Crystle Siegel 
2012-13 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Clermont, FL
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 3330, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Phrapadaeng

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'Congratulations.' I turn from accepting a tissue from an airport employee to see a man in a gray jacket looking at me. He answers my unspoken question when he says 'I'm a Rotarian. Congratulations.' It takes me a moment to get out my 'Thank you' though it sounds a bit rough from the whole new wave of tears that have found their way into my eyes and throat. Being in the emotional state that I was, the simplest act of kindness was making me cry more. But I don't think anyone really blamed me. I know I didn't.

I'm going to remember that moment forever. I'd already said goodbye to my family, had forced myself to step away from their arms but I could still see them and people were already helping me and being kind. And since that moment it's been that way. I've had help all along the way, through the scary or tough patches and the happy and fun moments have just been boosted from other people's kindness. One of my friends said they would like to go on exchange but they think it would be lonely. For anyone who thinks that, I want to set it straight right now. It won't be lonely. This experience has not been lonely and from my friend's stories, they aren't unbearably lonely either. So far, I've found that it really doesn't matter if you can't understand a word people are saying. They will try to communicate with you because they WANT to be friends with you.

So I've been here about a month and a half. And how has it been? Incredible. Fun. Crazy. Foreign. Fast. Too fast. What I write will probably not do these last few weeks justice. I haven't had a free weekend since I was in the States, I wake up early to go places I don't know or don't remember the name of, and I understood when my little brother called me a chicken or my friends ask if I've had breakfast or what time I'm going home.

Let me go back.

I arrived in Bangkok with two other exchange students, a bit up and scabbed lip (compliments of the 14 hour plane ride out of the US to Tokyo), and a suitcase that I had attempted to stuff everything I wanted to bring into. Which, by the way, I pretty much failed at. My hoodie would've pushed the weight over, my mom took my sais out and I only brought 1 book. Wonderful, right? After customs, we found the groups who were picking us up and said our goodbyes. My welcoming committee consisted of my host dad, sister, YEO and his son. We ate dinner, where I learned to detail a shrimp using a fork and a spoon then left and I got my first look at Bangkok. As late as it was, I couldn't see much and my first thought was 'It looks sorta like L.A.' And it did. With less skyscrapers. In the parking garage, I had my first reminder that I wasn't in LA. The driver sits on the right hand side in the car and they drive on the left side of the road. I s till forget about that and will expect someone to go to the left side of the car to get in the driver's seat.

That weekend, I got my school uniform and celebrated Mother's Day, which is celebrated on the Queen's birthday. Mother's Day was interesting. I was given a commemorative 80 Baht note for the Queen's 80th birthday and witnessed a Thai auction where they auctioned off a couple dozen eggs and asked for a 300 Baht item to be paid for in only 10 Baht coins or another item paid for in 10 Baht notes which are being faded out and I are kind of hard to find. The best I can do is compare them to 50 cent or $1 coins or the $2 bill. That week, I had a meeting about school where I met two other exchange students, both from Japan. One of whom is fluent in English and speaks with a British accent and the other has been here for 4 months. The next day was my first day of school. The other new exchange student (Saeko) and I both had to introduce ourselves on stage in front of the 3000 (it seems like way more than that!) students in the school in Thai. We were t hen welcomed to the school with a sort of welcoming/goodbye ceremony and led to class. The classes here are so loud. The first class we went to, the teacher was speaking into a microphone but no one was paying attention, they were all talking and you basically had to yell to be heard. There are a couple classes like that and the kids won't do anything, they'll sleep or the girls will braid each other's hair or maybe work on homework from other classes. There are some strict teachers. You can tell if a teacher is strict by the way the class quiets down when they enter the classroom. Sometimes the teachers don't even show up for class so we just have free time for that period. Once, my class had to wait for the English teacher to show up because he was sleeping.

Whenever anyone asks me what I think about school here, I always answer 'Sa nook mask!' or 'It's so much fun!' The students will stay here for a while after school and I don't blame them, you're pretty much hanging out with your friends, unlike the other schools I've been to where the teachers will basically kick you off campus if you aren't staying for a club or sport activity. We're also allowed to leave the school to go buy something either along the street the school is on or go elsewhere. So far, I've left school with my friends to have lunch at Big C which is a sort of supermarket with extra stores and also to go see a temple and a bit of the Grand Palace.

Enough about school.

My host family is pretty great. I have 2 older sisters, 1 older brother, 1 younger brother and 1 younger sister. I also have my mom and dad and grandmother. And we all live in the same house. So I'm a part of a pretty big family right now. Our house is 3 stories and my room is on the top with access to a balcony. It's so nice except for the building that blocks the sunrise in the mornings. My host mom is really sweet, she mostly teaches me food names and will ask questions about my day in Thai. My dad is nice also but I don't see him a whole lot during the day since he teaches a class at the university and also works at the family business. My older sisters definitely help me learn Thai. Poon (younger older sister) has taken me a ton of places since I've been here and allows me to try a lot of different foods that I would like to try at the markets or store. Su (older elder sister) has not only helped me with my Thai but she's also taugh t me Thai games and let me help her cook Thai dishes for dinner. She is also the one most interested in trying the American dishes that I can cook. She also likes to take me with her when she goes out. My older brother is the one that has me try everything: pig liver, kidney, heart, fried pig fat, jellyfish, crispy baby clams and squid (not calamari style). I'm sure sometime in the future I'll also be trying crocodile, duck feet, and other strange things because of him. My little siblings are both really cute and they have helped me learn Thai as well. My brother is super energetic but he pretty much wastes his energy by watching TV. If he's not watching TV then he's playing a game on someone's phone. And if he's not doing either of those and he's not sleeping he will talk your ear off. He talks so much and I usually don't understand a word so it makes me wonder what all he can talk about forever. He's silly and I love having him as a sibling. I don't think my little sister is quite old enough to understand that when she asks me to play with her or do something else I don't totally understand because I don't speak the same language as her. Either way, she's taught me things here and there and is adorable!

Thailand in general is so amazing. It's so different from anything I've ever experienced. In addition to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, I haven't seen any posted speed limits except on those signs that warn of a curve coming up in the road. You can literally buy food anywhere. Except in school. It seems that the school will not sell food unless it's lunch period. And yes, Thai people are ALWAYS eating. I'm pretty sure my metabolism has sped up since I've been here because I'm given food to eat so often. The food here is delicious. A lot of it is spicy but my spice tolerance has gone up since I arrived. Most of it is hand/homemade, except the snacks and maybe the American restaurants that they have here. The fruit is so good, my family must think I'm a health nut because of how much fruit I eat. But Thai fruits, or at least the fruits that are available out here are so much better than the ones we have in America. In America we have oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas and strawberries. Here, there's pretty much all that plus two types of mango, rambutan (what I call hairy fruit), pamelo, dragon fruit, star fruit, guava, durian, Thai apples, Chinese oranges (which are green) and other ones that I haven't tried or don't know the name of. The markets here are amazing. You can find anything you could ever want or think of plus a little at JJ market. I was told it covers 22 acres. You could easily get lost and go broke (for exchange students) in one day there. Honestly, it's probably better than all the American malls I've ever been to combined. The regular malls here are pretty crazy too. I went to a five story store that was only technology. You could find every bit of technology there: phones, computers, music players, tablets, and pretty much everything else. Near that, I also went through a six fl oor clothing store that apparently doesn't have only one building. I don't think a one story mall even exists in Bangkok. Everything here is super cheap too! Because of the conversion rate (1 USD= 30 THB) when I first got here I was pretty messed up on what's expensive or not. I would get upset that a bottle of water was 7 baht even though that's less than 1 dollar. I haven't really experienced any homesickness except for maybe books and video games because that's what I would do when I was bored in America. Here, when I'm bored I watch TV or a movie or go on the computer. I'm trying to get out of that habit and do other more productive things like searching colleges to go to or reading A Series of Unfortunate Events in Thai.

Well I'm going to stop this entry here because its about three pages in Word and I could easily write another three or more describing what else I've done and where I've gone, but I'll leave that for next time. Hopefully this year doesn't go by as fast as my first month did! 


April 2013

Hi everyone! This is incredibly late but here it is, RYE journal #3.

I've been here 8 months so far and have 2 and a half left. Time is going by way too fast, I don't want to leave!

To tell about the past eight months, I think I'm just going to borrow Bethany's layout here. In my next journal, I will probably go over the things that I have gotten to do with Rotary, my hosts, and my school.

Food: Thailand is one of those countries that eats rice with everything. And I do mean everything. Usually if I'm not eating rice with a meal it's because I'm either eating breakfast (more on that in a bit) or I'm eating a soup. It's also very hard to find cold Thai food. Usually if I want to eat something cold I go for Japanese food because they sell a lot of Japanese food here as well and most Thai food is hot with exceptions for most drinks and desserts A lot of Thai food is fried or sauteed so it has a lot of oil in it. A really common dish to eat is an omelette but never for breakfast. Its also flat instead of folded over. For breakfast, Thai people normally eat food that you could also have for lunch, grilled chicken and a couple other dishes with rice. However, I usually have a sandwich or cereal because when I go to school, it's usually only me and one or two other people up so my host mom will leave breakfast up to me. The fruit here is so good! They have a lot of different fruits we don't have in the States like dragon fruit starfruit, rambutan (which I call 'hairy fruit'), rose apples, and several more fruits that I don't know the name of. They also eat both green and orange mangoes, have at least 4 different types of bananas and use green papaya in dishes. They use coconut in most, if not all Thai style desserts so a lot of them are really sweet. I have had a cooking class a couple times and have learned to cook several Thai dishes including steamed egg, papaya salad, Thai style omelette, and a dish with shrimp and Chinese woonsen noodles. You can also buy food pretty much everywhere and it's true that Thai people eat all the time. My current host mom usually makes me or attempts to make me eat more when I'm not hungry or am already full or she will just put food on my plate at dinner without me asking. Like right now, there is a plate of chopped up rose apples sitt ing on the coffee table in front of me that she put there. And she put it there less than a half hour after I finished breakfast.

TV: They have shows from the States out here and they're in English. Stuff from Fox and Cartoon Network. But forget those. Thai TV. Everyone here watches soap operas (I don't!) some of my friends saying they keep up with over 100 different ones. Thai soap operas are sorta cheesy and over dramatic but still kind of entertaining. The commercials use a lot of false lures to advertise their products - I saw an advertisement for a yogurt that would make you less of a loser, get the girl of your dreams, help you grow taller, and a couple other things. Most of those have me trying not to chuckle out loud while riding the sky train. They also put little blurs over things like wine, guns, cigarettes. Which I thought was funny the first time I saw it because it's just this little circle over it and you can pretty clearly see what's underneath it. They also play the national anthem every morning at 8 am which I think is great.

People: Thai people are nice. It's a stereotype but it's true. Thai people are hospitable and friendly. However, they like to gossip a lot. And if you don't speak Thai or they don't think you do, they will talk about you in front of you. My family has told people that I have just met about me and say that I don't speak Thai well and I'm sitting there like 'Hey! I can understand you! D: '. They will be surprised if you are a foreigner and speak Thai and will say 'Oh, great! That's great!' They're always sort of shocked when I tell them that I've been studying Thai for not much longer than a year and that before I came to Thailand I was teaching myself Thai.

What People Think of Me: I don't really know what people here think of me. But I do think I have some sort of idea. When walking around in my school uniform, strangers will wonder what the heck this foreigner is doing wearing a Thai school uniform. Some can't help but stare and others continue like they see this odd sort of thing everyday. People in school still stare as well. Though either it's less intense or I've just grown accustomed to it, I'm not sure. Some still shout out random 'Hi's' and occasionally a boy will shout out 'I love you!' both of which always put a smile on my face because Thai people are just so wonderful. My classmates probably think Saeko (other exchange student) and I are crazy. But the girls are our friends and when it comes to the guys, it's no longer a game of avoid the foreigners or get 'OHHH'ed' by the rest of the boys for sitting at the same table as us or us asking them a question. As for my family, they are happy when I show improvement on my Thai. My little brother thinks I'm good at video games and my little sister accepted me into the family a while ago. I'm not entirely sure what my current host family thinks of me but I know my sister, Lin, thinks I'm brave because of all the things I've done, i.e. jumping off a boat hiking all over dangerous places and stuff like that. She was surprised when I said I have two and a half months left and said I should stay with her longer which I completely agree with!

Embarrassing Stories: Well.. if anything, I've had a few language screw ups (the words for banana and penis are verry similar) and both of my families have caught me doing the weirdest things. But most of my embarrassing stories have happened while hanging out with exchange students like the time I got on a bus and then jumped off when it started moving because the person I was with hadn't gotten on and I thought they were coming with me.

School: Currently, it is summer break. I haven't been to school since the third week of February and won't go back until the middle of May. When I do go to school, however, I take classes in Thai art, Thai language, music, Thai dance (if I can), computers, occasionally a Thai cooking class, P.E., and a couple other random classes. I don't really go to classes like math and science because I don't exactly understand what the teacher is saying. Usually, I will go to the library with Saeko where most of the time I either work on scholarship applications or practice my Thai.

Transportation: I really like the public transportation system here because it's so easy to get around and it's cheap. They have the MRT (underground train), the BRT (another underground train), the BTS (sky train), buses, taxis, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks (a three wheeler), bok-boks (which are sort of like small pick up trucks fitted with seating on the back) and song taos which are like large trucks with a back that has seats but is tall enough for you to stand in. I say it's cheap because just turning on the meter in the taxi is 35 baht or about $1. The buses I normally take are 8 baht which is less than 5 cents and if you want to save on money, there free buses. The bus numbers also help me figure out where in Bangkok I am when I go someplace new with my family.

Religion: Thailand is a Buddhist country. There are temples everywhere and the second religion is Muslim. I still haven't been able to find a church out here despite my not only searching online but asking several locals. The religion is incorporated in the schools, with the students praying each morning and having a religion class. Some kids who are not Buddhist (like me and my friend Ploy) stand politely and wait while the rest of the kids pray. There are a lot of monks here. I was surprised when I first came here and saw all the monks. They wear a bright orange robe and most of the time are bald. Most wear some type of sandals but there are a few who don't wear shoes at all. Some of them don't act like you think monks should. I've seen monks taking motorcycle taxis, sitting on the skytrain, buying phones or walking around giant malls dedicated to electronics. The last two always make me questions what monks can and can't do because I always thought they aren't supposed to use electronics while being monks. That's another thing, you don't have to be a monk for life. Most boys go into monk hood for at least a month to bring good luck to their families. There are also lady monks which are called nuns. They don't have to shave their heads unlike the boys do when they first enter monk hood. Nuns aren't as common as monks but you can tell them apart because they wear a white robe and most of them have their hair short or shaved.

Weather: It is really freaking hot right now. Enough said. Haha but seriously, it gets above 90 degrees F normally right now and it's only the beginning of the hottest month of the year. Winter lasted maybe two weeks in which the lowest it got was maybe 73 degrees then it shot right back up to mid and high 80s and it's just been steadily getting hotter since then. It hasn't rained much and I love the rain when it does come. Once rainy season starts though, it will rain just about every day.

Family Life: I switched hosts at the beginning of February and I can't believe I've been with this family two months already. I really like it here. I felt at home the second day I was here despite having cried when I left my first hosts. I really like my siblings, even though they're a little less than twice my age. A lot of the time when I have no plans I go with my sister to work because she drives all over Bangkok and meets people and goes to meetings so when I go with her I see new places and meet a lot of new people, which also allows me to practice my Thai when they want to talk to me. She also will talk to me a bit when she comes home even though it's kind of late and will have me tell her about the things I've done and likes to try the things I cook. My brother works in graphic design which is really cool because it's one of the things I'm interested in. He hasn't showed me anything but we have talked about one of his projects coming up and I think if I ask him in his free time, he'd be happy to show me a bit about Adobe Flash and Illustrator. We also both like video games which is really nice, recently we've been playing a zombie game on his xbox together when there's nothing to do. My host dad reminds me a lot of my real dad and sometimes I forget that they're not quite the same person. My host mom is nice but I feel like she's trying to fatten me up. My brother tells me that she wants to talk to me more but can't because she either doesn't speak English well (to which I think, well I speak Thai not too shabbily) or doesn't really know what to say. I really love this family and don't want to leave them. I don't know if you will understand what I mean when I say this but I will get the 'home' feeling that I get in the States when I'm heading home and looking forward to being back or just am really super comfortable in the house. Ev en the dogs like me which is great because two of them are especially wonderful. Haha this is silly I know but having 4/5 dogs willing to come up to me wagging their tail makes me pretty happy.

This is the end of this journal. I will try not to wait so long for the next one. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I really hope you liked it :)

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