Looking back through the pictures I have of my experience in Thailand (2015) so easily brings a smile to my face. The journey began when I walked past a stall near the union and saw an AEISEC member handing out leaflets about an opportunity to spend 6 weeks on a volunteering scheme. Looking at the list of countries that where offered, Thailand immediately caught my eye and from then I attended many socials and meeting held my AEISEC to learn more about the opportunity.
The members of AEISEC were very encouraging and their enthusiasm when describing their exchange experiences persuaded me that spending my summer in Thailand would be a valuable experience. After attending a conference that gave me extra information on how to prepare for the trip I was very excited about going. The weeks went by, lectures, seminars, exams and all the while I was eager to begin the journey. After breaking up for summer I booked my ticket, visa and insurance. However I soon encountered my first hurdle when a family member of mine passed away which meant that I had to postpone my flight to Thailand for two weeks so that I could attend the funeral and incurred additional costs for this flight alteration.
Nevertheless, after getting back from the funeral abroad I managed to travel back to my home town. I had intended to go to sleep so I could head out for the airport the next morning however our car broke down on the motorway which meant us standing for hours on the hard shoulder waiting to be rescued. Eventually the car was recovered and I frantically finished packing for Thailand and left hours later without a wink of sleep.
This is when the journey truly began, I headed to Manchester airport, from there to Abu Dhabi and then changed to Thailand. On arrival my buddies met me and were nice enough to take me on a tour of their campus and introduce me to their friends. They were so friendly and even allowed me to take a nap in their dorm to ease the jet lag. The members from my school then came to pick me up. I was quite nervous as to what they would be like, it almost felt like I was on one of those exchange shows like ‘Wife Swap’ or ‘The World’s Strictest Parents’. Despite this they didn’t judge me at all but were super friendly and tried to speak to me in the little English they knew.
I was shown to the apartment where I was staying with another exchange student who is from Taiwan. The place was surprisingly nice, there was no squat toilet or floor bed as we were warned about and the school was conveniently just across from there.
The next day I attended the school where I was to teach and was overwhelmed by the level of kindness that I received as all of the students came up to me in assembly and handed me a rose and said ‘welcome’. It was one of the sweetest things I’d ever experienced. This wasn’t the only cultural difference that I noticed. At the beginning of the day the students play musical instruments and go around cleaning the school, they also wash up after themselves after eating lunch and overall the students and staff seemed all be genuinely happy, something I found completely bizarre since here school is a dreaded place associated with work but there it was almost recreational. During breaks staff would laugh with each other like family and I almost felt like a celebrity with the students coming up to me saying ‘Hi teacher! How are you? I love you!’
The teaching aspect was really fun too. I enjoyed being creative with my lessons, making them wear funny items to teach about clothes, playing snap and teaching them how to make English tea. It was good being given the freedom and responsibility to arrange my own lessons. It was difficult at times to gage the level of complexity that the work should have based on the age group but this enabled me to figure out creative ways to adjust. There was nothing more fulfilling than hearing the students recite some of the English phrases I had taught them outside of the classroom and seeing them smile and get excited about learning. All of the students were so sweet and full of energy, some of them even made me bracelets, came to hug me and gave me the chocolate bar they had brought for their lunch to show how much they like me.
Outside of teaching I managed to experience many of the things that Thailand has to offer. I visited a government event, the floating markets, got to ride an elephant, ate lots and lots of Thai food (which then lead me to developing an incessant craving for rice once I got back), got to meet a ‘lady boy’, watched and met Thai boxers, rode a motor bike, visited Buddhist temples and so much more. I was so grateful for the teachers taking the time to bring us around. One of the challenges I did face though was people staring and coming up to me asking for pictures since they had never seen a black person before. At first this was manageable but there were times when this made me feel a bit alienated and miss the diversity of England. Having said that though, the teachers I was with were so loving, they were like sisters to me by the end, we did each other’s make up, gossiped went shopping, it was such a friendly atmosphere. It was also so nice to have another exchange student from Taiwan as we became really good friends and she taught me so much about her culture as well.
The four weeks flew by, and on the final day the school had an English camp. This was a day dedicated to developing English skills. Then at the end they had a fare well party for us, which began by playing music and dancing then there was a power point presentation showing pictures of our time there, an exchange of gifts and flowers as well as massive goodbye hugs.
The next day AEISEC Thailand held a farewell party, my EP buddies took me to the airport and I headed off on a plane from Thailand to India, from there to Abu Dhabi and finally back to England. At the moment (2015) I am already writing up postcards and gifts to send to my family in Thailand. The trip was totally unforgettable, I learnt to be organised and creative in my tasks, learnt organisation is the key to any exploit, learnt how to be confident in my differences and enjoy similarities, am now a super ninja when it comes to fighting off lizards, cockroaches and crickets, have developed a resistance to many spicy foods and the inner strength to resist scratching 20 mosquito bites, and learnt (without meaning to sound cheesy) that life is about spending each day trying to be happy.