Thai Students Want to Learn Chinese to Turn Their Lives Around, So A TCU Faculty Member and Students Went to Thailand to Teach Them Chinese

Nisachol Saeduku is a senior in the Department of Child Development and Family Studies, and she is from Pangkhon, which is a small village located in northern Thailand. She said, “Learning Chinese will help our children to turn their lives around, so I wish that more college students would come to Pangkhon to teach Chinese.” Her wish came true, on August 19 – 30, 2019, when Professor Ting-Ying Lo accompanied her and three other TCU students to visit Pangkhon. This year’s program has been a fruitful one, and for the coming year, Professor Lo wants to recruit more students.

Pangkhon Chinese School is located in Chiang Rai Province, which is 1,300 meters above sea level, and 32 kilometers away from Chiang Rai City. The school has seven teachers and 169 students, and offers ten classes. Most students are ethnic minorities. Because of its geographical location, the school has difficulty recruiting teachers to come here.

In 2003, the village chief realized the importance of their youngsters learning Chinese, so he asked for donations to establish a Chinese school to teach Chinese and Buddhism. The school principal regards passing on Chinese education and spreading Buddhist teachings as his missions. Since its inception, he has worked with his teachers to teach Chinese, by using traditional Mandarin phonetic symbols, rather than pinyin, which is commonly used around the world.
In the early days, whenever it rained, water leaked into classrooms through the rooftop. During the winter season, the breeze came inside through gaps between the bamboos. When the temperature dropped in winter, students carried their comforters to class. Nisachol Saeduku attended Pangkhon Chinese School starting in 2003. She has a vivid memory of her school days that “I didn’t like to go to school, and the only incentive for me to go was that I could play with my peers.” Fortunately, she did learn Chinese there, and then applied what she had learned to serve Chinese speaking tourists, and this experience turned her life around. Later, she went to an independent Chinese high school in Malaysia to continue her studies. She was grateful to receive a scholarship from Tzu Chi Thailand and came to TCU to pursue her undergraduate studies.

Growing coffee beans produces the major source of income for local residents. Pangkhon is well-liked by tourists, and in recent years, tourists have come here for its natural beauty and ecological variety. Nisachol Saeduku wanted to return to her hometown after completing her undergraduate program, so since her freshman year, she has been planning what she will do here after she graduates, and has made her peers interested in her hometown. She often said to her friends that “my hometown is very pretty;” “Thai foods are delicious;” and “would you like to come to our village and teach Chinese?” Because of her continuous efforts, this year, Professor Lo and three good friends of Nisachol Saeduku, named Xuan-Han Lan, Jie-Rou Chen, and Yun-Xuan Chen, decided to come to Pangkhon to teach Chinese. Pangkhon Chinese School has seven teachers, but only one is from China, and the others are local residents who graduated from Pangkhon Chinese School. Not many are willing to come to Pangkhon, so local residents were happy to meet the Taiwanese volunteers, who had never been here before.

There is no public transport to Pangkhon; consequently, TCU’s volunteers went there by mini trucks. School housing was available for them, but the school didn’t provide hot water, so they stayed with Nisachol Saeduku’s family. Local children loved learning Chinese, and they came to Pangkhon Chinese School every morning and studied Chinese from 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., then attended their regular schools. After 5:00 p.m., they returned again and studied until 9:00 p.m.
Before each class, students gathered at a school corner, with “Amitabha” written on the blackboard, and chanted the Amitabha Sutra. For a period of two weeks, TCU’s volunteers utilized their story books, board games, Chinese chess and other teaching materials to teach the local students. While playing Chinese chess, the youngsters were required to speak Chinese only, and they were disallowed to speak Thai language or the local dialect. The children felt excited to play Chinese chess, and one night, when there was a power outage, they kept playing enthusiastically, by using their flashlights; moreover, parents waiting outside the classrooms turned on their cars’ headlights, to help the children play chess.

The school provided one class for kindergarteners and four for elementary school students, assigning two volunteers to each class. Jie-Rou Chen loved children and enjoyed teaching, and she was happy that her students cherished each session. “Wu du term ma!” is a local dialect phrase meaning “hello.” Xuan-Han Lan used it to greet her students. Chinese is her native tongue, and she never thought about teaching Chinese overseas. Xuan-Han was amazed that the children wanted to learn Chinese so eagerly. In order to inspire her students, she asked them to teach her Thai language and the local dialect.

During their leisure time, the volunteers did farm work, prepared meals, and attended a traditional Akha tribal wedding. All these experiences were invaluable to them. Furthermore, they assisted the school to set up a website to serve its fans, and organized a small library for students. The school’s principal expressed his appreciation for the admirable efforts of Professor Lo and the four TCU students. This two-week program has inspired local children greatly, and hopefully, such fine efforts will be continued, so children living here can further expand their life’s horizons.