Shrewsbury School

Experiences of a 'Gapper' at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok

Thursday 10 March 2011

George Kimberley and Elliott Whittaker in BangkokThere are currently two Old Salopians spending part of their gap year working at Shrewsbury International: Elliott Whittaker (PH) and George Kimberley (G).  They will be submitting a piece for this page in due course (Elliott arrived in early February 2011, so we thought we'd give him time to settle down first!).

They are joined by Milly Barratt from Shrewsbury High School (well known to us through as she played in the orchestra here), and Lizzie Uttley from Cheltenham Ladies' College.

Ben Powell Davies and Roddy Skinner, who both left Shrewsbury (UK) in Summer 2009, were lucky enough to get a six-month gap year placement at Shrewsbury International Bangkok.

Please find below Ben's account of his first few weeks out there.

I have officially been a citizen of Bangkok for six weeks, two days, 15 hours. Now one of the locals, I have been asked to jot down a few of my thoughts and feelings regarding the experience so far in a jovial yet informative manner. Thus follows my attempt:

Chris Conway with 2010 gappers Roddy Skinner and Ben Powell DaviesSo (you ask!); the first week? Well… I know it happened. I visited many exciting places and met many new people. Apparently. Sadly, I can recall very little of this. Jet lag combined dramatically with heat exhaustion and culture shock, effectively disabling both Roddy Skinner (the other gap student) and me for the first four days. Fortunately the other members of the school common room were as understanding as they were supportive, and carefully introduced the local knowledge we would need during our 6 month consignment. The announcement that cheddar would set us back £26 per kilo, whilst being a difficult obstacle to hurdle, paled into insignificance against the news that we may as well abandon the seemingly recurring Salopian quest for a hot sausage roll. On the bright side, Starbucks is very much an international corporation!

Bangkok itself is a plethora of culture and colours that overwhelmed all five senses from the moment I stepped out of the airport. The city heaves with people (13 million of them, to be exact) twenty-four hours a day, and hence travel can be difficult sometimes. The fastest way is often to take a motorbike taxi. This involves desperately clinging to the back of a bike whilst the driver plots the most terrifyingly erratic route he can find, in the process contravening every traffic by-law known to mankind – including the ones involving driving on one side of the road. Unsurprisingly, common side effects can include holes in clothes, insects in mouth, and occasionally a mild case of death. Much better is to take a tuc tuc. These wonderful vehicles are essentially reliant robins with neither the doors nor the consistent cornering stability. Nevertheless, there is something immensely satisfying about zooming along in a souped-up tricycle in which the crumple zone is the driver!

Our accommodation is owned by the school, and lies 20 minutes away by taxi (a journey that will set you back a whole pound, including tip!). Roddy and I have a commodious apartment to ourselves, as do Steff Butcher and Ellie Buckley (the gap students from Cheltenam Ladies) in a building housing two swimming pools, a gym, and a restaurant offering free door-to-door deliveries. Should you become bored of the view from the sofa, there are roughly 15 eateries within a 10 minute walk and, if you’re prepared to travel further afield, some simply exquisite places to visit. One of these is an open air restaurant set on the roof of a skyscraper, adjoining a live jazz club that serenades the patrons as they dine in a state of utter relaxation and comfort, 64 floors comfortably separating them from the trials and tribulations of everyday life in the hustling bustling world below. Of course, Steff’s right when she says the service is faster at Burger King, but I can’t help but feel that she’s rather missed the point.

Gapper Ben PD in Chinese New Year performanceThe school itself is beautifully set beside the River Chao Phraya, and boasts a surprisingly extensive campus considering it resides in the 28th largest city in the world. There are swimming pools, rooftop tennis courts, multiple sports pitches… even a hotel owned by the school to accommodate staff members (we gappies were initially angling for top-floor residence – sadly it transpired someone beat us to it, but as soon as we discover the identity of the current inhabitant (a Mr. S. M. Hol.?) we hope to contend the position). The school buildings are modern, spacious, superbly equipped, and fastidiously maintained, and as a result I sometimes forget I’m teaching in a school of 1,400. Indeed I sometimes forget that I’m teaching at all - the children are so inquisitive and eager to learn that class is almost a discussion. My only current predicaments are how to pin them back to the syllabus, and how to get them to stop correcting my English.

To summarise; I have to say that Bangkok is one of the scariest, hottest, noisiest, most continually demanding, exhausting and overwhelming places I have ever travelled to, and I absolutely love it.

Ben Powell Davies

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