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UK Travel Bursary Scheme: Jessica Dodson

BA (Hons) Marketing Management

When I first discovered about the UCLan travel bursary I was absolutely ecstatic and filled with all sorts of exciting and worthwhile ideas. I had always imagined myself as a teacher in a foreign country; spending the days with the children and helping their English grow, then spending the evenings writing up exciting and interesting lesson plans to supplement their experiences. 

However, the dreams I had were just that; a dream. I had no way of funding this type of experience due to the never ending student budget which restricted my possibilities. I spoke with friends who travelled to Africa and worked in orphanages with small children; I browsed through their pictures and their blogs and found that I was captivated by their stories and the difference they made to these small children’s lives. I never allowed myself to truly believe that it could be me who would one day make the same difference, experience similar opportunities and travel so far from home to spend my time teaching English to eager foreign students.

So when I discovered the bursary, I threw everything into my application. I doubted I would be lucky enough to receive the funding, especially considering the diversity from my course of study (Marketing) and my chosen travel opportunity. But a few months down the line, I was one of the lucky few who managed to secure funding and was encouraged to begin organising my trip to Thailand.

Organising the trip felt surreal, but nowhere near as surreal as the real experience ... touching down in Udon Thani Thailand, I was absolutely terrified. I realized that my home was now over 25 hours away by flight and this was my life for the next three weeks.

I felt slightly anxious at this point and after what seemed like hours, a Thai man approached me with a board saying “Jessika”. I guessed this was me, hopped up and off we set into the sweaty fog of Thailand.

Arriving at my home for the night was entertaining to say the least. I was kindly offered a mattress in the Thai home; the family worked hard to make me feel comfortable and gradually I started to relax. THEN I took a trip to the bathroom! Desperate for the loo, I looked around for a toilet, but with nothing in sight I had to ask the Thai mother where her toilet was. She pointed to a small hole in the floor after a short while I finally understood that this hole was in fact the toilet. Wow.

The following morning (bright and early at 5:30am) I woke up feeling excited and positive. I thanked the Thai mother and hopped into her car for my first day at school. Upon arrival my fears and concerns were brushed to one side. The Thai children couldn’t believe that a white girl was teaching them how to speak English. They ran over to me and begged me to play, they smiled and laughed, they hugged me and started playing with my hair – they were happy! And that made me happy too!

Assembly dawned at 8am with 500 children lining the gardens of the school. They take it in classes to sing their school song and raise the flag of Thailand. Watching the children fills me with an overwhelming sense of happiness. The children of Phu kradeung have nothing, but they are so happy that it genuinely touches my heart.

Teaching the children was great, they loved to listen to my English voice, they were desperate to learn and spend time with “Teacher Jess”. After school as the buses passed us the children waved and shouted for us, they smiled and laughed when we spoke to them. The children at this school live in a very under privileged area, meaning they have very little English. This fact only motivated me more; if I can teach them one simple phrase through my three weeks, it will be an achievement.

I needn’t have worried since the Thai children were keen and excited to learn. I started by teaching them their ABC, They picked it up really quickly and seemed to enjoy learning the "AAA ah ah ah... Apple apple apple!" I know I may have looked like a crazy person but the kids found me amusing and that's all that matters.

My typical day at the school was rather unorganized and flustered, I have learnt through my time here that this is simply the Thai way and my English structure, organisation and mentality is simply unnecessary. I’ve always been an organised person, I struggle to go off from my plans and as such I plan for everything. I’ve certainly learnt that this isn’t the best way, I can be relaxed and fun whilst knowing things can run smoothly and a good job will be done. Obviously I’m not ready to give up my organisation completely but maybe I can loosen the reigns now.
I taught the smaller children aged between 6-8 years old. There are over 500 students at this school but I taught only a handful. I worked alongside a co teacher who spoke fluent Thai and broken English; the team worked and we became great friends. We would spend the daytime working with the students and the evenings would be spent planning our lessons over a glass of iced tea.

Together we taught the children how to have simple English conversations, including greetings and questions. We also taught them how to talk about their school, their stationary kits and even their daily routines. I hope that whoever follows in my footsteps implements these conversations into everyday conversation to ensure they don’t forget all I have taught them.

One of the main reasons for my adventure was to discover more about cultural differences, I wanted to develop myself as a multi cultural person and I truly feel that this experience has done exactly that. I feel I am a better person from this challenge; I understand the (sometimes strange) cultural differences and fully embraced the Thai ways. I have self confidence and finally comprehend that my life has no boundaries; if I want to travel the world for my job then I can do just that. Being alone isn’t scary, it’s empowering and invigorating!

Thank you to The University Of Central Lancashire for this immense experience; without your funding this experience would not have been a possibility but with it, I have managed to overcome some of my deepest fears and concerns. I’m prepared for graduation and feel enthused with ideas for my future. Bring it on!!