Elizabeth Earnhart
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Mitraparb Khon Kaen Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Elizabeth's Bio

Sawat dii kha. Hello. My name is Elizabeth Earnhart and I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I am 18 years old and I am about to embark on the most fantastic opportunity of my life. I am ecstatic and oh so grateful at having been selected to be a Rotary exchange student this year. My destination? Thailand. The fact of the matter is that it's all very surreal to me.

I am the oldest child in my family, my younger brother is 15, and I have always had what my mom calls, "wanderlust." Throughout the years I would jump at any opportunity to travel across the US, but I especially liked traveling abroad. I think that my parents had to realize early-on that I was an explorer and would not be sticking around long after high school. But don't get me wrong. I love my friends, my home, and my family.

I want to be part of the Rotary youth exchange because I want to break down cultural barriers, not only for myself, but for others as well. I want to give Thais a taste of real America, not the Hollywood version, and I want to tell Americans what Thailand is really like without any preconceptions getting in the way of the truth. This experience is going to be a challenging one. But the reward is going to be so much greater.

I am the kind of person who takes joy from being a friend to others. I love to encourage people, and to help them when they are in need. I tend to over-plan, yes, but I do not regret any minute of my usually hectic schedule. I love music, but I also love the outdoors, as well as camping, hiking, biking and SCUBA diving. Nature is endless, and you can always find something new. Sewing is another one of my favorite past-times. I make some of my own clothing, and it's a very rewarding feeling wearing something that you've made. My faith is also something that is very important to me. I love to sing, read, and act every now and then. I even wrote my own monologue for the talent portion in the Miss Bartram Pageant last year.

And so, there you have it. I thank Rotary for this opportunity, and my family for their support. I cannot wait to embark on this adventure, to go to Thailand and learn a whole new way of life compared to how I now live. I am looking forward to meeting my future host families and friends. I cannot express the excitement that is growing inside of me. Thank you. Khap khun kha.

Elizabeth's Journals

August 7 Journal

I arrived in my city, Khon Kaen about a week ago and Thailand is SOOOOO beautiful! I can’t stop smiling and everyone is so friendly and they all go out of their way to help even though most of them don’t speak English. The only two people I have met who speak English well enough to communicate effectively with are MaaMeow (another exchange student from South Africa) and PuuRee (a Thai boy who just got back from exchange to Canada). MaaMeow has been here already for 6 months so she is helping to teach me Thai. My oldest host brother is already at university in India, so I am using his room while he is gone. My 16 year old brother, Top, speaks some English but he is leaving for exchange to Canada on the 9th of August. My 14 year old brother, Tee, is just like Matthew in the sense that he plays W.O.W. all day, haha.

When I got to Bangkok, my mom, MayPen, Top, PuuRee, MaaMeow, and two other ladies from my Rotary Club, MayJeet (PuuRee’s mom) and MayOor had big posters with my picture on them and greeted me like I was their long lost daughter. It was so nice and the banners said “Welcome Home”. I learned that my Rotary Club is an all woman club and that is so cool and absolutely unheard of in the U.S. So we stayed the night in Bangkok and then went to JJ Market the next morning and then drove 7 hours to get to Khon Kaen.

Everything is extremely cheap, especially food. I have not purchased anything yet thought because as a part of their “family” I am paid for at meals. There are elephant pictures on literally EVERYTHING here, buildings, purses, walls, etc. And I got to pet and feed a baby elephant today! It was so cute and they are just led around Khon Kaen and you pay to feed it bamboo. It was such a cool experience, maybe next time I can ride a grown-up one!

Oh, and I thought that I was going to be really uncomfortable getting used to Thai toilets, but they are really cool actually. In my house there is a western style toilet and shower, so that is cool. But in public bathrooms the “toilet” is a squat-potty, so it is porcelain and you do your business, throw the paper in a waste basket next to the toilet (if there is paper) and then to “flush” you take a bucket that is in a barrel of water in the stall and you pour one or two bucket-fulls in until gravity does its job. It’s really neat actually.

But the whole experience overall has been more than awesome. I have tried SOOOO many different types of food already, it’s so diverse and a complete 180 from anything you would see in the States. My city is so full of life at night though. It’s almost ridiculous how late things stay open, like malls and night markets and salons open at this hour! Some of them do not even open their doors for business until it gets dark.

I am not going to school until a week from tomorrow because I have to get the uniform and also go back to Bangkok one or two more times this week to pick-up more inbounds and also to take some Thais who are leaving on exchange.

It is so awesome here, so real and unique and just overall amazing; full of life and color and new sights, smells and tastes. The weather is very similar to Florida, less humid during some parts of the day and more humid during others. It is the rainy season here now just like in Florida also. I feel like I am writing SOOO much, and yet there is so much that has already happened. Oh, I also was given a new name as soon as I was greeted at the airport. My Thai nick-name is Aarie (pronounced like the long “a” in apple, a rolling “r” and the “e” sound from the word bee). It is difficult to learn all of the politeness of the culture but I am working on it.

Sawat dii Kha.

-Aarie

September 7 Journal

So, I have been here for over a month and wow, what all am I supposed to say? I will start with school. I am at a demonstration school (high school) that is on the campus of Khon Kaen University and I am in the 11th grade. There are six classes (groups of students) in each grade level and there are a little under 40 people in my class but it doesn’t feel that large because not all of us are ever in the same room at the same time. I have 28 different subjects every week and school is from 8AM - 4PM Monday through Friday. I use my time during school to practice my Thai and I am also starting to learn how to read and write the language.

There are 44 consonant symbols in the Thai language and another 32 vowels, so memorizing those and how to write them is going slow, but it is also a lot of fun to have my class-mates walk up to me and help me pronounce them and ask me if I remember them etc. Finding a close group of friends is going slow as well, but it’s not a problem because I understand that right now there is still quite a large language barrier and also everyone is more than happy to be friendly to you and show you where to go and take you to class etc.

My Thai is still improving and I am still having daily Thai lessons with my mom at home. I am so thankful for this too because I can understand a lot more than I can speak and even the amount that I can speak seems to impress a lot of people. I really love my host mom and my host family, they are more than I could have asked for, really.

Two weeks ago in school there was a sports week and a parade. My class dressed me up in the traditional Thai dance costume and put me at the front of the parade! At first I was a little scared because I didn’t know where to go but then the marching band walked in front so everything was okay. Also for sports week they had football (soccer) games and basketball games and volleyball and swimming. I swam for my team and ended up receiving a gold medal in the medley and a silver medal in the freestyle race. It was so much fun.

I think also that half of the fun of things here so far is figuring them out. Confusion sometimes turns into frustration but most of the time it is like a puzzle, and if you can’t work it out at first, ask, try again, or just smile and laugh with the people you are with because you are enjoying just being in their company and appreciative of the fact that they are trying to help you to learn their language and their culture.

In the past month, my host brother Top has left to go to Canada on his exchange. And exchanges from Brazil (Anun), Canada (Dao), and Germany (Chai Lai) have come to Khon Kaen. It is quite a sight to see all of us walking down the street together or even when we see each other every now and then at school because people are always staring at us. There is so much more to say that I really can’t think of it all.

Our families took all of the exchange students to an ancient temple near the city of Korat a few weeks ago and it was so awesome and so large. I really love life here, it is so different from the states, the food as well and the culture, I just can’t soak it all in fast enough. Some food is pretty out-there though, I think the two things that have topped the list so far are coagulated chicken blood (served as cubes in soups) and chicken feet. But I am still going to try everything that is put in front of me because otherwise, I will be missing a part of something that I am supposed to be experiencing.

There is a night market in my city that is completely amazing as well. During the day the street is a normal one, used my traffic and located down town. But as soon as the sun starts to go down, vendors from everywhere emerge from who knows where and set up shop. The whole street is blocked off and endless food stalls and clothes shops and music stores etc are set up. One of my favorite things here is the fruit and also the coffee, it is really like nothing I have ever tasted in the states. Also at the night market it isn’t uncommon to see fried bugs for sale. My mom told me that she will take me to try them soon! Grasshoppers I heard were pretty good. =D I am really very excited.

Every time I experience something new and taste something new and see something new, I cannot wait to get more. I can only hope that new things will continue to be revealed, but I know that they will. I wish that I could recount more to write but there is too much to sort through. So until next time, chok dee, sawat dee kha.

Oh - I've posted some pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/41998919@N08.

October 11 Journal

There has been so much interesting stuff that has happened over the course of the break from school so far and there is still three weeks left! I have found some really good Thai bands that I like and that has put things in a new perspective, at least with the pop culture. Because most of the videos that you see on TV are the sappy love songs and they make you feel so sad when you watch them or even listen to them, but I found some good rock bands like “Big Ass” “Bodyslam” and “Clash” and a good rap artist “Titanium” as well as the ever-popular “Tatto Colour” “Potato” and “Clash” among others. “Tatto Colour” is from my city originally and went to a high school not even five minutes away from my house, they reminded me of “Yellow Card” in Jacksonville because they all went to Stanton High School, downtown too. Also, music is a really good way to learn the language as well and since karaoke is really popular here as well, that will help me learn the pronunciation.

One of the first things that we did after school got out was to go and see a Beijing Acrobatics show and that was really fun. Our leash has gotten a little bit longer because we have been here and their trust in us is growing, so that is exciting. Usually we can just ask to go out during the day and get on a song-tow (a taxi-truck thing) and go pretty much where-ever in our city as long as we are back by dinner time.

Another thing that we got to do which was really awesome was a photo tour of famous places right outside of Khon Kaen. We went to see the Snake Village where people fought with King Cobras and put their heads in their mouths… ugghh (I actually felt bad for the snakes because you could tell they weren’t interested in being a part of the show). But all of the other places were really pretty, like we went to a dam and also to the top of a mountain and to see a very large statue of Buddha on a different mountain. It was so fun and I really enjoyed stretching my legs and hiking and the nature and the views too.

And as far as Rotary functions go, we are always front and center. We attended a “Car Free Day” in Khon Kaen where hundreds of people rode their bikes through the streets just to promote not using as many cars because of the pollution and the smog that it creates. We started at 7am and ended around 10am but it was fun while it lasted! I had been missing going to the gym and getting exercise on a regular basis and then about two weeks ago I found a gym right near my house. My mom and I joined together and it only costs 2,000 baht a year for membership! That’s about $60 which is sooo awesome! But now I go to the gym when I have free time so hopefully I can start to get back into shape. =D

My brother who goes to college in India came home for a couple of weeks and that was so awesome to get to know him and hang out with him for the short time that he was here. We clicked from the start and I really feel that he is the big brother that I have never had. He was always looking out for me and it was so awesome because it made me feel even MORE a part of the family (which I didn’t know was possible because I am already soo close with my family and I wish I didn’t have to change).

The exchange students from my club are in the middle of doing a fundraiser right now to raise money to donate to a temple. The money will go to buy lunch for a school of boy monks at the temple for a week. This school is where the poorer families send their sons to get an education because it is free. We have been going to different locations around the city and singing songs and giving out bracelets that we made while asking for donations, I don’t know how much we have yet but the box it getting pretty heavy. =D And when we were doing this at the lake a few of the days they had this huge festival going on. There was a fair and a huge stage where there were performances and everything. It was to celebrate the end of a Buddhist fast that started in the summer. We got to send off a paper lantern into the sky at night with the full moon and it was so exciting.

While all of this was going on as well, I found out that I got accepted to the University of Central Florida for the fall semester next year and it was a complete relief and weight off my shoulders. I am stoked about that and when I told my mom she was so excited for me, she even got me a present in congratulations and gave me a big hug (hugs are pretty rare here by the way, so that was really cool). I really feel like I am her daughter, its such a neat feeling to experience that and know that you have two moms.

As for what I have eaten that is different this month… I would have to say that it was Shark Ear Soup… I really think that it was shark gills or shark fins or something, but they said that it was shark ear. It was a Chinese dish, and believe you me, if you think you know what Chinese food is, you have no idea! “Real” Chinese food is filled with things that A) you have no clue what they are and B) you don’t really want to know what they are. I think out of 10 different dishes that we tried that night, one of them would be considered edible by the average American, haha.

I also found another market right near my house and this one is a real Thai market. You walk through one section that is just fruit and the next thing you know you are standing next to the severed head of a pig (“Lord of the Flies” style) or you end up next to bins of live eels/frogs/fish/bugs/you-name-it ready to be bought and cooked up for dinner. It is really an interesting experience; every time I go, I see something new. Finding new markets is always exciting too because exploring the markets is really one of the most fun things to do when you want to go on an adventure! It's one thing that I wish we had in the States because you go to one place and you can get anything you want and it’s not preserved or pre-packaged and it doesn’t come from a factory either.

One of my favorite foods that I have found here is called Sardra-pow. It looks like a cloud and it is a tasteless white fluffy steamed bun-type thing that has stuff inside of it. It can be filled with minced pork or a sweet custard or taro (which is also like a sweet bean-paste, sounds gross but it isn’t haha) or my favorite which is pork and bamboo with a sweet-spicy sauce. It is a great snack but it is really hard to find street vendors of them but I don’t know why, because everyone likes Sardra-pow.

I think that my favorite thing to do at home is to cook. My mom and my house-keeper have both been teaching me how to cook Thai food and usually I help them make lunch and sometimes dinner as well. It is really exciting when I get to make a dish by myself or with little supervision and it is so much fun to cook with them and joke around in the kitchen! I will have to start writing down recipes soon because there are so many different things that we cook. And my mom’s cooking is really better than most of the restaurants that we go to, so, maybe some of her skill will rub off on me. =D

Sorry this journal was so long, I just feel like there is so much to say to tell everyone. And even after I say it I feel like it isn’t enough description because while things are so much different here, they are so real and I just wish that everyone can experience at least a little bit of it through what they read. Thank you Rotary again, I cannot say thank you enough for this opportunity! PS: My conversations in Thai are still improving pretty well and I am almost to the point where I can read all of the symbols!

November 22 Journal

I knew that there was a reason for me putting off writing the journal for this month. At first I just thought it was so many things going on, my birthday, and just plain laziness, but now I realize that there was a completely different reason for it. It gave me the time to have a realization that there is more than can be seen, it’s under the surface and the exchange students in my city have just discovered it. I would love for this journal to serve the purpose of sharing all the amazing experiences that I have had in the past month. However, this journal needs to serve a much larger purpose.

In the past month, I have had my eyes opened. I look around me now and see a completely different Thailand than the one I entered almost four months ago. I don’t think that I expected this, and if I did I never expected it to come this early in my exchange. It is almost as if I turned 19 and everything changed overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I really love it here. But, as my friend put it to me; I entered Thailand as an enfant, with big eyes full of wonder. Like I had seen a silver spoon for the first time and was riveted when I saw what a spoon was, shiny and bright and exciting. But as I spent time here I grew up, usually it takes longer, but I grew up in four months and when I grew up I could see that the spoon was not as I originally thought. It was instead, tarnished and bent out of shape. I lost my innocence as that enfant, but as it turns out this is a very good thing especially because it happened so fast. I would rather be shocked by the truth now than be fooled and have the truth hurt more later. Ok, to get to the point, I apologize for the vague metaphors.

Lately my Rotary club has gone crazy with the amount of projects that we are doing. We have been to at least ten different functions outside of regular meetings this month so far. And while this sounds well and good, it leaves me with a feeling of frustration and disgust. The reason for this is because these functions are all for show. I didn’t realize until now how different my Rotary club at home is from my Rotary club here. At home when my club decided to do something, they would do it in the name of Rotary but for the good of the community around them. To help others. Here, when my Rotary club decides to do something, they do it in the name of Rotary, but they do it for themselves. To give the impression that they are helping others. The best way to explain this would be to compare two experiences that have left an impression on me here. The first would be when the other exchange students and I went to a village outside of our city to help improve their school during the school break. We went with a group called “Rotaract”. These are college age students who are aspiring Rotarians. We stayed in the village for four days and at night we slept in the school rooms. We cooked our own food and painted, played with the children, cleaned the campus, put up new posters, built bookshelves and an assortment of other things. We rode to the village on an open-air transport, woke up at six AM, went to sleep past one or two in the morning and had open-air showers. In essence it was a REAL experience. It was fun and at the end we knew we had left an impression. We had bonded with the kids, taught them “Duck, Duck, Goose“, learned their games and just had fun with them. It is something that I want to go back to, the children were more than adorable and so curious and fun-loving. I can’t even really put it into words, but that is something that I was proud to do with the name of Rotary attached to it.

However, just the other day our Rotary club told us that we were going to donate books to libraries at rural schools. At first it sounded like it might be a similar experience to the one we had before. We woke up early and went to the first location. When we got there we gave the school a few sports balls for the children, which isn’t a bad thing. But that is really the only beneficial thing we did there. We sat in a meeting for a couple for hours while the kids were nowhere to be seen, except peeking in through a window every now and then. At the meeting, our moms all stood up and introduced themselves and their businesses. Then they had us introduce ourselves. By this time we knew already that the reason we (the exchange students) had come was so that our moms could show us, the foreign kids, off. After introductions and a lot of talk about how Rotary wants to help in this way or that comes the pictures. This is part of what aggravates me because we then walked through their library and proceeded to leave. The exchange students were able to buy a little bit of time and we taught the kids how to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” but as soon as Rotary had taken enough pictures of this as well, they told us that we had to leave. It left me feeling empty and confused; why would we go to a school to “give the children books” for their benefit, and then not? We came, talked, took pictures and left, giving them only a few sports balls. That does not leave an impression (or improve a library). And yet when we were back in the car, we overheard Rotary talking about how we should make the pictures into postcards so that everyone would be able to see how much good we did for the school. We went to two other schools that day and did the exact same thing.

The point is that Rotary here will go somewhere and make promises of helping there and take a ton of pictures. But when they return home, they rarely do anything about the promises they made and yet they print the pictures in order to show others the good that they are doing for the community. There is another reason why this is so unsettling to me though. It goes against culture here. I would say that generally in the U.S. the average stranger would not stop what they are doing to help someone or go out of their way to be concerned about a complete stranger. But here, everyone is not only always smiling, but they help people they don’t know on the street to carry a package or they seem that something might be wrong and they ask if they can help etc, etc, etc. There are countless things that I see every-day that you would rarely see in the states, that go along these lines. The irony comes in where the Rotary clubs at home go to help others and here they just go through the motions to get their names out there for social recognition.

Please do not get me wrong though, this is not me complaining about my situation or asking for something different. I am fully enjoying my experiences here and I really love Thailand, all of the people and culture that surrounds me. This is just an observation, an epiphany that I have had that I felt should be shared for the sake of dispelling ignorance. On a brighter note however, I have been having such a great time at school since it has opened again. Before, to be completely honest, I hated school. It was boring and I couldn’t communicate with anyone and I felt like a burden. When school closed I could not say that I had made any friends. Acquaintances maybe, but no friends. Now however, my Thai has improved greatly and I can talk to my class. People ask me to come to class with them or to eat lunch with them now because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. I have had discussions about American vs. Thai culture and one of the girls wants me to have a sleepover with her soon. Another girl and I hung out the past weekend outside of school (first time that has happened!), we sang karaoke and it was so much fun! This sounds so insignificant, but to me the significance is more than I can put into words. I will never take friendships for granted EVER again, now that I know just how hard it is to obtain those friendships.

Another exciting thing is that the conversations with my mom have gotten more intense. Also, my dad and my house keeper join in the conversations. They are so cute really, my dad is so much fun to joke around with! We talk about American history, copyrights, famous people and books, culture, religion, family, college, everything. And I am getting more brave to talk to random people, the workers in my shop, people at school and my little brother (who doesn’t really talk much in general). The weather is getting cooler and while I am missing people at home things are still improving almost daily.

I would like to thank Rotary at home again, thank you for sending me to Thailand, thank you for this experience. Especially the chance to learn so many lessons and to grow so much; to find out who I really am amongst an environment that I am also discovering at the same time. For the chance to know what it is to really live as your own.

December 17 Journal

Wow, has it really been a month since my last journal? This has been the fastest passing month yet. It seems as if everything is catching up with everything else. In less than a month, one of my closest friends, MaaMeow, will be leaving to go back home to South Africa. Her exchange started in January of last year, so she will be leaving this coming January. And while I will miss her fiercely, I am happy for her that she gets to go back and be with her family. The other exchange students and I will also be changing host families soon, but we are not exactly sure when. It is such a strange feeling for it to be December and not see any signs of Christmas, like lights, trees, music, holiday food, or TV commercials. I mean, I don’t miss the same songs playing endlessly everywhere you go, or the food that makes you need a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight. But I do miss having the cold nights and chilly days, decorating the tree with family, shopping with friends and baking until you just can’t bake anymore. =D It is a fun kind of missing though, if that makes any sense. They are nostalgic and fond memories that make me smile and realize that I will appreciate it so much more next year.

But aside from that, everything is going really well here in Thailand. In the past few weeks there has been so much going on. There was a silk festival (the biggest annual festival in all of North East Thailand) about a block from my house! It lasted for 10 days and covered probably 4 city blocks that surrounded a big park, the streets to that area were closed and shops were set up, food vendors and two big stages for concerts to be held. I was able to go to two of the concerts on two different nights and they were so much fun. I saw SEK LOSO and CLASH, of which CLASH was more fun but there were so so many people there, it was hard to walk.

After the festival, all the exchange students plus my older brother and one of our mutual friends went to Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai together for 3 days. It is the second time that I have been to Chaing Mai, but this time we were there for longer and it was so much fun to get to see more! We went to see the Panda bears at the Chaing Mai zoo. They are on loan from China until the new baby is five years old, and they are SOOOO popular in Thailand. There is even a TV channel just for them and it is 24 hour footage of the baby and them eating bamboo and sleeping etc, lol. =D We were also able to go to the infamous Chaing Mai walking street. But we didn’t have near as much time as we needed or wanted to do all of the shopping there that we wanted to do. We also was a beautiful temple in Chaing Rai that is completely white, wow it was so amazing! The tour was supposed to go to the Golden Triangle as well but we were running late and we didn’t have time. It’s okay though because we got to visit a lot of other cool places, like the highest spot in Thailand (only 60 degrees F in December though)! But because we were 12 hours north of Khon Kaen the weather was a lot cooler and it felt soooo good! =D

My older brother is actually back from India for good. He didn’t enjoy school there so he is living at home and going to attend university here in the spring I think. It is cool to have him at home. Oh, and we have a new puppy at my house! =D It is 5 days old and I got to hold him the other day. Gosh he is SOOOOOOO cute and small. He can fit in the palm of my hand and his eyes aren‘t open yet and he can‘t hear yet either! But he makes such cute little noises and squirms around lol.

I feel like such a permanent part of my family now too. I am comfortable doing anything at my house and around my family, just like I have been living here as a real sibling or daughter for my whole life. Also, the language is going really well still. I am starting to read little words and I can write little things like my name etc. And I can understand so much. But at the same time I know that I need to learn so much more and I need to go so much further with trying to get better at the language and vocab and everything. I feel like I know a lot and it surprises me sometimes but I also know that I am behind, that I could have been so much better at this point than I am. It gives me the motivation to try harder, some days I don‘t want to try but it is necessary. It is frustrating though when people are SO surprised that you understand them and especially when they try to convince you that you don’t know what they are talking about or that you aren’t trying to say what you ARE trying to say. But I guess that I should just try to channel that into more motivation. I don’t want to feel comfortable with the level I am at, I want to be pushed beyond elementary.

I have though started to learn how to play the Kluei, which is a Thai instrument. It is similar to the recorder in the states. But I am learning one Thai song on it right now and I hope to learn another one soon. It is very fun and it is helping me to get to know more people at my school which is always a good thing. Today I watched a Korean soap opera with a friend from my class and got to talk to two people that I have never met before for over an hour. It was really awesome. =D And next week, the Princess of Thailand is coming to our school for the opening of the new building that we have. In a week our school have gone from dirt, concrete and white paint to grass, flowers everywhere, banners, ribbons, new paint on everything and decorations EVERYWHERE. It really is almost unrecognizable, lol. But I am excited to see what is actually happening next week when the Princess comes. =D It is such a big deal here and each of the members of the royal family has a special color assigned to them. The King is yellow, the the Queen is dark blue and this Princess is purple. But because she is purple, there is purple everywhere you look. I will take pictures and post them up on the flickr site.

I hope that everyone in the States and other Christmas-celebrating countries has a wonderful Christmas! And to everyone, a Happy New Year! =D Here, Christmas will just be the exchange students doing a small gift exchange and I am happy that it won’t be a big deal actually. I am sending my love and smiles to everyone in Florida! And as always, thank you Rotary for this awesome opportunity that is enabling me to become the best me that I can be, for giving me a chance to see everything through new eyes. =D

January 27 Journal

I keep experiencing deeper levels of comfortableness here. And I think naively every time that it can’t get more comfortable, that I have reached the zenith, but I have not.

As January comes to a swift close I don’t know where my month went. I changed to my second host family lest week and to be perfectly honest, I was worried. But as soon as I got here I realized that I love this family too, I mean I still have a special connection to my first host family because, well, they were my first and I stayed there for almost 6 months. However, I am doing very well at this house, I love my room and my mom is so sweet, this family is very different from my first, where they live, how they operate, their schedules etc., but I like it.

Things seem like they are getting smooth, my understanding of Thai is getting smoother (listening to fast conversations or instructions - I still have a hard time when people mumble or talk very softly but hey, I have the same problem in English sometimes) I can read lips sometimes even. I feel like while life is getting a little bit more lazy, that it is making things smoother, haha, that doesn’t make much sense. It might be the rain that is making things temporarily this way though. We have recently had a week of unexpected rain, the weather has been so crazy here lately. It is supposed to be the cold season from November to the end of February, however, we have not seen a drop in temperatures until about two weeks ago where it only dropped to about 60 or 65 degrees F. And then it started raining for almost a week straight when we aren’t supposed to see rain again until June, when the rainy season starts. I was excited to see the rain at first because I honestly missed it, but now I am aching for a little sunshine (but as soon as the sun comes back I know I will be cursing it haha.)

Christmas and New Year’s here was great. On Christmas I received a package from my sponsor club in the States (THANK YOU BARTRAM TRAIL ROTARY CLUB!) and it was awesome to receive little pieces of home. =D I also received a package from my friends and family that had a few needed items as well as a few Christmas tree branches. This was one of the best things I received, it smelled (and still smells a month later) so, so awesome! I passed out little pieces of it at school, to teachers, students, my family and let them smell what a real Christmas tree smells like, because they do not have evergreens in Thailand. So that was awesome, and then my exchange student friends and I took turns just smelling the branches all day haha. This is also the first time that I have been to school on Christmas day, and that was pretty interesting. For Christmas dinner we went and found a real Italian restraint and ate real pizza, which was almost a Christmas miracle itself. =D And after that we went dancing, the first time I have gone dancing on Christmas as well, but it was so much fun.

For New Years Eve we all went to the new big mall, Central Plaza, and watched the count-down from there. Our New Year started 12 hours before the New Year in Florida though. =D After the count-down we all went to a hip-hop party that a friend was having and we danced and watched rap battles and dance-offs until the sun came up. We then went home and crashed, later I went with my family to visit older relatives for New Year’s Day and receive their blessing for a healthy and prosperous new year.

One thing that I do miss is public affection, even just hugs to family members. If it was socially acceptable to, I would just lay my head on my mom’s shoulder at a restaurant or give my little brother a hug because he is just so cute sometimes. I feel a part of the family enough to do these things, like I would in the states. But showing affection here is something that is reserved for behind closed doors. I mean it’s ok, that is culture, but sometimes I just have these thoughts and then I have to remind myself. =D

Also, I reached a new level of family-membership the other day. My first host mom told me that her web-cam was broken so that she could use it but the person on the other end couldn’t see her clearly. And I immediately thought, “Mental note, pick up a web-cam next time you are on that side of town.” Then I stopped myself and thought, “Holy cow, this is something I would do for my family in Florida and here I am in Thailand being a real daughter, cool!” I didn’t want to buy the web-cam because I thought it would make them like me more, or because I thought I needed to pay them back for hosting me, I just saw a need and wanted to meet it because I am their daughter (don’t worry mom, I am still your daughter too, just the English speaking version). =D I love having moments like this though and as my 6 months left quickly turned into 5 months left I have realized that it is unfortunate that it takes almost the whole exchange to have frequent moments like these with host families and new friends. However, I have already made a plan to come back soon so the relationships formed will only have the chance to strengthen while I am in the States rather than weaken and fall away.

What else was it that I wanted to say? It might sound a little cliché but I have felt so much older and wiser lately. (I am of course still a little kid who loves to play and be silly sometimes…) but at the same time I feel like I am over-due to enter the world of adults (or at least the world of college). This year has already made me so much more prepared to live on my own, to manage my own money, to know how to schedule time and yet still have fun while doing all of these things. I came to the realization a couple of months back that if I can do all of these things in a language that is not my mother language, or a language that I have not entirely mastered yet, I can certainly do these things in English. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I am perfect at these things, but I am a lot more competent in them than I was before I came to Thailand. =D

On this note I would like to thank Rotary for this experience. And know that I do not just say this routinely, but as a real gesture of thanks because without you, none of this year, these relationships, or this maturity would have been possible. So thank you. Thank you mom and dad in Florida for financing this year and for your permission to go so far away for such a long period of time, I know that was not easy for you, but thank you! =D I have put new pictures up on my flickr site of our most recent adventures. Yours truly, อารีย์

March 8 Journal

During the month of February, every time that I looked at a calendar I got depressed. “God, when is it going to be over?” I kept thinking, I mean it is only 28 days. But I can’t exactly put my finger on why I kept thinking this. I’m not miserable, and I don’t want to leave by any means, I just found myself being very frustrated and always feeling not quite myself, whether that be pains or aches or just that weird feeling of hovering through existence. But now that it is early March already I want February back. I think that this is honestly the biggest Catch-22 I will ever experience. School ended last week for us and now we have a three month summer vacation (school will re-start the last week in May). And while this may sound awesome, it leaves such a big hole haha. I mean 8am-4pm everyday is free now… WOW! But the good thing about this is that I can come and chill with my first host family whenever I want and just talk with them about everything under the big-bright-hot-as-you-know-what sun. =D I really love them and while sometimes I do feel frustrated or just drained because of the heat, I really love Thailand, more than I can put into English at this point haha.

This month was pretty busy. It started out with a weekend of Regional Debates at KKU (the university in my city). It was fun, the debates were in English so we had a very unfair advantage but the people we were debating against and with were excited to be competing with us. And it made me really happy actually that we were far from winning at the end when the results came out. We were given topics that were about the area of Thailand that I am staying in, Issan. And this allowed the exchange students to learn a lot more about Thailand, Issan, politics and environmental issues here etc. But after two full days of debating, my head honestly hurt because of remembering English grammar and big words. =D It did however make me realize that I need to keep trying very hard to improve my Thai, because if I tried to do that in Thai, I would not have been able to get past the first issue. I mean, my Thai is okay… but it has just been okay for a while, it has been some time since it has grown much. I can explain my feelings and some other things more accurately in Thai than I can in English but I think that is just because Thai has more accurate descriptions for those things in general. Reading is also improving a little but it is so-so as well.

This year the Chinese New Year was in the same weekend as Valentine’s Day. That doesn’t usually happen but it was an interesting weekend because of it. For Chinese New Year, my family is half Chinese so we went to both of the Chinese Buddhist temples in the city. The first one we went to was SO crowded. What you did was you take a cooked chicken, duck and a piece of pork and put it on a table with a glass of whiskey, oranges and different Chinese sweets. You leave these here while you light incense and walk around the temple to all of the different shrines, kneeling or sitting on your haunches at each one and raise your incense between both hands to wai while making a wish, saying a prayer or hoping for good things. Some people even have chants, other times there are monks there in the temple already chanting. A VERY cool experience. After you place one stick of incense at each shrine until you have gone around the temple. Then you go back to the items you left and wai with each of those, three times each (three is a very significant number) and leave taking the items with you, throwing a paper type thing into a fire that is continuously going. We then went to the second temple and did the same thing, afterwards getting a picture taken with the dancing Chinese dragon. We then went home and I found out the next day that the food is then usually eaten, like a feast the next day by the family. And for the next few days you could hear fireworks going off every now and then, like you do when the 4th of July is getting near. Also that weekend, on Valentine’s Day, we went to a family reunion. It was my second host mom’s extended family all at my aunt’s house. There were 40 people there and all of them were wearing matching pink T-shirts that said “<3 r-ma” basically meaning “we love grandma”. The elderly, like in many (especially Asian) cultures are still very, very respected here. There was 4 generations there and it was kind of neat to see how everyone interacted together and to try to figure out who was whose kid and whose brother or sister etc. =)

We were invited to go to a Thai wedding this month as well. And as it turns out it was not the real wedding, it was only the engagement ceremony, but it took 3 or 4 hours. We had to dress in the traditional Thai style for this kind of engagement and wow, you need to see pictures of this. I felt like a fairy-godmother-pirate with a silk skirt, it was close to impossible to move in the thing haha. But hey it was fun to play dress up for a while and take a ton of pictures. We even got money for being there because it is Chinese tradition to give money to family (like the kids) at New Year and also to guests at weddings, and it was both! The groom-to-be was from Shanghai, China and the bride-to-be was Thai but they met in England while they were both studying there… whoa. He couldn’t speak any Thai and they will be living in Shanghai but it was cute.

In the past two weeks, another exchange student came to visit our group in Khon Kaen; she is from Spain and is staying in Bangkok and her name is Catuxa. By the second or third day that I hung out with her I really felt that I had found another long-lost twin. It is really eerie but we totally clicked and we are SO the same! So I have yet another place to visit: Brazil, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Thailand (again of course) and now Spain! She left to go back to Bangkok the other day but I will definitely make some time to go visit her and she is coming back to Khon Kaen once again too. We both got our hair braided, a few corn-rows on one side and left the rest down and it’s awesome. We also both have a LOVE for cooking and learning new things to cook, we both love to be ridiculous and joke about everything. And she just has one of those personalities that you can’t be upset around. As soon as you get around her you can’t help but just feel so happy and excited for life. She is truly an amazing person and friend and I am so glad that I met her.

This past weekend we had a District Conference for district 3340. I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I didn’t know what to expect really. (I just thought of endless meetings that I only half understood…) But it ended up being one of the best weekends I have had in a very long time. I got to see Twang, my Thai friend who was an exchange student at Bartram last year, and hang out with her, which was really really great. I also got to meet and actually get to know the other exchange students in my district and I am so excited to be going on the trip with the ones that I met later this month. One of the most exciting things that happened this weekend though is that one of the outbounds for next year from my club here, is going to FLORIDA!!! I cannot wait to see which district she is in and it will be sooo exciting to visit her while she is there and speak Thai with her and everything! =D

The conference really taught me to not judge people before really getting to know them and also to be tolerant of the people that you figure out you don’t like after getting to know them. Thailand has made me very verbal in the way that I feel and just speaking my mind, because a lot of the time people around don’t understand the English that you use. But being around other English speakers made me realize again that I can’t just say whatever I want whenever I want because it can very easily create sticky situations. (I am glad that I came to this realization before going back to the States.) The inbounds and outbounds from my club in Khon Kaen did a traditional Thai-Isaan style dance. We have been practicing everyday for two weeks and it was a lot of fun despite the moments that we didn’t really want to go to practice. I will hopefully be able to put up the video online soon. We dressed in the traditional Thai style and had about 3 pounds of make-up put on our faces, along with a lot of glitter. And the best part is that you dance with no shoes on, so there is no fear of falling or tripping or anything in complicated shoes.

At school, before it ended we were doing a lot of extra cooking classes with our teacher because she knew that our friends would be studying for exams and everything. It is so exciting for me though because I have learned and written down how to cook a lot of different Thai dishes like green curry, a traditional Thai soup, Thai desserts and a lot of other things that don’t really have English names. =D This weekend I ate a fried cricket and a red ant egg-filled omelet. The cricket tasted not bad, but not good enough to eat another one, somewhat similar to an old moldy potato chip I would say. And the omelet was good until you found out what was in it and then it was good as long as you tried not to think about what you were eating haha. The actual red ant eggs were white and oval in shape, about as big as half a pinky-finger nail.

The other day was a special Buddhist holiday here called We-sha Ka-buu Cha (rien tien). It was really cool actually because what we did was go to the biggest temple in our city and take incense, a lotus flower that hadn’t yet opened, a special candle and light the candle and the incense, walking around the temple three times. And while you walk, you think good thoughts, wishes for well-being for yourself, others etc. And the whole time you are walking you are surrounded by so-many other people, the monks in the temple are chanting and the environment it creates is really quite surreal. What you want to do is close your eyes, wai and let your mind wander without you controlling where it goes, letting it explore things that it hasn’t yet known exist. I don’t know, I probably sound crazy or “too-western minded” but it is as awesome as it is hard to explain. You leave the temple feeling peaceful though. I do enjoy going to temple here and I only wish that I could know about it at a deeper level that I don’t think is reachable with my current vocabulary.

The heat makes you feel alive in ways that I can’t describe. I mean yeah sure, sometimes you feel like you are going to faint because it is so hot, but it’s got something almost magical to it. As North Americans we would read a book about someone who lived in the Tropics and constantly and predictably think every time that the people in the book were “less” than we were because they didn’t use air-conditioning, because they just sat in the heat that was so overwhelming all they could do was sweat, talk, sleep and sweat some more. But this kind of heat and this kind of environment really makes you think, gives you the time to think and I think that it inspires you. It drains your physical energy but it at least makes you contemplate?

April 16 Journal

Well, I officially have just about two months left here. It is such a weird thought, don’t get me wrong I do love it here but at the same time I am so ready to be home too. I just got back to my city the other day from traveling in the south of Thailand with my family from the States. It was awesome in too many ways to count! I went and picked up my parents and my little brother in Bangkok, it was so surreal to see them again, especially here in Thailand. My brother is no longer “little”, he is still three years younger than I am but he is taller than my dad and has a bit of a beard going, haha. And mom and dad, well they were still mom and dad. =D We spent a day in BKK and then we all took a bus to a town in the south called Krabi. And the whole time I had to keep reminding myself that they couldn’t really understand what was going on around them like I could. It felt weird to have them depend on me, but at the same time I was so glad that I could be that person instead of them getting a tour guide or something. It is kind of a difficult concept to explain I guess. And my brother and I grew so much closer over the 10 days that they were here, we just sat and talked and talked and talked about so many things; me really feeling like the big sister finally taking up her role and being able to relate with school and life and friends. Cool really.

So we went to the south and stayed about 300 yards from the beach. I know that isn’t exactly a change of scenery for my family because we are from Florida but I haven’t seen the beach in over eight months, plus the beach in Thailand is so, unexplainably beautiful! We went SCUBA diving near Phe-Phe Island and we saw turtles, anemones with their clown-fish inhabitants, lion fish, and so many other things that I never even knew existed! It was really a great experience, and our dive guide was Thai so that made it cool that he could speak Thai to me about diving and English to my family, or I could translate if he didn’t feel like repeating information. We hung around the beach and went shopping in all the cute little shops, I took my family to eat Thai food until they were asking me if we could “please eat Italian or something else tonight?” haha. =D I had brought my computer too so that I could show them all of my pictures from this year so far and that was fun, just showing them everything and answering all of their questions. It was also pretty unique to warn them of the differences in social culture here; tell them about monks, all of the formalities but at the same time explain to them how relaxed and “sabai” everything is here and how genuinely nice and helpful Thai people are.

Earlier this month, my school had its prom. I didn’t know that Thai high schools had a prom, but it is much, much different from the prom that high-school students in the States know. First of all, the prom here is only for graduating seniors and their guests (dates), and second it is more of a sit and socialize and take pictures event. There is music but there is no dancing, well they did have a couple of groups do cover-dances of some Korean hip-hop songs but that was an organized competition. They do have a theme though, like in the States, but here people actually try really hard to match the theme. This year it was the color pink, and one of my friends borrowed a pair of hot-pink skinny jeans from his mom, found a hot-pink button up shirt and pulled it all together with a pair of hot-pink sneakers. It was the best outfit there and all I could do was congratulate him on his creativeness (and on his ability to wear his mom’s pants haha). =D And while I was so glad to have the opportunity to go to prom in Thailand, at one point I was sitting at a table just watching all of my classmates and friends up and around chatting and having the time of their lives. It made me really think, not that I don’t belong, but that I was glad that at that moment I was just sitting back and watching. Because this was THEIR moment. They have just graduated high-school, they are getting ready to move off in all different directions and they deserve this, they need this, unadulterated just to congratulate each other on a job well done and bask in their moment. I know how that feels, I graduated last May and I was reminded of that joy of accomplishment and freedom. I can honestly say that those moments were some of the happiest moments I have had in Thailand, just watching their excitement and their happiness bounce around the room in various shades of the color pink.

The weather right now is in the height of the hot season, above 100 Fahrenheit everyday, around 42 Celsius the other day even, whoa! I am just grateful for cold showers, rooms that do have A/C, water-water-water, and baby powder. =D

One thing that we did this month also was go fishing, but this was not your average get a pole and some worms and go to the river, fishing. We went mud-fishing, with our hands! It was one of my top ten experiences in Thailand so far. And I have never, ever been that dirty in my entire life. All of the inbounds this year and the outbounds for next year went (about eight or nine kids) and at first all of us were a little hesitant because we had not been told that this was the method we were going to use to catch fish. We pull up to this huge mud hole, almost as big as a football field that was about as deep as your upper-torso at the deepest point, mostly the mud just came up to your hips or waist. But we all get out of the car, take off our shoes and walk hesitantly down to the mud, and no one really wants to get in except for me haha. =D So I decide to go for it and I start to walk in, by my third step I was stuck in thick muck up to my waist, the only way to get out and get to the middle of the mud pond was to crawl on my hands and my knees, like they do in those army movies. Just thinking back on it I am chuckling, everyone was watching and I was laughing so hard that I was just getting more stuck. We ended up catching a few fish too small to cook, but some guys who were also out there (who do this for a living) helped us out and we cooked up some pretty large ones and it made a tasty lunch! We went swimming in the river afterward to get at least some of the mud off of us, but I know I took more than one long-long shower when I got home that day. =D

The other day, there was a funeral. The grandmother of one of the members of our Rotary club had passed away and our club, including the exchange students, went to be there for her. I did not know the woman who had passed away so I felt a little out of place there, but Thai funerals are very different from North American funerals. To start with, there is more than one ceremony or event to attend. Since Thailand is a Buddhist country most bodies are cremated, but before they can be cremated, the family and friends of the deceased have to pray over the body and insure that they will have a favorable re-incarnation. So the exchange students and I just sat and observed, there was the usual chants and incense and I wish that I was able to understand it but not even the Thai people do. When they chant, they chant in an older language called Pali, which to be honest a lot of scholars do not even understand. This is the first day, everyone gathers afterward to eat together and visit with each other. And the second part is a few days later. The second part is much like the first except that the people who came to the funeral go and give offerings and pay respect to the family while the monks are doing the chants. There are large wreaths of flowers everywhere, donated by different people and businesses and again, after the ceremonial part everyone gathers together to eat. Thai funerals are a very unemotional event. Death in Thailand is not mourned publicly like it is in other places, death is more of a matter-of-fact thing in which everyone understands that when you get to a certain stage in life, you die. When Thais mourn their loved ones, they do so in private so as not to affect others in a negative way.

Recently in Bangkok, I am sure that some of you have heard about the “Red Shirt” Party and their political protests. I would like to explain what is going on for those of you who don’t know and also those of you who already have heard about it because there is no room for hyped-up information. Everything right now is going fine, there is no reason to worry about anything because as of now the situation is still very peaceful. What has been going on is that the red party has been protesting and peacefully demonstrating in Bangkok since early March against the current political “yellow” party. The red party is a party originated from my area of NorthEast Thailand (also known as Issan) and they are backed my a man named Thaksin who was banned from the country by a military coup (led by the yellow party) in 2006. So Thaksin runs the red party from outside of the country and is currently the Minister of Finance for the Cambodian government. The red party is calling for a re-election, they “stand for” democracy and want their fair shot at a chance for political power. However, the demonstrations that the red party have been placing have been getting slightly more serious as of late, for example; the red party got a lot of their people to donate blood (some of the donators were even bribed to make their contributions) and the party then obtained fire trucks and sprayed the blood all over the Parliament building and the Prime Minister‘s house. Even this was considered peaceful (although quite disgusting) up until the other day when the red party forcefully broke through the gates and into the Parliament building. After this happened the Thai Government officially declared a State of Emergency in the Bangkok and surrounding areas. Things have semi-settled down within the past week but for a while there was fighting. A few days after the State of Emergency was declared there was fighting between the troops and the red party in which 21 people died and over 840 were injured. Currently there has not been any other “big-news” though.

From April 13th-15th was the national holiday of Songkran Festival. This is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday in Thailand all year long. It is the celebration of the Thai New Year and the reason for its un-paralleled popularity is because for three days straight people stop working, close shop, head to their home cities and go into the street to throw water all over each other! It is honestly the most fun holiday that I have EVER experienced, better than Christmas, your birthday, the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day combined. No Joke. Three days before Songkran even began you would be walking down the street or riding open-air public transportation and you would all of a sudden be soaking wet with water, only to realize that people had started throwing buckets of water into the streets early. =D But once Songkran began, wow, I don’t even know how to describe it really. All I can say is that it was literally a party in the streets for three days and three nights with no breaks. People set up huge metal drums of water in front of their houses or in the back of pick-up trucks to hold water in so that one could easily dip a bucket in and throw endless amounts of water on perfect strangers. It sounds kind of crazy to the western world I think but it is sooo much fun and after your first encounter with a splash of water, it is impossible to wipe that toothy grin off of your face.

So what we did was get in the back of our family’s pick-up truck with all of my little brother’s friends and ride around town, through the streets with all of the other pick-up trucks throwing buckets of water at the other trucks or at the people out in front of their houses, especially on people who were still dry or had already dried off. =D At one point we bought huge blocks of ice to put into our drums of water so that when we splashed people, or squirted them with water guns it would feel similar to taking a shower in an igloo.

Another key part of Songkran is baby-powder. It is a tradition that started with baking flour back when there was no such thing as baby-powder, and what you do is you smear it on your face and the faces of everyone around you. And it’s not uncommon for you to be walking down the street and someone you have never seen before in your life walks up to you and smears a handful of baby-powder on both sides of your face while wishing you a Happy New Year. It is shocking at first, especially when you have been in a country where public displays of affection (ie: hand holding, kissing, hugging, etc) even between friends and family is semi-frowned upon, but after the first day of Songkran one gets used to it. We got home at night and were completely exhausted but still so excited and energized, covered from head to toe in white baby-powder and soaked to the bone with water. You shower, eat, go to sleep, wake up the next day and do it again!

This description does not even do the holiday justice, I had it described to me so many times by former exchange students and Thais but I never expected it to be what it was. I know that I want to come back for next year and I have already planned that if I cannot, I will be celebrating Songkran in Florida some way or another. ;)

I would like to thank Rotary International, Rotary Youth Exchange Florida, and Rotary Thailand for the absolutely amazing year and opportunities that I have had and am having during my exchange to this wonderful country. Thank you for making this exchange possible and for continuing to give other students the same opportunities. I am about to go on a trip sponsored by my host district here in Thailand for two weeks and I cannot wait to see what is in store for me and the other exchanges that will be attending. After that I will be moving back to my first host family (YAYYY!!!) and shortly there-after school will be starting up again. Time really does fly, it only seems like a couple of weeks ago that I was marveling that I had already made it 10 weeks in my new country and I couldn’t fathom having nine more months to go… but here I am, nine months down and around 10 weeks to go and I cannot grasp where all that time went! To my family and friends at home, just two more months. =D To everyone else here in Thailand, I am trying not to think about the tiny amount of time I have left here, but I plan to make the most of it. So watch out Thailand, here I come, you can call me อารีย์ because that is my name.

May 18 Journal

Every host family needs to take their exchange student on a short trip in the beginning, middle and end of their exchange without any other exchange students. I am grateful that I am getting this opportunity but at the same time, I wish one like it had come sooner and made me realize sooner (help me to compare those parts of my exchange and the stages of my relationships) that I am not an exchange student but I am their daughter, their sister, and that it is real. I feel like I have been in this family, not from birth, but from adoption as such a small child that I cannot remember a time before this. I really love my family and this is almost more home to me than Florida. I do not want to leave this nest, I am not ready to fly on my own again but I realize the necessity of it so I must just walk to the edge, close my eyes and go for it.

That being said, yes, I am back at my first host family. Times now since I have been back have been my most happy moments of this whole exchange year. While everything is getting so busy with realizing all that I have yet to accomplish in the remaining month, I can come home and sit with my mom and just be at peace. I can smile and we can go to the temple and I can momentarily forget that I have to leave here so soon. I am still so torn when I remember the time left, I miss Florida, my friends, family, but I do not want to leave Thailand. I want to smush the best of both worlds together. Like a little kid who takes two Oreos, pulls them apart and then sticks the two halves that still have the cream attached together, creating a super-stuffed Oreo! Unfortunately though, Florida and Thailand are not Oreos and thus, that is not possible… =(

I would love to tell you all about my adventures on the Rotary trip that I took last month after Songkran, but right now I feel like it would be too much to put into this journal. I have to save some of my stories to tell when I get home, right? =) In a nutshell though, it was fantastic! It was great to meet all of the other exchange students again and really get to know them this time, to spend two weeks with them and get close to some and stay acquaintances with others. I really love that group and we had an awesome time making memories as we went through Koh Chang, Chantaburi, Koh Samet, Pattaya, Amphur Wha, Ahyuttaya, and Bangkok. And we did everything from snorkeling to temples to a lady-boy show haha. =) I have A LOT of pictures up on the flickr site that you can look through and the beach was sooo gorgeous, I cannot wait to go back.

I was actually invited to go with my host family next week and I am more than excited about that. I just got back from a trip to Bangkok with just my mom, dad and little brother. It was great, we only spent three days there and we picked up the new car but we also went to see Wat Pak Gaeo (The Grand Palace) and The Temple of the Golden Mount. We went shopping until we were all hot, exhausted and ready to go home, lol. And I love my exchange student friends here in Khon Kaen but it was awesome beyond explanation to be with my family without them around. This is the first time I have done something like that besides the everyday routine at home. And it give time for reflection, to learn more Thai (because there are not people speaking English to you all the time). So I am very excited to go with my mom and my grandma to the south again and just spend time with them. =) I had such a ridiculous smile on my face this whole weekend because of the time that I was able to spend with my family just as their daughter and there were so many moments that my eyes were open to that just confirmed to me that that is what I am. Also, when we drove into Khon Kaen last night I just kept thinking, “I’m home! We’re home! Ahh, home, home home!” =) As a family we were home.

Something that I have learned in the past month though is that it is good to be a careful and worried person sometimes. You give a soft impression and don’t step on too many peoples toes at the same time. And when you are just being serene and cautious (not a push-over) it actually gets you far because it lets people open themselves towards you and that in turn enables them to start forming the bonds of love and real relationship, bonds that lasts. Thailand has taught me, just go with the flow, things will work themselves out… but at the same time do not let yourself be taken advantage of.

I do apologize for the choppiness and the non-relatedness of this journal but this is how my brain has been working lately. I hope that it makes at least some sense and isn’t too “all over the place”. I did have a thought the other day though that it is quite unfortunate and angering that I am just getting to the point of reading more efficiently and now I have to leave. I know that it will slowly dissipate, just like my speech abilities, but perhaps there is a way I can practice that as well until I come back (which will hopefully be soon!) I want to thank everyone again who was, is, and will be involved in RYE. You are helping to change lives and also to sincerely change the world through it. You may not see these changes but your students and the people that they meet will know, there is something different about that girl/boy. Perhaps like some conversations I have had, people have changed their perceptions of America drastically, realizing it is not how Hollywood and reality TV make it out to be. That people who live there are made out of the same flesh and bone as they are, the only difference being that the idiots of our society are usually the ones who are the unofficial international representatives, watch out the world is watching.

I have a Thai heart. There is a pride that runs through the blood in my bones, a pride different from the average teenage pride, a pride much different than “American” pride. This is the pride of being not only Thai but essentially of being Issan too. Of finally becoming one of my people! As I write this I feel sad because as much as I feel this in my heart, people here and in the States as well see me and think the exact opposite. Yes, I am a “foreigner” who can eat spicy food, but it is more than that. They will never be able to see that I see things and feel with the same limbs that they do. That I yearn for the chance to help in the rice fields at least once because I know now what a special, honored task that really is. And again, writing this, knowing that you who speak English will read it, I know that I am already judged. Even the Western part of my brain is screaming at me, “What are you typing, are you crazy?” Because (no offense) most western-born people cannot understand this and these yearnings of my heart. Like why I want to live in a little apartment in Bangkok, continue my travels around the world, spend at least a year in India, and be fiercely independent while at the same time being hopelessly dependent, with my blue eyes wide open to the world and its people. I may sound absurd but I do not apologize, I was going to but then I realized that not only did this need to be spoken but it needed to be read as well.