I’m Freezing and Took Things For Granted

After 26 hours of travel, I made it back to the US! Here’s a few highlights from my last two weeks:

  • My boyfriend came to Thailand and we spent a few days in Bangkok, then on Koh Samed (the island I had written about in the blog post “Magic”)
  • Koh Samed was having a gigantic Gay Pride music festival at the time, so we got to see lots of Thai youths drunkenly celebrating
  • We went to Hanoi, Vietnam and saw Ho Chi Minh’s body and an Army Museum dedicated to the Vietnam War (AKA the Anti-American Imperialist War)
  • We drank coffee. So. Much. Coffee. I recommend making “Vietnamese Egg Coffee” – it’s sweetened condensed milk mixed with egg yolk. I could (and sometimes did) live on it.
  • We ate Bahn Mi, which is a baguette sandwich filled with chicken or pork of BBQ and mayo, chili sauce, cilantro, mint and who knows what else
  • Hoi An was full of floating lights on the river, coffee and card playing in any air conditioned coffee shop (and some that weren’t) we could find and the “Best Bahn Mi in Vietnam”
  • Hue we spent a beautiful night on a lotus-shaped floating restaurant
  • We spent a night back in Bangkok then flew from there to home!

    This is Bahn My and it was a rare day I didn't eat it in Vietnam.

    This is Bahn My and it was a rare day I didn’t eat it in Vietnam.

As I reflect back on my abroad experience, freezing cold in 80 degree weather (I wore jeans and wished for a jacket at this temperature)  I can’t help but note how much I took for granted. Here’s but a sampling:

What I took for granted in America:

  • Cars and motorcycles give more than 6-8 inches between the wheel and the my ankle
  • Knowing what I’m eating (animal? vegetable? mineral? was the constant question)
  • The food doesn’t make me cramp, throw up, or have a problematic GI tract
  • People refrain from commenting on my weight and how ugly the freckles on my arms are
  • No need to take immodium or oral rehydration salts on a regular basis!
  • Being able to read road signs
  • The sun is a gentle source of heat, not a giant ball of oppressive flame bearing down on my being, making me afraid to go outside on blue sky days
  • I can understand everything that’s being said the first time
  • Tap water is drinkable and readily available for me
  • I know where to find affordable food without fear of being charged extra because I’m a tourist
  • I can google anything and talk about politics in the street without fear of being arrested
  • I can put toilet paper in the toilet bowl!
  • I can embrace a swarm of mosquitos without fearing dengue, malaria, or Japanese Encephalitis
  • You can tell that the fields around my house are not withering and dying in intense horrific heat.

    You can tell that the fields around my house are not withering and dying in horrific heat.

What I took for granted in Thailand:

  • Mango sticky rice
  • Fresh fruit (mango, papaya, pineapple, apples, dragon fruit and other unnamable, unknowable fruits) on most street corners
  • Butt hoses next to every toilet making a hygienic and clean experience
  • Being far away from my family (that’s a test to see if they actually read this blog)
  • Amazingly delicious and fresh food available on the street
  • Talking with people and hanging out at night markets
  • The feeling of euphoria, relief, and internal peace when walking into a 7-11 from the cruel outside heat and humidity
  • Home stays with genuinely kind, wonderful people who tried their best to take care of me
  • Traveling most weekends around Thailand and Cambodia
  • People asking me if I was lost or needed any help or water
  • Honey toast (a thick piece of bread toasted in butter with honey, ice cream, whipped cream, fruit, chocolate and caramel)
  • Never having to worry about dressing for the weather – I always knew it would be ungodly hot
  • The people I had the privilege of meeting, living with, and talking to were very kind and we were able to make strong emotional connections despite language barriers
We spent a lot of time drinking coffee and playing cards in the air-conditioned coffee shops, too afraid to venture outside.

We spent a lot of time drinking coffee and playing cards in the air-conditioned coffee shops, too cowardly to venture outside.

Overall it was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about myself, dramatically increased my self assurance and confidence during my travels and felt my eyes and mind being opened wider. As I am now (miraculously) safely back in the US, this concludes my time as a Whitman Off-Campus Studies blogger. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing!


My Dad (the real, American one) came to Thailand!!!! And with Dad comes adventure. We spent a few days in Khon Kaen, my home city, before we traveled to Chiang Mai. Every day so far has included vain yet futile attempts to keep the “core temperature” down. Essentially, we have discovered there is a critical point to which the heat is no longer acceptable and a toddler-like meltdown occurs until we find an air-conditioned 7-11 or body of water to swim in. Only then does the world become sunny and bright again and our activities can resume.

Luckily, we picked a cool, manageable day to play with elephants. We traveled in a Song Thao (open-air trucks) for a few hours up into the windy mountains before hiking down into a small, secluded valley with a clear creek bubbling through. Being a cloudy day and higher elevation, it was a manageable temperature.


In the background is a passion fruit farm, a scary location for the farmer!

There were two of them that we got to interact with, the rest appearing to be in other places in the valley with other tour groups. One of them, Gulag, was around 12 years old but was still on the smaller side compared to the 39 year old Papa. Both of them eyed our sugar cane like I eye my own food; with a sharp, keen interest and a fear of it being immediately taken away.


If an elephant isn't eating, it was probably drinking!

If an elephant isn’t eating, it was probably drinking!

We fed the elephants, admiring their massive, powerful trunks and soft, big feet. Then, we walked with them (no bull hooks, chains, or prods involved, just the guides and their voices) over to the creek and went for a little walk up and down the creek, the elephants eating everything in sight. By this point, we had learned that elephants eat around 400 pounds of food a day, spending most of their waking hours eating. I really began to identify with the elephants at this point.


Papa, the big elephant, is eyeing me and the sugar cane I hold in my hand.

We walked with the elephants down to a smaller stream, where they happily began bathing and soaking up the cool water. I and another girl joined in, throwing water at the elephants and she scrubbed their backs. By the end of it, I was completely soaked from splashing and the elephant’s blowing water out their trunk at me. Imagine someone blowing water at you through a hollow pool noodle as enthusiastically as they can, but multiply the lung capacity of that person by 10 and you get what it’s like to be sprayed in the face by an elephant.

I'm about to get sprayed!

I’m about to get sprayed!

Overall, it was an amazing day and I’m so incredibly lucky I both had the opportunity to see, interact with and swim with elephants.

Hamilton and Reflecting on my Thailand Experience

“I wrote my way out of hell. I wrote my way to revolution I was louder than the crack in the bell. I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell, I wrote about the Constitution and defended it well. And in the face of ignorance and resistance, I wrote financial systems into existence. And when my prayers to God were met with indifference I picked up a pen. I wrote my own deliverance.”

In the new musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton (yes, the American Founding Father) sang this in Hurricane. This quote recognizes the power of words and writing. And that’s what I have realized on my time abroad. Words are powerful; I have been able to communicate my struggles and triumphs and seek guidance through this blog and e-mails to people over 7,500 miles away. Writing is more than just a tool to communicate my needs; it is a powerful agent and a medium for expression and exploring different thoughts and ideas. Writing helps me think and understand my world, and reading helps me understand other people. I grew up with a wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelf and many other book cases sprinkled like Easter eggs throughout the house, and I learned so much about other people and ways of life from books. But many the majority of villagers I have lived with have very few, if any, books; I know two of my many host moms were illiterate. Words and reading are such a central part of my childhood and current identity that it was incredibly eye opening to see a complete lack of that which I love.

“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me. ” Hamilton upon being shot by Aaron Burr in the song The World Was Wide Enough. 

I am but a small, minute speck who has nestled out a place in the hearts of a few people in America and Thailand. I have no idea what my legacy in Thailand is; do my host families still remember the time I took a shower in the chili field, or how I didn’t know how to eat sticky rice properly? And they will never know what I took away from them, just as I do not know what they got from me. But I do know that the memories I now have scattered throughout Thailand will become part of something else, something much grander and more beautiful than anything I alone could ever achieve.

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory; you have no control who lives who dies who tells your story” – George Washington in History Has It’s Eyes on You

The villages I went to have minimal to no control over how their needs, and their story is handled by the central Thai government. Newspapers, media, and discussions are censored, and the Isaan region is looked down on by central Thailand. Isaan is historically seen as poor and dry, with minimal resources. And this is largely because, historically, the Isaan region was once a part of Laos, so Isaan has its own dialect and separate culture from central Thailand. Some travel to Bangkok to work, but most live their lives as indebted farmers who struggle to have health care, education, and control over who, if anyone, tells their story while they live or after.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now…. Look at where you are, look at where you started.” Eliza Hamilton in That Would Be Enough.

This semester, I have seen amazing and beautiful things, from the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the mountains to the beaches of Thailand. I’ve traveled and explored and had my heart opened and filled many times over. When I think I’ve had my fill of the experience, something new happens and I step into a new state of mind and look around again. Sometimes, I am completely overwhelmed by the new foods and people I have met and places I have seen. Sometimes I miss home and just want to eat an avocado grilled cheese sandwich. And that’s normal and acceptable for a study abroad experience, but really, the best way to appreciate my time is to take a step back and look around at how lucky I am to be here, in Thailand, alive right now.

“Teach me how to say goodbye.” – Alexander Hamilton in The World Was Wide Enough

With most of my host families, I had no idea how to say goodbye. And for all but one mom with a Facebook account, I have no way contact them. So at the end of the week, my host families and I parted ways, occasionally shedding tears. Last week, I went back to a village for my final project. As I was leaving, I stopped into the house of one of my families to see my first grandma. I held her hand for a bit, and we talked about the colors of the scarf she was weaving. And as I got up to leave, I said in English (lacking the ability to say it in Thai) “I will never see you again”. That much I knew. She smiled deeply, like she understood me. She just let me go, both our hearts full of thoughts. I will think of her often. So maybe she helped me say goodbye in the moment, but it’s not really goodbye. She, and the rest of my host families, have taught me how to think intentionally about other people, even and especially when you will never see them again. They taught me to not say just goodbye, just to say farewell.


Thanks for reading this new style of blog! Here are the links, in order of the blog post, to the amazing songs I quoted. But I would really recommend just starting at the beginning and listening to the musical all the way through, it’s on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube for sure.

Hurricane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUBiIN-gwMY

The World Was Wide Enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tq845oRLGI

History Has It’s Eyes on You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC6Q1EtxRzs

That Would Be Enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwuJxI6X2Ig