Wow how the time has flown! Our experiences here in a completely different core country have been eye opening and vastly different from our experiences in Guatemala.
As we are reaching the middle point of the program things have been getting a bit harder for us all on TBB and we’ve each gone through a little bit of a “slump” of some sort individually at some point of our Thailand experience so far. It definitely doesn’t help that on November 28th Yasmin left the group to go home early. It was a very hard decision for her to make and even though we were all affected by it we also know that it was something she needed to do to start taking better care of herself. However, since then, as students we are working hard to build better support systems for one another and create an environment that fosters better mental health.
As of right now we are staying in the hills of northern Thailand in the province of Nan in a small Hmong village called Kun Sathan which is inside a beautiful national park!
We weren’t always up here in the cold northern mountains however, and so let me go back and do a quick recap of all our wild adventures so far.
After three straight days of non-stop travel (my personal experience filled with random, body covering hives on and off the entire time, but it’s fine now. I’m completely fine.) we arrived in Bangkok on November 15th. Jet lagged and exhausted, most of us fell right asleep without dinner. The next three days we had in Bangkok were jam packed with activity. We had Thai lessons, re-orientation, guest speakers from schools, went to a Muay Thai boxing class, visited the royal palace and surrounding temples, got tattoos and piercings, visited markets and immersed ourselves in the tourist culture.
On Sunday, November 19th we travelled an hour outside of Bangkok to the small communities of Sam Pran and Klong Chinda to spend two weeks with a host family there while shadowing and learning from teachers at the surrounding schools. Gwen and I are roommates for all of Thailand so we got thrown into a loud Thai family with no wifi and an energetic dog that only had three legs (I nicknamed him Gimpy). Those two weeks were quite possibly the hardest for me personally because of the sudden loss of communication with family and friends back home, not to mention the extreme language barrier Gwen and I were now facing at our homestay. Unlike other host families, ours did not know a word of English and didn’t use google translate to help. The first few days Gwen and I listened in silence straining to make out at least one recognizable word in the flurry of demands our mother or father would try to ask of us. This issue led to a big miss communication our first morning when we watched our host dad speak to our driver, who was supposed to pick us up and take us to our activities that day. After they talked, we then watched as our driver left without us. Fully confused and now stressed out we watched with apprehension as our host dad now seemed to be planning on taking us on his motorcycle (which is very much not allowed by TBB policy). We freaked out, looking at one another before deciding to call for help on our phone. After 15 more minutes of confusion we cleared things up as best we could and were taken to the event in the family car.
Worksite at the Sam Pran school was a totally positive and great learning experience for me, as I (along with Morgan) was paired with a very enthusiastic and extremely helpful English teacher that understood our purpose was to learn and help rather than teach and so incorporated us into her classes in all the right ways. She would explain everything she could to the best of her ability and answered all of our questions about everything, not only the Thai education system. She was interested in learning from us as well and so would ask us to compare her classes to our schools in America as well as ask us many questions about ourselves, our lives back home, and our time so far with TBB. Pi Doy was the best and I honestly miss her now as I am writing about my time with her.
We (all of TBB) went to a big shopping mall for Thanksgiving to go Christmas shopping, get access to wifi and therefore contact our families back home, and to eat a more “traditional” american meal. The shopping was nice, the wifi only worked for a few (so I didn’t contact home), and the american restaurant had a meager selections for vegetarians (which the majority of us are). This was probably the lowest point for me in terms of stress, homesickness, and loneliness. My host family situation proved more stressful than learning, I was only really communicating with my teacher at worksite and then the other TBB students at seminar, so I wasn’t getting enough extrovert time in, and I had not talked to or even emailed any of my family members at all since Bangkok. If things outside of that day had been different I probably would have had a better time. I know that the PLs were trying their best to make things better for us on an american holiday that Thailand doesn’t even know exists. They did a very good job with what resources were available and I know most of us really appreciated it.
Because of the stress and my poor mental health, that weekend I developed a fever and had to spend most of it in bed. During the evenings though, when I could muster the strength, our family took us to temples and restaurants and it was very nice to spend time like that with them. Over the next week Gwen and my relationship with them got better as they started using more hand gestures and we were picking up more and more Thai. As the home situation started to improve so did my spirits. Things were still stressful for me in Klong Chinda but they were starting to get better. After a cute goodbye ceremony with plenty of delicious food we left the community in optimistic spirits on Sunday December 3rd.
We flew to Nan (the name of the city and the province) and spent a night there. With our Bangkok-like freedoms back, Meg, Jen, and I ate dinner at the night market and then went shopping for cool souvenirs to gift to people back home.
That Monday we drove to Kun Sathan, stopping to be introduced to the teachers at each of the three schools we would be split up to work at along the way. Gwen and I work at the walkable, local school while the other two are a 45 minute drive down the mountain.
That night we moved in to our new host families and I was relieved to feel so much better about this one than the last. Although living conditions are far more simple and rustic, to say the least, our family seemed far more welcoming and could communicate with much more competent English, which, combined with Gwen and my improved Thai, allows for easy communication and understanding.
We live atop a steep hill that we have to climb up and slip down every day in order to go anywhere. But, this provides astounding views of the surrounding hills and farms along with beautiful sunsets, and at night an awe-inspiring view of the star filled sky. Every night we take bucket showers in the dirt floored bathroom with at least two, sometimes three, giant geckos, as long and fat as my forearm, watching from their perch in the space between the wall and the roof. They never break eye contact and nothing moves them from their post. After the initial shock of noticing this, I have come to expect their company. Better to deal with silent shower guests who eat bugs, than an abundance of annoying mosquitoes who would love to eat me. We fall asleep on matts that lay on the floor, while underneath a bright pink mosquito net, listening to the symphony created by our roosters, our three pigs that stay in pens right outside our room, stray dogs fighting over food, our host dad’s snores, our 13 year old host brother (named Chuu) practicing guitar in the room next door, and large geckos that randomly make clicking sounds to one another. In the mornings we wake up to most of the same sounds along with the sounds of passing trucks that blare strange Thai music or loud Thai speech that we’re told are community announcements, however Meg is convinced it’s propaganda (with little to no supporting evidence).
Unfortunately, my worksite experience has been less successful. Every single one of the past four worksite days here in Kun Sathan I have either been suddenly denied by the teacher I was meant to shadow and then spent the whole rest of the day trying to find a new one (this has happened twice), or the students don’t have school at all because they spend the entire day in an assembly celebrating that they have received donations from various different groups that come to be celebrated from different parts of the country (this has also happened twice). We also didn’t have school on Tuesday December 5th because of the King’s Birthday and again no school this past Monday (December 11th) because of some other holiday. Although I do appreciate learning about the school in the way it functions everyday with holidays and donations and such, it has been frustrating to not have a single solid day of teacher shadowing for the past two weeks. Especially when my last worksite experience in Sam Pran was so awesome. Today, finally, I am with the computer class teacher along with Gwen and we are learning what different age levels do in these classes and what they’re expected to learn on the computers while at school.
This upcoming weekend we have IST (Independent Student Travel) from the 15th to the 18th! All of us on TBB are going to Chang Mai even though we are going in separate groups and planning to do different things. Jen, Meg, and I are going to a hostel with netflix and planning on a relaxing spa weekend with our last day in Pai to go to some hot springs. It’s colder in Kun Sathan than the rest of Thailand. We have been wearing pants and jackets every day. So it will be very nice to go back to the warmth for a bit.
After IST, all of next week is the Hmong New Year so, naturally, our school is off that entire week (the only one out of the three schools TBB is going to for worksite). I have no idea what’s in store for us that week, but we plan to help teachers prepare, as it seems that most events are going to be hosted at this school, and celebrate with our host families.