During my last few weeks in Thailand, I had a week exchange with Sofia, went on a trip with my host family & Sofia, and said goodbye to all of my friends in KPP. I also went to Bangkok a few days before my departure orientation to see my friends and explore the city again.
Week Exchange with Sofia & Trip to Hua Hin//
Sofia and I were texting (as we did nearly every day in Thailand) while I was still in Bangkok and I mentioned that I didn’t have any more plans for the rest of my exchange, which would end in three weeks. She made a little joke that she could come week exchange and we both laughed at it. However, the more we thought about it, the more it sounded like a fun idea. After a few days back in Kamphaengphet, I realized my last weeks in Thailand would be fairly uneventful unless I did something. It is very common for Thai students to have to go to summer study and tutoring programs, usually out of town, so most of my Thai friends were not even in Kamphaengphet sadly. My host parents were pretty busy with school things still so I was spending a lot of time alone. However, they had encouraged me to invite people over before and said that it would be fine if Sofia wanted to come. Sofia’s host parents also didn’t mind, as she had only been on one week exchange all year long and we only wanted to hang out for a few days. We talked to our advisors and miraculously, we organized a week exchange in only a matter of days! For my first two week exchanges, it seemed like it took months of planning in advance for them to work out. This spontaneuous turn of events surprised me and it even made me a little sad that Sofia and I didn’t do this earlier. On April 20th, Kru Nok and I went to the nearest urban-ish province, Phitsanulok, to get Sofia from the bus station. We took a quick stop at the mall before Sof was due to arrive. The huge Phitsanulok mall is a popular trip for locals of very rural KPP to take on special occasions, so this was a treat for both Kru Nok and I. We got to the bus station on time and I sat outside, waiting for Sof with a surprise bubble tea to give her. If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, it will be no shock to you that the bus arrived significantly later than planned without warning. And here’s the kicker: Sofia’s phone was dead, leaving me no way to reach her. I waited for about twenty minutes under the horrible sun until the condensation from the bubble tea started to drip onto my lap. I considered that I was in the wrong area of the station so I walked to the complete other side to no luck. I consulted the signs, cryptic at best, and asked an employee who gave me the obvious answer of, “The bus will come.” I sure hoped so. I sat down on a bench in defeat, scanning the crowds for Sofia or any new buses and feeling bad that Kru Nok was waiting in the car for us. After at least forty-five minutes, a new bus pulled up and out came Sofia. I ran over to her and we gave each other a big hug as if we hadn’t seen each other just a week or so earlier. There was an interesting mix of emotions next while I briefly freaked out at her about her phone dying, then gave her the bubble tea that she loved, and squealed again about how excited I was that she was here. We ran over to Kru Nok’s car and I introduced them to each other. It felt like Sofia had been to KPP before since I texted her almost every day and she knew almost everything about my experience. This made me momentarily confused whenever she commented on meeting someone new or doing something new, like talking to Kru Nok. We arrived at my house about two hours later.
The first part of our week exchange was fairly lowkey, doing everything I would normally do but together. To make things a bit more entertaining, we often went to my favourite cafe, as well as the local malls. In the evenings, my host parents were very sweet and took us out for dinner at all of my favourite places, though I never even asked them to. I was quite happy that Peem and Sofia became friends fast. In the car, we all sang along to the K-Pop group, BLACKPINK, one of Peem’s favourite groups.
After dinner, we watched YouTube, talked, and listened to our favourite music. One night, we watched a Thai film on Netflix called “Bad Genius,” which ended up being really good and funny to watch. I loved having Sofia around and it was interesting to hear her thoughts on how our two very different lives in Thailand were similar or different.
About three days after Sofia arrived, my host parents surprised me by telling me that we would all go on vacation to the beach town Hua Hin the next day, including Sofia. I think this had been planned for a while but I didn’t know about it. We left early the next day because the drive to Hua Hin is a steep seven hours long. As this was a last-minute thing for Sofia and I, we realized on our way to the beach that Sofia didn’t have any appropriate swimsuit. I had bought a more conservative swimsuit earlier in the year to go to a school trip but Sofia hadn’t yet. We suggested that she wear a t-shirt and shorts but my host parents insisted that she get a swimsuit too. They took us to a shop and kindly bought Sofia one. Here is Sofia and I’s mini fashion-show in the dressing room of her brand new swimsuit:
Next, we checked in to our hotel, which was right on the beachside. The hotel was beautiful, with nice decor and lots of little pool areas to go swim in. We all changed into our swimsuits and went to one of the hotel’s pools. Peem, Sofia, and I all swam together for a while and played games. Peem took advantage of the water slides, or “sliders” as Thai kids affectionately call them. Sofia and I couldn’t help laughing every time she shouted out for one, thinking of mini hamburgers! After swimming together, Peem wanted to visit the kids’ playroom, while my host parents wanted to go to the gym. They gave us some free time to stay in the hotel or go to the beach for a while. We took showers, changed, and walked to the beach to hang out and enjoy the perfect weather. Surprisingly, there was a light sunshine and a perfect breeze that reminded me of summer in Chicago.
Here are lots of photos of me at the beach:
We puttered around on the beach for a bit until my host parents texted me to meet up again. Later, we all went back together for a light snack of som tam with salted egg (my favourite!). On the beach, there were rows and rows of blue wooden chairs and small tables under umbrellas for as far as the eye could see. When Sofia and I were on the beach, we looked at the shade longingly but knew that there had to be a price associated with it, though we didn’t see any vendors around. As soon as my host family arrived and we took our seats, vendors and menus suddenly appeared, waiting for our orders. The som tam had alarming but typical beach food prices so this was a treat from my host family. We all had dinner together at a food stand, where we got noodles and delicious fruit smoothies. Afterwards, we said goodnight and Sofia and I hung out for a while before going to sleep. We woke up early to meet my host family and I couldn’t be happier. Hotels in Thailand were a rare occasion of complete luxury and comfort for me, as they are designed to appeal to tourists and usually a Western lifestyle. The small acts of taking a long, warm shower and then having a Western style breakfast put me over the moon. I loaded up my plate with TONS of bread and croissants, eggs, fresh fruit, potatoes, and vegetable fried rice too, to infuse my two distinct cultural diets. My plate was cleared in minutes and I refrained from eating even more.
Then, we spent another day having fun at the beach and the hotel. We spent our last day visiting some of Hua Hin’s sights on land, such as the Chocolate Factory.
We dropped Sofia off at a hotel nearby in the south because her host family was also going on a beach vacation that started right when my host family’s ended. This gave me a chance to see her host family one more time and say goodbye to them again, which was a nice moment. Though I have to admit, seeing our two host families together felt like worlds colliding. We returned home to KPP and I thanked my host family a lot for including Sofia and I on this lovely trip.
Goodbye, Kamphaengphet Exchange Students//
Noe, my American friend who also went to KPP school, invited me out to the mall one day with Adelie, his French friend also from Rotary, and Maya, my AFS friend from Germany. It was so much fun that we spent most of the rest of the week together, going to malls, cafes, and restaurants.
Here is a video of the four of us having lunch at the mall:
Here is a video of Adelie and I playing a prank on Noe, with her sneaking up behind him at the mall:
Another highlight for our group came up at the huge worldwide premiere of the Avengers: Endgame. Seemingly everyone on my social media accounts– people from all around the world– was going to see it. I am not a big fan of superhero movies and I had never once seen an Avengers film. However, my friends invited me to go to a rare English showing and I had never gone to a Thai movie theater so I decided to stick out the three hours with them. To start, I was surprised by the variety of popcorn available including cheese, garlic, and other types. In America, we just have the standard popcorn seasoned with as much salt and butter as our bodies can take. We got three types and all shared together. Right before the movie played, as is customary before any movie showing in any theater in Thailand, a montage played that featured the King and Royal Family, along with the Thai national anthem. I had read about this but I wasn’t sure how it worked. Everyone in the theater stood up out of respect and the video lasted about four minutes. This new experience served as another reminder that I had only begun to scratch the surface of Thailand. There was still so much left for me to do and learn about this country despite over ten months of living there. The movie was fun, though obviously the plot was completely lost upon me. Here is a photo of Adelie and I after the movie:
Afterwards, we had dinner and a sleepover at Maya’s host family’s house. We watched another movie but I fell asleep halfway through it. Afterwards, we went back to Maya’s room and talked for a while until we all went to bed.
The next day happened to be one of my last in Kamphaengphet. We all went out to a cafe and then to a Thai restaurant for lunch.
Here is Maya doing her “cooling dance” outside of the cafe as we waited to get picked up by her host parents:
The heat was insane and unbearable though so we quickly retired back to Maya’s for a second sleepover in a row! That time, we spontaneously dyed Maya’s hair an orange colour and stayed up late talking. The next morning, we woke up fairly early and spent a few last hours together talking in Maya’s room and at breakfast. Maya’s new hair colour was much more striking by daylight and we were all pretty surprised by it. She seemed very happy about the change.
Though sadly, there was the unavoidable fact that I was leaving KPP soon and I did not have time in my schedule to see my friends again. Saying goodbye was difficult and sad, as we got so close so fast. The weight of lost time was heavy in my heart, with the crushing knowledge that our friendships were truly beginning right as I had to leave. Regardless, we managed to take some photos before I left, shown below.
They all walked me outside of Maya’s house, where one of my best friends, Mind, and her mother were to pick me up. I gave them all huge last hugs and, of course, mini-hearts in true Thai style. Then, I hopped in Mind’s car and waved goodbye to them from the backseat until they were out of my sight.
Goodbye, Best Friends at School//
Now, another difficult goodbye loomed over me. One of my best friends, Mind, and her family had spontaneously planned one last fun day together with me that would culminate in a sleepover. We picked up another one of my best friends to hang out and we all had lunch together at Mind’s house. Our other friend stayed for a bit but said goodbye to me in the evening. Mind gave me a cute little purse that my best friend Baitoey sent to her for safe-keeping until it was time for me to go. I really appreciated the gift and her kindness for considering me. Later that evening, we went out with Mind’s family for dinner. Afterwards, we went to a temple in my town that I had never been to.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t go inside because I was wearing shorts (this was an unexpected trip.) We took some photos outside and admired it from afar.
We spent the rest of the night talking before going to bed. The next day, we had a delicious breakfast. Mind and her mother gave me the beautiful goodbye gift of a pink silk scarf/wrap from Chiang Mai. It was one of the most incredible pieces of art I have ever seen and I treasure it so much. Then, they drove me back to my house. Here are some selfies Mind and I took in the car ride home:
While it was pretty heartbreaking for me to say goodbye to one of my closest friends, it oddly didn’t seem to be a sad moment. Mind and her mother have such vivacious and bubbly personalities that it felt more joyous and less emotional, like this was only temporary and we would see each other again soon. I hugged them both, thanked them for the amazing last day together, and then waved goodbye to them as they drove off.
My Capstone Project//
On one of my last days, I realized I had to finish my capstone project! Earlier in the year I had devised a more ambitious assignment but like most plans in Thailand, it fell by the wayside. I decided to make a tutorial video of a skill I actually learned in a class entirely devoted to it that was also one of my favourite activities in Thailand– making som tam. This would also be helpful to me in the future in case I forgot how. I asked Kru Nok and Teacher Nee-On for help in the week before I was to leave and we quickly made a plan. Kru Nok went out and bought all of the ingredients for me (what a lifesaver!) and then drove me to Teacher Nee-On’s house. There, we set up a little cooking area and Teacher Day recorded me making it while Teacher Nee-On coached me from the background. Cute lil Natcha was my guest-star as she danced and played around me. Below is my capstone project video!
We ended up making a few batches and eating lunch together. Afterwards, Natcha and I played for a while and went to water the plants with her in Teacher Nee-On’s garden. Later, they took me home and Natcha and I played in the car some more. I knew I would see them once more at the school but I still felt pretty sad knowing it would be the last time I spent hanging out casually at their house. Teacher Nee-On and her family definitely were a huge part of my exchange year and I will forever be grateful for their kindness and friendship. I can’t wait to see them again.
I made it a point to take one last trip around Kamphaengphet to take photos of my favourite spots to remember them and say goodbye. Almost every week I went out to the Sweet Bites cafe. It was the perfect environment for me. To start, it was close to home, air-conditioned, and had free Internet so I could bring a laptop and write or do work. It was a quiet place that nobody I knew in town went except for some teachers I liked. They had delicious food and drink for low cost. My classic order was a lemon iced tea with a mini strawberry cheesecake or their killer banana bread. Another best part was that the owners were so kind and always chatted with me in Thai, giving me courage to order and practice without switching to English or feeling judged. There was a little, white dog, the owners’ pet, who used to bounce around everywhere. I missed being able to pet and play with dogs without fear. It was comforting and a place all to myself, aside from the times I took Sofia and Sydney, which only made it better. I went and ordered my favourite things one last time. Then, before I left, I walked up to the owners and told them in Thai that this was my last week in Thailand and that I loved spending so much time in their cafe. I expressed how much I appreciated being able to talk with them and enjoy their delicious food. They were super nice and I felt happy with the goodbye.
Here is the town square that I passed by every time I left the city or went to Sweet Bites:
In reality, I only saw a fraction of Kamphaengphet but it was difficult for me to explore at all. To get to Sweet Bites, I had to walk for about twenty-five minutes and cross two huge, busy streets. I was always terrified I would get hit by a car or motorcycle, as the streets can be chaotic at times. I had a few close calls that left me scared for days. But plenty of people were nice to me, like women who would help me cross the street or give me recommendations for places I could go that didn’t involve crossing at all. For some reason, I felt embarassed to be seen by people at my school or who I knew, going out alone. I guess I didn’t want people to think I didn’t have any friends or pass judgement about what I was doing. If I were running around the town square and saw kids on a motorcycle wearing my school uniform, I would immediately stop or sit on a bench hoping they wouldn’t see me. Because I was a foreigner, and especially because I am a girl, everyone who knew me kept a pretty close tab on me to make sure I was okay or out of curiosity. However, this meant I was never free from being watched, with people taking photos of me or telling others what I had been doing. It could feel pretty intrusive at times even though I understood the intentions were good. I also didn’t ask my host parents to drive me to places almost ever, though I’m sure they would have been happy to, because I was nervous to bother them. Whenever my host dad saw me walking in or out of town, he always said I could borrow one of the family bikes to make things easier. This would have made way more sense and I probably could have even gone and explored the national park a little further from my house with one. However, I was still afraid to go alone and get lost or get in an accident on the street. I only used a bicycle when Sofia or Sydney came and I have to say, it made things a lot easier. For these reasons, my world in Kamphaengphet was pretty small. I hope when I am older that I can revisit Kamphaengphet and get to know the town that formed a crucial part of my development into a young adult. I want to explore all the places I was told about in KPP and do it without feeling insecure or anxious. I want to be like the KPP teachers (all boys aside from my friend Yang) and Noe who could go all over town whenever they wanted without a second thought about how they looked, what people would think, or how to travel around. They invited me out with all of them sometimes but again, I had no way of getting anywhere so I usually was hesitant unless Noe, who knew my true thoughts and feelings, convinced me that it wouldn’t be bothersome to ask for a ride from one of the teachers or ask my host parents to go. I always admired Chloe in Bangkok, how she managed to take all the risks I always wanted to and in the biggest city in the country no less, going into her town on motorcycle taxi or struggling enough times with the bus until she had the system all figured out. At first, she also struggled the same way I did with what to wear, how to get around, and what people would think like in her host community, but by the end of the year, she had figured everything out and made a lot of cool experiences for herself in the city. I’d like to think if I were in Bangkok too back then that that is what I would have done but I honestly don’t think so. Seeing her figure it out definitely inspired me though and I aspire to be like her in the future. I think maybe the important lesson I learned from exploring Kamphaengphet (or the lack of my exploring) is that by the end of the year, I felt comfortable enough with myself to take on those adventures I want to do alone and that I need to be okay with failing sometimes. I have countless dreams and plans to travel after my exchange year and I know that when I am in a new city, from now on, there is no stopping me. I am going to get on buses or try motorcycle taxis or ask to use bikes. I am going to be careful but cross the busy streets. I am going to care less about what others think of me and, while being respectful to cultures, do what I want to do. I loved this town but in retrospect, it is a stranger to me yet despite my eleven months living there.
Next, I said goodbye to my room. I had packed up almost all of my bags fairly early but I had been avoiding taking down my decorations. I spent wayyy too much of my exchange year in my room and it was surreal to strip it of the colour and life I gave it, transforming it back into the four walls and bed that first greeted me in July. Here are some photos of my favourite parts of my room:
I spent the two or three days before I left KPP only with my host family. I had one last dinner with my extended host family, including my cousins and Peem. Our host parents took us for a treat to The Pizza Company. We had a good meal together and Peem and her friends actually practiced their English with me (usually she gets a little nervous).
I also had another last dinner with Peem and my host dad at a restaurant I had never been before. The food was delicious and we had fun. Peem asked me if she could go visit me one day and stay with me in America. I said yes, that she is welcome to, and I really hope she does one day. I found it interesting how she had always previously said that she wanted to study in Germany but now was dreaming about going to America too. Maybe I made more of a positive impact on her than I thought I did. Peem also spent way more time with me than usual before I left. She even started sitting in the back seat of the car, next to me, instead of up front with her dad like every day before. When she saw my suitcases, she was excited about the decorations but also upset about me leaving. When she saw me eating my salad, Peem did something remarkable and totally out of character for her– eating the tiny salad that came with her food. These small moments made me feel more included in her life and made me even more sad to leave soon. Anyways, at the dinner my host dad and I chatted about the future and how my experience was. It was an amazing night spent with the two of them. On my last day, my host dad and I went out to breakfast and it was nice but also sad. I was probably the closest to my host dad out of my host family because my host mom had to work a lot and Peem and I couldn’t always communicate very well. He was interested in my life, always asking me about my day and things. My host dad also created a lot of great experiences for me, inviting me on trips or working with my advisors to do things for me. I don’t doubt that having me as an exchange student was hard sometimes, as they had only ever hosted German teachers assistant’s who could pretty much be independent. I needed a bit more support and guidance. It was a learning experience for all of us. However, my host dad was very kind to me and I will always appreciate how he and my host mom welcomed me into their home. We went to a restaurant we usually went to and got our usual meals. We talked for a bit but then got a little quiet. My host dad pressed his hands to his eyes and I looked away, trying not to make him feel bad if he was doing that out of sadness. I felt pretty emotional but managed to contain it until the end of our meal. We didn’t say anything about it but I think we were both sad about the looming goodbye. Regardless, we enjoyed our last meal and it was just like old times.
Kru Nok arrived at my house at around 12:30 pm to pick me up for our road trip to Bangkok. Kru Nok was incredible and asked her sister if we could stay with them for a few days before my flight so I could say goodbye to all of my European friends (the YES kids had a departure date scheduled earlier than the other AFS kids) and to my school friend Saiphan who was in summer school in BKK. I lugged my two suitcases down the stairs and saw Peem watching TV. I said goodbye to her and saw my host dad in the front room, teaching a class. It was a little awkward but I said thank you and goodbye. I wanted to give him and Peem hugs but I knew it would be weird in front of the class, as hugging can be pretty personal in Thai culture. I looked around for my host mom who had been there that morning, but she had gone to the store and wouldn’t be back in time. I was disappointed to hear that but she called me later to say goodbye. Right before I was going to leave, Peem ran into the room and gave me one of her favourite toys, her My Little Pony stuffed animal keychain. I thanked her for it and promptly attached it to my suitcase. It meant the world to me and it is unexpectedly one of my most prized possessions. We hugged and said goodbye. I put my suitcases in the car and hopped in the front seat with Kru Nok as my host dad came outside our house to wave goodbye.
As my house and my host dad disappeared out of sight, I was overwhelmed with emotion but before I could start to process it, I was suddenly at KPP school. There, I would say goodbye to my second family: my school, with Kru Nok and Teacher Nee-On’s family. I talked to Teacher Nee-On, Teacher Day, & Teacher Dream and they gave me nice gifts with the American flag on them. I hugged them all and then went to say goodbye to cute lil Natcha. My heart broke to think that Natcha would grow up and I wouldn’t be there, just a distant memory if that. I had spent so much time playing with her: running around the AFS office with balloons, reading Disney princess stories in English, making her laugh as I made funny faces, and having meals with her. On days when I felt stressed or overwhelmed, Natcha brightened my day and allowed me some uncomplicated joy. She is such a kind, smart, and funny girl and I miss her so much. I bent down to her height and talked with her a little, saying goodbye and trying not to show how sad I was. Here is us talking and showing each other mini-hearts:
She gave me a hug and Kru Nok and I went back in the car, waving goodbye as we pulled away from KPP school. The photo below is of building 7: the English and Foreign Language building, as well as where the AFS office was located (on the very far right). Behind it is the canteen, with the dark blue roof. This is where I spent almost all of my time at school.
Bangkok Days- May 3-6th//
As soon as we pulled away from the school, I burst into tears. I sobbed for at least a half hour, completely devastated by having to leave my host community and Thailand in general indefinitely. Kru Nok and I talked a little about it but for the most part I was silent in thought. We stopped at a 7/11 and I got something to eat, which calmed me down a bit. I also texted the other Americans and then went to sleep. We had a long journey– seven hours. I passed the time reading on my Kindle, sleeping, talking with Kru Nok, and texting my friends. We arrived at around 9 pm and went to her sister’s apartment building. Kru Nok and her family would stay somewhere else but I was going to stay with her sister (about 22 years old) and her boyfriend. We put my suitcases upstairs and then went to dinner out on the river. The vegetarian options were great and I got to know Kru Nok’s sisters, who were very fun and bubbly. At the end, we even got ice cream for dessert. The view of the river from the restaurant (built over it) was beautiful and I thought my parents, especially my dad, would have loved it. Here is a photo of Kru Nok smiling at the restaurant that I took to show my parents I got to Bangkok fine:
We went back to the apartment and I said goodnight to Kru Nok and her family. The sister and I talked briefly before I went to take a shower. I put my pajamas on and climbed into bed with my phone. I scrolled on it for a bit and texted my friends before falling asleep, exhausted from the seven-hour trip.
The next day, I got up at around 8 am and we drove to 7/11 for breakfast. Then, we took a public van to the center of Bangkok, which took about 45 minutes. I sat by Kru Nok’s sister and we talked about Bangkok and America. We got dropped off just outside the MRT near Chatuchak market. I was surprised how high the river was, as shown here:
Kru Nok’s sisters and I got bubble tea and then took the MRT down to Siam Paragon and the mall area. The streets of Bangkok were largely blocked off or super crowded because the King’s coronation was that weekend. Every surface in sight was decorated with yellow, the colour honoring Thai royalty.
I split up with the sisters and we all agreed to meet for dinner. I walked down some side streets of Bangkok, getting sort of lost but not really because I knew the area. The malls had some special outside market going on and a little dance show. I navigated through stands until I finally found the hairdresser’s shop on the side of the street that Saiphan’s family owns. Saiphan was one of my best friends at school who went to Bangkok for summer school and luckily made time to hang out one last time with me. I said hello to her parents while she got her purse and then we strolled the streets of Bangkok and caught up. I hadn’t seen Saiphan in about three months because school ended so we had a lot to talk about. She led me to a Thai restaurant about a block away, with a view overlooking the whole mall and city scene. We figured out what we wanted to eat and she challenged me to write it in Thai on the notepad where you place your order. I struggled and had to ask for help but we got the right food so I think it went fine! Here is a video Saiphan took of me writing it out in Thai:
I got som tam (of course) and some fried rice, while she had a dish with meat. We had a long and interesting talk in the restaurant and it was cool to see her outside of school. She seemed more at ease in the city and she wore more stylish clothes. Saiphan could definitely be a model if she wanted to be but I rarely got to see her in clothes that weren’t her school uniform. After we had polished off our food, we decided to go to Siam Paragon for some window shopping. Before we left, she told me she had the idea to take a vlog of our last day hanging out together to remember. I thought it was a great idea so we started it right when we got onto the street outside the restaurant. In it, you can see us walking to the mall and browsing stores full of gorgeous but sadly overpriced clothes. Then we went to go get bingsu (shaved ice) at a Korean dessert cafe. We decided on sharing a small strawberry bingsu with cream and it was heavenly. We ate until we were uncomfortably full and then went back in the mall. Here is the vlog that Saiphan made and edited:
My friend Alice from Germany who was living in BKK asked if I wanted to hang out that day too, and I did, so she asked to meet us outside of the mall. While we waited, Saiphan and I took turns taking photos of each other outside. Here are the ones she took of me (brace yourself, there’s a lot):
I introduced her to Saiphan and privately wondered if it would be weird for two of my friends from totally different friend groups of mine to hang out but it wasn’t at all. The three of us got on great together, as if they had known each other long before they had met. We went into more stores and window-shopped, picking out clothes that each other would look good in. About an hour after that, Saiphan had to go back to her parent’s shop so we hugged and said goodbye. I was pretty sad but felt good about how much time we were able to spend together before she had to go. I miss Saiphan lots and I hope to see her again soon. Then, Alice and I walked around Bangkok trying to find a cafe. The city was so crowded that we must have gone to three or four different places before stumbling upon a Starbucks with one table left.
We had our drinks and chatted when suddenly Alice got a text from her host family and had to leave. I walked with her to the BTS (train station) and gave her a quick hug before her train arrived. It wasn’t that big of a deal as we had made plans for the two days after that as well. I had some time to kill before I was to meet Kru Nok’s sisters again. I went back in Siam Paragon and instinctively found myself in Kinokuniya Books, looking at the view from the window and pacing through the foreign language books aisle. I found a Spanish exercises book and realized I would be going back to school in just a few months, when I planned to enroll in an Advanced Placement (or university-grade) Spanish language and culture class. I hadn’t spoken Spanish in a year aside from a few sentences to Sofia every now and again. The night before I left KPP, my host dad gave me a gift of 1,000 baht from the family to spend in Bangkok. I was shocked by the gesture and tried to return it twice– that was a huge amount of money, in context it could have bought about forty meals or five bus tickets to far away provinces in Thailand. It was a very generous gift and I eventually accepted with immense gratitude. Whenever I had come to Kinokuniya before, I had longingly looked at the books but dismissed them after seeing the price. I bought the Spanish book and decided to use the rest of it on the food/travel expenses of the next days as well as my souvenirs for my family and friends back home. I got a text from Luke, who just finished his plans for the day and asked if I wanted to hang out. I said yes and waited for him in the cafe attached to the bookstore, drinking a pot of lemon tea and reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, which Sydney recommended to me and I subequently bought in a second-hand shop. When he got there, we walked around the mall for a while and stopped at a McDonald’s so he could get something to eat. We talked until I got a text from Kru Nok’s sisters asking to meet. I said a sort of rushed goodbye and went to meet them outside. They decided we would eat in the city at a buffet-style restaurant. The food was delicious; I got to have a very good salad, soup, other Western dishes, and even dessert. We had a very good conversation and I was starting to get closer with Kru Nok’s sisters. After dinner, we went to the BTS station, laughing at some silly joke. We rounded the corner and who did I happen to see? Bea and Fra coming down the stairs! I was super surprised about that– Bangkok is huge and trains come almost every five minutes– and I immediately yelled out to them. They ran over to me and gave me a huge hug. They ran off to their next train and I stood in shock. The amount of times I have accidentally bumped into an AFS friend in the heart of Bangkok is remarkable. On our way back to the van, Kru Nok’s sisters and I stumbled upon a mini-market that I was certain I had been before with my friends from massage camp when we went to Bangkok. We were about to leave until all three of us spotted some cute clothes for low cost and went on an impromptu shopping spree. I mean, go big or go home, and I was already going home in two days sooo… I ended up buying some new shirts and cute green shorts that you will see in my upcoming photos. We had a little snack and then went to the van back to the sister’s house. I took a shower and then went straight to bed again.
Another early morning, 7 breakfast, van downtown and before I knew it, I was meeting my friends at Chatuchak market. I spent my last day in Bangkok with Enrico, Alice (from Germany), Giulia, Francesca, Alice (from France), and Beatrice. Chatuchak is huge and easy to get lost in so our group ended up splitting up multiple times as we all searched for our souvenirs for our families back home. Enrico was determined to find some jewelry for his mother, Alice from France was looking for a cool shirt for her dad and grandpa, I was just keeping my eyes open for anything fitting for my loved ones. Eventually, I ended up getting a deal on three scarves, the most beautiful silk ones with elephants on them that I’d ever seen. I planned to give them to my mum, my favourite teacher Mrs. Nickelson, and someone else to be determined. I also got my brother a cool shirt, as well as lots of little trinkets for our house like a coconut bowl painted with a sunset and an elephant on it and super high quality chopsticks for all of my family. Alice and I got crepes and some iced tea, which led to my shocking discovery that Enrico had never had peanut butter! I gave him some of my crepe and his rating was pretty neutral. I couldn’t believe it, as peanut butter was a staple of my childhood and even a big part of my diet today.
We continued exploring for about an hour or more. Alice (from Germany), Enrico, and I ended up wandering away from the group and eventually came to near the end of the market. I was exhausted at this point and starting to get an awful headache. I am pretty sure the cause of this was both the horrible heat and dehydration. We decided to go hang out in the park and texted our other friends. Giulia was already there so we found a little beach towel and lounged in the shade, playing music and talking.
Another hour or so passed when the rest of our little group finished their Chatuchak run. We met up by the BTS again and stopped for bubble tea. I sat down to drink my tea and felt so extremely unwell at that point. I was nauseous and had a horrible migraine. We went to Siam Paragon to get something to eat. I went to Subway and got a sandwich with Alice, Francesca, and Bea while the others got different things in the food court. We ate there and then went outside to this special lounge area with lots of fountains and curvy cushioned chairs. The afternoon started to fade into evening and we all collapsed into a little corner, threw down our shopping bags and just talked until dark. I also took lots of photos of and with my friends, as I knew this would be the last time we saw each other for a long while.
We hung out until I checked the clock and reluctantly knew I should be meeting Kru Nok soon. I gave everyone a huge hug and said how much I love them. Then, I started to cry and did it all again! One of the hardest goodbyes was definitely to Alice (from France) because she had become one of my best friends in my life in just a few months. I know we still have so many memories to make in the future so I was heartbroken having to leave her. Here are some photos Francesca took of that emotional goodbye:
I eventually gathered up my things and, with last hugs, left for the BTS. The train ride back to Chatuchak area didn’t feel real at all. I could not grasp the fact that this was my last goodbye to Thailand, really. After that day, I knew I would be in an AFS orientation at 10 am and then just following their schedule from hotels to conference rooms. These were my last moments in Bangkok, the most fantastic and insane city I’d ever been in. It was also my last goodbye to the tight-knit family I had made within AFS. My mind was all over the place. I got off the BTS and took a photo on a bridge of my last glimpse of the city.
Then, I walked over to where Kru Nok said she and her family would be. However, things got a bit confused because they weren’t there yet and then couldn’t find anywhere to park so the location changed. Long story short, I was absolutely miserable running through the city in the dark trying to find them while feeling feverish and sick to my stomach. After about half an hour, I found their car in some parking lot and they stopped to get me medicine. I was so emotional and out of it, I just wanted to go home as soon as possible. When we got to the apartment, I threw up everything and then huddled on the floor crying. It was horrendous; the weight of my goodbye’s and leaving the life I had created for myself combined with the heat exhaustion and sickness and made me useless. I eventually calmed down, took a shower, and went straight to bed. As I snuggled up under the covers and sunk into the sheets, I was so sad about the day but eagerly welcomed the warm embrace of sleep.
AFS Departure Orientation//
Kru Nok texted me in the morning, worried I would still be sick or should go to the hospital. Luckily, the sleep, medicine, and some water was all I needed to make a full recovery. I thanked Kru Nok’s sister and her boyfriend for their hospitality and said I was happy to get to know them. Kru Nok and I made a quick stop at 7/11, where I impulse-bought a ton of my favourite Thai snacks to take home or eat with my cohort at night. We went straight to the AFS office after. Everyone was already there, including some unexpected but very welcome guests! I got to say goodbye to Sofia’s host family, which was a super pleasant surprise because of how much I loved staying with them in Nan. Alice from Germany was also there so I said my last goodbye to her too. My last goodbye to Kru Nok was pretty rushed because she felt bad that we were the last ones there, though it wasn’t her fault as we had the furthest journey there and there was traffic. She didn’t want me to miss any orientation so she said hello to the AFS staff, gave me a huge hug goodbye, and went on her way. I was still pretty shocked by the speed of everything and I felt empty when she left. I wanted to say more to her and make sure she knew how much I appreciated her. Kru Nok was the best mentor I could have ever asked for and she was like family to me. I quelled those worried feelings with the hope that we would see each other soon and the calls of the AFS staff telling us we had to start our program. Alice left and took this silly photo of us in the orientation room, as if we were trapped and trying to go with her.
I grabbed a drink and a little snack from outside and we got right to work. We went over our plan for the next few days and then discussed our experiences as a whole. I made it a point to strongly advocate for more language camps, as they can be a wonderful excursion out of host communities and advance the absolutely necessary language skills. I found out this year that my pleas apparently were heard because the next group of YES kids got an additional language camp, plus they were taken out to see more sights in Bangkok as I had requested. We each went over any issues we had on program and suggested more solutions. I don’t know how well some of those were addressed for the future but it felt really good being able to express my thoughts on the program. We goofed off for a bit and waited around until finally the end of our formal orientation came: the presentation of our AFS completion certificates.
This was actually a remarkable accomplishment as only the cohort before ours and our own had all made it through the full duration of exchange in years since the program was implemented in Thailand. We made it into a cute little ceremony and I was overjoyed, especially sharing the moment with my best friends. Here are some photos we took together:
P’Bia was our chaperone for the rest of the day. She took us across the street to go get lunch at a restaurant that served both Western and Thai food. We had a fun time chatting with her and she was really engaged with us. Afterwards, she took us to the grocery store to get some snacks so we got some fruit and we each got a juice. The five of us were acting so silly as we put our things in the cart and P’Bia was laughing lots. Next, we went to a mall and had some free time to do whatever we wanted. We got bubble tea, bought some books in Thai to practice with once we got home, and walked around. We met up with P’Bia again in the evening at a fancy Thai restaurant in the mall for our last meal of Thai food. We each ordered our own kind of som tam and the others ordered some soups too. It was fun talking with P’Bia and remembering all the silly and fun things about our exchange year. We got bubble tea again after dinner and then a van picked us up to drive us to the airport’s hotel. It was kind of a long drive so at first, we all put in our headphones and looked out at the city quietly. I was listening to the song, “Featherstone,” by The Paper Kites and trying to figure out all of my feelings before leaving. By the end of the ride, I felt much more serene about the whole thing and decided to make the most of the days to come with the cohort. About fifteen minutes before we got to the hotel, we started jamming out to music and singing as loud as we could, even P’Bia was joining in. When we finally arrived, we had to grab all of our super heavy suitcases and check in. We got our rooms with two beds each and Luke across the hall. I don’t remember who was my “roommate” because as soon as we said goodnight to P’Bia, we pushed the beds together and all stayed in the same one. Our first order of business was to repack our overweight suitcases, which took foreverrrrr. Our room was super messy at one point with all of our clothes and things scattered in the process. All the while, our AFS European friends and even some of our host community members were sending us lots of texts and Instagram messages wishing us safe flights. That was so nice and we responded to them all. Once everything was sorted out, we had fun dancing and hanging out until we felt exhausted and climbed into our shared and VERY crowded bed. We talked until we were basically delirious and laughed soo much. We had to leave the hotel at like 4 am so we stayed up until then or maybe slept about an hour before that. I was totally exhausted and drained but eager to sleep on our ridiculously long flight. At the airport, we were met by an American AFS volunteer and had to say goodbye to P’Bia. I was sad that she couldn’t take us, she was so kind and fun. Our new volunteer seemed friendly and understanding though so it was okay. The airport was completely barren so we got through security and everything in no time. We explored the open restaurants (barely any) and I got a small sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts with Sydney and the chaperone. We went back to our boarding gate and eventually got on our flight. Luckily, we were all seated together this time around! We pulled the blinds down and said our final goodbye to Thailand, which was unbelievably bittersweet. I had such a wide range of experiences abroad, from some extremely difficult and trying situations to the most incredibly happy and beautiful moments of my life. I was really sad to go but also excited for all to come: our fun times in DC with the YES cohort, seeing our family again, hanging out with all my friends again, tasting all the food I had been craving for eleven months, being fully comfortable in my own bedroom and house again, and more. Even as I started remembering all the moments I could never go back to and friends I didn’t know if I would see again, I looked around at my cohort members, scanning their faces and seeing the same complicated reactions to the moment. We would get through this, like we had gotten through every challenge we’d faced thus far, and we would continue support each other no matter what. We were ready for a new adventure.