Language Camp in BKK

Overview//

From October 13th-16th, 2018, I spent time in Bangkok staying with fellow YES Abroad-er, Chloe, before our language camp. All of the YES Abroad cohort had classes at Dhurakij Pundit University from October 16th-22nd, 2018.

Staying with Chloe//

On October 13th, I travelled from Kamphaengphet to Bangkok with my host parents because they had an AFS host family conference to attend. My language camp was only three days away so it only made sense for me to go with them instead of making the long journey by myself. This meant that I could stay with Chloe, another YES kid for three extra days! I was so eager to see everyone that I couldn’t sleep at all on the ride, which started at 5 am. I love driving through the north of Thailand, as you get to pass bright green rice fields that stretch as far as the eye can see with a backdrop of mountains. I watched the peach orange sun turn yellow and listened to music until we arrived at around 10 or 11 am.

As we pulled up to the hotel where our AFS journey began, I thought I saw Chloe in the lobby. My heart was pounding as we pulled into the carpark and I raced with my luggage to the main section. I accompanied my host family to the second floor, where I saw all of the AFS staff again as well as my German friend Emil and my Italian friend Arianna, whose parents were also attending the conference. I said goodbye to my host parents and friends and then went back to the first floor, where Chloe and I embraced in a shrieking hug. We let go of each other and then hugged again. I met her host brother, who had taken Chloe to come pick me up. Before leaving, we quickly went back upstairs to take a photo with a larger-than-life poster of Sofia in Thai traditional costume. It was hilarious and we couldn’t resist. We then made our way to the BTS Skytrain and the process of getting tickets was completely lost on me, who was blown away by the big city. We travelled for about an hour and stopped in Siam Paragon, one of the biggest malls in Thailand.

We had Mexican food for dinner, which was something I desperately craved. Seeing aspects of Western culture and other foreigners in Thailand was very strange for me. We took multiple transportation types until we eventually arrived in the district of Bangkok that Chloe’s host family lives in. She lives in a mostly Muslim community, which is very different in comparison to the other YES kids who live in Buddhist communities. I was greeted by her host parents, who were very kind to me. As we hauled my luggage upstairs, I was beginning to note differences and similarities between our lives. Seeing a glimpse at another exchange student’s life can be beneficial, as it gives you a chance to explore a different side of a familiar culture. We sat on her bed for a while and caught up with everything. She also gave me a lovely peach lotion, as part of lotions she got for each of us in the cohort from Korea, which I thought was very sweet.

The next day, we went back to Siam Paragon and to some other malls too. We walked around to many of the bigger stores but not buying anything except some silly props to celebrate Halloween with. At lunch, we met Luke, another YES Abroad student who lives in a province nearby, over Mexican food again.

Afterwards, we met up with some other exchange students in the area for karaoke briefly. It was fun but I didn’t really know them very well so I mostly talked to Chloe and Luke. We got take-out and then parted ways for only one more day. 

IMG_1016[1]
Luke, me, and Chloe with our takeout in an elevator in Siam Paragon.
In the evening, Chloe’s host parents and cousin took us to see a ship for about an hour. We couldn’t quite piece together the historical significance but we still had fun exploring and looking at the views.

On the last day, we wanted to see the more famous sights of Bangkok, ideally with Luke. However, after mishaps with planning, we ended up taking a day-long ferry ride through the city with Chloe’s host cousin and their family friend. It had no real destination except a ten minute market stop. We enjoyed it despite it being burning hot. 

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A bridge in Bangkok.
We had an exciting evening, as Sydney came to stay the night before camp. Chloe and I eagerly waited in the front room and the second she came through the sliding door, we were all laughing and hugging each other again. We spent the night snacking, playing with Chloe’s lovely cat named Meboon (or make merit in Thai), and catching up.

Language Lessons//

The next day, we were up at the crack of dawn to make it to Dhurakij Pundit University for our week of language lessons, courtesy of AFS and YES Abroad. We went by car for about an hour until we pulled up to the ever-familiar campus. Chloe, Sydney, and I hopped out with our baggage and were greeted by two new chaperones. One was AFS staff and another was an AFS intern. Both were very nice and helpful but we did not get as close to them as we did with P’ Jean and P’ Bamboo. Sofia had been at DPU for a little while and came down the stairs. We all shouted her name and pulled in for a big hug. Luke came later in the day, living closer to DPU than anyone. We brought our baggage upstairs, making sure to use the elevator that we lovingly call “the Shark’s Mouth”, as it always closes way too soon and catches someone inside.

We had a late lunch and then met the teachers for our afternoon lesson, a review of what we learned the last time. I unfortunately was not doing as well as I wanted to. My host family and I only spoke English with each other in the house, as it seemed to be their preference. My host parents wanted my host sister to be better at English and I often felt awkward trying to speak Thai. When their friends or family came over, we would sometimes speak Thai together. At school, my friends are in the English Program and are very good at English, especially with vocabulary. They would often ask me questions in Thai and I would try to figure out responses slowly. Whenever I brought my Thai for Beginners book to class, they would all chime in to help me learn. My Thai teachers, two college students who were TAs at my school, were very fun and taught me very much. However, in Thailand, there are often complications with classes and I sometimes had to miss class to participate in other school activities. I was getting practice but it was not the all immersive experience that many people expect. In fact, I think a misconception about studying abroad would be that when you are in a country for long enough, you just learn the language naturally. That is certainly not the case, although it may be easier to learn languages closer to English. You have to study and work to learn the language, just like any other skill. I know plenty of people who don’t study Thai and live here for years, not even knowing how to say their own name. I also know people who diligently study every day and speak almost fluently in a few years. I have a deep interest in learning languages as that is what I want to study in college so I try my best to learn, always carrying around my Thai for Beginners book as well as using my app (Thai by Nemo for any future learners). I will also admit that in the overwhelming chaos of school and friends and family, I do not actively study Thai every day. The other YES kids had similar situations with varying levels of practice in their communities.

The schedule was the same: 3 hours of class in the morning (9-12) and 2 hours in the afternoon (1-3). Our teachers were the same as our first camps and they alternated teaching us classes. We learned speaking/listening and writing/reading in a day but our class subject times would alternate too. We mostly had class with Ajan Jam. (By the way! For long-term readers that I never explained this for, here is some Thai vocabulary that might come up:

  • P’ is how you informally but politely address older friends or relatives, as it translates to older brother or sister.
  • Nong is how you address younger friends or relatives and it means younger brother or sister.
  • Kru or Ajan is how you formally and politely address teachers, as it means teacher or professor.)

Our curriculum was entirely different. We learned some more complex vocabulary and grammar such as describing our families and types of clothes. We would practice writing paragraphs and reading. Our activities were usually fun like drawing pictures of each other and describing what we were wearing or trying Thai snacks to describe how they tasted. One day, we learned new Thai songs and practiced singing them. However, we were all exhausted by the end of the day. We longed for our lunch breaks, in which we would get delicious Thai food for cheap in the cafeteria. We then retired to our special spot on campus to eat dessert, a pagoda overlooking a pond.

Nights with the Cohort//

Our evenings were by far the best. Some nights we would eat at a nearby Thai restaurant that served good noodles. However, on some rare occasions, we could also get Western food. One night, we got Mexican food and we were thrilled. Even if it didn’t resemble the Mexican food we know and love in the States, we found quesadillas, burritos, and chips & guac taste best when they’re dearly missed. Another night, we got pizza and it definitely was nothing like the Chicago pizza that Sydney and I have grown up loving. However, any familiar food gave me great comfort, especially sharing it with my American friends who also hadn’t had it in such a long time.

One night, we found a nearby Western restaurant that served delicious food, albeit expensive. I ordered baked spinach and cheese, a dish often served at Thai-Western restaurants. We decided to take slices of chocolate and strawberry-crepe cake to go, in celebration of Chloe’s and my birthday, which are both in October. We all sat on the floor of our bedroom with our cake slices.

My birthday cake!
My birthday cake!

Sydney, Sofia, and Luke sang the birthday song to Chloe and I. We then sniffed our inhalers (commonly used essential oils used as decongestants and aromatherapy) in place of blowing out candles. Sydney kindly gave us both birthday presents: face masks from Japan and bunny slippers. The face masks were a bit confusing on how to use but we tried nonetheless and the bunny slippers were very much needed in my case. Later in the camp, Sydney also cut my hair to be straight because it was a fully formed mullet at that point. I later found a hair salon with my host mother and sister that could cut my hair well but I had heard horror stories from other exchange students that made me nervous in the beginning. I really appreciated all of Sydney’s gifts to me.

We had three rooms for us in the hotel. Sydney was my roommate because we hadn’t seen each other in a while and probably wouldn’t until February because of our differing provinces. Chloe & Sof partnered up and Luke had his own room. We usually elected one room to stay in and the four of us girls would push the beds together and sleep there. Luke would stay with us until we were all exhausted and then he retired to his bedroom. The hotel staff even knew our plans, as they made the beds as we had left them every night. We watched The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and it became a cohort fan favourite. We also watched reality television shows, like 19 Kids and Counting or RuPaul’s Drag Race, and funny YouTube videos. Per usual, we played Uno or cards in our free time. Sometimes we would play unusual games such as “Truth or Milk Tablet.” Because we were staying in the campus hotel, there weren’t really any appropriate dares to do. Therefore, the only logical punishment for refusing a question would be to eat a milk tablet, a Thai candy that us Americans couldn’t stand. It made any question seem answerable in comparison. We also played cohort jeopardy, where we each wrote a column of questions about ourselves and one question about the group. Chloe and Sydney tied for the win, followed by me and Sofia, and Luke coming in last.

Our Last Day//

Our last day came too soon, as we were all having loads of fun. We had to take an exam, proctored by Ajan Jam, but the other teachers came too. We had to do a listening, reading, and writing section on the exam. The tailend of it was most anticipated and fun. We had to pick a few topics from a hat and then had a choice of which to talk about. We were then given a short amount of time to prepare what to say and then presented our topic. After our test, we were sad that our camp had officially ended. We took some silly photos of us with Ajan Jam and she invited us out to dinner that night. We went to a Western restaurant nearby and ordered pizza. We talked to her mostly in Thai by her request for us to practice and played a game trying to figure out where the other Westerners in the restaurant were from. We then got brownies and ice cream, which were so delicious. She drove us home afterwards and I felt so sad with the knowledge that I wouldn’t see her again until February. Ajan Jam was brilliant, hilarious, and kind. I couldn’t have asked for any better Thai teachers than her and her colleagues. We spent our last night talking with each other late and then had to get up early to say goodbye. Our goodbye’s this time were unfortunately rushed, as everyone had somewhere to be. We gave each other a billion quick hugs and Sydney and I were ushered into a van to go to a bus station. Sydney and I live far away but we both took the bus to get to DPU so we were escorted there with an AFS staff member, P’Beer. We got bubble tea and had lunch at the KFC nearby. I had an earlier bus than Sydney so after a quick 7/11 run, I said goodbye to her and P’Beer and made my way back to Kamphaengphet.

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