I’m only 6 years removed from the life of a high schooler so I still have a fresh memory of my teenage years in America. Now teaching at a Thai high school, it’s funny to note the differences between American and Thai high school students. From roughhousing to handholding, these two demographics are literally a world apart.
Roughhousing certainly has its place in American high schools, but it doesn’t compare to Thai high schools. Thai students incessantly smack one another on the back of the head. Seriously, they do it all the time. Though I admit it’s funny when one of my students won’t shut up and another student knocks the incessant yapper on the side of the head, as if doing it on my behalf.
Many of my Thai co-teachers will actually smack a student as a punishment for smacking another student. A teacher would get canned in a heartbeat if they tried that in an American high school! That’s a shame, because I can think of a few of my high school friends who definitely deserved a few smacks in the face.
Many of my students “poke” each other regularly. This entails forming a gun-shape with your index fingers then savagely poking a friend in the rear, aiming primarily for the nether region. Thai kids get such a kick out of it. Trying to discipline them for such acts is futile. I just shake my head in disgust.
Sure, American high schoolers can act like animals too, but they don’t hold a candle to Thai high school students. Thai high schoolers are way more inclined to touch one another (often inappropriately) than their American counterparts, which I believe stems from growing up in a culture that’s just more “touchy-feely” than American culture. I’ll touch more on this later.
Thai high school students like to hold each other’s hands during walks to and from class. Funny thing, it’s often same-sex handholding. Good friends have no problem holding hands in public. In an American high school, people would definitely assume you’re gay if you walked around holding hands with your best friend.
Guys holding hands with guys, girls holding hands with girls. If you didn’t know better, you’d assume that Thailand is awash with gays and lesbians! Alas, handholding is just a common expression of friendship in South East Asia, which stems throughout Thai culture.
And it isn’t limited to hand-holding. Thai students walk next to one another, resting an arm around their friend’s shoulders, or arm-in-arm. It’s a much more personal interaction than you’d expect to see in a typical American school. And I hear this is common in all of South East Asian culture, not just Thailand.
In American high schools, a boy persistently acting and talking like a girl in class would probably receive a ton of grief from classmates and teachers alike. Not in Thailand. The ladyboys take center stage in Thai high school, providing the class with entertainment and often outperforming their classmates academically.
Kathoey culture in Thailand is prevalent by the time students reach high school age. Check out my article Why are There so Many Ladyboys in Thailand? to learn a little more about the tolerance of the “third sex” in Thai classrooms.
American teenage students seem more mature than Thai teenagers, but I attribute this largely to the innocence of Thai culture. Many of my 9th and 10th grade Thai students (male and female) tote cutesy bags for carrying a variety of colored pencils, pens and markers to class. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but from an American perspective, it just seems childish.
Some of my students even carry stuffed animals to class. Doraemon is among the most popular stuffed animals I’ve seen. He’s popular as hell. Like the Spongebob Squarepants of Asia.
Here’s my theory: Thais don’t live in the midst of the same moral intensity that Americans regularly face. This moral intensity, in turn, has molded American high schools into a place where students have no choice but to “grow up” quickly. There doesn’t seem to be the same rush to grow up in Thailand like there is in America, so I believe there’s a longer preservation of innocence that extends well into high school.
I had to take Spanish a few times in high school, but it was never that big of a deal. In Thailand, a high school curriculum practically revolves around absorption of the English language. English is one of the most important skills a person can hone in the “Land of Smiles.” Spanish is useful in America, but there’s no serious pressure to learn it in school.
ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) is composed of Myanmar, Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Indonesia. In 2015, the official language binding ASEAN will be English. Comparatively, Thailand is way behind on the English-comprehension quota, so there’s a ton of pressure on Thai students to excel in the language.
Did I miss anything?
If you have experience teaching in Thailand, let me know if I should have included something else. Share your opinion in the comments below.