a rainy day in the sunshine state and I'm only 5 days away from my
departure. It's a little wild isn't it? I've been waiting so long for this
day to come, and now it's so close I can almost taste the Pad Thai. Ha. Ha.
With everyday, I struggle a little more with the reality that I'll be saying
goodbye to my family and friends for an entire year. But with every new day
I gain confidence in myself and my fellow exchange students because I know
that this is truly our year to find ourselves and grow as young adults and I
know that we're ready to rock it.
With every goodbye I've said, I get this weird, almost bitter sweet, feeling
within me. Part of the feeling is pure ecstasy... I truly cannot explain to
anyone just how excited I am for this upcoming year, to put it plainly:
I.cannot.wait. Seriously. I can't. But there is also another part of the
goodbye that is not so sweet, the sadness the engulfs your body because you
realize that you won't see this person for another year... because you'll be
on the other side of the world with a "new life" while they are back at your
old high school, gossiping about who got caught sneaking off campus during
It's really hard to explain my feelings about all of this to the people who
ask me "how are you feeling?" Because I'm feeling every possibly feeling a
person could ever feel at this moment in time. People ask if I'm excited,
yes... of course I'm excited! I'm more than excited, I'm thrilled. Who
wouldn't be?! But I'm also a little nervous, a little scared, and a little
like, "what the hell am I doing?"
I can't say I'm ready, because I don't know what exactly I'm supposed to be
ready for. But I can say that I'm fully prepared to take in everything that
this next year throws at me, whether that be fried cockroaches or cute
exchange students from Latin America. I feel that Rotary has prepared me as
much as they possibly could, but now it is up to me to take what I've
learned and actually apply it to the real world. See you on the other side
of the world!
Iíve lived in the same town since I was born. In fact, Iíve lived in the
same house my entire life. So to say the least, leaving was weird. My flight
left at 8:49 A.M and I finished dying my hair at 6:30 A.M. Typical. I had
butterflies in my stomach, but not your normal butterflies more like, ďI
feel like I forgot somethingĒ butterflies. And in fact, I did. So after
realizing I left my blazer at home, my dad turned around and we went back to
my house so I could get my Rotary Blazer. Typical. When I got to the
airport, everything was a little hectic. Pictures, family, friends and of
course, 6940 (6940! Holla!) After saying my final goodbyes to everyone I
went through security. It was kind of a nice way to end things, I felt like
I was in some movie and this was ďthe final goodbyeĒ so I felt pretty rad.
About ĺís of the way through security I realized I still had Crystal
Curveyís C.D in my backpack. So I had to go back out of security and give
her the C.D back after having said my ďfinal goodbyesĒ to everyone. Typical.
Itís a good thing the Tallahassee Airport is the size of a school cafeteria.
With forgotten blazer in hand, I started the first day of the rest of my
36 hours later, I made my arrival in Bangkok, Thailand. Iíve been in Bangkok
for one month now. How am I feeling? Iím feeling weird. You would think that
after one month of living somewhere certain things would become normal to
you. But in fact, everything changes here. Nothing is ever the same and I
think thatís part of what makes Thailand so perfect; the bus schedule
changes every day, the price of food in the cafeteria changes by the minute,
the spicy-ness of a certain food from a certain vender changes, everything
here changes. But in another way, nothing changes at all. The people here
still hold to such old traditions and take pride in their culture. So for
this reason, nothing has become normal because itís all just so different
every time I look at it.
When I first got here, I didnít understand anythingÖ language was not the
first issue at hand. After being here for a month, I can happily say that I
am learning some of the ins and outs of Thai culture. With that being said,
I still have not figured out why there is a high pressure hose in most
bathrooms here. Iím not sure if I want to find out.
Hereís a warning to other exchange students: not everyone has a honeymoon
period. While it might seem like everyone is having the time of their lives
their first month, we are all still having our own difficulties. You will
make a lot of mistakes that you will probably want to apologize forÖ but
unfortunately, you wonít be able to apologize because you donít know how to
apologize since you donít speak the language well enough to explain
yourself. But in the words of the Thais, ďmai pen lai.Ē This literally
translates to ďno worries.Ē Itís okay!
Letís talk about school.
First and foremost, school rules. My first day went something like this: get
to school. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath after you realize
that thereís only one other person for the next 5 miles that looks anything
like you, and sheís from Minnesota. Get out of car, walk ten steps and hear
the word ďfarangĒ yelled out, take another five steps and here it yelled out
again with ďsoo-ii mai?Ē added onto the end, and then, another 20 steps
towards Amelia, the other exchange student at my school. I then quickly
came to the realization that the words, ďfarang soo-iiĒ would forever be
embedded in my name. These words arenít bad though, actually, theyíre very
nice, farang is basically Ďwhite personí and soo-ii means beautiful. But
never the less, I hear them about 10 times a day.
My mom took about 15 photos of me and Amelia with our ďnew friendsĒ (who we
had literally said two words to us before taking said pictures with us.) It
reminded me of home except my mom in Thailand doesnít accidently turn off
the camera when she tries to take a picture. Anyways, our first day went
really well and I think that both Amelia and I
have fully adjusted to ďschool life.Ē
Sometimes my teachers donít show up, actually, most of the time my teachers
donít come to class. All the kids in my class have large pillows that they
keep at school so that they can sleep comfortably in class. Everyone can use
their phone in class. And just like in America, the teachers donít want
students to cheat, except here in Thailand the teachers beg their students
not to cheat. When I (try to) speak Thai I get giggles and claps from Thai
students. Thai school is hilarious.
The cafeteria at my school is awesome, itís no wonder no one goes off
campus. Thereís about 20 food stalls with everything from a fried chicken
stand, to a fruit stand, to a noodle stand. Most meals are about 40 cents
and are of course given to you with real dishware (seriously, the glass
dishware thing still blows my mind.)
I take a boat home from school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And by
boat, I mean, one bus, two boats, a five minute walk and then a car home.
Iíve grown to love it. Without going into too much detail, I got very lost
my first day using the boat. Normally, it takes two hours, 35 baht, 3 modes
of transportation, and 0 strangers. This time, it took four hours, 200 baht,
5 modes of transportation, 6 strangers and one confused exchange student in
Last weekend, I went to Ayutthaya with two other exchange students.
Ayutthaya was Thailandís second capital and is magnificent. The old city of
Ayutthaya is made of ruins left over from Ayutthayaís rain and lots of old
temples. While we were at the floating market in Ayutthaya, we tried a fish
spaÖ if you havenít heard of this, you should look it up right now.
Basically, you put your feet into a fish tank and little fish bite off the
dead skin on your legs and feet. Sounds interesting, fun and relaxing right?
Wrong. I have never been in so much pain due to laughing in my entire life,
but it the experience was totally worth it. The temples at Ayutthaya were so
beautiful. Iíve seen so many temples since Iíve been here but I think
Ayutthayaís temples take the cake.
I got picked up by an elephantís trunk. No big deal.
Hereís a list of things I donít understand:
Why everyone at my school has the same pair of shoes, but me and Amelia
seem to be the only ones who get our shoes stolen.
Why there are high pressure hoses in the most bathrooms here.
Why the bus schedule is never the same.
Why my bus is never the same bus.
Why my boat seems to leave at a different time every day.
Public transportation in Thailand.
Why black pens are never used.
The difference between insulting someoneís mother and saying the number
5 (these tones are a killer.)
With all of this being said, I love it here. Talk to you next time!
Ayutthaya, Thailand's second capital.
a science field trip posing with a group of friends from school
the "Fish Spa".
Getting picked up by an elephant at a school field trip. No big
a floating market with my some of my sisters feeding the fish!
October 10, 2011
Last weekend I found myself exercising on the beach with 40 other Asian
teenagers at 6:30 in the morning. Today, I sat on a public bus, sweating
until I was stuck to the seat, in fear that my bus was the wrong bus and
that I had actually taken a bus into a different city. Last Tuesday, I met a
man who has spent the last 12 years of his life searching for ďthe best
waves in the world,Ē he was completely content with the fact that he didnít
have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, because the waves were worth his
thirst. Yesterday, I went to a wat with about 150 Thai people, each carrying
around 108 boiled eggs for good luck.
These are all things that I would never imagine myself doing during my
sophomore year of high school, but apparently, Iím doing them. I wonít lie
to you; my first month was far from perfect. Adjusting to a culture so
different from your own is scary but in the same way, itís invigorating.
Youíd be surprised what you find out about yourself when youíre stripped of
everything youíve ever known.
I chose Thailand because I thought that Bali, Indonesia was in Thailand,
and I knew that I liked Thai foodÖ a lot. Because of this, it is safe for
you to assume that I had no former knowledge of the Thai language before I
got involved in Rotary. After finding out that I would be spending my
exchange year in a country that speaks a language with 5 tones and
therefore, 5 meanings for each word, I started my research. Thirteen guide
books later, a rotex appeared at my door, in his hands was my new bible. I
mean, my new Thai to English dictionary. Chris Foley (outbound Thailand
09-10), you will never know how much this bible has influenced my life. My
Thai to English dictionary has been duct-taped, it has been soaked by the
precipitation of my water bottle, and later blow dried clean, it has been
painted on, and is missing more than a few pages but, this is one of the
best souvenirs I will have from my exchange.
My first month and a half was spent panicking; I had decided that I would
never learn Thai and that the tones were all too difficult for my pre-mature
brain to comprehend. Learning a new language is exhausting, and at times, I
want to give up but then I remember that this is all a part of exchange, and
I will appreciate all of the stressful hours of studying in the end. I have
memorized The Lizzie McGuire Movie, 13 Going On 30, and High School Musical
in an effort to learn Thai. Watching movies in Thai with English subtitles
has helped tremendously. This isnít to say that my language isnít
progressing, it is. Yesterday, I realized that I can express myself in Thai,
and that on occasion, I can understand what people say. This in itself was
the most gratifying feeling Iíve had since Iíve been here.
Today I stopped to help some lost farangs, they asked me where the bus
stop was for bus 1 was. I looked back at them like they had just asked me to
solve a calculus problem using a monkey as my calculator. Then I realized
that they were just innocent farangs who had no idea how the Thai bus system
worked. I pointed to the closest corner: where my bus had just stopped, and
showed them how to hail down their bus. They then looked back at me like I
had just asked THEM to solve a calculus problem using a monkey as THEIR
calculator. I explained as best I could, my interpretation of the bus system
and how I thought that they might have better luck taking a boat, but, they
were reluctant and wanted to try the bus. I suggested that if they did end
up lost in Bangkok due to the bus, that they look at it as a blessing and
that they just laugh, because I know from experience that in moments like
these, the best thing to do is laugh. I hope that all ended well for these
Since Iíve been here, Iíve learned to be patient and just accept things
for what they are. Thai people are incredible, they donít mind waiting an
hour or two for an appointment and they see no problem in sitting in
traffic. They just accept it, they know theyíll get there at some time, and
if they miss something, then maybe they werenít supposed to see it anyways.
They donít mind when people cut them off in traffic and they see no problem
in stopping at a 7/11 half-way through their road-trip home even if this
means waiting an extra 30 minutes trying to get out of the 7/11 parking lot.
I donít know how to say this more plainly: Thailand is crazy. Nothing
makes sense, but everything makes sense. I really love all the silly things
that happen here. I love all of the Thai people that speak English to me,
and I love how street vendors have English phrases memorized so perfectly.
Yesterday, a street vendor got me to buy a tie, I didnít like this tie
very much, but the woman was too amusing with her English phrases to not buy
a tie from. The conversation went something like this:
Street vendor: oh! Youíre beautiful! Buy a tie! Do you have a boyfriend? I
bet you do. He would like a tie! He would love a tie! I think he would like
this tie! Or do you think he would like this tie? This one is more
Amber: uh.. uhÖ no, mai mee fan (I donít have a boyfriend) uh, uh, I...I was
Street vendor: so you would like a tie? These ties are the best! Much better
than the ties at Siam Square! You should buy this tie! Youíre beautiful! Buy
a tie! These ties are the cheapest and the best! Here, I show you!
(un-ravels all ties on tableÖ) Arenít they beautiful?
Amber: (touches tie)
Street vendor: Okay! You buy this one, chai-mai? Okay! Great! Great! 200
baht! Okay! Youíre beautiful! You want two ties? I give you two ties for 350
Amber: uh. Uh. Uh.
Street vendor: okay! One tie for you! Your boyfriend will love this tie! Iím
So now I have a tie.
A list of things I love:
I love noodle shops on the side of roads, I love pretending that I donít
speak English and forcing store-keepers to speak with me in Thai. I love the
exchange students in Thailand, and I love all of my Thai friends. I love
using public transportation, even if that means hailing my bus. I love
getting lost on my way to meet up with friends. I love the two elderly Thai
men that play make-shift chess outside of my SkyTrain station. Every day at
2:30, the men enjoy a game of chest played on a small piece of ply-wood with
a chess board drawn by a Sharpie marker; they use rocks and random chest
pieces to conduct their game. They share a drink while sitting on a counter
of a store barefoot and with their shirts un-buttoned; their wives stand
around them, laughing at their childish-antics when the game gets too
I think that Thailand took a lot of adjusting to. The culture here is,
different. The language is different. The people look different from me. The
seniority system is different. Their style is different. Everything is
different. But, with all of this being said, this has been the best
opportunity that has ever come my way and I could not be happier.
Adjusting to a culture so different from your own is scary but in the
same way, itís invigorating.
November 22, 2011
Meet your new flood evacuee! I write this to you from my corn farm with
my 15 pet dogs sitting around me. I began my exchange in a city that's
population of 9.3 million people. I am now thirty minutes from a town with a
population of 1,000... Isn't it funny how much things can change in just a
few months? It's been a crazy month. I'll try to keep all of this short: I
left Bangkok October 18th with plans to return in one week, that Friday I
was told that I would be going to a Culture Camp at a Zoo with my district
for two weeks because the flooding in Bangkok was worsening and most of our
houses were beginning to flood. After the camp, the Rotary here decided to
take us on our Northern Bus trip early to further escape the flooding
situation. Our North Trip lasted until November 11th, on that day 20 of the
32 of us were told that we would be moved to emergency homes throughout
Thailand. Myself, and the other American hosted by my Rotary club were moved
to a corn farm about 1 hour outside of Lop Buri (a town about 2-3 hours
north of Bangkok) and we were told that we would stay here for about a week.
The next news came from our district chair advising us to be aware that we
could be at these new houses for one week to two months. For me, it appears
that I will be here for about two months or longer.
My first host family's house is flooded 60 cm (about two feet), my second
is flooded 80 cm and my third is flooded 180 cm (that's about as tall as
Larry D. I think...) So it seems that I won't be going home anytime soon. To
get to any of my houses, you have to take a NAVY boat and then a separate
boat to actually get into my house. With that being said, I have not been
home since October 18th because Rotary has tried to keep us out of the
flooding. There are some people who have returned to Bangkok because they
live in the central district which is predicted to not flood (for if it does
the Thai economy might just... follow the path of the US economy?!
They never told me about this at our Rotary Conferences!
One of the most amazing things about my "memorable" and "special"
exchange year is that I've been able to see the culture in a new light. A
new way of seeing how a different culture handles a national crisis such as
this. And trust me, it's very different. The Thai people are still smiling
and moving on, and slowly but surely, rebuilding their houses and lives as
much as they can. I've also learned a valuable lesson, every bit of money
you donate to disaster relief goes somewhere. Being here, I see just how
much every bit of help counts. Shelterbox has donated 250 boxes to Thailand
as of early November and they will continue coming. It is the coolest thing
to see an organization that works hand in hand with RYE out in the field and
seeing people benefiting from it. Last year my district fund raised money
for a Shelterbox (6940 REPPIN!) ours will be sent out on December 5th, so it
might end up coming to Thailand! Future outbounds, take this as a hint to
get involved with Shelterbox this year, you never know... it might be your
country that needs it!
While the flooding has not made for the easiest exchange ever... it has
made it memorable. I had been told numerous times that by 3 months, you
should feel adjusted to your new city, home and school. My third month
wasn't spent the "normal way" but it was special and I think that these next
two months or so will be just as special and memorable.
They told us it would be stressful at times, challenging and rewarding.
Never did I think my stress would come from something like this though.
While this isn't the most ideal situation for an exchange student to be in
the middle of, I'm in it and I'm swimming. I never could have imagined that
something of this sort would happen to me (seriously, 20 students out of the
thousands and thousands Rotary sends every year have been heavily effected
by a natural disaster this year... and one of those 20 happens to be yours
truly, crazy!) I am still so thankful for this year and everything that
Rotary Youth Exchange has provided me with. With all of these things going
on around me, I still find time to sit back and think about just how special
this year is to me.
In conclusion, I am alive and I am still in Thailand, that's good enough
for me. I know the flood has left the news a little but if you want to see
what the people of central Thailand are facing right now you can look at
The town my school is in on November 15th
A friend's house in my area.