Rachel Williams
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Ridgeview High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nakorn Rajasima, District 3340, Thailand

Rachel's Bio

สวัสดี!  I am Rachel Williams and I will be spending my next year in Thailand.  I never would have expected this, going to Thailand for a year will be absolutely amazing!  I am currently 16, sophomore at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park Florida. When I was sitting in class one day there was an announcement over the intercom saying there will be a meeting to be a foreign exchange student and when I heard that I got really excited!  I went to the meeting and now here I am going to Thailand.  I have always wanted to go out of the country, and love to travel a lot, but when I found out I got accepted that was the best thing ever.  I have never been away from home or my parents for more than a month so this will be a big challenge that I am willing to take.

I am an only child unfortunately; there are advantages and disadvantages to that! I have always wanted an older brother.  I play varsity soccer for my school team and love just playing any sports really.  I like being out doors; camping, kayaking, hiking, etc.  I love going to church; I go to Cross Road Lutheran and participate in a lot of stuff there.  I also love to volunteer at an animal farm.  I can be a very outgoing person but other times I can be a little shy at first.  I am also a really spontaneous person who always wants to do something or go on an adventure.  I rarely ever get bored because I can usually find something to do (why waste time just sitting around being bored out of your mind?).

I am really excited about the next year mostly because I get this experience that most kids do not get and it will be the best year of my life.  The biggest challenge I think will be the language; all those symbols look really tough, like being able to write and read them.  But I’m sure it won’t be too bad once you get the hang of it.  I am taking Spanish right now and it isn’t too hard and I think it is actually fun to learn so I hope it is the same with Thai.

I want to thank ROTARY for giving me this AMAZING opportunity to go to Thailand in the 2011-2012 exchange and making my dreams come true.


Rachel's Journals

Monday, October 17, 2011

I have been in Thailand for two months now; it only feels like I have been here for 2 weeks! The time went by way to fast. .

My School is so much fun. There are 5 exchange student girls that go to my school. I go to a vocational college so technically I am not taking any "real" classes there all elective type classes which are great. My schedule is Monday: Flower, Cake Decoration, and Cocktail Class. Tuesday: Ballroom Dancing & Muay Thai. Wednesday: International Cooking & Thai Language. Thursday: International Cooking & Thai Massage. Friday: Packaging Design, Local Food & Muay Thai. I have those classes the rest of September and then in October we have a break and then we start back up in November but I will have a different schedule. There are ALOT of lady boy in my school, which are gay guys. They are actually really pretty and sometimes it is really hard to tell if it is a guy or girl!! Also in-between classes we have 2-3 hours to do nothing so we either make some friends or go and eat somewhere! My ride to school is a Sorng Tao which is a pickup truck with 2 benches in the back and a covering and window. It cost me 8 baht every time I ride it. They can seriously fit like 20 people on those things...it sucks when it is that crowded.

My family: So first of all My Family. My family is really confusing. My first host mom is the sister of my second host family but I live at my second host family’s house. I have a host brother and sister. My brother is 16 and he just left for Venezuela. My sister is 11 and I see her every now and then. She lives with my first host mom I think because her house is closer to the school. Haha like I said it is confusing. Everyone in my family can speak English just a little bit. My dad owns a restaurant. I see the dad usually like once a week because he travels a lot with his other job. My first host mom works at a coal factory about 2 hours away, well technically she isn't my first host mom but she is my first host dads wife.

Everyone has a nickname in Thailand and that is what they go by and my nickname is Som which means orange. I got that name because I am from Orange Park. Then my Thai name that my family gave me is Donaya.

Food. "hew mai" I get asked this question all the time! They are asking if I am hungry. It will be like 10 minutes after I eat like a feast and feel like I am going to explode and they ask that Im like “mai hew mai hew”. It seems like now if I say "mai hew" they give me these dirty looks wondering like why I do not want to eat. The food is good but for me it is taking a lot of getting used to. I never ate spicy food back home so now I am kind of being forced to liking it! I got a gym membership...If you come here that might be a good idea or at least find out where the park is haha. Also when you eat here you have to use a fork in your left hand and a spoon in your right. You push the food onto the spoon with the fork and eat off the spoon. EVEN with noodles they put them all on the spoon and do it. I have been able to eat every food like that so far but just not the noodles. I recently just noticed I at a whole bowl of noodles with chopsticks! I was very surprised at that considering I used to have to use the ones with the rubber bands holding them together back in Florida.

I literally go to the mall every day. Any store that you need would be at the mall. It is 4 stories tall and they have everything. It is a good thing because the mall is right around the corner from my house so I can just go there whenever.

Just random things I have noticed:

-There are motorcycles everywhere here. It seems like most of the people drive one or at least own one. And I have seen 4 people on one. I don’t understand how they fit 4? I have also seen a person driving one holding a tree at the same time.

-Drivers here are crazy. I don't think there are any speed limits and they don't really pay attention to the lines on the road at all....if there even are lines. You will look out the window and there is a motorcycle or car like 2 inches from you, it’s kind of really scary sometimes.

-There are dogs EVERYWHERE. It seems like everywhere I look I see a stray dog. Knowing me and how much I love dogs I want to pet everyone I see. My host family always yells at me and says to not pet them because there dirty…oh well. Most of the dogs look like they have been through hell and back like my host moms dogs arm is cut in half and you can just like see the bone :0 it got hit by a car. The other night I was walking home from my friend’s house, I have to walk through like a big building where workers keep like a truck and just all this metal for making stuff and I have to walk through a gate to get to the road and there is four dogs that always sit there and don’t let me through till there owner comes out and calms them down, well I was walking and all of a sudden they just all started chasing after me so I ran into a random bathroom that was in there and was locked in there till I had to call my friend and had her help me get the guys attention.

-I always see old white men with young Thai women and it is really creepy.

-I came here thinking I would see elephants a lot. I live in a city so of course I am never going to see one just walking down the street. I have actually rode an elephant two times and fed them maybe five.

-I love shopping here; I seriously have spent so much money so far. I need to stop but everything is so cheap and I can't help myself.

-Well today I got my first massage! It was amazing and a Thai massage. For one hour it only cost 120 baht so 4 US dollars. I am now going to go back at least once a week!

-EVERYONE in Thailand has a blackberry, so I decided to get one too.

-There are ants everywhere, you just have to get used to them.

These past two months has been pretty much getting used to everything. It was a really big culture shock at first because it seemed like everything was different. For example when you look at the car and it says you’re going 120, make sure you remember it is 120 kph and not 120 mph. I am now used to public transportation and know what buss I should get on to take me to different places.

The language is easy but really hard at the same time. You have to get the tones pretty much exactly correct or else you could be saying something totally wrong, which has happened many times. It is also difficult because everything is in symbols so you have to learn a whole new letter system. I have began taking Thai lessons so that is helping me more.

February 15, 2015

Wow! Can’t believe so much time has passed since the last time I have wrote, I have a lot to catch everybody up on. I can’t believe I have been here six months. It saddens me to think that I will be leaving this great country soon. I have grown and learned so much while in Thailand. I am home sick from school today and decided to write my journal.

In October I turned 17, I had a wonderful dinner with my host mom and my two best friends here that my host aunt made me. She made spaghetti, macaroni, and some other stuff I don’t remember (too long ago lol). My mom sent me a package filled with lots and lots of food that I have missed! (Thanks mom you’re the best). For Halloween the Rotarians in my city planned a Halloween party for the eight exchange students living here. At the party we ate, sang karaoke (of course) and danced and everyone was dressed up. My friends and I had fun trying to make a costume. Some of the costumes that people dressed up as were Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga (me), A gypsy, and Pikachu.

At the beginning of November my host sister got married so I got to go to a Thai wedding! It was really beautiful and a lot different than weddings in America. At the beginning they are all dressed in traditional Thai clothes and then later on they changed in to more modern wedding clothes. I felt honored when they asked me to be in there family photo. A couple days after the wedding all the exchange students and Rotarians went on a trip to Pattaya where we walked in a parade around the city raising money for the flood victims in Bangkok. It is right on the beach, so it was nice seeing the beach for the first time in months.

We had a Rotary trip to a mountain called Mount Phu Kradung. We drove several hours in a bus picking people up along the way. We then got to the town called Phu Kradung and stayed there overnight for the Loi Krathong festival.

Loi Krathong is set on the full moon night of (usually) November. The word Loi means "to float" while a krathong is something made of flowers and leaves that it set into the water as an offering to the water spirits as thanks for allowing the Thai people to use the waters. I floated 3 krathong that night. They were absolutely beautiful. Even more beautiful than those, however, were the floating lanterns. Many of us lit them together at the festival, watching them float into the air with their soft orange glow. We have so many pictures of the hundreds that were sent up that night. There was also a beauty contest in which an inbound was chosen to represent Rotary, and then there was a brilliant fireworks display.

The next morning, we climbed a mountain: Mount Phu Kradung. The first 5th of the climb was deadly, and we had to rest so many times, but it felt better and better the high you climbed as the air got cooler and a gentle breeze flowed through, not to mention the amazing view. I hiked up with a group of friends (who I pretty much spent the whole trip with) who called our group "The Adventure Gang". At one of the stores on top of the mountain we bought little road signs that say “The Adventure Gang” on them to put on our blazer.

Over the next few days, we hiked to several different cliffs and waterfalls, looking for elephants and avoiding what we ended up calling "Jennies" or as more commonly known, leeches. So many people got bit by them, it was ridiculous. I actually ended up being the first person attacked by a leech, but luckily I avoided the giant spiders that one of my friends woke up beside. This was an amazing trip that I will never forget, thanks Rotary.

One word for December = HOT. In Thailand in December it is the “cold” season. It’s funny how it will get down to like 75 degrees and the Thai people break out there winter coats and scarves. There were Christmas decorations set up at the mall, which was cool but it still did not really feel like Christmas at all. Me and my friend were in the store and saw a little Christmas tree so of course we had to buy it!! We took it to my house and decorated it! On Christmas we had a lunch at my friends house and I ended up having to take the tree, huge backpack full of food, about five bags of food…including a duck onto the sawng tao (bus) which of course was crowded -.-. I´m used to getting weird looks but it was even worse with carrying a Christmas tree. Me and three other friends had our own little Christmas party and ate a lot of food. I’ve made so many memories here with my friends I know will always be thankful to Rotary for this great opportunity, my family, and friends for supporting me.

About one week before Christmas I had to change host families. I was really nervous about it but I already knew the family so it was a little better. I now live with my host mom and host dad, 2 host brothers my age, and lots of other people. My host mom is the president of my Rotary club. This family has really made me feel at home and I love it here so much. My one host brother went on exchange to Canada last year so he already speaks really good English which is helpful and my other host brother is going on exchange this up coming year, but he doesn’t know where to yet.

School is going good. It ends for the exchange students on February 17 and we might have to go back in May. It will be weird when I go back to Florida and will actually have to take real classes, considering here I only take “elective” type classes. Most days after school, I will go to the pool which is at the mall, or just go home. At the pool on weekends there are so many people there but there all under the umbrellas and eating and not one person was in the pool…I thought that was really strange.

Thai time is something that is a lot different. Here when they say be there at 7:30 they will get there at like 8:00. It is a lot different than Rotary in Florida because if they say be somewhere at 7:30 than you should be there by at least 7:20. It is defiantly something to get used to because they don’t care if your late for anything.

That pretty much sums up the end of 2011 for me. I only have about 120 days left in Thailand, and it saddens me to see that more than half of my time here is gone. Time flies by so fast, I have so much more to see and do in Thailand.