“To live ‘elsewhere’ means to continually find yourself involved in a conversation in which different identities are recognised, exchanged, and mixed, but do not vanish.”(Arturo Islas, as cited in Chambers: 18)
In Kindergarten at 60, author Dian Seidel takes the reader on an inspiring and heartwarming journey that defies conventional expectations. This remarkable book is a collection of 52 vignettes, each offering a snapshot of Seidel’s experience as an English teacher in a kindergarten classroom in Pathum Thani, Thailand. Through these captivating tales, Seidel explores themes of multiculturalism, identity, love, and the beauty of embracing new adventures, no matter one’s age.
I’m breathing in
I’m breathing out
As flowers bloom
The mountains high
The rivers sigh
The air that I breathe
I fly(Seidel: 3, 265)
Seidel opens and closes the book with this beautiful Thai song that is recited every morning by kindergarteners in the Pathum Thani school where she and her husband, Steve, teach. The song encapsulates her experience in Thailand since it stands for leaping into the unknown, facing challenges, and moving on; sentiments that resonate throughout the entire narrative. From the moment the couple set foot in Thailand, the reader is welcomed into a world of ‘mai pen rai’, which means “never mind” in Thai; a philosophy that Steve wholeheartedly embraces, while Dian resists a bit. ‘Mai pen rai’, a motif, gradually becomes the guiding star that reaffirms Steve and Dian’s unconditional love and teaches them the art of patience, adaptability, and acceptance.
I feel at home in the water. Nothing hurts in the water.(Seidel: 251)
The narrative in Seidel’s memoirs beckon the reader to dive into the depths of identity, where change might take the form of challenging waves. Her pen rides those waves, starting off with the jittery excitement of the unknown in the initial vignettes. But as Seidel settles into the groove of the new culture, her strokes become more confident, and the reader can almost visualise her getting into the Thai way of life. However, in the final vignettes, the reader can sense Seidel’s pen delicately tracing the intricate pathways of the nostalgia that often precede the closing of a chapter.
(…) while the cool kids sang along with Carole King and Elton John, I was memorizing songs by Edith Piaf and Mercedes Sosa.(Seidel: 19)
Childhood and teenage memories, the family, the different roles she played in her life, all intersperse in her recollections. Some bring in waves of nostalgia and tenderness, while others just catch her by surprise and amuse her. Her narrative holds such a power from the imagery that the reader feels as if reading a sweet tune. And it’s amidst these memories that the songs in Seidel’s teenage days appear. Immersed in the intersection of cultures, she reflects on the potential of songs as bridges connecting the rich tapestry of global heritage, making language and cultural exploration a harmonious and enriching experience. In Kindergarten at 60, she skillfully seasons her storytelling with influences from the great masters, Shakespeare and Wilde, whom Seidel plays with between the lines to weave humour and, thus, gives a nod to the vivacious Thai culture.
You’re going to love Thailand. It truly is the Land of Smiles.(Seidel: 10)
In Thailand everybody smiles. Smile is the defining hallmark of kindergarten. Seidel uses the lens of a kindergarten classroom to explore profound life lessons, allowing the reader to see the world anew through the eyes of her curious and bubbly kindergarteners. As she navigates her way through the Thai educational system, she learns the importance of experiencing it rather than trying to change it, a valuable lesson in cultural adaptation. The interactions with Miranda and Candace, her co-teachers, and with her students, provide both humour and heartening moments. Her love for picture books, her observations of the Thai soundscape, and her musings about yoga all serve as life lessons.
I shifted gears completely and left science behind. I became a yoga teacher, (…). Becoming an English teacher was a little easier for the old body (…).(Seidel:155)
Seidel reflects on her passage from expert to complete beginner as liberation; a sort of reincarnation, a chance to start over. Her transformation from scientist to yoga teacher to English teacher conceals the power of reinvention, and she beautifully captures the liberating nature of embracing a new beginning. However, as she delves into her adventure, she acknowledges grappling with the language barrier, age, and customs that oftentimes set her apart from the Thai people. Thailand and teaching in kindergarten have been nothing short of a challenge, but she came out rejuvenated.
Letting go of one life and reinventing myself has been a gift.(Seidel: 155)
Far from her family but more connected to Steve than ever, Seidel unveils a new facet in Thailand. Incredibly generous as a writer, she shares it all in Kindergarten at 60. This book is not just a travel memoir; it’s a heartfelt exploration of identity, the joys of teaching, and the beauty of embracing life as is. It’s a reminder that life’s adventures don’t come with an expiration date and that the most profound transformations can happen when you least expect them.
“To write is, of course, to travel. It is to enter a space, a zone, a territory, sometimes sign-posted by generic indicators (travel writing, autobiography, anthropology, history . . .), but everywhere characterised by movement: the passage of words, the caravan of thought, the flux of the imaginary, the slippage of the metaphor, ‘the drift across the page . . . the wandering eyes’.”(Michel de Certeau, as cited in Chambers: 10)
The concept of writing as a journey, where authors explore realms of thought, imagination, and metaphorical expression, resonates with Dian Seidel’s Kindergarten at 60. Writing with the awareness that someone is reading on the other side brings to life a mutual consciousness that fortifies the subtle bond woven between Seidel and the reader. Kindergarten at 60 is a heartwarming and uplifting read that will leave you with a smile on your face and a renewed sense of wonder for the world around you.
Chambers, I. (1994). Migrancy Culture Identity. Routledge.
Seidel, D. (2023). Kindergarten at 60: A Memoir of Teaching in Thailand. Apprentice House Press.