Letter to the editor: Isaan folk stories retold by students in the 1960s

I love the Isaan Record. Fifty years ago (1963-1965), I was a US Peace Corps Volunteer teacher of English as a second language at the then Teachers Training College of Mahasarakham. Although I’ve never been able to go back to Thailand, and especially to Isaan, I long wondered about how that land and its people were faring. What a joy it was a year or so ago to discover your publication!  I am very impressed with your work.

As a teacher of English as a Second Language – Isaan Lao and/or Cambodian would be the first language, Thai would be the second, and English a third, but never mind – at the then (now long since gone) Teachers Training College of Mahasarakham. As a term project our third year advanced students were asked to write in English a story they were told about how their village or province got its name, or how something important got its name. With the editorial help of the college provost [Wisan Siwarat tan pu-amnuaygan Wittayalai-khruu Mahasarakham] we developed a 42-page mimeographed reader for use by our first and second year students. Its purpose was to enable our students, who came from villages across Isaan, the sense that a strange, difficult and foreign language such as English could be used to talk about things of their own small part of the world. For even our advanced students that was a great revelation.

I should add once students learned what I was doing, I was swamped with stories, far more than we could use (though our reader, I think, managed to include at least one story from each province in Isaan).  Most of the stories in the reader and many others, once I returned to the USA, I developed into a manuscript much of which was printed in the USA under the name of “The Serpent Prince” and “The Golden Swans of Chaiyaphum.” Those books are long, long out of print, but I learned a few months ago that bits of the mimeographed readers still existed in Isaan.  So if you have any want to use the reader or parts of it, you may do so with my blessing.

Kermit Krueger
US Peace Corps Volunteer
assigned to the English Department of the Teachers Training College of Mahasarakham
September 1963 – August 1965

Over the next weeks, The Isaan Record will publish all stories from the reader “Stories from the Northeast”. We will start today with two stories.

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