I could, however, elaborate at great length about the many challenges of exchange, the less glamorous moments that make up the majority of my early memories. My host mother recently reminded me of an instance early on in the year when she’d asked me “where are you going?” to which I responded with “I’m well, thank you.” My language was at a laughably mediocre level at the time and the struggle to communicate was never more irritating and exhausting. Failing to be able to read the Thai gender signs put me in the wrong bathroom once or twice and I can recall a few times when I hit my head in doorways, ignorant of average Thai height. Ten months later, however, my language and social adeptness has become so good that I am often asked if I am a Thai or farang, foreigner.
Despite my actual ethnicity, I feel Thai. I feel that the culmination of all my experiences up to this point in my exchange has created a second Zak, one which is not American but Thai. When my mother came to visit me she remarked, “You are totally in your element here!.” As I was comparing America with Thailand in a lesson I’d taught to English students at my school I caught myself saying “we” when referring to Thais. If it’s only my physical appearance that can’t adapt, I think that nearly all the rest of my being has. Adaptation, albeit a triumph now, is exactly what will make going home so difficult.
The next time someone asks me the question my host mother did so long ago, “where are you going,” the answer will probably be “back home” and thus ends this inexplicable year of youth exchange.
Zak Aldridge is a junior at Milford Central School. To read more from him, visit eightabovetheequator.wordpress.com.