Success in the Peace Corps

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.

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Thai-dal Wave of Emotions

To all my Thai Students:

I know you think of me as the silly farang that comes to your school and makes you play games, rides her bike everywhere, and dances like a crazy person. Although we have spent the past two years together, I am unsure of how many of you know the reason why I am here. You know that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer who came from America to work with the students in your community. Some of you understand that I am here to teach life skills, while others still think I am an English teacher. Well, the reason why I came to your community was to enhance the opportunities provided to you. Yes, I wanted to teach you life skills and Basic English, but I also wanted to provide an experience to you that you wouldn’t necessarily receive in your daily curriculum. I wanted to teach you to think critically and consider alternative perspectives. I wanted to teach you how to keep yourself safe in a world of uncertainties. I wanted to teach you to dream and set high hopes for yourself. I wanted to teach you that you could do and be anything. And finally, I wanted to teach you to love and accept others, no matter their differences from you. I know you have started to understand this, because you have learned to love and accept me.

For the past two years, we have spent many hours together, both in and out of the classroom. Some of you love me and some of you are still pretty indifferent. Regardless, I love you all. I want to thank you for the all the moments we have spent together. I can confidently say, they have been some of my highest highs and lowest lows. My time with you has taught me to challenge myself in ways I didn’t think possible before. From choking on my tongue trying to instruct you in Thai, to holding back tears when you all decided to chaotically run around and not listen. I have become more patient, understanding, and grateful during these struggles. As for the triumphs, nothing feels better than making a student believe in themselves. Seeing the spark in you eyes when you say a word in English correctly that you had struggled with, or answering a reflection question with depth and knowledge. These moments fill me with pride as I have had the pleasure to see you grow and blossom into wonderful young people. But no matter how much I feel I have given you, you have given me so much more.

Your smiles have been the fuel to my journey through the past two years. Those smiles are forever etched into my memory. I will never forget my time spent with you all, and I hope you will not forget me. I hope you can remember me not just as the crazy farang teacher, but also as a friend. I genuinely care for you all and hope the best in your life. Continue to dream big and believe in yourselves, as I have believed in you. Good luck and may you find success and happiness in your life.

Love,
P Julia

P.S. There is room in my suitcase if any of you decide you want to come to America with me!

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Working All The Thai

JULIA MERMAID PRINCESS KITTEN

Phone: Email: something with my full name to sounds professional (but I still use Yahoo)

EMPLOYMENT EXPERIENCE

YOUTH DEVELOPMENT VOLUNTEER, Peace Corps; 27 months/2 years 3 months
Spent an ungodly amount of time on facebook. Watched countless movies and tv shows. Played with kids and made funny faces. Taught life skills and stuff.

SPA RECEPTIONIST, Equinox ; 8 months
Worked at the most beautiful gym that had showers nicer than my apartment. Saw bougie people and celebrities. Bragged about how cool I was for working there.

LIFEGUARD & SWIM INSTRUCTOR, UCLA Recreation; 2 years
Guarded the lives of many from the view of my high tower. Basically I was a superhero. Just call me Batman.

LIFEGUARD & SWIM INSTRUCTOR, Kroc Community Center: 3 years
Tan year round. Smelled like chlroine constantly. Yelled at kids to walk, even at the grocery store.

EDUCATION

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LOS ANGELES, Los Angeles, CA; 2013
Recieved a degree in Sociology because I obviously didn’t care about making money or job security.

VOLUNTEER SERVICES

I am just going to note that I am adding this because I have such little work experience and I really want you to think I have done something with my life. I also want you to note how much I care about others and the world around me.

A Mom-entous Thaiphoon

Although Mother’s Day in America has come and gone, there is not a day that goes by I do not think about my mother and all that she has done for me. So much of my Peace Corps journey has been filled with personal transformation and growth. I guess that can be expected when you have a surplus of free time to think and reflect. As I grow, I see more of my mother in myself than ever before. I can hear her words pouring out of my own mouth (when I am speaking English not Thai, of course). I can feel her gestures running through my bones. I can even see her in my reflection when I look into the mirror.

One of the last things my mom said before I got on the plane to leave for my service was that she is so glad I will have this experience because it will give me everything she couldn’t. She was right (Duh, she is always right) as this experience has opened my eyes and my heart to a new world I would have never seen. However, without all that she has taught me I would not be here.

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mother. I mean obviously I wouldn’t physically be here, but also I would not be a Peace Corps Volunteer without her. Her ability to work long, grueling hours for 6 days of the week and still make dinner has taught me to work hard for what I want. Her dedication to Girl Scouts and commitment to volunteering has taught me the importance of service and giving back. Her strength, independence and conviction of women’s rights shaped me into the strong woman I am today. I am glad that I have the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer and embody all that she has taught to me. I hope I can pass on the strength, perseverance and love that she has given to me to the young girls of Thailand.

Thank you Mom, for always loving and supporting me so that I can now love and support others. Even though we are so far away, I feel you with me everyday. I love you.

Let the Good Thai Roll

In the end of March I facilitated a Brighter Thailand Global Leadership Camp. The goal of this camp is to develop leadership in Thai youth, to advance cross-cultural understanding and to inspire youth to set ambitious goals for themselves. The camp consists of 5 Peace Corps Volunteers, 5 Thai University students, 15 students 15-17 years old, and 30 students 8-10 years old. It is a six day, five night residential camp that engages students in a variety of activities that build leadership, teamwork and critical thinking skills. For the first three days, the volunteers and university students train the 15-17 year old students on mentoring skills, leadership and working with children. Everyone is broken up into five groups including one volunteer, one Thai university student, and three 15-17 year old students. In these groups, the volunteers and university students lead the students through a variety of game and activities that they will later lead with the younger students. On the third day, the thirty 8-10 year old students arrive and the 15-17 year old students become the leaders of their groups.

It is an extremely incredible experience to watch the 15-17 year old students grow into these leadership roles. Many of the students are not given leadership roles prior to this camp, and lack confidence in their abilities. Three young boys in particular grew up in broken families and were categorized as “the naughty boys”. All three of them underwent their own personal transformation and left the camp believing that they were leaders. By the end of the camp, many of the children wept because they never wanted it to end. Watching the impact of the camp was very powerful. These children were not only empowered, but formed an incredible bond with one another. My only regret is that I do not feel that I am a part of this bond. Although I am extremely grateful for providing them with this experience, I just wish I felt connected to them. I am hoping that when the school year starts up again, this camp helped to lay the foundation in order for me to build stronger relationships with these students.

Thai and Time Again

I was lucky enough to have my parents visit me for the second time since I began my service here in Thailand. The first time they came to visit they experienced my life in my community and were able to see the Government office I work in, one of my schools, and meet my counterparts and Thai family (as well as many others). This time, my parents and I wanted to spend more quality time together and experience other parts of Thailand. We were able to enjoy a short stay in Krabi, located in Southern Thailand along the Andaman Sea. Although our time was short and sweet, we were able to explore many beautiful areas on the coast of Krabi. We stayed in Ao Nang beach, which is a very touristy part of Krabi. Although it is not as relaxed and reclusive as other beaches near by, it was a great location that enabled us to travel to other beaches and islands in the area.

Our mornings started with a trip to Ao Nang beach where I would enjoy my morning run, my mom would read her book, and my Dad would swim. After my run I would hop in the water with my Dad and swim a couple laps. It made me feel very nostalgic for the times we swam in La Jolla Cove together. I would swim close behind my Dad, following the trail of bubbles from his kicks. It felt so familiar and comforting to swim with my Dad again. Instances like that are the moments I truly treasure and like to think of when I have hard or lonely days.

We were also able to see some of the infamous beaches on Koh Phi Phi. This was a fun trip, but was too crowded for our liking. Because Thailand is such a popular destination for tourist all around the world, the beaches were pretty packed with people and boats. Koh Phi Phi was exquisite, but I think is a much better travel location in low season. We also spent time on Railay Beach, which is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It truly was breathtaking, even with a swarm of tourist. My mom and I rented a kayak and ventured around the limestone cliffs, trying to avoid the speedboats. The water was so warm and clear, and we even saw a jellyfish. It was really a fun and beautiful trip!

One of the highlights of the trip was when my Dad tried to explain a part of the movie “A Good Lie” to the other people on our speedboat. He explained that the movie was about African refugees who came to America seeking asylum and trying to start lives as American citizens. However, coming to America was a big cultural shock to them as they had not experienced any sort of American culture before. In the movie they hear the joke “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get the other side.” and they found this joke to be overwhelmingly amusing. After the joke was told, one of the men started to laugh again saying “I am just thinking about that chicken.” In America this is really not a funny joke unless you are about 5 years old. So when my Dad told this story to a bunch of people from all over the globe, they didn’t really get it. But then a couple minutes later this guy started laughing and my Dad asked “are you thinking about that chicken?” Of course, he was and we all had a good laugh.

I Believe I Can Thai

Since it is rapidly approaching my one-year anniversary working in my village here in Thailand, I figured I would do a brief recap of all the projects I have done so far. This will also give a general idea of the kind of work a Youth in Development Peace Corps Volunteer actually does.

- Youth Led Drug Awareness Program
o This program began with a six-session training (2 days a week, for three weeks), where my counterpart and I led activities about drug awareness for 22 7th-9th grade students. After this six session training, each week a group of the trained students led these same activities about drug awareness for the 1st-6th grade students.

- Halloween Activity
o I taught students about the culture of Halloween in America, as well as Basic English vocabulary relating to the holiday. We made masks and I handed out candy.

- Weekly Life Skills Lessons
o Each day, Monday – Friday, I go to one of the four schools in my community and teach life skills activities, as well as incorporating Basic English vocabulary. These activities focus on critical thinking, emotional health, respecting others, appreciating one’s self value, and leadership skills. We play, we learn, we laugh.

- Thanksgiving Activity
o I taught students about the American cultural traditions of Thanksgiving, while relating English and life skills. We reviewed key vocabulary in English about the holiday, and then discussed the meaning of thankfulness and what they were thankful for. Plus we made really cute hand turkeys.

- HIV/AIDS Awareness Camp
o A one-day camp that engaged the students in my community in activities that raised awareness about HIV/AIDS. It also raised awareness amongst the Thai co-facilitators, and provided them a chance to lead a day camp. There were four rotations that were one hour long, each consisting of a different set of activities focusing on a variety of lesson goals, including compassion towards AIDS patience, safe sexual behavior, and STD and HIV awareness.

- Christmas Activity
o I taught students in my community about the history and cultural traditions of Christmas, and also integrated English vocabulary. We made paper wreaths, ornaments, and took pictures with Santa cut outs.

- Valentine’s Day Activity
o I taught students about Valentine’s Day traditions in America and key English vocabulary. Then we wrote sweet love letters and did fun Valentine’s Day English worksheets.

- Teaching English to my Thai co-workers
o I have just begun teaching Basic English conversational skills to the staff members at my office. Honestly, I am really interested to see how long this will last for, as Thai enthusiasm for activities usually runs out after a few months.

So here are my main projects thus far! So far I have learned that I have the ability to stretch myself beyond where I previously thought possible. As long as I remain EXTREMELY flexible, everything will workout (even if it is ALWAYS last minute). I have learned that my community is extremely supportive and wants to see me succeed. I have developed an incredible work relationship, as well as friendship, with both my counterparts and feel truly blessed to collaborate with them. I still struggle with the cultural difference in time management and planning ahead, but I am at peace with the fact I cannot control everything. I am excited for my future projects in this next year, and truly believe that I can achieve the goals I have set.

To Thai for

A letter to future youth development volunteers in Thailand:

You did it! Welcome to the Peace Corps family. As you read this, your heart may be thumping in your chest, mind drifting off, imagining all that your life will be as a volunteer in Thailand. You probably have a million questions or assumptions of how things may play out. My first piece of advice would be to let go of all expectations. During your service in Thailand you will learn that everyday is an adventure. Expect nothing but be prepared for anything.

As a youth development volunteer, you will be categorized as many things, ranging from an English guru to a youth mentor, to a role model and so on. You will have the ability to work with a variety of people in your community, such as teachers, school directors, government staff, public health administrators and more. Making connections and utilizing all of your assets is key to your assimilation and progression at site. Luckily, you are in a country where the people sincerely want to help you and will often go out of their way to accommodate your needs. This also goes for the Peace Corps Thailand staff as well, who are always eager to lend a hand and resolve conflicts that may arise.

No two sites are the same, and everyone’s daily routine as a youth development volunteer will be different. In my case, I spent my first six months at site building relationships, developing project proposals and getting to know the needs of my community. From there on, I have developed a weekly schedule where I visit each of the schools in my community for an hour to two hours a day. During this time I engage the students in games and activities that teach them valuable life skills, such as leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking. I have also developed youth programs to target key issues in my community, such as drug use and teen pregnancy.

Here in Thailand things move at a very difference pace than our bustling lifestyle in America. You may find yourself frustrated with how long it may take to get the ball rolling. Try to “jai yen yen” or relax, and enjoy the small victories that can be found in each day. When you are overwhelmed with feelings of frustration, loneliness, and apathy, remember that your presence in the community has already enlightened others with a new cultural perspective.

Many join the Peace Corps because they want to inspire and provide aid to those who are in need. However, everyday I find that I am the one who is being constantly inspired and educated by those around me. The next twenty-seven months of your life will be both more challenging and rewarding than you ever imagined. Be excited for the adventure that lies ahead.

PCV Julia Ward
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When the Thai is Ripe

Since my last blog post I have been consistently busy. I have a weekly schedule now where I visit one school in my community everyday for an hour or two. I do a range of activities and games with the students to instill a variety of life skills. So far, I have learned that the younger the students are the busier I need to keep them. The younger students respond well to being active, while the older students excel at discussions. I am hoping to continue to engage students in activities that enhance their critical thinking and leadership skills. It has been extremely satisfying to have a somewhat constant schedule and a sense of productivity.

While I have been learning a great deal about Thai culture, I have also had the opportunity to share my own culture with the students. For Thanksgiving, I taught the students about American traditions and led an activity focusing on thankfulness. We made hand turkeys and then wrote what we were thankful for. In Thailand there are so many things to be thankful for. I am constantly thanking others for their small acts of kindness and putting my needs before their own. Some days I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all that the Thai people have taught and given to me.

In recognition of World AIDS Day on December 1, I planned a day camp to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and STDS for 75 students in my community. During this camp, the students rotated between 4 hour-long stations. Each station had a set of activities focusing on a variety of lesson goals, including compassion towards AIDS patience, safe sexual behavior, and STD and HIV awareness. Two to Three of my Thai co-workers taught at each of these stations, while I observed and aided in their lessons. While I consider the camp an overall success, there were several obstacles I had to overcome. No matter how early I plan my projects, Thai people love to wait to do things till the last minute. Although I have learned to adjust to this cultural norm, in this case it was rather stressful. I found myself calling one of the school directors the day before my camp to ensure that 30 of my students would be attending. I also had to rush to finish making all the materials for the camp, including the 100 red ribbons out of construction paper. These challenges I overcame made the success of the camp that much more empowering and gratifying. This camp turned out to be a great achievement for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my Thai co-workers. I am excited for what my future projects may hold!

Thai one on

The month of October was a turning point for me. I lead my first project, which I had created, with the help of my wonderful counterpart. This project was a youth leadership program empowering teens to become involved in keeping their schools and communities alcohol and drug free. To begin my youth led drug awareness program I, along with my counterpart, trained a group of about 20 students, ages 13-15, on the effects of drugs and their impact on the community. The training went extremely well! I was able to create a program with activities that were both fun and informative. The students seemed to enjoy doing skits and playing games, and were active in the follow up discussions. I also realized how open these students felt they could be with my counterpart and I. Many students disclosed to us about their past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Their openness to discuss this information was slightly shocking to me, but also appreciated.

My initial expectations of this project were that it would be a total flop. I was nervous that many students wouldn’t show up to participate as the project was held during one of their school breaks. However, about 2/3 of the invited students came, and the ones that didn’t attend were the more difficult students. I was also nervous that the students wouldn’t enjoy the activities, or would make a mockery of the program. They surprised me and actually were pretty engaged and enthused. Next on the agenda is to have the trained group of students to educate the younger students on drug use and drug prevention methods. I am excited to see how the students handle their roles as leaders and mentors to the younger students.

In October, I was also given the opportunity to teach and share American culture with two separate groups of students. It was really fun teaching them about our traditions of Halloween. I made a PowerPoint about the cultural traditions, taught Halloween English vocabulary, and had the students make paper masks. I even dressed up as a train by making a cardboard train costume out of a cardboard box! I think the kids really enjoyed it because they were able to make things and engage in the culture.

My next project is AIDS/HIV Awareness training for World AIDS Awareness month in December. The goal of this project is to improve student’s knowledge on HIV/AIDS and STDs, while providing them with the life skills and prevention methods to reduce the rate of incidence within their community. I am interested to see how this project goes because I plan to have my Thai co-workers lead all the activities while I overlook everything. I am also busy going to the schools in my community every weekday. It is really satisfy to finally be constantly busy. I am so energized after spending an hour or two with these children. They bring a new light and energy to my days. Their playful demeanor and radiant little smiles make every challenge I have faced here totally worth it.