Emily Richards
2010-11 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nakhon Phanom Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Emily's Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

Emily's Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon :) When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping :) It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai :) if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai :) that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me :) We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine :) I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me :)

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister :)

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too... guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out "hello" usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying :)

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you're are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.