Connor Hendricks
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach HS
Sponsor: Treasure Coast Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Laem Chabung Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Connor's Bio

Hello! Sawatdee khrab! That’s Thai for hello.

My name is Connor, and I am so lucky to be going to Thailand as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in 2009.

I have lived all my life in Vero Beach, which is a small town on the east coast of Florida. I am 15 years old and in 9th grade at Vero Beach High School where I am in pre-AP courses and Chorus and Spanish Club. I live with my parents, my sister who is 16 and in 10th grade, two cats, Butterscotch and Patsy, and my shiba inu dog, Sumo.

I like traveling, volunteering and pet-sitting, and I love computer gaming! I play online games with other players from all over, and I like music. I like learning about and using technology, and I really like Japanese anime movies, especially “Princess Mononoke”.

I am grateful for the opportunity to live and study in Thailand and to represent Rotary. I can’t wait to see how the culture is different from America and how it is the same. I’m expecting big obvious differences, but I also suspect that the feelings people have are the same everywhere.

At first all I could think of was how exotic Thailand must be, but then I realized everyone in the world must feel things like liking and disliking, happiness and sadness, hope and despair, pride and humbleness. If I can be sensitive to the feelings we all share, then it will make for a lot more similarities and connection than I first imagined.

I hope to learn about the people, the language, and the customs to expand my understanding. I am eager for the challenge of adapting and think it will make me more prepared for challenges in my future. I’d like to thank Rotary and my family for believing in me and giving me this wonderful chance. Let the adventure begin!

Connor's Journals

August 23 Journal

When I arrived in Bangkok at the start of August, I got out to the front of the airport and was met by my first and second host families and my Rotary counselor. It was a long trip, and I was glad to see them! My family lives in Bang Lamung, around an hour outside Bangkok.

My family took me to get a bike helmet because they have a bike for me to ride. I went to 7-11, and they have Slurpees! Yay!

I started school immediately. I have a uniform of black shorts and blue shirt with black sneakers and long socks. There are some other uniforms for special occasions, but this is the only one I have. I don’t understand what the different uniforms are for, but I don’t really mind having just the one. I kind of stand out as it is, so the uniform isn’t really going to make a difference! I had to introduce myself to the whole school which is over 1,200 people. I hadn’t prepared for that, so in the car on the way to school I put together a half Thai half English speech. It turned out OK, and the director of the school gave me flowers. The people at school have all been welcoming. Sometimes when there’s not class we hang around or play games on the computers. They have the game Counterstrike on all the school computers. Some girls taught me how to makes stars out of straws. It’s pretty relaxed. We have different schedules every day. For example, a typical day could be science, English, Thai, Social, lunch, math, and computers. Of course English is the easy one for me! I have made a lot of friends so far. The school itself is really nice, just all open instead of air conditioned. The cafeteria is like a big outdoor auditorium with a metal roof. They give me my school lunch which is usually noodles or rice and chicken. Sometimes monks come in for special occasions and lead prayers, and we give them food and supplies. That’s a big part of Thai life.

Outside of school we play basketball or go to the mall. I have been to dinner with my counselor and his wife and son. I have met three host families so far and lots of friends and cousins and people connected with them.

I’ve been to several Rotary meetings. I don’t think I pronounced my speech very well, but they were really nice about it and liked my Powerpoint which I’m also going to present at school. I had to speak to the school assembly about my mother on Thai Mother’s Day too, but they had someone translate for me.

The food is interesting. People here put ketchup on their pizza for one thing, and they eat lots of Kentucky Fried Chicken which you can get delivered to your house. I’ve had some really good Thai food, and I even tried sea slug and octopus tentacles, though I wasn’t fond of either one. I discovered I like coconut jelly, and there’s meat on a stick in the market that is really good. Pepsi here tastes the same, but it’s green.

I’m already used to heat, which is a good thing, because it’s hotter and more humid than Florida.

Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m nodding yes to, and I woke up one morning to find I had agreed to go on a 15k bike trip with my family. My parents woke me up early and we went to a park near Pattaya. The 15k bike trip was for the Queen’s birthday. There were about 500 people there. It was fun. The roads were closed for the bikers and they handed us water along the way.

Another day I was picked up early from school to go into Bangkok for the graduation of the mayor of Laem Chabang's daughter from the University of Thailand. We drove there with the mayor, her daughter, her husband, my host mom and her sister and a friend. When we arrived, we rode the tram for about 10 minutes and got off at the river. We took a 25 minute boat ride to the closest drop off spot to the university and walked about a mile through markets, restaurants and shops. I saw a little shop selling baby water snakes that you put in your soup. We finally arrived at the university where there were thousands of people. We took pictures of the mayor's daughter and got her flowers. We went back a different way by car, a long drive through the city but worth it because I got to see Bangkok all lit up at night.

I have helped my host father cook in his noodle stand, and I’ve been to the beach a couple of times. I’ve been to the movies. We saw GI Joe in English with Thai subtitles. A lot of Thai movies are horror movies and not too great. Most big American movies come in English. Before the movie starts, a clip of the King comes on the screen and everyone stands in respect for the king while the national anthem plays.

I visited a middle school here where a teacher is a friend of my family, and I met all the students and the teachers. I stayed in the main office for a while and spoke to the director and some of the teachers on break. Then I went to the library to play with the younger kids and read them a few stories in English and taught them colors and numbers. That was kind of fun.

I have noticed that there are literally hundreds of stray dogs here. At school I see random dogs hopping through the yard or in the street. The sad part is that most of them have only three legs and look starved. There is a pair of elephants that live next to my house. I think they are wild. It’s not uncommon to see elephants. It’s pretty cool.

I went to the Rotary orientation for my district and there were about 20 of us. It was exciting! On the way, we stopped at a silk factory. The orientation was only for district 3340 so Jay (from Jacksonville) was not there, but Elizabeth from Florida was. The Rotarians here are really relaxed and humorous and wear shorts and flip flops to some of their meetings. Two of them were from Pattaya Jomtien Rotary club. The other was from a different club. One was an American. One was from Europe. Another was from Thailand but was Indian. They seemed fluent in English, Spanish, German, and Thai. It was impressive. They were all really nice and made lots of jokes. I turned in my documents and the 42,000 baht (see sib song pan baht) for my Rotary trip in the spring. We went over the rules. The trip is in March. I am happy because my Thai will be much better by then. The closest inbound to me is about an hour south. She’s from Germany and speaks very good English. She lives near Pattaya on a chicken farm with 14,000 chickens, and is 50 kilometers from her school!

My host dad will be gone for 3 weeks studying to become a monk. My brother Tong is leaving tonight for Wisconsin as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Soon I am planning to get a bus ticket and go visit Jay (inbound from FL) in Bangkok. Anyway, I’ve settled in really happily. Even my family’s dogs don’t look like they want to kill me when I walk past them anymore. Now they just growl, so I guess they’re getting used to me too! Thanks again to Rotary and everyone who helped me make this trip. I love it.

September 28 Journal

Hello everyone.

My host brother Tong left for America at the end of August. He was going to Wisconsin as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. At 2:00 AM a big bus / van came to pick us up. We went around the town and picked up all of his friends and some of his family. Then we drove to Bangkok. We got there at about 5:00 AM where we met my whole Rotary Club plus a few other people. We took pictures and said our goodbyes and he went through security and got on the plane.

My Thai has been coming along slowly but surely. It was slow for about the first month but now it is picking up the pace very quickly. I love Thailand and I do not ever want to leave. I want to stay here forever. It has already been about 2 months. That is 1/6th of my year here. Time flies by. It feels like I’ve only been here for a few weeks but I’ve really been here for about 8 weeks!!

I went to a Rotary meeting at the Tower Hotel in Pattaya with my counselor Surin and his son Graph. It turned out it was not a meeting but was a party honoring the new Rotarians to the club and the birthdays of a few of the Rotarians. I got to see one of the other exchange students that I had met at the Rotary inbound orientation. She is 16 and from Germany. She is living on a chicken farm about 50 kilometers south of Pattaya. She said it is a 1 hour drive to and from school each day. The party was really fun; there was a big buffet and a raffle. I bought 3 raffle tickets for 100 Baht ($3). I won a bottle of whiskey so I traded it to one of the Rotarians for his teacup set, and when I got home I gave the teacup set to my host mom as a gift.

The next day I moved to my host mom’s house because my host dad was leaving to become a monk and was going to be gone for 3 weeks. I like her house because the internet is free, there is a much more comfy bed, and there is an air conditioner. The mattress at my host dad’s house is about 2 inches thick and the mattress at my host mom’s house is a normal mattress.

On the weekend I went to the local pub for a concert with a few Rotarians and my second host dad. It was really fun and we stayed till 3 am! The next day we woke up early and the whole family and I went to The Sri Racha Tiger Zoo. It was pretty big. We saw 4 shows there. The Elephant show, the Crocodile show, The Tiger show, and the Pig races. While we were there I got some pictures with the animals. I have a picture of me sitting with two orangutans and an anaconda. I also got my picture sitting on a crocodile’s back and one of me bottle feeding a tiger cub. After the shows we all went on an elephant ride back into the woods behind the zoo.

I’ve been to the EGV Cinema at Robinson’s mall a couple of times. Once I went with 3 girls from Bansean Demonstration School. It is a higher level than my school. We went to see Final Destination 4. It was decent. Another time I went with 7 girls and 2 boys from Bansean Demonstration School again. We went to see “Haa Prang” (5 Prang) (Phobia 2). It was a horror movie made up of 5 stories. It was actually really good for a Thai movie and I would not mind seeing it again some time. The last story was very funny and a little bit scary.

I also went to the Kao Keow Zoo in Sri Racha with 2 Rotarians, their daughters, their 2 nephews, and one of the uncles. It was a lot of fun. I rode in the back of the truck with the 2 nephews. It was an open zoo where you drive from exhibit to exhibit. You also buy food at the beginning and you can feed all the animals. After we walked through the hippo exhibit some weird furry animal climbed off a post and was hanging on my neck. It crawled on me then hung off my arm by its tail. One of the zoo keepers told me what it was (I do not remember the name though). He said it was closely related to a panda. After that we went to the elephant sanctuary and had a picnic. Then we watched an elephant show and fed them. After that we went on an elephant ride back into the forest behind the zoo. This ride was a bit longer and we went up hills and over trees and rocks. It was really cool. We got to see the hospital that the elephants go to when they get sick. On our way out of the zoo we drove though a section that had loose monkeys. The monkeys were chasing our car and jumping into the back and stealing the left-over food. It was really neat. I tried to get some pictures but they were too quick.

I do not get out much on weekdays because school ends late. Then I walk home which is another 30-40 minutes. One Sunday I went on a school trip to a temple that was just south of Bangkok. We stayed there for an hour then went to a sand sculpture museum. There were about 30 sculptures. They were very good and big and must have taken a long time to make. Then we went to the 100 year market and everyone went shopping for a few hours. It was cool. Another Saturday was a review day for the upcoming midterm exams. Matteyom 2 was going on a trip to Bangkok to a science museum. They let me go so I did not have to sit around at school all day and do nothing, and we went to a planetarium.

Last Thursday my host mother asked me if I wanted to go to the Rotary meeting. I said yes because I had not gone to the last two. It turned out to be another Rotary party except it was hosted by my club. There were 11 farangs (foreigners) there including me. My Rotary Club is going to teach me some Thai songs so I can do Karaoke at the next Rotary party. Not too excited about that. On Sunday I woke up early and went to Sala. It is the place where the monks live. We had our normal prayers then we went home. I do feel at home here!

November 1 Journal

October went by kind of slowly at first. In the beginning of the month we had midterms. Luckily I only had to take two exams, Thai and English. They were both easy and I passed them. I visited my friend’s school the next week. It’s called Satit and is located on the Burapha University campus. When we were in Bangsean, we took the songtao (a pickup-truck taxi where you ride in the back) to an aquarium near her school. I think it was the smallest aquarium I have ever been to. It had a few fish tanks with eels and fish. Then there was a larger tank with a few sharks.

On mid-term break, I spent a lot of time at the mall and went to the movies one time. I went to see The Proposal with some girls. It was funny. I had already seen it in America, but I decided to see it again so I could go with them. The movie theaters here are much different. They do not have plain popcorn, only flavored popcorn. They have cheese flavored which tastes like onions, and oddly enough they have corn flavored popcorn. Personally I do not see the point. It’s also different because you have to choose your seats. There is a little touch screen that shows available seats and you pick them. Seats in the middle of the row are more expensive then seats on the outsides, and seats that are farther back are also more expensive, because of the view I suppose.

I also went to a hotel in Pattaya with my host mom and dad, their friend and their daughter who is 15, and we went in the hotel pool and then moved to the beach. The water was nice and warm but very murky and has a fair amount of trash. You can find anything at the beaches here. I have seen everything from underwear and wallets to hats and shoes and glasses.

Then my host mom told me that she was going to north Thailand for two days to stay at a temple and I could either go with her or stay at her friend’s house. I decided to stay at her friend’s house. I am glad I did; they were really nice. They live in a really quaint little neighborhood about a km east of the town. It was nothing like anything I have seen in Thailand. It was like a gingerbread village and reminded me of the advertisements for new neighborhoods in Florida. Everything was perfectly manicured, and all of the kids were nice and all had swimming lessons on the same day and tennis lessons on the same day. We went to a seafood restaurant, and they got me to try fish even though I hate it. It was actually really good! We also got some tom which is a sort of soup, but it’s spicy.

After my host mom returned, three other exchange students from my district came to Pattaya for the weekend. There was a girl from America, a girl from Germany, and a boy from Mexico. We all went to dinner and to Walking Street in Pattaya. Walking Street is a giant road with no vehicles. It is very long and is all bars: a-go-go bars, strip clubs and hookah bars. There are glass boxes on the tops of some of the buildings with girls dancing on poles, and there are girls from the a-go-go bars standing on the sides of the road advertising. We didn’t go into the bars, but it was pretty interesting just strolling around!

I was actually happy when school started again. I never thought I would say that, but I was glad to be among my school friends again. At my most recent Rotary meeting they talked about me switching host families so I assume I will move to my second host family in the next few weeks. I just recently went to my second host family’s son’s birthday party. He turned 10. Kids’ birthday parties here are the same as in America except most kids in the US don’t get to light Roman candles to celebrate! It was fun.

Today I went out with my friend Ni and her aunt Ple to a shopping center called Carrefour Pattaya. I was really excited that they had a Subway, so I went there for lunch. The menu here is not the same! I had a sandwich of white bread with lettuce, crab, corn and sweet lemon sauce. Try anything once! After Carrefour we went to the marina in Pattaya and took the boat to Koh Laan Island to deliver some things to my aunt’s friend who owns a small hotel right on the beach. That was cool.

Well, have a nice November everybody! More soon…