Mattison Boveri is a junior currently studying abroad in Thailand through a fully funded scholarship from the U.S. State Department. Her weekly observations will be posted in her column in The Forest Scout, “Half the World Away.”
I am two thirds done with my exchange year. If it seems like I am counting down the days until I go home it is because I am. 316 days is a long time. Someone has got to keep track of it! I have learned a lot this past month. No, I am not a parrot, just repeating myself. Truthfully, there has been no break in the learning. My exchange year has kept me on the edge of my seat, never knowing what to expect next. While it has been a winding road, I feel confident in saying it just took a turn for the better. I will recap reaching this milestone by stating some recent lessons learned.
I learned how to live with very little, out of a suitcase. Being constantly on the move, I have had to simplify my belongings down to the bare basics.
I learned that I can adjust to any situation and circumstance. No hot water? No problem. Wake up at this early morning hour? Ok! Sleep on that mat on the floor? You got it! There is no limit. After the basic necessities of life, everything else feels luxury at this point.
I learned about the gift of a fresh start. It is a relief when someone hears ugly words said about you but chooses not to let it dictate their opinion. Giving you the benefit of the doubt and a chance to prove yourself is invaluable. This reinforces the importance of consciously exercising open mindedness and turning a deaf ear to other’s interpretations.
I learned the power of music. Tears almost fell from my eyes when I sat in my host family’s car and “Sleep without you” by Brett Young played through the speakers. I could feel myself transported to summer drives home after a long day of life guarding. Never being a real music guru, I am growing to appreciate how a melody can alter your mood. Hearing country music in english on the radio after months of just hearing the same Thai songs is a dramatic mood booster.
I learned how hot hot air balloons are. After eating dinner with a teacher at my school and one of her friends, we went on an adventure to a market they had never been to before. There were two hot air balloons on display. At first, they were content posing for pictures from the ground but I was determined to ride one. The ticket was 100 baht ($3) and we got a free beer with it! The ride was five minutes long and we had a view of the carnival rides and factory lights in the distance. My teacher was scared of the flame but we landed safety on the ground without any bald or burnt spots.
I learned the value of being friends with your fruit vendor. As a lover of pineapple, I purchased the fruit from a cart behind my school two days in a row. On the three day I went to buy a bag but only had a big bill that she couldn’t break down. She insisted I take the pineapple anyway and just pay her back the next day. An IOU. Only in Thailand have I witnessed this much trust and belief in the goodness in everyone. I don’t think she will win “Business Entrepreneur of the Year” but when it comes to everything in Thailand, personal relationships are always more important.
I learned how Buddhism popularizes making merit. Two words: temple festival. Just after arriving home on a Saturday night to eat dinner, I asked about the music I heard in the distance and my host mom’s eyes sparked up. Suddenly reminded of the temple festival, we piled back in the car and drove through the winding mountain roads to join in the Buddhist prayers, light incense sticks and candles, and sling shot seeds into the forest to plant new trees. Making merit plus racing motorcycles equals something you will only find in Thailand. At the end of the festival they had a motorcycle race through a dirt track. Safe? No. Interesting to watch? Of course. On the way home we sang karaoke to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran and “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri. Other religions take note: if you want to increase attendance and interest, just advertise food, games, and a show.