สวัสดึค่ ฉันชื่อ Lucinda Roberts มีชื่อเล่นว่า Lucy และมีชื่อไทยว่าลลิษาค่ะ
(Hello, I am Lucinda Roberts. My nickname is Lucy and my Thai name is Lalisa.)
ดิฉันมาจากเมือง แกรนท์ พาส รัฐโอเรกอน ประเทศสหรัฐอเมริกาค่ะ
(I am from Grants Pass, OR, USA)
(I am hungry)
(I am full!)
(Galileo was a white Italian)
Above is a list of the extent to my functional Thai vocabulary in the first week I was here. Technically, I do know a lot more Thai, and I am actually okay at writing, but when it comes to day-to-day conversations, that was my comfort zone– especially when I first arrived.
Thankfully, my host family has been incredible about helping me to learn Thai– they speak to me in Thai about 70% of the time (they only speak English when I do not understand the Thai). My classmates all have been wonderful too– they teach me phrases, help me sound out words, and translate when the teachers do not speak English. Next week, I will start taking Thai lessons with my incredible counselor, and I am very excited.
I think as an exchange student, the hardest thing for me has been walking the line between language immersion and cultural immersion. Before you go on exchange, there is a heavy push to fully immerse yourself in the language, but for me that created an expectation that once I came to Thailand I would pick up Thai within a matter of weeks. Retrospectively, I know that is not practical, but within the first day of my arrival, it dawned on me that learning a language is hard. And I had to seriously reevaluate the extent to which I spoke the language.
There are three things that are the main objectives of an exchange student– to learn the language, to make connections in their host country, and to immerse themselves in the culture. I attend school with at Singsamut High School in the Mini English Program, so for me the second and third objectives come into direct conflict. If I were to not speak English, I wouldn’t have made the close friends that I am so grateful for today. I am so lucky that I have friends and host families that are willing to work with me with my language skills, because they are truly helping me to get the best of both worlds.
I am starting to settle into a schedule here, which is weird because I have been here for three weeks and have only gone to school for a week and a half. Every morning, I wake up at 6:30 to go to school. We wear uniforms, so it only takes me 5 minutes to get dressed (I have timed it). My school has a particularly strict dress code, so I am not allowed to wear makeup, do my hair (outside of a ponytail), paint my nails, or wear jewelry. This is much to the chagrin of my fellow classmates, but I really appreciate it because it makes my life easy. My host mom and I leave at 7:15, and it takes 15-20 minutes to arrive at Singsamut.
Every morning we have morning assembly, which has been a culture shock for me. On Mondays and Fridays we have full assemblies with all the students at the high school and middle school (approx. 3,000 people), but on Tues-Thurs we have assemblies with our grade (Matayom 6 (Grade 6); approx. 600 people). Morning assembly typically consists of a recitation of the national anthem, a Buddhist prayer (which goes very long on Thursdays), and a speech from one or two of the teachers. Sometimes something different happens, though. For example, this week we are practicing our Thai manners because there will be a school-wide manners competition.
After that we have class, which is organized very differently from the US. Here, students do not get to choose the classes they take, and they study 13 subjects at a time. I have another blog post planned for how the school system is organized, so for now I will just talk about myself. I am including a picture of my schedule because it is difficult to explain. Every Thai student stays in the same class for every class of the day, but because I am an exchange student, I bounce from class to class. Every class on my schedule is with M.6/1 (Grade 6, Classroom 1) unless otherwise noted.
So far my favorite academic classes are Math and Russian. In the US I finished Calculus 2, but currently we are studying what I learned in AP Calculus 1, so I understand the math that they are doing, and I am able to learn a lot of Thai. Russian is the only class that I have been really expected to do things for, and I really appreciate it. Even though I spend most of my time trying to learn Thai, I feel a little restless– like I am not learning enough. My Russian class gives me a lot of structure, and I learn a lot of Russian and Thai. Since my teacher speaks Thai, Russian, and English, she teaches the Russian in Thai and then translates for me. It is an aspiring-polyglot’s dream.
I also really enjoy my Thai culture classes– classes like Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) and Thai Dancing.
We have lunch around 12:30 and the food is incredible. A bowl of well-cooked Thai food costs 20 Baht, or about $0.60 (and the students still complain about food in the “cantine”). After lunch, we usually get snacks at the mini-mart, which is like a Circle K or Seven Eleven in the middle of campus. Then, we go back to the air-conditioned classroom and hang out until class starts again.
School ends around 4:30, but my host mom usually picks me up around 5:00. Then we go to a market (the market locations change everyday), and buy food for dinner. That has also been an adjustment for me– because food is cheap here and in Thai culture you share several dishes for meals, we eat take-out for almost every meal. It is a wonderful experience, though, because it lets me try a lot of Thai cuisine. And I love going shopping with my host mom, she is incredible.
On weekends, my host sisters come home. Phi Fun goes to college in Bangkok and Pow goes to high school in northern Chonburi, but family is very important in Thai culture, so they still come home to stay with us. We have gone on a lot of adventures together. If you want to see day-to-day updates, you can check out my instagram account @lalisa.day.to.day, but here is a sample of what we have done:
I have gotten the opportunity to travel a lot in Thailand. On top of a few day trips to Pattaya and Bangkok (we go every weekend to drop off my host sisters), I went to Khon Kaen for the Rotary Orientation. It was so much fun to connect with the other exchange students– people from vastly different backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life, all brought together under one shared experience.
I was picked up in Khon Kaen by Mae Su. Mae Su’s son, Philip, is going to stay in my house for 3-4 months this year during his year-long exchange in Oregon. Mae Su picked up me and two other exchange students (Ruth from the US and Rin from Japan), and I stayed in their home in Khorat. Philip has 4 siblings, as well as Rin, staying in his house, so visiting ther home was a whirlwind of coloring, laughing, and sharing Thai, American, and Japanese culture.
After two days, we all went to Bangkok to send Philip off at the airport. His goodbye was a lot different than mine was in the US. My goodbye was small and very emotional– my family huddled together in the airport crying as we said goodbye. Philip and his family, however, did not cry as they parted ways. When I asked them about that, they asked me why they should cry, “It is only a year.” That made me feel better about my own exchange, in a way.
We stayed the night in Bangkok, then went to Pattaya to play on the beach and tour around before my second host parents picked me up to bring me back to Sattahip.
It has been very hard for me to find the time to sit down and write this, because I want to talk about everything, but even in the little down-time I have here, I try to spend it with my host family so that I can get more exposure to my new language. But in a way this is also therapeutic to write, as I can so easily share what I am experiencing with the people back at home.