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Sports Day in Thailand
By Annabelle D., YES Abroad 2016-2017, Thailand
The most incredible parts of my exchange so far haven't been the huge, picturesque moments that end up on Instagram. Of course it was surreal to watch the sun rise from a mountaintop on the first day of the New Year, to jump off a boat 35 feet into crystal-clear water, to walk through the streets of Bangkok at night… but those haven’t been the defining moments of my exchange. The smaller, more human moments have felt more impactful.
The experience that stands out was the night I spent with my class. Every Thai school has Sports Week, which is like color wars at summer camp, but taken to the extreme. The whole student body is split into teams, and in addition to sports competitions, there are cheer, art, and dance challenges. Everything is completely student-run, and this year, my class was in charge of the Green Team. The night before the final day of Sports Week when we'd have our huge team performance, we stayed up all night to prepare. All of my friends and I were at school getting our sets and props ready until we had to move our team headquarters to a classmate’s house. We painted and constructed all night! We were almost thirty teenagers, together playing music, dancing, and talking to pass the time.
We had decided to sleep in shifts at the house, but we were having so much fun that I don't think anyone got more than an hour of sleep. We painted each other's nails and dyed each others' hair neon green to show our team spirit. Every time we tried to quiet down and get some rest, somebody would start giggling and it would set everyone off into contagious, uncontrollable laughter.
It was perfect because of how incredibly normal it was. I felt exactly like I was with my American friends back home, having a sleepover like we do so often. My classmates weren't treating me like a foreign exchange student; they were behaving like I had always been a part of their group. My first months here, I never could have imagined how at home I would feel that night. It had seemed impossible that I could ever feel comfortable with these kids who lived such different lives from me, especially because I had such difficulty understanding both their linguistic and cultural contexts. But the realization that they had accepted me, and I had accepted them, was the most amazing feeling of the entire year. It was bittersweet, because I knew it would only make it more painful when the time came to say goodbye. But as I looked around at my friends and happiness filled my heart, there was no question in my mind that this is all worth it.