Matayom 3 (M3), the equivalent of Grade 9 in the US, is the final year of compulsory education in Thailand. Once the school year ends each March, the M3 students graduate and splinter off into three different trajectories: 1) continue their education at a high school for grades M4-6, 2) continue their education at a vocational or trade school, or 3) go to work full-time, typically on a farm. Most of these students have experienced their entire schooling together, from preschool to M3, so these final weeks in the M3 year feel particularly special and tender. I'm also super sentimental, so I'm probably projecting a lot onto them...
For the past few months, I have been co-facilitating different “healthy relationships” sessions with my M1-3 students, thanks to some great bilingual resources provided by Peace Corps and the Sexual & Reproductive Health Committee. There are so many lessons and life skills that can be taught using this type of framework: communication, consent, trust, confidence, boundaries, and much more. With Valentine’s Day looming, I wanted to put together a session for my M3 students around “dating and romantic relationships,” given their developmental stage and comfortability with each other. I printed out the Thai versions and highlighted the main directions for my trusty Matayom co-teacher, Kru Wang, who co-facilitated the 50-minute session.
After a quick conversation about Valentine’s Day, we talked about the different types of relationships one can have. Once we got to dating and romantic relationships, we talked about some qualities of healthy and unhealthy relationships. One of the lesson plans has a list of 20 different statements related to romantic relationships, so I printed and laminated the Thai versions to hand out to the students. Each student would read their statement aloud, decide whether it was “healthy” or “unhealthy,” and then explain why.
Due to language barriers, I had to rely on Kru Wang to determine if their reasoning was sound, but there were a few statements I would have liked to have had a deeper conversation around. For example, they felt it was healthier to save their partner’s face than to address a hot temper. They also felt that jealousy was a healthy expression of love within a relationship. After exposure to Thai media and society over the past year, I can better understand why they think this way. However, I’m afraid it’s contributing to a culture where intimate partner violence is being minimized, routinized, or hidden away. It’s important to note that this is not unique to Thailand; it’s common in places all over the world, the US included. All the more reason to do activities like this!
So after all the slips were read, we transitioned into an activity where we separated the students by gender. I typically don’t like to do this, but I’ve learned that the M3 boys will let the girls do all the work if they are in a mixed group. Plus, I always feel like the girls could use a break from the boys (I know I could!). Each group got a piece of flip chart paper and had to come up with 10 qualities that they look for in an ideal partner. Once they had their list, they were then instructed to pick the top 3.
Each group then presented their lists, replete with applause and Isaan yells (eeeeEEEEEWWW!!!). Unsurprisingly, the girls’ list (“good communicator” and “patient”) was far more enlightened than the boys’ list (“good-looking” and “good at housework”). I did, however, appreciate that the boys’ group included the masculine and feminine version of the word “good-looking,” a nod to this culture’s comfortability with same-gender-loving individuals.
The most interesting part came after the presentation, where they all sat in a circle discussing and defending each point on their lists with the help of Kru Wang. Amidst all the laughter, I felt like most of the students took the topic very seriously and were actively listening to what their peers were saying. In fact, at the end of the session, it felt like we all had gotten a little closer, and I got nostalgic thinking about their long chapter as an academic unit coming to an end...
I wanted to share this with you all because it was one of those lessons that went really well. Not all sessions go so well. My co-teacher and I were both on, and the students paid attention and participated (for the most part). In the Peace Corps (and life), I've found it's just as important to celebrate the little victories.
To all my M3 students, I wish you all the best as you start your next chapter, whatever that might be. Take good care of yourselves and each other.