Alexa: Around Thailand in 9 days

My internship was canceled the last week I was in Thailand, which was a little disappointing, but may have been a blessing in disguise. I was able to travel around the whole country in a week. It was very exhausting, but also very worth it at the same time. My coordinator in Thailand told me I was one in her record for seeing so much of the country in such a short period of time.  I started off the week in Kanchanaburi, which I spoke about last week, and then traveled to Ayutthaya for a day trip, spent a couple times at Koh Samed at the beach, shadowed at a military hospital in Bangkok, and then finished the week in Chang Mai for zip lining and elephant riding.

Ayutthaya was so much fun. I did the day trip by myself because the other volunteer I was traveling with, Jenny, came down with a stomach bug. I was a little nervous at first about getting lost, but I had no problems! I rented a tuk-tuk when I got there for a few hours and he showed me around to the different temples and ruins. He was so nice! You could definitely tell that he sincerely cared about showing me the town and culture. He tried explaining things to the best of his ability with his broken English, and made sure he could pack in as many sights as he could in the time I rented him for.  At one of the temples, I was blessed by one of the monks, which was an amazing experience. He blessed me with good luck and happiness and tied a bracelet around my wrist.

IMG_5239 IMG_5282 IMG_5306  IMG_5377

The next day, Jenny and I made our way to Koh Samet, which is an island in the Gulf of Thailand. It was beautiful. We only stayed two nights, but it was worth it. We did a snorkeling trip while we were there, and our guides, again, were great! They would point out different fish, and find seashells for us.  One of them ended up doing a back flip off the boat, and my gymnast self wanted to try as well. I really thought nothing could go wrong until I hit bottom and scraped the top of my foot on some of the coral. I didn’t think it was anything bad, but a couple days later when we were back in Bangkok, half my foot was red and swollen and hurt really bad. I ended up going to the clinic there and had to get a bunch of medication and antibiotics.  Come to find out, coral has the same poison as jellyfish do. The doctor spoke some English but all he said when I asked him what would’ve happened if I didn’t come in was, “bad, bad.”  Woops! Other than that, the beach was amazing. It was so small and quiet, very relaxing! We ate breakfast lunch and dinner with the waves passing right under us, and the water felt incredible!

IMG_5389   IMG_5393

Last Friday we shadowed at the military hospital in Bangkok, and it was very interesting.  They had many machines that did the movements for the patients, whereas here in the states I have seen more manual movement by the therapists.  It was a really nice hospital, and the therapist was very welcoming. He told us if we came back to Thailand we could shadow in his clinic again!

IMG_5486 IMG_5487 IMG_5489 IMG_5490 IMG_5494 IMG_5498 IMG_5500

We ended the week in Chang Mai, which was one of my favorite places in Thailand. It is the second largest city in Thailand, but nothing like Bangkok. It was very clean and friendly; the atmosphere was very welcoming.  We had two jam packed days of zip lining and elephant riding. At both places, our guides and trainers were great. The zip lining guides would joke around with us to make the rides and climbs from tree to tree more exhilarating and enjoyable. And the trainers at the elephant rescue camp were so caring and playful.  I think my absolute favorite was the elephant camp. All of the elephants were rescued from circuses, logging companies, or different places where the elephants were treated poorly. The trainers explained how they took care of the elephants, and we were able to help them. We fed them, bathed them, and learned how to ride them.

IMG_5508 IMG_5518 IMG_5527 IMG_5629 IMG_5660 IMG_5823 IMG_5840 IMG_5857 IMG_5933 IMG_5907

It was very hard when I had to pack up and say my goodbyes. I really didn’t want to go. I realized that one month for an internship is really not long enough. I had just started to get to know the people and culture.  I am still in disbelief that I’m home, but have learned so much from my time abroad.

Alexa: เล็ก

My nickname here in Thailand is เล็ก, pronounced ‘Lek.’ My Thai instructor gave me the name because it sounded like my US nickname of Lex, and the ‘x’ sound is hard for the Thai people to say. In the Thai language, lek means small.  At first, I found this to be a little ironic because everyone around me was smaller than I was. I think this has been the first time I’ve felt somewhat tall. :) However, after experiencing a new culture and country for three weeks now, my nickname has much more meaning to me.

IMG_6422

I have realized that this world is much bigger than anyone can imagine, and no matter how smart or experienced someone is, there is always something to learn.  There are so many things that this planet has to offer, and we can’t forget to appreciate what our lives have to give us.  I have witnessed some very devastating living conditions here in the countryside of Thailand, and it absolutely breaks my heart.  My nickname and the places I’ve traveled keep bringing me back to a line in one of my favorite songs by Lee Ann Womack, “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.”

IMG_4201    IMG_4202

I think humility is a very important trait to have, as well as patience and understanding.  I have learned so much from this trip, and am definitely not ready for it to end.  The Thai people are so nice and giving. I haven’t had any problems while I have been here. I have been constantly showered with gifts of fruit and food from the market, and complimented on my suay (beautiful) white skin. The Thai people seem genuinely interested in showing people their country and culture.  I have rented a driver for the day twice now, once in Kanchanaburi and once in Ayutthaya, and both times have been incredible experiences. The drivers were so nice and would make additional stops just so that we could see as much of the country as we could! The therapists I have interned been made sure to explain what they were doing so that I could learn along the way, even with the language barrier.

IMG_4204      IMG_4231

My experiences here have also brought me to like the quote, “To make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect. You just have to care.” Every person you meet and place you travel to has something to teach you.  I feel so small compared to the magnitude of this world, but I am determined to make a big difference everywhere I go!

Alexa: Week Three

It has been a very fun week, full of traveling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, crafting, sight seeing, and playing with the children. I started my weekend in Bangkok to welcome a new intern that was arriving in Thailand. We then traveled to our project site in Ban Bung and had a great week at the Special Education Center.  We ended our week in Kanchanaburi with a couple of other interns for an exciting weekend of waterfalls, elephants, tigers, and great memories.

It was a long weekend in Bangkok. Bangkok isn’t my favorite city in Thailand. It is too big and busy for me, and a little more dirty than I imagined.  Four days was definitely long enough. Friday, the 24th, was really fun with Po (my host parents’ daughter).  We went to the Museum of Siam, which was very interesting to learn about the history of Thailand and see the awesome exhibits. We had a nice dinner on Kao San Road, and did the procession at the temple for the holiday. I loved being able to experience an actual holiday and see part of the religion of Buddhism.

IMG_4280    IMG_4315    IMG_4328    IMG_4330  IMG_4375IMG_4275  IMG_4337  IMG_4381  IMG_4355

The next day I went with Kevin and Matthew, two other interns, to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. ABSOLUTELY Stunning! The Grand Palace and Wat Pho were so packed though. A one time visit is sufficient to those places I think. Except for maybe Wat Arun. It had an amazing view and wasn’t very crowded. We had some great street pad thai and rode in the tuk tuk.  We also went back to Kao San Road, which is very touristy. It is fun to experience it once, but after seeing some of the living conditions here and the countryside, I couldn’t imagine having a vacation on Kao San Road and not knowing what this country has in store and what’s behind the scenes.

IMG_4340    IMG_4445   IMG_4465   IMG_4470   IMG_4504

 

Sunday I welcomed Jenny into this amazing country! Sunday and Monday weren’t as action packed as Saturday but we definitely experienced new and exciting parts of Bangkok.  We walked around the night market, which wasn’t as I had expected. It was quite dirty, and there really wasn’t much to see. But the next day was very fun. After our long and exhausting day of Thai language lessons, and shopping in hot, humid Bangkok, we visited Asiatique on the river. We had a great Japanese dinner and then went to the Caberet ‘he/she’ show. It was so much fun and a great experience.

IMG_4514   IMG_4537   IMG_4580

The week at the Center was amazing.  We arrived on Tuesday, and shadowed occupational therapy and witnessed an evaluation of a new student. It was very interesting seeing the different techniques the PT used. She incorporated games into her evaluation to see attention span, muscle control, and eye contact of the little boy.  Wednesday, we went with the physical therapist to another branch of the center in a near by town.  This center did not seem to be as well of as our project site, but the staff and children made up for it with enthusiasm and determination.  Everyone I’ve come in contact with is so caring and believing.  We were able to help with a little boy’s physical therapy, and I loved it! He was so determined to finish his activities so that he could go back to school to see his ‘girlfriend.’

Thursday was my last day at the center, and it couldn’t have been better. I helped one of the staff in her classroom.  She teaches parents and children together to gain skills that they can use in their own homes. This way the parents are able to take care of their disabled children to their fullest ability.  It was so fun to see families working together.  I also assisted in physical therapy, and worked on range of motion as well as head control while being able to teach colors to the little girl.

 IMG_4648   IMG_4666  IMG_4696

 

 

Friday, Jenny, Kevin, Matthew, and I traveled to Kanchanaburi to visit the Tiger Temple and waterfalls.  It was an amazing weekend. We rented a truck to take us around the whole day and rode in the back of the truck. It was so much fun. We hiked around the waterfalls, pet baby elephants, and took pictures with tigers at the Tiger Temple. We also had dinner on a floating restaurant with the view of the Bridge over the River Kwai.  This country has so much to offer, and I still can’t believe that I am here and my trip is almost over.

 

IMG_4944   IMG_4955   IMG_4961   IMG_5016 IMG_5052  IMG_5067   IMG_5085   IMG_5097 IMG_5112  IMG_5152   IMG_5158

I have been full of emotion the last few days about my trip coming to an end, but it has been an inspirational and amazing experience. Every single person I have met has touched my heart and I promised myself that I will be back to help again!

Alexa: Typical Weekday

 These two weeks at the special education center have been great.  There was definitely a high learning curve when I first arrived because of the language barrier, but I observed the staff and children and caught on to the routines pretty quickly. The Thai people are so open and honest, but have no judgement at the same time. I really wish that the culture in the states was more like that. I have no worries when I am here, and I am who I am!

The center houses children with disabilities during the week for families who live too far away to come pick them up each, but children will also come just for the day and participate in the classes and activities. The special education center also houses a few families and will have classes for the parents to learn how to take care of their disabled children.  The families and staff are so strong; it really takes a special person with a big heart to take care of these children.

Helping parents and children learn together    IMG_4182  IMG_4777

A typical day usually begins around 7:30 for breakfast.  I will then go with the kids to sing the national anthem and sing and dance, play on the playground, or go see the mini zoo animals. If there are physical therapy children that day, I will either shadow physical therapy, occupational therapy, or hippotherapy.  Lunch is usually around 12 and I will help the children with their lunches.  In the afternoon, if there isn’t therapy children to shadow, there is a little bit of downtime while the children nap. I will either rest, or try to find someone that needs any help! This week I was able to learn how to make clay flowers, and made a beautiful rose.  Before dinner, I play with the children, and after I help with showers and bed time. The day will usually end around 7 or 8.

Singing and Dancing   IMG_4744  Lunch time for the kids.  IMG_4708  IMG_4623

The kids are absolutely wonderful.  Most have autism, downs syndrome, or mental disabilities, and a lot of the physical therapy children have cerebral palsy.  It’s hard to play and communicate with the language and mental barriers, but I still am having fun.  I think that this will be such a great learning experience for me in the professional world.  It has been so interesting just watching and observing reactions and activities.

 

Alexa: Weekend in Saraburi

Thailand is an amazingly beautiful country! I was fortunate enough to have the staff invite me to a weekend stay at one of their cabins on waterfalls in Saraburi, and what a wonderful first weekend it was.

Friday, I went on home visits in Pattaya with a couple of the staff to underprivileged homes that either cannot afford to send their disabled child to special education or the child has to severe of disabilities to study.  The center will send staff to their homes to create physical therapy plans to do with the children and also teach the parents how to fulfill the program. It really is a giving program here.  It was very eye opening to see some of the living conditions that these families stay in, but they were the most welcoming and devoted people.  I was also able to go to Pattaya beach and see the ocean in Thailand for the first time. The ocean is my absolute favorite place in the world, and I am always so happy to go.  The beach at Pattaya wasn’t very impressive, but I am planning on going to an island not to far in the next couple of weekends!

Friday night I was exhausted from my first week in Thailand.  That night was the first night I felt somewhat homesick. I wanted to be able to communicate in a more efficient way and was very worried for the weekend with the staff. However, it could not have turned out better!  It was the first time I finally felt like I fit in with the Thai people and was able to socialize. It was so fun to see what they enjoy doing and how they spend their free time.

We made it to the cabin later in the afternoon on Saturday and the drive was incredible. Thailand is so green and luscious. We passed cities and towns, farms and temples, and street vendors and restaurants.  When we made it to the cabin, we immediately got in the water. Everyone thought it was so funny that I brought a bikini to wear. I didn’t realize that they swim in regular shorts and t-shirts, so I ended up swimming in my pj’s. ;) Everyone was so impressed with my swimming that they would want to see me jump in and swim back and forth again and again. It was a lot of fun, and the scenery was, again, more than AMAZING.  I remember floating on my back, (well trying to float) and looking into the canopy of trees above me and feeling so at peace.

IMG_4086

That night we had an abundance of food, and everyone sang karaoke all night. At first, I was shy and embarrassed and didn’t want to sing, but I remembered what my friends and family had told me about making great memories, living in the moment, and taking it all in. I ended up singing Shania Twain, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, AC/DC, The Eagles, and maybe even N’Sync. It was so much fun! The last time I had sung karaoke, my best friend and I butchered Baby Got Back, but this time one of the staff told me I was actually a good singer. Now with the language barrier, I wasn’t sure if she meant my voice was good, or she was happy that I actually sang… but I’d like to believe it was the later. ;)

IMG_4066 IMG_4071 IMG_4073

Sunday morning we jumped in the water again and had a great breakfast. You won’t believe it but I tried fried frog. It actually wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t get over the fact that what I was eating was a whole frog. We also met Thai superstars, which didn’t hit me until I actually saw them on TV last night putting the children to bed. On our way home, we stopped at a small Italian garden, Palio, and drove through Khao Sai National Park. Again, b-e-a-u-tiful.

 IMG_4119  IMG_4102  IMG_4155  IMG_4136   IMG_4116  IMG_4104  IMG_4132  IMG_4151

The communication was much better than I had anticipated. Everyone was so patient and kind and I think that this trip will definitely help with my interactions with the staff in the coming weeks. I am even meeting with a couple of the women at nights to practice Thai and English! Everyone is so accepting; it only took a few days for me to get into the groove of things. I know I have contacts here in Thai for whenever I come back, and they know they can visit me in the states. I have already decided I want to come back in the next couple of years.

Alex: Language Barrier

I can’t believe that I’ve been here for almost a week now. It really seems like so much longer.  I have had a full week at the Special Education Program shadowing hippotherapy, physical therapy, and chasing around the little munchkins.  I have fallen in love with the children, they are so giving.

 

IMG_3901  IMG_3893  IMG_3951    IMG_3899IMG_3895  IMG_4251  IMG_3967  kids

.

IMG_3947               horse                    IMG_3941                   IMG_3925

 

The one thing that I have struggled slightly with is the language barrier! Thai is such a different language than in western cultures. There are sounds that my mouth isn’t used to making and tones my ears aren’t used to hearing. At times I feel utterly defeated, but I don’t let myself give up. I try to find another way to say it or express myself. My Thai/English dictionary has been very helpful.  I’ve learned to laugh at my confusion and mistakes with the staff, and hope they’re laughing with me. ;)

On the other hand, the Thai language is truly beautiful! It definitely intrigues me, and I catch myself staring while someone talks, just listening to the different sounds and tones. It’s almost like a song, some words being pronounced in a high tone, some in a low tone, and some swooping or gliding up or down in a way. The characters of the Thai language are so elegant and almost look like artwork to me!

I think the children have been most helpful. While they learn, I learn as well. They also love to help! One little girl helped me learn names by pointing to different children and rewarding me with big smiles when I was correct.  I absolutely love working with the children. I’ve always thought that this would be my dream job, and I definitely feel in place here!

 

Alexa: Big, Busy, and Flowing

Today is my last morning in Bangkok! I made it in late Saturday night, and have a full and exciting two days here.  Bangkok is a lot different than I expected, and not in a bad way!  I was talking to my mom, and I think the best way that I can explain it is: big, busy, and flowing. The city is huge, bigger than I’ve ever seen, and there are people everywhere! The buildings spring up from the street, and even car dealerships are in buildings right off the street without lots.  The traffic is crazy, I would not want to learn how to drive here. However, even though the people and cars are moving at such a high pace, there seems to be an underlying root of patience.

IMG_3678  IMG_3665  IMG_3666  IMG_3680

That is one thing I have noticed here in Bangkok. The Thai people are so nice!  I was immediately greeted with compassion from my coordinator and host family! The first morning, Pori (one of the daughter’s) took me shopping at one of her favorite malls. We got there by bus, underground train, and sky train! It was really interesting talking to her about her family and culture.

 

IMG_3718  IMG_3702  IMG_3692  thailand5

I then met with my coordinator (over a cup of coffee, I was exhausted at this point), Chadathip, who is an amazing person and truly helpful, to start my orientation.  She gave me tips and pointers about traveling in Thailand, and explained the transportation systems in Bangkok.  After, I had a two hour introductory Thai language course.  It felt like I was bombarded with information on the first day, but I loved it at the same time.  I was a little overwhelmed when I got back to my host families house, but I don’t think I’d want it any other way.  I think it is better to be busy and occupied, especially when first arriving at a new place, then lonely and bored!

Yesterday was just as full as the day before! In the morning I went back to my Thai instructor’s house for more lessons.  She was a very intriguing person! Her fridge was covered with magnets from around the world from places she’s been, and her house was full of mosaics and decorations that she’d done herself. While I was there learning to speak Thai, her friends were over working on mosaics. It was very fun to try and speak with them while they crafted. They were so nice and helpful when I would forget or make a mistake!  I think they appreciated when I tried to speak their language. My instructor also took me to the market and restaurants to order food and to show me around. It was so fun to interact with the locals and experience new people and foods.  I even rode a motorcycle taxi around the neighborhood and had a huge grin on the whole time! I loved it.

Late afternoon, Wan, one of the other daughter’s, took me to one of the parks in Bangkok for a walk.  It was beautiful.  It was really nice to walk in the park and be out of the bustling streets of Bangkok.  At one point, I thought to myself, I wish I was the Leslie Knope who created this park (for all you Parks and Rec fans)!  ;)

That night I had dinner at my coordinator’s house and had a wonderful time.  Their mother lives with them at ate with us, and I absolutely loved her. I practiced my Thai with them and we were all full of laughter.  I think the grandmother truly loved when I tried to speak Thai.  Whenever I would greet anyone in Thai or thank them, they had a very sincere look of appreciation that I was trying to immerse myself in their culture. Which is exactly what my goal is!  Chadathips friends joined us later in the evening, and again I had a hoot. Everyone was so fun loving, non-judgemental, and welcoming.  They were visiting from around the world, and I thought to myself, these are the experiences that I want to grow older with!

It was nice to see some American foods in the supermarket and listen to American music in the car yesterday because it almost grounded me in a way.  I’m not in a totally different world, I’m still on the same Earth. We are all essentially the same people with similar emotions and facial expressions!  It has only been two days since I’ve gotten here, but it seems like a lot longer. I have had a wonderful time, and have met amazing people! My host family has been nothing but loving and welcoming, as well as my coordinator and her family, and my Thai instructor and her friends and family! I don’t know if I will ever want to leave this amazing country!

I do miss my friends, family and home at times, and I think that being here in Thailand will give myself an appreciation for what I have back home.  I miss cereal, cheese, and surprisingly Flagstaff winds, but this is an experience that I would never trade for the world!

I leave for Chonburi soon to go to my project sight, and I am filled with excitement to see what is in store for me in the next few weeks!  I will post pictures of Bangkok soon, but I need to pack for Chonburi! :)