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a comfort zone is a lovely place, but nothing ever grows there

I like to think that I have a really good intuition. 

Sometimes, I just get these ideas in my head and once the thought enters my mind, I find it really hard to let go of it. At first, the ideas were subtle changes I wanted to make..like I should die my hair blonde (shout out to my college roommate for talking me through my tears and dying my hair back brown with a box dye - you're the best), I should move to the Seacoast, or I should study abroad in Germany, and most recently, I should quit my full-time job and go teach English in Thailand. Clearly, the magnitude of the changes has varied over the years, but the results are always the same. Change is terrifying, exhilarating, nerve racking and wonderful all at once, and I can't get enough of it. 

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If you're still reading this, my name is Alysha. Up until two weeks ago, I was an Assistant Store Manager for a grocery store chain in the Northeastern part of the United States called Hannaford (owned by Ahold-Delhaize for anyone out there in the grocery industry), and living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (picture snow and cold six months of the year). Now, I'm in sunny, sometimes swelteringly hot, Thailand, living in a coastal province in the Eastern region, where I'll be teaching English to 7th-9th graders.

Wait, I thought you just said you were a manager, not a teacher. And you would be correct in thinking that. The qualifications for teaching English in Thailand requires a Bachelor's Degree, and it does not have to be on with an education concentration. But, do you speak Thai? No, but I am trying like hell to learn. Props to an app called nemo Thai, I get daily notifications so that I can eventually say more than Sawatdee-kha and Khawb khun kha (Hello and Thank you). So how will you teach English if you don't speak the Thai? CIEE and OEG put together a week long orientation in Bangkok that kicked off my semester in Thailand! At orientation, I had classes on teaching English as a foreign language, Thai culture classes, language classes, etc.

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We visited the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha, Death Railway, and went on two beautiful river cruises. Best of all, I was surrounded by all these wonderful, beautiful people who signed up for the same program! We all went to our respective placements yesterday, and I'm already missing them like crazy. My official first day at my new school, Banchangkarnchanakulwittaya School, is Monday and while I'm sure there'll be bumps and bruises along the way, I simply can't wait. 

Sooo..if you're starting to think, hey, that sounds like a pretty amazing opportunity to travel, enrich your life, cultivate new skills and build new relationships..then well, you're right! Tell yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to, and start researching how you can move overseas and teach English! Or better yet, comment with any questions or hesitations you may have. Every day is a new chance to reinvent yourself.

Stay tuned for more.. 

Alysha

 

Today's the day!

This is it: today is the day I finally depart for Thailand! For as long as I have been looking forward to this day, it really feels like it snuck up on me.  As gathering documents and obtaining my visa were acquired a few weeks prior, I spent the past week saying goodbye to friends and family as well preparing for the trip. I mostly just had to gather last minute essentials, teaching materials, and teaching clothes. I found it difficult to decide exactly what to pack, so after I am settled in for a few weeks and see for sure what I wish I had packed and what I could have gone without, I will post a definitive packing list as I would have found that helpful. Right now I’m sitting in the Philadelphia airport, waiting to board my 12.5 hour flight to Qatar and my 6.5 hour flight to Bangkok. My emotions are definitely heightened as I prepare to embark on this dream that I set my sights on a long time ago. As I try to navigate through exactly what I’m feeling, excitement undeniably sticks out the most. I am beyond grateful to be granted this opportunity and I am so looking forward to the amazing experience it is going to be. I know there will be challenges and adjustments made as well, but for now I choose to giddily await the adventure ahead!

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34 Days Until Takeoff

Hi all. Nice to meet you over this wonderful thing we call the internet. I hope we'll get to know each other well over these next few months. I figure I should start off telling you a little bit about myself. I'm a 21 year old senior in college at the University of Dayton, otherwise known as Heaven on Earth. At UD I'm a group fitness instructor - it's one of my favorite things in the world. My major is in marketing and entrepreneurship with a minor in psychology. You might be wondering why in the world am I teaching English in Thailand if I'm a business student? Well, you aren't the first person to ask and I guarantee you won't be the last. So here's the story:

Last summer I had an internship in London (yes, England like with the queen and tea and crumpets). I absolutely fell in love with the company I worked for. And apparently, they fell in love with me too considering they offered me a job after I was only working there for 1 month. Pretty cool, right? I got to work at a company I loved in the city that stole my heart. Unfortunately, a few months ago I was informed that I would not be able to obtain a visa due to sponsorship issues (thanks a lot Brexit). After talking to my company for about a month trying to figure out a solution and a way to get me over there, we decided it would be best if I looked into other opportunities in the States.

But here's the thing; real life is overrated.

I looked into ways to travel at a low, preferably no, cost. That's when I saw that teaching English abroad was an option. I looked into CIEE, looked at the requirements and realized that I fit all of them. I decided to apply and to my surprise, I was accepted! I've always wanted to go to Thailand. Now I have the opportunity to live there for 4 months and actually make a little bit of money (or at least breakeven). Not only that, but I will also be able to completely immerse myself in the culture and learn as much from my students as they learn from me.

No, I do not speak Thai. No, I am not an education major. And no, I am not nervous, afraid, etc.

I've studied in Italy, worked in London, and traveled all over Europe. One of the biggest lessons I learned, after how delicious authentic Sangria is, is that you can't have any expectations. Going out of your comfort zone is one of the best things you can do for yourself. I went to London not knowing anyone. I made some great friends while I was there, fell head over heels in love with the city, and came back a more confident person.

I'm set to take off for Bangkok on June 4th, in only 34 days. While I'm there, I'll be reporting back about my experiences, the culture, and the minor misfortunes that are sure to find me along the way.

So stay tuned...I'm just getting started!

25 Days and Counting!

  In twenty-five days I will be embarking on my Teach Abroad adventure in Thailand!  I will miss my Deer Creek Family and current third graders, but, I look forward to  living and teaching in the beautiful country of Thailand!  I am ready for the challenge and I expect the unexpected!  My suitcases are packed with my passport, teaching materials (posters, children's books, stickers), teaching clothes, swimsuits, sunscreen, Go Pro, bug spray, photographs, camera, and much more!  Below is my classroom in Tigard, Oregon.DSCN2469

5 Underestimated Truths of Teaching Abroad

This will be my final post, even though I could talk endless amounts about this experience, and I want to leave a reflection about the majority of what I was feeling during my last week in Thailand.

1. Everything changes

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Photos taken: West Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach, Krabi

Your perspective of the world, yourself, your place in the world… everything. It’s beautiful. I stopped wearing makeup as often; I wasn't afraid to stick out or fit in; I found my focus shifting towards things that really matter.

2. The country isn’t how its perceived by people who have never been there

 

My students' performance embodying the experience of losing their King

Living in a place is completely different than any amount of photo scrolling or video watching. It’s the same comparison to learning from a textbook versus learning from experience. Both are good, but you can’t fully comprehend the reality and full truth until you experience it! Moral of this story: go to Thailand!!!

3. You’re a real teacher, so you impact the students accordingly

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If you come for one semester — especially if you teach older students — they’re craving consistency, and the students might even have abandonment issues with teachers coming and going. It’s hard for me to include this one, but even though you may see it as a means to travel, your students see you as their teacher.

4. Leaving is painful

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My seniors gave me this with a heart-felt "thank you" message on the last day of school [followed by a group hug]

That being said, leaving is incredibly hard to cope with. There’s guilt from the realization that you’re ditching your students when you can see that a consistent teacher would benefit them. There’s love for your students that you didn’t think was humanly possible for someone else. There’s a sense of loss when you have to say goodbye to that. There’s simply the feeling of missing the individuality, personalities and charm, of not only your students, but your coworkers and new friends as well.

5. You miss out on things at home

When I thought about coming abroad, I felt like this was better than anything else going on at home, and I didn’t think I’d feel like I really missed anything. I figured, if I missed anything at all, it would feel minor and that my present life would feel way more exciting. The reality is that you can miss things like an election, the Cubs winning the World Series after 108 years, and marching for women’s rights. You have to be ready to lose touch with these events that will inevitably happen while you're gone. However, if you’re like me, the pros of going abroad outweigh the cons of missing out on things at home.

One of the many reasons I chose to move to Thailand - to go to an elephant sanctuary!

I can’t convey how hard it was to leave Thailand, my coworkers and new friends, and my students. It was so hard that I knew I might pull a Rachel Greene and not get on the plane… except, instead of Ross, my love is Thailand. I felt like, if I didn’t know the next time I’d be back to SE Asia, my heart would rip in half. That’s why my boyfriend and I booked our tickets for a six week backpacking trip in July and August! I hope to teach abroad in SE Asia again in the future too because the Land of Smiles leaves an incredible imprint on your heart and soul.

This adventure has been the gateway to many more. Thanks to everyone who has read my posts!

-G

Goodbye Thailand!

The semester has flown, and my last week over here at Sahabumrung Wittaya School is coming to an end. It feels like just yesterday I was woken up by my alarm in Dallas, thought to myself “this is it!,” and found myself in Bangkok 24 hours later. 

Throwback to my first songteow ride!


I mainly blog about my traveling, but before I set off into the sunset I want to take a few minutes to record what an average day looks like at school. It’s all become so routine & normal to me now, but I know that when I think back to this place months and years from now, it’ll feel worlds away. So here it is, more for my benefit than for yours – a look at a regular school day at SB

My alarm goes off at 6:00am, and I get ready for school, still dressing in all black in honor of the late king. After waking up way too early, I walk to school. I live on campus, so the walk is literally less than one minute! 

The view out my front door. Never gets old!

On my way, I’m stopped dozens of times by students wai-ing me, (putting their hands together and bowing to me). “Good morning Teacha!” echos over and over until I reach the library to sign in. It’s impossible not to smile no matter how tired I am. 

This is Natakorn. He’s one of my favorite first graders. Sometimes he’s a handful. His favorite word is NO!
These boys are hilarious. They’re constantly making me laugh & livening up their fourth grade classroom.


I head to the Foreign Language Department office, where I find the other language teachers. Besides me, English is taught by five Filipino teachers. Our students also learn Chinese from two teachers from China! 

My coworkers have been absolutely amazing. They were the welcoming party when I first arrived in Don Tum, and they have become my best friends in Thailand! The office is full of joking and teasing and singing. 

The only picture I have of (most of) us together! Taken on Loi Krathong by our local river.


…And kittens! Our office cat, Edward, gave birth in February, and is raising her four little ones underneath my desk. If you know me, you know how much I love animals, and this has made coming to work 1000x more fun. 


Anyway, after setting our stuff down in the office, we either go to Worship(my school is Catholic!) or attend the daily all-school assembly outside. 

Once a week, (my day is Wednesday), I have to go up on stage during the assembly and teach a common English phrase to the school, and present a short skit with a few brave students. A few times a week I also go up on stage and lead the school in saying the Our Father in English. I think I’m over my fear of public speaking now! 

After the assembly/ worship, I go over my lesson plans for the day in the office and making any copies I need. Throughout the day I have anywhere from 2 to 4 classes (grades 1-5), each lasting around 50 minutes. Each week, I teach 450 students. I’m proud to say that I know almost all of their names now… okay, maybe around half of them, but that’s still pretty impressive for me! 

My favorite second grade class! In the center is Lotus, an autistic student who has totally opened up to me the past few months. He’s very special to me and gives me so many high fives!
The craziest fifth graders you’ll ever meet.

 

At 9:15, it’s recess time. This means that one of us English teachers hasmicrophone duty. In other words, one of us has to chase down students and interview them in English over the loud speaker. It’s actually pretty fun, and I usually turn my 15 minutes into a weather forecast and ask the kids what they’re snacking on. 

Microphone duty!
Sometimes it turns into first grade rap battles.
Our campus is filled with beautiful trees and flowers. It’s like a little jungle oasis!

 

Recess is also my time to socialize with the kids outside of class. Usually, my first graders will hang around me the whole time, and we talk about colors and food in their limited English (and my very limited Thai). 

Sweet third grade girls!
A very sassy first grader!

 

Throughout the day, kids will drop into the office to ask questions, cuddle with the kittens, play with my secret clay stash, or just say hello. It just goes to show how sweet our kids our, and how special the teacher-student relationship is in Thailand. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job! 

“Teacha! Selfie!”

Then we have a few hours of classes until lunch time. Sometimes I stay in the office for lunch, but more often then not, I’m exhausted by the insanely high temperatures and no air conditioning, so I go home and blast the AC in my house until it’s time to go back again! (Side note: I am honestly baffled that the kids are able to focus and learn in their stiflingly hot classrooms. Even though there are plenty of fans, sweat straight up drips down my body as I’m teaching every day. Major kudos to every Thai student and teacher!

After lunch, students in all grades (even high school) have nap time. It’s a pretty genius idea, and usually the teachers will sleep too. 

After an afternoon of more classes, the final bell rings at 3:40. 


Kids dart out of their rooms to the food carts that line the open space by the church. They sell everything from fried chicken to snow cones. May and I have a tradition of buying 10 baht frozen “cocoa” almost every day. After a hot day of teaching, it’s a great way to cool off! 

Boba is everywhere in Thailand!
May with a snack!

 

At 4:30 we’re free to go home, and by then I’m usually exhausted. As much as I’d love to kick back and watch Netflix or scroll through Facebook, my house (and school) don’t have working Wifi, so I usually take my kindle out on my porch to read. Living without wifi is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s really frustrating when I’m planning trips or wanting to watch a movie, on the other hand, I’ve read over 50 books since I’ve been here, (thank god for my 3G-enabled kindle!), and have grown to appreciate a quieter and simpler lifestyle. 

Kicking back and reading about our next destination!


In the evening after it’s cooled down a little, I usually go to the market with one or two coworkers, (they’re also my neighbors!). On Wednesdays we go to the “big market” that opens down the street, and sometimes I’ll go use the wifi at the coffee shop across the street. That’s about as much as there is to do in my little town! 

We always catch the BEST sunset on evening walks to the market.
At our favorite noodle shop!


It may sound boring, but as an extroverted introvert, I love the amount of free time and time I can spend by myself. Laying low during the week also recharges me for all the epic weekend trips. I think I found a good balance! 

So there’s my typical workday in a nutshell. 

It’s been quite the journey… from solving language barriers, to watching my team win first place at sports day, to cut-throat bingo games, to impromptu dance offs. I’m so happy I’ve gotten to know this little corner of Thailand. 

I love these guys.

Thank you to all my students… all 450 of you! Thank you for showing me such an incredible amount of love every day, and for giving me a home away from home for the past five months. You crazy kids will always hold a special place in my heart!

A bunch of pictures of our kindergarteners from their graduation last week!

Goodbyes are always to hard. I’ve had to say a lot of really difficult goodbyes in the past few years, and every time it reminds me how lucky I am to have these strong and special bonds that make it so hard to say goodbye. 

May and Chompoo, a rambunctious fourth grader who speaks excellent English!


In two days, I’ll set off on a three month backpacking stint coveringCambodia, Vietnam, the Thai islands, Myanmar, Northern Thailand,Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Nepal

Now I just need to pack! Goodbye for now, Thailand – I’ll be back! 

PS- I intend to keep blogging through my travels outside of Thailand… I just need to think of a clever new handle! 

How to Know You're Making a Difference (3/3)

“Taming the Teenager”

Best for last, this really hit me in the feels. There’s a student who has had some behavioral issues, which will not be divulged publicly, whom I teach. In general, he doesn’t seem to care about attending class and participating. With this class, I taught The Giver, which is my favorite book. This English subject is focused on vocal communication, so we worked with the audiobook some, and then I planned to show them the movie adaptation of the book, which any student would prefer. However, I got this particular student to actually pay attention - when frankly he never has in my class before - by showing the movie. Not only did he pay attention, he also cared enough to move [away from his friends] by my computer, so he could see the movie better.

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Actually leaning to see the screen before...

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This felt like a huge victory for me, and I was proud that I could deliver something in class - that actually pertained to the course material - that made this student stop and care. I can only hope that he took something out of this movie, and maybe it'll even inspire him to want to participate in class more in the future.

It’s the little things…

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!  -G

Farang Friendly: On Privilege

"Ah, you are English kru [teacher]?! I am looking for someone to teach me English; I want to get better — maybe online?” a taxi driver says to me while I’m on vacation. 

A white, American expat says to his five-year-old, half-Thai daughter at the grocery store, “wow, Ellya, look! Someone for you to practice English with! Why don’t you introduce yourself?” Five minutes later he follows up with: “we’d like to take you out to dinner sometime, so she can practice her English; she will send you an email” *hands iPad.*

“Oh, okay, okay, so Kru G at Sunflower School. I will remember you; will you remember me?” a taxi driver from my local area smiles. A few weeks later, students bring me this message:

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There’s an undeniable privilege that comes with being a native English-speaking, white person. Opportunities throw themselves at you, such as these examples above. It becomes increasingly apparent in smaller, more frequent, everyday examples in Thailand. In Bangkok, its surrounding areas and touristy places, signs commonly feature English. Many malls are ‘farang' friendly. In my experience, local people show additional warmth once they learn that you’re an English teacher here and not just a tourist. Aside from this, I can get away with speaking very little of the native tongue while being able to function just fine. Sure, a lot of this is Thai culture being friendly and nice. It’s what this culture is known for, but it’s also intermingled with the combination of racial and linguistic privilege that English-speaking white people innately get.

This innate privilege is how I was able to get a job like this so easily. It’s how I (like all others from CIEE) now have a pool of opportunities* to choose from when applying to future jobs. 

"Requirements: citizenship of an English-speaking country, bachelor’s degree from a university, TEFL certification is a plus." — the majority of ESL teaching jobs out there

*See: Dave's ESL Cafe

Like, are you serious? Because I’m American and graduated with my bachelor’s degree [not in education], I’m qualified to apply for this? I shelled out less than $300 to get a TEFL certification online, so now you’re more likely to hire me?

Oh, but it goes beyond this.

When you’re white, you stick out here. This is why I get random opportunities — for teaching and other things — just in passing, such as with the examples like the taxi drivers and the family at the grocery store. It’s because I’m blatantly farang, so people rightly assume that I am an English speaker. English is spreading across the globe like wildfire. Many people want to learn or improve their English skills, so opportunities for work in this field are abundant. The way that the opportunities find you is THE definition of privilege.

Here’s my point: This is a great opportunity to grab ahold of. You open a whole world of possibility — to live an international life for as long as you want and to continue to have more and better opportunities — by taking the first step by going abroad with a company like CIEE. However when you do, count your blessings because you have an unfair advantage. Take the opportunities you are graciously given and focus on how you can share or enhance opportunities with people who don’t have the privilege that you do. Strive for equality, not martyrdom or a superiority complex. Humble yourself. Each time I feel myself yearning to complain about something, I stop and count my lucky stars in order to recharge and recenter my perspective. I’ve been challenged with maintaining this practice during my semester in Thailand, but equality and understanding a culture’s relative perspective are so, incredibly important. This is what Thailand has taught me.

Comment with questions or insight!

- G

The End of a Semester

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            Impressively, I was given a whole 16-hours to prepare my goodbye speech (in contrast to my Valentines Day speech, of which I was given 20 minutes notice). Teacher Ying appeared before me late Wednesday afternoon, flustered and breathing heavily (I’m not quite sure why she felt the need to run to me), and said, “Just talked to foreign language department… they want you to…” And here she paused and laughed to herself, unsure of quite how to say it, while I was gripped in panic. Wanted me to what? Put on a dance for the whole school? Go with them on a trip to Cambodia? What?

            “…Give a speech. A goodbye speech. Tomorrow morning. Now, you can have time to prepare for it.”

            “Oh, no,” I said, but it was half-hearted, and I knew it would do me no good. “Teacher Ying, do I have to? I hate public speaking!” But as I said it I was smiling, because as much as I’ve always dreaded public speaking, I didn’t completely feel convinced of my own words. Of course, public speaking still makes me nervous. But when, 6-months ago, I would have been Googling, “Ways to Calm Down Before a Speech,” and throwing cold water on myself in the bathroom moments before, this time, I only felt a slight twinge of nerves.

            I mean, I guess for one thing, I’ve been ‘public speaking’ every day for 6 months. Monday through Friday, I stand up at least twice a day in front of a group of 25 to 30 students. I’ve practiced the art of speaking slowly; of enunciating; of continuing to speak even when I think what I am saying is stupid, or when I can see my audience is more interested in their phones or their pillows (yes, they sometimes bring these to class) than me. It’s been great practice.

           But today I gave a goodbye speech to 3,000 people. And it occurred to me, as I spoke to them all this morning about my feelings about leaving, exactly why it was so comfortable and easy to speak to such a crowd.

            It was because I knew that even if they don’t know me, they respect me. A lot of them think I am beautiful (students I’ve never seen before often point at me and say, “Oh, suay—beautiful—teacher”); they think I am smart—at least, they think I know what I am doing up there in front of the classroom each day; and they think I am kind. And I can feel this appreciation, so standing up on stage, I didn’t have any of those mean thoughts towards myself that I normally would, in a room of 3,000 (“I probably look gross; I sound like an idiot; I shouldn’t be up here”). They’ve given me a confidence and a pride in myself that I can only hope I’ll find again in whatever future job I have.

            Here’s, in essence, what I said in my speech (at least, what I wrote down to say—I’m sure I left some parts out, but this is what I’d planned):

            “Hello. I would just like to say that it has been such a privilege teaching you all.    You know, so many of my friends back home dread Monday through Friday because of their jobs. And I know I have been so, so lucky, that I wake up Monday morning excited to come here, to you all. Thank you for showing me your culture. Thank you for including me in everything and making me feel at home here in Sakon Nakhon. Thank you to my co-teachers and director and you, Teacher Owen (he was on stage with me). Thank you for setting great examples of wonderful teachers, and for your kindness. Thank you, most of all, to my students, for your enthusiasm each day in the classroom and for your friendship. I will never forget a single one of you. I know you will all do incredible, unbelievable things with your lives. Good luck with everything. If you are ever in America, let me know, and we can… you know, hang out. (Because America is awfully small). Again, thank you.”

And then I bowed to them as they’d all bowed to me, hundreds of times before.

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            So, how does it feel to be finished? I’ve been asked this a lot. I taught my last class Monday afternoon. And when I got home, the first thing I felt was an intense level of relief. It’s such a heavy feeling, to be burdened (and gifted) with the responsibility of increasing a student’s English proficiency, especially when I never knew quite where to begin. Do I start with content—showing them songs by Bruce Springsteen, who they’ve never heard of, or Billboard Hits of 2017, to include them in a musical conversation with the world; showing them passages from books like Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22, books that changed my life and changed so many others; do I show them movies that portray American culture, movies that educate and move and inspire… or, do I start with grammar, with parts of a sentence, and how a verb must always follow a subject, and just how fascinating grammar is when you understand the formula and know what you can plug in where and when you can break the rules and why? I mean, my god—how can one person just decide which is more important, or which should come first?

            So I feel relief that I did the best I could, but that I don’t have to worry about it any longer. I hope whoever comes after me to teach these kids is a little more experienced than I was, because these kids deserve the chance to become fluent in English. They deserve the chance to watch a movie in their movie theatre without the weird Thai voice-overs (which never matches the lip movements, and is usually terribly translated). They deserve to read The Great Gatsby. They deserve to listen to their favorite songs (by the Chainsmokers, and Justin Bieber), and know, really know, what they are singing.

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            But after my speech, I also felt sadness and wished, a little bit, that I could stay longer (I know—I never thought I’d say that, either). Because my words were not lies. They have made this place feel like home to me. And I am so nervous that whoever comes after me will not have the passion and love that I have for English, or for these kids, and will be someone who doesn’t know how to relate to them or inspire them or grow with them. And it is sad that I will not necessarily know how they all end up.

            I’ve made plenty of lists before, and a lot of my lists mention all the difficulties of living abroad. I’d like to make one more, but this time, I’d like to list all the things about Sakon Nakhon that I will miss the most.

1. I will miss feeling like the wealthiest person on the planet. Seriously—I was shopping at the mall the other day, and I saw two dresses that I thought I could wear for whatever job I get next (in other words… not crappy quality from a street market, which I will inevitably throw out in 2 weeks when it falls apart). But they were “expensive”: $20 each—totaling 1,400 baht (anyone who lives here, knows… this is a lot of money. This is the amount I pay to rent my motorbike for a month. This is the amount I pay for a round-trip ticket to and from Bangkok. This is probably 3-weeks of rice and chicken and weird pork balls. This is probably 1/6 of someone’s monthly paycheck.) So when I bought these two dresses, the saleswomen, who had watched me wide-eyed as I’d begun picking out three, four, five of these expensive dresses to try on, and then had held onto two, practically bowed to the ground as I walked out of the store and repeated, over and over again, a bit in awe, “Thank you, Miss, thank you, thank you.”

            As I walked back from dinner last night, a man who sits on the corner in a little brown hut (I believe he is a tailor, because he’s always working on a sewing machine), began speaking to me about the food I’d bought. He gestured to his own dinner—some white rice—and then he said, “I am not rich, like you.”

            “Rich?” I laughed. “Trust me, I’m 23-years-old and I just graduated from college. In America, I am not rich.”

            “In Thailand, you are a teacher. This means you are very, very rich. You make 30,000 baht a month, don’t you?” (Not sure how he knows my salary).

            “Yes…” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this conversation.

            “Could I… do you think I could possibly borrow 100 baht for dinner? I will pay you back… on Tuesday morning, I will have more money. I will pay you back.”

            (100 baht = 3 dollars).

            “Yes,” I said immediately, reaching into my wallet and feeling embarrassed when I saw he noticed I had 2,000 baht on me. I handed him 100 and said, sincerely, “Really, please. You don’t have to pay me back.”

            Of course, I know, money isn’t everything/can’t buy you happiness, etc., etc. But when you have just graduated college, and you are about to be the lowest on the totem pole at whichever company you go to next, it is a very nice feeling, for a little while, to feel so capable of being able to afford anything (in moderation) and not having to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about my rent or how much dessert costs or whether I can afford the bottle of wine; I don’t have to worry about paying a ridiculous amount of money for two dresses or whether I can afford to fly to Bali for a weekend or get my hair cut in Bangkok, and if this was America, I would absolutely be worried about all of these things as a young 20-something starting out in a city. But here, my salary is incredibly generous and travelling is incredibly affordable. Which leads me to my next point…

2. I’ll miss my location. Of course, I don’t necessarily mean being stuck in the middle-of-nowhere Northeast Thailand, with rice fields on my left and dirt patches on my right and three-bus-rides-two-taxi-rides-one-songtaew-drive away from anything exciting.

            I mean being 40 minutes from Vietnam; 2 hours 40 minutes from Hong Kong; 4 hours from Bali.

            I mean being $50 from India; $100 from Australia; and $200 from Paris (I know—why aren’t I going to Paris, again?).

            Let’s do some quick comparisons here: I could fly to India for the price it costs me to take an uber back home from Boston. I could fly to Australia for the price of my Ray Ban sunglasses. I could head over to Paris for the price I made babysitting one night last summer. This is not crazy or unattainable or ambitious. This is why I will miss my location. It has made the entire world accessible to me. I can travel the world from Sakon Nakhon for the price of an uber or a pair of sunglasses, to places I’d never even had on my radar before now (I thought India would cost thousands!). If nothing else, I wish I could stay longer for this reason.

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3. I will miss my independence. I will miss my routine. As lonely as it sometimes felt, I will miss coming home after school and answering only one question: What do you want to do now? I will miss being able to make the decision to go to the mall and buy iced tea and wander aimlessly around the shops; I will miss heading to the gym and saying hello to my gym friends and taking a work-out class before bringing KFC chicken back to my apartment; I will miss deciding, screw it, and locking myself in my room with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watching Netflix movies all night because I need a break from the whole world. This is not to say it will not be possible for me to do all these things in America—but the decision will not feel as guilt-free, and as easily my own, when I am considering what my friends or family are doing or whether I owe it to someone to be somewhere else.

4. I will miss (sometimes!) the time difference. This one is especially surprising, even to me. The time difference is a complete pain in the neck. Every time I’m waking up to start my day, everyone in America is headed to bed—or they are tired, and don’t really want to talk or Skype or catch-up; and then when they are awake and want to fill me in on their lives, I am tired at the end of a long day… an endless cycle.

            But it also means, from the hours of about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., my phone is relatively quiet (apart from the friends I’ve made in Thailand… and my brother Max, who is nocturnal). And it’s a very nice thing. I have found creative ways to keep in touch with people back home (including Facetiming at 8 a.m., during morning assembly, in an empty classroom; writing long catch-up novels via Facebook; or sending good-morning-good-night texts for the other person to respond to the next day). But it’s nice to not feel glued to my phone. It’s become habit for me to put my phone on airplane mode for hours, because why not, and when I get a message from anyone, I don’t mind waiting a few hours to respond—blame it on the time-difference, blame it on a lack of urgency, or blame it simply on this (somewhat forced) living-in-the-moment mentality I have found as a result of the time difference.

5. I will miss every weekend being an adventure. I hope I find motivation to make my way to the bus station in America (do we even have one…?), to look at a sign, point, and say, “Okay, how about we try there?” I hope I hold onto this curiosity for my surroundings, but I know it is not the same. Part of the adventure, part of the spontaneity, comes from me simply not knowing any better. I point to a sign here in Sakon Nakhon Bus Terminal and say, “Let’s try there,” because it makes no difference to me, and because it’s in a different language, and because it usually doesn’t cost more than $5 to drive on a bus for hours. And I know it will not be the same, to show up at a Boston bus station and point and say, “Let’s try there,” because 1. It will probably end up shipping me off to some place like Lowell or Chelsea, and I’ll think, Okay, this was probably a waste of time and money; and 2. Travelling in America, to anywhere, takes more preparation. I cannot find novelty anywhere. I cannot just take a bus to Lowell and think, Wow, this place is so cool and different and look at that temple! But here, I can. I can literally take a bus 7 minutes or 7 hours away and it makes (almost) no difference to me—it is always exciting, it is always new and novel and interesting, because it is never familiar.

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6. I will miss the people. I’ve said it before, so I’ll try to be brief: I will miss their kindness. I will miss their inclusivity. I will miss 21-year-old girls driving me to their hometown, even though I am a stranger to them, because they are “headed there anyway.” I will miss teacher Ying, who invited me to camp for an entire weekend with her and her friend because, “You should have the opportunity to see Phetchabun Mountain while you are here.”

            I will miss Fluke pointing to the word “Perfect” on a Present Perfect Quiz and whispering to me, “Teacher, why does it say my name?” Or Oom looking over, from the seat beside him, and saying, “I do not know where you are getting this confidence from.”

            I will miss students literally chasing after me to lean over the railing to shout goodbye at the end of the day. I will miss Googling what the sheep look like in New Zealand with Oom (and, then, of course… what the boys look like). I will miss Top always saying good night when I walk into the classroom, and how he is always prepared to sing song lyrics in response to anything I say (Me: “I will always…” Top: “…love you?…” Me: “It’s not too late…” Top: “…To say sorry…?”). I will miss Noon always giving me some of her breakfast and Mew always grabbing my wrist as I walk by to tell me how beautiful I am and Jom telling me before anyone else about going to Wisconsin and Benz saying, “We have to be on our best behavior in class today; we have someone coming to observe,” and me saying, “What, you don’t have to be on your best behavior when it’s just me?” And all the kids laughing… Actually, just in general, I will miss all the kids laughing. They make me feel like the funniest person on the planet… Which leads to my last point…

7. I will miss who I am as their teacher. When I stand in front of them, I can be silly and funny and ridiculous and witty and confident. And these are not compliments—I am not saying I am any of these things. I am saying these are things I have become because of my students—they make me this way. They allow for it. They encourage it and inspire it. I wouldn’t say I am a different person in front of them. Because I act the same way around my closest friends. But this is the first time I have seen myself act this way out in the world, with (essentially) strangers—or, at least, not my best friends. They have given me the confidence to say things spontaneously, and to embarrass myself, and to show my foolish or naïve side, because they have never judged me or shown me anything but admiration. If, in my next job, I am surrounded by people who make me even half as confident, I will be happy.

            Next Thursday, I head to Bangkok at 10 a.m. I will have packed up my entire apartment and I will be taking it all with me. I will store it in Bangkok for a month, and then (finally) I will begin my travels. I can’t express how excited I am for these travels. March 11, I fly to Chiang Mai. I will take a bath with elephants and feed them food; I will take a cooking class; I will explore the Grand Canyon and try new foods and venture to waterfalls.

            I will head from there to Pai, a gorgeous little town, which I’ve heard also has great waterfalls and Grand Canyons and tea plantations. From there, I will go to Chiang Rai to see temples and museums and then back to Chiang Mai.

            On March 24, I will fly back to Bangkok and, from there, I will fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. After a few days there, we will head to Sa Pa to see beautiful fields and waterfalls (Google it—I can’t quite explain it, since I haven’t been there, but it looks breathtakingly beautiful).

            Then we will do a cruise on Halong Bay. We will fly to Hoi An from there, and then Saigon, and then we will fly to the south of Cambodia. We will spend a few days on an island there—I’ve heard the beaches are incredible: white sand, clear turquoise water. From there, we will end up in Angkor Wat.

            On April 14, I will head back to Bangkok to grab my suitcase. Then I will fly to Dubai to spend 5 days there with another CIEE friend. And then, on April 20th, I will journey home.

            I am beyond excited. I know it will go fast, but I will do my best to take plenty of pictures and write (in my phone Notes section) all about my travels, so that when I am home (I am leaving my laptop in Bangkok, so I cannot blog before then), I can update you all on my experiences exploring this little piece of the world. But even if I manage to blog again for CIEE, this is the last one I will write from Sakon Nakhon, and probably the last one I will write until April 20th. So thank you all for reading about my Sakon Nakhon adventures—updates to come! 


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Khao Kitchakut

A few weekends ago I decided to stay in my town, Chanthaburi, and go on some local adventures. I had heard of Khao Kitchakut National Park, home to forests, waterfalls, and a Buddha footprint, so I decided to check it out! I was ready for a nice, peaceful afternoon with some pleasant hiking and swimming.

I took a 40-minute motor taxi ride to the park, and when I arrived I was shocked – it was so crowded! But then I realized why – for one, it was a weekend, and for two, it was a Buddhist holiday weekend (Makha Bucha – a day to honor Buddha) which meant that several people from all around Chanthaburi and surrounding provinces came here on a religious pilgrimage up to the top of the mountain. I bought a ticket for the ride that would take me part-way up the mountain, and as I waited for my number to be called I meandered about, got lunch, and got asked to take selfies with a bunch of strangers! In Chanthaburi I am pretty much old news (thank goodness), but here I was a whole new novelty again.

Finally, I hop into a pick up truck with 7 other people. Now, the ride up and down was an experience in itself! Imagine a pick up truck with 8 passengers zooming up and down a winding hill, with sharp inclines and slopes, avoiding other truck drivers taking people up and down. It honestly felt like a roller coaster! I held on to the side of the truck for my dear life, so that I didn’t fly right out of the truck (okay that was a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly not by much)! The elderly Thai lady across from me greatly enjoyed the facial expressions I made with each bump or major slope, as she sat on the seat as peacefully as the circumstance permitted, and just smiled lightly chuckled as she held tightly to the rail. She had obviously done this before.

We were dropped off about halfway up the mountain, and from there, me, plus hundreds of other people, hiked, and hiked, and hiked! Along the way up, there were several shrines, where people scattered flowers and burned incense, as a way of thanking Buddha. There were also monks on different parts of the trail that said prayers and blessed people with holy water. As we all walked up, we placed coins on parts of the mountain, rang bells, and stopped to pray at the different shrines, all for giving thanks, and for obtaining good luck, good health, peace, and prosperity in life. I was fortunate to run into an English-speaking volunteer about half of the way up the mountain, so the rest of the way she accompanied me, and explained the significance and rituals, showed me what I should do at the different parts of the mountain, and in general she was a great help and also a nice hiking buddy. At the top of the mountain, everyone wrote their name and a prayer or wish on red cloths, and tied them to the trees, creating a sea of prayers and positive energy. In general, it was such a fulfilling day, and I am so glad that I accidentally went during the holiday weekend and got to have this experience alongside so many Thai people.

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