Well, here I am, seven weeks later. I wanted to post updates every month, but at the end of last month I began a three-week travel marathon that didn’t allow a lot of time for bog posting. It doesn’t help that at this point I don’t know how to write these blogs, either. At first I was writing to keep my friends and family in the US up-to-date, but more Thai people read my last post than Americans, so it is hard for me to guage who my audience is. I thought about this a lot, and ultimately realized that this is my blog, and I can either share or not. So some of my posts may be geared more towards my Thai friends, and others towards Americans, but I can’t stop myself from sharing.
September was the time I most felt like an exchange student, or at least the exchange students that we have in the US– students that come and live the same as students in that country live. I went to school, attended Rotary events, and hung out with friends.
For example, one week my videography teacher assigned us an open-ended group project. My friends decided to do a travel blog, and they asked me to be in their group, so one saturday we went to the beach by my school and hung out. We ate lunch, hiked to the top of a navy outlook, and went canoeing around an island. It was an absolutely incredible day.
Other days, we went to go see The Nun, celebrate my friend’s birthday, and go eat food together.
My friends at school make me so grateful, and every moment with them feels almost bitter-sweet, because I realize how much I will miss everyone at school when I go back to the US. I already miss my family so much so I now realize I am stuck in a perpetual loop of loving and missing people across the world from each other.
In Thailand, they have year-round school with sporadic breaks. There is a break from school in October, but how long it is depends on what school you go to. For example, my host sister (who goes to a private school an hour away) got one week of school. On the other hand, I got almost 5 weeks off of school (plus an extra week because I did not have to take exams for a total of 6 weeks).
For the first week or so of break, I mostly stayed home. Everyone was afraid that I was going to get homesick, but I did appreciate the time to myself. Thankfully, my host mom worked with other families to plan some trips so I would not get bored (and, therefore, homesick) during school break.
First, I went with my host father and my host sister to Bangkok for a day to go to Detective Conan’s Cafe in Siam Square, as well Dusit Zoo. Conan’s Cafe is based on an anime that my host sister loves, and Dusit Zoo is the oldest zoo in Thailand. It is incredibly well constructed, but had very little room for the animals to roam. Fortunately, the zoo closed that monday for several years so they can construct a better habitat for their charges.
That night, my host mom received a text from my friend Marine’s host mom asking if I could come to their house, as they would be going on a trip over that weekend. So that night, my second host parents drove me to Rayong where I met up with my family for the next 5 days.
The next day, we drove 2 hours to Trat and took a ferry to Ko Chang– a beautiful island that is very popular with tourists. The first day, we went driving to view what Ko Chang had to offer, then we went to on a ferry to snorkel and swim around four different islands in the area.
I am so grateful for this wonderful trip, and I am so happy I got to go with Marine. We really challenged each other to try new things, like climbing over the side of (and jumping off of) our two-story ship.
That night, we went to dinner on the beach and to watch a traditional fire show. The next day, we went to a restaurant on a river and rode a traditional wood boat. I often find it funny because the things here that I label as “traditional” tend to be the ones most geared towards tourists. For example, I would never say “I am going to the traditional thai market today” but going to a market is still one of my most common day-to-day activities. That said, the things I say are “traditional” feel more like windows into a past culture before modernity, and in that way I love these traditional opportunities.
We then returned to Chanthaburi where we met up with another exchange student from Canada. Together, the three of us went to a waterfall, sang karaoke, and visited some dolphins. The waterfall was incredible but it was filled with fish that liked to pick at the skin on your feet and legs, and it hurt a little.
After a few days in Chanthaburi, my exchange student friends and I returned to my hometown, Sattahip, where another exchange student from the US joined us. The first night, we went ballroom dancing with my Rotary club. We were staying at my second host family’s house, and as they live above a spa, we spent the next day getting a spa treatment from the woman who works at that house. The next day, we went to a beach near my house and met up with the Kakarndees, and their exchange student from Japan (Rin). Anyone reading this from Grants Pass might know of them because their son is living in my house in the US right now. I have lived with their family before after our district inbound training, and I was so happy to see them again!
Together, all of us took a boat from Sattahip to Ko Samae San, which is an island near where I live. We all went snorkeling, swam, played in the sand, and went canoeing, before having dinner back on the mainland.
After all that, is was time for all of us to say our goodbyes. I went with Rin to live with the Kakarndees in Korat. In Korat I really lived like a family member, but we also travelled a lot. For example, one day stayed at home, made pancakes, and hung out. Another day, we travelled over 4 hours to the Surin Elephant Village, and then we travelled to several ancient ruins with some other exchange students. On a separate day, we spent a few hours at the Korat zoo, then went to a nearby water park. The Kakarnees have six children, four of whom live a home, plus two exchange students and I had a ton of fun hanging out with all of them.
Together with some other students form Korat, Ruth, Rin, and I travelled to Trat for RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). Almost all of the exchange students met up at RYLA along with kids from across Thailand. In fact, RYLA is a required event for any aspiring exchange students in Thailand.
I had a lot of fun at RYLA– with Thai friends to speak with and exchange students to pull me through the boring moments, I was at peace.
A lot of Thai people ask me about culture shock– what things have shocked me the most since I arrived to Thailand. In general, the things that have been the hardest for me to adjust to have been the ones that change my daily schedule more and more away from my schedule in the US. For example, I still have a hard time remembering that I cannot drink tap water here. Whenever I cook for my host family, my host mom has to remind me that I cannot use tap water to cook with, and I have to go use water from the bottles that we keep beside the kitchen.
That said, the water problem has also made me realize how US-centric many environmental activists at home are. The truth is, yes, if Americans cut down on the number of straws that they use or use reusable water-bottles, they will help the environment. But if we actually have to address the core of the problem, we need to expand access to drinking water in countries that are not fortunate enough to have ready access. It is not like people in other countries are not aware of how much plastic they are using– my Thai Rotary cub just made a rule that you have to bring tupperware in order to take leftovers after meetings– but the nature of their infrastructure limits their ability to actually cut down on that plastic.
So, it has been a busy month. I am super tired, but I am also super grateful to all the people who have worked with me and created these opportunities in the country that I love. So I just wanted to give a massive thank you to everyone who has helped me get here– you all are incredible!