The Importance of Laughter

During my time living and working in Thailand, I have learned several valuable life lessons. Of all the lessons I have learned, I feel the most important lesson is understanding the importance of laughter! Communicating with people who do not speak your own language is difficult and intricate.  Every culture in this world is different from one another in numerous ways.  No matter what traditions we practice or what culture we come from, there is one thing that never fails to connect us with one another – laughter.

My host mother, brother, and sister speak very little English, while my host father speaks almost none.  Communicating with one another has proven to be difficult, yet the connection I feel between myself and my host family is incredibly
strong.  Looking back over the past month, I see that our strong connection comes from laughter.  The value of laughter is worth more than I can explain.

Last night, my host family took me to a special dinner on the Chao Phraya River.  We ate dinner on the moving boat that took us on the river and through the town of Nakhon Sawan.  Though not very many words were exchanged, we all had an amazing night filled with smiles, hugs, and laughter.  My host father would say “Chelsey! Look!” and point to something and then immediately start laughing.  I would follow his lead, and laugh along with him.  Once he felt our connection of laughter with one another, he was able to open up and teach me the lesson of he 4 river tributes to the Chao Phraya River.

Laughter is so simple and easy, and has truly made my experience more memorable than I would have ever imagined.  I am going to miss my host family and Nakhon Sawan, but have very fond memories of my time here – thanks to the people and their laughter.

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Cultural Experiences & Work

We are staying busy and working hard in Thailand! We have had the opportunity to travel around Thailand on the weekends, allowing us to gain an enriching and educational prospective of the Thai culture.  We have traveled to the Sukhothai Province in north central Thailand, where we learned about ancient Thai culture and the early kingdoms of Thailand.  Our next stop was Phitsanulok Thailand, one of the oldest cities in Thailand.  Phitsanulok had a beautiful temple that is known for “the most beautiful Buddha statue in all of Thailand.”  Last weekend, we traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand. In Chiang Mai, we visited the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, where we watched an elephant show and then rode the elephants through the river and around the park.  The elephants were awesome!  In Chiang Mai, we visited Doi Inthanon National Park, one of the highest points in all of Thailand.  The view from the top of the park was indescribable and reminded us of Montana because of its large mountains and stunning waterfalls. I can honestly say I have not missed home until reaching the top of the national park.  Being in the mountains again reminded me how lucky I am to live in the mountains every day, and made me realize I have to live in the mountains!  In the evenings, we spent our hours shopping in Chiang Mai.  Chiang Mai is known for its amazing street markets that offer hours of endless authentic Thai shopping and entertainment.  There were so many people and millions of shopping stands to look at.  I have never done so much shopping in my life!  Our favorite market treat is the fresh coconut water or the fresh coconut smoothies made with real coconut, ice, and coconut water.  The final stop in Chiang Mai was the Tiger Kingdom, where we literally cuddled with tigers of all sizes.  We laid on the backs of the tigers, picked up their tails, and took pictures with the tigers.  This weekend, we are going to Nan, Thailand, where we will have a more relaxing weekend exploring more Thai nature.   The cultural experiences we are having in Thailand are once in a lifetime opportunities that will confidently shape our overall understanding and knowledge of the Thai culture. 

Most of us in the group have been sick, which has been difficult.  It is hard being sick in a hot, foreign country so far away from home.  it is hard finding energy to teach and communicate with others who do not speak our language, and has proven to be exhausting at times.  Through our struggles of sickness and exhaustion, we have truly been blessed with this amazing opportunity.  Our work teaching English has been phenomenal.  While I have been spending my days teaching college at Nakhon Sawan Rajabajt University, the undergraduate students have been working hard teaching at the demonstration school, where they have had the opportunity to continue teaching English while teaching their students about the American culture.  I am extremely happy to be teaching English at the university level.  The students are awesome and love learning about English, America, and Montana!  I have taught them about Montana State University, foods in America, occupations in America, nature in Montana, and some basics on economy and politics.  This afternoon, I will teach my largest class yet, with over 50 Thai students! 

The faculty and staff here at NSRU have been great to work with.  The Vice President has gladly taken me to dinner a few times during my time here, where we have had the chance to speak with one another about issues and trends in higher education throughout the world.  Her husband is a principal at a local private school, and has never been to America, yet speaks great English.  I asked him how he learned to speak such great English without being immersed in the American culture.  He explained to be that he watches CNN every day, where he learns how to speak English.  Only 5% of people in the country of Thailand can speak English, making his story truly inspiring.   

While we only have 12 remaining days of this amazing journey, I try to live for today and soak up every amazing moment left here in Thailand.  A lot can happen in 12 days!  I feel like I have changed my entire life prospective through this experience.  I now realize I truly can do anything I want, and can be whoever I want to be.  I do not have to have a stable job at a university to be successful.  I can travel the world and form my own life experiences that will forever shape my future and my future career.  I can do whatever I want to do, and most importantly, whatever is right for me.  

I have had inspiring conversations with amazing people in Thailand, who have encouraged me to seriously consider coming back to teach at NSRU after the completion of my graduate schooling.  This is an option I will consider for my future, as my time here has been sincerely rewarding.  Seeing the look on the faces of the university students when they learn about America and English is amazing, and a look I will never forget!  As I talk with the undergraduate students about their experiences at the Demonstration school, they are having the exact same feelings that I am. Being immersed in a foreign culture and communicating with people who know little about our culture or language is preparing all of us for such a bright future. This has been a unique experience for our entire team, and we are looking forward to continuing our journey in Thailand and finishing strong these next 12 days!

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Weekend Market and Temple

Saturday morning my mom drove me to Nakhon Sawan University Hotel, where the group met to start our weekend excursion.  We started at the morning market in Nakhon Sawan. The morning market had anything and everything you could imagine.  There was jewelry, watches, hardware items, clothing, bags, hats, shoes, and tons of different food options. Many families go to the weekend market to purchase their food for the week.  I purchased a silver ring and a zodiac bracelet for 40 baht or about $1.30.  I also bought a bag of freshly sliced pineapple for 10 baht or about .33 cents.

After the morning market, we drove to the top of the city to visit Nakhon Sawan Temple and to view the city from one of the higher points in Nakhon Sawan.  The tower offered a 360 degree view of the city.   It was beautiful! After viewing the city of Nakhon Sawan from the tower, we walked to the temple.  When entering the temple, it is important to remove your shoes at the door and make sure your shoulders and thighs are covered.  Everything about the temple was amazing.  Being in the temple at one of the highest points in Nakhon Sawan was breathtaking.

The Thai culture is very special and unique.  Living here and having the opportunity to experience a culture so different than our own is truly a blessing.  Thailand is beautiful!  Our team treasures the moments of coming together as a group on the weekends, as it is refreshing to be with one another and share our experiences from the work week, while gaining a foregin prospective on life.  Living with and communicating with people who do not speak our language has proved difficulties and successes.  Having the opporunity to experience difficult situations is preparing us and will prepare us for many walks of life.

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Thai Massage and Elephant Feeding

Friday was a special day for our team.  We spent a half day teaching at Nakhon Sawan Demonstration School and then ventured off for a cultural Thai experience.  We went to a local hotel that offered Thai massage and a swimming pool.  After days of travel and sleeping in different conditions than we are used to, a Thai massage sounded amazing!  We selected the hour-long Thai massage and then entered the massage room.  We undressed from our work attire and put on the special outfits laying on the massage beds.  The Thai masseuses entered the room and began their magic.  A Thai massage is not your typical oil and rub-down, American massage.  Instead, they focus on massaging certain trigger points and stretching your body.  The masseuses started with our feet and made their way up to our heads.  There were times during the massage when our masseuses were literally walking on us and using the heels from their feet to massage our bodies.  The end result was amazing. My masseuse stretched my body in ways I do not think it has ever been stretched before!   I sat up and felt like a new person.  After our massage, we all went swimming in the hotel pool.  It was nice to finally have some time being outside and in the sun.

After swimming, we went back to the university hotel where our families picked me up.  My mom and I drove to Nakhon Sawan School, where we picked up my brother and my sister.  We all decided an iced coffee sounded good, so we went to a local coffee shop.  We each got a large iced latte.  My brother also ordered an ice cream and my sister ordered a sandwich and some cookies along with her coffee.  The total cost was 280 baht, which is equivalent to about 9 US dollars.  As we know, in the United States, this would easily cost about 20 dollars, maybe even more.  My family loves learning about American culture, so I saw this as a great learning opportunity to discuss the cost of living difference between Thailand and the United States.  I explained to my family that the cost of living in Thailand is much cheaper than the United States.  We discussed the price of gas, which is about 30 baht per gallon, or 1 US dollar. I explained that in America, the cost of gas is much higher.  They were astonished with how much higher the cost of living is in the United States.

After coffee, we went home and played badminton and volleyball.  My family told me they were impressed with my badminton skills for “being an American”.  After we finished playing and Dad got home from work, we got dressed for dinner and went to a local restaurant.  The cuisine was a mix of Thai and Japanese food.  The waiter brought out a bunch of raw meats and vegetables to our table, along multiple sauces and a charcoal grill.   This was a neat experience to cook our own meal right at our table.  When we were eating dinner, an elephant approached the restaurant and my sister took my hand and directed me toward the elephant.  She gave me some food to feed the elephant.  I stuck my hand out and the elephant moved his trunk toward me to grab the food from my hand.  It was a neat experience! I look forward to riding an elephant in Chiang Mai next weekend!

When we got home, I helped my mom with laundry.  She did all the folding, but I did the teaching! As she folded our clothes, she would hold up an item and I would say the word in English.  She would then say it back to me in English.  After laundry, I taught the family the difference between countries, states, and cities in America. Friday was a day filled with cultural experiences in Thailand.

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Day 3

Today, I came downstairs to a beautiful Thai breakfast.  My dad rode his motorcycle to the market this morning to purchase some fresh Thai food.  The amount of food was overwhelming, but I tried a little bit of everything.  My favorite dish was the fresh pineapple.  I told my mom that I love fresh fruit for breakfast.  The pineapple in Thailand tastes much fresher and sweeter than the pineapple I have tasted in the United States.

After breakfast, my mom drove me to NSRU, where we had the opportunity to observe a kindergarten class.  In Thailand, there are three different kindergarten classes.  There is a class for 3 year old children, 4 year old children, and 5 year old children.  The students were adorable.  They sang for us and then entered the classroom.  In the classroom, they practiced simple words and colors.  Teachers seem to use a lot of songs to teach students words and numbers.  It keeps the children interactive and proves to be a fun learning environment.  Although interactive and fun, there may be a lack of discipline in the classroom at times.  In the United States, you see more structure in classrooms from what we have observed thus far.  We found it interesting that young children sit at desks and in rows.  Often, in the United States, younger students sit in circles, sometimes even on the ground with their teacher.  We have briefly discussed the possibility of attempting this seating arrangement for the Thai students. Being in a circle may help with classroom management, while allowing the students to see one another and learn from one another.
After our time at NSRU with the kindergarten students, we drove to the demonstration school so we could observe additional classes.  While the undergraduate students observed classes today, I worked in the faculty lounge on my blog and research. Tomorrow, the undergraduate students will return to the demonstration school, while I will have the privilege to attend Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University’s college orientation.  College in Nakhon Sawan begins next week, making this week the orientation sessions.  NSRU has about 3,000 new students attending this term.  I look forward to attending the orientation session and learning more about higher education in Thailand.

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Day 2

Day 2 was our first morning with our host families.  My host mom came into my room and woke me up.  I showered and dressed and came downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was a variety of foods.  There were hot dogs, salad, cheese, bread, meat, orange juice, and coffee.  I think my host mom was trying to prepare what she thought was an American breakfast for me.  I explained to her that I like to eat a light breakfast but would like to eat whatever their family eats for breakfast.  She agreed and told me tomorrow she would prepare me a Thai breakfast.  After breakfast, she gave me a handmade Thailand purse as a gift.  It is beautiful!  She then drove me to Nakhon Sawan Demonstration School where I met the rest of the group.

We were all excited as this would be our first day in the classroom.  We were unsure of what to expect or how things would be done.
We had the opportunity to sit in and watch a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade classroom.  The Thai students were all very excited to see us.  They understood that we are here to help them learn English.  The level of English the students understand and speak is minimal.

The students can count to ten in English, can say “Hello” and “Good Morning”.  They understand some animals, like “dog” and “cat”.   After introducing ourselves, we split into small groups where we had each student introduce themselves to us.  We then sat with them for 10 minutes or so, where we learned more of what they understood in English.

After school, our host families picked us up.  My mom and I went back to The Big C, where I exchanged my American money for Thai money.  Money in Thailand is called “baht”.  I exchanged my money and then my mom took me shopping.  She bought me a beautiful Thai blouse and some gold sandals.  My brother and sister met us at The Big C.  They wanted to eat pizza for dinner, so we went to a pizza restaurant.  I explained to them that pizza is a dish Americans often eat.  Meals in Thailand are different than in America.  Instead of each person ordering their own meal, several small dishes are ordered and placed in the middle of the table where the food is shared among each guest at the table.  My mom kept placing more and more food on my plate.  My mom wants to make sure I am happy and taken care of.  She does a great job at it!

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Day 1

On our first day in Thailand, we woke up early.  We had just fallen asleep at 4:30 a.m. and woke at 6:30 a.m. to shower and get ready for the day.  We wandered down to the hotel restaurant, where we had our very first Thai dining experience.  We were all handed menus that were in Thai.  There were a few pictures of food on the menu, so we found it easiest to simply point to the item we wanted to eat for breakfast.  In Thailand, you do not find your traditional eggs, toast, granola, or oatmeal for breakfast.  Instead, you have rice and pork, pad thai, fruit, juice, coffee, bread, and anything else you can think of.  Most of us had some sort of rice dish for breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed to Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University.  We entered a large conference room and were greeted by professors, administration, and the University President.  Each and every person was so elated to see us.  We all smiled and gave the traditional Thai wai greeting.  There was a large conference table with name tags for each of us.  We took our seats and were  immediately delivered coffee and Thai desert.  Traditional Thai dancers performed a dance for us.  The girl dancers were dressed in
solid gold and were beautiful.  At the end of the dance, we were introduced to the faculty and staff of NSRU by Dr. Michael Brody.  After introductions, we all headed to a restaurant off campus for lunch.

Lunch was beautiful.  We were taken to a local restaurant just minutes from the university and entered into a room labeled “VIP”.  We sat down at the table and were immediately waited on.  Round after round of authentic Thai dishes were delivered to our table.  There was fish, chicken, soup, papaya salad, rice, egg omelet, fish cakes, and vegetables.  The waitress filled our water glasses every couple of minutes.  I had the opportunity to sit near the President, who kept filling my plate with more and more food.

After lunch, we headed back to NSRU, where we learned more about the Thai culture and how to speak basic Thai words.  We were then assigned our host family.  After we met one another, we went back to the hotel and packed our bags and our host family came and picked us up.  My host mom works for NSRU as a professor of accounting. On the way home, we went directly to “The Big C”.  The Big C is a HUGE shopping center on many levels, with grocery stores, banks, phone stores, food  courts, and many clothing stores.  We went to the grocery part of The Big C, where we purchased food.  She bought hot dogs, instant coffee, breads, and vegetables.  She told me she wanted me to have “midnight snacks” so she also bought a bag of potato chips and some Oreo cookies.  After grocery shopping, we picked up her children from school.  She has two kids, a boy and a girl, ages 13 and 16.

When we arrived at her home, we were greeted by their 4 dogs.  Their home is beautiful! It is in a gated community and is gated itself.  We walked in and she directed me toward the living room where she had me sit on the couch.  She brought me water and turned on the television which played some sort of Thai cartoon.  While I sat on the couch, my host mom, brother, and sister arranged and cleaned my room.  I was struggling to keep my eyes open after only 4 hours of sleep in over 48 hours.  When they were done cleaning, they directed me to my room where I quickly changed into my pajamas and crawled into bed.

My first day in Thailand was amazing.  The people are so nice and very accommodating.  Most importantly, they are extremely grateful to have us here.

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