From Old McDonald’s Farm to Bilingual Karaoke

by Prof. Melinda Edwards, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Chiang Mai, I could feel the warmth, both in terms of temperature and the tempera-ment of the community. I was welcomed everywhere as I travelled to law schools in Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai, teaching my passion: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). And, as someone who likes to smile a lot, I felt surrounded by like-minded spirits working with interns, Fellows, academics, professional staff and students.

My goal was to give back to BABSEACLE, to thank Wendy and Bruce for the enormous contribution they have made to the development of the Virtual Law Placement Program we offer at QUT. I hoped that delivering ADR workshops and building the capacity of the BABSEACLE Fellows to deliver the workshops after my departure would be a valuable contribution, but I also knew I would have to work fast in my three weeks in Thailand to achieve my goal.

I met my team on my very first afternoon at the BABSEACLE House and started work straight away. Students from the Czech Republic and Singapore, law lecturers from Laos, and Fellows and staff from Thailand made for an interesting communi-cation challenge!

Cross-Cultural Communication

At first it was difficult to identify a baseline of knowledge on ADR, but although there was a lot to learn before we could think about the teaching task, the team was incredibly open, enthusiastic and supportive of each other as we wove our way through explanations in Czech, Thai and English to reach a common understanding.

We developed a draft lesson plan, chose interactive teaching methods to achieve our outcomes and allocated research, writing and translating tasks around the team. Then, I was invited to join Bruce and Wendy to fly to Ubon Ratchathani University. There, I had the opportunity to assist in a small way with their workshop on clinical legal education (CLE) methods. Once again, I was warmly welcomed and was able to polish my language skills through a truly international Karaoke experience, followed by the chance to lead the singing of “Old McDonald’s Farm” on a Sunday bus trip. Did you know that farm animals make different sounds in different countries? It was news to me, and I was surprised to find my new Thai friends in fits of laughter at what I considered to be a perfectly ordinary rendition of an Australian pig snorting!

Two days later, we presented our first ADR workshop at the Chiang Mai University Legal Clinic, receiving lots of positive feedback from both students and staff. I could feel my team’s confidence rising, making it easier to do the next, slightly revised version of the workshop at Mae Fah Luong University in Chiang Rai.

Not even the four-hour bus trip each way could dampen our enthusiasm, and we enjoyed more positive feedback as the Fellows took on larger roles in the presentation of the teaching material. I went to sleep that night feeling satisfied that my new protégées could carry on with this work — and in the morning I decided to give a special gift to BABSEACLE and to host a celebration party.

Karaoke equipment seemed the logical gift: it would help interns and staff sing together in any language. And the night before my departure, I had the delicious fun of seeing my new family enjoy the gift. Who knew Ben had such wonderful English when singing? Who knew Elaine had all those dance moves lurking below the surface? And who knows what the neighbours will make of Bruce’s rendition of Celine Dion when he finally returns to Chiang Mai to take over the microphone?

When I bid farewell to my new family in Chiang Mai I was confident in my parting words that it was not the end – for me this is most definitely only the beginning!