Stephanie Lytle
2013-14 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Seminole, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Chumphae

Stephanie's Bio

Hello everyone! My name is Stephanie Lytle, and this will be my blog during my exchange year to Thailand! I guess I'll start with the basics. I'm seventeen years old, soon to be eighteen this February. I currently live in Seminole with my mom who works in Miami and commutes back and forth on the weekends. My dad and my older sister also live in town. I love to bake, but not for myself, so I bake a lot for my local hospice where I volunteer. I'm very proud to say that I'm a nerd, especially when it comes to J.R.R. Tolkien. I love figure skating, and I used to compete but I had to give it up to focus on academics. I plan on becoming a psychiatrist when I get older, so to get a jump start on my educational career I go to St Petersburg Collegiate High School, a small charter school in Pinellas County where everyone graduates with their Associates in Arts Degree. I’ve become more involved in club activities throughout my time here and am currently in: yearbook club, Interact club, and a club that my friends and I started called the Apollonian Society – where we discuss past, present, and future possibilities of culture through different media and literature sources. I have a very small, but tight group of friends that I met at Collegiate. It was truly because of these people that I started considering traveling. I had my first experience abroad when I went to Italy for a study abroad trip last summer. This experience I had overseas was what gave me the final push I needed to apply to the Rotary exchange program. The things I learned about myself and the world is beyond compare to anything I've learned in a classroom. I'm shy by nature, so I wasn't initially sure how I would react to being so out of my comfort zone, but I found myself striving to be more outgoing than I've ever been. It’s pretty safe to say that I’ve always wanted to learn more about different cultures, but I’ve come to the realization that I also want to experience this knowledge firsthand. One thing that hit me in Italy was that no matter how different everyone is in this world, we all have cross-cultural connections, and I want to be able to discover these for myself. I also want to reap the benefits after an exchange experience: to break out my shell, and to have the advantages of becoming bilingual. Also, the fact that I’m two years ahead doesn’t hurt. With all of this said, I saw Rotary Youth Exchange as the perfect opportunity. So, here I am half way through my senior year, and instead of heading off to college next fall I'll be spending an entire school year in Thailand! Probably any emotion you could think of when you apply that last sentence to yourself, I've felt in the past few weeks. The thought of learning Thai is scary beyond all belief, but when I put my mind to something I'll get it done and done well. I'm scared, curious, anxious, but most of all, I'm just excited. I hope that by the end of my exchange in Thailand I’ll be able to say that I was immersed in a culture completely different than my own; shouldn’t be too hard to do! I'll miss my friends and family, but I can't wait to experience something completely out of my comfort zone and have it permanently impact my life. I want to thank Rotary and everyone who has supported me through this process, words cannot express my gratitude!

Stephanie's Journals

September 8, 2013

It has nearly been a month since I’ve arrived in Chum Phae, Khon Kaen, Thailand. Firstly, it’s really strange thinking that I’ve been here for that long; not only does it feel like I just got here, but it’s also a little scary thinking about how fast time goes when you know that you have a limited amount of time somewhere. I’ve already made friends, gotten settled down in my new city, and gotten attached to my new family. I honestly don’t even know where to start; how can you sum up the first month of a new life? So, bare with me, as I try to fumble through with my slowly decreasing English skills!

I’ll start with my little city of Chumphae. I live in the Khon Kaen provence, in the Chumphae district – I kind of think of it as the equivalent as living in the city of Chumphae, in the state of Khon Kaen. I live about an hour outside of Khon Kaen, the city, and I actually travel there often since my host siblings go to school there during the week. Chumphae is really small. I repeat: REALLY small; you could probably drive through it within 15 minutes if the traffic was really bad. Even though the city is small, I was actually surprised to see how much people live here (or at least, feels like lives here). Something that automatically struck me as different from Florida is seeing true poverty. Most of the houses in Chumphae are made with grass or tin roofs, and the houses really do look like huts most of the time. Being surrounded by something like that is truly eye opening, it really gives you more perspective on how the world really is outside of America. Howev er, being in Rotary, I obviously live with a more well off family. I was actually told by one of the teachers that I live what the Thai’s call the “high life” when translated. For me this concept seems strange, since the conditions that I live in seem very much like they do at my home (and my family is average middle class). It just shows you how well off we really do have it in America. Something else that is really strange is the 7/11 here – they’re literally the most amazing places ever. They have everything to food where they heat it up for you to money cards for my prepaid phone!

My family is quite amazing. I live in a building above my family’s restaurant, so there’s always people here whether it’s the employees (who I’ve become quite close to) or customers. My host dad is usually away – I think on business trips, and as I previously stated, my host siblings are out of town on the weekdays. So, this usually leaves me with my host mom and aunt, who are the two who know the least amount of English. Needless to say, my language skills have already improved tremendously due to the fact that if I need to even go to a 7/11, I need to either know how to say it or play a REALLY good game of charades – I try to choose the less embarrassing one. My new name is Daowrung (ดาวเรือง) which means marigold and achievement in Thai.

Lastly, I’ll talk a little about school. School here is, surprisingly, relaxed. When I first found out I was going to Thailand, I assumed that since I was going to an Asian country, the school would be extremely rigid and completely by the rules; I really couldn’t have been more wrong. So, firstly, in a Thai class, you are literally allowed to do anything as long as it’s not too disruptive to the class: you can talk, you can listen to music, you can sleep, you can even talk on the phone! Most Thai kids skip class frequently, or arrive really late to class (like, a half hour or more). My days are split between my classes with my Thai class, and the classes that I take with the other exchange students (there’s six exchange students including me in Chumphae, 5 through Rotary, and 1 through AFS). I take class with the exchange students such as Thai language, Thai culture, Thai boxing, Thai cooking, Thai art, Thai crafts, and sword fighting; we’re als o taking Chinese, which is WAY more difficult than Thai, but I really like it! With my Thai class, I take a lot of math, science, and English classes. I help out with almost all of them because I really like math and science, and I’ve taken all the subjects they’re taking, and English class for obvious reasons. All the kids in my Thai classes know at least a little bit of English, and they’re all super helpful with me learning Thai! Like most other Asian countries, the exchange students and I are literally celebrities at my school. I’ve almost gotten used to it all, but it’s still really strange when I wave to people and they laugh, then run away, and then they scream to each other. I’m called beautiful at least 20 times a day, mostly because they love my curly hair or my skin. I’ve actually been asked if I wanted to trade skin with someone, the sad thing is, I think that the only reason that they were joking is because it’s ac tually impossible to do so. As for the other exchange students, they’re all really awesome, and we’ve already become really close. There are two exchange students from Canada – Allison and Melanie, one from Mexico – Ana Clarissa, and one from Norway – Bodil. I’ve always been told that you shouldn’t hangout with the exchange students in your area, but we are literally hanging out every day because of our class schedules, so I’m going between a feeling of guilt and another of loving hanging out with them. Either way, it’s really nice to have people in the same boat as you, and someone to speak English to.

Obviously, there’s a lot more that I could talk about, but I really don’t want to make this too long.

November 20, 2013

So much has happened since the last time I wrote on here. Firstly, I’m going to apologize for being a little late with my journal entry on here. Thailand’s internet doesn’t always agree with my electronics, so I get very little time to keep up on my blog(s). It’s weird thinking that I only wrote two months ago, and yet, it feels like a lifetime has almost gone by – a phenomenon that I’m getting quite used to, but still unable to express properly to others.

Time on exchange is a strange thing. The time you spend in your host country can seem like it’s going too fast, and yet feels like you’ve had a life here for years. I’ve come to a point where I have a very regular schedule, and I have a new set of hobbies and activities to fit around that schedule. For example, one of the things the exchange students and I like to do in Chumphae is to all take the van into Khon Kaen (about an hour drive each direction). We spend time in the mall or market there, and have even made quite a few Thai friends in that area. However, most of my time on exchange has been during school break – which only started about a month after I got here, and only ended a couple weeks ago. So, with that in mind, I’ve been spending my time here traveling and trying to fumble my way through the frustrating and (sometimes) seemingly impossible language that is Thai. I went to Koh Chang for a Rotary event, where I got to ride elephants, see fire dancers, and meet some other exchange students. I also went to, another, Rotary-related event in Trat (very close to Koh Chang) for a camp where I also got to see a bunch of other exchange students – even one of my fellow Floridians, Izzy. Other than those two events, I’ve been mostly travelling for another new hobby of mine - cosplay. One of the exchange student’s in Chumphae has been cosplaying for years, and one of the other exchange students and I have always wanted to try it out. I digress. But, it’s been something unexpected that’s new here for me, and I’ve made quite a few friends out of it, while also actively testing my language skills.

I’m very happy to report that my Thai has improved tremendously in the three months that I’ve been here. I can understand a lot more than I can speak, but I can usually struggle through almost all basic and even some complex conversation if I can quickly look up a word or two here and there. When I went back to school, almost everyone was amazed with how much all the exchange students know now – a not so small victory that we’re all very proud of.

There are times here that are hard, though. I found out yesterday that I’ll be switching families in two weeks from now. Although it’s difficult not having too much notice for this, I keep remembering that I literally had two days warning before I left for Thailand. So, I’ll take a page from the Thai language and try to keep a “mai pben rrai (ไม่เป็นไร )” attitude and try to not worry too much about it.

I have come to find that I have learned to adapt much more quickly to things in the time that I’ve been here. An all too common example of this is how much more okay I am with bug problems than I used to be. I always talk about how “when I was in America, I would’ve never been able to do this”. One of these moments came in the form of a jumping spider in Allison’s bedroom just yesterday. Four months ago, I would’ve told you that I’m absolutely terrified of spiders, and I simply could never kill one; and yet, I found myself yesterday yelling for a shoe and sliding a bed out of place just to kill this one spider that I probably would’ve hid from no more than half a year ago.

You know, they always say that you change on exchange, but it’s these stupid little things that you recognize the most often (and in my opinion) are the best to tell about. One thing I do know is that I’ll keep changing while I’m on exchange in Thailand, as I have only spent about a third of my time here so far. I guess we’ll see where I am in another month or two!

May 14, 2014

So, my entry here is quite a bit overdue. So, although I can't keep you updated on exactly has been happening (because there's a lot, believe me), I thought I would fill you in on the emotionally aspect of my time living here.

Thailand has become my home. It's a different feeling than my home in America, but it's home. My family from America just recently came to visit, and I've realized how much living in a new home actually does change you. The things that I first thought were strange here, aren't strange at all. In fact, they're normal. Along with things that I now see as important, I didn't even think about a year ago. I saw this with the things and situations that my family from America were shocked with. I think it will end up being very strange getting used to everything back home, again. It's going to be so weird going back to every day life back home. Not for the reason that you probably think - "oh! her life must be so busy and exciting!" because that's not really the case. My life here, more often than not, is truly boring. There are many days to the week where I just sit in my family's office and work on the computer. But, this bori ng life has become normal. Then, there are the times that are truly amazing. These are the times you hear about the most, because these days overshadow the boring ones when you look back. These are the days when you actually feel like a part of the family that your living with, or when you go traveling and see some of the most beautiful sights on the planet. These are the days that stick with you, even if you don't appreciate them that much at the moment. These are also the days that I'm scared of losing. The feelings and experiences I've had here in Thailand are completely different than what I've experienced back in America. Yes, I realize that those thoughts and memories will travel back with me. But, I don't feel like I'm done experiencing Thailand yet. I feel like I'm just starting to really get the hang of things, but my time in Thailand is coming to an end soon. I guess the chart they showed us all back at the orientations really is correct, in that aspect.

At the end of it all, I look back on my time here with contentment. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime. I changed as a person. Learned what is really important in my life. Overall, I don't have any regrets while being here. I did the most I could with my "life in a year", and that's the best that an exchange student can hope for.