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.”
90 degrees Fahrenheit. No tree. No pile of presents. No snow (kind of self explanatory when you know the temperature). December 25th could have passed just like any other day in Thailand. It would have too, had it not been for one thing. I went to church.
Determined to clench onto all the Christmas traditions I possibly could, I asked my host sister if it would be possible for me to go to a church. My host family was very supportive, accommodating, and made some Christmas magic happen. At 8am on Christmas Day I arrived at St. Joseph’s.
It looked in many respects like any Catholic Church. There was an aisle, pews, alter, holy water, Christmas trees, and Nativity scene. When I arrived, there were a couple of people setting up the alter, testing the mics and music, and sitting in the audience. I picked up a song book in English and glanced over the Christmas pamphlet, grabbing one but later returning it due to its contents being all in Thai.
I sat down and opened my ears, prepared to be greeted by the usual Christmas carols. Instead of melodic tunes, I heard a heavily auto tuned karaoke version of my favorite songs, in Thai. Let me be the first to tell you, Jingle Bells in Thai sounds nothing like the real Jingle Bells.
At 8:50 am the mass started. The priest and four alter servers walked up the aisle. After a quick glance around, I could see I was the only foreigner in the church. From that observation, I made the correct conclusion that the mass was not going to be in English. For the number of masses I have been to throughout my life, you would think I could follow along easily, but I found myself bewildered by the prayers in a foreign tongue.
Something that I have never seen in church before was that when the bread and wine were brought up to the front of the alter, a gift basket for the priest was also bestowed. Additionally, instead of shaking hands when we said “peace be with you”, we preformed the “wai” instead. Everyone put there hands in a prayer position in front of their chest and bowed their heads to the people standing around them. Lastly, when people went up to the manger, to view the Nativity, they removed their shoes. To remove shoes is very common in Buddhist temples in Thailand but I had yet to see it in a Catholic church.
Christmas day was my first time going to church in five months. Since arriving in Thailand I have not had the opportunity. Rather, I have been able to explore more about Buddhism but sometimes it is important to return back to the familiar. I had never been happier to be in church than I was this Christmas day. In a world were everything feels borrowed, I found one place that connected me home.
New Year’s Eve
Another year has come and gone. In the span of 365 days a lot can change. For me, that has been clearly manifested in 2017. Using a cliché: I never imagined I would be where I am today. A month ago I could have never imagined what my life would be like, let alone a year ago. The past weeks have been the hardest of my exchange thus far. I moved provinces, started at a new school, met a new coordinator, and am living with a new host family. Partnering all this change with the holidays has been a recipe for homesickness.
Missing home stinks, no one will tell you differently. Being here but wishing you were there is the cruelest mind game, but it is one that we all so often fall victim to. We forget how to live in the present, how to appreciate all we have in the moment. In our imagination, everything is better than now. We glamourize the past and idolize the future, escaping to one of them to cope with our current disappointment. In some cases, this is a tool, used to find the shiny objects in the sea of despair. We need something to look forward to so we can endure. This is helpful but, in the long run of life, is debilitating.
This year has shown me that you can make whatever you want out of a situation. In the U.S. there were days when I was bored and lonely of the same old, same old. I thought, naively, that moving across the world would change that. It hasn’t. While those feelings aren’t changing, I know that I am. I am stronger and braver than I have ever been, even though some days it doesn’t feel like it. The most important lesson I have learned this year is that changing the environment doesn’t change the problem. It follows you. Only changing yourself and your outlook on your life situation will make the obstacle disappear for good.
In the New Year, I want to exhibit more gratitude. We all have so many things to be thankful for, every moment of everyday, and I want to start consciously recognizing them. The New Year is a new beginning. One year ago today I yearned for adventure, to face my fears. I did just that. As I stand on a beach, in Thailand, and watch the sun set on 2017, I will be proud and smile at what I have made out of these wonderful, last 365 days. Wishing you health, happiness, and a Happy New Year!