Henry O'Connor

 Thailand

Hometown: Dunwoody, Georgia
School: Dunwoody
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Dunwoody, Georgia
Host District: 3350
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chatuchak


My Bio


My name is Henry O’Connor. I live just outside Atlanta in the northern suburb of Dunwoody. My family moved here when I was 2 years old from the Washington, D.C. area where I was born. My father grew up in Chicago and my mother grew up in a small town in southern Virginia. My only brother, Edward, is a junior in high school. I attend Dunwoody high school as a freshman. My love of language is, in part, due to my grandfather who taught himself French at the age of 50 and took his first trip to France when he turned 70. My language studies began in middle school with German which I continued into high school. This is my 3rd year studying German, and next semester I begin studying Latin. Two years ago I taught myself Japanese and that sparked my passion for both linguistics and languages. In my spare time, I play around with other languages such as Russian. As a Boy Scout, I was recently selected to join the Order of the Arrow (the national scout honor society) and am pursuing the rank of Eagle Scout. Some of my current hobbies include Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing various musical instruments, and tennis. I’ve played a number or sports (tennis, soccer and Kendo) and what I most enjoy about sports is their competitive nature. My desire to travel internationally began a few years ago. When I discovered this program it was like a dream come true. This exchange gives me opportunities to grow as a person and gain valuable life experience that will serve as a foundation for my future. I am most excited to go to Thailand because of its truly unique culture and insulation from western influences.

Me, my 2nd host mom and another Exchange student on my south trip

Me, my 2nd host mom and another Exchange student on my south trip

The Beach on my 1st South Trip

The Beach on my 1st South Trip

View from Hotel on the Myanmar Border

View from Hotel on the Myanmar Border

Interesting Wildlife here

Interesting Wildlife here

Journals: Henry-Thailand Blog 2017-18

  • Henry, Outbound to Thailand

    Last year I was an Rotary youth exchange student in Bangkok, Thailand. When I first came to Thailand I was apprehensive about many things. "How could I learn such a foreign language?" "How do I make friends with these people?" But immediately I felt the warmth of these people towards me. They had never met me before in their lives but they welcomed me into their homes. My first family was a very busy household which was certainly something I was not used to. I had a host brother, mom, dad, aunt, grandmother, and 2 little sisters all in the same house. They were very helpful with learning Thai even if some of them believed it would be impossible for me (It most certainly wasn't). These would be the people I would spend the next 3 months of my exchange. My first day of school was a great day. I walked into the classroom and they were quick to embrace me They were curious about me and I was a notable person from day 1. In school I took many of the same classes I would have taken in the United States had I not gone to Thailand but as a whole they seemed quite a bit easier than the material here in America. I also took the opportunity to take Chinese and supplementary Thai lessons at my school. After I was getting comfortable in my school and in Thailand in general It came time to switch to my 2nd host family. I had a lot of contact with them before I switched because during my time with my 1st family she would take the exchange students all around Thailand on trips. Even while I was with my 1st family I felt like I had 2 host mothers. In my 2nd host family I was an only child. My host dad was a high ranking police officer so his constant absence means I spend most days at the house alone with my host mom and our dog. Our house was in the traditional Thai style. It had only 3 rooms on the top floor and the bottom floor was completely open to the elements. It was made of beautiful teak wood and was next to rice fields and a swamp. Every morning I would go outside and there would be many many large water birds and animals in the fields. My 2nd host was the one I was closest to and still am contact almost daily with. She was an amazing host and would sit down with me and help me learn Thai whenever I wanted to. She was the owner of a successful nursery in the City and I would make frequent trips to help teach English to the kids there. Since I began to stay with her my Thai rapidly improved to the point where I could describe myself as fluent to some extent. My school year ended in February of this year. I spent that summer doing fundraisers, Rotary events, and traveling around the country meeting people. Near the end of my break I entered into a Buddhist monastery as a novice monk for 25 days in May. That was one of the most impact-full things I've ever done. My Thai improved greatly being in a Thai monastery and I made many new connections to the monks themselves. I may be back in America now but I know that I will always have a second home in Thailand

    Click HERE to read more about Henry and all his blogs

  • Henry, Outbound to Thailand

    Hello! I am writing this with about 2 months remaining in my exchange and in between my 2 large Rotary hosted trips around my host country. School has ended for me and I’ve been on break for about 2 months now. Currently I’m still with my second host family and looks to be like that for the remainder of my exchange. But despite having all the free time in the world I have been constantly busy for the summer. In fact my summer has been busier than anytime before.

    School ended for me around the end of February and at the time I was uncertain what I would be able to do for the remainder of my exchange. It started out very slow, only interrupted by trips with friends and activities with my host family or visiting work with my host mom. I’ve spent a lot of time playing sports with my friends or playing with my new dog or going into the city to hang out at the malls as well as numerous Rotary excursions like vaccine drives and fundraisers. One of the things I was worried about was losing some language after not being able to go to school but thanks to my wonderful host family I've been engaged all summer.

    I’ve also gone on many fun Rotary trips. The first was to the beaches of Phuket Island on the west coast of Thailand. The drive there was around 16 hours which I was not expecting. It was still fun because on the bus you can talk to the other exchange students and play music! For the first few days we stayed at Phi Phi Island and went snorkeling and swimming a lot. The hotels we stayed at a large hotel in Phuket city. Our room was on the 4th floor and had a great view of the ocean and the surrounding city. Many great restaurants were also withing walking distance of our hotel so we could quickly go out and get food. Next we moved to the main Island of Phuket and stayed there for the remaining 2 days. We got to go to many fun areas in Phuket city and eat some amazing sea food.

    Tomorrow I’ll be going to Chiang Mai for the Thai new year called Songkran. Chiang Mai is a large city in the northern part of Thailand famous for its elephants and wonderful festivals. Songkran is a holiday with a huge water party. Squirt guns and water is thrown everywhere in the celebration. I’m so excited to be able to go. After I get back I’ll be entering into a Buddhist monastery for a few weeks. Ever since I came I’ve been somewhat interested in Buddhism and I figured the best way to learn about it would be to experience the life of a monk first hand.

    My exchange is 80% done and its been hard to really come to terms with that. When I first arrived it felt like I would be there forever but the longer I’ve been here the faster time seems to go. It already feels like I'm going home tomorrow. I think that's been the hardest part of my exchange for me as of now. I plan to do as much as I can until then.

    I’m happy I got the opportunity to go to Thailand for my exchange. Even with all of its ups and downs living here has been absolutely life changing for me. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been granted by everyone. I’m very happy to be living in Thailand today.

    Click HERE to read more about Henry and all his blogs

  • 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!!

    Click HERE to read more about Henry and all his blogs

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