September 8, 2012
Change is inevitable. Its been the shadow following us since the day we were born and it will continue to follow us until well into our grey ages. The change you seek and the change that comes can be two very different paths and the one we choose will be the defining moment of our lives. I was not looking for Rotary to change my biggest dreams and aspirations; to shift my paradigm and step outside my normal boundaries. However, I have never been more thankful that they did so. The summer leading up to my departure was one of the hardest summers I have ever had to endure. To leave everything familiar to me and enter a world so beyond my comfort level and beyond what I could imagine was the hardest part of that summer. I know my city like the back of my hand. Every face I left home I know by heart. I have spent years with these people; my family I’ve spent my entire life. So how could I leave them in the wake to see beyond my known microco sm? Some of my loved ones have called me brave and others crazy. I saw myself as curious. I yearned to know what life was like outside of America. I grew up learning about other places, for it was mandatory, but you never quite learn about anything until you experience it with your own eyes; touch it with you own hands. When I walked into my sixth period Advanced Placement English Literature class I had no idea that my next year had been completely altered. There stood a man with curly hair and a warm smile and a presentation on the screen entitled Rotary Youth Exchange. With the last two words I was immediately captivated. He launched into his presentation like he had done in the previous years and I knew I wanted to take part after a mere five minutes. I shot off numerous questions and my classmates could sense that I was captured, but they never believed I would go through with it.
After I was accepted into the program, my life was all anticipation about what would come next. What country, what district, what city, what family, what school, what EVERYTHING. The next piece of news couldn’t come quick enough and the year dragged on at a sloth’s pace. Then the day to leave came and I was stunned into silence. I couldn’t believe that after all the anticipation, all the information, all the boring, long, repetitive preparation my day had finally come to leave. It was so surreal and I have been using that phrase ever since I left. I had my friends and family gathered on the eighth of august at what would be the last day in my house. It was a complete success filled with “I love you’s” and tears shedding. This was unimaginable and I was numb the entire car ride to the Jacksonville airport. I had no idea what to think or really how to think. The morning to leave came even more quickly if you can believe that. All eight of us were standing in front of security and eyes were welling and noses running. I had never felt so much pain at leaving the people who have loved me most my entire life. But I jumped on the plane with Alex and we were headed out to Atlanta, then Tokyo, then Bangkok, and for me, finally Muang Khon Kaen, Thailand.
Cue to one month later and I will tell you, immediately, that this has been the most amazing and incredible month I have ever lived. The things I see and experience are, everyday, different from anything I had imagined I would be experiencing. I had expectations because realistically you can’t not make expectations (and yes I know that, that was bad grammar). Expectations are the human imagination at work and whether you’re aware you’re making them or not they will be shattered upon arrival. My expectations have been blasted through the roof and I couldn’t be happier. Everything is different. There is not one thing that they do here that is the same in America. The way they eat, the way they shop, the way they dress, the way they interact, everything. I have learned so much about myself and about the culture that I know I am only growing more and more every day. Thailand has so much to offer and I’m willing and open to absorb everything it can gi ve me. I want to know the language, I want to be able to eat the food, I want to try bugs (already have), I want to ride an elephant, I want to go to school, I want to see new things and experience a world so much bigger than what I pictured. I have missed home but home is still there. I will come back to it one day and life will be as it was, but for now I want to take in my surroundings. I want to get lost a few more times, I want to make language mistakes and laugh at myself for hours on end. I want to make life long friends and come back to visit them. I want so much out of one year that I know I will not get everything, but I will work hard to attempt everything. I will “try everything once” and I will learn so much here that I’m curious to what the world will look like when I have to come back, but not curious enough to leave quite yet. This year means so much to me and I’m so thankful for everyone at home following me and encouraging and suppor ting me. Every word of encouragement gives me the determination to make this year all that I can so that I can bring back many amazing stories and experiences to share will all of you. I’m so thankful for all of Rotary back home in Florida, and here in Thailand. It was a long haul getting to where I am and the Rotary program has been nothing but friendly and obliging. I am thankful for Scott Krogmann for walking into my class room and then putting up with me for another ten months! I am happy and safe and appropriately enough I found this and will abide by this for my year:
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment” -Buddha
October 28, 2012
Such a mysterious and inspiring wonder the night is. The darkness that encompasses the night is alluring to me. When it is dark I am free. Free from stares Free to sing out loud. Free to dance. Free to think, about everything. My mind wanders on my morning runs when I get up around 4:30 to exercise because any time past 8 am is over 85 degrees. It's a time when I recollect all that I've done here and when I truly realize I am in Thailand. To say that I have been here for almost three months is surreal. In this past month I have learned so much more than I ever expected and I am growing much more than I thought possible.
I have been on vacation since the end of September and a bunch has happened. The majority of the vacation was spent either at home, working out, or with the exchange students. During the periods in those places I would watch movies, work on my Thai, and with the exchange students we would go to central or fairy plaza, Ta-lat Ton Tann, walk around Khon Kaen, or purely talk about a whole assortment of topics. It was fun for the most part but at times the boredom would take over... Thankfully that passes very quick.
Over the break my Rotary Club planned on Gabriel, Jose, Tsuki, and I going with some of the students of the Rotaract Club of Khon Kaen University to a camp. We agreed to go to this camp rather than paying the 2800 baht ( around $100) it took to go to RYLA. We had no idea what to expect, meaning no idea what to pack, what we were doing, who we were going with, where we were going, and not even how long we would be there for... Needless to say we were in the dark as is the usual for us exchangers in Thailand. We were taken each by our parents to the university and dropped off with a bunch of kids whom we'd never met before. We then loaded our bags onto the two buses that would escort us to the site of service. I say site of service because we had no idea that we would be going to a small village and helping out a local school. So we jump on the bus and sit together. Awkward glances and silence proceeded for a good twenty minutes until someone suggested a game. So we a tempted to play games with the people we had just met. It was a name game. If you think the name game is hard to do picture this: 38 brand new people with names like mubmip, boom, get, ninn, ann, nach, guitar, eiw, min, muk, mook, and so on. The world's most challenging version of the Name game to say the least! We arrived at the camp maybe an hour later. Still didn't realize it was a school until we pulled up to the ONE building and put our sleeping stuff in classrooms which we found out we would be inhabiting for a period of SEVEN days. That first day was probably the worst. We were absolutely miserable. It was like the first day in Thailand all over again and repeating the process of akwardness, misunderstanding, miscommunication, silence, and loneliness. We were ready to give in but Mae Joom would not here of us leaving and I can't help but thank her for that because the camp got better and better every day. Yes it was brutally hot, we sweat every day, we were dirty, and so on, but it was one of the best experiences ever. We were welcomed by the small village with a little ceremony where we introduced ourselves. We worked on a garden for the school planting basil, tomatoes, and other vegetables. We played with the local children, teaching them some English and just allowing them to play games and interacting with them. It was definitely a highlight to put a big smile on their faces or just making them laugh. We worked on a roofed patio for the school too. The farangs helped clear the land by moving the clay. The boys, boom, Nut, Bank, Arnut, Bank, and others were the ones who really worked on the construction, melding, concrete making, and so forth. They are literally the hardest workers I have ever met. They would work from 6am to 4am the next day. They would sleep in somedays but then work until very late the next morning. it was inspiring. There were groups of us and we were assigned each day to the tasks that I just mentioned. Other tasks included cleaning our spaces we used, the bathrooms, and cooking the meals for everyone. That night we found out quickly that showers were to be done by dumping water on us with plastic bowls. We also learned that we would all be in a outdoor, literal bath room. A giant tone tub was placed in the middle and everyone wore these curtain like dresses and washed themselves together, all with cold water. It was definitely an experience and the first time washing myself like that. Safe to say that I truly appreciate running water, hot water, soap, and RAZORS. My legs were crazy wild for seven days because I forgot my razor. The appearance didn't bother me for it's culturally accepted that women don't shave their legs in Thailand, but the feeling of having harry legs really bothered me. I was joking that by the end I was sure I could braid the hairs, that of course was false, don't worry!
So in the garden Noona and I planted basil one day. We worked with the boys on the house and that was hard work but very fun because the boys could not help but make fun of us. The kids were scared of us at first, I assume its because it was probably their first time seeing "farangs". They warmed up to us quickly when we joined in with their games. They eventually gathered the courage to talk to us and take pictures with us. They had to be some of the cutest kids I have ever seen. Cooking had to be one of my favorite parts. I love cooking in general because I love food so cooking brand new things was even more interesting. They don't use butter whatsoever here. It's incredible and I'm pretty sure it's one of the reasons everyone is the size of a twig. Oh and the chili's that's another reason they're skinny. They eat these red and green peppers in almost everything and they're probably the world's spiciest peppers. We ate rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Somehow it didn't get old... but I think the side dishes helped because they were different every time and delicious beyond anything I had, had before. The days continued like this and the camp went by extremely fast after that first day.
One day jose, gabriel, muk, and I visited a rice farm. I was dreading it and at first declined the offer, I know bad exchange student, but they forced me to go. I am thankful once again for that. It was SO MUCH FUN. We were out in the fields sweating and chopping the rice plants that are used to create sticky rice. We worked for about an hour maybe two and then journeyed to wear they deshell the rice to get it down to the white part. Interacting with the Thai people in the fields was cool. They are so happy despite the heat and despite that they don't make much. Its very interesting to see how happy these people are. It's absolutely contagious to be happy with them and join in on just loving life. That is a great thing about Thailand. They are always happy and it spreads a warmth to whoever they're with. Very amazing to feel and experience. This is random but everyday Jose and I would wait for our favorite frozen bubble tea guy. I swear this stuff was the best we have ever had. We couldn't wait for this guy to get here. Frozen sweet vanilla flavored ice with chunks of oreo crushed into it and the tapioca balls at the end made for a perfect treat around 3 pm when we were so hot our clothes were glued to our bodies. Jose ordered ice cream every day and had more than one every day. Very funny, but I have no idea why. I love that goofy kid, he always knows how to make all of us laugh. The last day of camp came and it was a bittersweet feeling and a foreshadowing to what it will be like when I return home. I don't even want to think about that right now. But the day began with a fun festival/parade where everyone painted their faces in neon colors of green, pink, orange, yellow, and blue. Some of the boys dressed up as girls, and the farangs were made to present to the village. We walked through with music blaring and the four of us waving and smiling to everyone that was there to see us. It was so much fun and incredibly goofy. That evening we had a great party with all of the students and the village. We gathered around a bonfire and watched as some of the KKU boys ran around painted all black in their boxers with leaf skirts and headbands acting like Indians and lighting the bonfire. The girls like Noona and I danced traditional Thai dance and acted out skits that had the crowds laughing. We were merry and celebrating what was almost finished. I have never had so much fun just goofing off and feeling free with no care in the world. Very uplifting day and made me love Thailand that much more. Friends and memories were made and another connection Thailand was formed. Such an awesome experience and so inspiring that we are doing it again in January and I absolutely can't wait to see everyone again and work on something new. We said our goodbyes and we promised that we'd see each other soon and I know it will happen. Everyone was so sweet. Thailand really is the land of smiles.
After the camp it was pretty normal for about, oh a day and half. Then I was told I was going to Korat to help out with some interviews for future exchange students leaving Thailand. What that really meant is I was staying with a Canadian exchange student named Anne and I wasn't going to help out at all but actually just hangout with her, Noelle, and Lizzy for four days. I was a little shy at first because I hadn't gotten the chance to meet these girls yet. They were very welcoming and we bonded very quickly. I love them and had such a great time staying with them. We mostly just hung out and do what us exchangers do in Khon Kaen. We went to their mall which is like three times the size of Khon Kaen's which is MONSTROUS. It was cool seeing new stuff and experiencing new people. We watched movies like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button (great movie) and Easy A (which I thought was really funny the first time I saw it, but this time was absolutely hilarious . Emma Stone is beyond great). We biked to different places looking for food they wanted me to eat. Turns out none of the places they wanted to take me were open and we were convinced that some other power did not want us to eat anything they considered delicious. We settled for the food at the food park in the mall. The day came to leave and I was sad but I was relieved to finally be able to get home and just relax like I had planned to. School was to start the following Wednesday and I was anxious to see all my first but not anxious to get up at 5 am.
School started and I couldn't help but smile all day. I loved being around those kids. I had missed them so much. I missed panpan speaking so fast she knows I can't understand. I missed Mary and her weird songs she just starts singing. I missed oak and his awkward staring contests with me. I missed Nunnie and his awesome craziness. I missed the beautiful Pam, and sweet Yoye and just everyone. Those first days I started practicing the alphabet and really trying to learn it. I can now say that I know the consonants, all 44, and am able to translate stuff. It takes time but the fact that I am beginning to read and write is absolutely incredible. I can't actually believe it either. I have talked about how the alphabet and reading is probably the hardest thing ever and I'm finally getting the hang of it. I admit the vowels are ridiculously tricky but I know that if I keep going at the rate I am I will be able to read and write soon! That in itself will be the biggest accomplishment I will achieve and the key to being able to truly understand everything said.
My life in Thailand is nothing I can compare to with my other life in America. I have two lives and I have realized this after talking to the exchangers today. I have two different families, two different sets of friends, two sets of schools, two sets of homes, two different lives. It's weird to think that I'm living two lives. I have Caroline back in America and I am Mudmee here in Thailand. Its the coolest thing actually. I can't believe I've been here for so long. I am loving it so much and learning something new each and every day about the country and about myself. This experience is going to change me, I can already see subtle changes and I am so excited to find out what the final product will be. I can't help but continue thanking my parents and Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I am extremely grateful to be here and be living one of my dreams. This is my time and I am going to make the most of it with every second I have here. I miss America but I love Thailand. This is my home.
November 28, 2012
One month ago I was saying to myself I cannot believe that October has already come and passed and here I am again writing about how I am astonished that November has come and gone faster than October. I missed thanksgiving back home and yes it was sad but luckily my Rotary Club strategically placed a trip to Phu Kradung National Park the week it took place in America. We celebrated in high style with a bunch of Thai food and carving a chicken, our makeshift turkey. It was a little saddening but we were too busy catching up with friends and making new ones to really remember what the day was. In the beginning of December not much happened. It was normal school with trips in between that my host family would take me to. Close to the twelfth they took me and the other exchangers to one of the most beautiful temples we’d ever seen. In my opinion, I think it surpasses Wat Phra Kaew which is considered the greatest temple and most sacred temple in Thailand. This temple was h idden away in the small town of Petchabun near Khao Kho. Its walls, stairs, and ceilings were all laid out with beautiful mosaics. Colors thrown together so beautifully it took your breath away; and that’s without mentioning the mountains that laid in the background view of the temple. To say this place was beautiful is an understatement. I have never seen anything like it. After the temple we went to our “resort” which was merely camp grounds sitting a top of a cliff overlooking a valley. Once again the view was breathtaking and each of us realized how lucky we were to be standing in a place so far from our homes. We all woke up the next morning around 4am to see what we thought was a dream. The valley that laid below us was covered in a dense fog and the sunrise that came up over the mountain was magnificent. Jets of orange, pink, purple, and yellow filled the sky and a vibrant orange sun lit up the morning. The entire party was stunned into silence and that amazing high you get when realizing where you are swept over the exchangers, well Emma and I. The weeks passed by fast seeing as it was unnecessary for me to go to school due to preparation for the annual sport week event. I passed the time writing, learning the language, and watching movies. Sports day came and it was time for a traditional Thai dress, makeup, hair, and an early start to what would be a tiring day. It was a lot of fun to walk with everyone and see the town, I’m glad I was asked to participate. It was an incredible experience and such an honor to be presented in such a way. Going back to school was not going to happen the following Monday for it was the day that Rotary took us to see one of Thailand’s most amazing national Parks, Phu Kradung. I have climbed mountains before and with ease, but this mountain I can fairly stay kicked my butt up and down. The climb was one of the hardest parts of the trip. Steep for most of the way up and with wet rocks and mud, its safe to say that we were not as “in shape” as we all thought we were. Three and a half hours later and completely out of a breath, two Canadians, a Brazilian, a Venezuelan, and an American made it up to the top of the mountain. There we found out we had to walk another 3 km to the actual place where we would be staying for the next three nights. That’s about another mile. We were not thrilled but nonetheless made the trek. We arrived tired and out of breath, immediately ordered food like the good exchange students we are, and chatted away with the others who’d made it there before us. It was a fun filled week consisting of walking over 50 km with beautiful waterfalls, red maple leaves, stories to bring back about the toilets, LEECHES, rather large bugs, salt, deers that “wai”-ed, and a promise to make the next trip just as fun as the first. As I sit here writing this I have this weird feeling. I’m reflecting ever ything that happened and it all sounds so amazing, and believe me it was, but everyone only talks about the highs of exchange not the lows. There are times when you are completely alone and how you deal with that loneliness is defining. There are times when all you do is stay home and all you see is your computer screen or the four walls you call a room. It’s hard but as long as you keep good spirits and your mind off of other things you’re able to make it through. Always remind yourself where you are and what an amazing opportunity you have been given because as soon as you do it will get better. I can say that I am so blessed to be living in Thailand. It’s an incredible place filled with amazing people. I know home will be there when I get back and life will continue as it always does, so for the mean time I am loving where I am and who I am with. I change host families soon so new adventures and struggles are only a mere three days away and I am excited to see what they have in store for me, what lengths my patience will take, what new food my senses will taste, and what new tales I will have to bring back with me.
January 5, 2013
After a fatal crash, dismal hopes, and no internet my computer is finally back up and running. I assume that means it’s time to update the RYE journal as well as my personal blog so here goes. November passed quickly and December came all too quickly as well. Around November 29th I found out I would actually be moving December 1st. So I quickly packed all my stuff, somehow, into the same bags I had arrived with. I couldn’t believe that this day had come so quickly and I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe I was leaving my host dad, he always knows how to make me laugh, my host mom who was loving and caring like an actual mom, and my host brother who I assume and imagine is exactly like any other younger brother. I had gone through so much with them. My first four months spent with them and learning so much. I couldn’t imagine leaving them and yet here I was bags ready and out the door with my new host mom and host broth er. It was like being in Thailand all over again. I had to be patient, accepting, and flexible with each new occurrence. Thailand was once again testing my character, this time though I took it well. I have changed in that respect. I know I have grown. December with them was spent at school and with friends. It was going better than the stories I had previously heard about the family and for that I was extremely grateful. I spent a total of two weeks with my new family when it was time for me to go on District 3340’s second trip to the northern region of Thailand. I had been looking forward to this trip since before I left. I knew it meant a lot of amazing animals and temples. I was not disappointed. At last December 17th finally came and the Khon Kaen kids were packaged and shipped on a van to Korat where everyone was to meet up as a starting point. We were all so excited to see the great friends we had made last trip. When we arrived we did our greeting and hugs and immediately began to catch up with one another. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone and relaying stories. We sat down for dinner where Siri explained what was to happen in the following hours and days. Once all of our stuff was loaded and our tummies full we were herded onto the bus. It was a double decker bus and very nice. We left the hotel at 8 pm. It was enjoyable at first, until we all wanted to sleep, then it seemed like none of us were going to get a good night’s rest. It was uncomfortable to fall asleep and at various random times it smelled like no other. We finally reached our first destination, a hotel, at 6 am. There we went to our respective rooms, showered, changed, and packed everything up and headed downstairs for breakfast. Our first stop would be an elephant reservation in Lampang. There we saw an elephant show where we fed elephants, watched them paint pictures, throw balls, and we even were able to ride them through the jungle. Lizzy and I sat toget her and it was such an incredible time. Next we had lunch there and left for our lodging. We were staying in cabins in the mountains. These cabins were very nice and the chilly weather put us all in extremely pleased moods. We spent the night talking, eating chocolate, singing, and thinking of what was to come. The next morning we packed all of our stuff and headed off to our next destination, the highest point in Thailand. We took pictures and explored it was really chilly so coffee was bought. Next we went to the royal gardens and did some more exploring. Anne and I went off on our own discovering different parts of the gardens. We had lunch at a waterfall at one point. Anne and I once again ventured off course and went to the top of the waterfall where we met Takeru being his crazy self. The climb to the top was actually hard and reminded me of Phu Kradeung but that’s probably because I’m so out of shape… We then set off for Chiang Mai and there we saw a Subway… We went insane. We hadn’t seen Subway in four months and couldn’t wait to eat there. We were in Chiang Mai for three nights and we ate at subway twice. We were extremely content. We went to the night bazaar every night and made our way through the vendors haggling in Thai and trying to get the cheapest price. Amazingly we weren’t bad and because we could speak Thai the vendors began giving us the prices they reserved for Thai people. We had a lot of fun walking around and just hanging out together. We saw the Chiang Mai zoo which was exciting because we go to see so many exotic animals like elephants, pandas, koala bears, leopards, panthers, white tigers, lions, etc. We had a traditional Thai dinner and a show one night and it was really awesome seeing the dancers do what they practice for hours everyday. Our next destination was Chiang Rai where we saw the White Temple. It’s a famous temple for its intricate design and being complete ly white. The inside was interesting. The paintings included weird characters like those from the Matrix or Star Wars and other random appearances. We met the architect too who was thrilled to meet foreigners who weren’t over the age of 50. That day we also saw the golden triangle where Laos, Thailand, and Burma meet. We took photos and rode on a boat tour on the river where they all met up. Later on in the trip we met the people of the long neck tribe, saw the royal gardens of the King’s mother who had a house in the mountains whose architecture was a fusion of Thai and Swedish design, and we saw the Thai version of the Grand Canyon. We were then off to the Sukhothai province. There we saw ruins and Thailand’s most beautiful Buddha image. The last day of our trip was Christmas day and it was spent in an incredible hotel. Nicest one we’d been in so far. We had a party for us and each of us had a secret Santa so presents were received. It was a great t ime and although family couldn’t be there we were happy to have each other. Tears were of course shred, and it seemed like everyone had plenty. The trip was such an amazing experience. We’d seen a part of Thailand that is incredibly famous and it was humbling to see every aspect of the northern culture. The bonds we made were strengthened on this trip and everyone seemed so grateful where we were and for the people we were there with. Once again we made the trip back to Korat and then to our separate cities. Now we have our final trip to look forward to and yet it’s only another reminder of the dwindling time we have here in Thailand. This next trip will be extremely difficult both for our friends and family that we will miss when we have to say goodbye.
I’m assuming people are curious as to what I actually do in Thailand what life is like here so I figured I’d take sometime to really go over some basic aspects of my life here.
Food: Yes I eat Thai food everyday and no I have not gotten bored of it. It has many variations. For breakfast I do not eat Thai food. I don’t like the idea of my breakfast including rice with meat so I have my very American breakfast of organic oatmeal, a yogurt, and some coffee. Lunch comes with many variations as well. Depending on the day, weekday or weekend, I have many options. Weekdays are spent at school where I go to lunch at the “cafeteria”. I say that with quotations because it’s an open patio with many vendors selling every kind of Thai food you could possibly want. I go to a specific vendor and get the staple, rice, with either pad pak (stir fried veggies), a green bean dish that looks like pasta but is actually green beans mixed with eggs, onions, seafood, tomato, etc, a lettuce and kale dish with a little meat and their spicy chili’s, and a soup made of tofu, lettuce, some pork, in a chicken broth. I eat that with pineapple everyda y. The pineapple here is to die for. On weekends I eat out with my family for lunch and it’s usually GUI thio from the mall here. Dinner is a variation every night and it depends on what my host family wants to eat. When it comes to how to eat food, the Thai people are superior to Americans. They eat with a spoon in their right and a fork in the left. They shovel food onto the spoon. Rice is much easier to eat with a spoon than a fork and I have no idea why Americans try to eat it with a fork. Knives are scarcely used except when steak is prepared, which is rare.
TV: Television is mostly soap operas that everyone loves to follow. I however cannot stand them because the acting is atrocious. I understand very little but you don’t have to understand to realize that the facial expressions are over exaggerated and the “mad yelling” is terribly over done. Another favorite is soccer. They love it here and the team everyone really roots for is Manchester United, this I will probably never understand.
People: People here are warm, friendly, and inviting. Sometimes to the extreme. I am constantly stared at, that is not an overstatement. I am gawked at everyday everywhere I go. Everyone here is tan, dark black/brown hair, and dark brown eyes. I am an oddity to them. My light skin, light eyes, and light hair are something they normally don’t see, especially at my age. They are used to seeing older “farangs” (a word they used to describe foreigners). It was uncomfortable at first to be stared at so much but I eventually got used to it and I’m very used to it. It will be weird going home and not having eyes bulging out at me.
Language: In my area there are two languages spoken, Thai and Esan. Thai is the standard language here and everyone will understand it. Esan is the language of my area, the northeast. It is a mixture of Thai and Laos and both languages are equally confusing and difficult thanks to the variations of tone. You can say one word and it could mean five different words entirely. You may accidentally call your mom and horse or a dog. She will find it funny but if you weren’t a foreigner it would be considered offensive…
School: School is much different here than in Florida. The buildings are five stories high. The teachers are given more respect outside of the classrooms than they are inside the classrooms. Everyone stays with the same class the same year and go to different classrooms. The grades are at matayom. There are uniforms here and they are absolutely god awful, on purpose. They are intended to draw attention away from the person and keep everyone focused on school. Individuality is severely suppressed in school. Hair must be pulled back into a pony tail and any stray hairs are supposed to be pinned back. Only the first hole of earrings is to be used. No make-up is allowed whatsoever. No jewelry except maybe a bracelet and your hair is not allowed to be dyed whatsoever.
Transportation: Thailand is not a walking friendly country even though everyone normally does. There are very few sidewalks and when there are they are covered with shop merchandise. Cars are of course everywhere as are scooters but Thai people drive very crazily and aggressive. I travel by Song tao. These are the public “buses”. I use quotations because they are not busses but pickup trucks with open trailers. To catch one you must wave them down, there are no bus stops. I take one to school every day and to random places around the city. They are cheap and effective.
Religion: The religion here is of course Buddhism. 95% of the country practices. There is a major shrine in each city and most people “wai” to it. It’s not uncommon to see a monk walking around and it’s also not uncommon to see a Thai person giving food or goods in exchange for a short prayer.
Weather: A permanent summer exists in Thailand. The “winter” season does get down to between 18-24 degree Celsius but that only happens during the mornings or late evenings. The days are hot and humid with temperatures ranging from 28-35 degrees Celsius. I’m sorry I don’t know Fahrenheit anymore
My life here is Thailand is normal. This once foreign place is now familiar. I know the streets, I know faces, I know places, and once again I’ll have to leave the familiarity. I’ve taken an incredible journey and I’m loving every step of it.
February 7, 2013
It’s February 7, 2013 and I figured it’s as good a time as any to begin writing my January blog. Besides New years January was incredibly uneventful. There is no exaggeration in that statement. My life took on a daily routine of waking up, going to school, getting home, spending time on the computer watching movies, studying with Rosetta Stone, or reading the books my mom had generously shipped to me for Christmas. It was a dull monotony and one of the hardest things I’ll ever admit is that I wanted to give up. I would never actually give up and go home, but the thought was always in the back of my mind tempting in the dullest or darkest moments during that month. The scene played in my head of a changed Caroline walking through the Jacksonville arrivals line and seeing seven faces smiling up at me with warmth and 10 months of anticipation. This scene only played when I literally had watched every movie in my inventory at least twice and the music was getting old. Still is would appear and I must warn the future outbounds to busy yourself much more than you think possible to avoid this. Luckily as the days slothed by they also went whizzing by. It is possibly the hardest thing to explain to the future outbounds. How you can be counting down the days one moment and in the next moment a week has already flown by. How you want time to speed up at moments and come to a complete stop during others. Time seems incomprehensible while on exchange. It looks like a friend and then it appears as the cruel kindergarten bully taking your precious lunch away.
Anyways New Years’ was spectacular and one I will never forget. I celebrated the New Year not only 12 hours ahead of everyone back home, but with people from all over the world. Khon Kaen exchangers met up with our rotary club in the central plaza where the festivities were gathered and traffic stopped. We were enjoying the company of other district 3340 YE’s that had come to stay with us and bring in the New Year. At one point we saw a bunch of other students, who looked quite like us, standing in a group talking and enjoying the shows. Curious we went up and started talking. Miraculously we had stumbled into the district 3330 inbounds heading home from their Northeastern trip. We met kids from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, U.S.A, France, Finland, and so forth. We were exhilarated and new energy emerged. We began to do what we do best which was talk our heads off and wait for the new year to come in. Fireworks marked the beginning of 2013 and grins lit the faces of everyone in sight. The same thought passed through each of our minds: this was the one we would and could never forget.
As I said before, the routine kicked in only a couple days after New Years’ when school started up again and the days dragged on. This is the time of year where the hardest holidays are over and the true test of your exchange begins. You are for the most part alone, you have Thai friends yes, but the language is still difficult and they study an abnormal amount here, to the point where there parents make them stay home every night almost. How you deal with this part of your exchange is where you grow and learn. You can really do a lot with the amount of time that you have between trips and between big events. Find a local place to volunteer whether it is a hospital, orphanage, or even at your school. Go exercise because believe me at this point you have gained some pounds and are regretting the frequent snack stops you took on all the trips preceding this date. The more you do during this time the easier it is to keep your mind off of home. ALSO do not feel ashamed if you think of home, trust me everyone does it. Maybe more so in cultures much more different than Florida and America, but nonetheless there are moments in everyone’s exchange where nothing sounds better than home. Just remember and continue to remind yourself that this is your one chance to really see what its like beyond your own comfort zone. You get to see something no one else can imagine and you experience ideas and people, which make others regret not going “the road less traveled”. Had I not taken this year abroad I would be up at FSU studying to be a physical therapist, I would be taking exams right now, having homework, working on papers, dealing with trivial things. Instead I am living 9,328 miles (30 hours by plane) from home experiencing a new language, culture, climate, etc. I am living an entirely new life and the rewards I know will be plentiful. This has to be the most clichéd poem and quote used by every exchange student ever, but to me its rings the loudest. Every exchange student you ever come in contact will tell you that this quote sums up everything.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And it has made all the difference”
February 28th, 2013 & March 6th, 2013
I remember saying how slowly January went by and yet here I am at the end of February staring aghast at how fast this month has left me. It’s already the beginnings of march and in three short months I return to my home in the States (no one outside of America calls it America). February was the ending of school and the beginning of a lot of free time. The first two months were slow but not really there was just enough time to relax and catch up on some tv shows and whatnot. The third week of February I decided it was time for some traveling without a group of 40 something people. Anne, Lizzy, and I decided to go to Bangkok for a week and stay in a house that her host siblings occupy. They had an extra room on the fourth floor and that meant we could come without having to pay for a hotel or hostel. The first few days we went shopping and blew some money on some desperately needed new clothes. Of course after we spent it, the money became tighter and the amount of activities we could do became less. Nonetheless those three days were filled with lots of walking and finally seeing a movie I have wanted to see before leaving the states: Les Miserables. Such an incredible movies and I am proud to say one of my favorite actresses, Anne Hathaway, won best supporting actress at the Oscars so it was a great weekend. That Monday we were supposed to go see the temples but everyone was feeling under the weather so we spent a lazy day just getting food when we were hungry and reading our separate books. On Tuesday the real adventure began. We decided we were going to see three very famous temples of Bangkok and our mode of transportation would be walking. We were optimistic and the journey began at a reasonable time. We had breakfast at around 10 and left around 11:30. We go to the first temple around 12 and that temple is known as the marble temple or Wat Benchamabophit. To get to the first temple we took the BTS which is the Bangkok sky airway to the nearest stop and walked 2.8 kilometers to the temples and on the way we ran into a monitor lizard. Not your typical lizard you see back in Florida, look it up and you will see its quite big and known in Thailand as the unlucky lizard so not a great start to our long day. The beautiful temple was made of marble walls and floors it was a great new view of Bangkok that we hadn’t seen before. After being at the temple for about two seconds we realized that there was a television crew and 15 abnormally tall girls walking. After a first failed attempt to ask what was going on, we were shooed and told that it was “something”, we found out that we had miraculously stumbled upon the filming of Australia’s next top model. The fifteen contestants were shooting their earliest episodes right there at the temple we were at in Bangkok. Having seen the American version numerous times I concluded early on that it must be the television series. We were absolutely thrilled and wanted to see more but we had an incredibly busy day ahead of us.. After leaving the temple we walked another 3.9 kilometers to Wat Pho, home of the world’s largest reclining Buddha. I had seen the huge religious piece before but seeing it again was definitely surreal. You never remember how monstrous it really is until you walk in and see that the head is massive. We saw more of the surrounding areas of the temple and eavesdropped on numerous “farang” conversations to see what language they could possibly be speaking. After walking around the temple we decided to head out to our final temple, Wat Arun. It was a beautiful temple with a chance to climb up an incredibly steep staircase and telling each other “DON’T LOOK DOWN”. We had to take a boat across the river and it was a mere 800 meters from the second temple so that thrilled us. We got some incredibly spicy som tum and khao niao (papaya salad and sticky rice) and ate before setting off on the boat. We ended up walking all the way back to the BTS station which was a little under 5km. A long walk but I wanted to avoid the MRT which is like the “thai” subway and if it’s anything like New York it can only be dangerous and murky so I felt we made a good group decision. Once home we were extremely exhausted and not extraordinarily hungry. I made a stop at the seven eleven for all of us who wanted something and we spent the night watching movies we hadn’t seen in a while such as Hercules and The Phantom of the Opera. It was a great ending to a wonderful day full of achievement. I haven’t walked so much since our first trip to Phu Kradeung. It was a great way to end the trip to Bangkok and we were probably the three happiest exchange students possible.
As February came to a close with our little trip the thought of leaving was in the forefront of everyones mind. I had the days down in my calendar and I told them and they were stunned at how little time I had left. I proceeded in telling them the amount of days Lizzy has left (she leaves may 1st) and at that point she had a mere 65 days left. She was actually rendered speechless. She thought for sure she had much more time than that. We were under the illusion that we would be together for a much longer time and the sudden realization left us feeling a tid bit depressed. We told ourselves that we knew this would be coming and can’t let it ruin the rest of our exchange. We parted ways happily knowing that in our minds we only had to wait three weeks until the famed “south” trip where we would be headed to some of the world’s most beautiful and renowned beaches. We said goodbyes and I headed back to Khon Kaen. I was going home to a messy room and loads to pack before heading out to my third host family
It took me a while to pack, mainly because I was incredibly lazy and found any excuse in the book not to pack up what would be six bags, but also because there was just so much stuff that I didn’t know how to really organize it all and so it took me three days. I had 7 bags in total, two small plastic bags with gifts that I have yet to give out, one filled with dirty clothes, the other filled with clothes I am throwing away because they have been torn or are just falling apart. So technically I only have two bags and one that is just an extra bag given to me by Rotary. It was a haul getting everything to the next house and luckily I had help from the exchange student Gabriel who helped me load everything into my room. I thought it would be like leaving my first family. But it was less so. I wasn’t as sad and I wasn’t as scared because I knew what to expect seeing as it was second move. Awkwardness was definitely a part of it but that comes with the territory of being an exchange student and you grow accustomed to it making it as less awkward as possible. I have now spent my first night and most of my first day in the house and I am sincerely happy. Its been a great first start with a workout that has been long overdue and a swim and tanning session. I got to eat my favorite yogurt and finish a book I was reading as well as continue studying thai, the incredibly hard language. The only sad fact is that this little piece of happiness will be gone in a mere two months. I am off to the south which takes up a good ten days so I really only have 2 months in this house… I plan on making the most of it and plan on really connecting myself here.
It’s been a while since this has been mentioned but I am incredibly thankful to Rotary for opening my eyes to something beyond America (which everywhere else calls the states of USA because everyone in the “Americas” is American…). I’m grateful for giving me this opportunity and preparing me as best as possible for what has been the most amazing year filled with amazing people and experiences I am positive I could never try to forget. I am also thankful for the Rotary here in Thailand who have been so accommodating and really like a giant family (or multiple moms since they’re all women). This is a once in a lifetime chance and I’m glad I decided to forsake everything to see what was waiting for me, so THANK YOU to all who have been involved.
April 5, 2013
March came and passed in a whir of excitement. Not only did I change families March 5 but the end of the month was the long awaited southern trip so to say it passed without a hint of slow days is completely accurate.
I had been waiting to switch families for a while and when the day finally came I couldn’t contain my excitement. Not that I didn’t love my second family because I do. My host brother in that family is the absolute best and I didn’t really want to leave him, but the day came and I packed all my stuff up and headed for the next house. My third host family consists of my host mom, my host sister, and myself. I also have two host brothers but one is on exchange in Mexico and the other is at his university in Shanghai, China. I have met them both and they’re really great guys. My house is now is similar to my previous one. Two stories, balconies, beautiful front garden, gym, pool, and the only difference and the one I prefer is this family has a dog. Her name is Sandy. She is I believe a golden retriever with butterscotch eyes and may be the craziest, nutter I have ever met. She always greets me at the gate jumping and nuzzling me. I have missed affection from dogs that aren’t trying to attack me or scare the crap out of me so having her around is only another thing that makes this home feel like my actual home. The routine with this family is simple. I wake up and my host mom has gone to work so for the most part I am alone until around 12 when my host sister wakes up and we eat lunch together. She then goes to watch tv and I go to either run, swim, tan, shop, walk around, play with sandy, or anything else to occupy my time. My school is in the summer months now both school wise and temperature wise so no school for the time being. I am completely grateful for that because the temperature is in the mid 30s for the morning and peaks into the mid 40s in the afternoons. BLISTERING HOT. There is not a chance on this earth that you do not sweat when you step outside. I’ve grown accustomed to it, even though it makes Florida summers look like winter. When the clock hits around 7 my host mom comes home from work where she cooks simple but delicious and nutricious meals (gotta lose those terrible pounds ya gain) for dinner. We eat together as a family and we help clean dishes and the front yard and then we sit down to watch TV. This is where we watch the English shows with Thai subtitles because although I’ve been here for around 8 months this language is quite difficult to understand so they let me watch and they either watch along with me or are on their cellphones (Thai people are addicted to social media, much more so than Americans).
The next few weeks passed and the 17th came which meant Rotary District 3340’s Conference. We were all packed in our vans with our dresses, heels, shirts, and ties and headed out with the outbounds of next year. We didn’t participate in the first date of the conference much it was more for the outbounds. The current inbounds however represented each rotary club in our district by walking down the huge aisle to the stage with a banner and its name. Afterwards we were rushed to our next activity at a school. We were greeted by a majority of the students there and we were welcomed like nothing I’ve seen before. Everyone was gratious and thrilled to be able to spend the evening with us and it was a mutual feeling. They taught us how to make “som tum” which is a spicy papaya salad that I have grown obsessed with and will miss terribly when I get home. They taught us how to make fermented rice noodles. I know they sound absolutely disgusting but its re ally just plain noodles only made out of rice and to get the rice to cooperate you have to ferment it…. Either way its delicious if you put some thai spices and vinegar on them. The next activity they had us doing was learning more Thai dance. Most of us have already practiced this art form at one time or another so they were stunned to see that we would keep up and that we could do things with grace (well for the most part) and poise. It still puzzles me how they get their fingers to bend back so far away from their palm… We then were able to eat and talk with the students as well as watch some performances from them with one girl who sang Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” better than Celine Dion. No joke. It was incredible and everyone was silenced. I hadn’t heard her first song since I was in the bathroom but coming out I thought it was ironic that they were playing a Celine Dion cd over the loud speaker. I turn a corner and see thi s little Thai girl singing it and my mouth just falls open. Although I have already learned this from living here, its just another prime example that you can’t judge a book by its cover, whatsoever. We packed up and left and headed back to our respective cities with the knowledge that the long awaited and legendary South Trip was only a mere four days away.
The southern trip has always seemed like a figment of the imagination. Since the day I arrived I knew I would be taking a trip down that way but I just assumed it would never come. To have the trip date actually arrive was mystifying and none of really believed the day had arrived. Nonetheless, we packed our belongings and set out for our bus journey to paradise. Here is where I am going to sum things up because it was a ten day journey through the south and so much happened that telling you day by day may bring you to sleep… We went to the emerald pool and a hot spring in Morakot. Left to Krabi where we traveled to a boat got on and went to Krabi Sea, Phra Nang Bay, and Phra Nang Cave. We did a bit of snorkeling during this time and it was probably the coolest place I’ve ever snorkeled (besides coco cay)! We had lunch at this island called poh dah island where we saw these huge rock formations jutting out of the sea like it was no big deal. We then visited Kai Island (translated to “chicken” island because it really did look like a chickens head), Thup island where you could walk across on a sandbar to another island, Moh Island, and then one of Thailands “unseen” islands. We headed for Pangna bay the next day where we saw James’ Bond Island (appropriately named after the 1974 James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun”), KhoaTaPoo, and Thum Lod. Seeing where James Bond stood and the awesome formation that is so famous was pretty thrilling and surreal. We then had lunch at PanYee island which is a muslim fishing market. Delicious food and really cool souvenirs. We took our fairy boat next to our island hotel which had to be surrounded by the most beautiful water and beach I have seen in a very long time. Everyone gazed at the water deeming it “Gatorade” water. Clearest and stunning cerulean blue we’d all ever seen. We docked and took a dingy to the island where we staye d for two days and two nights. The next day we set out for a bunch of other islands (5th, 6th, and 8th islands) where we were free to snorkel and explore. Here is where I went snorkeling and saw a sea turtle (Gnarly man!), a huge starfish, an eel who was pretty menacing, sea urchins everywhere, I found nemo and his home the anemone which was really awesome. I swam down deep to get a better look at it. After the day we headed back to our island hotel and everyone was getting off to get on the dingy but my two best exchange friends and I decided to snorkel to the island. It was a lot of fun seeing all the coral and fish. Halfway through we’d realized that something inconsequential was stinging us and although it didn’t hurt from time to time we would feel it and wonder what was attacking us. I remembered later seeing little orange specks that would light up that were pretty cool only to find a poster on the island saying there were poisonous jellyfish and the most abundant were the little orange specks that were only .1cm big. The invisible attacker was found out and Lizzy ended up with a rash on her chest which was the most harm those little buddies could do. Our next leg in the journey was to Phuket where we had dinner and a show at the World’s Biggest Buffet called Phuket Fantasea! The most tourist spot I have ever seen and the food was delicious. We hadn’t experienced fries that good since we left the U.S. The next day was filled with traveling and shopping for souvenirs and a visit to the PhromThep Cape where we could witness “The Most Beautiful Sunset in Thailand” according to every tourist information center in Thailand. We were not let down. The sky was a multitude of colors that created a beautiful end to a fantastic trip down south. We got some incredible pictures and memories that will live with us for eternity. Our trip had ended and we were on our way back to Korat. We made a few pit stops at a flo ating market and a paintball place which was a lot of fun and ended the journey knowing that some of us would be leaving in only a months time. It was sad to have to say goodbye to some people that you won’t see again either forever or for a really long time. I have a feeling the next goodbye though will be the hardest and none of us are looking forward to it
Over the next few weeks it the routine continued the same as before I had left and honestly though they say monotony can be dangerous I love my routine because it’s normal. I see friends from time to time and I stay in from time to time. This is what my life would be like had I stayed in the U.S. In these last couple of months I’ve come to love my country so much more than I thought possible. I’ve come to enjoy the heat because I know that its what makes this country a little more unique than others. I’ve come to enjoy the 20-30 min bus ride into town where I get gawked at without discretion. I love the food even when it singes my taste buds. I love the piece of marble I sleep on (figuratively speaking). I love this crazy country and I’m sad to have to leave it. I now have a mere 8 weeks left here and I can see how I’ve changed and how I’ve grown as a person. Its crazy to look back at what I was like before I got here and what I am l ike now. It’s a thrill to see that my patience has actually expanded, I don’t have to control every aspect of my life, I don’t see myself as a person from America but rather The States and as a person from Thailand. The judgment I sometimes showed is gone now and I am seeing things through a different view and I’m liking it. I miss home, of course, but I know it is not a “figment of my imagination”. That day is going to come whether I’m ready or not, but to have this experience under my belt is something that I am forever grateful for. I love everyone that I have met here and from other countries. This year, all the ups and down, will live with me for the rest of my life and will continue to teach me things as a face other obstacles in the future. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and giving me the best words of encouragement and also those who have lived through this crazy year with me and my crazy self finding my way. With out you I don’t know what would've happened or if my exchange year would be as fulfilling and incredible as it has been so far.