5 classes and one year 6 class. Some students were able to read simples sentences such as ‘Lisa rides her bike’ and ‘John likes to jog’ which I was impressed at.

The kids respect their teachers and follow the teachers orders (most of the time). They are so happy at school and they get so excited to see foreigners (also because I’m twice their height). They even put stickers on our shirts and give us gifts while we teach. It’s so touching to experience and I feel so humbled to have the privilege to improve their English so that hopefully it inspires them to learn more English and extend their job prospects in the future .

At 4pm, we were taken out to dinner by the hosts from the school to a Chinese restaurant (how ironic). At 6pm we returned to the hotel and met up with everyone else to talk about the day of teaching.

I’m looking forward to the next three weeks of teaching and seeing the children’s English improve.

Sa waa dee ka ! (Goodbye)

– Amira, Australian Thai Youth Ambassadors, January – February 2014 

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Kenya Believe It?

9th jan day 1: after around 30hrs of travel we have finally arrived. So worth the trip, our villas are amazing and right near the beach. Spent the remainder of the day relaxing and took a walk down to forty thieves beach bar for a snack and a stroll on diani beach which is absolutely beautiful! The water is so warm and blue and the sand is so white and goes on forever! Went for dinner at the bar up the road as our cook Mary wasn’t back in time with dinner.  Breakkie is at 8am tomorrow followed by a mini orientation meeting with kat! Also I think we’re planning to visit the elephant sanctuary on Saturday which will be incredible!

10th jan day 2: had our first breakkie cooked by our lovely Cook Mary who made huge fruit salads and some toast and eggs. Afterwards we did an orientation in the morning with Kat who went over house rules and did a run down of what to expect over the coming weeks.  We then walked down to diani main town and caught a matatu (mini bus) half the way. We got some Kenyan shillings out of the ATM and got some snacks from the supermarket while having a look around. We then came back and went to the beach for a swim and had a chat with some massai men wandering along the beach.

11th jan day 3: went for a work out with Jo early this morning and almost died in the heat. Elephant sanctuary was interesting, was an hour drive to the shimba hills reserve where we saw how they make paper from elephant dung. Then picked up two armed guards to accompany us around the sanctuary. We stopped suddenly and the guide took us on a “300m walk” to a cave… This took the best part of an hour in about 40 degree heat in the middle of the desert and up quite a steady incline with thongs on (we were not told about this walk before hand but hakuna matata haha). Anyway luckily we saw elephants on the way back to the entrance, very far away but apparently it’s quite rare to actually see them.

12th day 4: today went to a church service with our LSO guide maggie which was very interesting. Was called the ‘miracle healing center’ and they spent some of the sermon ridding the devil from a lady who couldn’t walk. After this long service we went to grab lunch at a cafe. We are now hanging around the pool and getting our hair braided from nelly. Then heading to 40 theives for drinks  and dinner. Tomorrow is the first day of school so very excited and looking forward to meeting the kids and the LSO staff.

22nd day 15:  haven’t written an update in ages because we’ve been so busy! Also long days at school mean we’re all pretty buggered when we get home.  School has been pretty great so far. The kids are all really beautiful and friendly, some schools are more confident than others as the English is slightly better but overall they are very welcoming. Week 1 was a bit harder as there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of getting the LSO coaches to use us properly and also to get through the language barrier but every day gets better and better as we both become accustom to working with each other.  We have been mostly teaching Australian games to the coaches and teachers which has been great. (Bull rush, flags, octopus, gingerbread).  I have learnt so much just from week one in terms of learning how to communicate effectively and how to best engage young children and motivate them to participate.  We have already begun brainstorming ideas among the group about how to possibly improve the sessions by making them more time efficient and possibly even more exciting for the children and coaches.

Today we have puma school which is my favourite as it’s a much shorter day, with all the lessons taking place one after the other in the morning rather than having a long break in the middle of the day.  Therefore we’ll have the arvo to cool off at the beach or whatever.  Last weekend we went on a day  trip to Mombasa and saw fort Jesus, the woodwork workshop and the slave trade markets. This was a great day and very interesting. On sat night most of us went out for drinks at forty thieves then on to shakattack with some of Karens (the manager of our accommodation) cousins and friends. It was sooooo much fun and such a weird mix of people all together. This weekend we’re going on SAFARI to tsavo east which I’m SO EXCITED about!

– Emma, Volunteer Kenya: Sport for Better Futures in Kenya 2014

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She Left Sydney… For Thailand

Sawasdee! Hello!

Well that’s it… I’m finally in Bangkok, Thailand! But, as normal, there were a few hiccups along the way.

So I guess the best place to start is this morning. 3am to be exact. I decided in my half-asleep wisdom to turn off my alarm. A great idea if you wanted a sleep in. Or if you accidentally set the alarm. Or if you didn’t really want to wake up and you were just kidding yourself the night before when you set the alarm. What it’s not good for is when you need to be at the airport at 7:30am and the 3am alarm was set so you could (finally) pack. Whoops.


A final few checks that I had everything, a few extended goodbyes, and it was off through customs. That was it. No more friends or family for 34 days. (Except for those flying up in 2 days time. But you don’t think of that when you’re standing in line at customs with puffy red eyes.) I made my way through customs, and then a body scan. Yep, you read right – a body scan. So I’m not sure if this is a new thing, or if it’s just because I haven’t travelled in a while but oh golly. I had to stand in a glass cage with my hands in a diamond above my head as a super quick X-ray whizzed around me and scanned my body. Kinda invasive, kinda cool. Youtube it!


8.5 hours later and I wake up to a smoggy, 28 degree Bangkok. It’s beautiful. The landing was perfect, and there has always been something welcoming about touching down in Asian countries to me. I think it has to do with my heritage, and the memories associated with the smells of Asian countries – but it’s almost like an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I managed to nab myself an express immigration pass to cleared immigration and customs pretty quickly before jumping into a taxi towards my hotel.

Just to give you a quick update – Thailand is currently in the middle of huge political unrest. There have been antigovernment demonstrations in the middle of the city that have become violent and left many people injured. You can feel a sense of unease in the air. On the way towards to hotel, I passed a police blockade. We were travelling in the opposite direction, so I didn’t really get a good look at what was happening, but you can’t miss the number of police around Bangkok. They’re everywhere you look at the moment. I don’t ever recall it being like this on past visits. I am intrigued as to how intense things will get as we get closer to February 2nd when there are scheduled elections.

But, I wasn’t going to let all this doom and gloom ruin my first day. I was pretty tired when I arrived at the hotel, and managed to touch base with home before heading out to explore the block that my hotel was on. Considering the situation at the moment, I was pretty wary about straying too far from the safety of the hotel, so the street stalls around Chong Nonsi BTS were the plans for the night. I’ve always had a pretty good stomach for street food, so I got pretty excited about what was around. There were noodle stalls, seafood-on-a-stick stalls, BBQ meat stalls – but I felt like something refreshing, so the fruit stall caught my eye. Those of you who are good friends with me probably understand my love/hate relationship with pineapple. It is delicious, but is the hardest fruit in the entire world to cut up. Bangkok has provided me with an answer to my biggest life problems. Precut Pineapple. For $1. Oh man.


Sawasdee-Tom-Kham! Good Night!

This is an excerpt from Sarah’s personal blog She Left Sydney: A Story About How One Girl Went to Find the World. Check it out to read more about her experience in Thailand on the Australian Youth Ambassadors in Thailand program!

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17 Days in Hanoi

Day #1 – Arriving in Hanoi

Before leaving Sydney I was lucky enough to be introduced to some people who were frequent travelers to Vietnam. They gave me lots of good advice – about the food, the weather (who knew it was deathly cold in Hanoi this time if year), the customs – but one of the best bits of information they gave me was the name of the most reliable taxi companies in the city.

This small piece if advice made arriving a much more relaxed experience. After passing the uniformed guards at passport control, locating my luggage and clearing customs I was relieved to spy one of the green and white Mai Linh taxis as I walked out of the terminal. I had written down the name and address of my hotel, as suggested, so all I had to do was point, see the driver to nod, and I could sit back and enjoy the ride to town.

As expected the traffic was chaotic from the outset, with my driver leaning heavily on the horn for the majority of the journey. But he never lost his cool as he dodged trucks full of livestock and motorbikes stacked with all kinds of goods.

As I looked out the window I immediately saw the collision between Vietnam’s past and present. Giant billboards touting a mix of Western and local products overshadowed fields being hoed by hand. Whole families piled onto rusty old scooters were overtaken by luxury foreign cars.

My first impression is that Hanoi is going to be a city full of juxtaposition.

Day #2 – Hanoi, a city of learning

Today we visited two Hanoi landmarks that celebrate learning.

The Temple of the Jade Mountain on Hanoi’s famous Hoan Kiem Lake is a celebration of Confucian and Taoist scholarship.

The Temple of Literature is the site of Hanoi’s first university, the Imperial Academy. It was originally built in 1070 and it remains and important site for students, who go there to pray for success in their exams.

Today was also the official first day of our program and it was great to begin with a reminder of who important knowledge and learning are.

This is an excerpt from Dan’s blog 17 Days in Hanoi. Check it out to read more about her experience in Vietnam on the Poverty Reduction through Microfinance program. 

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Day 1: Poverty and Micro-finance in Vietnam

On Monday 13 January, 11 UTS BUiLD students began a workshop program in Hanoi, Vietnam exploring the ins and outs of community development programs that aim to reduce poverty through micro-credit provision.

Well, today marks the first day of my trip travelling to Vietnam to be part of the UTS BUiLD and Bloom Microventures Poverty & Microfinance in Rural Vietnam program. After sitting in a traffic jam and having to make a snap decision to go by train and a bit of a freak out by the passenger next to me who evidently obviously doesn’t like flying (I’ll wait for her to remove the towel covering  her head later for a chat), we are in the air (I will post this when I land).

I’m looking forward to being challenged on this trip in the way that I live my life at home and am especially keen to learn about local needs and issues in the rural areas that we are visiting. From what I can gauge, it’s super important to better understand the needs of the community first so that the micro finance loan solutions can then aid the individuals and provide them with the necessary education and support but also be beneficial to their families and wider communities.

I do have lots of questions that I hope will be answered along the way and throughout my trip I’ll be capturing moments through photos and video. I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty (probably literally!) and seeing where my skills can come in handy in providing for these communities.

This is an excerpt from Eric’s blog – you can read the full text here.

Check out Eric’s video from Day One of the program in Hanoi!

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Christchurch Festival for Transitional Architecture (FESTA)

In October 2013, BUiLD assisted 13 UTS Interior and Spatial Design students to take an international design studio subject in New Zealand at the Christchurch Festival for Transitional Architecture (FESTA).

This studio involved 2 design briefs; both looking at the same site: the Worcester St Bridge which forms the entrance to the city of Christchurch. 

The first brief was an individual project to redesign the Worcester Bridge. This bridge was the site of the first encounter between the Maori people and Europeans. The location is an enterance to what was the CBD prior the earthquake. The axis is punctuated by the museum on one end and the Cathederal on the other.

Brief two was to develop temporary architecture on Worcester Bridge as part of Free Theatre’s production of Canterbury Tales as part of FESTA (Festival of Transitional Architecture). The production involved a procession of oversized puppets visiting sites. The students’ site was the disaster; the earthquake. It was a 2 days festival, with the procession planned for both nights. The design had be visible and engaging in daylight and at night.

You can read more about the Christchurch FESTA Design Studio, see images and ideas from the trip on the blog created by the students. 

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