Amber Herrle
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Tallahassee Southside Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nonthaburi, District 3350, Thailand

Amber's Bio

Three weeks ago, I found out that I’ll be spending my sophomore year in Thailand. I can’t really describe to you what it actually feels like to say those words; it’s kind of like an inverted Sour Patch Kids gummy. At first, it’s sweet, oh, so so sweet; you imagine all the food, the new culture that you’re going to be immersed into, and all the new people you’ll meet. Then it turns a little sour, but not very sour, just sour enough to remind you of everything you’ll be leaving behind for that year abroad: your friends, family and the comfort of the English language. Next, it turns to the anxious feeling you get when you first get the package of gummies, that, “oh my goodness, I can’t wait to experience this” feeling… and that’s how I would sum up my feelings about this experience in four sentences.

ÊÇÑÊ´Õ¤! I’m Amber. I’m a loud, outgoing, curly haired red-head, with a lot of enthusiasm for weird things. My parents are divorced and I split my time up evenly between both households. I can only describe my family by telling you that they are absolutely amazing. I’m fifteen years old and I go to Leon High School in Tallahassee. My favorite color is yellow, because it’s bright and happy; just like the sun.  I like climbing trees and looking at the stars, but not at the same time, because I’m a little klutzy and I know that I’ll fall out of a tree if I climb it at night. I like going on adventures and doing weird things. Dance is a huge part of my life, it always has been and it will probably always be.

Why Thailand? I swear, I’ve answered this question at least once a day since I found out my country. You would think that I would have come up with a really good, solid reason of why I want to go to Thailand, a reason that I had memorized so well, I could say it in my sleep; but in fact, it’s the exact opposite of that. I say a different reason every time someone asks me this question because I just have too many reasons of why I want to go to Thailand.

I can’t express to you how much this opportunity really means to me. An opportunity like this is a huge undertaking, but I love challenges and I can’t wait to begin my year abroad. I want to thank all of the Rotarians that made it possible for all of the youth exchangers to go and thanks to my family and friends in always supporting me in what I do.

Amber's Journals

August 3

It's a rainy day in the sunshine state and I'm only 5 days away from my departure. It's a little wild isn't it? I've been waiting so long for this day to come, and now it's so close I can almost taste the Pad Thai. Ha. Ha.

With everyday, I struggle a little more with the reality that I'll be saying goodbye to my family and friends for an entire year. But with every new day I gain confidence in myself and my fellow exchange students because I know that this is truly our year to find ourselves and grow as young adults and I know that we're ready to rock it.

With every goodbye I've said, I get this weird, almost bitter sweet, feeling within me. Part of the feeling is pure ecstasy... I truly cannot explain to anyone just how excited I am for this upcoming year, to put it plainly: I.cannot.wait. Seriously. I can't. But there is also another part of the goodbye that is not so sweet, the sadness the engulfs your body because you realize that you won't see this person for another year... because you'll be on the other side of the world with a "new life" while they are back at your old high school, gossiping about who got caught sneaking off campus during lunch.  

It's really hard to explain my feelings about all of this to the people who ask me "how are you feeling?" Because I'm feeling every possibly feeling a person could ever feel at this moment in time. People ask if I'm excited, yes... of course I'm excited! I'm more than excited, I'm thrilled. Who wouldn't be?! But I'm also a little nervous, a little scared, and a little like, "what the hell am I doing?"

I can't say I'm ready, because I don't know what exactly I'm supposed to be ready for. But I can say that I'm fully prepared to take in everything that this next year throws at me, whether that be fried cockroaches or cute exchange students from Latin America. I feel that Rotary has prepared me as much as they possibly could, but now it is up to me to take what I've learned and actually apply it to the real world. See you on the other side of the world!

September 3

I’ve lived in the same town since I was born. In fact, I’ve lived in the same house my entire life. So to say the least, leaving was weird. My flight left at 8:49 A.M and I finished dying my hair at 6:30 A.M. Typical. I had butterflies in my stomach, but not your normal butterflies more like, “I feel like I forgot something” butterflies. And in fact, I did. So after realizing I left my blazer at home, my dad turned around and we went back to my house so I could get my Rotary Blazer. Typical. When I got to the airport, everything was a little hectic. Pictures, family, friends and of course, 6940 (6940! Holla!) After saying my final goodbyes to everyone I went through security. It was kind of a nice way to end things, I felt like I was in some movie and this was “the final goodbye” so I felt pretty rad. About ¾’s of the way through security I realized I still had Crystal Curvey’s C.D in my backpack. So I had to go back out of security and give her the C.D back after having said my “final goodbyes” to everyone. Typical. It’s a good thing the Tallahassee Airport is the size of a school cafeteria. With forgotten blazer in hand, I started the first day of the rest of my life.

36 hours later, I made my arrival in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been in Bangkok for one month now. How am I feeling? I’m feeling weird. You would think that after one month of living somewhere certain things would become normal to you. But in fact, everything changes here. Nothing is ever the same and I think that’s part of what makes Thailand so perfect; the bus schedule changes every day, the price of food in the cafeteria changes by the minute, the spicy-ness of a certain food from a certain vender changes, everything here changes. But in another way, nothing changes at all. The people here still hold to such old traditions and take pride in their culture.  So for this reason, nothing has become normal because it’s all just so different every time I look at it.

When I first got here, I didn’t understand anything… language was not the first issue at hand. After being here for a month, I can happily say that I am learning some of the ins and outs of Thai culture. With that being said, I still have not figured out why there is a high pressure hose in most bathrooms here. I’m not sure if I want to find out.

Here’s a warning to other exchange students: not everyone has a honeymoon period. While it might seem like everyone is having the time of their lives their first month, we are all still having our own difficulties. You will make a lot of mistakes that you will probably want to apologize for… but unfortunately, you won’t be able to apologize because you don’t know how to apologize since you don’t speak the language well enough to explain yourself. But in the words of the Thais, “mai pen lai.” This literally translates to “no worries.”  It’s okay!

Let’s talk about school.

First and foremost, school rules. My first day went something like this: get to school. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath after you realize that there’s only one other person for the next 5 miles that looks anything like you, and she’s from Minnesota. Get out of car, walk ten steps and hear the word “farang” yelled out, take another five steps and here it yelled out again with “soo-ii mai?” added onto the end, and then, another 20 steps towards Amelia, the other exchange student at my school.  I then quickly came to the realization that the words, “farang soo-ii” would forever be embedded in my name. These words aren’t bad though, actually, they’re very nice, farang is basically ‘white person’ and soo-ii means beautiful. But never the less, I hear them about 10 times a day.

My mom took about 15 photos of me and Amelia with our “new friends” (who we had literally said two words to us before taking said pictures with us.) It reminded me of home except my mom in Thailand doesn’t accidently turn off the camera when she tries to take a picture. Anyways, our first day went really well and I think that both Amelia and I have fully adjusted to “school life.”

Sometimes my teachers don’t show up, actually, most of the time my teachers don’t come to class. All the kids in my class have large pillows that they keep at school so that they can sleep comfortably in class. Everyone can use their phone in class. And just like in America, the teachers don’t want students to cheat, except here in Thailand the teachers beg their students not to cheat. When I (try to) speak Thai I get giggles and claps from Thai students. Thai school is hilarious.

The cafeteria at my school is awesome, it’s no wonder no one goes off campus. There’s about 20 food stalls with everything from a fried chicken stand, to a fruit stand, to a noodle stand. Most meals are about 40 cents and are of course given to you with real dishware (seriously, the glass dishware thing still blows my mind.)

I take a boat home from school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And by boat, I mean, one bus, two boats, a five minute walk and then a car home. I’ve grown to love it. Without going into too much detail, I got very lost my first day using the boat. Normally, it takes two hours, 35 baht, 3 modes of transportation, and 0 strangers. This time, it took four hours, 200 baht, 5 modes of transportation, 6 strangers and one confused exchange student in Bangkok.

Last weekend, I went to Ayutthaya with two other exchange students. Ayutthaya was Thailand’s second capital and is magnificent. The old city of Ayutthaya is made of ruins left over from Ayutthaya’s rain and lots of old temples. While we were at the floating market in Ayutthaya, we tried a fish spa… if you haven’t heard of this, you should look it up right now. Basically, you put your feet into a fish tank and little fish bite off the dead skin on your legs and feet. Sounds interesting, fun and relaxing right? Wrong. I have never been in so much pain due to laughing in my entire life, but it the experience was totally worth it. The temples at Ayutthaya were so beautiful. I’ve seen so many temples since I’ve been here but I think Ayutthaya’s temples take the cake.

I got picked up by an elephant’s trunk. No big deal.  

Here’s a list of things I don’t understand:

    Why everyone at my school has the same pair of shoes, but me and Amelia seem to be the only ones who get our shoes stolen.

    Why there are high pressure hoses in the most bathrooms here.

    Why the bus schedule is never the same.

    Why my bus is never the same bus.

    Why my boat seems to leave at a different time every day.

    Public transportation in Thailand.

    Why black pens are never used.

    Thai signatures.

    The difference between insulting someone’s mother and saying the number 5 (these tones are a killer.)

With all of this being said, I love it here. Talk to you next time! Wat-dee-ka!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Last weekend I found myself exercising on the beach with 40 other Asian teenagers at 6:30 in the morning. Today, I sat on a public bus, sweating until I was stuck to the seat, in fear that my bus was the wrong bus and that I had actually taken a bus into a different city. Last Tuesday, I met a man who has spent the last 12 years of his life searching for “the best waves in the world,” he was completely content with the fact that he didn’t have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, because the waves were worth his thirst. Yesterday, I went to a wat with about 150 Thai people, each carrying around 108 boiled eggs for good luck.

These are all things that I would never imagine myself doing during my sophomore year of high school, but apparently, I’m doing them. I won’t lie to you; my first month was far from perfect. Adjusting to a culture so different from your own is scary but in the same way, it’s invigorating. You’d be surprised what you find out about yourself when you’re stripped of everything you’ve ever known.

I chose Thailand because I thought that Bali, Indonesia was in Thailand, and I knew that I liked Thai food… a lot. Because of this, it is safe for you to assume that I had no former knowledge of the Thai language before I got involved in Rotary. After finding out that I would be spending my exchange year in a country that speaks a language with 5 tones and therefore, 5 meanings for each word, I started my research. Thirteen guide books later, a rotex appeared at my door, in his hands was my new bible. I mean, my new Thai to English dictionary. Chris Foley (outbound Thailand 09-10), you will never know how much this bible has influenced my life. My Thai to English dictionary has been duct-taped, it has been soaked by the precipitation of my water bottle, and later blow dried clean, it has been painted on, and is missing more than a few pages but, this is one of the best souvenirs I will have from my exchange.

My first month and a half was spent panicking; I had decided that I would never learn Thai and that the tones were all too difficult for my pre-mature brain to comprehend. Learning a new language is exhausting, and at times, I want to give up but then I remember that this is all a part of exchange, and I will appreciate all of the stressful hours of studying in the end. I have memorized The Lizzie McGuire Movie, 13 Going On 30, and High School Musical in an effort to learn Thai. Watching movies in Thai with English subtitles has helped tremendously. This isn’t to say that my language isn’t progressing, it is. Yesterday, I realized that I can express myself in Thai, and that on occasion, I can understand what people say. This in itself was the most gratifying feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here.

Today I stopped to help some lost farangs, they asked me where the bus stop was for bus 1 was. I looked back at them like they had just asked me to solve a calculus problem using a monkey as my calculator. Then I realized that they were just innocent farangs who had no idea how the Thai bus system worked. I pointed to the closest corner: where my bus had just stopped, and showed them how to hail down their bus. They then looked back at me like I had just asked THEM to solve a calculus problem using a monkey as THEIR calculator. I explained as best I could, my interpretation of the bus system and how I thought that they might have better luck taking a boat, but, they were reluctant and wanted to try the bus. I suggested that if they did end up lost in Bangkok due to the bus, that they look at it as a blessing and that they just laugh, because I know from experience that in moments like these, the best thing to do is laugh. I hope that all ended well for these farangs.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned to be patient and just accept things for what they are. Thai people are incredible, they don’t mind waiting an hour or two for an appointment and they see no problem in sitting in traffic. They just accept it, they know they’ll get there at some time, and if they miss something, then maybe they weren’t supposed to see it anyways. They don’t mind when people cut them off in traffic and they see no problem in stopping at a 7/11 half-way through their road-trip home even if this means waiting an extra 30 minutes trying to get out of the 7/11 parking lot.

I don’t know how to say this more plainly: Thailand is crazy. Nothing makes sense, but everything makes sense. I really love all the silly things that happen here. I love all of the Thai people that speak English to me, and I love how street vendors have English phrases memorized so perfectly.

Yesterday, a street vendor got me to buy a tie, I didn’t like this tie very much, but the woman was too amusing with her English phrases to not buy a tie from. The conversation went something like this:

Street vendor: oh! You’re beautiful! Buy a tie! Do you have a boyfriend? I bet you do. He would like a tie! He would love a tie! I think he would like this tie! Or do you think he would like this tie? This one is more beautiful!

Amber: uh.. uh… no, mai mee fan (I don’t have a boyfriend) uh, uh, I...I was just looking

Street vendor: so you would like a tie? These ties are the best! Much better than the ties at Siam Square! You should buy this tie! You’re beautiful! Buy a tie! These ties are the cheapest and the best! Here, I show you! (un-ravels all ties on table…) Aren’t they beautiful?

Amber: (touches tie)

Street vendor: Okay! You buy this one, chai-mai? Okay! Great! Great! 200 baht! Okay! You’re beautiful! You want two ties? I give you two ties for 350 baht!

Amber: uh. Uh. Uh.

Street vendor: okay! One tie for you! Your boyfriend will love this tie! I’m sure!

So now I have a tie.

A list of things I love:

I love noodle shops on the side of roads, I love pretending that I don’t speak English and forcing store-keepers to speak with me in Thai. I love the exchange students in Thailand, and I love all of my Thai friends. I love using public transportation, even if that means hailing my bus. I love getting lost on my way to meet up with friends. I love the two elderly Thai men that play make-shift chess outside of my SkyTrain station. Every day at 2:30, the men enjoy a game of chest played on a small piece of ply-wood with a chess board drawn by a Sharpie marker; they use rocks and random chest pieces to conduct their game. They share a drink while sitting on a counter of a store barefoot and with their shirts un-buttoned; their wives stand around them, laughing at their childish-antics when the game gets too competitive.

I think that Thailand took a lot of adjusting to. The culture here is, different. The language is different. The people look different from me. The seniority system is different. Their style is different. Everything is different. But, with all of this being said, this has been the best opportunity that has ever come my way and I could not be happier.

Adjusting to a culture so different from your own is scary but in the same way, it’s invigorating.

November 22, 2011

Meet your new flood evacuee! I write this to you from my corn farm with my 15 pet dogs sitting around me. I began my exchange in a city that's population of 9.3 million people. I am now thirty minutes from a town with a population of 1,000... Isn't it funny how much things can change in just a few months? It's been a crazy month. I'll try to keep all of this short: I left Bangkok October 18th with plans to return in one week, that Friday I was told that I would be going to a Culture Camp at a Zoo with my district for two weeks because the flooding in Bangkok was worsening and most of our houses were beginning to flood. After the camp, the Rotary here decided to take us on our Northern Bus trip early to further escape the flooding situation. Our North Trip lasted until November 11th, on that day 20 of the 32 of us were told that we would be moved to emergency homes throughout Thailand. Myself, and the other American hosted by my Rotary club were moved to a corn farm about 1 hour outside of Lop Buri (a town about 2-3 hours north of Bangkok) and we were told that we would stay here for about a week. The next news came from our district chair advising us to be aware that we could be at these new houses for one week to two months. For me, it appears that I will be here for about two months or longer.

My first host family's house is flooded 60 cm (about two feet), my second is flooded 80 cm and my third is flooded 180 cm (that's about as tall as Larry D. I think...) So it seems that I won't be going home anytime soon. To get to any of my houses, you have to take a NAVY boat and then a separate boat to actually get into my house. With that being said, I have not been home since October 18th because Rotary has tried to keep us out of the flooding. There are some people who have returned to Bangkok because they live in the central district which is predicted to not flood (for if it does the Thai economy might just... follow the path of the US economy?!

They never told me about this at our Rotary Conferences!

One of the most amazing things about my "memorable" and "special" exchange year is that I've been able to see the culture in a new light. A new way of seeing how a different culture handles a national crisis such as this. And trust me, it's very different. The Thai people are still smiling and moving on, and slowly but surely, rebuilding their houses and lives as much as they can. I've also learned a valuable lesson, every bit of money you donate to disaster relief goes somewhere. Being here, I see just how much every bit of help counts. Shelterbox has donated 250 boxes to Thailand as of early November and they will continue coming. It is the coolest thing to see an organization that works hand in hand with RYE out in the field and seeing people benefiting from it. Last year my district fund raised money for a Shelterbox (6940 REPPIN!) ours will be sent out on December 5th, so it might end up coming to Thailand! Future outbounds, take this as a hint to get involved with Shelterbox this year, you never know... it might be your country that needs it!

While the flooding has not made for the easiest exchange ever... it has made it memorable. I had been told numerous times that by 3 months, you should feel adjusted to your new city, home and school. My third month wasn't spent the "normal way" but it was special and I think that these next two months or so will be just as special and memorable.

They told us it would be stressful at times, challenging and rewarding. Never did I think my stress would come from something like this though. While this isn't the most ideal situation for an exchange student to be in the middle of, I'm in it and I'm swimming. I never could have imagined that something of this sort would happen to me (seriously, 20 students out of the thousands and thousands Rotary sends every year have been heavily effected by a natural disaster this year... and one of those 20 happens to be yours truly, crazy!) I am still so thankful for this year and everything that Rotary Youth Exchange has provided me with. With all of these things going on around me, I still find time to sit back and think about just how special this year is to me.

In conclusion, I am alive and I am still in Thailand, that's good enough for me. I know the flood has left the news a little but if you want to see what the people of central Thailand are facing right now you can look at this: