My first week in Kamphaengphet was nothing short of magical. I met my host family, friends, and got to know my community better by volunteering. I also went rice farming for the first time!
First Day – July 13th //
The first time I rode down the street that I now walk multiple times a day, I was positively astounded by its natural beauty and temples. It leads to my school, Kamphaengphetpittayakom, where I arrived at around 3 pm. My advisor greeted me and we all walked up to the AFS Office to meet my host dad. We exchanged pleasant greetings and I gave him a Phuang Malai, a Thai flower garland designed to pay respect. We took many photos and I said goodbye to P Nudi and the road trip crew. My dad drove me home, gave me a little tour of our house, and gave me my Thai name. It is “Kanda Kongphetsuk,” which means the love I have for other people. It can also mean “beautiful girl,” or “beloved.”
My host mom came home shortly after and we drove to some stores to pick up any loose odds and ends I might immediately need. We then picked up my younger host sister from her extra classes. She gave me a big hug and we left for a big family dinner, including my host grandparents, parents, aunt & uncle, and cousins, at our grandparents’ house. It was a very lovely introduction to everyone, even if I was shyer than I intended to be.
First Weekend – July 14-15th //
Unlike many unlucky exchange students, I arrived at KPP on a Friday so I had the weekend to settle in before attending school. On Saturday, I spent most of the day studying Thai language and chatting with my family. I gave them the gifts I brought from home. I brought them United States flag printed cup holders and pins, Stars and Stripes pasta, a cutting board with a map of the USA, English cookies, classic Chicago style popcorn, jellybeans, and an etch-a-sketch for my sister. I think I went a little overboard but I really wanted to get them things they would enjoy and use. We went out for lunch and got a dessert I had never had before, a huge mountain of shaved ice with chocolate powder and pound cake. So delicious!
On Sunday, my dad and I went on our first ever bike ride in Kamphaengphet Historical Park. I will probably do a blog post later on the must-see sights in KP, in which I can elaborate on the park, but I will say that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site literally in my backyard! It was super fun and relaxing. Then, we went out for a sushi dinner to celebrate my arrival. Around our booth, there was a conveyor belt that had all types of fish, egg, meat, and more. In the middle of the table, there was a pot of boiling water that was divided into two sections so you could cook whatever you grabbed from the belt yourself. You can also order special items, so we ordered other types of sushi. Peem and I also had some chocolate ice cream and we all left very happy.
First Day of School – July 16th //
I woke up at 6 am the next day to get ready for my first day of school!! I had to iron pleats into my skirt and shirt, which was a bit difficult for me considering I’ve never ironed before. However, my parents helped me look presentable. Because my dad is a physics teacher at my high school, I live on the designated teacher’s street about two minutes away from school. I met my now best friends at the front of our school dome. They guided me to sit down for morning assembly and then we went to homeroom. Right before I introduced myself to my class, consisting of fifty kids, my friends pointed out that my skirt was on the wrong way and helped me fix it quickly. A little embarrassing for sure but it nearly was way worse.
We went to English class with my coordinator, Teacher Suporn. She had me introduce myself again and then my classmates each had to ask me one different personal question. When the interview was over, they had to write paragraphs about me and read them to me. They were very kind, but also did not shy away from telling me what they really thought. I made a lot of new friends that day and some of them even made me little gifts, which I appreciated so much. For example, my friend Volt made me desserts, tong yord (ทองหยอด) and tong yip (ทองหยิบ). They are made by boiling egg yolk, sugar, and flower water in sugar syrup. Then, it is made into the shape of flowers (tong yip) or spheres (tong yord.) Despite being made of egg, they are very sweet and moist. I loved both the gesture and the taste! 🙂
On my second day, I had to introduce myself to my entire school (2,800 students) in Thai and English during the morning assembly! My other exchange friends who started school the previous week reminded me that nobody was there to judge me, only to meet me. This advice really helped calm my nerves but I didn’t quite believe it until I arrived at school and was welcomed with astounding encouragement and support from everyone. Thanks to my language camp at DPU, I had an idea of what to say but it was definitely still anxiety-inducing. In re-watching my speech, I notice that I definitely mispronounced some things but at least I tried! (The video starts a little late, sorry!) I was presented with flowers and took some photos. It was actually pretty fun!
Volunteering with Red Cross – July 19th//
On Thursday morning, I volunteered with the Kamphaengphet branch of the Red Cross for the first time. I was with around ten women and we drove about an hour away to attend a meeting about protecting the environment through accurately disposing of garbage. The meeting was way bigger than I expected with around 100 people working in the waste management industry. We opened with a Red Cross song to lighten the mood, but since I didn’t know it, we then sang the Chang song that I learned at AFS arrival camp! (It’s a bop and everyone should hear it at least once a day.) We watched some informational videos that I could kind of understand through context clues. Some Red Cross representatives gave speeches and then I introduced myself in Thai and English. I was asked some questions about topics such as recycling in the United States and the involvement of American teenagers in the environment. Because I researched the topic thoroughly the night before, I was confident in my ability to accurately convey the information. We had a lovely lunch together and planted a tree with some Buddhist monks to commemorate the day.
Rice Farming – July 24th //
On Sunday, I woke up early to go rice farming with Kru Nok, Maya, Maryfer, and friends from school! We were very lucky that the weather was cool and even a little windy. We drove for about half an hour or more and had a quick breakfast. The camp leaders gave us instructions that my friends translated and we watched videos on the roles consumers play in society. We began the work day by carrying and planting seeds for the next group of people to attend the camp. Because the previous group had done the same for us, we took our ready seeds and walked down a little trail over a river, up a hill, and finally arrived at the muddy rice fields!
The group split in half and stood across from each other in the middle. Being barefoot and knee deep in mud is a weird feeling but I just embraced it, knowing I had another set of clean clothes waiting for me on the other side. We began tossing the seeds in and slowly walked our way back until we were on solid ground. Maya and I definitely had some close calls with falling into the mud but we kept each other balanced. The rice will be harvested in about three months but our work was done!
We walked back to the river and cleaned up both ourselves and the seed containers. As I was about to change clothes, I realized I was bleeding profusely from a bad cut on the bottom of my foot. It must have been on a rock as we walked up but I was having so much fun that I didn’t even notice! Kru Nok and my very kind friend Jennie sanitized my cut and we bandaged it up in no time. No worries!
We made our own lunch, complete with lots of meat, vegetables, rice, and sweet desserts! Maya, Maryfer, and I even tried a dessert that looked to me like a green brain, which I now know to be Lod Chong (ลอดช่อง.) It is made of coconut milk and jelly noodles made from rice flour and green food colouring. I love it!!
Then, we made a liquid soap to wash out our dirty clothes from earlier. We made them in cups and were supposed to put a bag around the cup, but me, as an exhausted foreigner, poured the contents of the cup into a bag. At this point, everyone was used to my daily awkward fumbles so it was just funny. We watched videos about the importance of multi-crop farming. In small groups, we proceeded to make a type of fertilizer that would later contain the seeds for the next group of people. In this time, I met a boy in my class who is going to Argentina with AFS next year, so I practiced my Spanish a little by helping him with some introductory words. We cleaned up and said thank you to the camp leaders for the great experience.
Previously, I had a complete lack of agricultural knowledge as a result of my education and my upbringing in a big city. The camp gave me an in-depth look at the process of food production, from seeds to my plate. I am also more aware of practices that are considerate and beneficial to do as a consumer. It was an unforgettable and educational day, full of fun with friends.
In Review //
Get ready for an incredibly sentimental conclusion, but you should already expect that from me by now.
My first week in KPP was overwhelming as the realities of the commitment I had made for the next year hit me. I am going to have communication issues every day, never have a definite routine how I did in the United States, be completely away from Western influences, and more. This may seem daunting, but I have never felt any regret or even homesickness yet. The way I will remember my first week in Kamphaengphet is a week full of love and happiness. I am going to bond with people in a way that transcends language, be free from the little daily tasks that previously obscured my goals, and try new things all the time.
I view this commitment to be beautiful and not at all one-sided. So many people have put in time, hard work, support, and belief in me to make this experience successful.
My YES cohort and I have an amazing connection that makes me confident that we can handle anything thrown our way this year as long we have each other. The AFS friends I’ve made inspire me every day. I love that, despite coming from all over the world and having totally different perspectives, we can relate to each other and build friendships because of this unique leap of faith we’ve all decided to take. My friends from Kamphaengphetpittayakom school are seriously the best ever and I can’t wait to spend the next year hanging out with them.
My absence for the year is difficult for my family and friends back home. I appreciate them being happy for me and making it through this year until we see each other again. This also brings me closer to my host sister, Rino, who will be living with my family in the United States for much of the time I am gone. I understand what she’s going through in the United States, as it was once my daily life, as well as being an exchange student and living in Asia.
The AFS Thailand staff, like P’ Nudi who kindly drove me from Bangkok to KPP, are so reliable, caring, and involved in my life. The YES alumni and AFS Thailand returnees, like Brandon and P’ Kam, never fail to make me laugh and are happy to give advice. My advisor, Kru Nok, and coordinator, Teacher Suporn, always search for the best opportunities for me and help me through everything.
My host family is so kind and generous to welcome me into their family. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me so much. They take amazing care of me and spending time with them is everything I could have hoped for and more.
I love my life in Thailand beyond expression and I can’t wait to spend the next year here!