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My year in thailand
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  1. #1

    so happy!

    Hi! My name is Jon Salonga and I come from Calgary, AB, Canada. One of my Thai nicknames was 'Dao' which means 'Star.' I was an exchange student in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, from July 2000 - June 2001.

    Sometimes being an exchange student in Thailand was very easy. Other times it was very hard. I guess you could say that as the year went on, old difficulties went away, and new ones came to replace them.

    The first thing that I had trouble with was with the culture itself. Even though I'm Asian (Filipino), a lot of things were very difficult to get used to. I really didn't understand why I had to be home so early, or sit down with my family when I was very homesick and didn't want to see them. I still hadn't quite perfected my 'wai' and was having trouble keeping my head level below that of my elders. And I always felt as though I didn't really belong in Thailand.

    My first day in Bangkok (July 12, 2000,) I was faced with my first problem: the tremendous heat and humidity of Thailand. Everything stuck to me - my khakis, my 'Canada Kick Ass' shirt, my Rotary Canada blazer - like a bad smell. Luckily, Don Muang Airport is easy to navigate and I found my pickup. I had a bit of trouble with their body language - Thais make a gesture with their hands pointed down that looks like 'go away' to Westerners, but really means 'come here.' I think that all the Thai airport guards knew that I wasn't Thai because they were always pointing at me to follow my pickup!

    I got to his place of work, had a cold shower, and went to sleep in the bedroom upstairs. I got into the cheap bed and was handed the remote control for the air conditioner. Being Canadian, I put the air conditioner at 18 degrees Celsius, something that I'm very familiar with. Usually I can deal with this stuff, but I put my head down in the pillow and started to cry because I really missed my family very much. After three days of sight seeing in Bangkok - Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Arun, and the Wax Museum - I was in the Rotary foundation room having my orientation. Things such as 'wai-ing' and ordering food, how to cross the streets, and helpful Thai phrases were all covered here. I put on a facade and managed to show people the cheery, funny, outgoing me, instead of the one wanting desperately to return to Canada. After this, I was driven with the other exchange students to my city of Nakhon Ratchasima, or Korat.

    I met my first family, who owned a rice store. They seemed pretty nice people who would help me to get over my homesickness and the culture shock. But soon, I realized something terrible.

    My first family didn't really help me out with this at all. All that they told me was , 'Your Thai isn't good enough. Why can't you speak it like the other students? How come you Westerners always stay in your rooms? I can't believe that you are all so impolite!' And this was delivered to me in English, by my first host father, who was very condescending and cold. Needless to say, I became very sad in this house. Sad to be in Thailand, with this Thai father, and sad to be away from my home in Canada.

    But, as time went on, things got easier. I eventually moved to another house (in my exchange program, we rotate houses and hosts) and felt that things were getting better. My new family was very welcoming, and I told them in my very broken Thai that I was very sad to have lived in the first house. Luckily, they had a lot of exchange students before and they reassured me that everything would be alright.

    At first, I didn't believe them, but I really couldn't believe how kind they actually were. They called up my host brother from Bangkok just to come and take me out! Bangkok! I became very close to my brother 'Geng' during the two weeks he stayed at the house in Korat and was very sad when he went back to Bangkok. And did I mention that I started to speak Thai very fluently three weeks after moving into this house?

    I think that I could always understand most of the Thai language by the end of my first month. It was just that the house I lived in was so awful that I was afraid to speak it because I was afraid that I was going to fail. But this new family gave me a lot of support and encouragement and that really helped me to get through the tough times.

    And we haven't even broached the subject of school yet! My first day in my Thai college was more or less a disaster. Everyone was crowding around the curious new 'farang' and asking me rapid fire English if they were beautiful, what Canadian life is like, if I want to eat noodles with them at lunch, so finally I more or less snapped and walked back home. I told my teachers about this and they understood me, so they talked to the students and told them to be more polite. After that, school was very easy. I learned a lot of the Thai language there, because my friends would always be there to help me out and correct any mistakes I'd made before. And I also learned stuff like Thai fruit carving, soap making, basket weaving, knitting (yes, I can knit), as well as some of the history of Thailand.

    So, about halfway through the year, I felt like I was at the very best of my exchange. I loved my host family, I loved my school, and I loved my friends. Being in Korat, we had a lot of exchange students, and I became very attached to my friends Wolfgang from Germany, and Emily from the States. I think about them every day!

    There were other parts of Thailand that I miss very much. I saw some Thai films over there - 'Bang Ra Jan,' 'Maebia,' and 'Killer Tattoo.' I very much enjoyed all three of the movies (I even have the Bang Ra Jan soundtrack!&#33 and it helped me to learn a lot of Thai heritage, folklore, as well as Thai humor. As well, I also became very addicted to the music in Thailand. I have about 10 tapes of various rock bands - Loso, Silly Fools, Mission 4, Big Ass, etc. as well as pop artists like Carabao and Nicole Theriault. I guess you could say that after awhile, I would look into a mirror and see a Thai boy staring right back at me.

    After March had come and gone, I had to move again. It was very difficult to leave this family that I loved so much, and we were almost crying when we moved to my third and final house. This last house was very bad. It was always dirty, with cockroaches scurrying in and out of Beer Chang bottles, my drunken host father stumbling around during the night, cursing me in broken English. My host brother hitting on my best friend Emily (whom I had a *mad* crush on but never did anything about it) when I know that both she and I didn't appreciate it. My two younger cousins pounding on my bedroom door at unspeakable hours of the morning to open Counter-Strike for them. I felt very depressed in this house! I really didn't understand why they would put me in such a place.

    This is where my final troubles happened. Instead of taking the abuse from the people in this house, I decided to leave and be with my friends as much as possible. I would go out and not come back until maybe 10 or 11 at night. I would never tell them where I was going because they never cared enough to ask me. I tried to tell my teachers and Rotary Club co-ordinators but nobody ever did anything about it, they just said that everything would be alright. I finally went to my second host mom for support, and she said that she would try to get me back into her house, but my club wouldn't let her because they said that I was being rebellious and that it was all her fault.

    Finally, my host father got really angry and tried to have me sent home! I couldn't believe it. I think the worst thing was that the co-ordinators really didn't try to hear my side of the story. I think that maybe I was afraid of what they would say, because it would make people 'lose face.' After that, I just taught English at my college with Emily in tow, just because Rotary Thailand didn't believe that we could be just friends.

    Things at that house never did get better. I was still cursed at, Emily was still hit on, and I was still treated poorly by my younger cousins. I managed to live there for three and a half months before I finally went home on the 27th of June. In the weeks coming up to that day, my students at the college showered me and Emily with gifts and tokens of good luck, and the Friday before I left I gave my farewell speech at morning assembly. I was so sad to be leaving Thailand, but a little bit glad to be coming home to Canada. When the 27th finally rolled around, everybody was crying as we all said goodbye for what will be a very long time. I could barely kiss Emily and Natalia (Brazil) goodbye, and my friend Alex (also Brazilian) was having trouble holding the camera still for us to snap a few shots. I kissed them both through the plate glass and wished them good luck, and told them all that I loved them.

    Every day I think about my time in Thailand and wonder about it. Did it really happen? Could a year of my life have gone by so fast? Could I really speak and write Thai? How are my students and teachers at the college doing? Have they forgotten me? Have I forgotten them?

    Nowadays I think that the difficulties and the travels I went through made me a better person. I knew that there was always this funny, outgoing, cheery guy inside of me but I was just too afraid to show it. I think that my time in Thailand helped me to show this side to everyone, including myself! I am always very homesick for Thailand and want desperately to go back.

    Being an exchange student isn't always easy. There are choices you make and while some are good, others are bad, and you have to live with all of them. And it really is true - what doesn't kill you just makes you stronger. I'm a stronger person now that I've lived in this magical Kingdom and wouldn't trade my year in for anything.

    I wish you all good luck with coming to Thailand.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Minneapolis USA
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts



    I, too, spent a year studying in Thailand. This was in 1994-95. And although I didn't have the nightmarish experience that you did, there were times when I absolutely couldn't understand what was going on. Indeed, I thought that the longer I was there, the more I would have Thailand figured out. Not true.

    As you know for yourself, the longer you're there, the more you understand. This is true, and this is good. But, there will always be something new that never in your life you had ever experienced before. And, you find yourself trying to sort it out so that it makes some sense in your own mind. Maybe you can't, and maybe you can. If you can, you now have one more piece of the Thai puzzle worked least to your satisfaction.

    After my various visits to Thailand I always come away with a few more pieces to the puzzle, feeling so good to have been in Thailand again, and liking Thai people more and more.

    Whether here in the Americas or elsewhere in the world, it is not healthy to dwell on bad times and bad people; there are jerks everywhere. Fortunately good people far outweigh the bad. And even more fortunately for those of us who love Thailand, Thailand is blessed with an overwhelming amount of good and gentle people.

    Abandon wrongdoing. It can be done.
    Cultivate doing good. It can be done.

  3. #3

    thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] ]Fortunately good people far outweigh the bad.
    It's so true. I was not an exchange student but I had an opportunity to study abroad for several years. From my experience I would say that being a farang in Thailand as a student is a positive discrimination somewhat. People tend to take good care of you. Sometimes you almost suffocate. But often times you benefit from it. But being an Asian gave me nothing to my advantage in foreign country. Some even looked down and shooed me away from their store ! You should have seen some of the guys when they knew I was fromThailand. Their eyes were sparkling !
    Like every Thai girl is a prostitute !

    There are also many good people who made my days in a foreign land enjoyable. I had a good landlord, good house mates and good classmates.

    But all in all I took everything as a learning experience. Some good, some bad. All shape to what I am now.

    Those memories will be with me always. Yours too.

  4. #4
    Nampeung Guest

    I, too, was an exchange student in Korat. I,too, went with Rotary International. And... ironically enough... I, too, am really good friends with Natalia <Brazil>

    It was crazy coming across this post of yours. What are the chances that I stumbleupon the same guy who I had heard stories about... and seen pictures of...

    I had a lot of difficulties with Rotary as well... in fact the only negative thing I can associate with Thailand is because of them and their refusal to work with me... and their tendency to create truths through gossip that were, in actuality, very far from the truth at all. But being Thai culture... of course I couldn&#39;t confront it.

    I do miss it oh so much there though... and the number of my Thai friends here in the states may outnumber the number of "falang" ones.

    Somehow... over the six months since I have come back all of the bad things, and hard times I went through while living in Korat have nearly dissapeared. All I remember is how great it was and how eager I am to get back to it.

    I hope it is the same for you.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts
    My God&#33;

    Before I go further, what club were you with?

    No, screw formalities. I heard some things about you folks - about a really gorgeous German girl, a big dude who moved into my old room, and some girl who played the drums (any of these descriptions match up?)

  6. #6
    Nampeung Guest
    I was with the Nakhon Ratchasima Club (same club as Natalia) Yeah... Martina was fairly gorgeous.... She&#39;s a bit quirky, but hey. Everything has it&#39;s trade offs right? I don&#39;t know about a girl who played the drums.... in Korat? Both me and Li play guitar... and had little bongo drums... but nothing official. Where did you live...? I mean a big guy that went and lived there? Maybe it was the people who came after I left... we only had one boy in my crew and he wasn&#39;t huge or anything. I don&#39;t know.... crazyness.... any other rumors?


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Words from Prappy&#39;s mouth (hope you don&#39;t mind me calling him that, it&#39;s just a thing) "Next year, we will get a German girl who is the most beautiful person I have ever seen&#33; (takes me aside, "So you won&#39;t be able to get your hands on her&#33;")

    Yeah, I heard about some girl who played the Korat. But anyways, my memory&#39;s a bit cloudy. Where did I live? I lived in that soda bottling factory - Fahsang. I think you might have visited Ben Woods before he went home(that&#39;s the really huge dude I&#39;m talking about, at least he *looked* huge in his Rotary application) at his first host family. If you met my parents, they probably had you over at the Minimart or at least seen the four or five dogs I had living over there.

    For convenience&#39;s sake, I&#39;m gonna reply to that *other* post, where you talked about your year in Korat, so&#39;s I don&#39;t keep asking questions that have already been answered&#33;


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