Sunday, July 28, 2013

Home away from home, away from home

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand
 
Well it has been an eventful week and I have not gotten a chance to write till now. The school took us on field trip after field trip, some being overnight stays where I did not have my laptop. So, field trip one was Chiang Mai, the Northern region of Thailand. This trip was so amazing, words cannot describe but I will try to put some to my experience. We went for 5 days and 4 nights. The school organized 3 days of activities for us and then a lot of the students stayed there for 2 extra days. The first day we went to an art school in the country. This was by far my favorite traditional Thai experience so far. We made naturally died scarves. They showed us the process of using herbs and roots and things to dye clothe and then let us design our scarves with patterns and colors. I was really in my element on this day because I am so creative and artsy. I loved it because everyone really took notice to my creativity and it just feels good to be noticed for my most cherished characteristic. Next we made clay sculptures. This was super fun because the man teaching us was so good at it. He made all kinds of things and you could really see his love for the art of sculpting. I love when you can see the passion in people. After that we learned how to cook a traditional Thai dessert. This was made with coconut filling placed in a dough we made ourselves and then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on a fire. I cannot get over the resourcefulness of Thai people. They use woven bowls to hold their rice and banana leaves to plate food. We could really take a lesson from their connectivity and protection of nature. To eat food from a banana leave then give the leaf back to nature gives you such a great feeling, much better than throwing a paper plate away. After dessert, which was delicious, we went to paint tradition Thai designs on umbrellas. This is funny because as a child I was dead set on decorating umbrellas, I ruined a very nice white one my mother bought for me as a child. This time I was determined to make it beautiful and presentable. The man teaching us was very nice and helpful. I really enjoy the giving nature of Thai people. They want  to give you anything they can to make you happy and comfortable. He saw that some people were upset that they were not very good at painting and did not like their umbrella, so he walked around and fixed all the pictures so the people would be proud of their work; it was really quite amazing to see him reach out like that just to help someone he does not know because he could see their suffering. After that we ate dinner, which was prepared for us by very talented cooks. It was delicious and we ate outside while a traditional Thai band played for us. Our professor and the other Thai people standing around us were entranced by this melodic music. All of the students, including me, were also speechless at the beauty of the music. I wish there was a way to put words to the sounds I was hearing but there is no way to explain the true spender of the sounds. I could not look away and the sound lifted my spirits and cleared my mind. We all sat there and enjoyed a perfect moment to end our perfect day.
                I will miss this, getting to see such astounding things, people, and places almost every day. The coordinators for this summer program are amazing, Jane and Kun King. I am so grateful for all they have done for us. We are all going to do something for them before we leave; we wanted to do something American but it was funny because we could not think of anything American to do for them. How easily you forget your own culture when you are so engulfed in another. I feel like my culture shock did not come when I came to Thailand, I never really experienced anything like that but I know when I go home I am going to receive a huge shock. Though upon reading an article from my home institution, Maryville College, I have come to realize that culture shock does not have to be negative. I feel like in that sense, I have experienced extreme culture. I have been filled with overwhelming emotions of gratitude and happiness. I have thought about the possibility of not coming home right away. I thought about what it would be like to live here instead of the states. It is interesting to fall in love with a place that you had very little ideas about only a short month ago. Thailand will stay with me in my heart, mind, and soul for the rest of my life.
                Getting back to Chiang Mai, on the second day we went to an elephant camp and rode the elephants and oxen. This was a fun experience but we felt bad for the elephants because they are obviously not in their natural environment. But, this camp was approved by Thammasat and I am certain they would not take us somewhere that mistreated their animals. The third day we went to see some art work and I was blown away. The paintings were of traditional Thai symbols such as the lotus flower, water, demon guardians, and mythical creatures. I wish so badly I could describe the glow these painting had to them; they were emanating positive energy and peacefulness. To look at a piece of art that clearly shows the love the artists has for his/her subject is just a feeling I cannot describe. The artist clearly had a connection with these images and their meanings. The artist opened up his home for us to have a look around. His walls were covered with artwork. Artworks, finished or still in the process, were stacked against all walls and laid across furniture. To live with what the work you do is something I want to do. I want to be surrounded by what I love doing and committed to living with my work. He was so humble and his passion was clear. I can take such big lessons away from all the amazing Thai people I have had the pleasure of meeting.  
                The next day the coordinators left us to go back to Bangkok and we decided to go to another elephant camp. But, this one was more like a reservation. They took very good care of their elephants and all the elephants there had been rescued from a bad environment or situation. Me and my friend Haley got our own elephant to take care of for the day. His name was Tong Nung and I really got a sense for his personality while spending the day with him. He was not like the rest of the elephants. His movements were less deliberate. He tended to walk in a slow and drawn out zig-zag line. I really enjoyed getting to know him and take care of him. We feed all the elephants and then rode Tong Nung through the jungle to the pond where we bathed him. It was so amazing getting to be so close to such amazing creatures. I felt so safe standing in the water with him, even though he was so much bigger and heavier than me and could have squashed me at any time if he so chose. To see such large creatures be so gentle and peaceful really gave me inspiration. You do not have to be a certain type of person to find peace or to be gentle or to take your time or to walk however you please. You can find those things in yourself, even if it does not feel or look like you could be those things, have those qualities.
                For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant. I know, I know, Italian while in Thailand but sometimes you just miss the variety of food when you are eating only traditional food from one country for almost a month. The restaurant was interesting because it was managed by an Italian man but all the workers were Thai. So, I did some research to find out about this dynamic; I figured out that a lot of Europeans and Americans will come to Thailand to open traditional western restaurants and train the Thai workers how to prepare the food and all of that. I thought that was pretty interesting and the food was excellent.
                After we got back from Chiang Mai, I was ready to be back in my own room. It is funny how I can miss my make shift home here when I am away from it for a few days. 

It's a Two Way Street

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand

As I am coming to the end of my journey I am getting very nervous. So, I thought that I would share some insight I have found through my experience here. When you fall in love with a new country, it is hard to say good bye. You start to have thoughts like "What if I just never go home?" or "I cannot live in my country anymore, I have to keep traveling". I have struggled with these thoughts for the length of my trip and I have come to a conclusion. Though, a new experience is fun, you cannot forget about your home and your friends and family. How easily you forget the people you left back home who are missing you so very much and worry about you every day. I do not know if I could give up everything to go live across the world; I know it would hurt my family and put a lot of stress on them from worry. I went out with my friend from back home who now lives in Bangkok and works for jewelry television here. He told me all about his new life here, he has been here for a year. I was so proud of him when I got to see him speak the Thai language and navigate us around the city with ease. And he told me I should come teach English here and we could live together. I immediately said yes I would love to do that. But, after thinking about it, I realize that is a huge decision. And no matter how many thoughts and desires I have had to live some where else in the world, I just do not think I am ready for that big of a commitment. Yeah, I feel like when I get home I will struggle with the fact that I now know how great the experience is to see another part of the world and will now crave traveling. But, I know deep down I could not leave my friends and family, not at this point in my life. The lesson I learned was that no matter how alluring a new experience might be, you need to take time to think over such a huge decision like moving across the world. Because, once you have done it, it would be awfully hard to change your mind and undo it. My friend, Justin, loves it here and says he would not change it for the world. But, he was ready to start a good job and start his life on his own. I do not think I am quite so ready for all of that. Not to mention, Bangkok is a city. A city with crowded streets and large building and weird smells and public transportation that is a must to get around. I love nature and being outdoors in a field, in the mountains, in a river. In Bangkok, there just is not that much green space. I would miss just being outside, laying in the grass or climbing a tree too much to spend my life in a city I think. I also have had to get used to public transportation. In Knoxville, I use my car to get around and that is it. I do not take the bus, I rarely walk, and a bike is a fun way to pass the time, not a mode of transportation. Here they have buses that do not run a schedule and do not have designated stops. You get on the what ever bus you can find that goes toward the area you want to go and you tell the bus driver where you need to be dropped off. The taxis are a good way to get around but they can intentionally "get lost" so they can charge you more money; this usually happens to tourists new to the area. The sky tram is pretty cool, it will take you a long distance in a short time but there are no stations near my place so I have to take a taxi to the sky tram. It makes me laugh at how you have to get around; it is never just one quick ride or walk. You have to take a taxi to the sky tram then walk 4 blocks or take a bus to the train to the ferry and so on. And, one thing that I have had to get used to is the traffic rules. These are more like suggestions really. The motor bikes swerve in and out of traffic. The cars get into on coming traffic to get around slower cars. Absolutely no one stays in their lane. This same idea is applied to the side walk. YOu have to pay attention while walking because anything can come at you. A motor bike from behind or head on. A cart attached to a bike. Stray dogs they you absolutely do not want to come into contact with. That is another thing about the city here, there are many many stray animals. I am an animal lover myself so it is hard to see these poor creatures and not be able to do anything for them. Most of them are hurt, diseased, starving, and near death. It really saddens my heart but I have had to come to terms with it. I have had to get used to a lot of things here: the heat, the homeless begging for money, small children selling things to make a living for their family, all the walking while in extreme humidity, the slow pace of most Thai people, bargaining for about everything, and much much more. But, I it was not hard to get used to things things, it was a process that taught me a lot and I love that I have gotten to experience such a different culture. I am definitely scared about having to leave in just one short week.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Expanding the mind and nurturing the soul

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand

Around two weeks into my trip and I already am dreading the end. But, I still have three weeks left and hopefully two additional weeks if I can change my flight, fingers crossed. Man, this experience has changed me as a person SO much. If you have ever been to church camp and analogy would be that moment when you "come to Jesus" and your whole perspective on life changes and then you start to plan out how you will live differently when you get home. That is happening to me here except its not Jesus that is changing me, it is the connectivity of this world, the spiritual force behind all of our lives and the life force of the world. And instead of coming home after church camp and forgetting all the plans you had made to change your life, I will change, I will be the person I am working towards here. I eat better, I am more active, I am happier. I am amazed at how this place has effected my emotions. At home I was in depression, not every day but here and there and I have always struggled with bouts of it but here not one feeling of sadness, not one inkling of loneliness or hopelessness. I want to capture this feeling, this enthusiasm for life and share it with the world. It is possible to love everything, to feel at peace with the world, to feel just all around right with the world and yourself. Not every one here studying with me feels this way and it makes me sad and it makes me ever sadder that I cannot convey to them that there is a better way to see the world than "lens" they are stuck looking through. Some of my fellow students have traveled across the world just to sleep in class, how sad for them. I could not imagine missing the profound knowledge I have gained from the lectures we have had. Today we did meditation in class. Our professor studied for four months in a monastery and taught us the type of mediation he had learned, it was called dynamic meditation. When he taught it, it just took him away, you could tell he was at peace and his peacefulness transfer onto us. The pride he had to show us something that meant so much to him was just overwhelming and the feeling it gave me to learn what he was so excited about was just unlike any other. You can study a religion till you can recite the liturgy and you can study a culture till you can repeat every historical happening but you can never truly know or respect a religion or a culture without going to see a religion in practice and see the people living of a culture living their lives. You know I never really had much interest in sociology but after this trip I feel like I am much more interested in group mentalities and dynamics. I understand its allure now. Speaking of cultural practice. We all went on an over night trip to Ampawa. I felt so spoiled. We stayed in a nice resort where I enjoyed a real shower with glass doors and everything! I wish we could have stayed longer. The grounds of the resort were beautiful. The nature was abundant and the greenery was lush and vibrant. At night we took a boat ride to see the fire flies. Now, in TN I see fire flies every year and I love them. The fact that their bioluminescent light is one of the only ones in the world that creates light without heat is astounding to me. But anyways a lot of the students had never seen a fire fly so I was super excited for them to get to see such beautiful and unique creatures. The fire flies were, more white light instead of yellow which I am used to in TN. They seemed smaller and they all gathered in trees along the river. They blink at the same time in large groups in certain trees. This is fascinating because in TN they are all over, not just in trees and they are more sparse and blink at random times. The resort also facilitated a really cool experience for us in the morning that we were there. At 5:30 am we got up and went down to the dock on the river. We sat on the dock with trays of food and offering. It included a bag of hot food, a plate of rice, a dessert, a flower formed from banana leaves, an incense and candle used for merit (the act of a good deed done through giving that acquires you good karma), and water. Monks from the surrounding temples came by boat to accept these items from us to take back and share with the monks in the temple. The name of this ritual is alms giving. This can be done by way of boat or more commonly by walking down the streets of the mornings with a bowl in hand. As the monk came to us we were to place a scoop of rice in their pot, then put the other items on a tray they held up for us (carefully as to not touch the monk because female contact is not allowed between a male monk and a female, same for a Buddhist nun and a male), the last thing done was to pour water in their jug at the head of the boat or canoe you could call it. This was so amazing to get to participate in this tradition. It feels so good to provide for such honorable and humble peoples. The favorite part of the trip for me was going to the monastery of the Buddhist Nun and leader of a female oriented movement in Thailand in this present day, Bhikkhuni Dhammananda. We got to hear from her an her thoughts on female nuns in Buddhism. What struck me was the way she talked to us; she got down on our level and spoke in a way that was so easy to understand. That she was able to explain such a complicated subject and such a traditional religion in a way that made complete since to me and my life in this day and age was amazing to me. It really shows her knowledge and ability to bring light to all people. We then went to see the only medicine Buddha in all of Thailand. This was really cool to me because I plan to study alternative medicine used in therapy and so this was something I was really interested in. The medicine Buddha is not used in Theravada Buddhism but the image of the medicine Buddha came to Bhikkuni in meditation twice and she felt that she was meant to bring the image to Thailand through a replication in statue form. It was really beautiful to see this image of something that means so much to me in the form of hope for our health crisis and so much to Bhikkuni in the form of religious practice and protection. I just feel like I really know what I want to do now. It has come up so much here. The use of alternative medicine to solve health problems in place of harsh medication. I want to learn these techniques and bring them to my people in America who no longer want to subject themselves to medications and to those who do not know there is another option. And switching subjects, I have to find a subject for my end of the semester paper on culture in Thailand. I went to the book store today and bought some books to read to give me some ideas. I love falling in love with the pursuit of knowledge. I have never been to thirsty to learn more and expand my mind. This trip has opened my mind and if you know me, that might be surprising considering I was pretty open minded to begin with. Now I will go read my books and hopefully my post tomorrow will be filled with knew knowledge and ideas.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sweet, Sweet Bangkok

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand

I love love love ice cream and my cravings followed me to Thailand. I was in luck because Bangkok has an awesome selection of ice creams. Yesterday we went to this place called Swensens and this was no Ben and Jerry's or Cold Cream, it was a true ice cream parlor. It was super nice with menus that had all kinds of ice creams and sundays and treats listed. I was super excited to go and I felt super special because I got all 13 people from my group to follow my lead and go there. To tell you the truth I wanted it so bad I was willing to go by myself but everyone went with me, a nice surprise. But, I will say that our group is really awesome and if you want to go do something, regardless of whether the rest of us wants to do it, some one will go with you. Every one is so thoughtful and accommodating, it is so refreshing. I got an oreo sunday: one scoop cookies and cream, one scoop chocolate swirl speciality, hot fudge, hot caramel, bananas, whipped cream, chocolate covered waffle cone wedge, and 2 oreos.... I have never had such a grandiose dessert. It was so good! Anyways... moving away from my ice cream obsession. I will say that they have some good sweets here. I am not one for sweet things, a side from ice cream, but they have great butter cake and other sweet breads and things. I got a piece of cake off a street table today for maybe 1 American dollar that would have been 12 dollars at your local restaurant that was so incredible. Yesterday we went to the national museum and I really learned a lot. The Thai history is so special because they have kept their tradition and Buddhist ways of life alive for hundreds of years. The symbols, art, and culture remain constant and it is evident in their statues and sculptures. Today we went to Throne Hall and saw all the priceless treasures of the King. It was absolutely breath taking. The amount of gold was unreal. I had never seen such beautiful objects before. They decorate a lot of their gold with wings of a beetle which are metallic colors of purple, green, yellow, or blue. It is a really cool way to decorate ornate objects such as chandeliers. My 2 favorite things were the wood carving and the silk tapestries. There were these story lines carved into large wooden blocks and the detail was insane. I was in disbelief that some one could create such a beautiful and extremely detailed picture from tea wood. One of them took 3 years and 79 people working on it. The silk tapestries were amazing. I love art and to get to see such beautiful pieces of art work was just wonderful. The pictures depicted through thread were so just overwhelming and touching. I was speechless. It is good art when you are left speechless but emotional effected. On another note yesterday after ice cream, I went and bought some street food: pork and sticky rice. It was one of my favorite meals I have had and I bought it for maybe 2 American dollars right off the street on my way to the library. I took my self and my food and my back pack and sat in the outside pavilion at school and did homework with eating. I was surrounded my Thai students and I really felt like I belonged their. It was a great feeling. Sitting there eating my street food, doing my reading, and just being a Thammasat student. After that I went to the library to read. The library was extremely nice. It is 4 stories with a coffee shop and all kinds of book and sections and tables and areas to study. I enjoyed exploring though I was the only American there and kind of felt put of place, just because I was so lost. I finally had to ask for help but after that I found the english book section and got me some books and went to read. I read half of a book and took 2 pages of notes so I could get a start on the 2 papers I have due at the end of my classes here. i felt really good about getting some school stuff done and I enjoyed being off by myself exploring my new campus. Last night I played pool and tonight I will go to bed early. One because we have to get up at 5:30 am for a field trip and two because I have a cold thing. It is really not fun being sick but they have really tried to help me here. Any pharmacy will just give you medicine for what ever you ask for. I think it is a system we in American can learn from but I guess the problem would be we as Americans have such a medication problem now a days. And I think that is all I have to say, I will return in 2 days with more exciting stories.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to maximize your fun while having no fun

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand

I have lost track of numbering the days I have been here so I guess I will let that one go. I love the lack of importance that is put on time. I have no carried a watch or a phone or anything that could tell me the time for the last week now and I have not been late for anything... you just know innately and it is an amazing feeling to just be free from time. You do not realize how often you look at your watch or your phone just to know the time, just see that it has been 3 minutes since you last looked, what is the point? So, Thai movies are cool. I went to one in a movie theater and saw one in class. I went to see The Last Summer in theaters and it was very good. It is a horror movie and I love being scared but American scary movies just do not cut it for me any more but this one had me jumping the whole time. I think it is because I do not know the body language of Thai people and the movie was in Thai with english subtitles so I never expected the scary moments. I really enjoyed it. Not only was it enjoyable but the cinematography was amazing, very artsy and the movie had a good message to take away from it. The second movie we saw for our society and culture of Thailand class and it was also very very artsy and beautifully put together. It was called Siam Renaissance. On the subject of class. Buddhism in Thailand is my second class of the day and it is so amazing. I love learning about religion. It almost makes me wish my major was religion and my minor was psychology instead of the other way around. The temples in Bangkok are amazing.. we saw two today: the legendary Temple of Dawn and the temple with the bid Buddha. The Temple of Dawn was so amazingly beautiful. It was the first Temple of the Old Bangkok Kingdom, across the river from the new kingdom. You can climb to the top and look out over Bangkok and let me tell you, it is a climb. I am afraid of hights so it was very scary but of course I had to go to the top! It was so worth it, to look over the first city I have ever lived in was so awesome. I am not sure if the city life is for me, I miss trees and grass and nature too much to live in a city for an extended period of time. But, this experience has really taught me about where I would like to end up when I go to grad school and when I finally settle down. On a totally different note and what my title is alluding.. we went to the beach this past weekend when we had 4 days off from school. Sounds super fun right? Right... if you can find the silver lining in things. It started off perfect. We got there after 6 hours of buses, taxis, and boats and all without out getting lost or turned around, a pretty large feet in a new country I would say. The boat ride out to the Island of Ko Samet was amazingly beautiful. The water was the clearest and bluest I have ever seen. We were dropped off right on the beach and just walked to find a hotel type place. We found a great little hotel and got a room and then ate dinner sitting on the beach. Day one was a complete success. Day 2 we rent kayaks and paddle into the ocean and here is where the trouble starts. It starts to rain, alright still fun. Then 3 of us cut ourselves on one thing or another while climbing over rocks and jumping off of docks. We all laugh and take pictures of our bleeding wounds, alright still having fun. When we get back it pours down rain, do we stay inside? No! We go beach clubbing in the rain, so fun! Have you ever danced in the rain with no inhibitions? It is so freeing and highly suggest it. I also made a Thai friend and that was pretty cool. The language barrier was not too bad. His name was Paul (from what I understand, I think he was just being nice and settled with Paul after I tried to say his name several times). He spoke a little english and I spoke a very tiny bit of Thai and we were able to converse and he told me he lived in Bangkok and he this was his first time visiting Ko Samet. We decide to swim in the ocean with our new Thai friends.... I forget my wallet is attached to my clothes and I take it into the ocean. But, crazily nothing is ruined just very very wet. We go back home, successful night. Day 3 at the beach we get up for breakfast and I am feeling rough. This combination of being soaking wet all night and staying up late along with the bad food I ate for breakfast made me very very sick. I think I had food poisoning at least maybe other things as well. But any how all day I am throwing up but it is my last day at the beach so I still try to get out and do things. I have never been so sick and so happy. I gave myself some me time and went off by myself and hung my hammock and laid down and looked out over the ocean and island. I thought about what I would like to do after I finish school in December. This trip has made me want to travel, go see places and experience new people and places and things. I might, maybe join something like the peace corp. I have to go to grad school, I want to, I need to but I do not know if I am ready, this trip has definitely made my decision on when to go harder. Anyways so I go to dinner then I am feeling real bad so I go get medicine and lay down. It was still a good day, you just have to be positive. So day 4 at the beach is the day we go home. The day before the girls went out on motor bikes and two girls went down on the bike they were riding on together. My roommate Dani jumped off just in time and was not hurt but my other friend Haley went down with the bike and she hurt her knee really bad. So we are leaving and Haley has a bang up knee and food poisoning. I am still sick from the day before and another girl is sea sick and we have to get on a speed boat to get to the bus station. Oh yeah and it is a monsoon outside. Haha, what a crazy start to our day! So half of us our wounded and sick and we have all our backpacks and things with us to leave the island and we are getting poured on. We get into the speed boat and it is raining sideways into the boat so our bags are soaked, our things are soaked, we are soaked and we are all just laughing! I have never had so much fun while having the worst time ever. It was amazing that all of us could look past our misfortune and just have fun and love our life. I love the people I have met here, they are all so heart warming and fun loving people. Our day continued with a bus ride that dropped us off in the middle of Bangkok and just drove off without a word. We were all soaking wet, had all our stuff, and had no idea where we were. We again could only laugh. After a walk then a train ride then a taxi we were finally home! I had never been so happy to see our little ally that leads to our little apartments. Oh my, what a beach trip that was. The lesson is you can alway have fun, it is all about your mentality. I love my little family here, with them... this is the best trip ever, no matter what happens. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Overload

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand

Ok so... let us see, I left off on day 2 in Thailand. I am now on day 5 so I am playing catch up. So I love love love the fact that we were not babied when we got here. We had to figure stuff out for our selves... we had to get lost and lost again and then lost again. That is how one should learn Thailand.... set out with a group and just figure it out. I feel like I would not have the friendships I do after just 5 days and the knowledge I do about Bangkok if Thammasat had just led us through everything. So, ok, one thing that bothers me the most in Thailand is how slow every one walks! I am always ready to just go and be where I am going and I have learn so much by walking these streets! The Thai people here, they take their time, there is no rush, there is no hurry and it is just amazing and I feel so blessed to receive and learn that lesson here, to be patient because if you are always hurrying you will miss the little things. Day 3 was one of my personal favorites. We went to the super market and got speakers to play music for like 12 dollars a piece between me and my new friend... they are nice too so now we enjoy music every day, good investment. We got a bottle of wine and my roommate Dani and our neighbor Ben drank a glass and went and got traditional Thai massages, also very cheap. But, the spa was extremely nice and the people were so nice and it was for two hours and it was amazing. After that we just laid around and talked about what we are going to do on the trip. Me and Ben and our friend Haley want to go rock climbing so we are thinking about staying two weeks longer to do that... I am already thinking about staying longer, it is crazy. I do not want to leave, not at all and I have not even been here for a week. All of us, 13 of us in the program, are going to the beach this weekend, Ko Samet. Any how day 3 ended with finding the roof top which is an awesome place and I hung my hammock and just laid roof top, in Thailand, it was so surreal. The next night me and Ben and his roommate Scott, who we are trying to get out of his shell went back up to the roof and watched an amazing sunset over the city of Bangkok and then saw a full rainbow... this place is too beautiful. Every day at least one of us says, I still can not believe we are in Thailand and we all laugh because we all feel that way, it is amazing how all of us came to be here and now we are all sharing in this awesome adventure and we all get along SO well, it is incredible. The psychology of the person who would up and go to study in a country across the world all by themselves is really interesting and it is funny that we all get along so well, we must be like minded. So, yesterday we had our first day of class and we were shocked to walk into a class room full of people... turns out there is another group here from California with like 15 people! I like my group better though, haha. Class was amazing, that we get to learn from the professors at the university makes our classes SO much better. I mean, they just know the culture and the people and it makes it so much more fruitful of a lesson. I would not have changed a thing about this trip and my host school and the people I have met and the things I have already gotten to do..... it has exceeded my expectations beyond all measure. Last night we went out with one of our orientation leaders and he was so cool. His name is Kevin and he is a middle aged man from the US who decided he wanted to live and teach in Thailand. He told us all about his cultural experiences and it was just so great that he felt like he could go out with us and just be honest. Everyone here is SO helpful. Speaking of helpful people, my favorite Thai person so far that I have met is Kit... he runs the cafe type place right next to our hotel. He has learned our names and attempts to speak english with us which is super nice because he has no obligation to do that. He teaches us Thai every morning at breakfast and then again at dinner.. we go there often. He is just so nice and I have learned some good Thai words and phrases to know. He was just a friendly face from the day we met him, when all of us were new to this country and he really helped us out, we are so appreciative! Anyways now that I am caught up.... on day 5 of Bangkok living. We had to wear school uniforms today. I thought I would not like it but I have never worn a uniform before and beside being extremely hot it was cool to feel a part of a prestigious group. A lot of people recognize the uniforms and talked to us about going to Thammasat and were super nice to us, we felt more respected when we looked a part of the culture instead of foreigners. It was a cool day, we went on a field trip to the Royal Palace. It was breath taking. And now, I am done for the day.

Monday, July 1, 2013

First blog for Thailand

by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand

Well... It has been a whirl wind of new experiences for me over the past four days. I cannot believe I have been all the way across the world for only four short days, it feels like it has been a month at least. It is amazing how fast you bond with people in a foreign country who are experiencing for the first time the same things as you. I flew out Wednesday, 6-26-13. I went from Maryville, TN, my home to Atlanta, an airport I know well and from there on a 13 hour plane ride to Tokyo, the most time I have ever spent on a plane. I was not nervous about leaving till I got to the airport and then it all hit me... I was leaving my country to go across the world and live for over a month. In Atlanta I said my last good byes to my family and then my boy friend. So I cannot use my phone in Bangkok because it will cost too much so I tell my mom and dad good bye and say I will text them and then I tell Jordan, my boy friend good bye. I was so relieved to get a break from everyone I know; I know that sounds weird but I was so ready to be just me all the way across the world living without pressures without calling and texting and answering to people, without everyone knowing where I am and what I am doing, I was ready to be free. I figured out the way to sleep on a packed air plane though and I feel pretty ingenious, what I did was put the tray down on the back of the seat in front of me and tilt my seat back and put my legs up on the tray and slept for almost the whole 13 hour plane ride. I did look out the window to see Alaska which was pretty cool. When I got to Tokyo air port I was a little disoriented. It was strange to be the ethnic minority for sure, I have never been in that situation. To be by myself in another country not knowing where to go or how to ask where I needed to go was a little scary but I felt confident.... until I went to the wrong gate. I waited at a gate for 30 minutes and then when boarding they tell me this flight to bangkok is with another company, you are in the wrong place. I was so scared I had missed my flight but when I looked I still have 10 minutes so I ran to look for a screen to tell me where to go and I thought I had it down when I ended up at another wrong gate, at this point I was panicked.... so again I am running across the airport. I see the gate and I was so tired from the flight then the running and panicking that there was no joy in finally seeing my last flight till I got to Bangkok. As soon as I sit down this girl comes running up to me with the biggest smile and says are you Kelsey? And then it hits me, this is my new roommate and my mood instantly lifted. I feel like she lifted me out of my funk and got me excited again for our coming adventure. I was so relieved that she had found me and I was now with a familiar face so far away from home. We board as soon as she found me and again with the flying.... i have never hated flying so much. I definitely would say that I have claustrophobic tendencies; being in such a small space for so long just made me stressed and emotionally worn thin. At this point my body and mind were tired and I again slept most of the plane ride but I figured I should try and wake up so the last 2 hours of the 6 hour plane ride I watched a couple movies. Just an fyi, Stoker is an amazingly artistic movie. So I land in Bangkok, finally after 26 hours of flying and running and worrying and emotionally up and down and all around... I was here! It is so weird to say here, because this honestly it doesn't feel like a here or there or anything of the sort by now it feels like home, it feels like I have always sort of, in a way been right here in Bangkok. But I will come back to that point, I am sure many times over my blogging sessions. So, me and Dani (my roommate) get off the plane and set out to get our baggage and find our driver. It turns out I had no idea where to meet for pick up so it is a miracle that Dani knew where to go.... it is funny how so many things have aligned to help me be able to get to here. We meet another guy in the program at pick up, Scott (he is 18 years old and very reserved). So here we are in a taxi driving through Bangkok and I get this burst of energy and wow I am ecstatic. We get to the what I thought was apartments but alas I was wrong it is a hotel and I was so upset that I had to live in a hotel for a month but boy was I so wrong to misjudge it like I did. I love my room and the porch and the roof and the area it is in, I love my new home. Well, we get up to the room and it turns out that Scott is our neighbor, so cool. In our room, we find our beds have no sheets, strange and kind of disconcerting because I needed some good sleep and sleeping without sheets is hard, let me tell you. So we barely get to sit down.. and talk about our lack of sheets when there is a knock at the door. It is Scott and his roommate Ben. We all introduce ourselves and decide to set off to find sheets. It is so amazing how things just seem to happen in a way that allows the best possible circumstances. We meet Scott in the airport and then he tells his roommate that we just got in too and then they ask us to find sheets with them and then we end up lost in Bangkok at 1 am. We found no sheets but we did find a convenient store and got a beer instead. Ben convinced me to go for a Thai beer (Singha) that became our go to beer until we found it is a, to put it not so nicely, "bitch beer". It was so surreal to be in Thailand, drinking a beer with such awesome new friends. I could not have been happier to be here. It is so weird because when I first applied I said hey maybe I'll apply and see what happens and then I got accepted by my school and then I did more work and got accepted by ISEP international program and then I got accepted to Thammasat and then I was getting my plane ticket and then I was here, I never expected to actually get here.... I feel like I was meant to come here, it just feels natural to me. At home I can't go down town without being lost and I hardly come from a city such as Bangkok but here I have the directional skills and I was always lacking in the states.... here I can find my way around the crazy mazes of streets and markets and traffic and bridges and it amazes me. The first night I got maybe 3 hours of sleep... my schedule had no adjusted yet. But I was so excited to start my day that I got right up and my 3 new friends decided to walk around. We found Thammasat, after hours of being lost. Here it is ok to be lost, it is ok to take your time and I love it. Being lost helped us to get to know the city. Well I have to get back to living the life in Bangkok but tomorrow I will continue catching up on the 4 days I have been here.

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