After going through the long application process, the stressful interviews, language camps, Rotary club meetings, conferences, and of course the fun times at orientations.... I realize that Rotary Youth Exchange isn't just a great opportunity but it has become my life. My fellow exchange students have become my family, the former exchange students have become my mentors, and the Rotarians that have dedicated their time and effort have become my role models. Thank you Rotary International for giving students like myself great opportunities to not just study abroad, but to open our minds to new and foreign cultures. In the past six weeks I feel like I have matured, grown stronger emotionally, and made the best decision of my life and I still have eight and a half months left. Rotary has prepared us as much as they could but you are never fully prepared to jump into another culture far different from your own. Learning a new language, getting used to the food, religious customs, and in my case learning the different ways to bow and the “Waii” position are not easy tasks. But like I said this was the best decision of my life.
Thailand is amazing place but very different from anything I could have imagined. Some things I just have to think…okay that’s normal here… For example, the other day my host family and I were driving down the highway and a truck sped past us probably going eighty miles an hour with three monkeys clinging to the bed of truck for their lives. I was the only one that gasped and when I pointed to them my host dad just looked at me like I was crazy.
I live in a small country town surrounded by mountains. My host family owns a restaurant and our house is the four stories above it. Everywhere I go people stare at me, or want to take my picture, including monks. Thai people are easy going and very nice. They love Karaoke and it seems to be the solution to everything. Even at my last Rotary meeting the president asked “Are you sick? Sing Karaoke!” But the biggest question is “Do you like Som Thum? Papaya pok pok?” Everyone I have met in Thailand has asked me this question. Som Thum is a spicy papaya salad with sugar, fish sauce, chilies, and the papaya is sour. It’s like an explosion in your mouth. So my answer to this question is yes and no.
Thai food is amazing but I have eaten things I never would have thought I would eat. In the region of Thailand I am staying in, the people really do learn to live off of the land. The region of Isan is the most rural part of Thailand and defiantly the most authentic. I have tried pork liver, pig’s foot, Chicken blood, and yes bugs. None of which have been the slightest bit tasty.
School is fun here. I have one Thai language class every day. I also take Thai dancing, culture and Buddhism. The other remaining periods I basically do what I want. I can go to class or go talk to the English teacher from Colorado. I can play sport, and play my ukulele. It doesn’t matter as long as I go to my Thai class. Mostly everyone at school knows my name mainly because I am the only exchange student, oh and I have blonde hair.
I really like Buddhism. I have visited the temple many times, and I take Buddhism in school so I am learning how to pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Singha. Starting Monday I am going to the temple once a week and practicing with a Buddhist nun (shaved head and all). She can speak English and has worked with many other exchange students.