-Lows: The past few months have marked a number of Peace Corps milestones for my group: One year in Thailand in January, 50% service completion in February, and one year at site in a few days. With these milestones has come a lot of reflection, progress evaluation, and the (inevitable?) Mid Service Crisis. (Oh Peace Corps mental health chart: you predicted me too well.) My own service slump came in the middle of a particularly slow time at site: Almost all of my post-New Years classes were cancelled so students could prepare for standardized tests and all Thailand PCVs were grounded to site due to violent political protests. These circumstances left me feeling stir crazy, frustrated, and … not great. I’m feeling good now, but there were definitely a few days in there when I was ready to pack my bags and head home.
-Highs: I snapped out of my funk thanks in large part to my amazing family/PCV support system (bless you Skype and 12Call), as well as some great work opportunities in February. I had the privilege of judging the Thai National Debate competitions in Pattaya, where I was totally blown away by gifted, hard-working high school students from across the country.
Then, I spent a week in Suphan Buri at Pre Service Training for the incoming class of Thailand PCVs. I worked with them on setting up and planning a Training event for local teachers to learn new ESL teaching techniques and practice their conversation skills. It was so great to spend time with the new trainees and I came away totally reenergized by their enthusiasm and optimism. (It was also great to hang out with the Thai Peace Corps staff who are basically the funniest, kindest, most hard-working people on the continent. Jing jing.)
-Work: Teaching has been pretty slow lately, but it’s not because I have unmotivated students. I’ve had third graders in my room at lunch every day this week, telling me how excited they are to study with me next year. And, I’ve started teaching a small group of high school students after school who want to study during their summer vacation. No matter what else is going on at work or at home, it always cheers me up and warms my heart to work with bright, motivated kids. I’ve got some interesting work prospects for next year, so we’ll see if anything pans out as a 2nd Year project.
-What’s next? School is out in a few weeks yay! I’ll be heading to my Mid Service Conference in Bangkok, then going on vacation in south Thailand for a few weeks of R&R on the beach. After vacation, my co-teacher and I will get into warp-speed teaching mode as we do a 20 day training/camp marathon to prepare for the new school year.
Inspired by the Live Like a PCV Challenge. Thailand style!
Peace Corps Challenge:
-Nam Jai. Be more generous. Nam jai(literally heart juice) is one of the central most tenets of Thai life and is the philosophy of being generous without expecting anything in return. Bring food to share at work, make coffee for your housemates, baby-sit for your neighbors, look for a way to give a little more.
-Gin khao! Share a meal. Sharing food is one of the best ways to build relationships in Thailand. Go out for lunch with the office, invite a friend out for drinks, cook dinner for your family. Rice optional.
-Cook something new. Bonus points if you ask someone else to teach you. Extra bonus points if you use locally sourced ingredients.
-Commit time to studying and learning. Sign up for an online class, hit the library for books about something you’re interested in, ask a professional mentor to help you brush up on your skills! Learning new things every day is one of the greatest gifts Thailand has given me.
-Get on your bike. Not only is biking great exercise, but it is a fantastic way to get out in the community and see your neighborhood from a new perspective.
-Put down the smart phone. I love (LOVE!) technology and the Internet, but stepping away from it for a little bit every day has made me more connected with my co-workers, students, and neighbors. No need to turn everything off, but be intentional about spending a little time away from the Internet/TV.
-Stay in touch. My best friend in Thailand lives approximately 1000 kilometers away, but through texting, e-mail, and weekly phone calls she is one of my biggest supports here. Give an old friend a call or write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a while.
-Read a book. Did you know that 23% of Americans didn’t read a single book last year? Make books a priority in your life.
-Don’t say no. Accept all the social invitations you recieve. This one is hard for me sometimes, but I rarely regret it once I am at the temple/on a crazy trip/at someone’s birthday party. Just say yes!
-Expand your vocabulary. Learn ten new words. Learning Thai is a continual challenge, but it is rewarding, mentally stimulating, and makes me a better English teacher.
-Meet someone new. In this tiny, tiny village, I assumed at some point that I would get to know everyone. Not true! While I am familiar with many of my neighbors, I meet new, interesting people every week. Bonus points for you if the new person is not in your age group. Extra bonus points if they are a non-native English speaker.
-VOLUNTEER! This one might be obvious, but I read so many blogs from people who are interested in being a PCV yet don’t volunteer in their American communities. Service starts at home! Give back to your community with your time and energy.
A fellow Thailand PCV just posted about the “Live Like a PCV Challenge.” Originally conceived of by PCVs in Mongolia, this challenge asks Americans at home to make adjustments to their daily routine to see what life as a PCV is like. Since Peace Corps Thailand has the reputation of being ‘Posh Corps’ (or basically an easy ride), I thought I would look at the challenge criteria to see how it compares to my PCV Life. (Challenge info in bold, my thoughts after.)
Level 1 – Mosquito (choose two)
•No microwave (No microwave here. My good friend Cailyn said her office recently bought a microwave and someone came to work to give a two hour presentation about how to use it.)
•No washing machine (hand wash clothes only) (No washing machine at my rental house, although both of my host families had one.)
•No credit/debit cards – all purchases must be made with cash (I have a Thai debit card, but cannot use it anywhere in my village. I use it when we make runs to the Super Tesco or I go out in Bangkok.)
•No hot showers (No hot water, no shower here. Bucket baths all the way.)
Level 2 – Monkey (choose two, plus one from level 1)
•No use of the oven. You can use a single stove-top burner only ( I bought an oven with my move in allowance for 500 baht, approximately 15 dollars.)
•No television (After a year of no television, my school hooked me up with an old TV so I can watch the Olympics. Woohoo!)
•No internet at home (internet at work or school only) (Great Internet at school, no Internet at home.)
•Buy all food and produce locally (Check. Occasionally when I am in a city, I pick up special groceries at Tesco like flour or spices, but almost all my food is village grown and produced.)
•No fast food (None in the village, although I make sure to eat McDonalds every time I pass through Bangkok. French fries mmmmm.)
Level 3 – Dog (choose two, plus one from level 2 or two from level 1)
•No navigation systems – if you need directions somewhere you need to ask someone how to get there (Check.)
•No temperature adjustments at home or in the car (air conditioning, heat) (Check. I’ve got a fan in my classroom and one in my bedroom for hot times.)
•Start and finish a book (Check check check.)
•Eat all dinners at home with family (I eat mostly at home, but go to neighbors’ homes for food a few times a week.)
•Dress code for work/school: females – no shorts/skirts above the knee, no revealed shoulders. males – collared shirt and long pants (Check, check.)
Level 4 – Tiger (choose two plus: one from level 3, or two from level 2, or three from level 1)
•No running water for showers (See my bucket?)
•Greet everyone you encounter with personal questions (without any small talk introductions) such as: Where are you going? Where have you been? What are you doing today? Have you eaten yet? What are you having for dinner? Where are you going this weekend? What did you eat for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner)? (Gin kao lao ru yang? Check.)
•No driving. You can use a bicycle, public transportation, or rely on rides from friends or family members (Bike commuting is one of the biggest differences between my Peace Corps life and my American life. I’ve never owned a car or driven much, but not having public transportation has been a big adjustment.)
•Internet access for only one day (Five days a week, seven if I choose to bike to work on the weekends.)
•Listen to the national anthem every day at 8am and 6pm, while standing respectfully (times may be adjusted slightly for work/school schedules) (Check and check.)
Level 5 – Elephant (choose two plus one from each previous level)
•No English, except at work/school (I get by in a mix of Thai and English at school, and Thai only when I’m out in town.)
•Eat rice with at least 2 meals per day (Check check check.)
•No electricity two nights this week. You can use only the battery life of electronic devices (this includes no internet) (I have electricty almost all the time, except during the occasional thunder storm. Regular electricty is a safety requirement for Thai PCVs, so we all have it most of the time.)
•No refrigerator use (I spent almost all of my move-in allowance on a refrigerator, which I am very happy about!)
•No running water for three evenings (can be consecutive or not) (All of my water comes from the water collection tanks/ponds my landlord maintains in the backyard. It rains here almost every day, so I never go without water in the house. My landlord also supplies me with clean drinking water in large jugs.)
Overall, I would say a lot of these applied to my life in Thailand. While we certainly don’t have all of the same physical hardships as PCVs in other countries, Thai PCVs do make big lifestyle changes to live at the local level. Truthfully though, making the cultural lifestyle changes required to live in Thailand is much more difficult than any of the physical “hardships” I have endured. Learning to save face/avoid making critical comments, dealing with a workplace hierarchy based on age/gender, changing the way I interact with men, giving up a great deal of privacy/decision making power, etc. are the most difficult changes I have had to make and the things I continue to struggle with as Year 2 at site approaches.