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How to Know You're Making a Difference (2/3)

“Calm Across Cultures”

This one is a bit more subjective because it doesn't directly pertain to teaching. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love Jack Johnson. My students, naturally, like when I play music - especially when they’re writing an essay in class. One day, my M.6 (grade 12) students wanted calm music [I have three playlists that I let them choose from: calm, popular music, and fun, older music]. The calm playlist is like 1/3rd Jack Johnson, and it was the first time they chose this playlist. I started with “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. Within 30 seconds, one of the students asked “Teacher, what is this song? It’s so, so… *waves arm gently* nice. His voice and the melody are so relaxing.” I cannot articulate how excited I was. Right after that, another student said “I have heard this song, but I thought it was by [names some group that’s not Jack Johnson].” I explained that this was the original, and what she heard was a cover.

What’s sweet about this anecdote is that I didn’t tell them how much I love Jack Johnson. I certainly didn’t tell them that they had to like his music. This verbal snapshot of teaching shows how much people can learn through exposure. These students found some authentic English material that they truly like. I can only hope that they pursue it - to expose themselves to similar things on their own time - to gain intrinsic motivation for learning about language through English-speaking culture. Also, I'm just proud that I have good taste in music... ;)

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Thai ceremony for my soon-to-be graduates!

It's the little things...

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

Full Moon Madness

After spending five days in Koh Phi Phi for New Year’s, we were all pretty dead. However, we were still not yet ready to let go of the island life. We almost immediately booked another trip to a different island called Koh Pha Ngan or Koh Phangan. We had about two weeks to kill before leaving for our next island adventure there. This was perfect because two of our friends from college were traveling around Thailand for a month and came to visit during that time. They stayed with us at our town house for a week or so and we spent some time going out and exploring Bangkok with them, showing them around our little town and introducing them to our students (it was so cute). This was a lot of fun and it was awesome having friends from home visit for the first time. We didn’t want them to leave but lucky for us, it wasn’t long before we saw them again at the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan!

Koh Phangan hosts the infamous Full Moon Party which happen every full moon (again, obviously Liv) and we felt the need to experience one before leaving Thailand and boy am I glad that we did. The first one of the New Year was on January 12th, which also just so happened to be the exact time my oldest sister was coming to visit! We were also planning on meeting the same friends I mentioned above there along with a few other friends who just so happened to be traveling around Thailand at that time as well! We surprised our sister with a trip to the first full moon party of the year. She had been asking about the full moon party for months before coming but we told her that all celebrations were cancelled out of respect for the King’s passing. She believed us and when she arrived we told her about the surprise and she was stoked! However, she topped our surprise and surprised us with our little sister! My jaw was permanently dropped for about five minutes in the BKK airport when I saw her cute little face pop out from behind Madison and I think Jill cried she was so happy (Jill is a very emotional person). They were only staying for about ten days so we had a lot to jam pack into that short time frame. We (Abby, Jill, and I) requested two days off of school in order to go to Koh Phangan with my sisters and meet our friends. We had a very early 6am flight to Surat Thani on the day of the full moon party so we had to wake up around 3:30am in order to catch our flight. Again, we were super late to our flight and luckily caught it just in time for boarding. We were meeting one of our best guy friends from home there. He had just finished his birthright trip in Jerusalem and decided to extend his trip and visit us and travel around Thailand. From Surat Thani we took an hour bus to our ferry. The ferry was very nice and speedy. It took us about an hour to get from the pier to Koh Phangan. We had a total of five days to spend in Koh Phangan with them and it was perfect. We made the mistake of booking all four nights ahead of time at this REALLY shitty hostel called FUBAR..if you’re ever in Koh Phangan, DO NOT STAY THERE. We weren’t trying to book in advance but with an event like the Full Moon Party and it being the first one of the New Year, it was somewhat necessary, especially if you plan to go with a big group like we did. Most of the hostels we researched for that specific weekend made it so that we had to book them for a certain number of nights. In this situation, all the good hostels had a five night minimum stay, which we couldn’t do because we had to get back to Samut Prakan by Tuesday for work. FUBAR was the only hostel close to the action that could accommodate all of us, and it was on the cheaper side. It had no running water, the power kept going in and out, and the music (weird techno music I might add) stayed on until 10 the next morning. It was smelly and grungy in there and all of us hated it. The only perk to it was how close it was to the beach parties. We decided that we would stay there for the one night of the party (the only way we could dignify sleeping in that place was by passing out drunk so when we woke the next day we could get the fuck out of there) and then move to a nicer place the next day and see where the island takes us for the remainder of our trip. We figured that we’d go back to FUBAR later and try to get our money refunded. We never did because the manager was always conveniently “not in” any time anyone tried to go back. It was annoying and probably the only way this specific hostel makes any money but in the end we each lost $40 each but we weren’t too upset about it because it’s not a crazy amount of money. We definitely learned our lesson from booking in advance but like I said before, in certain situations, like ours, there really isn’t a choice due to all the restrictions. I’ve come to learn that there will always be somewhere to stay so it’s not super necessary to book in advance in most circumstances.

The Full Moon Party was insane. It was a lot like New Year’s in Koh Phi Phi-lots of fire dancers/shows, limbo, free shots, body/face painting, and water slides-just pure madness. We all stayed up until the next day, only sleeping for a few hours. I was incredibly hungover, I could barely eat. There were ten of us total, but only six of us had been staying at FUBAR. We all decided that we would ball out and move to the nicer side of the island and find a resort to stay at for a night or two. First we decided to rent motorbikes for the next two days to get around the island more easily. At first thought, the motorbikes seemed like a great idea, but once we got them they gave me the worst anxiety. It was only 250 baht a day to rent, super cheap. We rented four of them; two people got their own while the other four shared two. I was originally going to drive me and Abby, but after testing it out I felt uncomfortable being responsible for Abby’s safety and decided not to drive. Jill drove Abby and herself, my oldest sister, Madison, drove me; my younger sister, Sydney, and our friend, Mitch drove alone. Our other four friends shared two motorbikes as well. We had a crew. The first day we drove around exploring the island was amazing. The weather was perfect. The view of the endless ocean from the top of the mountains was incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed being on the back of the bike because I was able to take it all in without having to pay attention to the road and at night it was even better because I could look up and see all the glowing stars. We explored the island with our friends all day and by night fall stopped at a cute restaurant right on the beach to grab dinner. It was our last night with two of our college friends as they were off on their next adventure somewhere else in Thailand. We said goodbye to them, googled some resorts close by and off the six of us went. The trek to getting to the resort we chose was unreal. The road we were supposed to drive up looked like a landslide had struck it. Turns out, it was just a dirt road that they hadn’t yet paved. It was a straight up mountain with huge ruts and rocks jutting out. The only reason we decided to drive up it was because we saw a car coming down it (and honestly in Thailand nothing driving-wise is illegal and sketchy is somewhat normal). Once we got to the top of the road, safe and sound, our hotel was only a two minute drive away. Our hotel was everything compared to FUBAR. We got two rooms with two queen beds in each and split three and three in a room. The beds we so comfy and clean, the showers worked, we had air conditioning, the pool was beautiful, it was right on the beach and close to the cutest beach restaurants, and the most important thing it had was the COMPLEMENTARY AMERICAN BREAKFAST!!! The breakfast was the best breakfast I’ve had here yet, it actually tasted like home, so delicious. After breakfast the next day, we checked out and left our bags at the front desk unsure about staying another night there or not but regardless we’d be back to grab our bags to decide later that night. We met up with our friends and explored two waterfalls and a private beach. For sunset we all went to this amazing place called Amsterdam Bar. It was the highest peak in Koh Phangan with an incredible view. The place was packed. Luckily we managed to get a table and some cushions to sit on. They had some pretty big joints for 200 baht that everyone was smoking. We all drank a few beers while watching the sunset over the ocean. It felt like something out of a movie, just couldn’t believe I was with most of my sisters and best friends up in the clouds watching a gorgeous sunset over the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. After that we decided that we would stay another night at the resort (I think we all secretly agreed just to eat the breakfast one more time..well I hope that was everyone else’s reason too or else I’m sounding like a real fatty right now). We checked out by 11 the next morning and off we went exploring again. We had to leave the following morning so we went back to the party side of the island for the last day/night where our friends had their hostel and where we had to return our motorbikes. We found a new hostel that had individual bungalows and stayed in one that had six bunk beds in it which was perfect for all of us. We grabbed dinner on the beach which took hours (incredibly poor service and it was expensive) and then went to hang out and drink with our friends at their hostel across the street. This was our last time seeing them for two months because they are moving to Australia to work for a year but we’ll be visiting them there in the beginning of March for about a week before heading home! The journey home was interesting. The roundtrip ferry tickets that we had purchased before coming to Koh Phangan put us on a different ferry than we had taken to Koh Phangan. It was huge and SO slow and it took us to a different pier that where we got on. From there we had to take a two bus to the Surat Thani airport which all took way too long. Luckily we had some time to kill before our 4pm flight back to Bangkok. After that disaster, it was pretty much smooth sailing getting home. Once we got back Monday night, we had to work the rest of the week so we sent our sister’s to one of our favorite places, Koh Samet, since it was close and beautiful. They loved it and I was super jealous we couldn’t join them but I was happy that they were exploring on their own and enjoying themselves!

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New Year, New Island Adventure

Finally, a holiday that Thailand and the US both celebrate, New Years! The Thai culture celebrates the New Year like the American culture celebrates Christmas, lots of gift giving and time off. My students gave me tons of gifts, mostly cookies which is not helping the diet, a purse, a portable charger (my favorite), and food. That reminds me, a funny but pretty awkward thing happened to me on the last day of school before vacation. My Thai co-teacher tried setting me up with her son. My teacher had so many gifts from all of our students that she had her son, Name, come in to pick them up for her. This is when I briefly met him, exchanged some broken sentences and that was that. When he came back, he didn't know how to ask me in English for my number so his mom, my co-teacher asked for him. As you can imagine, I got pretty awkward but attempted to give my number anyway because I honestly have such an issue with saying no in these types of situations plus I didn't want to be mean. So after trying to figure out the Line app for about five minutes (this is what they use for text messaging here, it's weird) I gave him my number and then he left. Meanwhile, my co-teacher was absolutely giddy at the idea of me and her son together. She continued to tell me how he thinks I'm beautiful and how we are the same age...dropping some not so not to subtle hints. This was flattering and all but I'm content with my life the way it is right now. After that, Name messaged me a few times but it fizzled out as he doesn't speak (or write) English very well and I was a drunk for the next five days. Anyway, like I said, the school gave us five days off to celebrate the New Year holiday- so as you probably could’ve guessed, we packed our bags and headed back to the place where the party never stops- the islands. Surprisingly, we struggled with the decision of flying north to Chiang Mai or south to Koh Phi Phi to ring in the New Year properly. All of our friends were headed north but at this point Abby, Jill and I had only had a small taste of island life and it was too sweet to ignore. So, we decided that Koh Phi Phi was a more appropriate fit to celebrate the New Year due to the sole fact that it’s a guaranteed BEACH party all weekend long. Not to worry though, we also decided that Chiang Mai needs more than five days to fit in all the adventures we have planned, so we will be stopping there post “teacha” life.

Getting to Koh Phi Phi took some effort; we flew down to Phuket and from there, took a two hour ferry to Koh Phi Phi. The flight was early, 6am, so that meant an even earlier wake up call. We woke at about 3:45am in order to catch our flight with ease (the last thing we wanted was another Krabi incident). We only hit a small snag this time, which was that Jill’s boarding ticket had my name printed on it. We were border line freaking out because we thought this meant she didn’t have a ticket. We waited in line and when we got to the counter we explained our issue and presented her passport. Within seconds it was fixed, no questions asked, amazing! Once we landed in Phuket, we had to take a van to the ferry. We arrived to the ferry about an hour early so we planted ourselves down in what we thought was a good spot on the roof- we thought, ya know, get some sun with a nice breeze and a view- well we ended up baking in the sun and sweating our asses off waiting for the ferry to depart. Jill then decided to the bathroom on the ferry and came back shocked (again, typically this is normal due to the consistently disgusting bathrooms here) but not from the uncleanliness of the bathrooms but because she walked in on someone ass down naked in one of the stalls. We thought this was funny and thought nothing more of it. Once it finally did depart, the breeze was amazing and the view continued to become more and more amazing. The not so amazing part of the ride was definitely the two drunken British guys disrupting the peace, who later starting hitting on us and then continued to sit with us for the remainder of the ride -___- I don’t know what it is about us, but Jill, Abby and I seem to have a track record of attracting the exact people we try to avoid here in Thailand. Anyway, long story short (kinda), the two guys were traveling for holiday and had arrived in Thailand about 30 hours before our encounter. They had not slept and had been drunk since the plane ride to Thailand-I know, obnoxious already. By the time they reached the ferry they had “lost their mate” somewhere on the ferry or somewhere outside the ferry or in the ferry building, no one was sure. Of course we (and everyone else on the ferry) only knew this due to their incessant and unnecessary shouting to one another. One of the guys, Liam, was a lot more worried about his lost mate, as he spent the whole hour before the departure looking on and off the boat for him while the other guy (I forget his name) didn’t look once. At first, I thought this was hilarious, but it got old quick. Their mate had still not turned up by the time the ferry departed for Koh Phi Phi, but at this point they we not turning back for him. Meanwhile, Jill, Abby and I had a slight inkling that their missing mate was the one passed out in the women’s bathroom downstairs. Probably about half way through the ride, Liam came over to us and started asking us if we had seen his mate. We told him no and he continued to talk to us. He eventually made himself comfortable and sat with us. He made small talk, he was actually a pretty funny guy once we got to know him but definitely just wayyyyyy too much for us to handle. After their third or fourth Chang run, I went to the bathroom forgetting about Jill’s run in with the missing mate. I ironically chose the same stall as Jill did (okay maybe it’s not that ironic #samesame) because I was greeted by that same big butt (definitely not a woman’s butt). So, I went upstairs thinking that if I told Liam his mate was passed out ass up in the woman’s bathroom he would have to leave us alone and deal with his unconscious friend. Wrong. Instead, he insisted one of us show him because he didn’t want to look like a creeper in the woman’s bathroom. Jill volunteered and showed him and when they returned, Liam had a pretty hilarious video to show us of his mate passed out half naked in the “lou.” As we approached the Koh Phi Phi pier, the ferry floated past some incredible limestone cliffs jutted out of the water- it was so beautiful I couldn’t believe that this was my life for a second. Anyways, back to reality and trying to lose the two drunks as we made our way downstairs to get off the ferry. Losing them was actually easier than we thought it was going to be. They decided they needed to wait for everyone to get off the ferry so that they could help their unconscious mate (we were beyond happy about that decision). They got our information and asked to meet up at some point- we agreed and off we went with no intention of seeing them later on or at any other point of our stay on Koh Phi Phi. Luckily we only saw them once after that and dodged an interaction (phew!).

When we arrived on the island, our hostel was only a six minute walk from the pier, which I have come to really appreciate since being here because most places we have visited require an hour van ride to your destination. We stayed at Coma Hostel & Lounge which overlooked the breathtaking blue water and limestone cliffs- I’m not kidding; it literally looked like a green screen or a picture on the screensaver of my computer, just so beautiful! We didn’t realize how small the island of Koh Phi Phi was until we explored it later that day. We discovered there were no cars and only limited motorbikes on the island. Instead they use boat taxis or walk. To walk from one side of the island to the other (which we did many times) only took about ten to fifteen minutes. This was a VERY refreshing feeling, not having to waste money on getting around and anywhere we wanted to explore on the island was completely accessible by foot. The side of the island we stayed on was considered the “quite” side. It wasn’t all that quite but it was definitely more quite than the “party side” or the opposite side of the island. I was actually very happy that we unknowingly chose the “quite” side because it was an easy walk back at the end of a night partying and it was a nice break from the constant party music playing on the “party side.” So the “party side” was a beach lined with beach bars, restaurants, and pools where the party and music never stopped. The quite side was filled with more restaurants, massage shops, and private boat tours. Everything in between sides was bars, clubs, restaurants, and shops. They layout of the island really complimented its small size, making it feel much bigger.

The owners of our hostel were super cool. Jason was from Texas (again a refreshing break from the language barrier here) and his wife, Glite, was Israeli but she spoke good English. They were very accommodating and friendly, always making sure we were comfortable and having as good of a time as possible (aka offering us free shots multiple times a day). On our second day, our hostel was offering a deal with a private snorkeling tour-we obviously jumped at this opportunity. The snorkeling blew my mind. The water was crystal clear we could see everything. We fed the fish crackers which they ate right from our hands and had no problem swimming all around us and I loved every second of it. There was some incredible rainbow fish that were definitely my favorite. The private tour took us to three different islands around Koh Phi Phi. We snorkeled at each island for about an hour, explored some beaches, and even swam in a cave. I think this was my favorite part of the trip, I just don’t think much could top how beautiful the limestone cliffs are with the crystal blue water. Later that night we went to the “party side” to party (obviously) and meet people. On our way over we grabbed a Mai Tai bucket for 150 Baht (or $4, sorry still can’t get over the cheapness that is Thailand). We arrived at the beach and were instantly immersed in our first beach rave and it was awesome! We met a lot of really nice people from all over the world- Australia, Sweden, Canada, Brazil, and the US. The next night was New Year’s Eve and the beach was twice as packed with people as the night before. I don’t really remember much from this night due to one too many buckets but I can tell you it blew every other New Year’s Eve celebration I’ve been to out of the water. The rest of our time in Koh Phi Phi was spent swimming, sunbathing, drinking, partying, and eating-pretty great New Year holiday if you ask me! Koh Phi Phi is by far my favorite island I have visited thus far and I would highly recommend it to anyone reading this because you will definitely not regret a single minute of your time there!

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Thai Teaching Tips

Since my Bachelor’s degree is in psychology and not education, I knew there would be a lot of room for growth with my teaching. And I was right. The first semester of teaching abroad feels like you’re running your first marathon, without understanding how long a marathon is and what kind of stress your body will be under, and that’s just to get by. Then, when you think you’ve actually worked ahead, it turns out there are other things you have to do or should have already done. Maybe some of this is specific to my school, but I know that a lot of how I’ve felt this semester is due to my lack of experience while being in a new country with a different education system. 

You can’t apply the knowledge you have of school systems in America [or your home country] directly to the schools in Thailand. I can’t stress this enough: it is a different place — a different culture. The best thing you can do is to use any knowledge you have to ask questions about your job, your work, and the school’s expectations. Use your intuition and humble yourself to check in regularly. Never EVER assume; you have to go in and ask. You have to be direct without being rude or inconsiderate. This is an art that you will learn if you haven’t already. 

To the future teachers, my advice is to never credit your mistakes to the “lack of communication” in Thai culture. Perhaps you’ll get the momentary impulse to push the blame somewhere else in the eyes of self-preservation, but don’t. This will fester in you like a poison and ruin, not only your experience, but your perspective of Thailand… and people here will notice your negativity. Aggravation and stress are stark in the “Land of Smiles.” When it consumes you, it shows inevitably. It is always a two way street. Just as they could’ve told more, you could’ve asked more. While it’s ridiculous to expect one side to do all of the work, it’s rarely just one party’s fault.

By moving to Thailand, you have to humble yourself. Know that you’re challenging yourself. The head of the English department at my school [an American expat himself] told me that moving to a developing country to teach is harder than a Master’s program. This was a complete shock to me. I came here to take a break before grad school — to gain world experience and grow as a person — while trying to make a difference. I knew moving here would bring its own challenges, but I didn’t suspect it would be harder than what I was putting off. I certainly got what I came here for, with even a little bit more.

“You never lose; you either win, or you learn.” When you’re lucky, you get both.

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

-G

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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