● Teaching Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
● Type of Teaching Job: Voluntary project work at a UK-Based school to educate students from poor backgrounds that are sponsored to learn English
● Student Age Group: 16-22
● Monthly Salary: Voluntary
● Monthly Rent: Own accommodation organised
● Living Arrangement: Guesthouse
● Monthly Savings: n/a
● Contract Bonuses: n/a
By Candice Lemon-Scott
Mine is not the traditional ESL teaching experience in terms of gaining paid employment because I went over to carry out a volunteer one-week program. For this reason, I’m grateful to be able to share my experience of teaching English in Laos.
I have an ESL background but I was primarily at LEOT, a UK-based school in Laos, because I’m an author. The students at the school were set to present their first art exhibition and some of their writing was to be displayed there as well. I was there to help them write story, and to write about their own aspirations for applying to college.
I travelled with my family, which also places me a little differently to other ESL stories of teaching in Asia. My husband cared for my children (aged 8 and 11) during the times I was teaching and we explored Luang Prabang in my non-teaching time. We all fell in love with Laos. It has this calm, relaxed feel that is hard to explain. The people are among the most beautiful and warm I have ever met. It was the kind of place I felt immediately at home in, which is not always the case for me, and in all honesty, it was difficult to leave after just one week there.
What I Loved About Teaching English in Laos
Teaching the Love of Story
As ESL teachers will know, the curriculum of teaching English doesn’t leave too much room for creative writing. But because I was there to teach story I was free to focus on sharing skills in my profession of being an author. Before I arrived the volunteer teacher I worked under said that the students found it difficult to write about their feelings and to tell stories that were ‘made up’ rather than factual.
I was lucky enough to go along to a Lao storytelling session during my visit though so I quickly discovered that the culture is actually deeply embedded with story, specifically folktales. So, once I could relate it to their own tradition of folktales they got the concept quite well. I used fairytales as a base for structuring their own stories as that was quite closely linked to folk stories from their own cultures.
I felt immediately welcomed when I first arrived at LEOT to teach. In fact, even before this as I was picked up by a Lao teacher by motorbike on the first day so that I didn’t have to worry about finding the school myself – a huge relief for me as my biggest challenge with travel is having a very poor sense of direction.
The students were so attentive and keen to learn that it made my job so easy and an absolute pleasure to be teaching. I took one class where I taught the Lao teachers and one where I taught the students each day. As the school trustee explained to me, discipline is not a part of education here as it’s unnecessary, so we could get on with teaching. In this way, I could share a lot in my short time. I learned a great deal about their lives, aspirations and feelings as we worked on writing skills.
I also discovered Lao people have a fantastic sense of humour and we started to have quite a few fun discussions and laughs towards the end. It became a ‘noisy’ classroom as students relaxed and started to communicate in English more comfortably. I felt bonded with everyone in only a week and it was sad to leave after only a week teaching.
Since this was a volunteer project it was extremely rewarding to have spent the week helping impoverished students. Some of the students came from very difficult and poor backgrounds so it was wonderful to feel I may have made some kind of small difference to improve their lives.
Because the students and teachers were sponsored to receive education, they were so grateful for me being there, but I also feel this is just part of the culture as well. There is a huge amount of respect and they work hard at learning. This all makes it so much more rewarding to offer help and guidance. They even expressed their gratitude to my family for enabling me to give my time to volunteer there.
What I Found Challenging About Teaching English in Laos
I’ve had to reframe the question about what I hated here because there was nothing to hate about teaching in Laos but of course, as with any new experience, there were a few challenges.
This is the obvious one and the only real downside to my time teaching in Laos. I had only one week in the classroom and there was so much I would have loved to do with and for the students.
The teacher who assigned me the week’s work also had given me a long list of things they needed to work on, so it was difficult to fit everything into the time while not overwhelming the students with too much at once. I crammed as much as I could into that short time but there is months’ worth of work I could have done with them.
It would have been really nice to have seen the students’ completed stories that they presented at the inaugural exhibition they held after I left, but it was lovely to see some photos that were posted on the school’s Facebook page.
No ESL Staff
Since the school is volunteer-run, there weren’t any ESL qualified staff involved with the school. This meant that the staff and students weren’t used to this style of teaching, so it took a couple of days for them to relax and get into the mode of my teaching method. Once they did though they became much more involved and we started to have some real fun in the classroom.
The only other drawback to this is that they used a translator, which, while helpful for me, didn’t enable the students to learn to only hear English for rewiring the brain. This is something I would have worked on if I’d had more time there.
To be expected with a volunteer organization, the school was limited in its resources. There were computers that had been donated and the library was gradually expanding but they still have a way to go. I was there in winter so it was comfortable in the classroom but the trustee of the school explained to me the difficulties they face when it comes to the heat of summer months and the wet season with no air-conditioning and so on.
I wish I could have contributed more but I’m glad for the opportunity to go over, and it was good to see how the school is gradually growing in resources, as well as the extra work they do outside the school, towards things like supplying clean drinking water.
For more about LEOT you can visit,
The school: http://www.leot.org.uk/
Contact Candice Lemon-Scott
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