I had no clue what "training" for the Peace Corps" would look like. Some say it's the hardest three months of the 27 month long program. Since I'm only entering month four I cant give my opinion yet, but I can definitely agree that it was not easy. Coming into this program I set my mind on being placed in a random, small village away from people, especially native English speakers. I didn't expect to see other volunteers as much as I did. As things got more stressful I found myself reaching out to them over friends and family from home, simply because it was easier to explain things. With my host family, I thought two months would fly by and that I'd be too busy to make a genuine connection. I was SO wrong. As demanding as PST was, the worst part about it was the end. When it was time to say goodbye to my generous host family, the wonderful staff, and my encouraging best friends I was heart broken. I didn't plan on building such strong relationships in such a short time frame; the goodbye hit me hard. Saying goodbye mixed with finishing PST, being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, taking a road trip to my new site (at least 6 hours and at most 22 hours from my best friends), being thrown into learning a new dialect, going from seeing my support system daily to being surrounded by strangers was quite the transition, and that isn't even the most of it. During my road trip to my new site someone in our group was joking about how I committed to a two year long program. The phrase "song Bii su su" was thrown out and now is my daily mantra. Song means 2, bii means year, and su su is a Thai phrase for cheering up and cheering on so essentially the phrase means good luck with the next two years. It has been said by my co-teachers and principle daily when introducing me to others and randomly throughout the day. It has kept me positive and made me laugh. Let the two year's begin :) I am now living in Kangtang, Trang a predominantly Muslim village in the southern region of Thailand. I will being teaching English at Ban Ko Khiam school as of May first, after summer break. I will spend this month planning lessons for the upcoming year, getting to know the community, and hanging out with the many local goats and cats that are everywhere I turn. Today my principle introduced me at the staff meeting and per usual in Thailand the things that needed to be brought up by him were the following: I am single, I don't eat meat, and that the staff must keep me busy so I don't get lonely and want to go home (they are very concerned) and we ended the introduction with us all saying my mantra together "Song Bii Su Su"!
*If you want to send letters I have a new address to reach out to me and I will give it to you
Anyone ever ask how you are doing and you give the basic response of "I'm fine", and by fine you mean: Freaked out, Insecure, Nervous and Emotional ??? I felt BEYOND "fine" when this picture was taken.
Since moving to the "Land of Smiles" I have learned a lot and often times see it more as the "Land of Saving Face". For the most part, from my experience, Thai's are conscious of every emotion they show and aim to only be seen as positive. Instead of telling people things directly, everyone here is super indirect. One must avoid using the word "no", and one avoids making others uncomfortable in any way. That being said, above is a picture of me "saving face" and playing it cool even though I assure you I was a mess.
Background Info: I just received this picture/didn't know it existed. That is me with my host mother (Grandpa's chilling in the background) not even five minutes after meeting each other a few months ago. Right around the time this picture was taken I freaked the fuck out. Withing 30 seconds we both used all we knew of each other's language, meaning we said hello to each other and tried to communicate a few other things that didn't translate well or at all. This was her showing me a picture of her son (what would we do without cell phones?!). Then we got up and left to go home. It was beyond awkward, I knew she wouldn't speak English but I guess I wasn't mentally prepared, or I thought maybe she still would know a few words...not the case. I could tell she also assumed I would know a little more Thai as well. Our car ride, with just us two, and no translators, was overwhelming to say the least. In case you we're concerned about Grandpa, he threw my bike into a pick-up truck and disappeared, leaving me more confused and slightly concerned at first. Leading up to this picture, during this picture, and for the following 24 hours or so I thought these phrases pretty much continuously:
What the fuck am I doing?
I hate the way this feels.
I want to go home.
I messed up.
This is so uncomfortable.
Obviously everything turned out more than okay. I now love my host family and seeing this picture made me laugh because I feel completely differently than I did initially. That first night ended up being fun but my brain still had those sentences playing on repeat. I also am no longer uncomfortable 100% of the time, just a solid 99% of the time. Moral of the story is simply that...
1: I am an actress, and don't look at all as scared as I felt
2: I was and probably will continue to be uncomfortable for remaining 25 months
3: I can't wait to keep growing and see all the uncomfortable situations ahead!
Yesterday marked TWO MONTHS since I left home. After getting accepted in the Peace Corps this past August, I tried to steer away from too much research and avoided creating a vision of what these 27 months would looks like. It's good I didn't set specific expectations because nothing could have prepared me for what I got. Leaving LA I was told to cherish the inexplicable feeling of fear and the unknown when boarding the plane to Thailand, and that the strong feeling I would experience is rare. I can't remember feeling such fear and excitement towards anything within the first 25 years of my life, but boarding that the plane would be not the only time I felt it, just my first. I also felt extremely crazy, scared, nervous, happy, sad, stupid, confused and many other things all at once that the day I got picked up by my host family, and the day I taught my first English class. In two weeks that fierce feeling will come back when I find out my site placement and have to go somewhere new without the support system that has gotten me through these past two months. Even though we came here as strangers I feel so connected to my fellow volunteers and not seeing them daily will be very hard to adjust to. I also have grown to love my host family; I feel at home with them and we've gotten so close. I don't think I am quite ready to start over with a new village and new family. I have no clue if I'll be a by a beach, city, mountains, Buddhist community, Muslim community, or something else! The suspense is killing me...this journey continues to make me FEEL SO MANY EMOTIONS!
With two weeks left I have been trying to process all that I've done and what will come next. Besides the technical sessions I will continue to have, (we talk about curriculum, methods of teaching, working with a Thai counter part, etc.) all the volunteers taught 14 lessons over the course of two weeks at various schools in Supan Buri. I taught first and second graders, and worked with a counterpart to teach fifth and sixth grade. I started my classes with classroom management techniques that worked really well. My lessons were not great, some days were a mess, but no matter what the kids had fun and learned something new each day. I taught them actions words, colors, body parts, emotions, and they learned how to ask and answer some questions. More importantly, I learned something new about teaching every day, and over the course of two weeks my lessons improved. I surprised myself when I ended up incorporating singing into all my lessons, mainly because I am not a good singer. Even on my worst lesson, I was able to see the silver lining and know what changes I will make and how I will adjust when I get to site. My friends were so supportive and came to watch my lessons with the Thai teachers, and they all gave me constructive, helpful feedback. I am so lucky to experience all of this with such a supportive group. I still don't believe that just 2 months ago we were living in different parts of America. I feel like so much has happened, but in retrospect this is just the beginning and I can't even try to imagine what is ahead. I can't wait to get settled into a new town, to work with a class consistently for two years, and to really immerse myself into the community and school!