BY COURTNEY YONCE

On Aug. 26, I began my 29- hour journey to Bangkok, Thailand. I was greeted by Finn, a Youth E xchange to America last year; Big, another former YE to America; my host dad; his sister in law, Dadanne; her daughter, Kloy, and another Rotarian. We drove for about an hour to my host home in the province of Nakohn Pathom.

I live with my host mom, my host dad, my two host brothers and my two host sisters.

My first week I spent most of my time at home because I hadn’t started school yet. Some days I would go out with Fon, a very good friend of my older host sister, and at night I would go out with Kloy and her many energetic friends. The Monday of my second week I had my first day of school, clad in my navy blue skirt, lavender shirt, and black shiny shoes. Here I am known as Chompoo.

Thawain, I call him Yai, my host dad’s twin brother, picks me up every morning around 7:30 a.m. and takes me to school. At school, my classes are mainly of Thai arts, such as carving, cooking, flower arrangement and dance. I attend other classes, such as math, physics, Chinese, Japanese and Thai, but those are mainly to give me something to do because it is hard for me to understand them.

Seferal teachers speak some English, but very little. They love to say “Hello’’ and “How are you?’’ but that’s about all they can say to me, especially my arts teachers. I mainly learn by example here.

Whenever I have spare time in school, I sit in the language department office with the many teachers there. Some of them speak a little English, more than most teachers. I go to this room first thing every morning and am greeted by many smiling faces. After school, one of my many new friends takes me to Ajan Leck’s front office to wait for Yai.

There I am fed by Leck and we talk about many things. She loves when people ask about me and she gets to tell them I’m there every day and she looks after me. All of my teachers do. I am like a daughter to them, and they all take care of me as if they are my mothers.

That very same Monday, I attended my first Rotary meeting here. My host dad and I arrive at 7 p.m. every Monday night. He sits at a table with all of the other Rotary men and I sit at the table for the woman.

I have quickly learned that the Rotary Club in my city is not just my Rotary cCub, but my family. These woman are evenmore mothers to me. They make sure I always have food on my plate, no matter how full I am. All during dinner, many of the men will come over and visit to speak with me, even if they don’t know English. Already they have decided to take me on two of their trips to see more of Thailand.

Once the dinner is over, I move to the table for Rotarians.

I usually sit next to Big and he tells me what is going on during the meeting. School takes up most of my time, so I don’t do much else during the week besides my Rotary meetings. They have become something to look forward to.

On the weekends, I usually have plans to see more of Thailand. This past weekend Iwent with my older host sister, Kung, Fon, two other friends of theirs, to the Siampan Elephant Ground and Zoo. There we watched an elephant show and crocodile wrestling. I also was able to feed and pet the elephants, not the crocodiles, though.

The previous weekend was even more exciting. I had my orientation in Trang. Da and I took a plane from Bangkok with three other exchange students.

After about half-an-hour the plane landed in a tiny, abandoned looking airport. There wasn’t a gate for us to walk off the plane and into the airport, instead a set of metal stairs was wheeled over to the exit of the plane. Surrounding the perimeter of the airport was a very high fence holding back a handful of people staring and taking pictures.

We had about another 45-minute drive until we arrived in Trang. It was a very fast, windy and bumpy ride.

We arrived at the resort and were given our lime-green Rotary shirts. We met up with the rest of the exchange students at the docks. We rode on a boat to an island, there we put on snorkels, and jumped into the water.

After lunch we continued on our adventure. When in the water, we were surrounded by fish. I wanted to stay there forever, but then a jellyfish was spotted. We all quickly swam to the boat.

Soon, we were at our last stop: the cave. We formed a long train, each person holding onto the person in front of them, with one guide in the front, one in the back, and a few swimming alongside us.

Courtney Yonce is a Cooperstown Rotary Exchange student in Thailand.

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