It’s been almost a month since I left my home in New Jersey to move to Thailand for 27 months with the Peace Corps. It has been quite an adventure so far, and I have already learned so much. I’ve been having a hard time deciding what to write about, so this first post is just a short summary of my journey thus far, beginning with my Staging event, where my group was brought together to meet before leaving the US:
We left our hotel in San Francisco around 7:00 pm on January 6th. It was an exciting and emotional few days at Staging in San Francisco, as the staff attempted to prepare us for arrival in Thailand. We flew San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore to Bangkok, where we were met with smiles and beautiful leis. We arrived at our hotel around 9:00 pm on January 8th, so as you can imagine, everyone desperately needed a shower and a good night’s sleep.
The first 10 days we were completely spoiled at the hotel: air conditioning, Wi-Fi, 2 snack breaks each day, unlimited access to the toilets we’re used to at home, no need to bike anywhere, and a mall within walking distance. I was also lucky to have an amazing roommate who I could talk with every night before bed (Megan if you’re reading this I miss you!) Those first ten days I had some pretty awesome moments, but also some not-so-awesome moments. Somewhere between eating congealed pork blood, crickets, and the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had, I picked up a stomach bug and was only able to eat rice for a solid 6 days.
During these first 10 days, I still don’t think it hit me that I was now living in Thailand. It didn’t truly hit me until that tenth day, when we were about to move in with our host families. Sure, we had sessions about how to use a squat toilet, how to shower out of a bucket, and how to hang up your mosquito net to ensure that your entire bed is covered, but nothing could have truly prepared us to move in with an actual Thai family. Luckily, we had our aajaans (teachers) there with us during that initial meeting to translate and hopefully make it less awkward.
This was the moment that began defining our unique Peace Corps experiences. Up to that point, the 68 of us in Group 129 had been staying in the same hotel, eating the same buffet lunches, and all spending time with each other. When I met my host mom, my aajaan translated that she lived alone, was the head of her village, and preferred to be called “Pii” instead of “Mae” because she is only 18 years older than me- in her eyes, she is not my host mom but instead my host “big sister.”
The meeting lasted only about 10 minutes, and then I got into her truck and we drove away. I was so nervous to be leaving the comfort of the hotel and to be moving in with a complete stranger. In her broken English, Pii Oi asked me the questions we had been warned about:
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Did you eat yet?”
“Are you hungry?”
We got to her house and I was preparing mentally to come face to face with my first squat toilet.
I was so surprised and excited to discover that Oi has a western-style toilet and shower! I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to see a shower. Not everyone was blessed with a shower with running water. Many of my fellow PCTs do have squat toilets and bucket showers, but I was lucky enough to avoid those- at least during training. It’ll be another story when I get to my site, but for now I’m enjoying this luxury.
So now, at the time I’m writing this, I’ve been living with Oi for two weeks. And while it has been difficult and there have definitely been a few misunderstandings, I can already look back on the day I moved in and laugh about how nervous I was.
Now, I enjoy biking to training each day (but talk to me again during the rainy season). I enjoy eating the Thai food “mai pet” (not spicy). I enjoy eating dinner with the neighbors every day. They do not speak any English at all, so our conversations consist of them feeding me and then asking, “A-roi?” (delicious), and my response of, “A-roi, ka!” I should also mention that the neighbors are hosting a fellow Trainee, so I have an American friend there during these dinners. Our families spend a lot of time together, so I feel like I have two host families, and not just one.
Every day is a mix of language, cultural, and technical training, which has been going well so far! Last week we had to practice meeting people at the type of government building we’ll be working in once we get to site. It was an interesting (and awkward…mostly awkward) day of conversations about their names, how long they’ve worked at the tessaban, if they ate that day- basically all the Thai we knew at that point.
Today we start our practicums, so I will be in an actual Thai school teaching actual Thai students for the first time. Wish me luck!