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  Inside Thailand: cultural exchange and community service summer program for high school students

FAQ — Answers to Frequently Asked Questions


Is Inside Thailand open to students from schools other than Cate?

Yes, absolutely! Inside Thailand welcomes applications from motivated high school students across America and around the world.


How much English can I expect my students to already know?

Depending on their grade level, your Thai students' English skills will range from beginner to intermediate. Elementary students can be expected to be familiar with a few common nouns and action verbs. Most junior high students will understand phrases such as: "Do you like American music?" A few will be able to form sentences such as: "I write letter for you is difficult because I write English little but I desire to write because I miss you very much. Do you miss me too? Every holiday I and my friend go to swim we think of yesterday you used to swim with us. I want you come to Thailand again."

What age students will we teach?

Grades 4 through 12, with emphasis on grades 5 through 9.

How can I teach English if I don't know any Thai?

Modern academics generally agree that language acquisition occurs most efficiently when instructors teach their lessons in the target language rather than in the students' native tongue.

Research has shown that even adult students can learn a new language in the same way infants acquire their first language — by associating physical objects, actions, emotions and, eventually, abstract concepts directly with the new words rather than with equivalent words in another language. Those of you who are studying foreign languages probably have had some first-hand experience with some of the challenges and benefits of this technique.

When instructors explain a target-language word in the target language, students acquire much more than just that one word, since they also benefit from hearing the vocabulary and grammar contained in the explanation. Bilingual language instructors generally acknowledge that this target-language-only technique makes their job considerably more difficult, yet most will agree that the increased benefits more than justify the additional effort.

With these concepts in mind you may fairly view your lack of Thai language skills as a plus. Also bear in mind that as native speakers you will have the ability to interpret "close-enough" English. This is a luxury not shared by many Thai English teachers, and you will quickly see your students' confidence build as they realize that you, a native speaker, are actually understanding their struggling efforts.

Mac Bakewell and his daughter Benyapa are both bilingual, and each has considerable experience teaching relaxed and lively English classes in Thailand. Mac and Benyapa will support and assist you in the preparation and presentation of your lessons. And finally, do keep in mind that your and your students' enthusiasm will fill in a lot of gaps!

Will I have a chance to learn some Thai?

Naa-non! (แน่นอน – certainly!) Although Inside Thailand participants are not obliged to learn any Thai, most will want to master at least a few simple phrases. Some may plunge right into vocabulary and grammar and even the 76-character Thai alphabet. Your Thai peers will be eager to help you, and Mac and Boosaba are always pleased to teach as much Thai as anyone wants to learn, but there's never any pressure.

Cultural considerations

What is kreng-jai?

Kreng-jai (เกรงใจ), usually translated as "consideration," is truly a Thai word with no precise English equivalent. Much more than a polite attitude of deference and concern for others, kreng-jai defines the essence of the Thai character. Courtesy and consideration merged with reserve and respect are its essential qualities. This gracious cultural ethic underlies all Thai relationships, no matter how casual, and regardless of relative social status. The concept reflects Buddhist philosophy that one should not be preoccupied with one's self but should instead make sacrifices for the happiness of others. Kreng-jai infuses every aspect of etiquette in a society where it is a disgrace to be seen as thoughtless, selfish, or unkind. It is the single most important lesson every Thai mother strives to impart to her children, and adopting a spirit of kreng-jai is key to an auspicious experience Inside Thailand.

What other cultural considerations should I be particularly sensitive to?

Guidebooks about Thailand always discuss the importance of removing one's shoes before entering a temple or a home. They usually mention, too, the taboos against pointing one's feet toward a Buddha image. Many books also describe the wai (ไหว้), the traditional Thai greeting where one's fingertips are joined as in prayer at the level of one's heart. This lovely gesture is completed with a gentle smile while slowly bowing one's head.

Beyond these introductory lessons, Mac and Boosaba will explain many other subtle cultural mores within their actual contexts. If ever any customs seem particularly unfamiliar, you will find it helpful to remember that the Thais are an exceptionally warm and understanding people. While they will deeply appreciate every attempt to honor their culture — especially the key concept of kreng-jai — they will smile and quickly forgive any well-intentioned faux-pas.


Will it be possible to spend time with the monks at the village temple?

Yes. Thailand is a Buddhist country, and in Chiang Mai we will spend several hours discussing the basics of this gentle religion with an English-speaking Thai monk. Phramaha Dr. Boonchuay Sirindharo (พระมหา ดร.บุญช่วย สิรินฺธโร) is an associate director of the Buddhist College, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai. He is as kind and wise man I have ever met, right up there with the Dalai Lama, and our meetings with him are always memories to cherish.

Every Thai village has its own temple, and although language differences will make communication with the monks in Pah Leurat a bit more challenging, Inside Thailand participants will be welcome to join their morning and evening meditations, and Mac and Boosaba will always be happy to facilitate conversations.

Books and other resources

Where can I learn more about Thailand, Thai culture, and Buddhism?

Here is a short list of recommended reading. These are all excellent books, and the first two are exceptional.

Title   Author Publisher
Dream of a Thousand Lives: A Sojourn in Thailand   Karen Connelly Seal Press
Insight Guide—Thailand   Scott Rutherford Insight Guides
Travel Survival Kit—Thailand   Joe Cummings Lonely Planet Publications
Travelers' Tales—Thailand   James O'Reilly and Larry Habegger Travelers' Tales
Thai Ways   Denis Segaller Post Books
What the Buddha Never Taught   Tim Ward Somerville House Books
Thailand, a Short History   David K. Wyatt Yale University Press

All of the above titles are available from

Can you recommend any resources for learning Thai?

Learning Thai is not a requirement, but while we are in Thailand Boosaba, Mac, and Benyapa will be happy to teach you as much as you are motivated to learn. If you would like to begin exploring the language now here are three excellent and free online resources:

Thai Language Page

Women Learning Thai ... and some men too


This familiar homily lists five key cultural priorities as "s" words:

สะอาด (sa-at - clean)

สุภาพ (suphap - polite)

สำรวม (samruam - quiet & peaceful)

สนุก (sanuk - fun)

และ (laa - and)

สะดวก (saduak - comfortable)

A feeling of contentment, implying a combination of all the above, is most often expressed by another very common "s" word:

สบาย (sa-bai - fine, comfortable, well, happy, copacetic)

To add emphasis, say it twice: สบายๆ (sa-bai sa-bai)

Climate and weather

What will the weather be like?

Thailand's monsoon climate is divided into three seasons: the cool (November-February), the hot (March-May), and the rainy (June-October). Rainy season weather is usually warm and muggy, much like New England or the American Midwest during the summer. Blue morning skies are often overtaken by welcome clouds during the hot afternoons. Rain, when it comes, usually falls at night and is often accompanied by dramatic thunder and lightning. The early rainy season is rice planting time, and during your stay you can expect to see farmers working a lush countryside of emerald-green rice paddies.


What will we eat in the village?

Thailand is world-renowned for its exquisite cuisine, and Boosaba's accomplished culinary skills are a hallmark of the Inside Thailand experience. Boosaba will prepare all of our meals in Pah Leurat with homegrown Jasmine rice, fish fresh from the river, and with fruits, vegetables and spices straight from her garden. Menus will include a broad array of authentic regional dishes. Some you will recognize from Thai restaurants and some you may never have heard of. Each meal will include rice with a variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes to share. For a glimpse of Boosaba's talents, please visit her website, and to learn more about Thai food in general please see pages 4-5 of Boosaba's Thai Cooking Brochure.

I am vegetarian. Will that be a problem?

No. Although Thai food generally includes very little animal protein, many dishes do contain small amounts of fish, fowl, beef or pork. Boosaba, however, is well accustomed to accommodating specific diets, and for vegetarians she either prepares special dishes or uses a soy protein substitute. When we are away from the village, vegetarians will always be able to find meat-free versions of pad-Thai, fried rice, omelets, and soups.


Where will we sleep in the village?

The Inside Thailand girls will stay in a house directly across the road from Mac and Boosaba's home. The boys will stay at the village temple, about two hundred yards down the road and directly opposite the school. Accommodations for each group include indoor bathrooms with running water, electric lights and fans, and sleeping mats with mosquito nets, sheets, pillows and blankets. Participants will be responsible for cleaning their own dwellings and are welcome to invite their Thai peers to visit up to a reasonable hour each night. All meals will be served at Mac and Boosaba's.

Will we do homestays?

Homestays are always possible. Instead of pre-arranged homestays, Inside Thailand prefers to allow visitors and villagers to form their own relationships. If you are invited you will certainly be welcome to sleep over at a friend's house, providing, of course, the host parents and Mac and Boosaba approve of the arrangement.

Health concerns

Which vaccinations are required?

No vaccinations are required for entry to Thailand or return to the US. After we receive your deposit we will send you an information packet. It will include detailed notes on the immunization options you may want to discuss with your doctor.

I am allergic to ______. Will that be a problem?

Probably not. However, it is vitally important that you disclose any such medical conditions on your application form.

How about emergency medical care in Thailand?

Medical care in Thailand is truly excellent. The facilities are modern and clean; the instrumentation and technology are state of the art; many of the doctors are trained overseas; and the nursing staff is as gracious as they are competent.

In Uttaradit there is the very good Uttaradit Public Hospital. In Chiangmai there is an outstanding private facility called the Lanna Hospital where Mac and Boosaba's daughter was born. And in Bangkok there are numerous distinguished choices, including the world-class Bumrungrad Hospital.

What to bring

What sort of clothes/shoes/rain gear/etc. should I bring?

After we have received your deposit we will send you an information packet which will include detailed information on what to bring.

May I bring gifts for the Thai kids?

You may. The ideal gifts will be small items to be used as rewards and prizes in the classroom. These include, for instance, photos, postcards and stickers, pens, pencils and erasers, and small party-favor toys.

May I bring iPod, CD's, tapes, videos, VCD's or DVD's?

VHS video (either PAL or NTSC), CD, cassette tape, and VCD players are all available in Pah Leurat. DVD players are less common, although we do have one at our home. Inside Thailand participants are welcome to bring iPods or other mp3 players, but are discouraged from zoning out in their own soundspace through earphones. The Thai way is to share the music, and we will be happy to plug your iPod into our speaker system.


How often will we be able to e-Mail or phone home?

While there are not yet any Internet connections in Pah Leurat, e-Cafes are common in Bangkok, Chiangmai, and Uttaradit, so you should be able to exchange e-Mail at least once a week. Mac and Boosaba's cell phones are reserved for emergencies. You will, however, be able to place overseas calls from our hotels in Bangkok and Chiangmai.

How long do airmail letters take between Thailand and North America?

About a week. Your information packet will include the mailing address in Pah Leurat.

Other concerns

Has Inside Thailand been affected by the tsunami, bird flu, or the southern separatist movement?

The short answer is no. The tsunami struck Thailand's west coast, across the peninsula from the island Inside Thailand visits in the Gulf of Siam. The separatist unrest is confined to three predominately Mulsim provinces near Thailand's border with Malaysia. The regions affected by the tsunami and the separatist unrest are both hundreds of miles from the nearest Inside Thailand destination.

Outbreaks of avian influenza have occurred in several Thai provinces, but that disease does not pose a risk to humans who are not intimate with infected chickens, and there have never been any infected birds anywhere near our village in Uttaradit.

For a detailed discourse on these important concerns please see Perspectives on the Tsunami, Bird Flu, and Pattani.


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