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Somewhere along the way between enthusiastically auditioning for musical theatre in junior high and standing frozen in front of my university peers and stammering out a presentation of my senior project, I developed a bout of stage fright. I started to conquer it a bit this year when I tried getting back on stage to sing again- something Mark had been trying to get me to do for ages to accompany him on the guitar. The first night, which of course was the night that every person I knew on the island came to watch- I was so terrified I was visibly shaking and my voice wavering. After a few months I could get up and bust out a song without so much as a nervous eye twitch. I was cured, I thought!

Then I decided to make a presentation to a group of elementary school children.

It all started when my mom attended an event with my former Montessori school teacher, who is now principle of the school. She mentioned that I was living in Thailand but coming home soon for a visit. Susan, the principle, told my mom that the upper elementary students were studying Southeast Asia. How fun! my mom said, as she volunteered me for a presentation. I briefly considered getting out of it but decided to embrace the idea of going back to my old school and traumatizing its current students imparting some wisdom on a new generation.

Montessori is a special kind of school. They try to empower children to take control of their own education through independence and “freedom within limits.” To outsiders it might look like a bunch of kids run wild with mixed age classrooms, group tables rather than desks, and calling teachers by their first names, but in reality it is a respected educational approach being practiced by more than 20,000 schools worldwide (I spotted a Raffles Group sponsored Montessori in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!) Montessori puts a strong emphasis on respect for international cultures- we had daily language classes, regular lessons about different areas of the globe, and an annual International Fair where each student picked, presented and represented a country. Had I not gone through the system myself (up until age 10) it’s the kind of thing I might roll my eyes at. But I can honestly say that I credit a part of my academic success and passion for independent learning as well as my insatiable curiosity about the world to my Montessori education.

I laughed when I walked into the school and was greeted by a hug from the secretary. I inquired about saying hi to some kids I used to babysit for who now attend the school and was told with the wave of a hand, “Oh yes, they are in Julie’s room, just drop in and say hi.” A far cry from the last time I tried to visit my public high school and was greeted by bouncer-looking security guards asking to see my visitor’s badge.

As I walked down the halls I spotted a familiar face on the walls- my own. Can you spot a mini Meihoukai in Wanderland in this photo?

No? How about we zoom in a little? There I am rocking the Mickey Mouse dress and the unbrushed hair. Oh, how little has changed.

Eventually I could stall no longer and made my way to the classroom and set up my Power Point on the projector. As class after class of kiddos filed in I thought to myself, how hard can this be? They’re pretty small, after all.

And then I started talking. And so did they. That’s the thing about kids… they have a lot of questions. And a lot of comments. And as you can see from the photo below I was fairly stumped by many of them.

It was really interesting and a great experience to try to summarize what I’ve learned about Thai history and culture and summarize it in a way that children could understand. I told them about Muay Thai fighting and they told me about Wii boxing. I told them about the Thai devotion to the King and they told me their parents voted for Obama. I told them about the glittering temples of Bangkok and they told me about their summer vacations to Florida. Okay so, not all of their comments were completely on point.

A week later, I received the Best Thank You Note of all times. It proved not only did they learn something from my presentation (“they really do cherish their King”) but also that my personal grooming habits have improved since I was their age (“PS you have really pretty hair.”)

While I may have gotten a little flushed and flustered while giving the presentation, I’m so glad I did it. I got to revisit the school I loved so much, work on my public speaking phobia, hear my former teachers say wonderfully flattering things about me, receive validation about my hair, and hopefully plant the seed in a some little munchkin’s mind of a faraway place called Thailand…

Which is the place I was heading straight back to. My month at home had come to an end and as much as I had loved catching up with friends and family, spinning around the state I love so dearly and attending awesome events, I was missing Koh Tao something fierce and ready to get back to the Land of Smiles. Stay tuned!

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33 Comments...
  • This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! I love that you did this!!!

  • Sarahsomewhere
    May 24 2012

    Beautiful! You are like the poster child of Montessori! If I have kids,they are going! P.S love the note, they probably grasped THE most important fact about Thailand, and about you! (kidding)
    Sarahsomewhere recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Ha well, I take the idea that I am a Montessori poster child as a major compliment, so thank you! I too would send my hypothetical children there… assuming I’ve got the cash 🙂 And yes, I was really impressed by their thank you note… they really got it!

  • margaret
    May 24 2012

    You do have pretty hair.

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      If that’s what you took away from this post… then I have succeeded. 🙂

  • It’s funny because when I was little, I was SO shy. I would go to birthday parties and sit in the corner because I felt uncomfortable around groups of people (even if I knew them!). At one point, I just decided I wasn’t going to be like that any more, and took it upon myself to try out for plays and compete in public speaking competitions, etc.,

    Today I actually have to present my dissertation project to a large group of people who will decide whether I have earned a PhD. Probably the most intimidating talk I’ve given to date, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that if you do these kind of things long enough, they stop being quite so terrifying…
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Good for you for conquering your fear head on! I hope your dissertation went well, I’m sure it did!

  • steve mckee
    May 24 2012

    you do “stumped” very well!!

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      I’ve had a lot of experience with it…

  • Vicky
    May 24 2012

    It’s so great you got to go back to your old school and give a presentation and especially nice to receive the thank you notes from the kids afterwards! Love the photo of you in the mickey mouse dress! There is a Montessori school by my apartment building in DC and I’ve always wondered how the educational system differs there – thanks for clearing it up!
    Vicky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      I love spotting random Montessori schools 🙂 Hey, did the the package make it to you yet? I can’t remember how long they told me it would be, but its been at least a month now…

      • Vicky
        May 29 2012

        The book hasn’t come in yet but I’m patiently awaiting its arrival! I’m just finishing up the book River of Lost Footsteps: A History of Burma so I’m almost ready for my next cultural/travel read! Will let you know when I get it!
        Vicky recently posted..

  • Grandma Burr
    May 24 2012

    I don’t have any memories of you having trouble opening your mouth. Of course, I only saw you at family gatherings. And you had no trouble speaking.

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Hardy har har! I said public speaking, not yammering on at family events…. 🙂

  • Olivia
    May 24 2012

    LOL Grandma Burr and how fun you went back to MSA!

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Ha, when Dad saw this post he was like, “You didn’t mention Olivia is in the first row of that photo!” And then I realized he was right, but he was pointing to the wrong girl. Ha.

  • Katie
    May 24 2012

    I think that it would be a million times harder to give a presentation to little kids than to people my own age. That’s really impressive and well done!
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Thanks Katie! I agree, kids are a bit of a tougher audience in that they are more antsy and likely to comment! But at least they aren’t too judgmental, which is a welcome change.

  • Gram
    May 24 2012

    So fun to read! I clearly remember visiting your Montessori class and how impressed I was with the the new (to me) method. It served you well! and yes, your hair is much improved 🙂 Gram

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Thanks Gram! Yes, the Montessori method is certainly different and quite impressive!

  • Andrea
    May 24 2012

    I also have really bad stage fright…which made the first few weeks of teaching elementary school in Korea pretty tough! But after a while I really just stopped being nervous–now I only get nervous when speaking in front of adults! Baby steps. 🙂 Looks like you had fun!

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      I can imagine that would be a challenge for a teacher! 🙂 Glad you overcame your fears, I’m sure those kiddos are lucky to have you!

  • Caty
    May 25 2012

    Oh my word I love that you did this. As a future teacher myself I can’t wait to teach the little ones all about the beautiful countries that I’ve been to. That’s why I buy a childrens book in each country so that I have authentic material to show them. Funny enough I also have bad stage fright but luckily only in front of adults. Otherwise teacher wouldn’t be the right profession for me! =)

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2012

      Caty, I love that you buy books for your future students! That right there shows what a great teacher you will be someday!

  • Cynthia Sutton
    May 28 2012

    ohhh.. this is the sweetest thing see on kids who cares and love their teacher.

  • Briony
    May 28 2012

    “You have pretty hair”, how frigging cute! 🙂 such a great thing to do love, you never know you could maybe of created a wee traveller!
    Briony recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2012

      Haha I know kids can be so cute…. or so awful! 😉

  • Morgan
    July 3 2013

    What a sweet post. Having an Australian come visit my classroom to speak was, by far, my students and my favorite day of the year. I’m sure those kiddos loved you and the wisdom you imparted.
    Morgan recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 6 2013

      Thanks Morgan! I love the Montessori method and how internationally focused they are. Seems like your students are a lucky lot!

  • Madison Tay Smith
    July 10 2014

    What a sweet way to give back. This is definitely a lesson at school that those kids will remember.

    • Meihoukai
      July 11 2014

      Thanks Madison! I hope so, they’d be a great little group of globetrotters 🙂