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5 Guarantees about Teaching Abroad

            There are plenty of moments in this journey that are personal and unique to the individual and these are not moments I can really prepare you for (the “you” being anyone who is considering teaching abroad). But there are some moments that I can say with a certain degree of certainty are universal for anyone who has taught abroad in a foreign country… And here are five of them.

1. There will be moments where you are touched.

            Maybe it’s the time your 15-year-old student, Jom, asks you when you are going back to America. You tell her April 20th, and she sighs and looks down at your desk. “Oh,” she says quietly, making peace with it, attempting to comfort herself. “Okay. We still have time.”

            Maybe it’s the time another student tells you she’s told her mother all about you—how funny you are, and how much she enjoys your class.

            Maybe it’s the time your coordinator takes you and all the other coworkers out to dinner for Valentine’s Day so that none of you have to eat alone: an eclectic group of both single and married women from the Phillipines, one widowed older man, two Americans, and four Thais. Your coordinator pays for the whole meal, and everyone tries to talk to you, to joke with you, no matter how good or bad they are at English.

            Maybe it’s the moment you are grading a test and see a student, in the top left-hand corner, has written a little acronym you’d halfheartedly scrawled on the board while trying to explain something, assuming all the while that not a single one was paying any attention.

            Maybe, it’s just the time the Thai people at the mall know your order and smile at you when you leave, or the security guard who always calls out to you, “See you tomorrow!”

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2. There will be moments when you are disgusted.

            A quick list: Chicken feet; pork in small balls twirled into some jewelry-looking design on the grill; the smells on the street; the bugs; the dead bugs for sale at the market; the dirt that seems to layer everything; the bare feet in the small pharmacy or shop; the full-sized leafs you find in your pasta dish; the squat toilets; the lack of soap anywhere; the dampness of the toilet because, to flush, they splash water on it from a separate bucket (and, for that matter, the dampness of the ground below it).

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3. There will be moments when you feel like a celebrity.

            Never in your life will you be called beautiful more times than while teaching in Thailand. I mean, imagine walking up to someone on the streets of New York and pointing at them and just exclaiming, “Ooh, beautiful!” It just doesn’t happen. Here, it happens approximately every time you leave your apartment. They are not embarrassed and do not say it shyly or timidly. They say it candidly, like it’s a simple fact, as you are checking out at the grocery store: “You’re beautiful. Would you like a receipt?”

            Besides that, there will be plenty of times when someone says, “picture?” and you think they mean, “Could you take one of me and my friend?” but then, you realize that they really mean, “Could you take one with me and my friend?”

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4. There will be moments when all you want is to quit and go home.

            Maybe it’ll be the time you try to open a bank account but you can’t, because you didn’t bring the proper employment documents from your school. No one at school told you. It will be 6:53 p.m. on a Wednesday; the bank closes at 7 p.m., and your school cannot pay you on Thursday unless you’ve already opened an account. You will be so frustrated that you just start crying right there, sitting in an open office with seven Thai bank employees staring at you, repeating the little English phrase they know, over and over: “You can come back tomorrow.” You will try your best to persuade them, shoving Google translate in their faces which says, essentially, ‘please open an account or I won’t get paid’, until finally you give up and drive home and curse the whole country for all these unforeseen obstacles which can result from the language barrier.

            Or maybe it will be the time you are sick and must get on your motorbike to get Gatorade from 7-11 and it’s 100 degrees and you are just praying you make it there alive, and you wish more than anything that you could call a family member or a friend.

            Maybe it will be the time you’re invited to a funeral that starts at noon, but you’re driven there at 8 in the morning to take pictures next to the casket ahead of time (this, by the way, isn’t my personal experience—shout out to my friend Devon).

            It could be anything. It could be all the pounds of plain white rice you eat at every meal, it could be the lizard on your bedroom wall, or it could be the anxiety of ordering every night at a restaurant where you cannot read the menu, so you must bring pictures of dishes and hope they have one of them. It could be not listening to an American radio since October, or having wifi that only works for 13 minutes every three days.

            Whatever it is, there will be moments when you look around and you do not, even faintly, recognize this world as your own. And in that moment, you feel like an idiot for intruding on it in the first place, and you want out.

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5. And then, there will be moments when all you want is to stay longer.

            Perhaps it is because of the people. Another quick list: the man who owns your building and drives you to get spaghetti from 7-11 your first week here, because he assumes you already miss it; the boys at the gym who bow and say hello to you every time you walk into the gym, and invite you to try Muay Thai fighting with them even though their inability to speak English clearly makes them self-conscious; the 55-year old director of your program who drives you to the post office and plays the song “Massachusetts” by the Bee Gees on the drive because he is excited to show you a song with your state in the title; and all the many other people who stand at the periphery of your daily routine and patiently wait for your cue before stepping into your world and showing you things, practicing their English with you, and sticking around for as long as you let them to make sure that you don’t feel alone.

            Perhaps it is because some of the food is incredible.

            For me, I can tell you exactly when it was. Mid-January, I opened my phone to texts from friends back home, talking about all the trials and tribulations of post-grad dating, and how That Boy didn’t text her back, and That Other Boy used her; and texts from other friends, asking for advice because already, six months in, they hated their jobs.           

            And then, one text, from a new CIEE friend: You still want to go to Dubai, right?

            In that moment you realize that, whether this world is familiar or not, you have grown to love it. You have grown to love the very otherworldly strangeness of it, the way it feels a bit imaginary all the time, in comparison to the “reality” of boy drama and work issues and snow complaints. The way you’ve carved a safety bubble for yourself inside this foreign world, surrounding yourself with Pump classes at the gym Wednesday night and Thursday trips to the grocery store in the mall and visits to the restaurant across the street because, when they see you, they send forth the 12-year-old son who knows enough English to take your order.

            Perhaps it is not such a bad thing, to be 8,376 miles away from the “real” world and everything familiar it entails—remembering that familiar does not always mean better.

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How to Know You're Making a Difference (1/3)

“Inspiring the Introverted”

So, my M.6 (Grade 12) students are great. My school is small, and their entire grade is 14 students - I teach their entire grade. They are ALL going to university by the way. The entire grade got into university. Coming from a place where my high school graduating class was like 835 people, needles to say, I’m pretty stoked. Because they’re good, I’ve spent most of the semester teaching them The Alchemist. I felt that it would be a great material to teach them, given the timing in their lives, where they’re about to depart for a new chapter. It’s also one of my favorite books. One of my students, who’s rather quiet and likes to read and play music, turned in her essay on time while the rest of the class turned it in late. The prompt was to summarize the lessons that the main character, Santiago, learns in The Alchemist. Then, they had to compare this to Thai culture (i.e. Buddhism), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and themselves. This student wrote the most bomb essay. 

“Understanding the story needs an open mind and great wisdom. With that, it is very comparable to reality.” 

I didn’t require that they read the story because it’s pretty advanced for EFL learners, but I told them the synopsis, combined with my own summary, of the story and really focused on the theme and important plot components. I had the hopes that hearing so much of the story would encourage some of them - kicking that intrinsic motivation into gear - to read it on their own. This student chose to read the story at home. So first things first, I was thrilled that my evil “teachaa" plot worked. ;)

“Santiago’s adventure taught him valuable lessons in life; he was able to believe that he can go on with his life - he was able to believe that he can go on with his life in spite of many obstacles. This inspires me. I know I’m still young and vulnerable, but I have many dreams in life. I will encounter different surprises, but with faith that these experiences will lead me to where I want to be and mold me into the person I dream to become.”

Not only that, she liked the story and flat out said that she learned from it. I could’ve cried. I was so freaking happy. Now, I know that students often try to write what the teacher wants to hear in order to impress the teacher; I’m not dumb - I did that too. However, she was correct, and actually did relate it to personal feelings in her life. She connected to the book.

“We should not stop believing, and we should not give up on our dreams like Santiago. He was able to fulfill his dreams and live his life wonderfully in spite of many challenges. Giving up is not living.” - Mai, M.6

It's the little things...

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(Shout out to the first class that stole my heart!)

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

-G

Rocks, on Rocks, on Rocks: Railay Beach

I’ve gotten multiple inquiries about how to climb to see the Viewpoint and Lagoon on Railay, Krabi. I was trying to write one post about all of Krabi, but to spare everyone the lengthy novel, for now, I’ll only be talking about the rocks, on rocks, on rocks!


Railay Beach is known for its rock climbing scene, and I'm not a rock climber whatsoever, but I found getting to the Viewpoint and Lagoon isn't rock climbing in the typical sense - you'll hold on to ropes without a harness, and use them to gain leverage. On Railay Beach [west], walk through the street, with all the food stands, to East Railay. Then, turn right and follow the main path around the bend. Eventually, there will be a sign on your left with some benches on your right. Just behind the sign is the first part of the climb up to the Viewpoint and Lagoon; you do not need a tour or to pay anything to do this! If you reach the penises at Phra Nang Beach and Cave, you’ve gone too far… 

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The first [relatively easy] part up!

I really recommend wearing gym shoes, stretchy yoga capris, and your swim suit under your clothes (for guys, gym shoes with your swim trunks and a t-shirt would be fine). That is what I wore and - though I got super dirty - the shoes made it much easier, and my legs felt protected while climbing to and from the lagoon. I saw people try to do this in flip flops, and everyone ended up having to go barefoot. I also had a small backpack with me to hold my towel, water, and phone, but make sure to have only a small backpack. 

PSA: everything you bring and wear will get dirty with a rust-colored mud, so you end up like this:

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To get up the first part of the climb, it’s pretty steep, but most of the way you don’t really even need the rope - just good balance! If it’s been raining recently (like even within three days) it will be slippery, and you need to be careful! After the majority of the way up, you’ll come to a fork in the path with two signs: left is to the Viewpoint, and right is to the Lagoon. I started with the Viewpoint because it’s much easier.

After a few more minutes to the left, you come to a small opening with a gorgeous view! It takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the Viewpoint from the ground. Even though it’s “easier,” you’ll probably still be really sweaty. I do recommend bringing water, even if it’s just a small bottle, at least to this point. If you don’t want to carry anything extra, maybe set the bottle down before the Lagoon and pick it up later. *Please don’t leave garbage!*

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If and when you’re daring to try, head back the same way you came to the fork in the path (or there’s a shortcut to the other path, towards the Lagoon, just before you’re back at the fork). Again, right is to the Lagoon if you’re facing the fork in the path! This is where you will spend probably two hours getting down and back up - with maybe 20 minutes to chill in the Lagoon. You walk a little bit before you come to the first drop. If memory serves, there are four tiers down to the Lagoon. Please remember that whatever you do down, you will have to do back up. I felt that going back up was easier, but you need a decent amount of upper body strength, especially with a backpack. 

At any time, if you feel like you’re really doubting if you can do it, (like you’re in the middle of a drop and you can’t reach the footing for the life of you) it’s better to turn around rather than get hurt! There was a woman I was walking with from the Viewpoint to the Lagoon, and she had to climb back up and leave because she couldn’t do the second drop. 

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Now, this is hard work, but I think that’s part of the experience! I swear, the Lagoon is worth it! There will be other people climbing up and down, and people will say “oh, it’s so worth it,” or “be careful with this one; it’s slippery.” So, you can approach this solo (I did), but you’ll probably meet some buds along the way! I met three Americans, who helped me on the way down, and I honestly don’t think I could’ve done this without them!

The first part of the way down is the easiest. You'll walk down a steep hill for a little, then there will be the first drop. Also, you won’t see the Lagoon at all until you get to the top of the last drop, but I think that builds some nice anticipation! This is what you’ll see:

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Before this, there are three potentially tricky parts; one is a big drop with more difficult footing (I believe on the second tier). You should go in the space between the two rocks - where the rope is - and switching sides may help you! Then, there is one part where you have to go through a pretty tight opening in some rocks. When going down, you walk to the right and there is a rope through a hole - be careful with backpacks here! Lastly, there is another spot (I believe the last tier) where there is a big drop at the end of the rope. Either use the loop at the end of the rope for footing, or stretch to use the rocks on the left.

 

FINALLY, you’ll be rewarded with this! 

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The Lagoon is magical! It’s completely enclosed in cliffs, which are covered by foliage, and it’s a stunning display of nature. Yes, you can swim in the Lagoon! I recommend going to the center and floating on your back in the peaceful, quiet bliss - nothing but the birds chirping.

 

 

Once you’re done hanging out here, you have to climb all the way back up! Again, I think this is easier because you can see where you’re going. When you are going down, you have no idea where you are putting your feet. For climbing up, you just need the upper body strength, and the ability to stretch your legs (or being tall really helps)!

After you climb back up the tiers, walk back the same way you came from the ground originally while feelin’ like a champ! ;)

 

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post. If you do the Viewpoint/Lagoon, comment to tell me about it! I’d love to hear the story!

- G

 

A Meditative Weekend at Home

This weekend I had the options of going to Bangkok for a boat cruise, going to a music festival nearby, or possibly solo traveling to a nearby province. Instead of doing any of these things, I decided to stay home in Saraburi. I have been deep cleaning, organizing, and planning for the next 4 months of travel. Before deciding to stay this weekend, I reflected on the fact that I am leaving this place, where I have been living and teaching for over three months, in 3 weeks. Three weeks! Just like that, the most challenging and life altering experience that I have had in my life so far is coming to a close, as I journey on to new places and new experiences.

My friends from home have been asking me how I feel about leaving so soon. My answer has been that it is very bittersweet. My first couple of months here were filled with newness, excitement, fear, travel and complete chaos in most of my classes. January was different though and February is continuing on the same path. I am adapted. My senses are no longer in shock and living here and teaching feels very normal, almost like I've been here twice the amount of time I really have.

I have learned how to control a rambunctious class of 50 hormonal kids ages 13-14 whose level of English is drastically low, without the help of any Thai teacher. Each time I enter the room to these classes, I try to keep a straight and serious face, so they know they can't get away with running around the room, throwing things, smacking each other etc. Of course, occasionally this still happens. Then I proceed to write on the board "music and game= no talking, no standing, no sleeping." At this point, my students can recite these words before I have even written them and I smile to myself, proud that they know my rules. I have engaged the most challenging students, learned classroom management, made connections with students who were only annoyances in November and truly adapted to a school culture that does not entirely take foreigners seriously.

So, how do I feel about leaving this place? A place where I am the only white person in my town and am constantly listening to other languages and making new friends. A place that has challenged my soul more than anywhere, without the cushion of living or working with other Americans. A place where I have learned to live by myself for the first time. A place where I have discovered who I am and what matters to me the most in life during the nights alone I spent in my apartment, contemplating thoughts, learning to play the ukulele, painting, writing, and noting down influential quotations. A place where I have distanced myself from relationships at home and thus become closer to myself than ever. Again, I feel bittersweet.

I am lucky that they next part of my journey is going to be so incredible, or I might feel even more bitter about leaving. I have recently finalized (finalized with others, but not booked) my travel plans for after teaching. On February 28th, I finish teaching. I will leave March 1 to go up north in Thailand to Chiang Mai and Pai for about 10 days. After that, I will fly to the south of Cambodia and teach stand-up paddle boarding for a month, with free riverside accommodation and food. I will leave Cambodia and head to Bali for 3.5 weeks to live with a couple and their son in their incredibly beautiful home, where I will help them edit and write for an online magazine about yoga, health, spirituality and places in Bali. Finally, I will fly to India in May to take a yoga certification course for a month at the base of the Himalayan mountains, in the yoga capital of world, Rishikesh. I  applied for a scholarship and was awarded a free 200-hour certification, which usually costs about $3-4,000 in the USA.

Everything seems to be lining up for me.

I will be going home to Boston, MA on June 1st. I am trying to remain in the present, but already I am thinking about what I will do when I get there. "Will I need to get a job that I don't love just to pay bills? Will I have to live with my mom for a while? Should I travel more? Will I have money for that?" AGH!

I came to Thailand hoping to develop a deeper spiritual connection with myself and I believe that is something I have found. During my stay and travel in this country I have been influenced by others that I have met that meditation is an incredibly profound and life-altering journey. I recently met up with a 4 times removed family friend, long story, who is a wonderful and energetic Thai woman in her mid-50's. On the way to dropping me back off at my apartment after dinner, she shared that she has been meditating for about 17 years, ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told me that the tumor wouldn't go away until a few months after she began meditating and now she does it every single day, morning or night.

I also met an English guy during my stay in Koh Chang who suffered from an extremely painful neurological disease and sent me an hour long Youtube video that he swears changed his life and occasionally depressive mentality. Last night, I began listening to the video that he sent to me. "Meditation is the way to discover the truth of your soul," says Barry Long. Why are we alive, if not for this purpose? Why I am I here in Thailand, if not discover the truth of who "I" am?  I will try to continue to develop this skill to quiet my mind,  something I believe will be more than necessary when I go home to the fast-paced and stressful USA environment.

My last few weeks in Saraburi include teaching, a 3-day trip down south to Krabi, a visit from a friend from America on my birthday, and the Wonderfruit music festival in Pattaya. This journey continues to be amazing, as I discover more of the world and myself daily.

Bali: The 'Real' World

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            So, if you are reading this, you might be doing exactly what I was doing 8-months ago. You might be researching ways to travel the world. You might even get scared, and start Googling, “Ways to travel Boston,” or, “Jobs to Travel Internationally but Then Come Home Again,” instead. Trust me, I here you.

            Last week, I took a solo trip to Bali. And, instantly, I understood why all those other options never would have worked for me.

            Let me start by saying exactly how high my expectations for Bali were.

            Two summers ago, I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time (I’ve read it twice since). It completely changed my life. It changed how I felt about relationships, it changed how I saw religion, it fueled my desire to travel, and, mostly, it changed how I understood writing. Never before had I read something so philosophical and intelligent and thought-provoking. I mean, truly, it was smart. Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer who could probably sum up all of Einstein’s theories in some neat, funny little chapter, if she wanted to. Whether you’ve read it or not (or seen the movie—which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t do the book justice), you might already know that the ‘Love’ part of Eat, Pray, Love takes place in Bali. Since reading the book, it had been my dream to go to Bali alone, like she did.

            The thing about this dream was, it was far-fetched. It was so ridiculous to me, in fact, that I’d all but forgotten it, as if my mind said, ‘Okay, we’ll go back to that when you’re older’. I wasn’t in any way actively pursuing it, and, honestly, it felt as out-of-reach as becoming a famous movie star or going to the moon.

            So it seemed a little bit like Fate when, last week, I realized I had this exact opportunity, randomly, to fulfill this dream to travel alone to Bali, like I’d imagined.

            But actually, no. Not just Fate. Fate implies that it was the universe, or something of which I had no control, that got me to Bali. But that is not true. I was able, at 23-years-old, to seize this opportunity for myself; I was an active participant in the fulfillment of this dream. I was able to do something that, a year ago, I’d only romanticized as something I might do by the time I was 30. I mean, on Tuesday, my coworkers said to me, “Did you know we have six days off next week? I guess they’re using the school as a parking zone for parents during the University’s graduation. So you can travel, if you want.”

            On Wednesday, I booked my plane tickets.

            Honestly, I could have gone and laid in the grass at the airport and been completely content. I was just so happy to be there, and so happy to see that the nature outside the airport windows already did not disappoint. The grass was a different shade of green than I’ve seen; I could see palm trees and coconut trees and banana trees with three-foot-long leaves; it was all just so green, compared to Thailand.

            As I’d discussed with my friend Gabi the weekend before, who had studied abroad in Indonesia: There are two ways I could do Bali.

           I’d done plenty of research. I’d drawn maps and graphs and timetables and schedules and emailed Yoga studios and tour guides and hotel managers and read blogs and news articles and watched Youtube videos. I’d eventually decided to do 3 days in Ubud, since it was the ‘cultural capital’ and their major city (although ‘city’ sounds pretty urban—more like a very busy hippie/vegan town), and then 2 days on Gili Air, the Gili Island that is relatively empty, but still has more restaurants than Gili Menu, which is more suitable for honeymooners.

            To say I was prepared for Bali was an understatement. I had six days to cover everything, and I was ready to do exactly that.

            Gaby supported this. She said: “You can do Bali that way, if you like. You can get up at the crack of dawn and see the sunrise over the rice fields before making your way to the temples and the markets; fitting in a day-long bike tour; doing yoga in the evening and making sure to stumble across all the top-rated restaurants; getting a massage and facial at night; seeing the dance festival after that, etc. etc. You can do Bali that way.

            Or.” She’d said. “Or… you can sleep in. You can wake up when you want to wake up, and lazily have a smoothie for breakfast from some random place, and maybe make your way to a yoga studio. And get a massage in the afternoon. And read in a café for a while. And do some meditation at night, and get some ice cream if you feel like it, and go to bed. You can do Bali that way, too. Whichever you like.”

            When I am travelling, I am most always person A. I am the person who makes sure I see every square inch of land that I can within 24-hours: sacrificing sleep, sacrificing money, to make sure I am signed up for every temple-visit, Bike-tour, wine-tasting, spiritual-awakening, and overnight-hike the country has to offer. And I’d planned on doing Bali this way, too.

            As soon as I saw my bed, which was a beautiful white canopy with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking rice fields, I wavered. Okay, I thought, I can sleep in. Just tomorrow. To enjoy the bed.

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            I woke up around 9. I read my book for an hour before remembering breakfast ends at 10:30. So I ate breakfast at the hotel, and finally asked the front desk how I could walk to the Yoga Barn.

            As I walked, I realized: I will waste all my money, and all my time, this vacation if I am constantly thinking about what’s-next-what’s-next-what’s-after-that. I mean, my god: I was in the Spiritual Motherland of Being-In-The-Moment.   

            These people, this is how they live (at least, as far as I could see, from my extensive experience driving past them): They sit. They relax. They meditate and pray. They eat when they want to eat. Then they sit some more, in the same spots, talking to the same people, believing to their core that this is where they are meant to be.

            So, by the time I found the Yoga studio, I’d made my mind up. I was going to do Bali the Balinese way: relaxed, unplanned, leisurely, doing only what I really wanted to do in that moment. (Granted, I do understand that my experience was not at all a ‘true’ Balinese experience: I know the Balinese are not typically getting high-quality massage-and-facial packages, or paying $10 a class to sit and do Yoga, or paying $20 for a 4-course meal at a 5-star Italian restaurant, or stopping to pay for fancy juices with chia seeds and organic kale… I do know this; but still. I guess I was trying to emanate their spiritual beliefs, in my own nice, cozy tourist-bubble).

            After yoga, I thought about asking them where the nearest temple was, after this; or if they knew of any cultural museums in the area. Instead, I approached the front desk and said, “Do you know where Taksu spa is?” I’d written it down in my notebook after finding some blog article about it.

            I walked to Taksu and signed up for a Balinese massage (because I was trying to get into the culture, of course), and a facial. In total, it was $40, for a two-hour treatment. The first hour, I had a full body oil massage. After that, I sat for another hour for a deep-cleanse facial. Then, I sat in their garden, drinking a smoothie, included in the package, and read my book.

            By now, it was about 4:30 p.m. I decided to make my way to the Palace and a temple, since I was feeling guilty for hiding away in this spa when there was so much of Ubud I hadn’t seen yet. So I walked, and saw the ‘Palace’ (which was pretty grungy looking, and crawling with tourists and selfie-sticks and loud chatter), and this beautiful temple (which was right beside a Starbucks, and again, crawling with tourists and selfie-sticks), and I realized I had nothing to feel guilty about. These places might’ve been nice to visit, but they certainly weren’t do-or-die… they were just tourist spots.

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            For dinner, I went to an Italian restaurant called Kebun Café, which Gaby had recommended, promising me it had “the best gnocci of my life.” I had tea and a salad (with beets! And spinach! I almost died of happiness) and gnocci with pesto (she was probably right… and I lived in Florence). Then I walked home through the rain, read some more, and went to sleep in my little canopy bed.

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            The next morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. to begin a bike tour I’d signed up for with the Eco-Cycling Company in Ubud. We started at Mount Batur. The mountain, because of the shifting of the Earth over thousands of years etc. etc., has become two volcanoes separated by a beautiful lake, much like the lakes I’d seen in Europe. It is one of the 10 biggest craters in the world.   

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The bike ride was easy. It was entirely downhill, and I barely moved my feet; I mostly just glided.

            My favorite part of the trip was our experience stopping at a Balinese family’s compound. The compound consisted of a few small, dilapidated bare white buildings, mostly empty of furniture apart from a mattress or a pot above a coal fireplace.

            Our tour guide walked us over to the kitchen. This ‘kitchen,’ was a small, very dark room, with a single black coal pot sitting on a hole, under which were some sticks for the fire. This was their stove.

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            “Every day of our lives, our mother cooks us breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” our guide, who must’ve been at least 25, said. “But she only makes one meal per day, and we just eat it whenever we get hungry. She wakes up at 5 a.m. to get to the market to get our food. People from Bali love breakfast, because it’s the only meal of the day that is fresh. After that, our food sits on the kitchen table all day.    So, when I get hungry, I just walk into the kitchen and eat some more of whatever my mom prepared that morning. We obviously don’t have microwaves or refrigerators, so we definitely have some hygiene problems, but we have built up a high immunity.” He said casually, unfazed.

            As we exited the compound we passed a rooster stuck in a little straw cage, and our tour guide pointed to him and said, “We are going to have a cockfight at the end of the month. To sacrifice rooster blood to the spirits. That part is legal. But we will also be gambling, which is illegal.”

            I don’t want to say any of this with too much pity, or too much wow-aren’t-we-lucky reflection, because 1. It’s been done before, and 2. I don’t really think I saw enough to generalize anything about what it is like to live in Bali (what if someone took you to a random house in rural Texas, for instance, and said, ‘This is how all American families live’).

            I will just say that I was shocked, to see how little some of these Balinese people had, because—my god, they seem so happy. As I biked past them, every single person came to the doorway of their shop or compound, or looked up from the ground they were laying on or from the river they were washing clothes in, and smiled ear-to-ear without a trace of bitterness or dejectedness or defeat, shouting out to me: “Hello! Good morning!” Their days seemed so monotonous, and terribly hopeless, without any promise of variation. I just kept thinking—what do they have to ‘live’ for? I don’t mean that question in a religious way, or any deeply philosophical way. I simply mean: What dreams can they entertain for themselves? What goals can they work to achieve? Is there any serious reward for their hard work, besides the same meal on the table every morning?

            Perhaps this is why religion, or spirituality, can be seen everywhere. Bali’s predominant religion is Hinduism. I didn’t know much about Hinduism when I arrived. Here’s all I know after my trip: Everywhere I went, each morning, there were small baskets filled with fresh incense and flowers, which were offerings for different purposes (good luck, warding off evil spirits, expressing gratitude, etc.)

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            Besides the offerings, they have temples everywhere. Each house has it’s own family temple, and it would be ridiculous to pray at anyone else’s temple, because each family temple is for that family’s ancestors. The family temples were my favorite temples—must more impressive than the ones over-hyped by tourists.

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            And then, besides the temples, they simply have a spiritual language. For instance: “I hope you have a blissful time in Bali; Would you like to come and get a massage, so I can rearrange your chakra energies? Would you like chia seeds in your smoothie… it is good for the soul. Everyone, can you please breathe in, and when you breathe out, breathe out all of the evil spirits that reside within you.”    

            And, perhaps most fascinating: the word for ‘artist’ and ‘human being’ is the same in Bali. They don’t have a word for ‘artist’ because everyone is an artist. Art is simply a devotional prayer to the gods.

            Anyways, so we biked past rice fields and through little towns and saw a more authentic version of Bali than I’d seen before. There were just two other Asian women with me on this trip, but they were very nice.

            After the bike tour, I went to this fantastic place called Kafe for dinner, and got a sweet potato/beet/spinach/walnut salad with some healthy smoothie and hummus on the side. It was probably the best meal I’ve had in all of Asia (that’s terrible, I know. I feel guilty for saying it. Okay, okay… the fried rice is good, too).

            Then I walked, again through the rain (it’s ‘rainy’ season in Bali… glad I was warned), and ended up buying gelato at some fancy hotel. I sat on the porch and talked casually with the Balinese worker who’d scooped my gelato for me. He told me that this is how all Balinese people learn English: they speak to tourists. Considering I didn’t need to know a single Indonesian word (not even hello!) the entire time I was there, I was impressed by this. I apologized for not knowing any Indonesian, but the man shrugged it off. “We should learn English. It is the language of the world. It is not just for speaking with Americans… it is how we speak with Europeans, Chinese. Everyone.” Still, I thought about how difficult it would be for me, if I had to learn Spanish through random exchanges with foreigners on the streets of Boston, and I told him again how grateful I was that he was trying.

            The next day, I got up early, took a van to the harbor, and then took a fast ferry across the ocean to Gili Air.

            Seeing as every single other person on the boat got off at Gili T, I understood quickly just how secluded I’d be on this island. And it’s what I’d wanted, originally: seclusion, a chance to lie on the beach and do nothing and tan and read.

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            The only problem was—rainy season, remember? So it was cloudy when I arrived on Gili Air, and started raining within minutes. And what, exactly, are my alternative options on Gili Air, if I am not lying on the beach?

            First, I spent three hours reading in my hotel room. I took a nap. Then I woke up and considered just staying in my room the rest of the day. I know, that’s pathetic. But I was so tired from moving around, and also, the rain was depressing. Thankfully, I found the energy to get up (and the motivation: I promised myself a snack, if I could get out the door). I ate some yoghurt with fruit, overlooking the ocean (which definitely has a different kind of beauty, in the rain), and was extremely well attended to by two boys who live on the island and work at my hotel; since I was the only customer, they stood near me the whole time I ate. I liked their company.

            After my snack, I took an hour and a half candlelit yoga class. It was peaceful, for the most part, and filled with at least 30 other tourists (no idea where they’d all been before, or where they went afterwards).

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            After the class I wandered, and ended up at some random restaurant because it was selling pasta.

            I was trying not to attract any extra attention (feeling a bit like some strange loner girl as it was, reading her book and not really talking or looking at anyone, while mostly everyone else was here with a boyfriend/girlfriend), when this cat came to my table and just wouldn’t stop meowing. Meowing is an understatement—this cat was screeching, right at my table. I kept smiling at it and kind of shooing it away before going back to my book, thinking, Please leave me alone, I cannot be the girl who sits by herself and feeds the stray cats.

            But the cat wouldn’t shut up, and people kept looking at me like, Uhm, can you please control your friend, so finally I just pushed some of my pasta onto the seat beside me and the cat shut up, happily eating his share.

            So that was Gili Air. I left the next morning. Overall, I can’t say it was my favorite part of the trip. But I will say one thing: I felt lucky, that I had the opportunity to be disappointed by a place. I mean, if I’d done the whole office job back in America, and had accepted a quick 10-day trip to Asia as my consolation prize, my night on Gili Air would have felt disastrous, like But this was 1/10th of my trip! Instead, it was just a mediocre solo adventure to an island, (which I know I would’ve regretted had I skipped), and one of many adventures I will have in Asia before my time to leave.

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            The last thing I will tell you about is my experience after arriving back from Gili Air on Monday afternoon. I was staying near the airport, and my flight wasn’t until Tuesday morning, so in classic “Me” fashion, I began thinking about what I could do in the 5 hours I had left (before sleeping). It dawned on me that I felt very unfulfilled with what I’d done in terms of following in Liz Gilbert’s footsteps—I hadn’t meditated once, I hadn’t fallen in love, and I hadn’t visited a Medicine man. Seeing as only one of these was something I could Google (and not waste $500 learning how to do), I found a Medicine man, not too far from the airport, and emailed him.

            After receiving a response from him, saying he could help me, I grabbed myself a taxi from the airport and was dropped off 20-minutes later on this desolate side street. All I could see on this street were two men sitting on the front stoop of a random white building.

            “Ah,” I stepped toward them, my taxi driver still watching. “Bali Chy Healing?”

            They pointed down the street.

            “Okay, thanks.”

            I turned the corner and saw the sign. I entered this ‘shop’ and sat down in a chair while I waited for an older (mid-60’s?) dark brown Balinese man to finish his conversation with another patient. The Balinese man looked sweet, with large, thin-rimmed square glasses, a wide smile, and black hair graying around the ears. Like a grandfather, maybe (not mine, of course).

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            While I waited, I read a pamphlet about him. It said: “Sami is a traditional Balinese healer and doctor known as Balian Usada. With his holistic treatment he is able to diagnose and find solutions to physical ailments, emotional trauma, and spiritual consciousness issues… Sami had the opportunity to meet high spiritual beings (for example Sri Chinmoy), who regarded him as a superior being as well… He is now a very wise man.”

            I skipped a few (boring) parts. On the front, it said he could do energy balancing, reading and life coaching, kinesiology… and some other stuff, mostly stuff I’ve never heard about. I thought about what I wanted and decided my ‘energies’ probably needed balancing, and I probably needed some life coaching, since I was here and all, and paying $70 (I’m embarrassed to admit that… my co-teachers all laughed when I told them how much I’d spent, and said, ‘I could’ve told you how to be happy for free! I could’ve balanced your energies for a discount!’)

            An older, bigger woman, with jet-black hair and a sweaty face, suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Come, come!” She said, motioning for me to follow her. “You have appointment?” She asked.

            “Uh, sort of. I emailed,” I said. She nodded, and that was that. (Note: if you’re ever in Bali, just say you have an appointment, even if you don’t. How will they ever know?)

            “Lie down,” she pointed to a bed behind a curtain, and then said, “But first, take off all your clothes.”

            I did as she said and lay down on the bed. She explained that, first, she was going to give me a massage and do some acupressure to ‘get my energies flowing.’ For the first 15-minutes, as she worked, I asked various questions, like I was writing some research report on the whole thing. “How did you become a healer? He trained you? Who trained him, though? Wait, what are you doing now… can you feel the energies? Are there different energies in different parts of the body? How will we know when they’re balanced… can you feel the imbalance right now? Also, just curious… can the Medicine Man tell me my future? Can he read my mind?”

            Finally, as I relaxed, I quieted. Actually, I probably pretty much fell asleep. It felt really nice. If nothing else, the $70 got me a great massage.

            After at least 45-minutes, she finally called the man in. She told him, through the curtain, that I was “ready.” He came in and said, “Just relax, Caroline. Don’t think. Close your eyes.” I did as he said and there, in the dark, he put both sets of fingertips on my head and kept them there.

            For a while, I stayed relaxed. My mind was still thinking ferociously, as it always does (it gets worse, I’ve found, when I try to think, ‘don’t think of anything! Be in the moment! Relax!’ When I tell my mind not to do something, it tries really hard to do the opposite).

            After a while, my mind drifted and I thought about how much trust I was giving these people. Then I really thought about it. I mean, wait a minute. My bag, with my purse and debit card and credit card and cash, was sitting right beside him, not me. And I’m lying here, in the dark, on some random road on a deserted street, with my eyes closed. What the hell is keeping him from stealing from me? I thought, and then, even worse, Oh my god, what the hell is keeping him from KILLING me? Seriously, why hasn’t he stabbed me ALREADY? It would be genius. Stab me, put my body in the backyard… no one in the entire world knows where I am anyway… take all my debit cards/credit cards etc., and you could probably make a pretty good life for yourself… for at least a month or two… in Bali. And no one will ever know.

             As I’m thinking this, I opened my eyes (just to check, you know… that he doesn’t have a knife in his hand, or something), and he said, like he was reading my mind, “Okay. We are done.”

            I met him in the front room, right by the road. I had no idea where the woman went—I never saw her again.

            He smiled at me and took out a big book and said, “So, Caroline. What is your problem?” I realized he meant what is my physical ailment—why am I even here in the first place—and I know I can’t really say, “Oh, I don’t have one, I just want you to tell me my future like someone in Bali told Elizabeth Gilbert hers. And maybe also tell me my purpose in life, and anything else you think is fun I should know.”

            So, instead, I said weakly, “Oh, I don’t know. I wanted my energies balanced…” I have no idea what that even means… “And, also, I want to be more in-the-moment, I guess?”

            He nodded and said, “You worry. You are very self-critical. You get stressed. You have a lot of knowledge… but you are not wise.”

            He drew a triangle on a piece of paper and turned it to face me. Then he wrote, at the top of the triangle, the word ‘Spirit.’ Below, in the middle, he wrote, ‘Mind.’ Finally, at the bottom, he wrote, ‘Body.’

            Then he drew a chart and wrote ‘Emotional,’ with all those really nice attributes he’d given me below (stress/nerves/anxiety/self-critical); on the other side of the chart, he wrote ‘Think.’

            “You are also very active. Very creative. Very innovation.” (English is his second language; let’s bear in mind). He wrote these words below ‘Think’. Then, randomly, he drew a bunch of + signs under ‘Think’.

            “You think too much. That is your problem. When you think too much, you are not in the moment. To be happy, you must be in the moment.”

            “Yes, but… how?” I asked.

            He looked up at me, exasperated. “I just told you!” He said, laughing, but sounding frustrated. “This is what I’m talking about. I told you!”

            “Oh… Okay! Okay! I see now!” I said conciliatorily (Did he tell me? Was I not listening close enough?).

            After a moment, he continued. “See, you want to know Who you are. You want to know Where you are. You want to know How to be happy. You want to know Why life is like this. You want to know What can make you happy.” He wrote these words in the corner of the page.

            “You are 23, Caroline. 23. You don’t need to know. Step-by-step, yes?”

            “Okay,” I nodded. “Okay.”

            “You want to know how to be happy… To be happy, you must be Healthy. You must be Aware of yourself. You must be Present. You must be Positive. And you must be Yourself. You see! It spells Happy!” He showed me on the paper, and then said, kindly, “You can keep this, by the way.”

            I continued to nod. I mean, I didn’t really know what else to say (I certainly wasn’t going to ask him any questions—I didn’t want him exploding on me again, and ripping up the paper in frustration, or something).

            “You cannot reach your spirit until you calm the mind. Just be happy. When you reach the spirit by being happy, you can find inspiration (he wrote in-SPIRIT-ation on the paper), from the universe. Do what makes you happy, help other people, and find inspiration—and you will be happy.” It began sounding a bit like circular reasoning to me (you know, X is true because of Y, and Y is true because of X), but still, the more he said it, the more I could believe it really was that simple. It felt a bit like he’d taken a burden off of me. If my only ‘homework’ from him was to be happy… well, that’s a fun thing to focus on, isn’t it? Much better than becoming some meditative guru and spending hundreds at a retreat, or something.

            When I asked, “To find my spirit, should I meditate or pray?” He shrugged and said, “You can. Or, just be happy.”

            Okay. I think I can do that.

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            The crazy thing about this whole trip was, I didn’t have to sit at a desk for 5 years to save up for it. I didn’t have to land a book deal or go through some traumatic mid-life crisis. I didn’t have to try all that hard, really… the opportunity more or less just fell into my lap. And that in itself is CRAZY to me. I mean, Bali? Indonesia? What do I even know about Indonesia? I don’t think it really hit me, how lucky I am here, until I realized just how graspable the whole world feels to me right now. It’s all so much more within reach than I’d realized.

            May of last year, I’d stopped researching work opportunities abroad and, instead, I’d begun emailing colleges in the local Boston area about Admissions Counselors positions because I figured I could travel that way (in the local area, to local high schools). Then, in June, I began researching opportunities to be an event planner in Boston, because I figured I could travel to different venues around the city.

            Looking back, I feel sorry for that girl who, for even a brief period of time, narrowed her dreams so severely out of practicality and convenience… And out of some obscure pressure from this imminent ‘Real World.’

            This is just as much a ‘Real World’ as any other. I get a salary at the end of every month that pays for my rent and my food and my transportation; I wake up and drink coffee from 7-11 to save money; I get tired and frustrated and my motorbike breaks down and my packages get sent to the wrong post office and all of it is real life.

            But then, on a random Monday in January, a little over a year since I talked to someone from a Boston company about being a travel agent to help other people travel the world, and a little over 2 years since I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time, I ended up in front of a medicine man in Bali.

            I’m living this life that scares me sometimes, because I don’t always recognize it as something I’ve prepared for or studied for or navigated before; but, at the same time, there are moments like my trip to Bali where I can look up and recognize exactly where it is I’m headed. It makes me realize just how much I’m capable of doing, not just someday, but soon, now. I've learned that I have total control over my own version of 'reality' and the 'Real World.' If I want my 'Real World' to include spontaneous solo trips to Bali, and who know's what else, than I can make that happen--I just need to remind myself to keep dreaming that big.

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A Day In The Life

So I have been living in Thailand for three months now, but have not spoken much about my actual teaching experience! I thought a blog post about my daily life in Chanthaburi and my crazy students was well overdue.

So here is a typical day in my life:

6:30 – Wake up, drink tea, eat breakfast, and get dressed. Every day I wear black, or at least dark or muted tones, in honor of the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej who recently passed away.

7:30-8:00 – Arrive at school (Muang Tessaban 1 School), which is less than a five-minute walk away. As I walk through school and up to the office where I work, I am greeted with big smiles, waves, high fives, and fist bumps from the students. And let’s not forget the students that yell “Hello teachaaa Jillian!” They make us foreign teachers feel semi-famous!

8:00 – Stand outside for the national anthem and daily announcements with the students and teachers.

8:30-3:45 – Teach my classes. I teach 5th and 6th grade to a total 324 wild, loving, and funny students. I have 12 classes in total, and about 27 students per class. All of my classes are one-hour periods, and I see each class either once or twice a week.

Here is an example of a typical class:

I walk into the classroom, where the students are usually chatting or running around like maniacs! I definitely have some energetic students! All the students then stand up and greet me with a “Hello Teachaaa, how are you?”

For my lessons each day, I usually dedicate the first half of the class to teaching or reviewing vocabulary or basic sentence structures, and the second part to playing games or doing activities with the vocabulary they are learning. My students have taken English before, but their level is still pretty low. In general, conversational English is the main difficulty or Thai people since the tones in English and Thai are very different, which is why they hire native English teachers like myself to give the students good exposure to the spoken English language, and to get them more comfortable with speaking.

Visual aid is definitely key to helping my students learn! I always print out or draw pictures that I use each day in class, and I always use gestures and body language to help convey meaning.

After the students have finished writing new vocabulary into their notebooks, or finished the work I’ve assigned, we usually play a game to help them really consolidate what they're learning, in a fun way! They love playing what I call the “A/B game,” where there are two teams, and the students have to either say or write the name of the vocabulary picture I am holding up, and whoever says or writes the word correctly first gets a point. My students love competitive games! My students also enjoy games with music, like passing around an object while music is playing, and when I stop the music, the student with the object has to draw a card and say the corresponding word to the picture, or act out a written word. I am currently making a playlist for my students, because the music on my phone is apparently not recent enough for their music requests, ha!

In general with teaching, I try to make sure my students are actively engaged in their learning, so I often have students come up and write on the board, self-correct mistakes with some guidance in the right direction, and demonstrate for the class.

11:30-12:45 – Lunch break. I usually go eat at a nearby cafeteria restaurant, where they offer good Thai food like Pad Thai, fried rice, noodle soups and tom yum (a delicious and spicy soup – definitely one of my favorite Thai dishes). Its funny – I eat out almost every day, and its quite economical!  Most dishes at local restaurants range between 35 baht and 80 baht (about $1-$2), and generally unless you go to a Western style restaurant, eating out is no more expensive than cooking. Other days for lunch, I eat at the school cafeteria, or bring leftovers.

3:45-8:00 – After school I usually go home and rest for a bit, then I go on a run in the park just right around the corner from my house, and then I cook or go out to eat. A few days a week I tutor English after school as well. If I need to make new lesson plans for school, I usually go to a nearby café to get some work done, and also to indulge in delicious smoothies and food. On Fridays I typically go swimming at a nearby pool if I am not traveling during the weekend, which is a great way to cool off from Thailand’s constant heat!

I normally travel about every other weekend – there are so many beautiful places to see in Thailand, and it’s all very economical as well! It’s really neat because you don’t have to make plans too far in advance. I usually decide what I want to do by Wednesday or Thursday, and then I’m off Friday after our ½ day of school!

10:00-10:30 – Bedtime!  A decent night of sleep is required to teach such lively and energetic students!

I hope you’ve enjoyed a look into my daily life in Thailand! Stay tuned to hear about more of my adventures.

P.S. If you ever want to make a Thai student laugh, uncontrollably, all you have to do is attempt to repeat a sentence they are saying in thai. About 20% of the time they will tell you “very good!” but usually they will just have a field day with your butchered attempts at speaking more complex and quickly uttered sentences in Thai.

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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

True Life: I'm Emotional

It’s been a while since I last updated. Sorry about that. December was an absolute horror for me. I have never felt so low in my life until this past December came. I’m told I had homesickness. I was depressed, cried everyday, looked at flights on coming home, and refused to leave my bed sometimes. I couldn’t find the joy in doing anything for a while. I thought that the sadness would never end. On top of it my anxiety was at a all time high, so I couldn’t eat. And I also had an ear infection that for some reason wouldn’t heal (and the antibiotics made me so sick) and then the worst thing happened, my baby Dany passed away. I was 100% ready to go home.

But I powered through it. I got through my tough days. My hardest days, the worst days of my life so far. I set my sites on my trip to Chiang Mai for New Years Eve. Once I did that, the tides changed.

The month of December is a month I never want to live again. To be honest I had painful thoughts about life. But I was able to overcome everything, and stay strong. I cried everyday but it helped release emotions. I started coloring because it eased my anxiety. I went to the gym to get my mind off of everything and to ‘waste time’. I talked to my family constantly because I wanted them to know what was going on.

Am I 100% over the feelings right now? No, I’m still ready to go home. But am I dealing with everything in a better way? Yes. What I’m doing now is keeping busy. I’m planning weekend trips, and sticking to my routine at home. That’s what you have to do sometimes.

Stay strong.

Love, Catie

20 Reasons You Should Get Food Poisoning in Thailand

Reader Discretion is Advised [for the immense amount of sarcasm in this article]

In my previous article, I mentioned that I got sick with food poisoning. Without further ado, here’s how it went down, and why you should get food poisoning in Thailand.

1. You get up close and personal with your bathroom for seven hours straight. (At least I have a nice bathroom with a western toilet!)

2. You puke blood because the human body is just really neat.

3. You spend one week in the hospital, complete with your first IV, and you DGAF about the needle because you were so dehydrated upon arrival that you couldn’t stop staring at the water in the waiting room... staring as if you were looking at a burrito or doughnuts.

4. You lose a substantial amount of weight for the time frame.

5. So when you eventually go back to work, coworkers, students, and your boss comment that you are “slim, slim,” and that your face is very white.* Cool, at least I’m making one of the worst experiences of my life work for me.

*In Thailand, being fair skinned is considered the beauty ideal, unlike in the U.S. It’s ironic because, here, Thai people could be tan much easier than I could, and some may be naturally rather tan; however, there are an abundance of skin products for whitening the skin in order to appear more beautiful as according to the Thai societal standard. So here, people work to whiten their skin where they could have tan skin, and in the U.S., the people of Western European decent work to look tan where they are naturally fair skinned. Why do we do this to ourselves, people???

6. Continuing on from my soapbox, you get to wear this super cute outfit. Which goes swimmingly with these super cute shoes.

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7. You have a fever, so they don’t let you shower, and nurses have to rub you with wash clothes on your bed.

8. You get your colon swabbed, so they can test for an infection - which you of course have because of the food poisoning. At least it didn’t actually hurt.

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9. You get to enjoy some unknown food (which consisted of variations of meat with meat broth) and rice porridge every. single. day. And they won’t let you have fruits, vegetables, or juice because of your infection. It's okay because you can barely eat anyways.

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10. This is where it gets real: you get the wonderful experience of lactating, as it’s a side effect of the medication that the hospital gives you to prevent you from vomiting, because the human body is, again, super neat. Like, how does that even make sense?! And in case you didn't know, lactating SUCKS and the subsequent enlargement of certain body parts is incredibly painful. Again, just in case you didn’t know.

Congratulations: your Gretchen has evolved into a cow!

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11. However, prior to figuring out that it’s due to the medication, you consult a breast surgeon about why you are suddenly lactating, and he tells you that you most likely have a brain tumor on your pituitary gland because your hormone level is out of whack. 

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12. You then freak out for two minutes before putting them college-educated research skills 2 werk, and discover - in a mere five minutes of researching online while thinking that you’re going to need to go home immediately because you might need BRAIN SURGERY - that it is most likely because of the medication the hospital prescribed you. The endocrinologist that you consult the next day agrees and basically calls the surgeon an idiot.

13. You’re finally able to leave the hospital after one week, only paying 25 baht, and you’re actually dumb enough to believe that insurance covered it all. Let’s all pause for a moment to have a good laugh about that one. #sansObamaCare

14. Only then, you find out from the school that they paid the 30,000 baht bill for you, but they are going to take it out of your paycheck for the next three months - instead of checking with you first, when you would’ve rather used a credit card. (Thank God for my dad putting that amount of money in my account because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to feed myself with my reduced salary! Shout out to my dad… thanks, D!) They must really want you to stay "slim, slim." 

Now let’s play the silver-lining game:

15. At least you have this view!

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16. You also get this gift from the hospital. (a towel and a gift certificate to their spa because they didn't get enough of my money)

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17. And you get this message from your school’s director. 

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18. Plus, you get visited by one of the school’s administrative women multiple times, and she tucks you in before she leaves!

19. And then, you get visited by a Thai teacher coworker with one of your students, and they bring you cookies (which you can’t eat yet but slam down in two days once you’re able to).

20. Naturally, you bawl like a baby as soon as they leave because you’re so touched.

Thankfully I’m healthy now, and all there is to do is just laugh and educate you lucky people on my authentic experience in Thailand.

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post! I’ll be writing more frequently in the future because I’ve done some traveling and experienced a lot recently. :) -G

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