A Fast Kind of Friendship

I am leaving in 5 days. 5 days. 5. Days. Five Dayzzzzz.

It is funny how five days seems to be an eternity during the school year, but now I feel like my perception of time has been put on fast-forward while I am moving slowly as ever.

Since I found out where I was assigned, I feel like I have been living my life in bursts of intensity. I found out that I got a scholarship to my college, and then I waited for weeks to find out if my acceptance had been deferred. I graduated from high school, then spent the next few days cleaning my room and writing a debate case. I ended up being 16th in the nation in my debate event, but returned home to start packing and (continue) to clean my room. I have travelled and cried and eaten junk food and done Zumba and tried to soak up the last few days I will be in my small valley.

Through all of that, the most intense experience occurred when I found out where I was going in Thailand. If I could bottle up any emotion to preserve forever, it would be the sensation of finally knowing where you will be transplanted for the next year. Once I got accepted into an exchange program, I could feel my roots being yanked out of the soil I was accustomed to after 18 long years living in the Rogue Valley. After I found out the place I was going, I feel those roots beginning to reach out and take hold. I could text my host mother, meet my host sister (who was on exchange in Washington), and google my way through the entire area.

That excitement could also be helped by the fact I got the best assignment I could ask for. When I was first assigned to Thailand, I had dreams of the Thailand I saw on google images— warm beaches, new wildlife, exciting cities. Thankfully I was assigned to Sattahip District in the Chonburi Province, which is right on the coast and known for its heavy monkey population.

I very commonly get asked what city I will be going to in Thailand. I am sponsored by the Rotary Club of Plutaluang and going to a city called Plutaluang, but it is very uncommon for Thai people to identify with cities (as opposed to districts or provinces, which are more like general areas). In fact, the only thing that comes up when you google “Plutaluang” is the Royal Thai Golf Course.

I like to think I know a lot about my Thai high school and district, but mostly I have educated guesses based of of intense google dives, so I will spare the conjecture and give more updates as I actually live there.

While I may have been doing a lot the past few months, I have also been on an emotional and social roller coaster. My district requires that we attend Youth Exchange “trainings” approximately once a month to connect with other outbounds and prepare for the journeys ahead.

Even if I never was able to go to Thailand, this entire experience would be worth it, if only for the friendships we have been able to forge with the exchange students here. From spontaneous hikes to long car rides, they have given me friendships like I never thought existed. It is the kind of friendship necessitated by short time-frames and stressful life events. It is a fast kind of friendship, a passionate kind of friendship, and a beautiful kind of friendship.

I think that passion is because being an exchange student forces you to approach life differently. When the entire life you have known has been put on a timer, you must live in the present. That is the first thing I learned as my time in the US has drawn to a close– to never wish time away. In practicing that simple creed, I have been able to more fully enjoy the remainder of my time in the US, even as I look to create a new life for myself.

Where to Go

“I am going on exchange.”

Those words were the words pinging back and forth in my head for months. It was a way to somehow make the unimaginable more real, like I might actually realize I was going to leave all that I had known for a year.

Even at that moment I had a very stagnant view of what I expected my time abroad to be like. I believed that, within a year, I would be eating croissants in the middle of France, hanging out with friends while snow piled outside in Finland, or walking down some nondescript, moonlit European street right before Christmas.

Then, accidentally, I fell in love.

Initially, I was terrified. I had had dreams of weekend train rides to neighboring countries and trying to find the best chocolate in all of Europe. Instead, I was finding my heart following a future my head did not know I had wanted.

At that time, I had to make a decision. Like the judge of a national olympics, it was my job to assign a rank to each of the available countries to exchange in. Unlike other adjudicators, I had no criteria by which I could compare my candidates. There was no way for my scientifically-inclined brain to whittle my options down, except advice from my family and a gut instinct.

And that is how I found myself, the hour before country rankings were due, sitting up and holding the hand of a girl I had barely met. We both were beginning to realize our ideal exchange would not be in the traditional format, but instead would take us to new parts of the world with languages we did not know at all.

With three clicks, we changed our selections and awaited our country assignments two days later.

After an anxious 48 hours, all the exchange students sat nervously in a large, empty cafeteria. It was the kind of place that should have been filled with poorly-masked BO and whispered drama, but it was closed for the weekend and was instead filled with exchange students– palms dripping and chins quivering– whose muted whispers carried both hope and fear at what may be ahead.

After our names were called, we slowly opened up our envelopes and read where we would spend the next year of our lives. I was overjoyed when I heard my new friend got Brazil, the country she had been hoping for, and, when it came time for me to squeak out my destination, I took a deep breath and said,

“I am going to Thailand.”