Comfort zone… well and truly left!

A few days ago I posted an update about our family adventures and included a few random photos / observations.  Like every adventure should, I stated that we were seeking to go out of our ‘comfort zones’ both physically and mentally and to learn something new about ourselves and the world we live and work in.  A pretty bold statement but also said with a bit of trepidation as I was about to take my young family as far off the beaten track as I have ever taken them before.  When I published the post I used the tagline, ‘When do you know you have gone out of your comfort zone?

Post surgery in Pak Xeng village 'hospital' in northern Laos

Post surgery in Pak Xeng village ‘hospital’ in northern Laos

Well, I have definitely experienced it now!  As part of our five day visit to Laos we were taken on a two day home-stay visit to a village three hours north of Luang Prabang on the Seuang River, in the Pak Xeng district.  We had an amazing time meeting the rural people of Laos and learning about the three different tribes and their traditions.  We visited a number of schools, taught plenty of songs and had some great discussions with the Laotian teachers*.  We were kindly hosted by a family in the village, ate delicious food and were grateful for the wonderful hospitality and enthusiasm to welcome us into their community.  On first meeting the village chief and the elders I did apologise in advance for the chaos and less than traditional behaviour that my family were likely to demonstrate. What I did not realise was that we would be spending two hours in the district hospital with our youngest son, Sam, that evening.

*More information in a post coming soon about opportunities to support and visit the schools and villages in Seuang River, Laos

Sam required two stitches on the back of his head after falling off a bench.  We were miles away from any sort of hospital or clinic that you would expect in ‘our’ part of the world but had to make a decision, it was pretty deep.  The two young Laotian nurses were just as nervous as we were, apparently Sam being the first foreign two-year old (even child) to have surgery in this district.  The whole village were watching through the windows, my wife was holding Sam’s arms and I had him in a big bear hug.  I had to close my eyes when they brought out the big needle and said they were going to give him a local anesthetic. With his tears and my sweat we were both saturated and exhausted after the ordeal.

It was totally right to trust the nurses, that is what they have been trained to do.  They were nervous and slower than you would have hoped (nobody wants a two year old to endure pain) but they did a mighty fine job considering the circumstance and I am glad that they were there.  This is what community partnerships is all about, learning from one another and having the confidence and trust to do so – it is and should be a mutually beneficial process.  Just because people do things a bit differently or expectations don’t always seem to be up to ‘our’ standards it doesn’t mean we should take a superior approach and not fully engage.  Nobody said it was easy either (you don’t have to cut your head open) – but that is why it is called ‘going out of your comfort zone.’

Sam is fine and we are now back in Thailand, stitches come out in a few more days time. His only complaint is that he has to swim in a shower cap until that happens – he will never live the photos down!

Wearing a shower cap in the pool - a different form of comfort zone

Wearing a shower cap in the pool – a different form of comfort zone

Heineken or Leo? Bursting the (expat) bubble.

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Koh Lipe in the deep south of Thailand, just off the Malaysian border

It has taken me 15 years to discover beer Leo, one of the three top selling beers in Thailand. I tried beer Singha and Chang on numerous occasions but always reverted back to the comfort zone of Heineken. I have always ranked Leo as number 3 if having to choose from the local Thai brews with no particular reason why other than it was the beer that the gappies drank! These are our gap students or as we prefer to call them the gap staff – on a learning and work placement between school and university (I will blog in more detail about the power of a gap staff programme in the near future).

Dan and Smiley - gappies who make a difference

Dan and Smiley – gappies who make a difference

My wife has always challenged me that I am reluctant or not good with change.
I resisted sushi for many years for example but now place it as one of my top five foods.

It is ironic that that after 15 years of living and working in Thailand that only on our final Thai adventures and through lack of choice in the deep south of Thailand that I discover Beer Leo to be both refreshing and non-hangover inducing as incorrectly perceived. Imagine how much money I could have saved – but that is not the point.

Who is teaching who?  Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children's Centre in Pattaya

Who is teaching who? Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya

This is not a blog about beer the best beer though, both Heineken and Leo are a pleasure to drink when the time is right, this is about trying new things and having a go. It is vitally important in an international school setting to engage with the local community and to collaborate with the amazing local (Thai) teachers and support staff.  Bringing them into the curriculum at all opportunities and making external learning connections to create a culturally stimulating and relevant curriculum and bursting the stereotypical westernised bubble that many international schools I have visited find themselves in.  In my experience parents really appreciate this approach as well and can see the value in having the school that their children learn in as a gateway into a community and culture that, to be honest, most people are not sure how to approach and therefore revert to their comfort zones and what they know and are used to.  Community partnerships and service learning equip students with so many skills and values and also the confidence to use them appropriately, not just for academic success but more importantly for life success – helping our young (and older) people to become genuine citizens of the world.

Break away from the norm and don’t follow the crowd – be prepared to leave your comfort zone and try the local beer! #gooycz