Henry, Outbound to Thailand

August 7th I stepped off the plane into the next 12 months of my life. It was around 11:30 at night when we touched down and my heart was going a mile a minute as I was going to meet all of my host families in person for the first time. They forgot my sign so I only recognized them by their shouts when they saw me in the airport. I had my first real Thai food that night. Whole shrimp. They were about 5 minutes fresh and they were delicious. I was so excited that I finally got to sleep at about 4 am that night.

I could only speak a bit with my host family but luckily the little English they knew helped guide me through my first week. School started in 8 days and I wanted to be ready. Jet lag is from the 25 hour flight was really tough, and the first 2 weeks I could only get 4 hours of sleep a night.

School is my favorite part of exchange. Most of my classes are in Thai so for now there’s not a whole lot I can understand. But math is a lot better. The material also seems to be what I studied a number of years ago. The school did put me in the English program however. At the beginning this was very stressful to me, and I was scared of getting stuck in the English trap. My whole class could speak English and were eager to do so. It was difficult at first to make my way out of "The English Trap" but with a little persistence and studying it has gotten a lot better. Remember, learning your languages is the key to pretty much everything on exchange.

If there is one thing I’ve done a lot of so far on exchange it would he traveling. So far I've been near the Cambodian border, the border with Myanmar, Bangkok, many other small trips, and right now am on my way to a southern province with my second host mother. The beaches and food are amazing here. That morning we were awoken by 10 or so monkeys on top of our small rented cottage. I love traveling with my host family. On my trip to the Cambodian border we stayed in a small village where my 2nd host dad is from. The surrounding area was heavily wooded and there were chickens roaming free. The house we stayed in was had some running water but only as a sink and a Toilet. The shower consisted of a bucket of water and a ladle. They had some electrical appliances but the house had no air conditioning. In fact most of the house was completely open to outdoors. The ceiling was covered with spider webs and small insects. The food however was delicious. Dinner was rice and whole fish caught in a neighboring rice paddy. Eating was a very informal occasion and we all ate at different times. That night we all slept in one large bed covered by a malaria net. Early that morning we woke up to the crowing of roosters.

Rotary here is structured very similarly to Rotary in the US and meetings follow the same formula. I go to Rotary meetings once a month where I usually speak or give them a rundown of how my exchange is so far. It's a good way for them to check in with how I'm doing and how my language is. I have gone on quite a few trips with my Rotary club. My favorite one would have to be when we visited a farm run owned by a Rotary member. It was relatively isolated in the forest and we planted trees for an ongoing environmental project. We also had the chance to hike through a forest in Thailand. The wildlife here is truly astonishing. Giant millipedes and massive earthworms are commonplace here.

Many of the exchange students are struggling with homesickness after the initial “honeymoon” phase hit. Everything about Thailand is completely different than what we have in the US. In Thailand every meal is rice, rice, and more rice. With fish or vegetables also of course. Even in McDonalds or KFC here the food is completely different. In KFC everything is spicy. I do miss American food like burgers and real pizzas but then again. I didn’t come here to eat American food and I’m happy with that.

My language has been progressing steadily since my arrival and I speak exclusively Thai with my host family and I speak Thai with my friends at school. Exchange so far has been such an eye opening experience for me. The world seems so much smaller to me. So far life has been treating me so well. My first 3 months have been a blast and its hard to believe I've been through 30% of my exchange already. I'm so excited to see what will happen next!!

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