By Ajenai Hampton
This week was an adventure, to say the least. It feels like we just all got together, and we’re already splitting up to stay in homes with Thai families. It’s only our tenth day in Thailand total, and yet we all feel so connected as a group that it was hard for us to split up (even though we still see each other daily). We’ve started taking Thai language lessons with our wonderful instructor Ajarn (teacher) Petchara. Our daily routine has kind of reminded me of old school days. Ajarn Petchara and her husband Ajarn Panom have loaned us all bicycles, and we bike from our homestays to their house in the morning, beginning Thai class at 9:30 am.
Some of us have caught on to the language quicker than others, but it’s an incredible experience to be learning in this kind of environment.
In the afternoons, the group has Thai dance lessons, where we practice a traditional Thai dance— it’s not only amazing to learn, but fascinating to watch Ajarn Petchara perform with so much delicacy and grace. Because the boys and girls are split up when dance class starts, I can only imagine what the male traditional dance looks like. All we know is—whatever it is—it involves swords.
Aside from the classes during the day, we spend the early mornings and evenings in our homestays, with our Thai families. Many of us have even received Thai nicknames from our families. It’s hard to believe that our time in these homes is over in a few days, it honestly feels like we just got here. I remember just hearing today that it’s already been a week since we moved in with our families, and it feels like it’s zoomed by. Our first couple of days many people, including myself, were nervous and unhappy about being placed in a home by ourselves. There were lots of factors contributing to the anxiety, but the fact that not all of us were ready to have quite so much independence, and the massive language barrier seemed to be the most common worries among all of us. But after the first two or three days on our own, we all became much more comfortable with our families, and it was thanks to the fact that they are all so kind and generous to us. Many of the families have served as hosts to Carpe Diem students in the past, as well. The size of our families varies; some of us are with single mothers or couples with one or two children, and a few of us live in larger houses, where the family dynamics are actually kind of difficult to figure out. My own family is a smaller one, but they welcomed me with open arms and put me at ease very quickly, even though I was very nervous and, I’m sure, awkward on my first day with them.
A big part of this trip for all of us has been the food. So far we’ve had a huge variety of Thai foods, including pad Thai, spring rolls, Thai omelettes, noodle soups, and fresh fruit smoothies. Most of our families feed us until we can’t eat another bite, and then feed us some more. However, for every few delicious dishes we’re given, we’re served another…more questionable food.
But, part of trying to adapt to a new culture is keeping yourself open to new experiences, and I, for one, have learned that just because something looks or smells like it might not be such a good dish, does not mean that it won’t be surprisingly tasty and enjoyable.
One thing we’ve all agreed upon is how unusual it is for us to be served rice with every meal, and lunch/dinner foods for breakfast first thing in the morning. Most of our conversations about food end up at a point where someone mentions how much they miss breakfast food, followed by a chorus of “yeah”s, sighed by their empathetic peers. But because there’s such a huge selection of different meals for us here, none of us have gotten tired of eating Thai food.
The rooms in our homestays were actually another cause of nervousness among the group because they were such a big unknown. We weren’t sure what our rooms would look like, how clean they’d be, how small or large they’d be, etc. Our Overseas Educator, Sheldon, was not exactly doing much to ease our nerves with all of his warnings to “be prepared for squat toilets” and advice to put what we considered the most basic household staples out of our minds. And, although some of us do have squatting toilets—or ones that don’t flush—I would say we’ve all adapted very well to our lives in our new homes. While it’s true that all of our rooms are far less comfortable than what we’re used to back in America (or in my case, Abu Dhabi), the support of our host families and the first few days we spent in a hostel in Chiang Mai have made the transition much smoother. Some of us even have the suspicion that we’ve been placed in the bedroom of someone who lives in the house, which just speaks towards the generosity of our host families.
There have been ups and downs on our trip so far, and it’s still incredible when I think back and realize that it’s only been ten days that we’ve spent in this beautiful country. I also couldn’t have asked for a better group of peers and instructors to come on this journey with.
All of us do our best to make sure that everyone knows they are supported at all times, and our instructors have never yet thrown us into a situation without mentally preparing us for it first (thanks, Sheldon).
These home-stays are such a big part of our journey and a lot of us were worried that they’d be a much worse experience than they turned out to be. With every new adventure, I just get more and more excited to see what’s coming next for us.