Saturday, April 2, 2016

Welcome Home

My last week of teaching was the week of March 7th. It was wonderful and bittersweet. My last day of work at the center was Wednesday, March 16th followed by my missioning on March 19th. Missioning is a ceremony for volunteers who are leaving to go home and wishing them good luck and health. I also spent almost every night of my last week with the volunteers. It was a busy and amazing last week. 

Now, it has been two weeks since I have arrived back in the USA. It has been a whirlwind of emotions, planning and spending time with my family. On Saturday, March 19th, I left Bangkok at 2 in the morning (Indochina Time), flew through Abu Dhabi, and arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. at 6 in the evening EST the same night. It was a long flight, which made it feel so good to finally be on ground. I was welcomed by 5 members of my family (one of my sisters was very sick), one of my aunts, and a dear friend of mine. It was such a welcoming. It was very cold the first few days back and by freezing I mean it was mid-40’s, low-50’s degrees Fahrenheit. It took me the entire first week to get used to the east coast time. Being 11 hours behind Thailand, I was waking up at odd times and falling asleep very late. Thankfully my family was patient with me.

This past week, I finally was the driver in my own car after two years of no driving. It was not as scary as I thought. It all came back very fast. That is something I know I have to get used to fast again. Living in the USA and in a city that does not have good public transportation, I need to drive to get anywhere. Another thing I have to get used to is being a pedestrian here. In Thailand, you had to take your chances if you wanted to get across the road. Many drivers do not follow pedestrians signs or let them cross the road unless the poor pedestrians begins to walk across. Here in the USA, people actually let pedestrians walk across the road and stop for them. Weird. 

I am slowing getting used to the USA and American culture again. The first week was difficult and I tried to not coming online the entire week to give myself time and space from Thailand. That week, I missed my friends, students, and mission a lot. From the village of Din Kow to Pattaya to Sihanoukville, Cambodia and back to Pattaya again, this experience has changed my life and outlook on life for good. I have grown so much and am very thankful for being able to share this experience with all of you. Thank you very much!

Friday, March 4, 2016

2 Weeks Left

With two weeks left of my mission here in Thailand, it is time for things to wind down as I prepare to go home. Next week is my last week of teaching at Fountain of Life Women's Center in Pattaya, a center that offers classes in hairdressing, massage, typing, computers, nail painting, jewelry and English as well as counselling and other services for women working in the city. Each day we have about 200 to 300 women coming to the center. Over the past few months, I have been teaching English Topics 4, a class that focuses more on speaking and creating relationships. For this class, it is easier to make conversations in whatever topic we learn for that day, either it be about hometowns, jobs, health, or directions, because of the relationships and confidence of the women. It has been one of my favorite things about this class. Many of the women I have been teaching for many months or even over a year, making them comfortable and helping the newer women become more comfortable faster.

Last Saturday (February 27th), I went to Koh Si Chang, an island off the coast of Sriracha (a town 30 minutes north of Pattaya). Being at this island reminded me of the beauty of Thailand and then made me realize I would be leaving this very soon. in 1892, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) made his Royal Palace on this island. This island does not only have the history but also the beauty as well!

In a matter of two years, I learnt a lot. Between a new culture, myself and other volunteers, I saw that the world is really bigger than it seems. As many countries, Americans are taught in schools and the media that we are the center of the world and barely receive 'real' news. By going to a new country and meeting different people, I was able to learn a new culture and life (even if there were signs of Americanization here). Learning to see the world and people from a different perspective helped me grow as a person. I will miss Thailand and its people. Until the next time!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Begin of February

Morning class of Topic 4 in January
Afternoon class of topic 4 in January

The past few weeks have been amazing, wonderful and went by very quick. Today, February 1st, was my last first day of the monthly class at Fountain of Life Women's Center. It was bittersweet. Currently, I have six women in my morning class and four in my afternoon class of English Topics 4. Of course, being the first day of classes, this number will change. Today was also the first day of teaching for the two new Danish volunteers. They will be teaching English Grammar 2 and Grammar 3. The two higher levels of English. They are motivated and determined to help us make the women more confident in their English speaking skills.

Talking about dream jobs! :)
Because I have a few weeks left of my mission in Thailand, I am teaching a six-week course instead of the normal length class. On the last day of the Topics 4 class (March 11th), the class will close until more volunteers arrive. The class is beneficial to the women at the center because it creates an even safer place for them to be confident and comfortable. Each day, I am excited to walk into class to be with the women because they bring such joy, laughter, and their big smiles. I cannot put into words how much I have come to love these women and how much respect I have for them.

Over the next month, I was given the opportunity to teach the evening class every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30pm to 7:00pm until February 25th. This class is for women (and men) who are unable to come during the day due to many reasons, including working at hotels, restaurants or other places. It will be strange to be back in the classroom during these times after not teaching this class for about one year, but I am excited. Like during the day classes, these women and men keep me on my toes and make me laugh. Laughing is truly contagious.

I am thankful I am able to work alongside all the staff, volunteers, Good Shepherd Sisters, and my students. Without them, work would be more difficult than it is and not as bright! Let the countdown begin.

Outside the Fountain of Life Women's Center in Pattaya, Thailand

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year

Sawadee Pii Mai! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Thailand! It is hard to imagine it is now 2016. The last month, I decided to take a hiatus because of the holidays.

On the 5th of December, my teammates and I joined Sr. Piyachat and two other sisters to a feast at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Connception in Chantanaburi - a city three hours south of Pattaya and is also our dioscese. It was beautiful and very HOT.

December 15th was our Christmas Party at Fountain of Life Women's Center. This year I did not dance with the fellow volunteers due to being in Cambodia when they began practicing for it. They did amazing. Afterwards, I went up to the stage and sang Jingle Bells with them. Throughout the day, it was so much fun and I loved seeing the women I either used to teach or others I formed relationships with who were not in my class. Everyone was really enjoying themselves and having fun.

Over the Christmas break, I traveled to Chiang Mai to meet my family (mother and my sisters). This was the first time I saw anyone from home since the day I left in 2014. We spent about one week going around the city. On the 28th, we traveled to Bangkok. We only stayed one day. On the 29th and 30th, we were in Pattaya: the city I call my home. I knew this part of the trip would be difficult for my family to see because of the reputation of the city. My family took it all in well. That night, only one of my sisters stayed in my house with me. It was rough as we don't have A/C, only fans. During the trip, they were able to meet a few of my former students who assured them I was doing well and they enjoyed my teachings (even though I don't think I am the best at teaching English at all).

For New Years, I was in Ayutthaya was one of my friends from Bangkok. It used to be the capital of this area for 417 years before the Burmese came and destroyed it. Years later, Bangkok became the capital. Being able to see the ruins and feel the atmosphere there gave me a new sense of fight as I finish my mission in Thailand.

In 2.5 months, I will be on my way back to the USA. It will be strange to be back on American soil after two years. I pray it will be warmer and not too cold when I get back so I can avoid getting sick. The month after I arrive back, my eldest sister will be getting married. Being able to be there and celebrate her marriage as one of her bridesmaids.

Friday, November 27, 2015

It's time

Today was my last day at Fountain of Life Center in Sihanoukvillle, Cambodia. It didn't feel like my last day except for when I did not go to the villages in the morning or to the bar in the afternoon to teach. The rest of the day felt like any normal day there. It was a normal day with the exception that on Monday I will not be here anymore. Within the short time of one month that I have been here, I have learnt so much! For one, I do not need a big or elaborate living space to survive. I cannot estimate very well, so I won't put a guess to how big my room was in meters or feet. It was smaller than my room in the village of Din Kow. With the small space, I had my own room and my own restroom. That was what I needed. This room was enough for when I slept. Secondly, the work I did at this center was very different than what I did in Pattaya. At both centers, I did help teach English but that is where the similarities stop. In Pattaya, I teach English as well as administrative tasks and communication. But on most days, my days ended around 3 in the afternoon. In Sihanoukville, everyday my work began at 8 in the morning and ends at 6:30 in the evening. Between helping with day care, teaching children in two villages, teaching women, going to a bar to teach, and then teaching to older kids in the evening, I was busy the entire day with many different kinds of people that are at risk in Sihanoukville. This schedule was amazing. I enjoyed going into the village and the bars because I was involved in the community. I also loved working with women, men, and children of all ages. It gave me the chance to see how Fountain of Life works in another community. I also got to use more skills as well.

During my time here, I made very good relationships with the staff. While language was sometimes a difficulty, it never stopped us from laughing and enjoying our time together. The sense of community with the staff helped me a lot during my time here. I did miss having someone to talk to about my experience, like another volunteer. I made do during my time and was able to make many friends and meet people I normally wouldn't have met.

I will miss Sihanoukville, but I feel one day I will be back again. Whenever that is.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Another day, Another chance

As this week comes to a close, it is time to look at what this week held. I will admit, this week was more difficult than the first two weeks were but had just as many highs, laughs, and face palms (the good kind). Thinking that I have already been in Cambodia three weeks has gotten me to ask - where has the time gone? It went by fast (almost as fast as the year and eight-months on mission). This week, I saw my relationships grow even more with the staff, Sr. Michelle, the women I teach, as well as the kids. It's amazing that even without knowing any Khmer (only one or two words), I am still able to form connections. When you are giving yourself, it shows and the relationships show for it. One thing that was difficult for me this week was when I was teaching the evening class to the older students. It was my third week teaching them, but I am still getting used to teaching a group of people that are younger than me. For their age, they get distracted so easily and always asked "Can we go home now" way before it was time. Thursday was the most difficult day with them. Then on Friday, I do not know what happened, but they were so much better. It was a 180 from the night before. I was happy that this was the way the week ended.

During the week, I continued to teach at a bar after my afternoon class with 3 women. This week was especially good with that. On Thursday, as the staff member and I began teaching, one of the western staff at the bar came up asking what we were doing. She directed it more at me. She was surprised but happy to hear that we were helping some of the Cambodian staff to learn English. For me, this showed how many people are effected by the work that is done with everyone at Fountain of Life Center here.

Today (Saturday, November 21st), I went to Phnom Penh to visit S.21 and the Killing Fields. One of the staff members went me with me. These are two very important sites of the Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia. If you don't know much much this, please look it up. An an attempt to turn Cambodia in a harsh peasant Communist country, Pol Pot forced people to work in fields, and even went after men, women, and even children. His reasoning was because they were educated, wealthy, government officials, doctors, and many other reasons. Millions died because of starvation as well as at S.21 and the Killing Fields. It all ended in 1979. You still see the effects of this tragedy. Walking through S.21 (a school turned into a torture, interrogation, and execution center), I felt the weight of what had happened here decades ago. It is not a beautiful museum but it has such an impact on the people who come to see it everyday. Here is the website for both the Killing Fields and S.21. 

At the Killing Fields, you have the option to listen to recordings throughout the walk here. You are able to hear what each post means (the bus stop, where the people slept, three mass graves, etc.). After walking, listening for over an hour, and looking at the pits where hundreds of dead bodies were thrown as well as their bones, clothes and other cloths that were brought to the surface after harsh rains over the years, it was a difficult sight to take in.

The Killing Fields


This experience showed me why Cambodia and the people are this way. Seeing this dark part of history, allowed me to really be in Cambodia and to fully understand this culture and country. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Hello. I miss you."

It is the end of my second full week in Cambodia (15 days in Cambodia officially). This week I worked in the mornings with Kim in the villages. Every morning (Monday to Friday), I went with her to two different villages. We left Fountain of Life Center around 9AM, and drove a bit outside of the city. After getting onto the main road for a few minutes, we took a left onto a dirt road with many potholes. That was extremely fun on a motorbike. :) The first village, we teach English in the village's Buddhist Temple for half an hour. When we finish, we leave to go to another village about 5 to 10 minutes away and teach it on the outside terrace of one of the houses. At both villages, we help the kids write ABCs and English words and sentences. But at the first village, Kim helps them practice writing the Khmer alphabet. Going to the villages showed me a different way of life. Of course, I saw many villages like this living in poverty on TV but it is something different seeing it in person. Seeing the houses made of tin, the dirt roads within the villages with many potholes and beat up by the rain, really showed the poverty they are accustomed to. Even living with all of this, the children are surprisingly joyful and always smiling and laughing. They are always a joy to see each morning.

In the afternoon, I help teach English to three women (that come regularly) to the center. These are the women who are able because they are not working at this time. From 1:00PM to 2:20PM, I am able to choose whatever topic I want to teach them (grammar, dialogue, etc.). Thankfully, they are kind and funny (like the women in Pattaya). Each day is a joy to have them. While teaching, one of the staff member sits in my class (but sometimes walks to the other class or check on the kids in the nursery). It helps a lot to have her since I don't know many words in Khmer, so she helps to explain to the women if they do not understand something.

After teaching this, on Monday, Thursday and Friday, I went with Kolianey to the bars to teach English. On Monday, there were no students at the bar so I went with Lucia to another shop (a tailor), to help the owner to practice reading English. Wednesday and Thursday I did not go because it began to rain and the staff member who drives me was very sick. On Thursday and Friday, I went with Kolianey to a different bar called the Dolphin Shack Bar. There, I gave one very young girl some words to practice writing as well as just speak with her. She kept making me laugh - she has a very likable personality and speaks English very well. Kolianey and I teach two women and three men there. It's all about helping them learn to write and read English as well as pronunciation because they are supposed to encourage people to come to their bar. Occasionally, they would ask how to say something in English (like "I can speak a little English").

On the weeknights, I teach the highest level of English to the kids. This is the most difficult task for me.  Yes, it is only teaching (like the other things that I do), but it is different than teaching the women, in the village or at the bars. It's different because the pressure to decide what to teach this is more as well as keeping their attention. It is more than helping them write (like in the villages), it is actually teaching them grammatical points and praying they understand since I can't speak Khmer. But I did get better by the end of the week.

The mission here in Sihanoukville is very different than in Pattaya. It is more community centered in the way that we go out into the community (bars, village, tailor shop, etc.) to teach as well as teaching two classes in the center. It pushes you here to just be in a state of being and to make the connections to people (whoever it ends up being) and showing they are worth it.

"One person is of more value than the entire world."