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A child at a school in Surin, Thailand, studies English words for animals. Students at Thai schools wear uniforms and study at their desks instead of getting up and moving around like students in American schools.
A child at a school in Surin, Thailand, studies English words for animals. Students at Thai schools wear uniforms and study at their desks instead of getting up and moving around like students in American schools.
(© Jessica Jone)
Jessica Jones, a second-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Muscatine, Iowa, taught for a week in Surin, Thailand. This experience has allowed her to share pictures and stories that help her students in Muscatine learn about other cultures.
Jessica Jones, a second-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Muscatine, Iowa, taught for a week in Surin, Thailand. This experience has allowed her to share pictures and stories that help her students in Muscatine learn about other cultures.
(© Jessica Jone)

‘Everyone’s Background Is Different’
Teacher Shares Lessons Learned From Thailand in Classroom Back Home

Before summer 2016, Jessica Jones had never traveled outside of North America. But on June 30, Jones, a second-grade teacher from Muscatine, Iowa, left for a month-long visit to Southeast Asia. Jones was one of two Muscatine teachers to receive the Stanley Foundation’s 2016 Catherine Miller Explorer Award, named for a late Muscatine educator who believed strongly in global citizenship.

In the following edited interview, Jones discusses what lessons she brought home.

The Stanley Foundation (TSF): Why did you apply for the Explorer Award?

Jessica Jones: Because I really wanted to be able to [experience] different cultures. When I had taught on the Hopi reservation [in Arizona], I really did get a sense of what their culture was like, and I learned so much there that I wanted to see what another culture was like and wanted to see what I could bring back here and apply.

TSF: What does the term global citizen mean to you?

Jones: Being conscious of what other cultures are doing and making sure that you are respectful to the people who live there, and teaching others to be respectful of that as well.

TSF: Where did you choose to go and why?

Jones: I chose to go to Thailand. It was someplace that I’ve actually wanted to visit, probably for the last 20 years. It was just a place that had really interesting things to see, to me, to begin with. And then as I was looking into trips, [it was] the culture and basically the differences within the places in Thailand with their culture, and the way they’ve not only adapted to people coming in, the people coming there, [but] how they’ve been able to maintain some of that culture.

TSF: What kind of things did you do there?

Jones: I taught for a week in Surin. It was absolutely amazing, very, very different from the schools here. Their children all wear uniforms. They are not used to anything that is not completely teacher driven. Nor are they used to things like getting up and moving in the classroom. When a teacher would enter the classroom, they would have to stand up and say, “Good morning, teacher.” And there was a response for us to do as well, which was, “Good morning, students.” And then they would have to ask, “How are you?” and we would have to respond, and they couldn’t sit down until we gave them permission to, which I found very interesting, because we don’t have our children stand and say things like that. But it was not only a way for them to practice their English, but just the way that their culture expects them to be.

TSF: What else did you do while you were there?

Jones: [I] saw national monuments. [I] was in an elephant village where I helped with planting and harvesting of crops for the elephants and also got to bathe and feed them. [I] was in the national forest for a day for a tour there. And then [I] was on two separate islands, Kohphangan and Kohtao. And even between those two islands, which are very close together, the culture was completely different. And I got to go snorkeling while there and just explore any sights we could.

TSF: What part or parts of your destination did you enjoy the most, or find the most interesting/intriguing?

Jones: The teaching was the most interesting. I knew it was going to be different; I didn’t realize that it was going to be quite as different as it was. It really surprised me that they didn’t do any hands-on activities; it was mostly them sitting at their desks. That was very different to me.

TSF: How has your trip impacted you since you returned?

Jones: It has made me actually view some of the kids that I have differently. It reminded me that everyone’s background is different that they are coming to school with, and it kind of brought that back to the front of my vision for my classroom. I’ve been able to share pictures and stories, and that’s helping the kids learn about something else.

TSF: When you brought your experience back to your students, which parts of the trip/destination did they find most interesting?

Jones: They were really interested with the fact that the kids had to greet their teacher that way [and] that they really didn’t have necessarily the same materials that we do. I was describing the lunch and the recess to them too. Over there, their lunch wasn’t really supervised. The kids served each other, and then they just went and kind of sat in groups, and then when they were done they just got up and went and played because it was all outside. And [my students] were very interested that the kids served themselves, and also that the kids helped clean up in the rooms. That was new to them.

[My students] really liked the bat caves too. We were visiting some monuments [in Thailand], and there were a bunch of bats that come out of the cave area. And you could just stand and watch them come across. I had video that I put up, and you could hear the bats. So that was something new for them. We did that around Halloween.

TSF: How are you applying these lessons to your class this year?

Jones: I just try to take whatever subject—like if I have a picture of it, if we’re talking about monuments—I try to throw in, “OK, this is what you might see there.” With the bats, we were learning about bats around Halloween, so I had pictures and videos of that kind of thing. … During Black History Month, we’re talking about diversity, and so we’ve talked a lot about the children there and their uniforms and what they did during class time compared to what we do during class time.

TSF: What advice would you give to future Explorer winners/travelers to get the most out of the experience?

Jones: I think it’s just being able to connect to the people here that have already been to the place I’m going to visit, because they’re going to have some background that you’re going to need to know. I spent hours researching, looking through what’s appropriate to wear and what isn’t, and what’s respectful and what I would need. ... Had I been able to connect with somebody [ahead of time], I think I would have been able to pack better... which would have made life easier.


— Francie Williamson, The Stanley Foundation
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