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New Years: A Time for Friends and Spontaneous Adventures

While Christmas is not celebrated by most in Thailand, New Years is full of festivities.  In Chanthaburi where I teach, there is a big New Years market where people from all over the Chanthaburi province come and sell goods such as furniture, plants, clothes, and food.  For about a week this market went on, and it was constantly bustling with people, filled with aromas, and with the sounds of live music that went on until late at night.  

For New Years I went to Chiang Mai again, which was really fun.  I met up with some friends I met at orientation, and we had a great time exploring the city, eating delicious food, and bringing in the New Year by releasing paper lanterns into the sky and dancing the night away.  Chiang Mai is definitely one of my favorite places I've been in Thailand thus far.  There is a lot to do and see, but the city is pretty relaxed and not far from many natural attractions.  

On my way back home I took the overnight train from Chiang Mai, which got me into Bangkok early Monday morning.  Initially I thought I would grab breakfast and maybe walk around Bangkok for a while, but it was still so early, and Bangkok is so big that I did not know where to start.  I asked someone at the train station if he had any recommendations of places to go, and he suggested Ayutthaya.  Ayutthaya is the old capital of Thailand, and is a place I had been wanting to visit anyways, so I took his suggestion and went to Ayutthaya!  Ayuthaya is is about two hours by train from Bangkok, and costed just 20 baht ($0.56)!  When I arrived I got lunch and then found a hostel with an open bed.  The hostel I stayed at is called Allsum Hostel, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone traveling to Ayutthaya!  It is very nice and not expensive either.  Oh my, I am so glad I took this impromptu trip!  Ayutthaya is so beautiful and rich with history.  There are so many ruins to explore, which is especially nice if you rent a bike for the day since the sites are somewhat spread out.  

Here is an anecdote from my travels in Ayuthaya:

I am walking around one of the ruins, and approach one large structure timidly, because I am not sure if I am allowed to climb up or not.  A group of monks walk up from the other side, and encourage me to come up as well.  When I get up we greet each other, and then the monks ask to take pictures with me.  First, each monk takes out their iPad, and takes an individual photo with me, and then we take a couple of group pictures.  And the whole while I am just laughing, because yet again my preconceived notions of monks is different than reality.  Yes, some monks have iPads and like to take pictures with farangs, some may friend you on Facebook, and just in general they are a lot more approachable to everyday people than I thought they would be.  I've had some very normal conversations with monks since I've been in Thailand, which I really did not expect.  Of course, it is important to always be respectful around monks as they are highly revered in Thai society.  Some may just surprise you with their willingness to talk to you.  If you do get the opportunity to speak to a monk, definitely do.  Its a great way to learn more about their lives, and about buddhism in general.  

Well that is it for now!  Much love and courage to do something you've never done before!

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Reflections

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

– Gustave Flaubert

I have now been in Thailand for about six weeks - 

        by this time three years ago I had already completed my study abroad in Italy,

        I was wrapping up my last two weeks of work in London by this time last summer

- and I'm not even close to being halfway done here.

The past six weeks have flown by. Some have been a breeze, and some not so much. 

I have seen some of the most beautiful places, but many came with discomfort and confusion along the way.

I am having the time of my life, but there's also a constant pang of missing my family and home comforts. A pesky pang like a minor headache that you can never quite get rid of. And sometimes when I'm walking down the street and getting stared at for looking different, I miss the life that I expected to live up until February; a life working at a familiar company, in a familiar community, with familiar people in London. 

But then I walk into the classroom and see my students. Or I get off whatever plane, train, or automobile I took that weekend and see a new, spectacular place. Or even the small things like when I am awoken by the crow of the roosters outside of Suporn Place every morning. In those moments I realize it is all worth it. 

I am extremely blessed to have this opportunity. I know that when I get on the plane to come home I will never be the same. I have seen and experienced such a variety of people and cultures. I have been welcomed with open arms and have found people who have similar values and goals as me. 

Before I came here, I thought of myself as an experienced traveler. I had been to 11 countries in my life. That sounds impressive, right? That's a mere 5.6% of the world's countries. All of the countries had been in Europe and North America - 28.6% of the world's continents. There is still a lot of the world for me to discover. More importantly, that's a lot of cultures for me to learn about. When I came here, I realized how little experience I have and how little I actually know about the world. I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list. 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am so grateful that I am lucky enough to take part in it. Even through the good, the bad, and the ugly I know that I am constantly growing into a more well-rounded, aware individual. 

If you have a similar opportunity, don't let fear or nerves hold you back. There will be tears. There will be hard times. And more than likely, there will be a stomach bug or two. But in the end, it is more than worth it.

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Up Hill Both Ways

This weekend was the first long weekend that I had in Thailand. Although I originally wanted to go to the islands this weekend, I decided against it due to the popularity and inflation of price for the holiday. So instead, I went to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is one of the biggest cities in northern Thailand. It is very historic and extremely beautiful.

Our journey began on Friday afternoon when we made our way from Chonburi to Bangkok to catch our overnight bus. We were able to get some amazing food from the mall in Bangkok before heading to our station to check in for our 12 hour long bus ride.

The bus left around 9:15pm. Because of the amount of people going to Chiang Mai, there were three different buses. We gave our luggage to put underneath one bus and then were directed to get onto another bus. When we got on, the seats reclined back to about a 45 degree angle. We also received a small box of food, water, and a blanket. We stopped at one bus/rest station on the way.

We were supposed to get to Chiang Mai around 7:30am. However, due to being stuck in traffic in Bangkok for FOUR HOURS, we didn't get there until about 10am. Once we were there, a few other passengers and I realized that we were the only bus. The bus with our luggage on it was nowhere to be found. Lauren, who has been in Thailand for about a year now, was able to communicate with the bus driver as much as she could. After about 15 minutes of trying to communicate with the bus driver, we found out that the other bus would be there in about a half hour. So we waited. Buses came and went, passing by us getting our hopes up every time. Then, like a light sent from God, we saw the bus that our luggage was on. That bus came and went to. Lauren called the company and the company had to play phone tag with that driver until they finally informed him to make a u-turn and drop off our bags to us. We were ready to explore Chiang Mai around 11:30...four hours later than originally planned.

Once I dropped my bag off at my hostel, I changed and met up with Kathleen and Cicely from my orientation. They met two Canadians at their hostel who told them about a place called The Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a quarry that has a water park of inflatables on one side, and cliff jumping on the other. It was a fun way to cool off and let our inner kid out.

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That night, we went to the night market and got some amazing food and window shopped.

The next day, Laura, Lauren, and I decided to hike the Monk Trail, or Dio Suthep. Laura looked it up online and saw that it was only a 2-mile hike to the top where a magnificent temple and an amazing view await.

After walking up the steepest hill known to man, we were finally at the entrance. We began our hike. It was challenging and through the jungle, but it was absolutely beautiful.

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After about a mile of hiking, we came to an opening. This opening had a breathtaking view of Chiang Mai along with a waterfall and some amazing architecture. It was home of Wat Pha Lat; a small Buddhist temple and monastery hidden in the woods.

Hike group

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From there, we were directed toward the road to finish our hike to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. When we got back on the trail, we realized that it was still 7 kilometers away...just a little bit further than we thought. We kept walking and walking up hill until we finally saw cars and people at the front of the temple. We waited for Lauren to finish the hike before we went in. While we were waiting we discovered that the hike had actually been about 10 miles. According to our phones, we had walked 101 flights of stairs. And yes, our buns were burning.

Once Lauren got there, we climbed a few flights of stairs and then came to the entrance of the temple. Image-1

Stairs

**All of my pictures had loads of people, so here's one from www.adventureswithdan.com

We sighed and then tackled the stairs. We had already walked 101 floors, what's 5 or 6 more?

Once we were at the top, we sat and got water and ice cream before wondering around.

We went out to the viewpoint and realized that all the walking we had done paid off. The view was absolutely breathtaking.

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We made the executive decision to take a songthaew back down the hill and into town.

After we made it back and showered, we went out to eat (where I got amazing Pad Thai and even better Oreo Cheesecake), and then went to the Sunday market. The Sunday market took up several streets that had been shut down. They had everything from food to clothes and accessories. It was one of the best markets that I have ever been to.

Around 7pm, it was time to head to the bus station and get back on the bus for another 11 hour bus ride.

We got home to Chonburi around 12pm.

While the weekend didn't go exactly as planned, it was still an amazing and active long weekend. I will definitely be sore for the next few days!

Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My!

***This blog post should've gone out on Monday but due to technical difficulties (my computer crapping out on me) it is going up today instead***

We all have those days that just don't belong to us. Today was that day for me. After a long, tiring, all around bad day, I started to tear up in the middle of the Tesco food court. But then I started to reminisce of better days. And by better days I mean yesterday.

This weekend was one for the books. A few people from Chonburi went down to Pattaya for the weekend. There, we met up with two girls from my orientation and then later another girl who teaches in Chonburi who made the last minute decision to come. It was the best two days I have had in a while. Here's how it broke down:

Friday

We left around to go to Pattaya around 5:30pm Friday night. After an hour or so van ride, we were there. We checked into the hotel and then went and got Mexican for dinner. The food was sub-par but hey, it was Mexican which is definitely something that I've been missing.

After dinner, we walked around. While we were walking, we came across a night market. I was able to get a Kylie Jenner Lip Kit for 100 baht (that's like $3...I couldn't pass it up). We walked around a little bit more, then went back to the hotel to drop off our bags.

Deanna and I (yes, the lucky friend that fed a mama and baby monkey from my last post) went to the famous Pattaya Walking Street. Walking Street is a street full of bars and clubs. We decided to get gelato and people watch. After we finished, we walked all the way down the road and came across a small massage parlor. What really caught our eye was the fishtanks in the front. Yep, they were the fish pedicures. Pedicures where you stick your feet in a fishtank and the fish eat the dead skin off of them. Immediately after sticking my feet in they swarmed. IMG_3586

Saturday

On Saturday we met up with Cicely and Marla at Pattaya Beach. After about 30 minutes soaking in the sun, we decided to get our day started.

And what better way to start your day than play with tigers?! That's right. We went to Tiger Park. Tiger Park is raises their tigers from birth and never sells or exchanges them. In addition, they also do not drug, chain up, or remove the tigers' claws or teeth. All of those are issues with similar places. We all went into the small (they were still pretty big) enclosure. IMG_3719

After being able to pet and hang out with them for about 15 minutes, Cicely and I went into the medium tiger enclosure. There was nothing medium sized about these tigers. Overall, it was one of the coolest experiences that I've ever had. I was in complete awe by these amazing creatures.

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After Tiger Park, we went to the Pattaya Floating Market. In my opinion, this is a must if you are in the area. They have little stands everywhere selling everything from food to clothes to art and woodwork. They paths are over a pond and connected by bridges. Some merchants even sell food from boats. It's an absolutely gorgeous place. 10 out of 10 would recommend.

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After about 2 hours there, we headed back into town, got Indian food, and went back to the hotel for showers and a nap.

Later that night, we went out to Walking Street. We were out in the Neon Jungle until about 4:30am, which felt like 12:30.

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*A quick pit stop in Boyz Town


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*street performers on Walking Street

While we were out, a little Thai girl was celebrating her 3rd birthday. She immediately took an interest in us. We danced with her, we held her, and she kept stealing our phones to take pictures with (this was all under her parents supervision don't worry). She also stole our heart. I decided at that moment, that I'm going to try to adopt a Thai kid when I'm older.

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*peep that $3 Kylie Lip Kit

Sunday

Although the original plan was to visit a few temples on Sunday before heading back, we decided instead to take the ferry to the nearby island Koh Larn. While we were on the beach the day before, a man from Denmark suggested this island. He said it had "sand so white you need sunglasses" and "crystal clear water." After the few crazy weeks that we had, we needed a beach day. So we went.

After getting some fresh fruit from a stand and then taking a 30 minute ride on the ferry, we arrived at Koh Larn. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen (and I went to Capri, Italy). Water that was just cool enough to be an escape from the hot Thailand sun that was so clear we could see our feet. The sand was soft and nearly white. it was paradise.

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After we washed the sand off our feet, we were back on the ferry, then back on the van and were on our way home to Chonburi, Bangkok, etc.

But don't worry Pattaya/Koh Larn, it's not goodbye..it's see ya later (cause you were way to fun to not go back).

Want to see more pictures from my adventures?                     Follow me on Instagram! @pinnella_ice

If You Give a Kid a Dum Dum

I've officially finished my second week of teaching and am about to go into my third. It's been an incredible experience so far.

This week, as a part of my lesson on the present continuous tense (I'd be lying if I said I didn't need a quick Google refresh on what exactly that was), I had my students play Pictionary. One of their team members would draw an action that I told them on the board and their team members had to guess using complete sentences. The prize? Good ole' Dum Dums from the U. S. of A.

It's interesting how much students' attitudes change when candy is on the line. They go from not very interested to bugging the ref (me) for every little thing and begging for more tiebreakers. We had to move on and do a workbook page, so the winning team was decided by Rock, Paper, Scissors.

After I gave the students Dum Dums, they all surrounded me. They kept asking where I got them and if I had more (I didn't).  If you have multiple pets, you know that when you open a bag of treats they all surround you and beg for them. Well, that's exactly how I felt in that moment. Except I had a huddle of 15 12-year-olds around me.

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**Basically how the students looked at me after they tried their candy. Including the one laying on it's back and the other one in the back going bazerk.

Moving on to Saturday, I originally was going to go to Bangkok for a pool party. However, I ended up in the ER on Tuesday (stay tuned for the blog post all about that little situation) so I decided to stay in Chonburi for the weekend and take it easy.

My friend, Deanna, and I decided to go to Khao Sam Muk, otherwise known as Monkey Mountain. This is a hill that you can either walk or drive up. Even as you enter the premises of the mountain, wild monkeys are everywhere. When you get to the top, there are stands selling bananas and corn on the cob for you to feed the monkeys. Of course Deanna and I spend way too much money on bananas to feed them.

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Surprisingly, the monkeys were very polite. If you held a banana out, they would come up and sit at your feet, looking up at you with their big brown eyes. When you held it out, they would grab it from your hand, run a few feet away, and eat it.

 

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**Deanna feeding a mama monkey and her baby. My heart may have stopped every time I saw a baby.

The monkeys were such a unique sight to see.

And come to think of it, there were a lot of similarities between giving the monkeys bananas and my students candy...except the monkeys leave you alone after you give them their food.

(All jokes, my students are awesome.)

Flower Arrangements & Snorkel Gear

Well, what a week it's been.

I taught my first academic class ever, I finally learned how to use the songthaew (pictured below), I was appreciated as a teacher, and I went snorkeling in algae filled water.

Songthaew

A songthaew is the main form of public transportation in Thailand. You hop on the back, press a button when they reach your destination, hop off, and pay the driver 10 baht (about 29 cents).

You heard about my first day experience. Luckily I can say that each day teaching got easier and easier. I am finally beginning to learn my students' names and I know what to teach and how to teach it.

On Thursday, schools across Thailand celebrated Wai Kru day, or Teachers Appreciation Day. It is a Thai ritual in which students pay respects to their teachers in order to express their gratitude and formalize the student–teacher relationship.The students make a flower arrangement and then present it to their teacher during a special ceremony. I wish I could tell you more about what was going on during the ceremony, but it was all in Thai.

My school invited me to participate. I was thrilled! Two students represented my Matthayom 2 advisory class and presented me with beautiful flower arrangements that they spend the second half of Wednesday working on. It was such an incredible honor to be able to accept it. It made me even more excited to continue working with my classes and getting to know them.

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Let's fast forward to Saturday. A few fellow teachers in the Chonburi area and I decided to go to Pattaya for snorkeling. Pattaya is only about 1-2 hours away so it was perfect! We had an early wake up call of 5am so we would be able to get to the snorkel place by 8am.

Once we got there we had some extra time to kill. We decided to stop into a restaurant and get what might be the best smoothie I've ever had with a view of the Gulf of Thailand right out the front door.

When it was time to leave, we got onto the boat and headed off to the islands. On our first dive, I was terrified as soon as I got into the water. It was my first time snorkeling. Unfortunately, there was a lot of algae in the water which made it sort of difficult to see. We were also told that there might be jellyfish in the water so to be careful. Immediately I saw little round clear things floating in the water. And there were a lot of them. Jellyfish. I kept trying to dodge them but couldn't because there were way too many. They kept hitting me but surprisingly, I didn't get stung.

About 30 minutes later, we got back onto the boat. We asked our guide and a few other workers on the boat why we didn't get stung because there were so many jellyfish. It turned out, they were photo luminescent plankton and completely harmless. It was a complete shock to me. I've watched a lot of Spongebob in my life and it always led me to believe that plankton were green. At this point, I was confused and not sure what else in my childhood was a lie.

We ate lunch, traveled to a new island, dived again, and headed back to the dock. 

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The week made me excited to continue the journey that I'm on. Despite the hard times and the occasional homesickness, I'm the happiest I have been since I was in London last summer. I can't wait to see what other new adventures I'll have in these next 5 months.

Ohio Fried Chicken

I've been teaching for two days now. How do I sum up my experience? Well...

No idea what to do

Or especially in the case of today...

Tuesday

I graduated from college with a degree in marketing and entrepreneurship with a minor in psychology (but hey, who's counting). I grew up wanting to be a teacher. For Christmas one year, I got an easel with a chalkboard on one side and a whiteboard on the other. Every day after school I would go to my basement and play class, acting as the teacher. It was my favorite thing to do.

*Disclaimer: this was in like 3rd grade. I wasn't doing this in high school.

And then I grew up. I'm not sure what made me decide to change paths. But now I'm able to see if that passion I had with my easel is still alive today.

So, on to my first days of actually teaching real life people.

I was extremely overwhelmed. I wasn't sure what I needed to teach them, how developed their English was, or what they already learned. So I played a game getting to know them while telling them a little bit about me. During this game, it was revealed that I am from Ohio. From the moment they knew that, they kept saying Ohio Fried Chicken. Did they mean Kentucky Fried Chicken? Was it another inside joke between the students? Was it a fat joke? I was just as curious as you are.

My next two classes were equally stressful. I had my game planned and I felt ready to begin. But the students wouldn't be quite. I asked them once. I asked them twice. I threatened to give them homework (yeah right like I had any homework prepared to give them). They kept talking! It's difficult to keep a balance of discipline, respecting their culture and being the cool teacher. Luckily, my RBF came in handy when I would stare at groups of students that were talking.

Don't know what a RBF is? Google it.

Finally, when I came back from my third class, another teacher had put a listening activity on my desk to conduct with my final class of the day. In other words, I had to hand out papers and press play on the sound files. I was so thankful for this. It would give me time to relax and recoup orate after my other classes.

However, when I began pressing play and handing out the worksheets I realized that I didn't enjoy it. I was only there to work sound. I could also tell that the students did not enjoy it at all. While it was nice to relax, I didn't feel like I was their teacher.

Yes it's only Tuesday. But I already feel more confident in my abilities to lesson plan and teach to a class. I know that I will learn things along the way, but that only means I will improve.

In the end, I think I'm going to like it here after all.

 

Five Things I Learned During Orientation

The time that I never thought would be here has officially come. Not only am I in Thailand, but I have survived orientation and arrived at my placement in Chonburi.

Because the group that arrived in June was much smaller, 16 participants compared to roughly 70 in May, our orientation only lasted three days rather than the typical five. However, they managed to squeeze a lot of information in within a short period of time. Not only did they teach me the essential knowledge that I need to (or at least should) know, but I was also able to learn a lot outside of the classroom. So, without further ado, here are five things I learned during orientation:

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1) Thai tea might be the best thing ever.

My palette was introduced to the magic that is Thai tea before the second day of orientation. We were eating breakfast in the hotel before we made our way to our orientation activities when one of the hotel employees offered us a small glass of Thai tea. My one friend exclaimed how good Thai tea is and immediately grabbed a glass. So I gave it a try. All I could say was WOW - it was absolutely amazing.

According to Wikipedia - so you know this has to be accurate - Thai tea is made up of Ceylon tea, or a locally grown landrace version of Assam known as Bai Miang. Other ingredients can include added orange blossom water, star anise, and crushed tamarind seed. It is then sweetened with sugar and condensed milk.

Is your mouth watering yet? It should be.

2) Bangkok is full of...smells.

Maybe it's the food. Maybe it's the dog poop. Maybe it's the fish market. Maybe it's a combination of one or more. Either way, most smells were unidentifiable and even more unpleasant.

However, there are also amazing smells in Bangkok. There were some areas along the street that were full of fresh, amazing  flowers. It smelled like walking through Yankee Candle in the spring time.

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3) The nicest people work for OEG.

I went through CIEE to apply and confirm my place in the Teach in Thailand program. However, Overseas Education Group (OEG) is their partner that handles the majority of the arrangements in Thailand. So, naturally, they were the ones that held orientation. There were five primary people that we interacted with during orientation. Two of them were Americans working for OEG in Thailand, two were native Thais who have had experience in North America, and one was a British man who has been teaching English in Thailand for several years.

Everyone at OEG was extremely informative and always went the extra mile for the participants. I always felt comfortable talking to them about almost anything. They were always there to lend a helping hand to participants and focused on building relationships with each and every one of us.

The OEG coordinators made the transition to Thailand extremely easy and prepared me well for the next five months.

4) Use the canal boats with caution.

One of the ways to get around Bangkok is by canal boat. These are basically the buses of canals. However, proceed with caution before using one.

Getting on and off is very tricky. Sometimes the boat doesn't completely touch the dock which makes it very difficult for those who tend to be clumsy (cough cough me).

Additionally, like any other boat, it splashes, especially when you go past another canal boat. This can be quickly fixed by pulling up the clear shade on the side of the boat by your seat. This information is helpful to know before you get on the boat.

5) You meet some of the best people.

A program like this attracts people of a very similar mindset. I met so many people during orientation that had an absolute passion for traveling and truly immersing themselves into a culture. Meeting people with such similar interests and goals automatically gives you a connection with them. To make that bond even stronger, we all got to actually know each other during orientation. I have began to make some of the strongest bonds I will ever have during the three days of orientation.

I am excited to travel with some people from orientation all over Thailand. After all, there is nothing better than sharing this experience with people who truly love and appreciate it.

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Round 2!

Back to school!  After having a long vacation period from March to May, where I hopped around from place to place, I was happy to return to my town in Chanthaburi and, and to see all of the smiling faces of my students!  Last semester I taught 5th and 6th grade, but this semester, due to the lack of foreign English teachers at my school , I am now teaching 2nd through 6th grade!  Its a big change, with many more students (about 700 total that I teach), but I'm really loving it!  It's fun to work with the curious younger students, and also be with my older students again.  They are sure a fun bunch of kids!

Waiting to Leave for Thailand As Told by The Office

The time is almost here! I leave for Thailand on Sunday. What's it like waiting for that day to get here? Well...

1) The days are going slower and slower

Being a recent college graduate, having a clear schedule is a strange phenomenon to me. Of course I have had a few things to do here and there, but I have mostly had free time which makes the days drag on.

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2) I'm bored 97% of the time.

The other 3% of the time I'm either watching the Stanley Cup playoffs or sleeping.

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3) I packed for my trip way too early.

By early I mean literally two weeks before I leave.

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4) I've had time to stress over my bank account.

So many activities to do in Thailand, so little funds.

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5) The few times I do have something to do, I don't feel like doing it.

Bored yet so, so lazy.

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6) I've been doing more chores around the house than normal.

Is it to help out my parents or kill some time? One will never know.

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7) And finally, I do research on Thailand which makes me even more excited to get there.

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T-Minus 3 days!!

Vacation Part 2: Nepal!

            One of the perks of having such a long semester break from March-May was having the time to thoroughly travel to other countries as well. I decided to go to Nepal since it was a country that I had really wanted to visit for some time, and I decided now was the time since I was (relatively) so close and because I had enough time off to make the most of my trip.

            The ride from the airport to my hotel was a true taste of Nepal – bustling traffic, constant honking (that’s just how people drive there), colorful and busy sidewalks, dust spinning up from the roads, and the occasional cow wandering not far from the main road. I spent the first week in Nepal exploring the capital, Kathmandu, and doing a short 3-day trek through Nagarkot and Chisapani. Kathmandu is the hub for a lot of travelers – many people come to Nepal for trekking through the spectacular mountains, so the streets were filled with shops selling trekking gear, as well as many handmade artisan goods, fresh fruit stands and an array of restaurants. Trekking was a really nice experience. The first day was certainly a challenge, however! I trekked for about 6 hours uphill, and initially I thought, “Oh my, what have I gotten myself into!” Despite the physical challenge, and the slightly cloudy skies, I was able to enjoy the view of the mountains, terraced agricultural hills, and the many goats and villagers with curious smiles along the way. The second and third days of trekking were much easier than the first. With no extreme inclines for long periods, I was able to take in more of the beautiful scenery and feel very peaceful as I hiked. Trekking was a really nice experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in visiting Nepal!

            After trekking I made my way to Chitwan. The main reason I came to Nepal was to do volunteer work. I volunteered for two weeks with the Nepal Friendship Society, which was an exciting and fulfilling experience. The Nepal Friendship Society has a purpose of improving the quality of life of people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds through eliminating the disparities of educational outcomes between public and private schools, and it also has a mission to introduce environmental initiatives to improve the environment, and to develop in a sustainable manner. During my stay I worked on an education project, teaching students English both in the Nepal Friendship Society Learning Center and in a local government school.

            At the Learning Center I worked with six students aged 13-15 before school each day, to help improve their conversational English skills. These students had already been in the Learning Center program for 2.5 years, so they had a decent command on the English language. Many of our lessons were focused on environmental awareness and conservation. We discussed the importance of the environment, of water, the environmental problems that are faced today on a local and global spectrum, and ways to improve and alleviate these problems. These students were all very bright, fun, and a pleasure to work with.

            The government school I worked at is called the Ghanistan School – a small primary school consisting of just 160 students. All of the students that attend this school live humble lives, coming from families with little economic income. The school is run by 6 female teachers and one headmistress, and despite our language barriers, we were able to share some of our cultural, educational and teaching backgrounds with each other. Working at this school was quite an experience.  Each day I was greeted by eager smiles and ‘hellos’ from the children.  Being the beginning of school, and also the first foreign volunteer at this school, things were somewhat disorganized and still falling into place, which kept me on my toes! Being an ESL teacher in a foreign country, flexibility is always key. I was usually told at the last minute what grade I should teach, or if there was a specific subject they wanted me to teach for that period. Sometimes I had to come up with lessons on the spot, adapt lessons for different age groups and abilities, or manage a young group of students with boundless energy, barely any English skills, and who never ceased to believe that I could actually understand them when they rambled at me in Nepali!

            I have a great anecdote from working with the 1st grade class. One day, when introducing some vocabulary, I was honestly just shocked and also amused
by the myriad of activities going on in the classroom. Some of the students were looking at the words and pictures I had drawn on the board, and copying into their notebooks; some decided that they were hungry and pulled out snacks and giggled amongst each other; one little girl finished copying from the board quickly and ran up and hugged my legs so that it was difficult for me to move; and one crazy boy decided that he wanted to run around me in circles and throw paper airplanes. Thankfully, I got them to all settle down in a timely manner, and then proceeded to do some active activities and singing with them to keep everyone engaged!

            Overall, I really enjoyed volunteering with the NFS. I stayed with Birendra Poudel, the founder of the NFS, and his kind family. I enjoyed not only teaching, but also spending time with my host-family and meeting so many friendly strangers on my daily walks through the neighborhood. I cannot say that I had a huge impact on the students and their English, since I volunteered for such a short period of time. However, I know that with the continuance of dedicated English-speaking volunteers, the English of the students and teachers will continue to improve, and through this the volunteers and local teachers will be better able to share their ideas, and continue providing quality education to students.

            The end of my stay in Nepal was spent in Pokhara, which was so pleasant! Pokhara is a beautiful place, and there I did many activities like hiking, visiting temples and caves, canoeing, and paragliding! Overall, my trip to Nepal was really just lovely!

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Birendra y yo


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