My greatest success and what I would consider myself most proud of thus far during my Peace Corps service is my relationship with my counterpart, Kru Cut. I think what’s most difficult about getting to site is how seemingly unnatural the whole introduction process is: “Here is your host family, you will live with them for an unknown duration ranging from one to 24 months. These are your two counterparts, with whom you will work for the next two years.” It all feels slightly uncomfortable, somewhat forced, and at times just plain awkward.
When I first met Kru Cut exactly one year ago, he was shy, clearly a little nervous, and reluctant to speak English with me. At times it felt like I had to put in a lot more effort than him in order to maintain a good relationship, especially when it came to our role as co-teachers. I felt like I had to meet him more than halfway, not only as a friend but also as a counterpart; I was speaking more Thai than he was English, I was planning nearly all of our lessons, and I just wanted him to meet me in the middle. Did I ever vocalize these concerns to him at the time? Of course not. I was afraid that our relationship would remain solely professional and, truth be told, I was really lacking in the friend department at the time, so I knew something had to change. Thankfully, change it did.
Student Friendly Schools, a conference in September focusing on “promoting a positive learning environment in the school,” was a turning point for my relationship with Kru Cut. I felt like we could, for once, talk about some difficult topics (such as gender-based violence, corporal punishment, and how to manage misbehaving students, to name a few) without feeling any pressure or judgment. I realized that we had more in common than I thought when it came to our morals and beliefs, and we both wanted to have the same classroom culture: somewhere safe, warm, engaging, and fun for our students. A refuge from the often-monotonous, strict, and rule-ridden classes taught by other teachers. I can’t put my finger on one exact moment where I felt like our relationship had transcended professional bounds and turned into a real friendship, but from that point forward I felt like I had a confidant. I no longer felt like I was the only person advocating for myself and what was best for me. I had an ally, a true friend.
Fast forward six months later, we’re currently wrapping up our final week of our second semester teaching together, and our relationship is better than ever. Kru Cut is my closest friend at my site and we spend the majority of most days together. When we’re not teaching together, you can find us heading into the nearby town to grab dinner, traveling around beautiful Northern Thailand, and, of course, playing RoV together. Our close friendship outside of the classroom has significantly improved our co-teaching. Lately our classes have seemed to require less effort on both of our ends, I would say due to the fact that we trust each other and realize that co-teaching is often a give-and-take endeavor. Our relationship, both as friends and as counterparts, did not develop overnight, and has been an intensive labor of love, requiring deep efforts on both our parts to understand one another.
As I wrap up month 15 in Thailand and start to think about what I will miss most about my time here when it eventually comes to an end, Kru Cut is at the top of that list.