Thichanon Chumwaengwapi, a teacher at Udon Thani’s Phen Withayakhom School, has been studying the challenges bicultural children face in Thai schools and in their family dynamics. It is part of his doctoral research in education studies at Khon Kaen University that he began in 2018.
In interviews with children and mothers of bicultural children, Thichanon has found that bullying and name-calling in school is a common problem.
“The other kids kept calling me ‘pickled guava’ and made fun of my skin color and the shape of my face,” says ‘Jack’, recalling the time when he was bullied for his Isaan-Australian background. “At school, they were always saying that I’m not like them; they made me look like a fool and it felt like they were looking down on me.”
Napatsara said her peers also made fun of the shape of her face calling her “ee-farang dang mo” or “big-nosed farang” which left her feeling belittled and anxious. The constant insults also gnawed away on the teenager’s self-confidence.
“Many couples separate after they have children and the Thai mothers often choose to raise their children in Thailand,” Thichanon says. “When their kids grow up in Isaan, they are often subjected to bullying both in school and in the communities because as luk khrueng, their skin, hair colour, and faces look different.”
For Thichanon, it reflects a lack of respect and acceptance of cultural diversity in Isaan communities and schools. In some cases, gossiping and rumors about the students’ families also become an issue. Rumors are spread that the mothers of the luk khrueng children were sex workers who had met their foreign husbands in the red light districts of well-known tourist spots.
“These kinds of rumors are not only spread in the schools but also in the children’s villages, causing shame and embarrassment,” says Abhisit Hasadi, a researcher who assisted Thichanon. The spread of gossip and being bullied constantly by their peers because of their physical appearance cause many bicultural children to feel anxious and stressed out about going to school. Some of them see no other way to respond other than to resort to physical violence, Thichanon says.
The goal of Thichanon’s research is to develop a high school curriculum that addresses the needs of children from various cultural backgrounds and of different physical appearances. He also plans to specifically address the problem of bullying.
“My study started off with interviews of luk khrueng children about their experiences with bullying,” Thichanon says. “I took the results, including the kids’ opinions and emotions, to draft a curriculum that can create awareness and understanding of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity.” The teacher hopes that, once finished, his curriculum will be adopted by his school in Udon Thani and high schools in other provinces across the country.
Thichanon believes that the problem of bullying has been dismissed and its effects underestimated in Thai schools for too long. “I see it as a serious issue because if students don’t learn respect for ethnic and cultural diversity from an early age, they might end up discriminating against others when they are grown up,” Thichanon says.