Georgetown native Lauren Crosby decided to teach English in Thailand for more than just the opportunity to travel to Southeast Asia and experience the education system in a different culture.

She wanted to show her sisters that anything was possible if you put your heart into it.

Crosby, 24, a Morse High School graduate, was the first person in her family to receive a bachelor’s degree when she graduated with a secondary education degree from the University of Maine at Farmington in December 2016. Before graduation, she completed her student-teaching at an American International School in South Korea.

“My dad barely passed his senior year of high school English, and my mom has an associate’s degree, but they are two of the smartest people I know,” Crosby said.

Crosby has been in Thailand for nine months and has three months remaining of her Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in rural Thailand. It took her six months to complete the application process, a period of revisions, edits and visits with professors and friends.

“In my mind, there was no way an average student from a state school with a rural, blue-collar background could receive a Fulbright Fellowship,” she said.

Clarissa Thompson, an associate professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington, said she first met Crosby at an event for accepted students and saw that she was curious, engaged and looking ahead to what she wanted to do in college and beyond.

While at the school, Thompson said Crosby took advantage of many opportunities, including studying in other parts of the country and student teaching abroad.

“As a student, in class, she was always creative, energetic, a hard worker and someone who fully engages in whatever she is doing, always,” Thompson said. “These traits will serve her incredibly well in any classroom.

“She will bring so much global experience to her teaching, and knowing her as a student, the teaching she will do will be top notch.”

POSTCARDS FROM THAILAND
In Thailand, schools operate on a rote-learning schedule, she said, meaning students sit for 50 minutes and repeat things back to the teacher and memorize grammar. There is very little group work or thinking outside of normal teaching philosophies, so students study English for 12 years and graduate knowing only how to say basic sentences and phrases, Crosby said.

Because of this, Crosby decided early on to come up with a postcard project to make the 500 students she teaches each week excited about English class.

Crosby said people from a foreign country, like the United States, are a novelty to most of her students, so the idea of giving them a new friend to communicate with motivated the students to write tangible, real-life English.

Using the connections in education she made while in Maine — and with funding provided by Mexicali Blues — Crosby has been able to connect more than 800 students in Maine and Thailand. Participating schools included Harpswell Coastal Academy, Bath Middle School and Georgetown Central School.

“Our state is lucky to have people who work hard every day to make sure their students are having these kinds of opportunities,” Crosby said.

Doug McIntire, of Harpswell Coastal Academy, said he received about 50 postcards in a bulky, decorated envelope. Inside was a collection of work with vibrant colors, well thought out scenes, local temples and other scenery.

There was work resembling anime, some showing people going about their days and others inviting their new American friends to come visit Thailand.

“The kids spent several days asking to pour over the postcards, and they have generated a lot of attention and fostered fascination,” McIntire said.

As part of the project, almost all of the Maine students from the coast sketched lobsters and boat scenes on their postcards. Most Thai children have never eaten lobster before because it’s expensive in Thailand, costing almost $60 for one small lobster.

“The Thai students love seafood and left the class with their mouths watering dreaming about Maine lobster,” Crosby said.

THAI LIFE
Living in Thailand, in the small district of Thung Saliam in the Sukhothai Province, is nothing that Crosby ever could have prepared for. After nine months, she said she can speak Thai well enough to get applauded by Thai people, but she admitted that she typically has no idea what’s going on.

“I haven’t used a knife and fork in months, and I don’t blink an eye at the three people on a motorcycle who whiz by with a baby in the arms of one of them,” she said.

Thung Saliam is situated in a picturesque rice plain with jagged mountain in the distance and small country roads surrounded by noodle shops, temples and old Thai men leaning against old Hondas smoking cigarettes.

As a white female with sandy hair and blue eyes, Crosby said she’s a celebrity in Thung Saliam. Each morning, she is greeted by hundreds of “good morning Teacha Lahlen” and as a teacher in Thai culture, she’s treated with utmost respect and kindness.

Communication, however, continues to be an issue, even after nine months in Thailand.

“Try explaining directions to a group of 50 16-year-olds who don’t understand you,” she said. “I’ve become a fantastic actress and the queen of hand gestures.”

She said she’s learned the ins-and-outs of the Thai culture by teaching teenagers. She knows the popular songs, who’s dating who, whose family owns the pad thai shop down the road and what is considered right and wrong. When Crosby has a question about anything, she always asks her students first.

Crosby — also a singer and songwriter — said her songwriting focuses on humanity and how people interact with each other. Being around Thai music, she said, constantly forces her to focus on the instrumentation and melody of a song.

“I’m a hardcore lyric junkie, so when you give me lyrics I don’t understand, I immediately turn to the melody and how it is pieced together,” she said.

She’s been working on making her melodies more complex and versatile and creating harmonies that truly enhance the movement of the song. The majority of popular Thai songs are slow and sappy and about found or lost love.

“As a folk musician and sappy 20-something girl, a lot of the recent music I’ve written is inspired by the interactions I’ve had with various Thai men who want to make me their wife,” she said.

Having a great relationship with her students and the people in Thung Saliam is great, and Crosby said she’s happy in Thailand. But she misses home.

MISSING MAINE BUT COMING HOME SOON
Despite having what appears to be a good life in Thailand, Crosby said she thinks about and misses Maine every day. She said she sees the people she loves from Maine in the faces of school janitors who try to sneak her whiskey, in the hard-working students who she loves and admires and in the teachers who take care of her and consider her one of their own.

However, because communication is a challenge, Crosby said she can be around several people and still feel lonely because she can’t express her thoughts or feelings adequately.

“I can express that I’m happy, but I’m not able to explain those intricate and beautiful details of how or why,” she said.

In November, Crosby will return to the U.S. to record her second studio album with some of her favorite musicians from Maine, provided she can raise the funds during an August fundraising campaign she’s planning.

In the last four years, Crosby has been traveling, teaching and learning. She’s written several songs about her experiences in Maine and around the world, and it’s time to put them out into the world, Crosby said.

She considers herself a songwriter and then a teacher, but she is passionate about both. She said she plans on making this next album, working to save money and then touring when the album is released.

Crosby also said she’d like to work with a record company that supports her music so she doesn’t have to ask people to donate anymore. She likes doing things herself, but it is a lot of work.

“I’m a writer, producer, graphic designer, businesswoman, promoter, publicist, booking agent and professional late-night driver, plus a full-time teacher,” she said. “I’m eager to get back into performing in America.”

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