Back in America

27 10 2011

First and foremost, I would like to apologize. I know it has been quite a while (over a month) since my last entry. I don’t usually go that long without writing and I know I have a bunch of followers who have been waiting for this particular entry … so my apologies.

I would like to say the reason for the delay was because of my lack of internet connection for a few weeks, my frantic attempts to get settled and find a job, or my multitude of engagements with family and friends, but in all honesty, I’d be lying. Simply put, I just haven’t been ready.

Usually blog entries are a means of relaxation for me. Putting words to paper has always been a way for me to clear my thoughts and find an inner peace of sorts. That sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Writing has always had that effect on me. The thought of writing this particular blog entry, however, has caused me more anxiety than it has inner peace … so I’ve just put it off, waiting for my emotions to settle and the newness of the recent changes to wear off. It took a month, but now I feel ready. So, here you are.

As I have already shared with some of you, and others of you have heard through the grapevine, I have terminated my service as a Peace Corps volunteer and returned to Seattle. As I made this decision and began informing people of my new move, I was faced with two very different reactions. The first group of people immediately wanted to know why. I found it difficult to face these people because in all honesty, I don’t really have an answer to that questions. I know what my gut tells me but aside from that, it’s just a big jumble of lots of reasons, none of which stand out more than any other … it was just what I needed to do.  The second group of people didn’t ask why; instead, they told me that the why didn’t matter and that I didn’t have to explain anything to them. I found this group difficult to face as well because I have this overpowering need to do just that … explain my actions, justify my decisions, make people understand.

The truth is that I loved Thailand. I love the country, the people, the culture, the food, the sights, the traditions, the weather. I loved it all. Unfortunately, amongst all that love of my new lifestyle, I was placed in a job that didn’t turn out to be what I went there to do. I will not speak negatively about the Peace Corps. I think it is an amazing organization that does incredible things. I also won’t speak negatively about my community. They were equally incredible and I love and miss them all very much. Even so, my particular experience turned out to be less than ideal. It happens.

As a young female, I was at the bottom of the totem pole and my ideas and projects were rarely heard. My community had separate goals that didn’t match the reasons why I was there. My counterparts did not quite undersetand my job and I didn’t have the proper language to effectively alleviate this lack of understanding. I went to a job every day and came home every day but I did very little in between. It just got to a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m a goal-oriented person and the goals of the program were not being met. I couldn’t justify staying in Thailand on the government’s dime if I wasn’t doing the job they hired me for. That, and a number of other random reasons is what brought me home.

Now, a lot of people have told me over my nine months of service and this first month home that just being in Thailand and being in my community was making a difference. Just walking the streets, talking to people, being in the classrooms, and being a part of their lives, was making a difference. I do agree with these people. I’ve learned so much from my community and they learned so much from me. However, I am still disappointed. I still went there with a job to do and I didn’t fulfill it. I won’t call it failure because as I said, I learned so much and so did they. I am a completely different person today than I was when I left in January and I would like to believe that everyone I met is slightly different because of the interactions I had with them. Deep down though, I will always wish that my impact could have been bigger.

As for Thailand, I will go back; there is no doubt of that. I will go back and visit my host family and the amazing people of my village. I will return to Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Phuket, and will explore additional areas that I didn’t get a chance to see. I will eat the food gain, visit the temples again, walk and talk with the people again. Thailand will forever be a part of my life – my second home if you will – and I do not regret even for a second my decision to go in the first place … I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

But for now, it is time for me to be here in Seattle. It is time to pursue my next journey … and life is good. I am back in the job I was in prior to leaving (and loving it), I am currently living with Cory and spending time with family and friends. Life is good. That’s all I can ask for.

I will forever look back on my service with nothing but fondness. It was not easy nor was it always paradise, but in the end, it was the most incredible experience of my life.

Kitung mak mak bpratet Thai. Ja grap bpai laao, jing jing. Rak mak.

On a side note, I am sure that you all have heard about the devastating flooding that hit Thailand just after I left.  It has affected thousands upon thousands of people and has ravaged much of the country. My first three months of service were spent in Ayutthaya, the old capitol, and the area most devastated by the flooding. The community were I lived is under water. My home stay family and the families of all the other volunteers are of out work, out of their homes. Many have lost everything. The volunteers still serving in Thailand along with those of us who have already returned home are working hard to raise money to help these families who took us in, fed us, taught us, and helped us become successful volunteers. If you are interested in donating, please visit http://ayutthayaflooding.wordpress.com for details. All donations (excluding transactional fees) will go direction to our home stay families and the surrounding community. Every dollar helps.





September 11th: Ten Years Later

10 09 2011

Tomorrow is September 11th, what I believe to be the single most defining day in the lives of my generation. For the first eighteen years of my life this date meant nothing. It was just another day to wake up, go to school, and live my everyday life. But on this day, exactly ten years ago, the lives of all Americans changed forever, including mine.

I remember exactly where I was that day. I was a senior in high school and I was on my way to pick up one of my jump rope girls who I drove to school every morning. She came running out of the house as she did every morning. She got in the car, I said hello, and the next words out of her mouth were, “A plane just hit a building!”

I laughed.

My first reaction to this news was to laugh. Who had ever heard of a plane hitting a building … especially in the middle of New York City? She said she had heard it on the radio but didn’t know any details.

We pulled into the parking lot at school, walked through the front doors, and the world around us came crashing down. The remainder of my day was spent in my homeroom class watching television. Classes had been cancelled and we were allowed to watch the events unfold in front of us. We watched as the second plane hit. We watched as terrified Americans jumped out of the windows while others roamed the streets covered in ash and rubble. We watched then cry. We watched them mourn. We watched our entire country change before our eyes.

On the one year anniversary, I was a freshman in college. I remember a very large memorial on the lawn of La Plata where students gathered with tea candles and names of those who were lost were read aloud. I remember sitting with some of my friends, a few of whom were from New York, and I remember crying. I remember feeling lucky that I was from Seattle and knew no one who was in the buildings, or even in the city. My friends were not so lucky. I remember feeling just as sorrowful that day as I had one year before.

The next year I was a sophomore in college and a Resident Assistant. A football game happened to fall on September 11th that year. I had ribbons printed with the date. I remember cutting them, folding them, and pinning them. I remember recruiting many of my friends to help pass them out to people entering the stadium. We handed out nearly 1,000 and they were worn throughout the game. I remember thinking that wasn’t enough, we should have done more. I remember being sad then too.

After that, I don’t remember. I don’t remember what I did on the third, fourth, or fifth memorial. I don’t remember what I did on any of the following either. I wish that I did. I wish that it remained just as important to me as it was those first two years. I wish I had done something important and meaningful on those days as well.

This year marks the ten year anniversary and this year it seems more poignant for me, as emotional as it was when it happened and on that first and second anniversary. This year, I’m in Thailand. This year I’m away from friends, family, loved ones who were also affected by these events. I am surrounded by my Thai community who has no idea how important and meaningful this day is for me. I’m sure they are aware of the events of September 11th, but they didn’t live through it. They didn’t mourn. Their lives were not changed. On a day like today, I would love to be surrounded by Americans, by individuals feeling the same emotions I am. It’s difficult to be away.

I am still trying to figure out what I am going to do tomorrow. I want to honor the day in some way, but it will be difficult amongst a community that doesn’t quite understand and to which, with my limited language skills, I cannot explain. The director of the Peace Corps has issued a moment of silence for all volunteers at 8:46am, marking the moment of the first plane crash in Pennsylvania. I will be taking part … I wish that I could do more. I wish that I could stand up tomorrow and somehow proudly be an American.

And to my friends and my family, I love you. Days like today remind me how short life is and how important it is to let the important people in your life know how much you care. You never know when someone might be taken from you, and as my amazing sister told me just the other day, you should never leave anything unfinished. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the best of terms or the worst of terms, it is still important for everyone to know how much you care.

So, Mom, Dad, Meghan, and Nancy, I love you all more than you could ever know. Your support means the world to me and I miss you every day.

Cory, through thick and thin, you will always be my best friend. In the grand scheme of things, our friendship outweighs all else. I love you.

The rest of my family, you are the best family a girl could ask for. We have our quirks, but that’s what makes us who we are. I love you all, too.

The rest of my friends, you have made me the person I am today. You have supported me, guided me, made me laugh, given me incredible memories. I don’t know what I’d do without you.

My PCVs, thank you for sharing this experience with me. You have changed my life in ways you may never know. I am so thankful that you all are a part of my life. Choke dii.





Personal Growth

8 09 2011

There are many reasons that I wanted to come to Thailand. I wanted to travel the world, help others, learn a new culture and a new language. I wanted to meet new friends who had the same ambitions as me. I wanted to try new food, see amazing sights, and make incredible memories. Most importantly though, I think my biggest goal was personal growth.

There is no way that someone can go on this type of adventure and not grow as a person. We are thrown into a brand new world and expected to survive. We pull up personality traits and survival tactics we never knew we had. We spend days upon days alone in our heads reflecting on life, ourselves, the world. It’s impossible to do all of these things and not change.

I was very excited about the prospect of all of this change. I have been actively working on myself as an individual for a few years now, trying to find myself and who I am supposed to be … more importantly, defining who I want to be. I was so thrilled to come on this adventure and make great leaps and bounds toward those goals. For the most part, I think I have been successful.

I look at myself today and see a completely different person than on day one of this adventure. The girl that walked off the plan on January 12th of this year is not even close to the one you would see standing in front of you today, nearly eight months later. I am more confident, more independent, more resilient. I am more creative, more insightful, more accepting. I am more open to the world around me and more in tune with the person inside me. I have grown in so many ways and changed in so many others. I am proud of that.

All this change though can be difficult.

In Thailand, I live in this world alone. I do not share my daily life with anyone. I see my fellow volunteers from time to time, but those experiences are not indications of “the norm”. We get together in Bangkok, go crazy, and then head back to site. The daily me – the one who gets up, goes to work, interacts with the community, cooks food, writes lesson plans, watches movies, reads books, updates her blog – is a person no one gets to see. I am in my own world. I live an individual life.

I notice these changes in myself on a regular basis and I am proud of them. However, I do not get to share them. The volunteers here have only ever known “this” me. The changes are not drastic to them and let’s face it, they don’t notice the changes because they are too busy noticing their own. The people back in America have no idea either. They have no way of understanding just how far I have come or just how different I am. I can explain until the cows come home but until I head back, start my life again there, and share this person with the world, they will never know.

I wish they could know. I wish my friends and family back home could be flies on the wall of my life for a few days, watching me work, interact, and live. I wish they could see these changes, and more importantly, I wish they could validate them. I wish they could tell me “wow, you have come such a long way!” That would do a lot for me in this situation. We question all the time whether this experience is worth it, whether we are doing anything useful here, whether this is where we belong. I think validation of personal growth would help a lot of us, make us realize how much this experience has already impacted us and how much further we have to go.

Whether I ever receive that validation or not I will continue to work on myself every single day. If I have learned one thing in Thailand, it’s that you never stop learning, never stop growing, never stop changing. I look forward to that.





Sports Day … Scratch that … Week.

7 09 2011

I haven’t been teaching much the last few weeks. Granted, I don’t teach much at all anyway, but the last few weeks in particular I haven’t spent a solid amount of time in the classroom. I could tell you it was because of teacher meetings, which it often is. I could tell you it was because of holidays, but August and September are sadly lacking in those. No, the reason for this particular jaunt of classless school is Sports Day.

I should start by explaining that Sports Day isn’t actually a day … it’s a week. Sports “Week” starts this Friday and carries through the end of next week. Nine schools come together from around the area to take part in what I would refer to as a giant field day. Students have put together teams in four different sports – volleyball, soccer (football here), petange (the Thai version of Bocci ball), and degraw (think three person volleyball with a low net and you can only use your feet). For six days students will come together and play their hearts out for awards, trophies, and let’s face it, fun!

The reason I haven’t been teaching much is because Sports Day in this country is serious business. At one school my entire schedule was altered to accommodate sports day. Each class was shortened by ten to fifteen minutes to give students over an hour at the end of the day to practice. At the other school, classes were not cancelled but students regularly stepped out of class for team meetings, practices, and uniform selection. There are even some intermission shows! My particular favorite is the hoola hoop routine that my co-teacher has been working on with the anubaan (preschool) students. It’s adorable.

I should care about this thought right? The whole not being in class and not teaching thing? Well, I guess for some people this might be a huge frustration. Back in the states complaining about sports overriding academics is kind of a routine thing. Here though, I’m pretty content with it. More days than not, my students are not in the classroom, and for much sillier reasons than this! I’m thrilled that this particular reason is justified and includes at least some redeeming factors – working on hand-eye coordination, teamwork, determination, and obviously hoola hooping is a plus too.

Not to mention, I think next week is going to be just plain fun!





Thank You to My Readers!

30 08 2011

A funny thing happened today. I was working on my new cooking blog and as I tinkered away on my WordPress dashboard, I realized that there was a significantly detailed stats section! I have noticed the stats table before, a table that tells me how many ‘hits’ I have received on a given day. What I didn’t realize was that I can click on the bars on the graph and it takes me to a more detailed page. I guess you really do learn something new everyday!

Anyway, seeing as though this blog has been up and running much longer than my cooking blog and has received far more hits than my other blog, I decided to check out those stats and see what’s been going on.

I was thrilled to realize that I have quite a steady following! I’ve always known that my family and friends check out my blog every once and while, but the numbers for this blog were far higher than I ever expected. Take yesterday for example. According to the statistics, I had fifty-seven hits! Granted, that counts each page someone clicks on including photographs, but seriously, 57 in one day?

Additionally, the stats page gives me cool information about where my viewers are coming from. It tells me referring websites like Twitter (my new obsession), Facebook, email, etc. It also tells me the click came from a Google search and if so, what the viewer typed in to have my blog some up. Sometimes it’s something random like “Non-Verbal Communication in Thailand” and my blog comes up because I have a blog post titled “Non-Verbal Communication”. But, other times, the actual search that the person typed in on their own was “Kylene in Thailnad” … how crazy is that?!

So, long story short, I just want to thank my followers for actually reading my blog. I started this blog as a means to tell my family and friends all about what is going on in Thailand and for the most part, that’s what it still is. I’ve gained some other random followers along the way and obviously have followers I never knew about. It’s very nice to know that the time and effort I put into this thing is actually being appreciated by some people way out there.

So, thank you! I promise to have another Thailand related post up soon 🙂





Oh, Thailand

28 08 2011

Oh, Thailand.

You’ll hear this phrase a lot amongst Peace Corps Volunteers in Thailand. This is the phrase we use to explain, deal with, brush off, justify, and most often accept, something that has happened that we attribute to the fact that we are, well, living in Thailand. This can range from receiving a random bag of oranges from someone we’ve never met on our bike ride home from school to a random three day trip to Cambodia when we just thought we were going to a wedding down the street.

No matter what the event, circumstance, or adventure, we all explain it away with that one simple phrase.

Oh, Thailand.

After seven months in Thailand (and counting), the list of things that require such a phrase has grown long. There are dozens upon dozens of daily occurrences and random phenomenons that we have accepted as a part of our world.

My friend Ellie posted a long list of some of these humorous things in the form of “You know you’re in Peace Corps Thailand if …” I know she won’t mind that I’m re-posting, and if she does … well, I’ll buy her some chocolate or some cheese 🙂

So here it is. I hope it gives you some insight into our world and makes you smile a bit, too … and Ellie, if you’re reading this, I combined some things off your list of “Ellie realizations” into the main list because I happen to agree with them, too 🙂

For Ellie’s blog post, click here!

You Know You’re in Peace Corps Thailand If …

  • You encounter random bugs, lizards, spiders, etc., during your morning shower and instead of screaming you politely smile and say “Hi, Friend!”
  • You feel a certain type of wind or breeze and you run outside to collect your drying clothes because you know it’s going to rain in 5 minutes … and you’re always right.
  • You think, utensils? Why use utensils when God/Buddha gave you 2 very capable hands?
  • You find ants in your sugar, cereal, etc., and eat it anyways. It’s protein, right?
  • You start talking to the cats/dogs in Thai.
  • You also check to see if they understand English.
  • You have a pet too-kay (lizard) and you’ve named him.
  • You repeat “too-kay, too-kay” after it makes it’s noise (exactly like the name sounds).
  • You’ve eaten at least 5 kinds of bugs on a regular basis and it isn’t even worth mentioning anymore because it’s such old news (luckily this one does not pertain to me! … yet.)
  • You realize you don’t actually know English grammar as well as you thought you did … or perhaps you’re just forgetting everything now that you’re speaking Thai all the time.
  • No matter what you’re good at (washing laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning dishes), the Thais are better and more than willing to do it for you.
  • You’re willing to let them to avoid an argument in broken English/fast Thai.
  • You use Thai phrases, in Thai, when speaking to your American family/friends (sorry guys!).
  • You don’t mind when someone is 45 minutes late to an appointment because you just showed up ten minutes ago yourself.
  • You miss having rice because you’re eating “farang food” (foreigner food)…which actually means you’re eating pizza with shrimp, corn, and hot dogs on it with ketchup as a dipping sauce.
  • You don’t remember the last time you used toilet paper in the bathroom and you’re okay with that.
  • You see a motorcycle with two adults and two children and your first thought is that there is room for more.
  • You think mangoes are better when they are not ripe.
  • You have to shower at least two times a day (three times is preferable).
  • You recognize the only answer to “How are you?” is “fine”. Never happy, sad, good, etc.
  • You accept that corn and black beans are adequate toppings for ice cream.
  • You don’t mind talking about your digestive system and diarrhea is second nature.
  • You are stunned when there is actually a full five day school week.
  • You have an overnight bag packed and readily available because you know that “trip to the market” could turn into a three day trip to Cambodia.
  • You see those little lottery briefcases and desperately want to buy a ticket!
  • You use an umbrella to walk anywhere because in Thailand it’s not cool to be tan.

I’m sure the list could go on and on, but I”ll leave you with that … maybe in another seven months I’ll give you a new list!





Weekends at Site

27 08 2011

I love weekends in Thailand. More specifically, I love weekends in Thailand at my site. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a good bai-tiao on my days off; I’m living in a tropical country and have to take full advantage of all the amazing things I have in my area. However, there is nothing like settling in for a weekend at home.

So far, that’s what I have been doing this weekend … and it has been great.

Fridays are technically not a weekend day, but given that I don’t have any community projects yet, there isn’t really much for me to do. Often I take the time to roam around my village/community, chat with people, see what’s going on. This week I chose to have some down time. It’s been a rough week; I wanted to regroup and take some time for myself.

I started off the day by sleeping in and cooked my first Thai recipe around noon. I updated my blog in the early afternoon and spent the rest of the afternoon hours reading my book and napping. My evening was spent watching movies and chatting with friends, both in Thailand and back in the states. All in all, it was a wonderfully lazy day.

Today, I slept in a little bit and then got myself out of bed to visit the Saturday morning market in town. Before this, I had never actually made it to the market on my own. The two times I had been were back in April when I accompanied my host mother. My trip today was fantastic. I wandered down the line of booths, bought some ingredients for the day’s Thai cooking recipe, and chatted with vendors. I can tell you it’s going to be come a Saturday morning ritual.

After the market, I came back home and cooked my recipe of the day and updated my blog with the results. I cleaned my entire house top to bottom, did some laundry, and spent a few minutes chatting with the neighbors next door. Now, I’m relaxing back in my house wondering what to do with the rest of my afternoon and evening – read a book? head back to the market? watch a movie? go for a bike ride? The possibilities are endless.

Tomorrow, I have no plan. I may do some lesson planning to prepare for the week though it isn’t necessary since I’m caught up at both my schools. I may take a long bike ride to the neighboring city. I may go visit my host family and see what’s going on there. I don’t have any obligations, nothing pressing that has to get done. It’ll be another relaxing day.

These are exactly the type of weekends that I love. Some might say I love them because I don’t have to work; I get to be lazy and do nothing with my days. That may be true to some extent, but the real reason that I love weekends like this is because they are real life. I’m living a normal daily life amongst normal Thais doing normal daily things. I’m a part of the community rather than a farang who stands out like a sore thumb. I’m shopping with the locals, talking to the locals, doing housework like the locals, living like the locals, being a local. And I love it.

After Cory left I took a look at my schedule and aside from a meeting in Bangkok this coming Friday, I have no weekend plans for the next six weeks. I have decided to give myself the challenge of staying at site for all of those weekends. I’m sure there will be opportunities for me to jump on a bus and go spend some quality time with my fellow volunteers. And, I’m sure I’ll be very tempted to do so. But, I think what I need right now is time to regroup and re-immerse myself in my community.

I’ll spend those weekends at the market. I’ll visit my host family. I’ll clean my house and do laundry. I’ll cook Thai food. I’ll share that food with my neighbors. I’ll sit and chat with them for hours. I’ll read the books I’ve  been meaning to start but haven’t quite found the time for. I’ll update my blog. I’ll go for bike rides. I’ll do yoga. I’ll sleep in. I’ll lesson plan. I’ll start my garden. I’ll just be.

By taking that time to reconnect with the people around me and the daily Thai lifestyle, I think I’ll be able to find that passion and motivation that seems to come and go these days. I think I’ll be reminded about why this experience is truly amazing and why it’s such a blessing for me to be here.

All of that being said, I’m already looking forward to next weekend and this one isn’t even over yet!