It’s hard to believe it all started a year ago when my parents and I attended an information session about Rotary Youth Exchange. What followed was almost a year of applying, being accepted, then preparing for my one year of Rotary Exchange in Bangkok, Thailand. Finally the day came on August 8th that I was to leave.
My flight was at 2 a.m., and after saying goodbye to my (emotional) parents and getting through security, I was officially on my way to Bangkok, Thailand for 11 months on Rotary Exchange! I was lucky enough that I was travelling with two other girls, also headed to Thailand on exchange, and though we were all very excited it didn’t take us long to fall asleep on the first 15 hour flight. We had a three-hour layover in Hong Kong where we slept on the floor before realizing we didn’t know where our connecting flight was. We made it on with just enough time to spare and arrived in Bangkok at 10 a.m. local time. The complicated process of finding my hosts (it took me two hours of wandering around the Bangkok airport alone) and leaving behind everything at home was quite stressful. But I was greeted by my Rotary Club and all three families I will live with. It was a most amazing and heart-warming welcome as they lavished me in flowers, hugs, and pictures – so many pictures.
Within my first month here I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing so much, and even now it still seems so completely surreal. I’ve started going to school, been to a Buddhist temple, swam in the South China Sea, walked through countless night markets, and made more friends than I ever expected.
I started school the second week I was here, and I’ve been treated incredibly. I’ve met only two students who can speak English, and though at first I naturally clung to them as translators, I’ve been branching out and communicating with the rest of the student body in Thai. The teachers have all been so helpful to locate all of my classes (there are seven buildings) and introduce me to new students every day. I am in a school of around 3,000 kids and my classes include: Thai cooking, Thai dancing, Thai art, Thai clothing, and the Thai language.
One of the most complicated issues I had to adapt to with school was how different the schooling system is. For example, my classes end at a different time each day, and instead of grade levels, like Kindergarten to Grade 12, they have what are called prathoms (much like elementary) and matthayoms (much like high-school).
To choose one specific day as the best so far would be too hard, as every day I spend here seems to be my favourite. Choosing between all the experiences that I’ve had wouldn’t give my time here justice, as it’s been the most incredible experience I’ve had in my life so far.
In these pictures I have included you can see me in my school uniform standing in the back row of my Rotary club. They are the easiest people to get along with and I can, without a doubt, say that each and every one of them is a gift to the world. The second photo is with my host sisters, aunt, and a friend. We were waiting for supper before going to swim in the sea!
Thank you to the Rotary Club of St. Marys for supporting me in this experience of a lifetime. They have had full confidence in me through the entire process.
I look forward to the rest of my year here, positive that Thailand has so much more to teach me. I’ve never wanted to learn so much before!
(If you would like to learn more about Rotary Youth Exchange or if you are interested in becoming a host family please contact Mark Oliver at email@example.com)