From snow days to sticky rice: An American boy’s take on school in Thailand

By: Kathy Drouin-Keith

While expat parents may think they’re doing their child a great favor by hauling them off to a foreign country for a few years, the kids may not always see it that way. Add an international school and you may have a recipe for disaster – or you may have a beautiful new cross-cultural dish. Coconut milk mac ‘n’ cheese, anyone? Chili-lemongrass-mint cheeseburger?

Joe would never try these dishes – if anything, his attachment to American-brand comfort food has gotten stronger since we’ve been in Bangkok -- but as a mother, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that someday he will thank me for this experience. It will all be fodder for his Harvard application essay in any case.

Here’s some of the worst and best things about going to school in Bangkok, compiled by Joe and me. Joe pointed out some things are not better or worse, just different. We’ve listed those, too.

Best things:

Learn new languages. Joe is learning to speak Thai. He’s also learning to speak British English. For those of you who may think this is not a separate language, I invite you to use your rubber to fix your mistake and then put your rubbish in the bin. Then, cheer up with a packet of crisps!

Immerse yourself in a new culture. This is especially fun around the exuberant holidays of Chinese New Year, with its fireworks and dragons, and Songkran, where you can douse even your teacher in water.

Field trips where you get to see monkeys in the jungle, ride elephants and feed giraffes. (Joe pointed out that you can see monkeys at zoos in the U.S., but acknowledged there are no jungles.)

Meet kids from around the world. (Joe’s note: “Sometimes that’s a bad thing. They’re not used to what you do, and you’re not used to what they do, and then you get into an argument.”)

Worst things:

No snow! Good for mom and dad – no shoveling the driveway, hair-raising commutes or scrambling for child care when schools close. But bad for Joe -- no snow days, snow forts, snowball fights or sledding.

No more cafeteria tater tots. Classic kid food in Thailand tends toward seaweed chips – crisps, in B.E. -- stir-fries and lots and lots of rice. Joe says of the lunches offered at his school, “They try to cook good food, but their food is really just meat and a bunch of greens. They cook way too much rice, too. Rice every day.” Joe brings his own lunch.

Great expectations. Joe says, “Sometimes, being someplace else means that your teachers are a little stricter with you than the rest of the class. I feel like my teacher expects me to do better than the rest of my class because I’m different from the rest of the class.”

Different things:

Learning subjects at different times, paces and styles. Joe is working on multiplication and division this year – a year earlier than he would be in the U.S. He also has more latitude to pursue subjects independently, such as computer skills, and as a result has become the school expert at PowerPoint.

Playgrounds. Joe and the other older children use the sports field and equipment during playtime. The younger children use the playground equipment.

Animals. Pythons, huge spiders and monitors prowl Bangkok. Luckily, all Joe has encountered at school are normal-sized lizards dashing along the tops of the outdoor cafeteria walls.

Are they going for the sticky rice? You be the judge.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKathy Drouin-Keith is an American expat living in Thailand. Blog description: A journalist ditches her hectic life in New York and moves with her family to Bangkok.
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Contest Comments » There is 1 comment

Leon wrote 10 years ago:

Missing US school cafeteria food; it boggles the mind.

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