The Grass is Always Greener…

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The past month or so has been very eventful!(I PROMISE I WILL KEEP UP BETTER SOON!) After 2 weeks of summer school we got off an unexpected extra week. Fortunately for me, I already requested the time off because my boyfriend planned a visit from America! That meant I still got the time off and I got back 5 extra vacation days to use in the upcoming semester! The odds started out in my favor! After over six months apart, the anticipation of seeing my boyfriend at the airport was unexplainable. Luckily he was wearing a huge flying WV shirt so I could pick him out of the crowd (not to mention he was a 6’3 white boy in an predominately Asian airport). After traveling for over 2 days he was surprisingly energetic and now I could share the fact that we still had a full day of traveling ahead of us to the reach the southern island of Koh Tao. After a hot and sweaty journey by plane, bus, ferry, and overpriced taxi, we arrived at our secluded resort on the private Tanote Beach. It was about a 15-minute cab ride from the pier, but the ride was well worth the seclusion and beautiful atmosphere. The next few days were spent talking, laughing, snorkeling, eating, drinking, and frolicking in the ocean. We went on a one-day snorkel tour to Shark Bay, Mango Bay and ended the trip at Koh Nang Yuan Island. Although it felt hotter than the Sahara Desert, we still climbed up all the steps to the viewpoint. The view was well worth the sweat! It was absolutely breathtaking. We ended up meeting up with two of our friends from home that happened to be on the same island. It was awesome to hang out with fellow Mountaineers! The boys spent the day deep-sea fishing, caught a bunch of fish and the hotel’s staff served us up an amazing dinner overlooking the ocean; stir-fry with the fresh fish, veggies, rice and wine. It was probably my favorite meal of the trip! If you visit Koh Tao make sure you stop by Fishbowl Bar and the burger stand that is right outside of the bar Chopper’s (Sairee Beach). Both were favorites that we visited multiple times in six days! Koh Tao definitely lived up to the hype, but I have a feeling it may have to do with who and not where I was.

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Thank you Teechaaaa

Preface: I wrote this as a draft before I left for my incredible two month backpacking journey that was my summer break from teaching in Thailand. Due to packing, ADHD, and pure adrenaline I never actually finished or posted it but I want to include it on my blog even if it is retroactively because it accurately depicts my feelings in the moments leading up to yet another life changing adventure in South East Asia. And as promised I will be back and better than ever at keeping up with my blog in the coming months 🙂

After a semester of teaching in Thailand I have learned more than I learned in all four years of undergraduate and graduate school. These lessons have been hilarious, frustrating, sad, eye-opening, jaw dropping, infuriating and exciting. As a whole, I am embarking on my summer break feeling awesome about the community I am a part of, proud of myself and my students and eager to get back for next semester. Yes, that’s right American teacher friends… I am eager for school to start again. I wake up every morning and I feel happy and excited to go to work. It is one of the best feelings in the world. I will never be able to settle for a job that I do not love and I especially will never hold a job that I do not feel valued and appreciated. If you are reading this and you are interested in teaching abroad yourself , you are a teacher in America or you are simply curious about my experience teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) here are some absolutes I have taken away from this experience that I will carry with me throughout my teaching career and my life.

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The Mad Ones

As the school year in Thailand is winding down, it is time for final reviews, exams and projects. Teachers can understand and commiserate that during this busy time of the school year personal reading and/or writing for pleasure become exponentially more attractive. Some may define this as  “procrastinating”. Okay, everyone defines this as procrastinating… but I can’t help it and I promise I still get my work done on time! We had a long weekend for the Buddhist holiday a few weekends ago (which happened to fall on Valentine’s Day). Jackie, Erin and I decided to visit our close friend Kevin who we went to WVU with. He teaches at a university about an hour away from us and we have heard countless stories about his town and living situation. It was something we couldn’t leave Thailand without experiencing first hand. It turned out to be an absolutely comical weekend, filled with lots of wine, whiskey, stares from locals, delicious food, rap/guitar/harmonica freestyles, heart to hearts, moped rides and tons of laughs. Since our backpacking trip we have gone on several other weekend trips to close by cities such as Bangkok and Ayutthaya and spent weekdays grading papers, teaching, working out and trying to get back into a routine to make life feel “normal” again. We often discuss and marvel at the fact that we live and teach in Thailand. It is still mind blowing some days. It is absolutely incredible how quickly human beings can adjust and morph into members of a new group of friends, community, and even a country. In my day to day life, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out things that are “different” than life in America. Of course when I think about it, the list goes on forever but for right now this is my stomping ground and I am becoming very comfortable with that.

Here are some highlights from the past month. They prove to be a hilarious balance between “Teecha Susie” life and 20-something Traveler Susie life.

Sensation White– My Suphanburi teacher crew (who have quickly become my close friends and traveling partners) and I went to a world famous music festival in Bangkok. It started in Amsterdam but has spread to all different countries around the world. It was an awesome experience with famous DJ’s from all over the world, a “wicked wonderland” theme, and of course an endless sea of people dressed in white. It felt great to dance the night away with my girlfriends. Oh, and of course eat Mexican food in Bangkok. Any chance we have to eat good Mexican food is an instant burrito party.

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Field trip to Ayutthaya– The English Program took a fieldtrip to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, and had the privilege of having our M-2 (8th grade) students be our tour guides. Each foreign teacher got a group of 3 or 4 students and they led us around the temples, historical landmarks, and museums for the day while spouting off more facts than I could possibly process. My group was absolutely adorable and I learned so much. I loved all of the ghost stories they told me and found out that Thai people have many tales about ghosts that are passed on from generation to generation.  Field trips in Thailand are NEVER disappointing!

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College besties booked their trip to Thailand – Some of my best friends from college finally bit the bullet and booked their flights to Thailand in April. I am SO EXCITED to play tour guide and already made a color-coded itinerary for our jam-packed 10 day adventure! I am blessed to have such great friends who are willing to trek half way across the world to see me! Love you guys! It’s going to be EPIC!

Kasetsart University trip– As I said before this was a hysterical weekend with too many laughs to count. It reminded me how important good friends are and no matter WHERE you are, the company you keep is what matters the most! ❤ Love you guys! ImageImageImageImageImage

Thailand’s National Storytelling Competition– One of my favorite students made it to the national storytelling competition that took place in Bangkok. We have been practicing her story since October so she asked me to come along and watch her at the grand finale. It took place in a huge convention center with thousands of people and I could count on two hands the number of foreigners who were in attendance. There were also political protests going on right across the street and everyone seemed extremely casual about it(I was slightly freaking out). All in all, it was awesome day chalk full of Thai culture, shopping, and bonding with my student & coworkers. She took home 6th place overall and absolutely rocked her story. I am so proud of her!

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First Suphanburi FC Football match– Personally, I never understood other countries fascination with soccer (football). I never played in high school and I only followed it on TV when it was the World Cup. When I first moved to Suphanburi I heard that we had a professional football team that was very talented and well followed. My crew and I decided to attend the first match of the season since some of them will be moving away from Thailand after this semester. Let’s just say… I GET WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT! It felt like a college football game at WVU!Despite the fact that we were the only 5 white girls in a stadium full of locals…The whole town was decked out in orange and blue jerseys, and cold beers, and food vendors were everywhere. The whole shabang! It was SO fun, despite Suphanburi FC’s loss; they definitely gained a group of new loyal fans! GO SUPHAN!

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Birth of my nephew Samuel Benjamin Bell – My nephew was born yesterday (2/24/14) weighing in at 8 lbs. 2 oz. and he is just as adorable as his older sister, Layla. I am so happy for my big brother and sister-in-law! Being an Aunt is one of the best jobs around and I can’t wait to spoil this little guy. I am definitely extremely sad that I can’t be there to meet him, hold him, and spend time with my family but I am grateful for technology and looking forward to getting to know him once I return to America! I can hear myself telling my niece and nephew stories of my adventure in Thailand when they grow up. I hope to instill a wanderlust in them and the confidence to follow their dreams, no matter how radical they may seem. Sending lots of love your way lil Sam & Bell fam!

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With a little over a week left of the first semester, I am looking forward to my summer break while simultaneously marveling at how quickly time passes us by. “The days are long, but the years are short”, ain’t that the truth! There have been many moments of nostalgia, culture shock, despair, excitement, joy, fascination, realization, stimulation, longing, and frustration in the past four months.  I have grown so close to my friends I have met here, and joined in a mutual “teacher/foreigner/American/20-something” bond that feels as if I have known them forever. As I write this I am reminding myself how incredible my life is here and how lucky I am to have the chance to enrich my mind, body and spirit in the Land of Smiles. The month of March will be an extremely exciting one as my travels will lead me to Vietnam and Cambodia with the crew. Then, my WVU friends will join me in this amazing country in April. Many thrilling stories and photos to follow! I’ll leave you with a final thought that continues to drive my actions, mind and life,

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”- Jack Kerouac

Here’s to finding the mad ones! Here’s to the ones who truly believe anything is possible! We gotta stick together! Cheers! Xoxo 

The Little Things

“Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.”- G. Eliot

 “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”-M. Buber

 “If you hold on tight to what you think is your thing you may find you’re missing all the rest”- DMB

 “ The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.”-Euripides

I believe the best writers find comfort in words, whether they are their own words or someone else’s. The best writers can acknowledge the process and the product and allow for both to inspire them.  I felt drawn to these quotes today and admit that they simply and eloquently depict the image I hope to convey with my post.  Hats off to these writers!

Slowly but surely, I am adjusting to my new life in Thailand.  I am quickly forming routines, local restaurants and coffee shops I frequent, and new friends. Teaching is beginning to dictate my bedtime and it feels good to form a “normal” schedule.  Then… some moments I look around and it hits me “Holy shit… I live in Thailand.” Since my last post I have explored around my town of Suphanburi and found new cafes, bars, friends, swimming pools that I plan to visit again and again. Despite the urge to travel to a new city or place every single weekend; it feels nice to plant some temporary roots and embrace the city I will call home for the next year.

Today I received a package from my parents with various necessities I requested. Just seeing the note with my mom’s handwriting on it made my heart smile. When I describe my feelings, I never want to be cliché, but I have started to see the true power and authenticity of certain cliché sayings in a new light. “It’s the little things.” We have all heard that phrase a million times, but being a foreigner on the other side of the world teaches you this cliché in an elevated manner. It’s the little things you miss about home, about loved ones, about “normal” life but it is also the little things about my new surroundings that excite me, challenge me and inspire me.  I appreciate the people in my life and the luxuries that I took for granted every day, like internet (especially WIFI), cable, menus in English, toilet paper, hand dryers, and the ease of everyday communication. But I also appreciate the respect I receive here, the flowers I got to welcome me to my school, the laid back lifestyle and the incredible generosity of strangers.

When everything is different, it forces you to grow, to adapt, to change but it also leaves you craving the familiar and reminiscing about places, people and memories that you love. Each day is a spastic balance of soaking up the adventure, living in the moment and missing friends, family, and especially my boyfriend. I hope each of you know how much you are on my mind, even though we can’t talk as much as I would like. To truly find ourselves, we can’t cling to the familiar. We must trust in those we love and remember they will love us just the same, whether we are near or far. I have learned to embrace the roller coaster of emotions that run through me in a given day. They are there for a reason and to truly live, we must feel. It doesn’t matter if it is cheerful, gloomy, frustrated, scared, amazed, nostalgic, angry, excited or goofy. If we are feeling…we are living.

Luckily, I have the stability of teaching to keep me level headed. Jackie and I have discussed how the place that we feel the most at “home” is at our school. Teaching, learning, laughing, thinking, writing lesson plans, and grading; these are all familiar to us. The students in Thailand (as a whole) are much different than any students I had in America. They seem genuinely happy every single day. I am not sure if this is how they actually feel, but it is the energy they give off. I can’t help but smile when I get to school and am greeted by each and every one of my students as I pass them. Most American students were too cool to talk to teachers in the hallway and would pretend not to see you. Being an ESL/EFL teacher has proven to be increasingly frustrating as time goes on and I am realizing that it is extremely hard to understand what they comprehend and what they are politely nodding to (despite having no clue what is going on). Thankfully, I have found amazing resources in veteran ESL teachers at my school, online ESL/EFL games, lesson plans, songs, videos, etc. I know that if I give my best, there is nothing more anyone can ask of me.

Teaching and learning is the essence of my journey. Yes, I am literally a teacher, but I am also a student. Thailand, along with each person I meet here, is teaching me things about human nature, life, and myself.  I am continuously learning, which is exhilarating and exhausting. But I must remind myself, it is up to me which of those feelings dictate my experience. I choose to live. I choose to feel. I choose exhilarating, beautiful adventure.

               “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,

we must carry it with us or we find it not.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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