Wow! Where do I even begin? Thailand. There are truly no words to describe my journey to this beautiful land besides, “Only the best trip of my life”. Sitting here in Sydney, a month after the trip, I still find myself reminiscing about my adventures in Thailand. On the 15th of January I embarked on a journey to South-east Asia, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what would happen in the coming month and not knowing the amazing people that are now one of my closest friends.
The Australian Thai Youth Ambassadors Program was a gift, a gift that keeps on giving, even to this day, more than a month past the trip! ATYAP was an immensely enriching experience as it not only highlighted the importance of mentoring and educating less fortunate children but also fostered a cross-cultural understanding of heritage and values. Before I begin, I must stop to thank everyone that had a part in making this trip such a success mainly the Thai Consulate in Sydney, The Australian Government, Angelica Casado who is the director of ATYAP and UTS BUiLD for providing me with a travel grant of AUD $750.
Our first stop in Thailand was at Ubon Ratchathani, a small province in North-eastern Thailand, where we would be teaching at 11 different schools for a period of 3 weeks. Coming from an Indian background and having witnessed the standard of living in India, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Thailand. I was so wrong; this place totally blew me away! From my very first steps out of the plane to the last steps out of Thailand, everything was perfect.
Initially, I was petrified! I hadn’t had any teaching experience and we were supposed to teach under privileged children for 15 days. I was grouped with 6 other ATYAPers in the largest school of 2400 children, Ubon Wittaya Khom, and that was a tremendous task in itself. However, the school was literally a 5 min walk from our hotel, which couldn’t have worked out any better for us!! Nevertheless, we spent the weekend before our first day of teaching to plan lessons and games to keep the children entertained.
The first teaching day came around and without a doubt all 7 of us were blown away by the amazing hospitality of all the teachers. We were given a tour of the school, our very own table to sit on during free periods and A MASSIVE BOUQUET OF FLOWERS (which I brought with me to Australia!!) along with so much more! I was to teach the children in Prathom 2 (translates to Grade 2) and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of students, I LOVED THEM SO MUCH!
The kids were just so amazing and lovely and they couldn’t get enough of us just as much as we couldn’t get enough of them! I couldn’t fathom how happy they were to be living in Thailand having just the bare minimum everyday of their life. I’m not going to lie; seeing them really opened my eyes and I have learnt an immense amount from the children. Living in Australia, where there is no shortage of anything, makes us take everything for granted. Spending 3 weeks with children who are nowhere near as fortunate, has made me understand the true value of life and that we should cherish and love everything we are given.
The second week of teaching saw us all introduce Australian heritage and values into our lessons to educate children on a cross-cultural basis in honour of Australia Day. We had such a positive influence over the kids and vice versa that the 7 of us teaching at Ubon Wittaya Khom were so overwhelmed so much so that we decided to make ‘fairybread’ (buttered bread with sprinkles) for all our lovely students, which was undoubtedly a moment of true happiness for everyone involved.
We were so touched by the warmth and generosity of every single person at the school, that we wanted to give them back something in return and so volunteered to organise and run an English camp for Prathoms 1 to 6 (grades 1- 6), including kindergarten. English camp ran for 6 days over the last week of teaching and included singing, dancing, games and everything fun that the kids loved. Its funny how a 21 year old can learn so much from children under the age of 12 and that’s exactly my story. I’d like to think that the kids taught me more than I did to them and I feel as though our stay in that school over a period of just 15 days has influenced the students’ mindset for the entirety of their lives. To top it all off, we were even made honourary teachers as we got given the shirts that the teachers wore as a uniform!
I find it absolutely astonishing that I’ve gone almost the entire blog without mentioning food. Oh My God The Food! What can I say? The Thai food that we get here in Sydney merely scratches the surface of the exquisite cuisine that is so readily available everywhere in Thailand. From the mango sticky rice, pandan bread and Thai milk tea to the Som Tum (spicy papaya salad) and Tom Yum (spicy seafood based soup) and the traditional ‘Isan’ food, everything was mouth watering and delicious. Every single person on ATYAP was so impressed by the food; we made it a daily routine to venture to the nearby night markets after we’d all return from our respective schools, for dinner. I can easily say that that was probably the best collective decision all trip! … but the food didn’t stop when we left Ubon Ratchathani for Bangkok, in fact, Bangkok had twice as much!
The last week in Thailand was spent on formalities in Bangkok, literally from the get go. From walking off the plane and jumping straight into Thai dancing to suiting up on a moving bus to meet the Australian Ambassador to Thailand. We were even lucky enough to watch a theatrical performance of the origins of Muay Thai, where we literally treated as VIPs. It was all so surreal, everything fell in place and there was absolutely nothing that could have been done differently.
Also, how can I forget the shopping? I think it would be fair to say that everyone on the trip made full use of the currency and cheap conversion rate and it was amazing! However, the highlight of Bangkok would without a doubt have to be visiting the Grand Palace. Picture the Buckingham Palace in London with an Asian twist. That was exactly it, beautiful, majestic, intricate and breath taking are just some of the words that come to mind, however, I don’t quite think there is a word to describe such a marvellous experience.
Wow! Thinking back to my time in Thailand and writing this reflection is already bringing tears to my eyes and that’s how strong the power of giving back to people is. There truly is no substitute for such a feeling and I really hope that this program continues for a lot more years to come as I feel that more people should endeavour to do just as I did. If given the chance to participate in the Australian Thai Youth Ambassadors Program again, I wouldn’t even have the slightest bit of hesitation and would definitely recommended others to embark on such a beautiful journey with me, one that is so rewarding for everyone involved. Before I bid farewell, I’d like to leave with this quote from Mother Theresa as I feel that it sums up my entire trip exceptionally well:
“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
Thank you again UTS BUilD for providing me with a travel grant for this trip, it helped in more ways than one! …. And with that blog, comes the end of an experience, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. THAILAND, YOU GAVE ME NOTHIN
G BUT THE BEST!
SAWASDEE KRUP! KHOB KUN KRUP! THANK YOU!