Essay 1: How did I Adjust to My First Host Family in Thailand?
Contrary to the ordinary experiences of other exchange students (things I have heard and read from them so far), my arrival to the “land of smiles” was very smooth. I have enjoyed every moment since I stepped off the airplane approximately three weeks ago. Initially, I experienced a very small amount of culture shock, but it was a positive experience. I had read about Thailand before my exchange year began, making adjusting to the culture not too difficult; in fact, I enjoy finding and learning about cultural differences and seeing new things. However, sometimes I get comments about the Thai etiquette. For an example, when I turned the fan on with my foot my host father told me to always do it with my hand.
My first host family is absolutely amazing. I have a brother, about the same age as me: Ice. He has become my best friend and source of support. My family loves to travel and almost every day I have been lucky to see new and extraordinary things. So far, I have been to Bangkok, Saraburi, Lopburi, Nan (in north), Hat Nang Lam beach, a Navy base, Korad, many markets, malls, temples, waterfalls, sport facilities, swimming pools, and even a river that I rafted down in a rubber boat. At home, I haven’t really had any problems. If I had to name one, it would be the toilet but that is slowly becoming part of my everyday life. Thai food is delicious and I am now able to eat spicy foods. However, it gives me stomach pain. At school, everyone has been very nice to me. Teachers teach me the Thai language and help me do things I like on the campus. Among the students, I am famous due to my blond hair and white skin. I was excited to finally meet all the other exchange students at the orientation. I am especially close to Kalyn (Mali) and Eduardo (Inci). Together we even went to meet the president of Saraburi which was an unforgettable experience. In conclusion, please don’t worry about me: I am doing great!
Essay 2: How have I adjusted to Thai school?
My first school day was just two days after I arrived to Thailand. I walked in during the morning ceremony. When the students first saw me in my brand-new school uniform, they began clapping and yelling. I guess my blond hair is something that they do not see every day. Making friends has been very easy. During the first couple of days it took me hours to go to the bathroom and back because everyone wanted to take a picture with me. One of the English teachers has been my “counselor”. She helps me with everything and tells me where to go. Since the first day we have met and talked almost every day. I have no schedule but I do have classmates that I normally follow during the school day. However, during classes that require advanced language skills, I usually go play Thai music instruments or table tennis. I have also done many sports including fencing, Thai traditional dancing, and martial arts. I hang out with the teachers a lot too. They teach me Thai language and give me free food. The first week of school I had to speak in front of the whole school three times in Thai! Also during the Asian day, some of the teachers made me dance in front of everyone. That was way out from my comfort zone but I soon learned that students here are very open minded and do not care if one looks funny or does something stupid. Overall, I like my school a lot. Everyone has been kind to me and I am super popular. Right now, we have a midterm break so I won’t go to school for another month.
Essay 3: November
Between the middle of September and the beginning of November I had long break from school. During this time, I spent a lot of time with my host brother, Ice, at the Rangsit University. Ice did not have a break so I attended classes with him. The campus also had a big swimming pool and a gym, so sometimes I did exercise instead of going to class. My birthday was on the 16th of September, the first days of the school break. For my birthday I went to Hua Hin with my family. On our way we stopped at water market. Hua Hin was amazing; the first day we spent at the resort swimming in a pool eating delicious seafood. We went to the beach on the second day.
Every Saturday during the break all the exchange students had a Thai language class in Bangkok. It was fun to get together with all my friends, even though I didn’t learn much in the classes. I study Thai myself every day and I already knew everything they taught us. After the class we usually went to the Terminal 21 shopping mall to eat and hang out little longer. The days when I did not have anything to do, I usually went to a gym. I got a bicycle fixed for me so I can now move around on my own in my small hometown.
During the king’s funeral, I was giving out water and food to people at a big festival on a football field close to my house in Nongkhae. The day was very hot and I enjoyed seeing people smile as I handed out drinks. On two occasions, my host family took me to a Kao Jai nature park in the mountains. I really loved walking in the woods and paddling and swimming in a lake. The cool weather in the park reminded me of Finland, and it was very welcoming after spending two months in extremely hot tropical Thai weather. Overall, my break from school was full of fun experiences and I enjoyed every bit of it.
December Essay: My 2nd Semester in School.
I really haven’t had any problems at school since the beginning of my exchange. Everyone has been nice to me and I’m still very popular among the students. Student and teachers understand the language barrier so they do not expect as much from me as from other students. However, during the second semester I have begun to comprehend Thai much more. I hope to get a grade report in February and a teacher told me that to get it I need to take the tests. Math, English, and Chemistry are very easy for me and I often help my friends with homework. Other subjects are harder because I miss a lot of Thai vocabulary. Two weeks ago, my school had a sport day. What a great experience! I participated in running and shot-put and won both. Unfortunately, last week I couldn’t go to school. I had a big ACT test in Bangkok and I spent the week in my house studying for it. Now that the test is over, I am looking forward returning to the school tomorrow. I am planning to spend my Christmas break as a monk in a temple close to Kao Jai nature park. I am very excited for that too!
January Essay: Holidays in The Temple
My Christmas and New Year were very unordinary. Not only because I am in Thailand, but because I spent the holidays as a Buddhist monk. Between December 18th and 31st I was ordained in a temple close to Kao Yai nature park. I won’t ever forget those two weeks. I decided to become a monk because I wanted to live a simple life without any belongings or stress. I think I was lucky to be born in a relatively wealthy family and country. Being a monk, I wanted to find happiness from other things. I wanted to learn about my mind and body and find peace. Of course, achieving this all would take much more than two weeks, but I did get to experience the journey to some extent.
The monastery was close to the forest and two times during my stay I went to walk and meditate in the forest with some of the other monks, including my tutor from Germany, Tilo, and my good Malaysian friend, Lean. The forest was completely natural, wild and untouched by humans. I saw multiple birds, snakes, elephant footsteps, etc. Our walks were about 6 hours long and very peaceful.
Every morning the bell rang at 3 am. From 3 to 5 I had morning chanting and meditation. It is hard to believe because I am in Thailand, but in the mornings, it was freezing cold at the temple. I only had my robe and a couple of blankets so it was difficult to stay warm, however, I got used to the cold after a while and I realized that it was nothing compared to Finland.
From 5 am to 6 am I cleaned, usually swept the floor, emptied trashcans, or wiped dust. At 6 we quickly put our robes on and went to the nearby village for alms round. It was my favorite part of the day. We walked bare footed for approximately 4 kilometers as the sun was rising over the forest and mountains. People, who had woken up early, gave us rice and snacks. After we got back to the monastery we prepared for the only meal for the day. Before the meal I had 30 minutes of free time that I usually spent meditating or cleaning.
Before the meal, there was half an hour of chanting and Dharma talk in Pali and Thai languages with the lay people in a big hall. During that time some people often gave goods to the temple. The chanting ended with the males taking the bowls from us; they helped the monks carry the bowls. The food was all vegetarian but still very delicious. By the time I was about to eat for the first time after 23 hours, I was starving. Every day, I ended up taking and eating way too much and almost throwing up.
One of the reasons why I picked this monastery with my host family, was because of the head monk running the place. Lum Paa is one of the most powerful monks in the world. He has reached complete happiness and peace. I have never seen anyone so truly happy and honest. He also had some crazy psychic skills like reading my thoughts accurately or knowing what was happening on the other side of a wall. He was so well known that people all the way from USA and Japan came to see him for advice. Every monk at the temple appreciated him a lot and we all tried to make good karma by helping him and giving him things. My job, for example, was to wash his feet every night. He spent his days in the forest or hospitals taking care of animals and people. The monastery was also collecting money for a whole new hospital. One day I was awarded by Lum Paa to travel with him to Yamaha Motorcycle factory close to Bangkok. Yamaha donated money for the hospital and we went to receive it. The night before we went into the factory, we spent a night in another forest temple close by. This place was literally a jungle with trees, flowers, and plants everywhere. I slept on the floor like usual. Going inside a huge factory with thousands of workers was a dream for me. I, together with the other monks, did an alms round around the factory following with a ceremony for receiving the money for the hospital.
Let’s get back to the monastery. After eating I prepared meals for Lum Paa and people visiting the temple. It took approximately until 12 o’clock . After that I was able to go back to my goodie (a small and simple house where the monks sleep) and take a nap until 3pm. From 3pm to 5pm I worked more and from 5pm to 6pm I took a cold shower and meditated. At 6 o’clock some of the monks went for the evening chanting but I usually washed Lum Paa’s feet and helped him give snacks and advice for the people visiting the temple. I learned a lot myself while I sat behind the great monk and listened what he had to say. During these two weeks I learned a lot about the universe, mind, happiness, and loving kindness. At 9 pm I went back to my goodie in the darkness not interrupted by any lights from human settlements. I looked at the stars which I had never imagined to be so many, so bright, and so beautiful.
On Sunday December 31st, my parents picked me up from the temple. The two weeks had passed very quickly. I was very excited to see my host family but at the same time sad to leave the temple. But I was sure I would come back. After washing my clothes and the disrobing ceremony my family took me to a mountain park. We spent the new year camping on a mountain, watching fireworks and eating good food. The next day we went elephant riding.
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