Managing an English camp at a Thai school can be an exhausting trial of improvisational grit. At least that’s how I’d describe my first camp experience a couple of days ago. With very short notice, a few foreign teachers and I hosted an all-day English camp for roughly one hundred Thai students. We had no idea what we were in for.
“This Sunday you will host English camp. We’re very busy right now and we are hoping you could organize it.” – Thai teaching staff
Thai schools are notorious for keeping foreign English teachers out of the loop. For example, you might show up to a class you’re supposed to teach and it’ll be mysteriously cancelled (nobody told you about the all-school assembly going on in the gym). On the flip side, you might have a huge task dropped in your lap at the last minute, like being told that you’re going to orchestrate an entire English camp.
Thais are a carefree people. They live on “Thai time,” meaning they’re lax about schedules, deadlines, etc. Many Thais think westerners stress way too much over precise timing. While I agree that Americans and Europeans may be “slaves to time,” at least we can delegate jobs in a timely manner.
Time: 8:00 am.
Setting: A quiet gymnasium filled with Thai kids.
Situation: I’m holding the microphone, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and apparently I’m supposed to be the MC. It’s going to be a long day.
Splitting the camp into groups
8:05 am. With very little preparation, my foreign co-teachers and I begin to organize the entire camp of one hundred kids. Neither of us has any prior experience working in an English camp, let alone managing one for 12 hours. It’s the blind leading the blind.
We decide to split the entire camp into groups using the “barnyard” technique. We designate each kid as a barnyard animal then corral them into their matching animal group. We encourage all the students (animals) in the barnyard to make their corresponding animal noises. Despite my embarrassing efforts, they resist making animal sounds. The good news is that we’ve now organized the kids into four roughly even groups, each with a foreign teacher to lead in camp activities.
10:00 am. Now that the camp is split into groups, it’s simply a matter of playing games. Lots and lots of games. Drawing pictures, singing songs, capture the flag, musical chairs, duck-duck-goose, Marco-Polo. The list goes on.
Since there are 4 counselors, the plan is for each of us to keep roughly 25 kids busy, rotating each group every half hour. It’s a manageable task, but it proves difficult to feign interest for too long. Maintaining enthusiasm for two solid hours of the same games is an exhausting task. After four rounds, it’s finally time for lunch.
12:00 pm. Ah, the best part about English camp. A full hour to rest and contemplate the afternoon’s activities while we sit around a table topped with tasty Thai dishes. English camp really works up an appetite, so I stuff my face like there’s no tomorrow. Seconds and thirds? Yes, please.
1:00 pm. Round 2 begins. More exhausting games in our forecast and I’m feeling quite sleepy with a full stomach. Alas, the show must go on! We conjure up a plan to keep the young Thai hoards entertained for another 2-hour chunk.
Talent show prep
3:00 pm. After another draining marathon session of games, it’s time to prepare the kids for tonight’s talent show. Once again, I have no idea what I’m doing. Luckily my friend and co-teacher, Ann, has a few ESL skit ideas in her back pocket. With 8 total groups competing in tonight’s talent show, the 4 counselors are rushing from team to team, guiding the kids along to create a short performance.
6:00 pm. Dinner couldn’t come any sooner. I’m starving, even after my gluttonous stuff-fest at lunch.
7:00 pm. Time to sit back, relax and watch the kids perform while I rest on my laurels after a long day of English camp. Wrong. The microphone is handed to me again. Time to MC the talent show.
The students are sitting around the gymnasium in a huge circle, hesitant to begin the show. Nobody wants to be the first act to preform. After some serious coaxing, one team reluctantly shuffles to the center of the gym to show us their act. From here, it’s smooth as butter. The rest of the teams step up, preform, and step off.
8:30 pm. The winners are announced. The talent show ends. The activities are over. The kids are now dancing to raunchy European club music. It’s finally time to go home.
For our first time, we (the 3 foreign teachers and I) managed the camp quite smoothly, especially considering how little time we had to prepare the festivities. I think the biggest area for improvement was the camp’s momentum. It was difficult to keep activities and events flowing as smoothly as I would’ve liked.
I should point out that, up until this point, I’ve been very happy with Pua School. I enjoy teaching English here and I get along with the staff, but damn it, this camp was a frustrating endeavor. The next time my school hosts an English camp, I’ll be ready. I’ll also know not to assume that the Thai teaching staff has any idea what they’re doing.