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3 posts categorized "Katheryn Byrnes"

Traveling: Alone, Together, or Both?

         I have been in Thailand over a month and in that time I have traveled both alone and with friends. Both experiences have pros and cons and I would recommend trying both to determine which best fits your personality and needs. I am going to start by talking about my experiences traveling alone – and by alone I mean going to places by myself vs. traveling alone to meet up with friends.        

          I live near Bangkok and have spent many hours traveling around the city and surrounding regions. There area is filled with a variety of must-see attractions, such as ancient temples, beautiful palaces, and vibrant street life. Sometimes, other people aren’t available to travel with me. I believe it would be shame to not sightsee simply because of that, especially since the city can be easy to get around and people are friendly and helpful.

Wat Pho

       For example, one weekend I traveled into the city to visit Wat Pho by myself because no one was able to come down that weekend. Visiting this remarkable temple, which houses the stunning Reclining Buddha (pictured here) was a great experience, and being alone didn’t deter me from enjoying myself. It was actually rather nice because I was able to leave and head out when I wanted, spend as much or as little time at the site as I wanted, and make spur-of-the-moment decisions about what I wanted or didn’t want to see. In fact, being by myself led to another adventure that day. After seeing Wat Pho I walked around the area and came across a little outdoor market and some water taxis. These, I learned, would take me from Wat Pho to Wat Arun – another temple I had wanted to see. Not being constrained by the needs or schedules of others made the decision to visit Wat Arun an easy one, and I had a great time seeing both temples in one day.

           For me, one downside of traveling alone is the need to ask strangers to take my photo. While selfies are nice, they don’t always capture the interesting aspects of a tourist site. Asking someone to do this isn’t terribly difficult in Thailand, as the people are generally kind and helpful, but if you are shy or have difficulty getting your point across, it can be awkward. Another downside is, quite frankly, that you are alone. There is no one else to offer advice, provide directions, or speak the language. When I travel alone, I need to rely on myself to get from point A to point B. At first, this was daunting, but it has become easier. Over the past few weeks I have learned to travel around the Bangkok district without getting hopelessly lost. I am now confident in my ability to find key locations, call taxis, and get myself around without too many issues. Sometimes it can be hard to get back to my home from another area, but it does become easier each time I try.

            Another travel opportunity came during the American Thanksgiving holiday. I flew to Chiang Rai – a city in northern Thailand – to celebrate with friends that I met through OEG. This was an occasion when I was grateful to be traveling with other people because when we arrived we learned that our Airbnb was located two hours from the city, and not in Chiang Rai as we had all believed. Having others to share this burden made the experience much more enjoyable. Realizing we needed to stay in the city, we began walking through the streets of Chiang Rai, towing our luggage, on the hunt to find a place to stay. After the 4th hostel did not have enough room, we found one down a slightly creepy alley that fit all of us. Despite the initial vibe, this hostel was great: it was perfectly situated in the city and even had hammocks to relax in. After much struggle, made bearable because we were all in it together, we had a roof over our heads for the weekend. Now we were ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, which we did with great Indian food! Not ‘traditional’ but delicious.

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         Our takeaway from the weekend, besides some very memorable experiences and strengthened friendships, was the reinforcement of the Thai saying, “Mai Pen Rai.” It’s difficult to translate, but it basically means, ‘don’t worry, be happy’ – as in, a situation may seem difficult, but you shouldn’t stress out too much because it will all work out in the end. In this instance, we embraced the saying. No one panicked about the Airbnb situation, because we were all together and could figure out a new plan. Traveling with these new friends was great because I had people to go to the temples with, to eat with, and to talk about our schools and the experiences we are having.

        My last major travel trip, so far, has been to Pattaya to go scuba diving. For this one I traveled with someone the whole time. I met a friend at one of the many bus stations in Bangkok and together we navigated the bus station and hopped on a bus to Pattaya. It was nice traveling with another person because I had someone to talk with, get lost with, and work with on checking itineraries, schedules and maps. We were fortunate and ran into no travel issues on our way down to Pattaya or back to Bangkok. We were there to go scuba diving so the dive shops picked us up in the morning and dropped us back off in the evenings at our hostel. As we were diving we didn’t have much flexibility on what to do when we got back to the hostel because most of the tourist attractions were closed by then and diving makes you hungry. One thing that is hard to do when traveling with others is deciding on a place to eat, or even what type of food to eat. With hungry divers it is not any easier, but after a bit we were able to find a place that we all enjoyed.

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Samae San Island

       The benefit of traveling alone is the flexibility it allows. You do not have to take into account anyone else’s plans, budget, or opinions as you can decide what you, and only you, wish to do. You can get a little lonely, but it is easy to start conversations and make friends. I have made friends at every hostel I have stayed at. However, traveling with friends has benefits, too. There is always someone to do things with, to talk to, and to help deal with issues that can pop up (usually trying to find your way somewhere…it’s easier than you imagine to get lost). Another person may also encourage you to visit a site or try an experience you may not have done on your own, which can be a great benefit.

       If no one is able to travel with me every weekend than I know that I am okay because I have gained experience with the language, the foods and the various forms of transportation. Plus, it is easy to make friends. I can now get myself around much of Bangkok, which gives me confidence about traveling to other cities, so I believe I will have the opportunity to see everything I want. Thailand and Southeast Asia have a lot to offer and I want to see it all – with people or without.  


Follow me on Instagram for more about my travels: kat_byrnes06  

Teaching and What I Wish I Knew


    I have been teaching in Thailand for the past two weeks. I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks!! Besides learning the ins and outs of my village and adjusting to a new way of life, I have been working on lesson planning and grading. If you have never taught before, this may be more difficult and time consuming than you would expect. However, when the kids grasp the concepts being taught, their faces show so much happiness it makes it all worth it.

    Being in Thailand for almost a month has given me some culture shock in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of five cultural differences I have experienced so far (more will come as I stay longer).


1: The Respect of the Students:


    The students in Thailand respect their teachers much more than those in the U.S. Yes, the students still talk in class, but what middle school student doesn’t? When I ask them to be quiet they show respect by almost immediately quieting down. The students thank me after each class and even those I have never met still say “Sawatdee Kha” (“Good Morning”) and bow their heads to me. Even though the students in Thailand have more respect; how the school is run seems to be slightly more disorganized than in the U.S.


2: Thai School Systems:

            The school system in Thailand is more laid back and little less organized than in the U.S. For example, students do not always come to class on time. This can be because they do not want to, or because they were in a meeting with someone and you did not know, or because they were simply taking their time on the way back from lunch or recess. If they are tardy there is an expectation that they will bring the teacher a late slip explaining where they were, but that doesn’t always happen. Another example can be when an entire class doesn’t appear. Other teachers may assume the impacted teachers have been told that a class is on a field trip, but that isn’t always the case. Adaptability is key and you learn to go with the flow. You realize that receiving information at the last minute about your class, such as them not being in attendance due to an event, is not that unusual. Some of this is due to the language barrier, but some is simply the way it is. It has been two weeks and I am learning to live “Mai Pen Rai” – which basically means, “it’s okay.”


3: You will Never Stop Sweating:

    You will never stop sweating no matter time of year it is. Currently Thailand is starting their winter and it is still 80 degrees everywhere with about 70% humidity, if not more. Walking to and from school causes my hair to expand and frizz because of the humidity, even at 7:00 am. You will never stop sweating. I hope to eventually get used to the heat, despite having other travelers tell me it’s difficult. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating, and the fans help cool everything off. I am also glad there is air conditioning where I live. And, I’m grateful I’ve arrived in October, as it is the beginning of winter. I’m hoping I will adjust before summer. My recommendation for travelers: wear clothing that breathes and is loose fitting, and bring deodorant. 


4: Food Stores and Restaurants: IMG_2260

    I live in a village that is well off, so there are stores that sell western foods as well as Thai foods. I have been able to find goldfish, peanut butter, Doritos, and Oreos. A lot of food stores also have potato chips, but many of them are interesting flavors: seaweed, sushi, salmon, and other seafood flavors, just to name a few. Pizza is not as hard to come by as one would think. I have found one place that makes decent pizza, and it’s within walking distance. KFC is located at almost ever corner but some of the menu items are spicier than in the U.S. The Thai restaurants have amazing foods. I don’t know what I am ordering most of the time, but Thai owners and employees are really helpful in explaining the items and letting me know if it’s super spicy or not. I have loved 90% of all the Thai foods that I have been eating. There are some that are not good at all; unfortunately I don’t know what they are called.


5: Squatter Toilets and Toilet paper:

    Coming over from the U.S. I was used to having toilet paper in all public bathrooms and toilets that were off the ground. What I have found in Thailand are squatter toilets in about 75% of public bathrooms and bum guns, a.k.a. bidets, in every bathroom (some did have toilet paper but not many). I have used some squatter toilets but am still getting used to them and the bum guns. If you use them incorrectly you get your pants all wet – consider it a learning situation.

Even with all of the cultural shocks I am so excited to be in this wonderful country! I can't wait to make even more memories and experience it all! Stay tuned for more! :D

What to Expect?

Welcome to Thailand aka the “Land of Smiles.” The country where the people are lovely, the food is spicy, and the temperature is hot; and, in addition have beautiful landscapes, very clear waters and amazing food.

Figuring out what to pack for the next year of your life, experiencing culture shock, and being homesick is everything I went through in the past 2 weeks. Let's start with the preparation for Thailand.

I started gathering all my supplies to pack (medicine, shampoo, conditioner, contacts, clothing, face wash, ect) the weekend before I left. I made sure I had enough products for 6 months and contacts for a year because I was told that getting these products in Thailand would be hard to do. When I arrived I was able to find the same brand products that I use at home (Pantene, L’Oreal, and Tresemme) were just a few of them that I was bale to find. There are some brands that I have seen in the US that I haven’t really seen in Thailand yet (Ogx and Aussie) for example. I have found some face wash as well just not the type I use so I am grateful that I have the 6-month supply I had. I wish I had known I would have been able to find some of these products before I packed them all because my suitcases would have been lighter. Oh well, I now have room for souvenirs to bring back home with me. Packing was hard because what do you pack for the next year of your life, how much clothes, how many shoes, what other supplies do you bring. I packed more to be on the safe side because I have never been to Thailand before and did not know what to expect. Learn from me and pack a little less. If you are coming to teach, like I am, than I would recommend:

                        Skirts: 4/5

                        Dresses: 2/3

                        Blouses: 4/5

                        Polo Shirts with a collar: 3/4

                        T-Shirts: 4/5

                        Shorts: 3/4

                        Shoes: 2/3 Flats, 1 Sneaker/Hiking Shoe, 1 Sandal, 1 Flip-flop

                        Sweater (A lot of places have AC): 1/2

Each person packs differently based on things that they like and what they want to wear. Make sure you are comfortable, happy, and look professional. Remember you can buy elephant pants for cheap in Thailand, esp in Bangkok. If you are tall or overweight at all than you might have more difficult with what you find in regard to clothing.

Once you arrive in this beautiful country you will be hit with a wave a heat and hear people speaking a language that you do not understand. It will be okay everyone understands miming and pointing, Google Translator will also be your best friend. You will be experiencing a lot of new foods that you can’t pronounce and hear a bunch of people talking in a foreign language around you, this can be overwhelming for anyone, I know I was super overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed by new experiences and new foods made me miss being home and being able to order anything without having any difficulties. The first week in Thailand was hard for me, I was calling home almost everyday and I cried a few times when things got hard. I was afraid of what I just got myself into. I could not understand the language, I had no idea how to teach, and orientation was throwing a lot at me, all useful and helpful but a lot. I was so nervous, overwhelmed, anxious, and homesick that I barley anything for the first few days I was in Thailand. If you are planning on coming to teach in a foreign country or just arrived in a foreign country to teach you might experience what I went through and that is normal and okay because remember YOU ARE HUMAN AND HAVE FEELINGS!!! There are a few ways to help combat these feeling and go from anxious, nervous, and homesick to happy and excited.

At orientation one of the group leaders experienced the same thing I was feeling and she helped me by just listening to what I was saying and telling me some of her experiences. So, make sure you talk to someone a parent, a new friend, or someone at orientation but make sure you talk to someone because they might be feeling the same thing, know how you are feeling, and can help make you feel better. I know talking about what I was feeling helped me feel better, calmer, and ready to tack this experience.

Another thing to do is keep busy; do not wallow. When you wallow it is all you are thinking about but if you stay busy, join people on adventures around the city, hang out by the pool, read, or go for a run you are focusing on something else and before you know it things will get easier for you. When I arrived at my location I only spent time in my apartment to put my clothes away or make lesson plans otherwise I went out and explored, walked around, kept busy, and get situated into my new accommodations.

I have been teaching for 3 days already and do not regret my choice to move to Thailand for the next year. This adventure will be full of new experiences, people, and food. Even through I spent the first week feeling overwhelmed, homesick, anxious, and nervous once I saw the kids I am teaching and was greeted by their smiles it all felt better. I know this will be a challenge; it is a challenge that I am ready to tackle head on.

Remember: pack light, you will be able to find things here, it is okay to miss home just make sure you talk about how you feel and not bottle it up, and enjoy!! :) 

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