Lessons from Thailand
June 29, 2015
by Jenni Sebora

It has been a whirlwind of activity for this mother. The end of the school year as a teacher is always a bustle; throw in a graduation party for my firstborn, and then move on to hosting three teenage girls from Thailand for a week. The girls were competing in the International Future Problem Solving competition in Iowa.

Then, top it off with an eight-day mission trip to New Orleans with 20 teenagers packed in two vans. I was one of four chaperones and a driver for this 20-hour expedition.

I have to say that all of these activities provided different learning opportunities, cultural experiences, new friends and connections made, and absolute personal and shared gratification.

Driving in a van with 12 teenagers for 20 hours, and sleeping in a communal bunk area with about 30 females – mainly teenage girls – is worth its own article or two, but will not be the focus of this one.

Last summer, we played host to three FPS female students from Australia, which was such a pleasure. We continue to keep in touch with them, and their picture is definitely refrigerator-worthy, as it hangs among pictures of my children and their cousins.

We had such a great experience with the girls from Australia last summer that we were hoping we would host students from there again this summer, but Thailand it was. And our experience with them was just as wonderful.

I have learned a lot about Australia and Thailand from all these wonderful students.

The weather in Thailand, and specifically Bangkok, which is where all three girls reside, is “hot, hotter, and hottest,” as described by Peng, one of our new Thailand friends.

In fact, on one of our first car rides, I opened up the sun roof and put the windows down as we drove and asked the girls if they felt the wind was too strong for them. All three responded with a definitive, “No.”

In a vehicle in Bangkok, you don’t roll your windows down, due to the pollution and the heat. Thus, each car trip after, the windows were down and the sun roof was open. I have found a new appreciation for the wind and the ability to spend time outside. In Bangkok, most time is spent inside.

We may think traffic is congested in the metropolitan area, but it does not compare to traffic in Bangkok. One of the girls shared that she lives just a few miles from her school, and it can take them one hour to get there because of the traffic.

When asked why she does not walk or ride bike, the answer again is, “It is too hot.”

However, they do not think they could survive the winters in Minnesota. When 80 degrees may be the coolest temperature, a below-zero temperature would be unfathomable.

As in most countries, aside from America, you begin learning dual, if not more languages very early on. All three girls spoke relatively good English. One was the main interpreter if something we spoke was not understood.

In fact, English is much easier to learn than Thai, as shared by the girls. Peng shared that she got an A-plus in her English class, but almost failed her class in Thai, and she is a gifted student.

The girls were kind enough to write each of our names down in English, and then in Thai next to it. I have this paper taped to our refrigerator, as well. Of course, refrigerator-worthy.

Food is another whole topic. Thai food is spicy; the spicier the better. The girls brought along some favorite common Thai foods for us to try.

My husband loves hot and spicy, so he could handle most of the dishes without too much water or milk to help alleviate the heat.

They left us their favorite treat, seaweed chips. They love them, but really, it looks like seaweed dried up at a shore and tastes like it to me. Maybe if I grew up with it, I may like it; but maybe not.

The girls have never had licorice. They called it “that long rubbery stuff.” None were fans. However, they did like Swedish Fish, which of course, is Swedish.

I took them to the grocery store, where they were fascinated. They each picked out a couple Greek yogurts they wanted to try, as well as different flavors of Pop-Tarts. They have Pop-Tarts in Thailand, but they are expensive so they don’t eat them often.

I drank my usual two cups of coffee in the morning, and they told me that I drank too much coffee. If they only knew. Coffee is not a huge hit where they live. If I ever do travel to Thailand, where we were graciously invited several times to stay with all of their families and their chaperone’s families, I better figure out the coffee situation.

We received many gracious gifts from the girls, their families, and the chaperones, as well as many words of thanks and many memories and lessons.

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