September 20, 2013
Imagine knowing that you are going to leave everything you know to go live in another country for a year. You know this for about 9 months. You tell all of your friends and family. Some of them are impressed, while others are worried, and others don’t take much notice in the significance of it. You plan and try not to have expectations about the year to come because that is what everyone tells you to do. You try to study your language, but can never find the patience or time. Then finally, the month of your departure comes and you run around like a mad man trying to get everything in order and say goodbye to everyone you know. And then you’re off, off to a new country with new people and a new beginning. And the entire time you’re thinking, “ What in the world am I doing?”
It’s crazy how normal it all feels to be living here. As soon as I stepped away from my family at the Orlando airport, it felt normal. The entire 24 hours of my travel felt natural. When I finally arrived to Thailand and saw the men from my Rotary club waiting to welcome me, everything seemed as if I hadn’t just spent the last day flying through time zones further and further away from my friends and my family and my country.
I have been here in Lopburi Thailand for a little over a month now. When I first got here it was a mass of confusion and unknowing all of the time. Now it is a mass of confusion and unknowing all of the time, but I’m use to it. Lopburi Thailand is the city of monkeys. There are monkeys everywhere. It sounds cool to live in a city that has monkeys walking around, and climbing the buildings, but they’re awful. They steal your food and take anything that you have in your hand out of it. They climb on the cars and into shops and on to you. They will stare you down and stalk you for your possessions. On multiple occasions I’ve just given them my food or drink because it just wasn’t worth the trouble of the monkeys jumping on me. It’s like living in a city with a bunch of tiny little criminals. It keeps things interesting… I suppose.
I go to school from Monday to Friday. School starts at 8:00am and ends at 4:00pm, except for the fact that it doesn’t really. I usually don’t get to school till 8:30 at the earliest because for one: I’m an exchange student, and two: the school system is extremely unorganized and not enforced. For instance, right now as I’m typing this up on my computer, I’m sitting in a classroom with my classmates. There is no teacher. Kids are on the floor eating lunch, there are is a guy playing a guitar to a famous Thai song and everyone is up loudly screaming the lyrics and jumping around, some people are sleeping on the pillows that they brought, and I’m sitting next to the other exchange student in this school who is playing Skyrim on the school’s computer. Are they supposed to be in a class? Probably. Do the teachers care? No, because they wouldn’t show up anyway. All of this chaos is entirely normal at school here. It’s not bad; i t’s just different from the American schooling system.
Not studying Thai extensively before I came was probably the worst decision that I’ve made. If you’re reading this and are going on exchange, STUDY YOUR LANGUAGE. Just stop reading this right now and go study your language. Not being able to communicate to people even the simplest of things is extraordinarily difficult beyond belief. Everyday is a struggle and mentally exhausting. Sometimes I turn down invitations to go places because I’m just so tired and don’t want to have to try to have a good time. It’s hard to have a genuinely good time when you can hardly communicate, never know what’s going on, and all you really want to do is lay on your bed in air conditioning and take a nap. It’s lame, but true.
Living here in Thailand doesn’t feel surreal or magical like people said it would. The fact that being here doesn’t feel surreal really upset me for a while. I felt like a failure for not imminently loving my country. But, as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to love it here. Life isn’t a fairy tale, no matter where you are. Being an exchange student is not to love another country, it’s to experience another culture. That’s what I went on exchange for. I don’t have to love it, and honestly it’s more of an experience to not love it, because then that means that you are going through culture shock, which is part of your goal. Not everyone has a honeymoon phase. Going on exchange is not a picnic in the park. It’s more like a hike up a mountain to get to a restaurant that everyone says is worth the climb. I’m not sure if that metaphor makes sense to you, but it makes sense to me.
Don’t get me wrong; I am extremely thankful for this experience that Rotary, my family, and everyone else involved has made possible for me. I know I will learn great lessons from living here. I already have. One lesson I’ve really, truly have learned is to not take what you have for granted. Living in a 3rd world country opens your eyes to how well off the United States is. I will not take this year for granted. That’s a guarantee.
No, I do not love Thailand. I do, however, appreciate the little things in the day, like the coconut ice cream served by the kind lady at school, or when my host dad randomly breaks into song. When my host sister jokes around with me, or when I order food from a food cart and the vendor helps me pronounce what I’m trying to order. When there’s toilet paper and soap in a public bathroom. The kind smiles I get when I ‘wai’ to people, and the astonished look on people’s faces when I speak to them in Thai. People say it all the time, but I have learned that it truly is the little things in life that count.
I had a difficult time putting this together because it’s hard to organize my thoughts and feelings about this experience since they aren’t organized in my head. Most of them contradict each other. It feels weird, but normal. I think it’s boring, but wonderful. The people here annoy me beyond belief, but I love them. The town is grimy, but beautiful. It’s terrible, yet marvelous. I don’t understand anything, but it all makes perfect sense.
It’s absolutely ridiculous, but worth it.