How a language can be a transformative tool in our lives is being best showcased by a small school on a narrow street of Luang Prabang. Almost seven weeks into my travels in south east Asia, I realized that English is such a hot commodity in this part of the world, especially among young people. A widespread idea that learning English is a way to succeed in life has been playing an important role in shaping thinking of many school and college goers in these countries. This is exactly what I heard from young adults in Big Brother Mouse when I spent a few hours talking to them. One could see that the hopes and dreams were shining through their eyes.
Big Brother Mouse is an independent free school in a small building that opens two hours every morning and two hours every evening giving high school and university students an opportunity to interact with tourists. The informal settings let students chat freely with visitors from every corner of the world. Smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their voice show sheer willingness to improve their English language skills. Not only they want to hone their writing and speaking skills, these aspiring kids want to learn more from tourists about their countries and cultures. A simple conversation, sometimes, takes a form of deep discussion about careers, goals and ideas. Questions are mostly asked to gain knowledge; however, curved balls can be expected that put visitors into deep thoughts, and, sometimes, into awkward situations.
A high-school student from the country side of Laos wanted to know why people in India have snakes wrapped around their necks. Why snakes don’t bite these people? There were so many innocent assumptions in this question that I almost stopped for a minute thinking where this question is coming from. He told me that he watched some Indian TV programs. It seemed for a moment to be less like a language class and more like a cultural awareness workshop. A few students were curious to know how it was to live in India and America; and which I liked more. “Life is good in both countries” was my short and uncomplicated answer. A first-year university student asked, “If I ever want to consider living in Laos?” The question itself was not puzzling but the intent behind it moved me. He wanted to have more people in his country who can teach English to children in his village and others.
Many students come here often to seek help prepare for potential career opportunities. They want to confirm if they were constructing sentences correctly and using words appropriately. When I asked, “Why are you so dedicated to learn and improve your English?” The responses fascinated me. The range was wide from “I want to be an English teacher” to “I want to be a tour-guide” to “I want to be rich.” One 16 year told me secretly that he wants to have an English-speaking girlfriend in the future; innocent and honest answer. Some told that they also want to learn Japanese and Mandarin because a lot of Japanese and Chinese tourist come here every month. These answers were not mere words, they reflected dreams many of the Laotian youths have.
The idea of running such a school deserves a mention. However small my contribution was to this school, it gave an opportunity to add another story in my life.