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8 posts categorized "Bryna Herskowitz"

Stay a Little Longer

I'm not good at making decisions. I get buyers remorse with everything, from ice cream flavors to nail polish colors. For the most part, I try to act using logic rather than emotion. Sometimes I fail at following my instinct and I kick myself for not going with my gut. Suffice it to say, I'm constantly analyzing how any given scenario could play out in my life. 

Something about deciding to teach in Thailand was different for me, though. This is the job I always had my sights set on immediately post-grad. It was never my plan B. The only thing I second-guessed about the decision was that I never second-guessed it. Naturally, moving across the globe came with a lot of risks. Yet, I had a hunch from the get-go that Thailand and I would be a fitting combination.

They say all good things must come to an end, and Thailand has been very good to me. I’ve gained lifelong friends I would have otherwise never crossed paths with; I’ve learned how to control a classroom and teach with equal parts poise and playfulness; I’ve had the privilege to travel throughout parts of Thailand that are breathtaking beyond belief.

I’m not ready for those opportunities to end. After a lot of careful consideration (and a couple of sleepless nights as a result) I am happy to say I will be staying in Thailand to teach for a second semester! This decision was incredibly difficult. It required a lot of self-reflection and a long list of pros and cons. Even after seeking advice from others, I realized the only person who can make this decision for me is me. My gut is telling me I’m not done in Thailand just yet, and for once I’m going to listen to it.

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Turning my can'ts into cans and my dreams into plans! Click photo to enlarge.

Of course, being away from my friends and family for another term will be challenging. However, there is more I want to see, do and – let’s be real – taste test before I go home. Staying in Thailand is something I didn’t originally foresee myself doing. Any teacher knows the challenges associated with the education system. Teaching abroad presents its own set of additional obstacles. By staying in Thailand a little bit longer, my aspirations aren’t changing. I still want to grow my own interpersonal communication skills. I still want to feel as if I am learning as much from my students as they are learning from me. I still want to explore Thailand and surrounding Southeast Asian countries. An additional six months in Thailand will ensure that I get the chance to accomplish all of those goals.

With each life-changing decision I make, I think of my brother, Richie, who lost his battle to cystic fibrosis while I was in middle school. Although nine years have since passed, every milestone in life is bittersweet since I can’t share it with him. My birthday is especially hard. I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt that I’m growing another year older without him. If you had the opportunity to know Richie, you would know he’d want me to stay positive, live my life to the fullest and set out to do things he never got the chance to do. With that in mind, I celebrated my 23rd birthday Thai-style.

I’ve been lucky to make a lot of valuable connections in my town, and I felt so loved the entire week of my birthday. Last Monday, my favorite group of 4-year-olds surprised me with a rainbow-clad ice cream cake, balloons and the sweetest rendition of happy birthday I’ve ever heard.

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These kiddos are too pure! Click photo to enlarge.

Those little munchkins hold such a special place in my heart and I could not have been more touched by the effort that went into making me feel like a birthday princess. On Tuesday, I took my biggest risk in Thailand thus far – I got my haircut! For the price of 100 baht (less than $3) I trimmed off 2 inches and proved to myself I can make it through a haircut without crying at the end.
 
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Balloons are almost as fun as birthday cake... almost! Click photo to enlarge.

I must admit – having a birthday abroad isn’t so bad! Due to the time change, it almost felt as if I got to observe it twice: officially on Wednesday, and again the next day when the calendar turned to the 25th in America. It was so heartwarming to hear from friends all over the world wishing me a happy birthday. 

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Birthday lunch with two of my spectacular students! Click photo to enlarge.

One of my classes even ambushed me with a dessert platter complete with pink candles and a chorus of applause. I truly was caught off guard by their sneaky skills and I was so honored they went out of their way to make sure it was a remarkable day!

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Surprise! Click photo to enlarge.

By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to get to Bangkok and meet up with all of my friends! I kicked off the festivities by telling everyone the big news that I am officially staying a second semester – all the more reason to celebrate! The fun-filled weekend included relaxing on rooftops, poolside jam sessions and rainbow drinks. The weekend wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the movies, which was my last stop before heading back home to Chachoengsao. I am so thankful for the people who traveled from across Thailand to help make my birthday unforgettable.

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Besties in Bangkok for Bryna's birthday - say that three times fast! Click photo to enlarge.

Year 23 is certainly off to an eventful start. I cherish all of the wonderful memories I’m making and I’m grateful for everything I get to experience. I know that not everyone is allotted the privilege to teach and travel abroad. I worked hard to get here and I don’t take it for granted. I am passionate about authentically documenting my time in Thailand and I am proud to share this chapter in my life with others through my blog. I’m thrilled I’ll get the opportunity to do so for a few months longer!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Coast to Coast

Road tripping through Thailand is my new favorite pastime. Lately, I’ve traveled from the east to the west, with stopovers in the central region, and finally back east to teach during the week. Although being a passenger can be stressful at times (most drivers see highway lanes as suggestions rather than requirements), it’s such a treat to take the scenic route while exploring more of the country. 

One of my recent road trips included a bus ride to the western province of Kanchanaburi. After a few minor setbacks (I swear I’ll never stop feeling like I’m on The Amazing Race) I made it to my hostel for the night. As the daughter of a super-coupon cutter, I’ve learned to keep my eye out for a good deal. I really thought I hit the jackpot when I found a room for 180 baht (roughly $5) per night. In retrospect, I should have known what I was getting myself into given the room was called a “raft house,” but hindsight is 20/20 and in the moment the price blinded me from all other options. I was feeling adventurous and ready to immerse myself into nature! Right?

1Raft house: harmless on the outside; not so fun once you're floating on the inside. Click photo to enlarge.

Wrong. Turns out sleeping in a raft house feels less like luxury and more like Huckleberry Finn meets The Parent Trapcamping scene. After a rocky night in the hostel, I boarded an open-air bus to Erawan Falls, a majestic national park 90 minutes outside of the main town in Kanchanaburi. Erawan Falls includes 7 tiers of various waterfalls over the course of 2 miles. The views were striking even from the first level, where tons of fish were swimming in the crystal clear water. I stopped around tiers four and five to dip my feet in before continuing on the trail. 

2A breathtaking view from Erawan Falls, which gets its name from a three-headed elephant in Hindu mythology. Click photo to enlarge.

Thailand must really be changing me because here’s something I never thought I’d say: it was an easy hike to the seventh, final tier. Even though I was close to resembling a tomato by the end of the trail, it was rewarding to say I made it all the way to the top!

3Sweet, sweaty success! Click photo to enlarge.

I finished the hike faster than anticipated, so I decided to bypass the option to stay in the raft house a second night and caught a bus back to Bangkok. Since it was Sunday, it felt only fitting that I catch a movie at my favorite theatre. It was a nice way to end the night after such a fast-paced, exhausting day!

Unfortunately, upon my return to Chachoengsao I suffered another bout of food poisoning. I felt horrible missing school for the first time, but I decided to listen to my body and rest. Even 3 months into my stay, my stomach is still adjusting. Luckily I bounced back after 24 hours and was able to teach the following day. When I returned to school I found a stack of get well wishes from my students. I was incredibly touched by their thoughtfulness and flattered by their complements. It definitely made the road to recovery that much easier!

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These kind notes from my kids really speak for themselves! Click photo to enlarge.

Even food poisoning can’t keep me out of commission for long, so by the time the weekend rolled around I was ready to make my way back on the road again. Last weekend I traveled just north of Bangkok to the province of Lopburi. (The suffix “buri”can be found at the end of many Thai provinces because it translates to “town.”) Lopburi is known for two things: monkeys and sunflowers. Not long after arriving at Phra Prang Sam Yat, the Buddhist shrine in the center of town, I found the infamous monkeys who roam freely throughout the city. Without any food or prodding, the monkeys willingly jump from person to person to see what mischief they can get into.

5Don't let those eyes fool you... this little guy was up to no good! Click photo to enlarge.

Monkeys of all ages and sizes utilized me as their human jungle gym. After the initial shock wore off, I remained calm enough to interact with the little loonies. I quickly learned that monkeys are drawn to anything shiny, and I left Lopburi sans my favorite sparkly silver hair tie, though it is a small price to pay for the experience of monkeys jumping all over me!

6The monkeys loved combing through my hair. I had to keep telling myself it was just like a massage! Click photo enlarge.

After a thorough application of hand sanitizer, I moved on from wild monkeys to wildflowers. Each winter, hundreds of sunflowers bloom throughout Lopburi. With mountains in the horizon and not a cloud in the sky, I noticed there was even a temple in the distance. It was the quintessential view of Thailand.

7Flowers as far as the eye can see! Can you spot the temple in the background? Click photo to enlarge.

While the wildflowers weren’t quite as lively as the monkeys, I still enjoyed frolicking through the fields and taking in the scenery. It was a picture perfect day and I left convinced that Lopburi is the epitome of natural beauty.

8Laughing through Lopburi = best way to experience Lopburi. Click photo to enlarge.

 

It’s refreshing to get off the beaten path and experience something new in Thailand each weekend. The more I do, the more I want to do! With each passing day, I gain confidence in my ability to make it even further next time. With only one more month of school, I’m starting to plan my post-teaching travels around other Southeast Asian countries. Oddly enough, traveling throughout Thailand made me realize the longing I have to see more stateside once I return home. At this point, I feel like I know Thailand better than I know Texas! I'm looking forward to embarking on more domestic travel in the future.

In the meantime, I’ll be heading to Bangkok this weekend to celebrate my birthday! I cannot wait to keep coasting through the city, adapt more to this country and stick to my commitment to see all that I can!  

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

17 Again

There are a lot of perks that come with teaching in Thailand: bonding with students over shared pop culture interests; living here long enough to become skilled at using public transportation; applying knowledge of the Thai language in order to have a conversation… even if it is only a 3 sentence exchange. Yet, living in Thailand can be just as challenging as it is rewarding. I came into this semester doing my best to expect the unexpected. Easier said than done. Dealing with education reform, overcoming the language barrier and adjusting to Thai food preferences (not spicy usually still means at least a little spicy) have all pushed me to grow in more ways than I could have predicted. Instead of dwelling on the things that frustrate me, I am focusing on 17 things that are bringing me joy so far in 2017.

1. Live musicGoing to college in Austin, Texas made me quite the live music enthusiast. I’ve been on the lookout for a fun concert since I arrived in Thailand and I finally found it! On a recent trip to Bangkok, a friend spontaneously brought me to a showcase of different Thai bands. It was the perfect night: new friends, great jams and even the chance to meet the lead singer from one of the performances!

1The lead singer of my new favorite band Summer Stop! During the performance, he even gave a shout out to the "farang" (foreigners) in the crowd and sang a couple of pop songs in English! Click photo to enlarge. 

2. Cliff jumping: Talk about an adrenaline rush. During my New Years trip to Chiang Mai, I visited the “Grand Canyon.” After some coaxing from friends, I decided to take the plunge and jumped off the 24-foot cliff! Following a solid couple of seconds of free fall (an eternity when you’re in the air) I hit the water. Once the initial shock wore off, I swam to safety and lived to tell the tale… to my parents… after the fact.
 
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The Thai Grand Canyon runs the U.S. some serious competition! Click photo to enlarge.
 
3. Wat Chedi Luang: While in the Old City of Chiang Mai, I walked to a nearby Buddhist temple. Wat Chedi Luang is a remarkable 600 years old. Thanks in part to a restoration project, the base of the stupa (a mound-like structure that holds sacred Buddhist relics) displays 5 elephants made of brick and stucco. I was awestruck by these structures, and they certainly made Wat Chedi Luang one of the most stunning temples I’ve seen so far.
 

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The 5 elephants surrounding the temple were the highlight of my visit! Click photo to enlarge.
 
4. Tex-Mex: But maybe “Thai-Mex” is a more accurate description. Regardless, finding Mexican food in Chiang Mai was a great way to kick off the New Year… although it still can’t compete with Qdoba. (Sorry Chipotle fans!)
 
5. Dragon fruit smoothies: Especially when they are 25 baht (about 70 cents)!!!
 
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Smoothies are now my preferred after school snack and sipping them in the park make them taste even better! Click photo to enlarge.
 
6. Doi Suthep: The view from the temple atop of the Suthep Mountain was spectacular, and well earned after the 300 stairs it took to get there!

4A bird's eye view of Chiang Mai. Click photo to enlarge.

7. Friendship bracelets: Purchased shortly after the hike up Doi Suthep, they’re still special even if they fell off most of our wrists soon after buying them.
 
8. Rainbow unicorn party: My favorite after-school English class for 4-year-olds had a belated-New Years party equipped with an inflatable unicorn, balloons and temporary tattoos. Everything was rainbow, even down to the food (red and green apples, orange slices, corn, blueberries and of course multi-colored M&M’s). Still up for debate who had more fun at the party – the kids or me!

5Just a few of the many rainbow-colored decorations. Click photo to enlarge.

9. Gift exchanges: The pure joy that radiates through a classroom full of 6th graders trading New Years gifts is indescribable. It made my heart so happy to witness all of it!

6My sweet students Gong and Tonkla took a lot of pride in receiving the same Eeyore stuffed animal during the gift exchange. Their happiness was contagious! Click photo to enlarge.

10. Muay Thai: I have a newfound respect for boxers after witnessing my first Muay Thai fight earlier this month. The rounds passed quickly (before it got too graphic!) and I learned that men and women come from all around the world to compete.

7Moments before the fight began! Click photo to enlarge.

11. Three-day weekends: I’m really looking forward to the upcoming break in honor of Teachers Day, during which I plan to travel to a province in west Thailand and explore a seven-tiered waterfall! Fingers crossed no face plants are in my future.

12. Birthday bash in Bangkok: I have less than 2 weeks to continue “feelin’ 22” as Taylor Swift would say. While this will be my first birthday outside of Texas, I’m so excited to ring in my 23rdyear surrounded by my friends in Bangkok at the end of January.

13. Tutoring time: Every Wednesday I tutor two adorable sisters. Together we laugh through the lessons as we talk about the highlights of our days and play games in English.

8A selfie with the sweetest sisters, and no - they aren't twins! Click photo to enlarge.

14. Sports Day: This week at school there’s been less teaching and more playing as the students take part in Sports Day (which is actually 3 days long… don’t ask, I can’t explain it). Volleyball, basketball, soccer and badminton tournaments have been taking place all across campus in place of regularly scheduled classes. Though it is throwing a wrench in my lesson plans, it’s been entertaining to watch my students excel as cheerleaders, athletes and coaches.

15. Cotton candy clouds: The sunsets in Thailand really never get old.

10The view from my apartment is surreal! Click photo to enlarge.

16. Sundays at the movies: I mentioned in my last blog post that I spent Christmas Day at the movies. Lo and behold my friends and I found ourselves back there again last weekend. There’s something comforting about sprawling out in a recliner on a Sunday afternoon in a theatre. It truly makes me feel not so far from home!

17. To be determined…As cheesy as it may sound, I’m looking forward to recounting all of the wonderful reasons I have to be happy that haven’t even happened yet! 2017 is just getting started and a lot of exciting events are on the horizon. This year my goals include globetrotting, learning everyday and connecting with people from around the world. Only time will tell what adventures are in store. I can only hope they will bring me as much joy as everything I’ve experienced already!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Bold is Gold

After I studied abroad in 2014 I thought my life was over. Done were the days of spontaneous weekend trips, meeting new friends from all over the world and being a person first, student second. Soon after I went back home to Texas, I turned 21. It was at this point I had an epiphany: the reason my life was so fun abroad was because I made it that way. All I had to do was make conscience decisions to live my life in an exciting way. And so, I did. I traveled to Budapest; I developed my public speaking and event management skills; I became comfortable doing things alone. 

If 2015 was the year of introspection, 2016 was the year of boldness. By the time I turned 22, I could make a strong argument that teaching in Thailand would be a good fit for me. After my annual identity crisis (“People expect things out of 22 year olds!”) I submitted my teaching application. Of course, the golden question every second semester college senior is asked always came my way. “What are you doing after graduation?” For a long time, I couldn’t give a definitive answer. I stuck to “I plan to teach in Thailand.” Key word: plan. It wasn’t until April that I got my acceptance letter and could finally start planning for post-grad life. In May I graduated, a process that was entirely more emotional than I could have ever imagined. I spent most of June and July completing my Austin bucket list before moving back to Dallas in the fall. August and September included trips across the US to visit friends and family before departing for Thailand in October. In the weeks leading up to my departure date, I anxiously made lists, lesson plans and travel goals. Then, in November I adjusted to my new normals and began to thrive in Chachoengsao. So far, December has been one of the most fulfilling times I’ve ever experienced. I found my work-life balance. I connected with fellow teachers and travellers. I made bold decisions. It’s safe to say I can still make a convincing argument that teaching in Thailand is the right job for me.

In between teaching and tutoring, I find time to travel. I spent the past two weekends in Bangkok, a city I am really warming up to. I realized that Bangkok reminds me a lot of New York City: jam-packed public transportation, incredible shopping, booming nightlife and historical landmarks mixed in throughout the modern day urbanization. Once I could accept Bangkok for what it was, I started to love it that much more.

Two weeks ago I took a river taxi to visit Wat Arun, or Temple of the Dawn. Although the temple is currently under renovation, my friends and I made the most of it by walking around the perimeter. The view from the top was well worth it!

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At Wat Arun, the landscape is beautiful. Landmarks such as the Rama VII bridge are easy to spot. Click photo to enlarge.

When we were finished walking around the temple, we shopped at the neighboring market (yes, elephant pants were purchased) before boarding the river taxi again. After a weekend filled with massages, street food and tuk tuk rides it was time to head back to Chachoengsao for school.

During the week I am expanding my tutoring network. I value the connections I can make with kids outside of the classroom as a native English speaker. Our current focus is common greetings and “get to know you” questions. The potential of the students I tutor is great and I’m excited to track their progress. I hope to make them more comfortable and confident speaking English.

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Tutoring time was a great success! Click photo to enlarge.

When I’m not FaceTiming my dog, I go on evening runs at the local park (and I have the bug bites to prove it). The sunsets never get old and I love truly feeling like a part of the Chachoengsao community.

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The view from the local park always leaves me awe-struck. Click photo to enlarge.

Last weekend’s trip to Bangkok was one of my favorites so far! I put my paycheck to good use at JJ market, one of the largest markets in the world. It’s impossible to even conquer the whole vicinity in just a day, so I’m looking forward to going back...once I get paid again. Instead of heading back home first thing Sunday morning, my friends and I played all day in Bangkok. Best. Decision. Ever. After a cab ride to a nearby mall, we had a Western-style lunch (finally got my mashed potato fix!) and treated ourselves to a movie before heading to the bus terminal. I couldn’t help but laugh that even halfway across the world, I still found myself at a movie theater on Christmas day.

This week at school my students are taking their midterms before we break for the New Year holiday. My M1 (6th grade) students took their exam first and every single one of them passed! I totally had a proud mama moment when I heard the news. Together, we ended the year with a big accomplishment. In addition to M1, I also teach English for Tourism to a group of M3 (8th grade) students. I recently asked them to write a paragraph about their ideal workplace. As I was grading their submissions, I came across a sweet note from one of my students. File under: highlight of my day.

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I completely melted at this response. Click photo to enlarge.

I also got to visit my favorite group of 4-year-olds at their after-school English class this week. Together we did arts and crafts, danced the hokey pokey and played with Snapchat filters, a pastime that is appealing to all age brackets and cultures.

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Favorite filter with my favorite boy. Click photo to enlarge.

This weekend I will travel to Chiang Mai, a large city in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is known for its mountains, cooler weather and weekend bazaars. I am looking forward to exploring a part of Thailand that is uncharted territory for me. Perhaps that’s what 2017 will be all about: exploring the unknown. Cheers to the New Year from my time zone to yours!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Ayutthaya to Zen

Current mindset: teach first, travel second. My number one priority in Thailand is to educate my students. Any travel I get the opportunity to do is an added bonus. These past few weeks have truly epitomized this idea. A friend and I recently joked that it is as if I lead a double life. Monday through Friday I am known as “Teacher Bryna,” a foreign teacher who travels in her free time. Over the weekend, I’m Bryna from Texas, a tourist who happens to also teach English. I am doing my best to accomplish all of my goals, even with the juxtaposition of being both a teacher and a tourist. Since my last post, I’ve been fortunate to experience many different aspects of Thailand. Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to lately, from A to Z.

A is for Ayutthaya ­– Thailand’s capital city until the 18th century when it was sacked by Myanmar (formerly Burma). Once a thriving area filled with temples and a royal palace, all that is left now is ruins. On my recent visit to Ayutthaya I was astounded by the sheer size of what remains. The stupas, or Buddhist shrines used as a place for meditation, will make anyone feel small in comparison. It almost felt eerie being there and imagining what life used to be like!
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Pictured above at the temple Wat Maha That and below at the temple Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya.

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B is for bats – a creature I was horrified of until last weekend when I learned how majestic they really are! During my visit to the province of Pak Chong, I watched in awe as 2 million bats migrated from underground caves into the night sky.

C is for crocodile – one of the many animals I saw up close and personal during my trek through Khao Yai, a national park in Thailand.

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Full disclosure: this picture is zoomed in... I wasn't getting too close to this guy!

D is for dogs – they’re everywhere in Thailand! At school, in the street, on the beach... everywhere!

5Pictured: some of the dogs at my school. Not pictured: literally the dozens of other dogs at my school who roam around like they own the place.

E is for elephant – specifically, the one wild elephant I saw in Khao Yai National Park. My tour guide made sure to emphasize the “wild” part. Though elephants are known as gentle giants, it is still important not to get too close.

F is for face plant – AKA what I thought would happen to me during the entire 3 hour trek in Khao Yai.

G is for Ganesha – a large reclining Ganesha (Hindu deity) is located in my province at Wat Saman Rattanaram. It is said to be the biggest in Thailand, if not the world!

6Wat Saman Rattanaram is so large, I couldn't even capture it all in one picture!

H is for hanging gibbons – not to be confused with monkeys, gibbons are actually apes that live in trees and are known for their hooting. I got the chance to see many gibbons bouncing from tree to tree in Khao Yai.

7This little guy was kind enough to pose for a photo before jumping onto the next tree.

I is for icicle – which is what I thought I would turn into in the 68 degree winter weather in Pak Chong and Khao Yai. To everyone who is living through actual freezing temperatures, I’m sorry.

J is for jam-packed – basically what every single day feels like. During the day, I lesson plan and teach. After school, I tutor conversational English and I travel on all of my days off. As someone who loves being busy, I'm really not complaining!

K is for Khao Yai – where I spent my time off last weekend. Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest national park, as well as the first area to be established as a national park in Thailand. My weekend was filled with learning more about nature, admiring wildlife and forming special bonds with friends new and old.

8Pre-hike, post-gibbon siting.

L is for lunch crew – which consists of a group of 10th graders I serendipitously started having lunch with every Wednesday. Half of the time is spent with my students asking me questions about America, and the other half is spent with me asking them questions about proper pronunciation in Thai. I'm pretty confident each party thinks they are getting the better end of the deal! I look forward to this lunch every week. It is so rewarding to see them open up to me a little bit at a time in order to practice their conversational English.

M is for midterms – I know now that midterms are just about as fun for teachers to write as they are for students to take.

N is for night swimming – which is what happened last weekend after day 1 of my tour around Khao Yai. The water was pretty frigid (it is winter, after all) but it was refreshing to take a quick dip.

O is for outdoor classes – my latest teaching strategy when the weather is too nice to stay cooped up in a classroom. My students definitely approve.

P is for pad see ew ­– currently my favorite Thai dish.

9Pad See Ew is the opposite of "Ew."

Q is for quitting – which is never an option, especially when it comes to writing 2 exams in 48 hours.

R is for rainbow fish food ­– the multicolored Cheeto-like puffs I used to feed the fish frenzy in the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya.

10I'm a fan of anything rainbow... even fish food!

S is for still smiling even with a scorpion spider – on my FACE. Slightly terrifying, kinda felt ticklish, huge adrenaline rush. Trigger warning in case you have arachnophobia.

11Sorry Mom...

T is for trek – 3.8 km in length all throughout Khao Yai National Park. Definitely one of my most cherished experiences in Thailand thus far.

U is for underground caves – the place where I saw many bats, creepy crawlers and Buddha statues! Though it may come as a surprise, many monks actually visit the caves around Khao Yai to meditate.

12One of the Buddhist prayer sites within the cave.

V is for views – specifically from the Pa Deo Dai cliffs in Khao Yai. In a word: breathtaking.

13Holy Khao Yai, isn't Thailand beautiful?!

W is for waterfall ­– which is what I worked towards seeing during the trek through Khao Yai.

14The Haew Suwat waterfall is one of the most popular in the area, and for good reason.

X is for x-rated – monkey behavior, that is. Apparently the monkeys in Khao Yai mate about 20 times a day. No picture included for this letter!

Y is for yai ­– “Khao” translates to mountain and “Yai” translates to big. 

15Khao Yai is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Z is for zen ­­– I found my zen after touring for hours throughout Khao Yai, pulling over to the side of the road and watching the sunset. It was pure bliss.

16Another day in Thailand = another striking sunset.

Thailand has so much to offer and I can’t wait to keep exploring, making memories and immersing myself in this beautiful culture.

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

The Amazing Race: Chanthaburi Edition

I’ve been known for doing crazy things while being away from home. Bungee jumpingskydiving and paragliding are just a few of the adventures I signed up for while studying abroad. Even with all of that under my belt, there are still things I never thought I would do, such as travel 9 hours, bribe a taxi driver and run 2 kilometers to spend 1 afternoon in a luscious jungle. Yet, when in Thailand, I am learning I gotta do what I gotta do to make the most of my time here. And so my adventure commenced…

I woke up bright and early Saturday morning to catch one of the first busses out of my province to nearby Chanthaburi. In the spirit of planning ahead, my roommate and I tried to figure out the bus schedule Friday night. Lesson learned: transport times are never a guarantee. There was supposedly a bus departing at 8:30 am, but after an epic game of charades we finally learned the bus actually leaves at 10 am.

Plot twist: it didn’t actually leave at 10 am. As soon as the bus is filled it leaves, meaning we really hit the road around 9:45 am. SCORE! Now, I thought I was in store for a quick 2-hour trip.

Plot twist again: it was not 2 hours. The ride actually ended up being over double. That being said, it was the most scenic drive I’ve ever been on in this country! I saw mountains, forests and temples along the way. The drive passed quickly, even though we had to stop at 3 police checkpoints. The guards really got a kick out of seeing foreigners (farangs in Thai) and let us continue on our way without any problems.

Finally, my roommate and I arrived in Chanthaburi at 2:15 pm with the hope of traveling to a local national park. The only problem? I knew it was supposed to close by 4:30 pm. As soon as I hopped out of the bus, I was immediately bombarded with taxi drivers wanting to know, “Where you go?!” After telling one of the drivers, Namtok Philu (namtok meaning “waterfall”) he agreed to drive and wait outside of the park for us.

Cue: The Amazing Race theme song. I wasn’t planning to stay overnight in the province, so I wanted to find out what time the last minivan departed for my home, Chachoengsao. At first I was told 4 pm, then 5 pm, then finally, with the help of a man who spoke basic English, they settled on 4:30 pm. From the bus terminal I ran back to the taxi driver and asked if we could make it back by 4:30 pm. He explained it was about a 20 km drive that would take 30 minutes. In theory, we should make it.

I wanted to make sure the last bus wouldn’t leave without me, so I ran back to the bus terminal before cruising off. I did my best to tell them I would be back at 4:30 pm no matter what, all the while praying they understood and hoping time and the good karma Travel Gods would be on my side. After (hopefully) solidifying my seat on the last bus out of town, I ran to the taxi (more of a makeshift pick up truck taxi service) and we were on our way! On the cab ride over, I frantically applied mosquito repellent and sunscreen so that I could get moving as soon as I hit the ground.

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I almost fell out of the truck trying to take this picture... but don't worry! I made it to the park in one piece.

By the time we arrived outside of the national park, it was almost 2:45 pm. The clock was ticking! I jumped out of the cab and told the driver we would be back in one hour and reminded him not to leave. He seemed to understand and said he would wait one hour. Shortly after agreeing, we both realized he wasn’t wearing a watch. I then showed him mine read 2:43 pm and my roommate and I would be back at 3:43 pm. After repeating this a few times, we sprinted away hoping he would still be there upon our return.

From the base of the road, I had to jog about half a mile uphill to get to the ticket office of the national park. I haphazardly bought my ticket into the park (about $8) and continued running… only to be road blocked by a Disney World-style photographer who wanted to snap a pic of my roommate and me before we continued into the park. Out of breath and sweating off a disgusting concoction of bug spray and SPF 70, we paused for surely the least glamorous picture that guy has even seen. We kept running and were greeted by some park rangers who saw the determination on our faces and pointed us in the right direction. 

Good news: the running portion of this obstacle course was over. Bad news: the slippery stair segment was about to begin. For the next kilometer, I hiked up and down staircase after staircase while trying not to face plant.

And then, finally, we stumbled upon Namtok Philu, a cascading waterfall surrounded by luscious greens, highlighted by the sun shining through the tree canopies.

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This view made all of the running worth it!

The Philu waterfall is known for the hundreds of fish that swim along the shore. Though I haven’t had too much luck with fish in this country thus far, I wasn’t going to let them stand (or…swim) in between my hard earned waterfall and me.

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So. Many. Fish! But as with most wildlife, if you leave them alone then they will leave you alone, too.

Without any more hesitation, I jumped right in! The water was cold, yet refreshing and luckily the fish were more preoccupied with eating the leaves than attacking me.

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As always, Hook 'Em! (And those little black lines in the water are fish!)

After a quick dip in the falls and taking a moment to admire the tranquil scene, I knew it was time to trek back to the taxi driver. After running into our photographer friend again (he had attached our quick pic onto a souvenir frame) my roommate and I made it back to the taxi at 3:43 pm on the dot. I ran up to the driver’s side window only to realize our driver wasn’t in the car. I flagged him down from a nearby convenience store and we sped off to the bus station where the minivan was miraculously still waiting. I made it back home a few hours later feeling exhausted, proud of myself and confident I had won my very own version of The Amazing Race.

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Getting in the Groove

After one month of living and working in Thailand, it is finally sinking in that this is my reality now! There are a lot of “new normals” in my life, such as eating with a spoon in my right hand and a fork in my left, carrying an umbrella wherever I go (just in case!) and remembering to always apply bug spray. I’m definitely still adjusting, but I think each day I am making progress. I am doing my best to not only learn about Thai culture, but also to learn to appreciate Thai culture.

I recently visited the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (also known as Wat Phra Kaew, Wat meaning “temple” in Thai). I didn’t do my research before visiting (…oops) so I was surprised to learn the Grand Palace actually isn’t just one building. Instead, it is a complex made up of various buildings and temples. Though the Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Royal Family for over 200 years, they don’t spend much of their time there anymore. The grounds are now mainly used for various events such as coronations and official ceremonies. This is a historically significant time to visit the Grand Palace because the renowned King of Thailand passed away last month. Since his passing, Thais from across the country have been traveling to the Grand Palace to mourn King Rama IX. While I walked around the grounds, there were hundreds of people in line waiting to pay their respects to the Royal Family. It was incredible to see how much King Rama IX touched the lives of the people of Thailand.

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one of the most notable sights at the Grand Palace. The name is a bit misleading; since monks do not live there, it is technically a chapel, not a temple. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is unbelievably ornate, designed with intricate patterns and filled with gold and gems from floor to ceiling. As I was walking around, I felt like I had stepped inside of a jewelry box! It was quite the juxtaposition to witness this attraction during the mourning period in Thailand.

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Seated at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha - one of the most beautiful sights I've seen so far!

From the Grand Palace, I walked to Khao San Road, a lively street in Bangkok (part of the Banana Pancake Trail) known for its shopping and other tourist attractions that are popular with Westerners. I took part in one of these attractions – a fish pedicure! I paid less than $5 to put my feet in a pool of live fish for 15 minutes in the hope that they would eat the dead skin off of my feet. Admittedly, it was just about as gross as it sounds and I basically paid to have a 15-minute anxiety attack. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (and maybe fishier?) so now I can check this off of my to-do list!

After taking 6 modes of transportation, I finally made it back home from Bangkok! I continued teaching throughout the week before visiting the Ban Mai Riverside market. “Riverside” is in reference to the Bang Pakong River, which winds through my home province, Chachoengsao. This market serves many traditional delicacies, most of which I tasted. My palette definitely approved!

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The view from Ban Mai did not disappoint! 

From the market, I traveled to a local farm where I had the unique opportunity to plant rice in a marsh. Keep in mind, the target age group of this farm is about 3-5 years old, but I had a blast getting in the mud and planting my crops. It definitely gave me a new appreciation for rice – it’s a backbreaking job!

There are markets everywhere in Thailand and one even opened on the street I live on for a few days. The neighborhood completely transformed from empty sidewalks and streets filled with motorcycles to vendors selling kebabs, popcorn, and smoothies among hundreds of other food items. Least appetizing of them all (for me, at least) was the table with fried bugs. Still working on getting past my fear of all things creepy crawly!

Last week I celebrated the festival Loy Krathong, which means, “to float a basket.” This festival is significant because it is a time to pay respect to rivers, as well as make wishes for the upcoming year. Loy Krathong is observed during the full moon of the 12th lunar month, which just so happened to be a super moon this year! In preparation for the festival I handcrafted a krathong, a small buoyant basket. I decorated my krathong with banana leaves and a variety of flowers, finally topping it off with a candle.

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My handmade Krathong!

After decorating my krathong, I traveled to the Bang Pakong River. In my free time I visit an English class for young children (which is beyond cute) and the families from class were so kind as to invite me to join them at the river. It was such an honor to celebrate Loy Krathong with all of my new Thai friends!

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My Thai family (pictured above) and moments before I placed my Krathong in the river to float away (below).

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Even though I will be 13 time zones away from my family this Thanksgiving, I am still thinking of how much I have to be grateful for – specifically, my mom’s voice of reason. I’m going through a huge transition in my life right now and I am faced with challenges I never could have anticipated. She is a great sounding board and I feel so fortunate to have a strong support system, both at home and abroad. With the help of my family in America and my adopted family in Thailand, I am confident I will get in the groove of things soon.

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

Teachin' & Beachin'

Imagine this: it’s my first day of school as “Teacher Bryna.” I find the room I’m supposed to be in for the class period… or so I think. The instant I walk in, 50 middle-school aged students walk out. They avoid eye contact with me, duck their heads and make a quick exit. At first I was stunned because I thought I was the victim of a practical joke they were playing on me. Then I was confused because I wasn’t sure if I was even in the right building. I begged them to stay and tried to herd them back into the classroom. No luck.

Finally, one sweet girl came up to me and did her best to explain that they were in the wrong classroom and the correct class would be arriving shortly. Miraculously, I was in the right place. The only thing I was a victim of was the concept of “Thai time,” meaning the timing of the day was running slightly off schedule.

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First day of school as "Teacher Bryna"

Sure enough, a few minutes later 50 tenth-graders (referred to as Mathayom 4 in Thailand) filed into the classroom. I thought it would be smooth sailing now that I corralled in the correct group of kids. Once again, I had no such luck. Every class I met on my first day of school was full of energy. Though it was exciting to have students so eager to meet me, I quickly noticed they were far more intrigued by if I had a boyfriend or if they could take a selfie with me than they were interested in learning about synonyms and antonyms.

Thankfully, each day I am adjusting more to my Thai school. The difference between the American and Thai education systems has definitely caused me some culture shock. In Thailand the classes have less structure, larger class sizes and a noise level that cannot be rivaled by American schools. Yet, there is an enthusiasm I see in my classrooms that I’ve never experienced in the U.S. (You haven't seen pure joy until you've witnessed 50 Thai students realize the answer during a game of hangman is "Justin Bieber.") Though teaching in Chachoengsao is challenging, I already feel myself making progress. At this point, I am taking it day by day, class by class and hoping that I can build a rapport with each student.

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One of the best meals I've had in Thailand - all for the price of 20 baht, or about 60 cents!

While I am trying to get Thai students to trust me, I am also learning to trust Thai people. Throughout my first few weeks in Thailand, I have faced many challenges that have made me feel vulnerable at times. Instead of approaching these situations with frustration and angst, I focus on gratitude. Countless locals have guided me while I learned about public transportation, policies at my school and what to expect at local markets. It was nerve-wracking to put my trust in these people I barely knew. Although at first I thought people were trying to lead me astray, I soon realized they legitimately want to see me succeed. I hope that I am expanding my intercultural knowledge and communication skills by suspending my judgment and listening to what people tell me before I make decisions. I believe this process will help subside my culture shock and ease my transition into daily life in Thailand.

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The beautiful temple of Wat Sothon located in my province. I wouldn't have made it without the help of many locals!

After a tiresome first week of school, the only solution was a trip to Ko Samet for a day at the beach. Ko Samet (Ko means island in Thai) is located in the eastern region of Thailand, near the hub city of Rayong. Getting to the island was a challenge in it of itself because it required a 4-hour drive in a jam-packed mini bus, a trip on a songthaew (a combination between a taxi and a pickup truck, essentially) and a ferry ride. An overnight stay near the ferry pier allowed my roommate and I to head from Ban Phe to Ko Samet first thing Saturday morning. After we secured a hostel (another challenge/learning experience/personal win), we walked through the Mu Ko Samet National Park entrance and eventually stumbled upon Sai Kaew beach. From then on, our day included lounging in the sand, swimming in the Gulf of Thailand and eating mango sticky rice with coconut milk. The only unfortunate thing about spending the entire day at the beach is that I now resemble some combination of Elmo and Rudolph. Lesson learned: reapply sunscreen!

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Ko Samet was nearly deserted, which allowed for ample swim and sunbathing time!

I am still learning new things everyday to better understand this country. (For instance, Thailand is BYOTP: bring your own toilet paper.) This week, I have a day off from school so I plan to go into Bangkok and see more of the city. There are so many things to do in this country and I am trying to make the most of every moment! I am eager to explore this nation that I now call home. I just hope my sunburn heals first!

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

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