Chris Hoogstraten ’17 was an English major at Haverford, and this August he will journey to Thailand to teach the language whose literature he knows and loves. Through the Princeton in Asia fellowship program, Hoogstraten will teach English-language courses at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, a centuries-old city in the country’s northern mountains. After four years of studying English literature, he will have to go back to the language’s roots, teaching three to four grammar classes, each with close to 40 undergraduate students.
“English has long been ready-to-hand, my Heideggerian hammer: wielding it, I lose sight of all those technical complexities that trip up English-language learners,” he explained, referencing his philosophical studies (he earned a minor in that field, too). “Strangely enough, after majoring in English, I find myself having to return to the basics.”
Hoogstraten (endearingly referred to as “Hoogs” by many fellow Fords) envisions a give-and-take experience while abroad in Thailand. His primary objective will be teaching his students, but simultaneously, he says, “I’m going to Thailand to learn: the language, the people, the culture, the food, and the rhythms of everyday life.”
“I’m so excited to open up the classroom as a site of cross-cultural exchange—a place where my students and I can hopefully stretch beyond what we know to meet each other somewhere in the middle,” he said. “I’m sure that by the end of the year my students will have taught me as much, if not more, than I’ve taught them.”
So why Thailand? According to Hoogstraten, he felt the need to immerse himself in a completely new atmosphere and break the confines of his “narrow understanding of the world.” A self-described introvert, he saw an opportunity to “trick” himself into trying something new.
“I wanted to throw myself into a setting in which I would have no choice other than to reach out to and depend upon strangers,” he said.
As a teacher he will use and reflect upon many of the lessons he learned at Haverford. His classmates, he says, showed him “the value of listening to others, of thinking beyond myself, and of fostering relationships built on trust, and love and respect.”
He seeks to bring a similar spirit into Chiang Rai and beyond. His stay will last through the school year (August through May), with an option to extend for another year. After that, he hopes to earn a Ph.D. in English literature and to eventually become a professor or high school teacher.
For now, he hopes to take a metaphorical page from his time as an ultimate frisbee player for Haverford’s Big Donkey Ultimate: “Whether you understand how it works or not, spinning in circles is a beautiful way of going somewhere —my life doesn’t need to hop straight onto some fixed track immediately after graduation. Moving forward, in Thailand and beyond, I hope to forever seek the point of stillness at the center of life’s frisbee.”
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.
Photo by Holden Blanco ’17.