Oh ASEAN. If you’re an educator in Thailand, you’re well aware of this. If you’re an American friend or family member of a volunteer popping in, you may scratch your head wondering, “What in the world does that mean?” So let’s get some formality and definitions out-of-the-way before we move on to the fun part: costumes, song, dance and general acting like a big-kid fool.
ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It has been around for 46 years just this past month. In the next coming years, their goal is to bring together ten SE Asian countries for “One vision, one identity, on community.” The association will model something similar to the UK. They have hopes to open up the borders to allow for citizens to travel, do business, and live. They chose English as the official ASEAN language, hence the major push to bring all countries language proficiency up to par. As a volunteer in Thailand, it poses a great struggle because our country performs at one of the lowest English proficiency levels. After all, that is why I am here: to transfer knowledge and skills to Thai English teachers so they can then pass that on to their students for generations to come. With plans moving forward, education officials are jamming ASEAN everything down schools’ throats. Enter, ASEAN day.
From my perspective, the main point is to make students aware of ASEAN’s existence and crucial importance in a changing economic world. The world is transitioning to a global economy and that is nowhere more present for Thais than in the hands of ASEAN. You hear people throughout the offices saying, “ASEAN. It’s coming,” like a doomsday or something. But it is, it’s coming, and starting at making students aware seems just as good a place as any. Now, on to the fun stuff.
Now that I know a Thai activity is NOT complete without music, laughter and merry-making, it makes perfect sense to put on a talent show for ASEAN day. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. So, many weeks ago when little tings, lings, and chimes started to sound from the computer speakers and Thai students half-danced, half-sauntered into my office, I knew something good was coming. Class cancelled for Indonesian dance practice? You bet I’m in.
Just for fun, I coerced my own students to perform an English song (teacher coercion means telling them they are going to do it, enough said). Did the song have anything at all to do with ASEAN? It was in English, of course it did. The subject matter: seasons of the year. ASEAN countries do have seasons, right? Perfect. We’re right on mark. No really, though, I was like a proud, beaming mother, with orchestra fingers in the air when they performed, urging the girls to hum louder and the boys to back off on the woo-oo-oos a bit.
Here’s a sneak peak at our masterpiece. As you’ll see, high school “cool attitudes” are a global thing:
Then, bring in the show tunes, traditional ASEAN dances mixed in with bad Korean pop and some Japanese just for fun (Japan is not an ASEAN country by any means). The video below is a group of upper level high school students dancing their heart out. About 2:30 minutes into the video, the crowd goes into an uproar and starts dancing in the aisle. Then, a male student dressed as a female for a previous joke show (and definitely not part of the current act) jumps on stage to dance along. Yes, he’s wearing a skirt. Yes he has a bow on his head. Either I’ve turned completely Thai or it actually is hilarious. It’s great that he has such confidence to get up there and laugh along. Take a look at Thai culture, happiness, and partying at its peak. Briang-bpen-muuan-con-Thai-leeo (I’ve changed to be the same as Thai people already).
Cross-dressing, pop music singing, camera-worthy smiling, ASEAN activity game-a-playing acting fools. I’ll call that a successful day. Oh, and this week? This week I must be the cool teacher in town because the upper level students are itching to talk to me. You’re in for a treat; time to bring a little America to Thailand.
P.S. Peace Corps Thailand group 126 invitations are now being sent out. Please feel free to contact me and touch base to get a firsthand experience of what the next two years of your life will be like, especially if you have questions related to serving as a LGBTQ volunteer or challenges with long-distance relationships (email: julia.schulkers[at]gmail). I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions. Or, head to my Twitter @JuliaSchulkers for daily updates and photos of village life. Get ready for a life-changing experience.