Brothers with Pelican ties pursue international experience overseas, including service in Peace Corps, teaching language, aiding local development
By Brenda Brand, Special Correspondent
Some parents have their adult children living close to them, some have them live in another state, and others have them live across the world from them.
This is the case for Don and Bonnie del Greco of Pelican Rapids.
Their sons, Mark and Benjamin both live and work in Thailand. That’s a long way to go to visit your kids. The del Greco family has always loved to travel. The family previously lived in Sandstone, where the boys graduated from East Central High School.
Mark is the oldest of the del Greco boys. He has now lived in Thailand for seven years. Mark graduated from Concordia in 2010 with a Business Management degree. He wanted to teach overseas but “getting a job overseas without a Master’s Degree or some experience was almost impossible,” stated Mark.
He joined the Peace Corps in 2011 and was assigned to Thailand where he worked for two years in community development with the local government and mostly worked with youth development and healthcare.
Peace Corps launched career in Thailand
When his Peace Corps tour was up, Mark wanted to stay in Thailand and through his network of contacts; he found a job with a human rights and education charity organization working with Burmese migrants that come to Thailand to work. Because Thailand has a very strong economy, many migrants from Burma, Laos and Cambodia come to find jobs there. The hard labor force is made up of 3-4 million Burmese people.
With Bangkok as his hub, Mark travels to a project office in Songkhla in the south and Ranong on the west coast of Thailand. He also travels to Cambodia, Burma, Myanmar, Philippines and Bangladesh.
Mark has worked for five years building and providing schools, healthcare, and legal human rights services for these migrants. Through his network of contacts, he then took a position with a regional and international labor rights foundations and humanitarian development.
So he now has two jobs. His second job included organizing the first democratic trade union of migrant fishermen, the Fishers’ Rights Network.
Thai fishing industry under scrutiny
The Thai fishing industry has been under heavy scrutiny for slavery, human trafficking and labor rights violations. This scrutiny came from the international community, European Union, United States government, and the United Kingdom. It may surprise you that the majority of the seafood purchased in major stores like Costco and Walmart are sourced from Thailand, where seafood is a major industry.
There has been a lot of international pressure on countries and the Thai government to reinvent their legal systems and policies as well as the enforcement of legal standards in the seafood industry to stop IUU Fishing (illegal, undocumented, unregulated) as well as to improve their environmental record.
Mark travels between three offices where he facilitates outreach to migrant fishers to inform them of their rights and to try and enlist them in the union. He also does advocacy work at UN meetings and different national and international level policy committee meetings to promote workers’ rights.
Community development in the Philippines
In the Philippines, he works with regional organizations that provide social and community development as well as work. One of the projects he oversees is a micro-finance project in Manilla, Philippines where they loan money to around 8,000 women to build small enterprises. Mark spends at least a week in Manilla each month.
Another project Mark works with is in Cambodia. There he oversees a social enterprise chicken farm which is employing and empowering local Cambodian farmers. There are many other projects that have been developed to help the people improve their standard of living.
Mark’s workmates are from a wide variety of nationalities. His boss is Australian. Other countries provide financial donors with Japan as a major investor in the region.
Multi-lingual skills a necessity
Because his work consists of speaking with low educated (5th grade education) people who barely read or write in their own language, Mark speaks both Thai and Burmese. Mark’s many travels include: Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, Japan, India, Cambodia, Laos, China, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Morocco. Mark plans to continue to live in Thailand for the near future.
If he did ever come back to the US, it would be to a large city on either coast because of the type of work he does.
Benjamin del Greco graduated from Hamlin University in 2013 with an Education Degree. He taught for one year in Minneapolis. It was then that he realized, like his big brother, he wanted to work overseas.
In 2014, Ben came over to visit Thailand and to teach as a volunteer with the organization that Mark worked for.
Through Mark’s contacts he found a job teaching on the west end of Bangkok at the Lertlah School teaching 6th grade English and science, as well as middle management duties of overseeing the 4th – 6th grade teachers.
The Lertlah school has three campuses in Bangkok. Ben works at the largest campus with 1,300 students from nursery (age 3-5) to 9th grade. Following the ninth grade the students go to the high school, which is adjacent to the University. There they attend from 10th grade through getting their Bachelors Degrees. Because the education system really pushes English immersion Ben hasn’t needed to learn Thai. He understands some necessary Thai phrases, but does not speak it.
English language learning a priority in Thailand
The Thai people and government want the children to be raised bi-lingual therefore, there is high demand for English teachers.
The typical student has classes that are 50/50 Thai/English. The students learn Thai history, art, and music plus other traditional classes–followed by classes in English. Balanced and very structured, the Thai education system does not have as much of an interactive approach as in the U.S. Extra-curricular activities for students after school include science work, math leagues, and speech contests.
Discipline in the Thai schools is very different from the United States. While Thai kids are very chatty, they are not disrespectful or malicious, just chatty. If a student does not understand something in English, another student will help interpret. They don’t have a lot of behavior issues.
So how easy is it to be able to teach in Thailand?
It’s really quite easy to get certified for a TEFL (Teach English Foreign Language) certificate. It does help if you have a Bachelors Degree, but it is not a requirement. Ben works for a department of about fifty U.S., Canadian, British and South African teachers. They work out of a large office that is located away from the school. The teachers travel to the classrooms to teach and then back to their office for prep work.
Travel has been benefit with international teaching
The Thai school year is arranged differently so he has lots of time to travel. As an avid photographer, Ben has traveled to 15 countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Borneo, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, China, Nepal, and Italy. Working overseas can always bring a chance of romance, and Ben has a girlfriend from Winnipeg who is a teacher at the same school. Ben plans to eventually come back to the U.S. to teach, but he might teach in other countries first.
With Bangkok as a major travel hub it is very easy to travel to other countries. On the average it is two hours to Singapore and forty-five minutes to Cambodia. The air fare prices are also very affordable with fares around $50 -$60 per ticket.
Other interesting differences from the United States include sports, commerce, government, weather and religion.
In Thailand, the major sport is soccer, with basketball gaining popularity. They also have competitive swimming leagues. Not a lot of the Thai people have heard of American football. Rugby would be the closest sport to football. The Liverpool and Manchester, England teams are the favorite pro teams in soccer. Quite a few of the European clubs are owned by Thai companies.
Thailand is global trade hub
Thailand is a global hub, and it is easy to set up businesses, mostly by Japanese and Chinese companies. The Thai economy is very strong. The Thai Bot (Thai monetary designation) is at its strongest versus the US dollar. Factories that include industry, clothing and electronics all are prevalent in Thailand. Nikon and Panasonic have assembly plants as well as Toyota and other car companies. The banking industry uses Thailand as their hub as the rent is low, transportation is cheap and food averages $1 for a meal.
Now governed by the military as a result of a coup in 2014, the Thai people still revere the royal family. You cannot say anything defamatory about them or you face severe consequences. There has been a shift of the monarchy, with new royal leadership coming in, following the death of the King a few years ago. He had ruled the country for sixty years and was very good for the country.
Thailand is one of only a few countries in the region not to be colonized by the British. This meant they were able to keep their own royalty and language, which is why they are so far behind in the English language.
A cold spell in Thailand? 70 degrees–above
Weather in Thailand is very different from Pelican Rapids! Mark and Ben said that they had a cold spell recently where the temperature got down to 70 degrees. For the most part, it is just hot and humid in Thailand. November through January is considered pretty pleasant. Pollution is a bad problem, you can see it in the air and a lot of people wear masks. They have even had to cancel school due to the air quality. The months of January through March are the worst for pollution due to a weather system that comes from China. To try and end the pollution, the Thai government has tried cloud seeding in order to bring rain to cut down on pollution.
Religion in Thailand is mostly Buddhist. They are very friendly and tolerant, with 99% of them open and welcome to all religions.
In the southern part of Thailand and Malaysia are some Muslims. Non-denominational churches are also prevalent there.
There is not much political talk against the United States. Thailand is also safe for tourists as well as affordable. With a large amount of beaches, parks, mountains, and jungles, there is always something to do. Thailand also has one of the best National Park systems and is creating more parks. There are also a lot of ruins of temples throughout the country.
Able to stay connected with the ease of internet and cell phones and a 12 hour time difference the chances of getting “homesick” are not as great as they used to be.
Both Mark and Ben encourage every young person to consider working overseas. It’s very fruitful, builds great friendships, teaches a new culture and prospective that you gain from experiencing the world. When you do come back to the U.S., you recognize how blessed we are and how proud we can be of what our nation is and what we have built here compared to other nations.