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By Wanjiku G., YES Abroad 2015-2016, Thailand
I found myself reminiscing while scrolling through the endless photographs I took during the first few months of my exchange. While scrolling down the endless memories of afterschool coffee shop visits, magnificent local temples, and selfies of students from the local primary school I volunteered with (you’d be amazed at these six-year-olds’ technological mobility!), I realized a stunning fact – I had been in Thailand for 300 days. Three. Zero. Zero. The fact nearly took the wind out of me.
It seemed as though it was only yesterday when I was video chatting with my younger sister back in the U.S., baffled by the fact that I had nearly 250 days LEFT, and now it’s all but down to two weeks. Two weeks to stuff my face with some of the most delicious dishes I have had the pleasure to make and try – หมูปิ้งกับ ข้าวเหนียว (Grilled pork with sticky rice), ข้าวเหนียว (Sticky rice - my obsession with sticky rice is unbelievable; I would marry sticky rice if I could) ผัดไทย (Pad Thai), and ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง (Sticky rice with mango and coconut milk). Two weeks to negotiate with street vendors in my local market on prices for food or clothing. Two weeks to bike to my friend’s house and sing along to Frozen in Thai until our voices are nearly gone. Two weeks in this country that has become my home.
I will be completely honest. I didn’t think this sort of conundrum would happen to me. For some reason, I had this idea that I would be completely untouched by the “exchange student sacrifice” – a second home and a new life in exchange for a piece of your heart. I spent the year convinced that I had avoided this inevitable predicament, that I’d been lucky and would be able to detach myself when the "time was right".
I couldn’t have been more misled if I tried. As an exchange student, I came to Thailand as a stranger to Thai culture, food, and way of life. I made mistakes, but I learned from them. I observed and I replicated. I slowly but surely got the knack of things, and in the process, grew in my knowledge and understanding of Thailand. I made countless friendships, learned a language, and fell in love with a country. In every step of this process, I unknowingly gave a little bit of myself to Thailand, and now it has become painfully clear that a part of me will always belong to Thailand. By being here, I have created an unexplainable attachment to this country and the many people who have impacted my life here.
Of course, my exchange was not a “perfect” one. While I had periods defined mainly by my sheer enjoyment of life, I also had times of confusion and disappointment. But I realize, regardless of the polarity of these emotions, this was my exchange. My imperfect, perfect year. And while the days flew by with unspeakable speed, I intend on enjoying each moment I have left in Thailand to its fullest. As I write this, face literally stuffed with sticky rice, I am glowing in realization of how incredibly blessed I am to have had this experience and to have the unfortunate yet rewarding dilemma of having a second home.