Since arriving to Thailand I have constantly been told to “jai yen yen” or “no serious”. Due to my personality and American upbringing, this idea of a patient and carefree attitude seemed not only daunting but also impossible. Never in my life have I just let things happen. I am a motivated and enthusiastic person who sets goals, makes plans, and sticks to a schedule. In the Thai culture, these attributes come off as pushy, bossy and inappropriate. It is not culturally acceptable for me to get upset over half my students not showing up to my camp, my counterpart waiting to plan everything till the last minute, or not being picked up on time. I greatly struggled with this in the beginning of my service. As I learned to control my frustration, I eagerly sought other ways to measure my level of success.
As time went on, I began to become extremely flexible and things started falling into place. None of my projects ever went exactly as planned, but I was ok with that. I was still doing projects and making things happen. However, even after completing some really great projects, I still found myself lacking a sufficient level of productivity. It was clear I was already doing as much work in the schools and my office as they could handle. So I decided to finally give in to the pleads of the village parents and tutor their children.
As I started tutoring a group of ten students, I realized how lonely I had been before. I finally had a group of friends who constantly wanted to be with me (even if they were 5-10 years olds). As tiring as it was, I looked forward to tutoring them three nights a week. Their little smiles tugged at my heartstrings as they begged to play uno in the beginning of every lesson. One day I was walking home with one of my students after the lesson.
“Toon, are you going to miss P’ Julia when she goes back to America?” I asked him teasingly.
“P’ Julia can I go with you?” he responded eagerly.
As I laughed and told him yes, I would put him in my suitcase, I realized that he wasn’t joking like I was. In that moment I knew how much of an impact I had made being here. I have watched Toon and my other students grow up for the past two years. These children were not just my students; they were some of my best friends. As sad as I am to leave them all, I know they will never forget me. They will remember me when they see another foreigner and have the courage to say hello. They will remember me when they are continuing to learn English so that maybe one day they can study in America. They will remember me when they play uno, or many of the other games we played together. And because of this, I leave Thailand with my heart full and an overwhelming feeling of success.