Chiang Mai Camp

Overview//

On February 20-24, 2019, I attended an AFS cultural camp in Chiang Mai, where I met all of the AFS cohort for the first time since July.

The Journey//

Chloe and I were up and packed at the ripe hour of 5 am to go with all of the kids living in the southern region to our Chiang Mai camp. I said goodbye to my lovely friend Meeboon (Chloe’s cat) and Nadia, and we were on our way. Chloe’s host mother drove us for about an hour to Nonthaburi to the AFS Thailand national office. After some awkward photos in the parking lot, we arrived to embarrassingly find we were the last ones to arrive. We quickly rushed into the office. This was the first time I had been to the office and I was surprised by how modern and high tech it seemed. The interior was completely white and minimalistic, while the exterior was steel coloured and had an interesting shape. There was some breakfast out like fruit, meat, and sticky rice but I opted out. Chloe and I found Luke and gave him a big hug. He introduced me to Tyler, a German boy who Luke met when he did a week exchange in Surat Thani. Chloe knew him from the Southern AFS regional camp. We all talked in a group for a bit until we got our instructions for the day and a well-intentioned but misguided pep talk from a random AFS staff member. We made our way onto a big bus and Chlo and I sat together in the back with a bunch of Europeans I vaguely knew. The ride to Chiang Mai was a little under nine hours so it was pretty intense. Chlo and I passed the time listening to music and sleeping. The view travelling north was eerily similar to midwestern United States, making me reminiscent.

Somewhere near the halfway point, I alerted Chloe that we were passing through Kamphaengphet, my province. I hoped we would pass straight through the middle, as I lived in the Muang (or city center/capital in Thai). Unfortunately, we didn’t and we seemed to pass through in record time of only about twenty-five minutes. It ended up doing us some good though as Chloe and I started paying a modicum of attention to our surroundings and overheard a heated discussion between the Europeans about social issues. I turned to see Alessandro, an extremely outgoing Italian boy, who was sitting across from me turning behind him and leading this crusade. Behind him was Alice, the first non-American AFS-er I ever met in Thailand, looking exasperated by the conversation. Alice was French and she lived in a district in Bangkok. We were mutuals on Instagram and we direct messaged a bit in the beginning of the year but I didn’t know her well. From her social media, I knew she was friends with a lot of AFS kids especially those in Bangkok, whereas I really had only American friends (with a few outliers like Gonzague, Emil, Arianna, and Maya.) I thought that was really cool of her because most of the AFS kids are from Italy so it can be a little hard to integrate into their friend groups, though they are considerate to change the conversation to English around others. She also had an amazing sense of style, wearing lots of colours and pretty earrings. I was simultaneously left intimidated and in admiration of her, as she was bold and outgoing in ways I wasn’t. I really wanted to be her friend. When Alessandro saw Chloe and I noticing the scene, he pulled us into the conversation excitedly, announcing to the group of Europeans they had to start over and only in English for us. The group groaned but sat up a little straighter, ready for round two. We nervously laughed and said there was no need to do that for us, but he was persistent so we jumped right into it. We discussed feminism, education, issues in America, and more. When the topic turned to vegetarianism, he took a focus on me as the entire bus knew who the vegetarians were from when lunch boxes were passed out. Alice, also being vegetarian (though she is vegan in France), was also engaged. He went over classic stereotypical questions, including the desert island argument. Alice and I were rolling our eyes into the backs of our heads, laughing, and countering all of his misgivings about vegetarians. I will say, Alessandro was very respectful of everyone’s opinions and openly, gladly admitted and accepted when he had been proven wrong about a matter. Chloe likened him to a talk show host, so charismatic and able to pull anyone into conversations about everything under the sun. I had some good laughs listening to people’s misconceptions about America and vegetarianism, as well as getting educated about other countries. I also felt like Alice and I had broken the ice a little bit so I guess I can thank Alessandro for that.

We eventually returned to our sleeping and relaxing positions until we stopped for dinner at Big C, a mall. AFS gave us some money and we were off. Chloe, Luke, Giulia and Claudia (two Italian girls I later got close with), and I went to get pizza. Luke was chatty as ever, knowing everyone at the table. Chloe and I sort of kept to ourselves at the end of the table but were happy when we sometimes were welcomed into topics. I had a mini pizza, equivalent to maybe two slices, with cheese and pineapple thus prompting joking (but really not at all joking) disgust from the Italians. Honestly, I have no excuses for my behavior. I just truly love pineapple on pizza. After pizza, we got bubble tea and I felt so full. We hopped back on the bus for about two hours more of travelling. Somehow Chloe and I were invited to sit on the bottom level of the bus, a lounge area packed with Italians. There, we played Uno, talked, and listened to music. I was rather restless and eager to finally get out of the bus but this served as a fun distraction.

Night One//

We finally arrived at the hotel, which was easily five stars. I tumbled off the bus as fast as I could and grabbed my huge suitcase to take it inside. I was trying to drag it up a ramp to the hotel when I heard my name screamed. I turned to see Sydney, Sofia, and Luke flying through the hotel doors. Chloe and I dropped our bags instantly and screamed, ignoring all onlookers completely. We sprinted, meeting them in a huge jumping hug that lasted for about five minutes. Not going to lie, I did shed a few tears of joy. It was the first time our little group had been together since October and I felt ecstatic. We had made it until February against all odds. With summer break on the horizon, there was nowhere to go but up. It was such a pure moment of joy and love that really captured how close my cohort was.

We met up with the rest of the AFS group after Chloe and I had to lug our bags up the ramp yet again. We said hello to our other AFS friends and then sat to listen to the camp rules. The camp rules were the same as the normal AFS ones, with the additions of stuff like not to go outside the hotel or lose the room key which would cost a whopping 3,000 baht (or $95 USD!). I was nodding to all of it, holding hands with Sofia & Sydney jittery with excitement, and giggling just looking at my best friends. After the AFS staff finished, they gave us roommates based on our location and our keys. I was roommates with my friend Maya, who also lived in Kamphaengphet. I unfortunately almost never saw her in my exchange year because we attended different schools and it was hard for us to meet up in town. I was so grateful for this as she seemed like a pleasant, responsible person to live with and I was eager to get to know her better. We dragged our suitcases to the elevator, where we tried to fit as many people as possible. Unbelievably, the instant Chloe’s roommate stepped in the doorway of the elevator, her very expensive room key slipped out of her hand and, as these things usually go, straight down the elevator shaft. She looked up at us with a look of shock, horror, and also a hint of laughter at her incredibly bad luck. We mirrored her and began to laugh, freaking out about what to do. Someone must have forgotten to hold the elevator button as we zoomed up before we could even address it. My heart sunk just thinking of her dilemma but Chloe told me the hotel staff managed to retrieve it so we all breathed a sigh of relief. Though the AFS group was split between floors, somehow all of the Americans (and also Gonzague) were in the same hallway so I said goodnight to all of them.

The rooms were very elegant and lovely, and I was rather appreciative to live again like a Westerner (though a more affluent one than I really am) if only for a few days. I took a nice, warm shower and hopped into pajamas. Maya and I then chatted in our beds until 1 am, catching up and telling stories about our experiences. I read a book for a little on my Kindle (Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern) before snuggling into my sheets. I went over the days events in my head and mentally prepared for the next day. I had some goals for the camp: to make new friends, learn more Thai, be more open with the AFS staff about the challenges I faced, and have fun. I went to sleep thinking only happy thoughts.

Sessions Day//

The next morning, we were at breakfast by 7:30 am. I made some tea and indulged in some fruit, yogurt, and fried vegetable rice. Chloe, Sofia, Sydney, and I found a table in the sunlight and sat together, while Luke was with some of his other AFS friends. After breakfast, we had some tedious group sessions reminding us of AFS rules, checking on our groups for problems, and more.

The most exciting session for sure was the discussion of optional activities, which are travel camps you can pay to do in the summer break that are organized by AFS. Some of you readers gave me money to pay for them, which I thank you for immensely. I attended three camps in total and I loved them all though for different reasons. At lunch, we coordinated in my room with our AFS friends to pick the best camps and who would be free when. My friends and I decided we for sure wanted to do the Koh Lipe island trip (because who could pass up island hopping in Thailand?) and the Thai massage camp in Ayutthaya. I frankly was indifferent to the massage camp as I felt it would be beyond awkward to be massaging my friends for six hours every day. However, my friends assured me it would be tons of fun as it was ten days in Ayutthaya, one of the most famous sites in Thailand renowned for its ruins. After lunch, the bloodbath began as all of the students were let loose and ran to sign up for camps as there were limited spots. Everyone was pushing and shoving and trying their best to sign up. All of my friends got onto the Koh Lipe trip, but I unfortunately didn’t make the cut for massage camp. My camp spots changed radically later because of circumstances I’ll go into in a future blog post. I signed up for the waitlist for a lot of trips as well.

The second half of the day continued with high energy as the amazing teachers from Dhurakij Pundit University taught our group a three-hour Thai language lesson. We divided into small groups and focused on speaking and learning vocabulary. In my group were Arianna and Andrea, two Italians I was friends with because of the Northern cultural orientation. We did an activity making lanterns out of tissue paper and using Thai vocabulary. I was downright horrible at it despite Arianna and Andrea’s attempts to help me, eventually ending up with the end product of two sheets of coloured paper cut up poorly and stacked on one another. The rest of the group came out boasting with beautifully crafted lanterns, with intricate patterns and vibrant colour combinations. At the end, Ajan Jam saw the mess I had made and thought it was so funny that she made me a lovely new lantern to keep.

The lanterns
Sydney’s lantern next to mine.

Everyone then rearranged groups to work with our friends. I was in a group with Sofia, Sydney, Chloe, Emil, Arianna, Andrea, Gonzague, and more. We were given a scenario and then had to build a skit completely in Thai about it to perform. Our group had the requirement of a swimming pool and a bathroom, which was rather hard to incorporate both elements. We gathered our ideas for a good twenty minutes and rehearsed. When it was our turn, we awkwardly climbed onstage and got in our starting positions. Our skit was about a race where someone (Emil played this star role) was super confident they would win but lost terribly and peed in the pool, having to make a break for the bathroom. We had a slow-motion race, surely looking incredibly silly flapping our arms as if we were swimming. Sydney and I played the real winners and we made fun of Emil for his loss. Sofia was our referree as she had the most professional sounding Thai. Chlobird, Gonzague, Arianna, and the rest of the gang either played swimmers in the competition or parents watching. I thought our skit was bizarre but our Thai was fair enough and we made the most of our prompts. A lot of other groups had movie theater prompts so they acted out the video that plays in Thai movie theatres before every show to honor the king, as well as scenes from a popular Thai movie that had just been released. All of the skits were hilarious, either because of the randomness of the situations, the group’s creativity, or everyone’s just barely acceptable usage of Thai. I thought this was the most successful group lesson we’d done so far and I loved practicing Thai. We had a coffee break after this session luckily, as my attention eventually wore thin from the immersive experience. This also gave us YES Abroad students an opportunity to say our goodbyes to our university teachers who we got very close with over the year. This was the last time I saw them though Chloe, Sofia, and Luke later met up with them one last time in Bangkok. At that meeting, Ajan Jam and the other teachers kindly gave us all t-shirts with their Thai for Beginners logo as well as a cute owl scarf. (Chlo, Sof, and Luke gave Sydney and I ours later.)

After finishing our sessions, we had another lovely dinner. This time, the lot of us sat at a long table with people from lots of countries. I had fried rice, fruits, and bread while everyone else endulged in pastas and other non-vegetarian dishes. I later was horrified to discover that the pot that was full of fried rice with egg that morning had been replaced with fried rice with crab, but the sign had not been replaced. My friends tried to hide this fact from me but I was rather perturbed to learn that, despite me only having a bit to eat. I luckily didn’t get sick but I hated the idea that I had consumed meat, even if by complete accident. While serving myself, I talked for the first time to an Italian I knew from social media who complimented me on my blog. (Thank you for your support and for reading!) I always really appreciate when people give me feedback on my writing. After dinner, we got a small group of about fifteen people in Sydney and her roommate Giovanna’s room. Gio (for short) was a few years older than us and a bit more quiet. She was exceedingly kind and fun to chat with. At the beginning of the night, the Americans blasted our classic American music playlist and had a little dance party. When people came, we settled down a bit and pushed the two beds together. We all sat in a circle and played a silly game of Truth or Dare which later descended into a long storytime from Alessandro. We talked for hours and went to sleep a bit earlier to get ready for the next day.

 

Chiang Mai Excursion Day//

The second day of camp was so much fun, as it was designed to give us a taste of Chiang Mai (the largest city in northern Thailand) and its culture. While perhaps not the most popular for tourists in comparison to Bangkok and the southern islands, I consider Chiang Mai to be a must-see for visitors. I think the local culture really shines through while also having the classic tourist attractions, many of which we visited in our excursion. We met everyone for breakfast at around 7 am, all of us dressed in some less than fashionable mustard yellow AFS shirts. Our first stop was to an elephant village, where we began the day with a slow raft ride down a river. I shared a raft with Gonzague, Sofia, Chloe, Sydney, Emil, Alice (from Germany), Fenja, and some AFS chaperones. When we began, we passed by tourists riding elephants up through the mountains and through fog. After a bit, we drifted away from all the other groups so it was just us floating along amongst the sounds of birds and the river. Sofia broke the silence with her harmonica and serenaded us with Blackpink (a Korean pop girl group, popular in Thailand) songs.

 

I also put on some popular American folk music and everyone sang along. The vibe was very light-hearted, peaceful, and happy, full of love for the nature and each other. We sailed along, taking in the morning sun and fresh air.

 

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We finally made it to the end of the river and thanked the people sailing us before climbing out and heading up a gravel path where vans were waiting for us.

 

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We drove to a different area of the camp, where we had the choice to see an elephant show. The majority of our raft group stayed behind as we didn’t feel comfortable supporting this. I have seen an elephant show before with school and the practice just doesn’t sit right with me, no matter how many assurances I’m given. I was happily surprised to see a lot of other AFS-ers opted out too, with a group of maybe fifteen other kids sitting in a different area. P’Nudi and some staff didn’t attend either and P’Nudi very kindly bought us ice cream while we waited. We chatted to pass the time and eventually our full group re-surfaced. We split up again seconds after, with the other kids going to ride elephants and my group heading to the elephant hospital. There, we saw one elephant being treated and relaxing. A director was there to give us more information on how they take care of elephants but stumbled a bit when students asked about the usage of picks to control elephants and queries about the ethics of it all. I was quite unimpressed by the whole thing and we passed the time petting the elephant. We then were escorted to a field area with a large tent where dung paper products were made. We watched a demonstration on it but couldn’t focus on the content after the guide ate the before product to try and get our attention. Pretty disgusting. Our timing wasn’t great as we then segued into lunch. Options were limited and I snacked on some pasta and fruit. The cafeteria area was packed so our friends were a bit divided. I sat by Gonzague, Sofia, Sydney, Chloe, and some other AFS-ers I didn’t really know.

After lunch, we left the elephant village and took a songtaew to a local tribal village featuring the Karen Long Necks. Sydney wrote a blog post about the Chiang Mai trip as well where I think she best explained the Karen. I will put an excerpt here to give you a better understanding: “The Karen are refugees from Myanmar, and they all hold refugee status, so their movement is restricted, and they have limited access to education, healthcare, and employment. Because they are refugees, there are no truly “authentic” villages in Thailand. Known for their long necks, the Karen people are of interest to many tourists because of their appearance. It used to be thought that women wore the rings to prevent tigers from biting their necks, or to make themselves seem less attractive to men from other villages, but those theories are mostly regarded as folklore. Today, the Karen see long necks as a sign of beauty. Girls begin wearing rings around their necks from a very young age, and a new ring is added annually. Contrary to popular belief, the rings don’t actually make the neck longer, but they press down on the collarbone, which gives the appearance of an elongated neck. I had some ethical concerns about visiting a tribal village, and whether or not I would be supporting a “human zoo”. When we arrived, we were assured that everything was ethical, but I still felt a little uneasy during the entire trip. The section of the village open to tourists is lined with shops, and Karen women sell trinkets and crafts, weave silk, and take photos with visitors. I debated whether or not I should buy something, but I decided to purchase something small in hopes that the profit would support a woman who had limited income opportunities. After researching, I learned that in many villages the operators pay villagers small wages for toiletries and food, and villagers are punished for speaking to visitors about their plights and using modern technology. It is true that wearing the rings is a choice in these villages, however, women who wear the rings are paid higher wages. I don’t have any photos to post, as I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures with/of any of the women, but you can look up the Karen Long Neck tribe if you’re interested in learning more/seeing photos of the rings.”

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A sign describing the tribes located in the village. Photo by Sydney Chesta.

I walked through the village with Emil, who went from stand to stand having long discussions with the Karen in Thai as well as buying lots of trinkets. I met up with Sydney about halfway through and we walked back together to the center of the village where we would meet the other AFS-ers after they had finished. There, we decided to play some American games using handshakes like “Lemonade,” or “Tennis Court.” I unfortunately am not very good at these but Sydney and I worked our way up with them. Eventually, the other Americans came back and joined in and we gathered a small crowd of other AFS-ers watching us play these fast-paced games in awe. We started teaching other people and it was really fun.

Next on the agenda was a visit to a temple, where we would do our community service portion of the camp. We were each given gloves and trash bags to pick up any garbage we saw on the property. To be completely honest, the temple grounds were clean as could be so we had to scour the area to find any trash. Sofia and I climbed over some hedges with P’Bia to get some and ended up filling a good amount of our bag. We mostly just walked around though in this time, despite the sun blaring down on us.

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One of the temples we were cleaning up.

Afterwards, we stopped at a cafe to get lemon tea and then we all hopped back on the bus to the hotel again. Sofia and I sat together and blasted Ke$ha music in our headphones as well as othe 2014 top pop hits and danced pretty crazy despite being on a bus. It was super silly and made me feel super energized.

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Sof and I listening to music on the way home.

When we got to the hotel, we had some free time so Emil and I and some of our other friends decided to go swimming. After, I took a shower and changed into nice clothes for dinner. We had a bit of trouble planning for dinner as the vegetarians apparently had to have their own table for food and couldn’t be served anywhere else. I was a bit disappointed about this, as it meant I couldn’t sit by my friends. We tried to arrange it so that the Americans could sit by me and still eat meat but it didn’t work out and caused some tension in our group. I was pretty stressed and obviously wasn’t forcing my friends to eat vegetarian food but also wasn’t looking forward to spending the night alone. Sofia calmed me down a lot and it all turned out okay.

We went to a Lanna Khantoke show, a Northern cultural experience not unfamiliar to me as I live in the North. However, it was still incredibly special as the food was delicious and the cultural dances afterwards were beautiful. We sat on the floor on cushions arranged around a circular table with dishes made to share. I sat by Alice (from France), Lele (a Brazilian girl), and some AFS staff. The food was absolutely divine, with fried bananas to start and followed by boiled vegetables, sticky rice, rice cakes, chickpeas, salad with hummus, fried tofu, fried vegetables, vegetarian curry, and sweet crispy rice. Dessert was a delicious and fresh watermelon. I definitely consider this meal to be the best food I ever had in Thailand.

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Our dinner.

When I first sat down, Lele and Alice noticed I was a bit nervous and I explained to them what had happened with my friends. They were very friendly and welcoming and we had a really good and interesting conversation about our lives and goals for the future, as well as being vegetarian and living healthy. Alice described her ideal future to be making art and travelling around in a van, which I thought was so unique and cool. She is incredibly creative and values minimalism. This dinner was the first time I got a glimpse of Alice’s true colours and I really wish I had been a bit more outgoing then. Throughout the meal, Thai traditional music was playing in the background. The evening culminated around dessert time, when the sun had already set, and Thai traditional dance begun. Many of the dances followed stories like women being married or men fighting each other. The costumes and make-up were very intricate and magnificent. The attention to detail was remarkable. There was also an extremely flashy light show going on, to the point where I felt overwhelmed at times. (This is why I don’t have any photos or video of the dance.) Towards the end of the night, people switched seats a bit so Gonzague and I sat together and watched. I really enjoyed the evening all in all. Before leaving, I went to the bathroom and one of the dancers was in there washing up as well. She noticed my bag and exclaimed that she was an AFS-er too in America, somewhere in the midwest like me. We walked outside together and she introduced me to some of her friends, who also did AFS. They all were very sweet and it reminded me how big and wonderful the AFS alumni community is. I met up again with Sofia for the bus ride home and we talked to Alessandro and some other people. We all met up in my room that night and did essentially the same thing as the night before. 

Last Day in Chiang Mai//

Our last day in Chiang Mai was bittersweet. We had a lovely cohort breakfast, endulging on the Western food and playing silly games. Sofia and I invented one where you pull your arm back as far as you can and then try to touch the tip of the other person’s finger when you bring your hands together fast. This is quite possibly the easiest and stupidest game ever, but it was funny because for some reason I kept angling my fingers down at the last second.

 

We took a songtaew ride up through the chilly mountainside, making for a bumpy but adventurous ride. Our group here was a bit mismatched, with the American girls, Emil, Gonzague, and an Italian boy named Enrico who would later become one of my best friends. He was accidentally (and luckily) placed with us because of the number needed for each songtaew. We blared our American top hits and sang at the top of our lungs, being a bit obnoxious but having loads of fun. The other AFS songtaews racing by burst into laughter seeing us create a party at 7 am. Enrico looked a bit overwhelmed but having a really good time nonetheless, eventually singing along. We took plenty of song requests and tried to find songs that everyone would know. We reached our destination, Wat Doi Suthep, after our long and fun ride. This is easily the most famous temple in the area, and for good reason: the hike up to the top of the temple is 309 steep steps. We tied our shoelaces and began our journey. Luckily, the sun was only just peaking out, making it a relatively tame climb.

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The view from a quarter of the way up the temple steps.

Sofia, Emil, and I went through the temple and paid our respects. Then, we looked at the spectacular view of the mountains. It was unbelievably foggy, though it was hard to tell if that was from scarily poor air quality or just natural.

 

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Emil, Sofia, and I then climbed back down the 309 steps, eventually stopping at a little shop to get drinks. They started talking in advanced Thai, which simultaneously made me feel inspired to learn more and frustrated that I hadn’t already reached their level yet. It was good practice nonetheless. Afterwards, we met at the top of a stairway outside the temple entrance where all the AFS-ers were to wait to take a photo and for attendance. In the meantime, us Americans started singing our country’s classic music like our national anthem, “Sweet Caroline,” “Country Roads,” “Party in the USA,” and “God Bless America.” The Italians and other Europeans then started singing their country’s songs which was fun to hear. We got back in our songtaews, singing all the while as we followed the twisted road down the mountains again. We had a brief lunch stop, switched to our buses, and went to the Bor Sang Umbrella Village. We saw beautiful handcrafted umbrellas line the square of creators’ stands and watched as people delicately handpainted anything imaginable on any surface. My friends and I searched the gift shops for blank T-shirts or phone cases we could get painted but had no luck as they were all ridiculously expensive. We stopped to get iced tea as we looked. I decided to get my handbag painted with flowers. It cost about 200 baht or $6.46 USD, which I thought was well-worth the unique masterpiece. I sat down at a booth and talked to the kind woman in Thai while she worked. I was a bit nervous as I didn’t see any other AFS-ers around, leading me to believe it was almost time for us to go. Luckily, the painting was done in less than ten minutes and it was absolutely gorgeous.

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The flower design painted on my bag.

As it turns out, all the other AFS-ers were just lounging around a cafe and relaxing, so I had nothing to worry about. I got myself a tea and hung out with friends until we left for the hotel again. We hung out in Sydney’s room for a little while and then left for Tha Pae Walking Street for dinner. At first, we stuck together in a big group and eventually all split up without realizing when Emil and I got waffles. We then sat down in a big area with lots of little tables to eat and we bought some juice too. We talked for a while until we saw Tyler, who joined us. We’d never really talked before, aside from meeting super briefly at the very beginning of camp. However, I felt super comfortable with Tyler really fast, it felt as if we had always been friends. He told us about life in Surat Thani, which everyone on program vaguely knew about because so many exchange students were living there. His life in the south seemed super different to mine in the north. Not long after, we spotted Sofia and became a little group of four as we explored the market. I bought a bamboo straw and holder I had been searching for for ages, which was a huge win for me. During that time, we got caught in the middle of the Thai National Anthem which is played every night at 6 pm. We, as well as everyone else in the bustling marketplace, stopped in place to pay respect to the anthem. I had never seen everyone waiting on such a large scale before and I felt lucky that I actually knew what was going on in comparison to the tourists looking really confused. The four of us kept walking and talked about our respective countries and AFS stuff mostly. When it was dark outside, we all found a spot to sit down and eat until we had to leave. Despite the super crowded and overwhelming environment of the walking street, I felt very relaxed talking in our small group in contrast to the huge social responsibilities I had faced the past few days. We arranged to hang out again when we got back to the hotel.

It was almost 10 pm when we had our final camp session, about feedback and reviewing the content. We filled out a survey and listened to final remarks from the camp leaders. Some of the Italians gave a very silly thank you speech to the AFS staff. The session was pretty boring though necessary and I was excited to spend time with my friends again. We all took showers and changed into comfortable clothes. The last night get together was held in my room. At first, it was a pretty tight-knit group but a bunch of people I didn’t even really know later showed up. We put Maya’s and my bed together and after playing some music and talking, a lot of people fell asleep there. Sydney, Gonzague, Enrico, Tim (a German boy who went to the same school as Enrico), Tyler, and I spent all night playing cards and talking about absolutely everything imaginable. I felt like I got to know everyone there pretty well. The only downside to this otherwise perfect night was that my room was definitely not spacious enough so I spent most of the night perched on the corner of my own bed. Everyone left my room at around 6 am to shower and met for breakfast at 7 am. Sofia pointed out that this camp was the last time we’d see everyone, as the YES Abroad departure camp was unfortunately scheduled just ten days before everyone else was going to leave. This was pretty alarming, as it was only February and seemed far too early to be saying goodbyes. However, we had more AFS camps to come so that was something to look forward to. We hugged everyone (including a tragic last cohort group hug) nevertheless and it was a pretty sad ending to camp. Sydney and I went on the bus going back south and it was super quiet from everyone being completely sleep deprived. The two of us were the first stop back, as Sydney was going to week exchange with me in Kamphaengphet, which woke up and surprised many people who didn’t know us Americans weren’t coming to the last camp. We quickly said even more last goodbyes and met my host mother at a gas station, happy from our fun camp and ready for our last week of school before an incredible summer.

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