Jennefer Neolan
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach HS
Sponsor: Pompano Beach Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Ban Phaeo Rotary Club, District 3330, Thailand

Jennefer's Bio

Sawatdee kha! My name is Jennefer Neolan and luckily I’ve been selected to represent Rotary in Thailand! I’m VERY excited and especially grateful to have this opportunity so before I continue I must say thank you Rotary!

I am currently a fifteen year old straight A sophomore at Pompano Beach High School and will be a junior on my year-abroad. I’ve lived in the same house in Pompano Beach my whole life and ever since I can remember I’ve been interested in the world and its citizens around me; I’ve wondered how their lives differ from my own and how it would feel to be in their shoes. I knew from early on that the only way to discover the answer to my dilemma was to experience those people’s lives directly; this is when I decided to become an exchange student. As soon as high school came around, I immediately inquired about becoming an exchange student and Rotary appeared before my very eyes!

This adventure shall be the biggest of my life so far. The only place I’ve been to outside of the U.S. is Canada and it was only for four days with my family. I can’t thank the members of Rotary enough for not only accepting me into the program but also for giving me one of my top choices! Thailand, here I come!

Jennefer's Journals

August 29 Journal

Ah! Where to begin?? I guess at the airport! :P I left the 18th of August surrounded by my family. I waved goodbye for the last time, not truly realizing I wouldn’t see them for a WHOLE year! I still can’t! From Miami to Washington, from Washington to Narita, Japan (SOOOOOOOOOOOO long!), and finally from Japan to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

When I arrived at the “Meeting Point” at 11 pm on the 19th, I saw the welcoming committee! Bob and Sami, my new parents, members from the Rotary Club of Ban Phaeo, and a soon to be Outbound from Thailand headed to Germany. I felt so loved!!

We went out for dinner (really late dinner!) at a supposedly Thai version of “Denny’s”. Rice with duck, fried fish (the best for me!), and even chicken feet! I’m still too American to try it! We then continued to my new home. It’s so beautiful and peaceful! There’s a khlong (canal) in the back and it runs through the whole farmland. It’s a nice change from Pompano Beach!

Some time after my arrival we went to the market. So many smells (both good and bad) and goods can be found there. It was something I could never imagine. On the 24th I went to school. It was crazy!! I had to make a speech in Thai in front of the whole student body wearing a rather spiffy uniform. I was nervous but the students all applauded and giggled when I repeated it in English. When I walk in the halls I always hear “Jennefer! Jennefer! Hello!” I still don’t understand their “fascination”. My friend doesn’t either! She said she’s been going to that school for four years and no one ever calls her name. I come for four days and everyone’s calling mine! I don’t speak even 1% of the Thai language yet but I have made many friends already. I hope that soon I can understand what everyone around me is saying but even now I’m not too sure I can speak this tonal language. It sounds impossible to truly master. I guess we’ll have to see!

I guess that’s it for now! Time for lunch! Watdee! Bye Bye!

September 29 Journal

The heat has subsided, the sounds are like a flowing river, and I finally can say “I am Thai”.

YEAH RIGHT! It’s still hot, I still can’t speak Thai besides the basic “sawatdee” and “mai kao jai”, and I still don’t act like a Thai! Of course, it’s only been a little over a month. Still, it feels like I haven’t made enough progress on this journey, both in reaching a peak in my maturity and in embedding myself into this wonderful and unique culture. Patience is truly a virtue…

ANYWAYS! Besides the whole language thing I’ve been making a LOT of good memories here. Along with the multiple trips to various markets in the area and visits with friends and family, I’ve been a witness to indescribable beauty. There is a park here which seems to have an ancient yet vibrant soul to it. It was made for the pleasure of the Buddhist monks here in Thailand. As if the mere size of the park and arrangement of the trees and flowers weren’t enough to wow you, there are several monuments reflecting the age and concept of Buddhism. My personal favorite is the Standing Buddha Image. As soon as it revealed itself from behind the trees, I was stunned. Besides its sheer size as it stands at over 50 feet tall, the knowledge of life and its marvels illuminates from the seemingly flowing robes of Buddha. Eyes cast down, palm outstretched, and foot extended, Buddha is truly at peace.

Another favorite of mine was the Hall of the Marble Pali Canon. The Buddhist “Bible” is engraved in marble tablets and spread out around the statue of the first abbot to ever reside in the park. Painted on the ceiling above the tablets is the story of Buddhism and its existence in Thailand. At the very end of the marble building, behind the last “page” of the path to Nirvana, is a scene even beyond those of National Geographic. It is the peace reached at the end of death, it is heaven.

After that breathtaking journey, I made my appearance at none other than the infamous Bangkok! It certainly holds a different kind of beauty, one exuding an aura more adept to that of a mindful child rather than an inspiring elder. It is new, playful, and crowded with thoughts of adventure and mischief. Yet it knows its place and acts accordingly, not mistaking its privileges for the freedom to forget traditions. The shopping there is fun! It’s more like sightseeing for me, seeing supposed fashion statements and seaweed flavored ice cream.^^ Ah! Thailand! I also went to the Prommit Film Studio in Ratchaburi with my fourth host family. Of course it was touristy but it was fun to be with my soon-to-be family. Later we went to a Rotary dinner on a sea side restaurant where I had something I never thought I would try in over a million years, fried frog legs! I hate to say it, but it tasted just like chicken! Aroi mak mak!

This afternoon, I learned a bit about meditation and even tried it with my host mother’s sister who is a fully ordained monk. She said that meditation is used to control the monkey, our mind, which usually jumps from one thought to the next, and allows it to concentrate on one point. She even said a well trained mind can read and control other minds! I’m gonna have to see that one for myself!

Now I am out of school until the 26th of October since here the semester has ended. Maybe I can learn enough Thai to understand at least 30% of my friends’ conversations by the time I come back. I doubt it though! This week I’m going to Chiangrai and Chiangmai with my school for five days, visiting Wats and monuments in the north of Thailand. I’ll write all about it when I come back! As for now, my bed awaits me! TTFN! Tata for now!

November 4 Journal

Thailand is the best country in the world. Whether in the jungle or the seas or even the mountains, there is always something extraordinary waiting to change your life.

I began this month with an amazing trip to two cities in the Northern part of Thailand, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. The breeze alone could have made my trip remarkable but the temples were stunning. My favorite had to be the one that we unfortunately spent the least amount of time in (15 minutes to be precise). It was constructed twenty years ago by an art teacher and the result was so remarkable the king of Thailand came to its official opening. It was constructed with cement to provide a pure backdrop for its shards of glass. In the daytime, the buildings sparkle in the sun and at night they glow with the stars. So beautiful!

After the quick visits to several temples and a whole lot of shopping, I returned home only to leave again several days later to drive in the other direction, to the South. This trip was the infamous Rotary trip to the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket. All the YE, a total of 18 students, in district 3330, which includes the central and southern parts of Thailand, went. The students who reside in the central part, including myself, traveled by bus. Great fun! Once we arrived some twelve hours later we met up with our hosts that would house us for our stay. That night we met up with the other YE students and were told about the origins of the festival, its rules, and a quick overview of Chinese history since the festival is Chinese. We then saw a performance dedicated to the purpose of the festival at the shrine. The young lion and old dragon puppets were so cute!

We traveled around Phuket and visited several islands such as P.P. Island and James Bond Island. We went snorkeling, where I had a mini panic attack since I can’t swim, kayaking in caves, walking along the beaches, where I then learned how to doggy paddle^^, and best of all shopping! The best part for me was definitely the Phuket FantaSea Theme Park and Show. The show incorporated pyrotechnics and several animals such as elephants and doves to tell the Thai version of the creation of the earth and human civilization. A must see! The theme park was also enjoyable. The characters were colorful and the merchandise was especially cute. Not to mention the fact that there were elephants and a baby tiger!

All in all what made the trip was not only the excursions but the interactions between the RYE students. It was entertaining to see the similarities and differences with our adaptation to and views of the Thai culture. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

After returning from Phuket I had a pre-wedding and wedding party to attend. Lots of food and lots of singing! The best!

The 2nd of November was a holiday for the Thai people called Loi Kratong. Loi is “to float” and Kratong is a leaf cup. At night, usually after midnight, people float their usually handmade Kratongs on the rivers or sea to give thanks to the river for being calm and helping to water crops and provide water to drink and such. The Kratongs are usually made of banana leafs which the fish can later eat and topped with candles to light its way on its journey. They look beautiful when they are all in the water. There are also several parties and festivals to explore. I went on a boat with my family up and down the rivers. We also stop at a party near our home. So much fun! So much food!^^ I now officially love Loi Kratong!

Now, I’m back in school as the month long school break has ended and still having fun. Not learning much math and science, at all, but having fun! My language skills still aren’t the best but they are definitely improving. Now if the internet could just giddy up I think everything would be perfect! Till next time, สวัสดีค่ะ!

January 19 Journal

This journal marks the beginning of my favorite season, winter, here in Thailand! Although considerably warmer than your average snowy Santa scene, the weather here is akin to that of Florida’s, save the fact that it is a bit shorter in length and sporadic in the frequency of temperature drops. Nevertheless, it is a major improvement from the average day of inevitable heatstroke.

The month of November began with the infamous Thai holiday Loi Kratong. In the Thai language, “loi” translates as “to float” while a kratong is a circular object usually created with banana leafs and decorated with candles and flowers in various designs. During this festival, people place these usually handmade kratongs in the numerous klongs, or rivers, that flow throughout this country in order to appease what they believe to be the goddess of the seas that both created and maintain this wonderful nation. Accompanying this ceremony are usually festivities such as dancing, singing, rides, and the most frequent actions of the Thai people, eating! These all take place in the night close to midnight. I luckily was able to witness all of these events (and more) riding on the wings of the river goddess or, in simplified terms, my uncle’s boat. We, meaning my host father, mother, uncle, and two aunts, traveled the length of the major artery of our small town, stopping at the gala held in the marketplace every year. After stuffing ourselves with grilled skewered pork and vanilla ice cream and watching the featured beauty contest (which my friend won!), we continued on our heavenly passage, passing through the darkness and trials of life, catching glimpses of a pure existence illuminated by candle light, before returning to our starting point in the sinful yet awe-inspiring world of humanity. We then sent our own slivers of appreciation to the deity of the river before concluding our night.

The following week, I had the experience of a lifetime. I was able to speak with a head monk of Buddhism. His very manner, although expected, was still amazing to witness in practice. The calm that overwhelmed his being and reason for existence and knowledge on the broad subjects of humanity and religious matters was apparent from first glance. And when he spoke, all stopped to listen in hopes of catching a glimpse into the world of wisdom. It was an unforgettable event.

On the 29th of November I changed households, moving to a family with four immediate members and one extended member living in the house. I had one younger sister, aged 15 years, and one younger brother, aged 11 years, along with a mother and father. Unfortunately, I was unable to continue my intended three month length of stay for various reasons and have since moved on to my third host family, whom I absolutely adore! I have two older siblings, one of both genders both aged nineteen years, and three younger siblings, two boys aged twelve and ten years and one girl aged fifteen years. The general attitude of this large family is one of high spirits and vivacious energy.

Thus after traveling to Chiangmai once more, Bangkok multiple times, and parties dozens of times, one of which allowed me to wear a beautiful gold and crème traditional Thai dress, the year of 2009 has left me without an ounce of energy. So I bid farewell to that year filled with mystery and curiosity, amazement and wonder, love and satisfaction, and I welcome the New Year with open arms, ready and waiting.