32 New Things: Take A Student Out To Eat

Every year I make a list of new things I want to try – some of these things are hard, some are easy, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about my previous exploits here.  This is the story of how I took one of my ESL students and her kiddos out to dinner at a restaurant for the first time ever.


Back in September of 2010, before I left St. Paul, Minneosota to trundle through Southeast Asia and set up shop in New Zealand, I worked as an ESL instructor at a non-profit that helped resettle refugees.  It was about as awesome and rewarding (and low-paying) as you’d imagine.  We played a lot of bingo, laughed endlessly over the difficulties of kitchen vs. chicken and fought a never-ending battle against cockroaches.Like any teacher, I loved my students.  And like any teacher, I had favorites.  (If you’re a teacher and you claim you don’t have favorites, you are lying.  Or you’re a way better person than I am.)  Because I taught adults, I somehow felt less guilty about having favorites.  I imagined my students more like co-workers and we’re all allowed to have favorite colleagues, right?

My all time fave was T.  She was only a year younger than me and worked as a teacher in her refugee camp in Thailand.  We shared overachiever tendencies as well as a fondness for funny cat videos and eye rolling.  She was my people.

We’d talk after class about her kiddos or her husband who was stuck in Thailand; sometimes we’d share recipes for curries.  I told her she could work in a restaurant kitchen; she told me she’d never even eaten in a restaurant. 

Wait. What?

Of course not.  She’d fled through the jungles of Burma as a child and then spent twenty years inside a Thai refugee camp, unable to leave under penalty of incarceration.  And now she lived on food stamps.

I decided we obviously needed to hit up Trieu Chau, my all time favorite restaurant.  T, the kidlets and I piled into a long booth and ordered up some kid-friendly dishes.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that T. was KaRen, raised in Thailand and neither she (nor her children) had ever used chopsticks before.  But this would not deter the children.  There were many adorable attempts to eat noodles with a chopstick in each hand while the wee girl looked on, rubbing her stomach and cooing “Oh my Godddddd” – her only English phrase.After our dinner, I asked T.  what she thought of all this – the menus and waitress and chopsticks.  “It’s okay, teacher,” she nodded sagely.  “But, I think it’s much easier to eat with your hands.”

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  1. Little redhead

    Such a great thing you did 🙂 She was right though, it IS easier to eat with your hands 😀

  2. Nessbow

    This is wonderful. I'm glad they had such an awesome time.

  3. Belly B

    This is so fantastic!!! 😀 You are an inspiration.

    <3 Belly B

  4. Amy --- Just A Titch

    I so wish I could take my favorite students out for dinner or something, that's so awesome. Also every teacher has favorites, it's true. I totally think teachers who say otherwise are lying, too!

  5. Sophiegoose

    Such a lovely story! I'm not a teacher, but I think doing something kind for a friend, coworker, or someone new to your city is always so rewarding for both parties.

  6. ashley

    LOVE Trieu Chau! I was there about 2 weeks ago on a Friday night with my husband and got Bun and ate it ALL mmmmmmmmmmmm.

    Now I want Bun and it's only 9:15am.

  7. Sarah Von Bargen


    Soooo good, right? When I'm in town I go there so often the staff knows me, knows what I order and expresses surprise if I get anything other than the S2! 😀

  8. olive green anna


    I am sure you have a lot of multi-cultural experiences in that job.

    Karen people are the most kind and gentle people. I was able to visit some Internally displaced Karen people in burma 4 years ago. It is strange that you have connection to that people group also.


  9. sweetermusic

    You're great, Sarah 🙂 This was pretty inspirational. I've always had a hard time sharing things, especially money, but this makes me want to foot the bill next time I go out to lunch with a friend.
    Thank you!

  10. DaniellaBella

    Man, I just love Karen people! It seems like the majority I've ever met are gracious, lovely and have the most beautiful smiles in the world. I once ran an after school group for inner city girls. I was shocked to learn that they had never tried mango, kiwi or tea! We had a tea party and tried a bunch of new things together!

  11. shannon*bear

    You're lovely! I loved reading this, it was so heartwarming! So thankful that she has you in her life to love and spend time with her!

    xo Shannon

  12. Anastasia

    She is so right! Sometimes its hard to remember what we really have. How simple our lives really are.

  13. Sleepy Bear

    What program/system did you go through to get the job in Thailand? Or did you find it on a whim as you got there? Thanks 🙂

  14. Sheila Bocchine, pinhole photographer

    What a beautiful story. I've taught English in South Korea and now am in China. When I was in SK I taught older students and enjoyed taking them out to eat, but in China, it's the parents who invite me out and I've tried all sorts of crazy food including duck tongue and pig tongue!


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