In late April, the Institute of Foreign Affairs got in touch and invited me back to teach, in a manner of speaking. When classes resumed in early June, the same students I’d had to leave in March were masked and physically distanced in their Vientiane classrooms listening to me narrate Power Point presentations via Facebook Live. I won’t bog you down with the details of how I conquered the challenges of delivering an English writing syllabus at three different levels across 11,000 km and a 14 hour time difference but send me a message if you want to know because I’m really quite proud of what I achieved. It’s a greater source of pride, however, that I helped 77 students graduate last Friday from ELGO 43, the course otherwise known as English for Lao Government Officials.
Over the 11 weeks of the online version of my subject, I came to realize that I was in learning mode also. Despite the remoteness of a virtual teaching experience, I felt personally more involved with this group of students. Because I’d set up writing groups on Facebook for the students, I ended up with 77 new Facebook friends who let me into their daily lives in Laos as often as they were involved with my life here in Victoria. I watched them dance with their kids on Tik Tok videos and drooled over the dishes they served up at family gatherings. Ms N, a talented baker, ended up participating in a Victoria-based foodie group I invited her to join and shares her recipes with us across cyberspace There were funerals to attend also which gave the opportunity to ask questions about sacred rituals and observances. Some days, I would see photos of my students kneeling to give alms to the saffron-robed monks who pass barefoot in front of their house each morning. Then, a few days later I would join other students at the temples for the beginning of Buddhist Lent. And there was Mr R, recalled as the epitome of dispassion at the back of my classroom, who so obviously dotes on his new bride according to the photographs that I see on my Facebook feed.
It was afternoon in Victoria when Ms. L texted me on Messenger from Vientiane where it was already 3 am the next day. The accompanying photographs showed the sticky rice was cooking and the offerings were being prepared to be placed in the family spirit house on the occasion of the Rice Festival. It all had to be done very early in the morning but the candles wouldn’t stay lit in the downpour of the monsoon and the ancestors had to be honoured. I found myself pleading with the Lao rain gods to stop momentarily so that Ms L could appease her ancestors and go back to sleep…before class!
Post-lockdown, people are able to travel freely again within Laos and I got to accompany some of my students on weekend visits to the 5th Century Angkor temple of Wat Phou in the south of Laos and around the colonial French buildings of Savanakhett. Not quite how I had planned to experience those places but this might be the “new normal” and so we make the most of it.
Congratulations on your success, students of ELGO 43.
Thank you for all that you have given me. ຂອບໃຈຫຼາຍໆ