STEP Homestay, Thailand
From 12 November to 18 November 2013, a select group of 16 Year 2 – 3 students and three teachers, Mr Ang Eng Choon (Head/Corporate Relations), Miss Georgina Low and Miss Jessica Goh participated in the Singapore-Thailand Enhanced Partnership (STEP) Homestay Programme in Rayong, Thailand. Initiated by the Ministry of Education from both countries to enhance partnership between Singapore and Thailand and develop cultural quotient in students, the programme provided an invaluable opportunity for the students to appreciate the cultural diversity and network with future leaders of the host country.
Upon arrival in the Rayong province, the students and teachers were swept off their feet by the hospitality and affection of the hosts from Rayongwittayakom School. Thereafter, the students and teachers were taken on a sightseeing tour of the main attractions in nearby province Chonburi and visited places such as the Pattaya Dolphin World, Pattaya Floating Market and Nong Nooch Tropical Garden which is renowned for its extensive varieties of plant collections with special focus on Southeast Asian, Tropical American and Central African species of Cycads.
Over the course of a week, the students joined their Thai buddies for lessons and attended enrichment classes specially arranged for them where they learned about the Thai etiquette, traditional Thai dancing and cooking. The Thai group cooking class was a gratifying culinary experience for the STEP participants as they learnt how to whip up local favourites like Phat Thai (stir-fried rice noodles), Tom Yum Goong (spicy lemongrass soup with prawns), Thod Mun Goong (fried shrimp cakes) and Som Tum (papaya salad). The hands-on food preparation, cooking and food tasting session had indeed created unforgettable memories and forged closer bonds between the students and their Thai buddies.
One of the highlights of the trip was the badminton friendly matches that were held for the first time at Rayongwittayakom School under the STEP Homestay Programme. Organised to cater to the interests of the badminton enthusiasts, student representatives from both school teams participated in three thrilling badminton friendly matches. Players from both school teams worked very hard, moving nimbly from corner to corner of the court displaying a variety of shots such as the backhand smashes, net shots and fast drop shots that sent the spectators to break out into cheers and applause.
Certainly, the best part of the trip was the homestay experience where students lived with their Thai buddy and host family for six nights. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to fully immerse themselves in the Thai culture as they experienced the authentic Thai way of life. Together with the host families, the students celebrated the Loy Krathong Festival (Festival of the Lights), one of Thailand’s most enchanting and anticipated festivals of the year.
Throughout the trip, students were engaged in meaningful interactions and they also kept journals and documented what they learned about the lifestyles, values and beliefs of the host country. The overseas experience helped students understand the cultural differences, challenged them to reconsider their own beliefs and identity, and this made them more aware of what it means to be a Singaporean. The benefits of experiencing another culture and making new friends internationally, would last a lifetime.
All good things must come to an end. While reminiscing the good times in Rayong, the students and teachers look forward to meeting and hosting the Thai students and teachers when they come over to Singapore in 2014.
Excerpts from student reflections:
“Before going for STEP, I had mixed feelings about the trip. On one hand, I was excited to experience the culture and traditions of Thailand and on the other hand, I was worried about the differences between me and my Thai buddy and that I would not be able to adapt to the different surroundings. However, when I was in Rayong, my Thai buddy and host family tried their very best to make me feel welcomed. Their sincerity and efforts really touched me. We spent a lot of quality time chit chatting and getting to know one another. It was really nice to see how close and loving my host family is.”
13Y2J – Ding Jaye
“I had a lot of new experiences when I was in Thailand. Firstly, I learnt about Thai greetings, the Wai and how it cultivates respect for people. This is uniquely Thai and is different from the way we greet one another in Singapore. Secondly, I was told that waterfall visits are common family bonding activities that the Thais engage themselves in and my host family brought me to the Chantaburi province to see the Phliu Waterfall. The waterfall was magnificent and it was filled with wildlife. My host family and I took a dip into the icy cold water and it was a unique experience getting in touch with nature.”
13Y2D – Lee Tai Yu
“I celebrated the Loy Krathong Festival for the very first time and it is one of the most important festivals for the Thai people. I went to the garden at my Thai buddy’s house to collect the banana leaves and flowers needed to make a Krathong. The garden was a quiet plot of land for my host family to grow crops that they liked and it was a nice place for them to retreat after a long day at work or school. The Krathong making was a good experience and we made our own wishes before floating our Krathongs at the canal in a nearby park. I really enjoyed the celebration and it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
13Y3G – Tan Kaibin