Living and working half a world away from Boston has been the first step in Jessica Dixon’s post-graduate adventure.
Dixon, whose love for travel was sparked when she studied at Suffolk’s Madrid campus – an experience that she says changed her life – is teaching elementary school in Thailand.
“I knew I wasn't ready to dive into a career path, but one thing I was confident in was traveling. It's the way I like to learn best,” said Dixon, who usually is drawn to Spanish speaking countries. “But this time I thought Asia would be the best place to start, because it was the most foreign to me.”
She determined that teaching would be a good way to support herself while exploring different countries. Working with schoolchildren through the Jumpstart literacy program while at Suffolk had given her confidence about working as an English-language instructor in a foreign land.
Dixon teaches Math, Drama and Health to students in Grades 1 through 6 at Sitapatr, a small, private school in the city of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Regimented learning style
“The most interesting aspect for me is figuring out the dynamic of teaching Thai children,” said Dixon. “I’ve noticed that my students have a hard time thinking for themselves when assigned more creative work. Generally kids are taught in a pretty regimented way in Asia, and I can see that in how apt my students are to just copy what I have written or said. It's like you almost have to teach them a whole new manner of learning.”
New language skills
While the cultural differences are fascinating, communication is a challenge, even though Dixon is beginning to learn the Thai language by teaching herself and from interacting with students, coworkers and friends
“I have picked up some Thai phrases and words but have not acquired enough of the language yet to have a proper conversation,” she says. “It's difficult to express my ideas and communicate concepts to my students or people I meet on the street. I would like to push myself harder to learn more because I think it is extremely important.”
Friendships new and old
Dixon is traveling with longtime friend Rachel Saftler, whom she met while working in Jumpstart. And Dixon has new friends in Nakhon’s English-speaking community of teachers and among Thai people she’s met through coworkers and others.
“I went to a coworker’s wedding recently, which was a great experience,” says Dixon.
She sees Thailand as having an easygoing lifestyle.
“Basically anything goes in Thailand. … But everything gets done somehow and the people don't worry too much about rules or safely precautions.”
The rules of the road – or lack thereof – are a prime example.
“I have seen two adults, a dog and a puppy on one motorbike, as well as two adults and four children, including infants and babies, on a single motorbike,”
Dixon says that Thai people greet each other with a wai, or bow, out of respect; street food is everywhere; a shop often also serves as home; and the typical home has no kitchen -- just a sink and perhaps a table.
Thailand has experienced political unrest in recent years, and it has touched Nakhon.
“For a while there have been many protests in the center. I can hear the whistles and loudspeaker from my house and have been to see what it's all about,” says Dixon. “The protests do not have a dangerous or unwelcoming vibe. They actually feel quite happy and warm, since everyone is gathering to support something they all agree with. We have had some days off school because of the political situation.”
As she looks to the future, Dixon says she plans to stay in Thailand for at least a year, learn to be a better teacher and “soak up more travel destinations, local and afar.”
An alumna's counsel
Dixon's advice for today’s Suffolk students: “Don't take Suffolk for granted. I know I did not take full advantage of what it had to offer; just try things and use the resources. I can't express enough to study abroad. It's a once-in-a-lifetime, lucky experience. Don't be afraid to expand your borders of opportunities nor ask for help. Using connections and recommendations is key, and letting your mind be open to new experiences and different opportunities can take you further than you ever imagined.”