The Beginning of an End

One hour. One hour until I step off of the plane onto United State’s ground. What’s changed? Probably not much on the outside. Life goes on normally, with everything pretty much the same as how it was before I left almost eleven months ago. What’s changed inside of me? What has a year abroad in Thailand really done for me?

It’s given me perspective. The perspective that not everything is going to work out, sometimes life’s hard and you either stand up to the challenge or watch the moment pass you by. 

It’s humbled me. I went to Thailand knowing how to say two words in Thai. Two. I was vulnerable, I knew practically nothing about the culture, the people, the language. I started from the bottom with people I barely knew and a year later they’re people I hold closest to my heart. 

It’s given me relationships with people around the world. My Thai host families volunteered to take me in and give me a room for three months, but they went above and beyond and warmly accepted me as their own daughter. The people I’ve met have some of the biggest hearts I’ve ever witnessed and always made sure I knew I was welcomed and loved. The family we built as exchange students is one that I know wherever I go in life and whatever I do, they’ll always be just a text or plane ride away. 

It’s opened my mind. Thai culture is unlike anything I’ve ever learned in the U.S.. How lucky was I to have gotten to experience it up close in person instead of in a book? Worldly issues are a lot more interesting to discuss when you have inputs from over ten different countries at the same table.

Most importantly, this year has given me a better outlook on life. Always having my departure date lurking in the back of my head while living in Thailand has made me realize to live my life the way I want. To not my embarrassed or shy about doing something out of the ordinary. To not base what I think on the opinions of others. To be myself. To live life for me. And to take advantage of everything that presents itself because life should be fun, afterall. 

What will it be like saying hello to my family and friends almost a year later? Almost thirty hours ago I was hugging my friends and family in Thailand, promising that the goodbye wouldn’t be for long. Unable to control the tears as I walked through security and out of sight of the life I made for myself in Thailand. 

It not just a my life in a year, it’s a year in my life and to build upon what I just experienced to life in general. 

Soon the wheels will come out of the belly of the plane and we’ll touch down. The people on the plane will go back to their lives, and so will I. 

Family Vacation

April 2-7 was spent on the beaches of the southern part of Thailand. My first host mom grew up in the city of Phuket, a city of around 300,000 people. Jenna and I were invited to go along and experience a little bit of the southern lifestyle. One of the main differences I noticed was the dialect. Up here in the South everyone speaks pretty slow and calm, but in the south it’s the complete opposite. I thought I had a pretty good handle on thai until I listened to a conversation in Phuket. Southerners speak rapidly and often times leave off the last couple of syllables of the word. Very rarely do they annunciate so I often had to ask someone to repeat themselves or to speak slower.

Some of the highlights of the trip were as follows:

-Jenna and I got to go for a short tube ride on the ocean for free because we spoke Thai to the guy trying to sell them.

-We participated in a Chinese celebration to honor my host ancestors by burning money (not real) to send to them, offering food, and burning money (still not real) in sand for the ancestors to use. It was an interesting ceremony to take part in and called for all of the family to gather so I got to meet lots of cousins and aunts.

-We drove to many different beaches to sunbathe and see the sights. (I came back to Chiang Mai with some body parts white, some tan, and many red.

Coming up this week is the annual water festival “Songkran”!

Rotary Southern Trip

I recently returned to Chiang Mai after a ten day trip in the sun with around 30 of my closest friends. Our group in total was around 70 people including all of the inbound students, all of the chaperones, and this year’s outbound students. It was great to get to meet the kids about to start their adventures and share in the excitement with them. Almost nine months ago now that was me. 

Throughout the duration of the trip we travelled to Songkla, Trang, Ao-Nang, Krabi, and Phuket. We did things such as snorkeling, boat tours, island hopping, cave exploring, sea kayaking, rock climbing, and spending quality time together. Many of us were sunburned after the second day because we weren’t accustomed to the power of the sun. I do have to say snorkeling was probably my favorite activity. I’ve never been snorkeling over coral, within sight about hundreds of brilliantly colored fish. Underneath the surface of the water felt like a different world. 

We also stayed on an island for two nights and didn’t have access to fresh water to shower. But it was very secluded and the beaches were some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. When the tide went out we searched for crabs and other marine life.

As a group we all became even closer than ever, which made the goodbyes difficult. Many of them I won’t have a chance to see again before we all leave Thailand. I know that the bonds we’ve created will stand time and that we all have homes across the world. 

Today I’m switching host families for the final time. It feels weird to pack up and move so close before the “final” move back to the U.S. I am excited to live with the next family though, even if for a short amount of time.  

                 

Songkran! 

April 13-15 was officially recognized as the traditional Thai New Year. Where I live in Chiang Mai, Songkran is usually celebrated for a couple of extra days after and before the “official” start. Culturally speaking, the festival is a way to bring in the New Year by pouring water to symbolize getting rid of the bad things in one’s life. Although the customs are still followed by families, now a days Songkran is celebrated by participating in a giant water fight. By giant I mean the entire inner city part of Chiang Mai. People flocked to the city from all around the world to take part in what could be considered the world’s biggest water fight. 7/11’s around town started selling water guns two weeks in advance and vendors along the street could be seen selling guns, buckets, and scented water. Concerts were all day along all around the city and I had a lot of fun rocking out to a Thai band with all of my current inbound friends as well as Thai outbound students. Moat water was used by many as the water of choice, although it was the least favored because of the dirtiness factor. Barrels could be found on sidewalks to fill up your guns but you never knew if the water would be warm or completely frozen (thanks to the ice slab in the bucket). 

My friends and I started playing around 10-11 most days and I was still soaked around 8pm. Dry clothes were looked forward to every night as well as a warm, clean water shower. 

Kids could be seen sitting in the beds of pick up trucked filled to the top with water, playing with toys. All along the most cars and trucks drove the city streets dousing walkers and other vehicles with water (of unknown temperature). Vehicles moved at speeds slower than a tortoquise and to no avail could the police assist, even though their whistles were ringing in my ears well after they were done. 

Chiang Mai was alight with concerts, parties, markets, and just an overall happiness that made it one of the most intense and enjoyable festivals I’ve ever taken part of! 

Now tomorrow I’ll be heading out for ten days to the Soufh of Thailand with Rotary on our last trip together!  

                

 

The Traffic Game

Here in Thailand the rules of the road are more of suggestions. Just because there’s a red light doesn’t mean that you can’t keep driving on the shoulder through the intersection. Just because the speed limit is 60kph doesn’t mean you can’t go 120. Since living here I’ve seen maybe two cars pulled over, for reasons I don’t know. If you do get pulled over you can choose one of two options; one: you can lawfully pay your ticket, or two: you can hand over a little extra cash to the officer and be on your way without a ticket. Drinking and driving is seen as a common occurrence, especially among males. While on a single lane highway, laws tend to fly out the window. Many Thai people enjoy playing Leap Car, which is played by passing the vehicle in front of you by driving into the oncoming lane of traffic. How many cars you pass is determined by how close you dare to get to the car coming barreling towards you. Let me tell you from personal experience, most people are pretty daring. Driving on the shoulder is especially common for motorcycles, who carry helmets in the basket in the front of the bike in case they hit a check point where police check for helmets. If people do where helmets they’re usually baseball or construction type helmets that would do little to stop your brain from flying out, being as how the chin strap is usually flying free in the wind.

All of this being said, don’t worry mom and dad, I’m being safe! 🙂

Things you see on the road

Four people on one motorcycle
People carrying: (on a motorcycle)
-a chicken
-a desktop computer
-babies
-fans
-brooms
-holding umbrella while raining
People riding sidesaddle

•Two lanes really means 5 and a half
•Trucks loaded to 4x the capacity they were meant to be
•Truck beds with 20 people packed in
•Cars without hoods
•Cars without bumpers
•Cows and horses in the back of pick up trucks
•Fruit stands along highways
•Meat stands along highways
•Trucks driving 5km/hr up the mountain roads
•Car accidents are common, seatbelts are not.

Life updates:

At Nattasin, the performing arts school that I attend I had to perform a traditional thai dance for the school board representatives. I arrived at the school at five in the morning in order to have my makeup done and my costume on and prepared by eight. The dance went okay, and afterwards I got to walk around and try local food and watch my friends’ performances.

My friend Gwen completely shocked me by showing up in Chiang Mai for a week. She was volunteering at a farm in Indonesia for 8 weeks and then made a pitstop in Thailand before returning home to New York.

School finished up for the semester so now I’m on break until mid May. I was happy to be done and have a free schedule but I miss my friends.

Fourth (my host brother) and I made croissants one day while at home. My other host brother (Third) is in France right now on exchange so they wanted to learn how to make them for him when he returns.

This past weekend I went to the Annual Rotary District Convention in a city around four hours away from Chiang Mai. Rotarians from almost every club along with all of the outbound and inbound exchange students attended. It was great to catch up with everyone and meet the students about to embark on their exchange adventure. I met a kid named “Art” who will be coming to North Star (my rotary district) next year!! He’s really excited and I’m really excited for him because I remember being in his position almost a year ago! After the conference we made a quick stop at a market along the Thai-Myanmar border.

April is going to be the busiest month yet because this week I’m leaving for a trip down south to Phuket with Jenna and my first host family for a week. Then my friend from the U.S. who’s currently doing his exchange in the east of Thailand is going to come stay at my house for the Songkran water festival. Then I’m going back down to the south with all of the exchange students on our southern trip! I’ll update you on my adventures in April soon!

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Normal?

When I think about normal I think about routine. A person’s routine can somewhat define how they live their life. In a sense, one of the (if not the most) difficult things about going abroad on an exchange is becoming accustomed to a new “normal”.

Normal was: waking up at 7:30 and deciding what I wanted to wear.
Normal is: waking up at 6 and putting on whatever uniform I had assigned for the day.

Normal was: getting in the car and driving myself to school.
Normal is: waiting for whoever is driving me (along with other family members) to be ready to go.

Normal was: hitting maybe a total of twenty minutes of traffic each week.
Normal is: hitting twenty minutes of traffic on a good day.

Normal was: getting to school and talking with friends or scrambling last minute to finish homework.
Normal is: getting to school and going to morning assembly or going out for coffee. (No homework)

Normal was: stressing over projects, papers, and exams.
Normal is: worrying about what we’re going to teach the school in Monday and Tuesday morning English lessons.

Normal was: going through the lunch line and picking out what looked the best/had a good reputation.
Normal is: deciding what to eat based on the spiciness level and whether it’s been heated or not.

Normal was: going to the water fountain when I was thirsty.
Normal is: buying water because if it comes from a faucet there’s a good chance it’s polluted.

Normal was: the bell ringing at 3:30 and going home or to softball or FFA or out with friends.
Normal is: going to the gym, going out with other exchange students, or home.

Normal was: having a locker and changing classrooms each period.
Normal is: carrying a backpack and having the teacher come to you (at traditional schools).

Normal was: being able to freely express my thoughts to my family, friends, teachers, etc.
Normal is: using lots of hand gestures and basic Thai to get my point across.

Normal was: .
Normal is: eating rice. or noodles. everyday.

Normal was: having conversations in passing with teachers in the hallways.
Normal is: “wai’ing” (bowing with hands pressed together at nose level) to teachers when I pass them in the hallways, when they entered a classroom, and when I see them in general. -Note: The “wai” is a formal gesture which Thai people use to express “hello, goodbye, thank you, okay, etc.) much like a wave or a handshake. When people approach each other the younger is supposed to initiate the wai in which the older will respond with a similar wai. When greeting friends of similar age the hands will be placed at chest level or chin. When greeting an elder the hands will be placed at nose level. When greeting or passing by a monk hands will be even with the forehead. This position is also used while at the temple.

Normal was: going for coffee every so often because $$$$.
Normal is: going for coffee frequently because the most expensive drink is never more than $4.

Normal was: sitting at a cafe and watching people walk by.
Normal is: sitting at a cafe watching people walk by and monks on their daily alm rounds.

Normal was: worrying about hypothermia in the winter.
Normal is: laughing at the people wearing winter hats and coats because it’s 50 F and Thai’s think it’s Antarctica.

Normal was: having the river run through my city.
Normal is: waking up and going to sleep with the sun setting over the mountains.

Normal was: having friends since way back to hangout with after school, on the weekends, and call up whenever.
Normal is: having friends because my hair and my skin “are beautiful”. note-not all Thai kids are like this. However the majority are interested in obtaining my Facebook, taking pictures, saying hello, and that’s about it. Don’t worry mom and dad, I do have a couple of friends that got over this phase and are real friends.

Normal was: fending for myself if my parents weren’t home.
Normal is: never being left alone for more than a few hours. (Thais are extremely protective; 1:because I’m a foreigner, 2:because I’m a girl, 3:because I can’t fully communicate in Thai)

Normal was: having 26 letters of the alphabet to work with.
Normal is: learning Thai 15 hours of the day. (The Thai alphabet has 44 consonants and 32 vowels)

Normal was: having family by blood that has known me since birth.
Normal is: adapting to new families that I formerly only knew by names on a piece of paper.

Normal was: living in a culture that was focused on climbing higher on the ladder of success.
Normal is: living in a culture that has the biggest hearts, biggest smiles, and some of the best attitudes I’ve ever been able to witness.

All in all, living in Thailand for almost 200 days now has given me the opportunity to experience some of the biggest ups, as well as some of the biggest downs. These experiences have helped me grow into who I want to be. I’m not there yet, and I don’t plan to ever reach that stage to be honest, because truthfully I think I enjoy the journey too much to reach the destination.

Random events that have occurred since my last post:
-I switched families so I now have a different house to call home for the next two-ish months. There’s positives as well as negatives but I do miss my first family.
-Jenna and I taught the Cha-Cha Slide to our entire school during morning English lessons. It didn’t fail as much as I anticipated.
-Today is the Chinese New Year. It’s celebrated by making offerings, and giving money to those younger than you.
-My host family and I went to the biggest orange farm in Thailand.
-I attended an agricultural camp for a weekend and I understood about 30% of everything that was happening.
-The school term ends this week so once it’s over it’ll officially be summer! A little sad not to be seeing my Thai friends but excited to have time to explore the city more.
-I had a dream in Thai. Well I said about three sentences in Thai. But it still counts.
-At my new family we go to the market on an almost daily basis so I’ve become a master at picking out the good stuff.
-Strawberries are now in season. Smoothies are a frequent thing.
-Summer season-aka HOT-has officially begun.
-Jenna and I joined a gym.
-I attended sport day at the local university.
-In cooking class we made Greek food.

Also outbounds (exchange students that have been accepted for exchange but have yet to leave) have been selected and it makes the fact that I only have a little time left here very very real. But I’m so excited for them!!

Overall life is good in Thailand and I hope you’re doing well wherever you are! 🙂

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Central Trip and Holiday Happenings

Have you ever looked at the moon? Really, truly, looked at it. I did recently. It gave me hope. Hope that from different areas of the world, we can still have connections without the use of wires, phones, and Facebook. We all see the same moon. Everyone on Earth, anyways.

Happy New Year!

I celebrated Christmas while on a trip with 20-something other exchange students and Thai students. We took a bus down to the central part of the country and toured temples, museums, and famous landmarks. The trip was awesome because we all got to meet each other and share our experiences of living in Thailand. We’re all from different parts of the world, and even in Thailand we live in completely different areas. My life in Chiang Mai is very unfamiliar to someone living in a small town. I enjoyed getting to spend time and build relationships with everyone as well. The last day we were on a bus for ten hours, five of which were spent singing karaoke. Thai people love their karaoke and some exchange students have embraced that custom. We spent three days in Bangkok, which also serves as the country’s capitol. Chiang Mai is the second biggest city behind Bangkok and Bangkok makes CM look like a baby. 24/7 traffic and so many people!! I was glad to get back to CM.
In Thailand people don’t really celebrate Christmas because most of the population is Buddhist. On Christmas we celebrated by going to a lady boy drag show and having a nice dinner. After dinner we exchanged some presents and then all of the students went into a hotel room and listened to the reading of The Night Before Christmas.
On New Year’s Eve I went to my counselor’s house for dinner and then after I went out with the other exchange students to count down into 2015.
Surprisingly I haven’t been very homesick throughout the holiday season. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like I should be celebrating anything. I think the cold triggers the holiday spirit for me. We don’t have much of that here. My New Year’s resolution is to learn how to read and write Thai, I’ll keep you updated… Don’t hold your breath.
It’s my first week back at school since the trip, aka having to get up before 9am. Today in baking we made homemade bread! On Friday I’m going camping with my host family before I switch families on Sunday. I’m a little excited to switch but sad to be leaving my family now. I’ll still be able to see them frequently though which makes it a little easier.

It’s the winter season here still and afternoon temperatures reach around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I convert the temperature in my hometown right now for my friends and they don’t believe me.

I tried to ride a unicycle last night with my host sister… Definitely not my strong suit.

Thailand feels completely like home now and thinking about Minnesota makes me feel strange. Like in 6 months I’ll leave to what? I have 6 months.. 6 months to make it count!

Anyways, I hope life is good wherever you are and that you make someone smile at least once today! 🙂

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Winter??

It’s that time of year again. The time to break out the wool socks, long underwear, hand warmers…… for you anyways. Here in Thailand it still reaches a sunny 90 F most days although I’ve been informed that winter has in fact started. I do admit I was a little chilly one morning at school sitting in class, but that joke quickly faded leaving the ever present sun as my teacher. My Thai friends always get a kick out of asking me if I’m cold to which I respond, “Mai nowww!” (Not cold), they always repsond with “Jing laaa?!” (Really?) and then run away laughing. Jenna and I teach English every Monday and Tuesday now at Nattasin usually making it up as we go. This past Tuesday we taught them the Hokey Pokey, and once Christmas gets nearer we might teach a carol. The main focus the teachers want is for the students to hear English from native speakers. Last weekend I attended my first Muay Thai lesson.. I was a tad sore the next day but it was a great workout and I think the teacher agreed to teach every Saturday and Sunday! My birthday was celebrated a couple of weekends ago. I went out to dinner with my host parents to an American style restaurant and the next day at school my friends surprised me with a cake and sang Happy Birthday.

Last weekend my second host family took Jenna and I to Doi Inthanon (highest point in Thailand) to celebrate the King’s Birthday (also Father’s Day). We woke up at 3am to leave Chiang Mai and drove two hours to get to the lookout in time to see the sunrise. After an hour or so we went on a 4km hike leading us to walk on the side of a mountain with beautiful views. Once we got back to car my second host dad took us to a museum, some temples, lunch, and a waterfall. By the time it reached 4pm it felt like 4am..

School is going well. Coming up soon we’ll have a break to celebrate New Year’s. The students have their Sport’s Day too but I won’t be attending because the 18-27 other exchange students from my district and I will be traveling to the central part of the country and Bangkok on a bus trip. We’re all getting excited to spend time together and explore new parts of the country!

Usually when eating I keep an eye out for chilis and various other things that would inflict pain on my mouth but for some reason I’ve accidentally eaten a lot of them lately.

I taught my host dad the definition of a “power nap” the other day. He now uses it on a daily basis.

I’m focusing on learning how to read Thai… it’s even harder than speaking.

I hope you’re enjoying the season you’re living in- whatever it may be!