The AFS Thailand arrival camp was hosted in Nonthaburi from July 4th-8th. We made friends with students from all around the world, as well as AFS Thailand returnees and staff.
First Day in Thailand//
We were greeted at the airport in Bangkok in the afternoon by AFS staff & returnees. We were the first AFS group to arrive. We got our first ever real Thai tea (555 Definitely as good as Gigi from YES Abroad Senegal said) and marvelled at the snacks in a convenience store. Our hotel was just outside Bangkok but with traffic, Chlo, Syd, Sof & I had about an hour long van ride. We didn’t mind at all because of the excitement of seeing the city. Us Americans had the rest of the day to ourselves, which we spent exploring the incredibly lavish hotel and playing cards. Our hotel had a beautiful outdoor pool and gym looking out on the city and we got to go twice over the four days. We had a nice dinner with just the Americans, Randell, and some AFS staff. We were all physically sick or mentally disoriented, or both. Out of necessity, we retired to our rooms very early. Sydney and I were roommates, but Chloe and Sofia were in the room right next to us.
Sessions and Free Time//
The next day, we had the amazing opportunity to meet with a U.S. embassy officer who gave us extremely helpful health and safety advice. We then, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to Randell; however, we met the first group of international arrivals. At lunch, we tried spicy food that we were definitely not ready for and savoured any Western food. We tried white guava for the first time, not knowing what it was, and astutely observed that it tasted like both basil and apple, or “bapple,” if you will. The name stuck and we embarrassed ourselves a little in front of the returnees when they finally revealed what it really was. Every day, a different AFS returnee would sit at our table and chat with us about their experiences or things we should look out for in Thailand. We especially loved talking to P Kam and other returnees from America!
Much like my several U.S. PDO’s, sessions were hours long and sometimes draining. However, the returnees kept things light and fun with coffee breaks, games, music, and dancing. We did sessions on health, safety, AFS rules, Thai language (Thank you, DPU!!), and culture. We were divided by gender, program, region, and all together to ensure that we were best equipped in our individual circumstances. Sof and I are lucky enough to both be in the north, so we got to do some sessions together.
On the last night, there was a very special dinner in a beautiful dining room where we met our advisors! They greeted us in traditional clothing from their regions, holding up roses to form an overpass, and singing AFS songs. We met them one-by-one onstage and were presented with real flower necklaces. We took pictures by hosting center and sat back down for dinner. There are two girls in Kamphaengphet with me: Maryfer (six weeks program, from Chicago too!) and Maya (year program, from Germany). However, neither of them go to my school. My advisor and I had so much fun getting to know each other and discussing Thai and American culture.
During dinner, there was a super fun talent show where students from each country performed a song or dance from their culture. The Americans were joined by our friends from Brazil and Greenland, seeing as people all around the world are familiar with our signature Cupid Shuffle & Cha Cha Slide. The advisors also did acts by region. After dinner, the returnees played a surprise video, capturing many happy moments from camp. Sof and I even got our one second of fame 555. Then, there was a ceremony where the AFS returnees held candles in the dark and sang a song while our advisors and other AFS staff & returnees tied white strings around our wrists for good luck and well wishes.
Lastly, everyone in the room formed a huge circle and held hands, singing an AFS song. We then were given the instruction to hug everyone and anyone in the room. It was pretty emotional for a lot of people and it made everyone feel supported. The group (aside from us YES kids) was leaving in the morning to their host communities so it was the last time many of us would see each other.
The vibe quickly changed at a huge after-party with all of the AFS students and returnees. If we didn’t think the Italians were crazy (and fun!) before, we definitely did then. It was helped a lot of us relax and let go after weeks of travelling and stress. Our curfew was extended too, so the YES girls got to hang out a little later than usual and mentally prepare for our next and last leg of the journey to meet our host families. Our hotel was extremely Western, primarily speaking English, so we didn’t have any exposure to the realities of Thailand beyond talk. It was a really nice last day of guaranteed comfort. The next morning, we left the hotel for language camp.