Sunday, June 1, 2014

White Tourist Privilege and Other Thoughts on my Vacation to India & Bali

Here are some thoughts on backpacking! I am back teaching in Sansai and will write more on that later! Much love and apologies for the long hiatus in blog writing!

Privilege and Reciprocity:
It seemed ideal: travel through India for 2.3 weeks and Bali for 1 week - it was a dream life. Yet, I found myself thinking "do I even enjoy traveling?" more than once during my trip. Now, I do not mean to discredit the privilege of being able to travel for an extended period of time, as I know that puts me in an extremely privileged category - nor will I discount the amazing experiences. However, I found that I much prefer living abroad than just passing through. For me, connections made and relationships built make traveling (or living) abroad meaningful, exciting and interesting. As a backpacker, those interactions are limited and instead I am just the tourist, seen for what I am: a white privileged female who can afford to traverse around a foreign country on a vacation. 

Although aware of my privilege back in the states as well, it does not hold as stark a role as my skin color, citizenship and privilege do in my experiences abroad. No matter how 'ethical' or conscientious I attempt to be, these aspects will always play a significant role while I'm abroad (as they should). 
Wherever I was in India or Bali (just as I am in Thailand), I stuck out like a sore thumb, radiating privilege. With fleeting time in each place, connections made were minimal and my abroad skills of building relationships were nearly useless. Keenly aware at every corner of all the other tourists and how we (and I) were being perceived and observed, I wondered what it meant to be a sustainable tourist. Seeing another culture and world was thrilling and wonderful, but comes with a great deal of baggage - all too often ignored I think. What is the value in a few weeks in India or Bali? How could I be an ethical consumer while in these tourist locations? Is the only value in tourism an economic gain for the host country? Is there any way for reciprocal tourism?  What is the value of travel? Questions I do not have full answers for, but am certainly wondering about - among others. Any thoughts appreciated. 

And I did, of course, have a wonderful time and am truly blessed to have been able to see both Southern India and Bali! 

India:
Upon first arrival, into the small south eastern city of Chennai, I was a bit overwhelmed. Though the city reminded me of Accra, Ghana - the attitude of hospitality, speed, smells, and exhaustion caused me to be tense and nervous, as they were unfamiliar. After a nights sleep we were on our way to the next city, with not much to do in Chennai. Unsure where we were staying night to night or what our exact itinerary was, my friend and I were able to change original outlines of plans and do what we wanted to. 

We were in Southern India - Kerala (Munnar, Kollam, Kochin) and Goa (Anjuna, Baga). The south is much slower than the north, which was a good introduction as it was not quite as overwhelming to the senses (I believe, based on hearsay). Honestly most of my thoughts on India, the things that stuck in my mind, are the people I met. That is what matters to me. Food was tasty, places visited were beautiful, site seeing was site seeing...and then there were the brief encounters in which I shared moments with people and stories and that is what made these trips more powerful.

Highlights from the trip (pictures at the bottom for the lazy or time-crunch readers)
  • Kollam: Riding in a houseboat in Kollam for 24 hours, with a 2 hour canoe ride in a river village. This came with a delicious meal and a hilarious cultural encounters.
  • Trying out all kinds of transportations was a fun, exhausting aspect - we saw much of the countryside this way. From taxi rides, to trains, to buses and planes - we covered a lot of miles across southern India. Though buses with open windows up windy roads were not my preferred choice of transport. 
  • Munnar: Probably the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life. Munnar was rolling hills of incredible mountains and tea plantations. Pictures do not even do it close to justice. We happened to be stuck in Munnar an extra day because there was a strike and no buses were running back to the city that night. 
  • Kochin: My favorite part of Kochin was Tia! Tia was the 9 year old girl who lived in the house we stayed in. When we booked our sleeping place, we didn't realize it was a homestay, but I was so glad for that experience. Immanuel's Homestay, was Immanuel's house, and downstairs lived him, his wife, his mother and father, three children and an aunt. Tia, the middle child, was bright and full of energy. Her English was fantastic and she would always follow me and my friend after we left calling out to us "Goodbye!" or "Ohh have a good day!". One morning we had breakfast with her and she told us her favorite subject was "English, of course!" Her energy was infectious and getting to know someone was great.
  • Goa: Twice in Goa in found myself paying for a service (nails and henna) that ultimately was not great quality - yet, each was performed by a young woman who shared her story with me and that made it much more worth the cost. These are two of my favorite experiences from Goa because they allowed me to understand more about the culture and connect with someone.
    • Lolita, a 19 year old young woman on the beach, approached me and asked if she could paint my nails. After deciding to go ahead and do it, she sauntered off to get her 'supplies'. A plastic shopping bag with a few nail polish shades. Filling my water bottle with ocean water, she washed sand off my feet and painted some haphazard polish on my toes and then convinced me to do my fingernails as well. During this encounter, I asked Lolita about her life. She revealed to me that she was married and six months pregnant. We spoke about what her husband did for work, if she was happy and if she was excited to have a baby. It was minimal, but made me so grateful for sharing stories, giving voice and connecting to people. I wished her luck when she left and enjoyed a great red colored manicure and pedicure for a day or so.
    • Sar, a 24 year old young woman who worked at the market, was trying to get me to look at her clothes. Most market hagglers were pushing me to look and she was no different. I said, "I'm just looking for henna". "I do henna!" she exclaimed excitedly. After agreeing on a price, she did a beautiful henna job on my hand and foot. Her younger sister threaded my eyebrows after they convinced me it absolutely had to be done. As I sat with Sar and her sister for over an hour during the henna and threading process I came to know more about her life. She shared with me that she married at 14 years old, had 3 kids, a 10 year old, 7 year old and 4 year old back, with a husband whom she was ambivalent about. "He drinks too much and then is not nice," she told me and then asked about my husband. I told her I didn't have one and she said I better get on it because I was getting old. These are the experiences that make me desire to travel and connect to people. Sar explained to me that she lived 26 hours north of Goa but traveled for market season and stayed 45 minutes away.  She and 7 others rent a small cement room in a large compound of many market sellers. Her smile was warm and the henna art was absolutely beautiful. I felt blessed to meet her, if only for an hour. 
Both Sar and Lolita re-affirmed my desires to helping give voice to those not often heard. Where ultimately I wanted to instill a love of learning in as many people as possible, giving voice is part of that process. The reciprocity in telling each others stories back and forth was so important to me. 
    When I am back in Sansai, Thailand and enjoy a meal with P'Oh, the woman at the ice cream store, even though her English and my Thai are very limited, we find common ground in discussing heartbreak, love, relationships, body stigma - a lot of times its through a few words in each language and the rest is done by body language and gestures. All of these make me so glad for connections and so passionate about continuing to connect to so many different people around the world. 


Bali:
Bali was a bit too touristy for me, but I filled my belly with delicious food and my time with dear friends, laughter and conversation. My favorite day was a trip we took to a beautiful rock temple and coffee plantation. The coffee place has civic cats that eat the coffee beans and poops them out - that coffee is some of the most expensive in the world! 

And now for some pictures!

Oh ya, and my parents visited and that was AWESOME! :) Matching shirts



A Southern Indian Meal! :) Much different than Butter chicken!

Munnar, India 

Munnar - with friend, Cody Gohl

Still Munnar, India

Tea Plantations are what make these bushes so cool!

more tea plantations!

Rock Temple in Bali!

Viewpoint in Bali

beautiful day in bali!

Bali with Molly!


Seeing my parents was absolutely amazing. As you can see these places were absolutely stunningly gorgeous. My happiness is very clear in all the photos!

Much love to everyone. Will write more on getting back into teaching and last semester goals. Started back at work two weeks ago. 
Jessye





Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The 6-month mark: a reflection of 1st semester teaching & my internship


Today, Thursday the 27th, marks the 6-month halfway mark through the 12-month Fulbright program. I write to you from a coffee shop in Chiang Mai city, the smog from burning ash hangs low in the sky and the traffic is heavy; I am enjoying a fruit smoothie in all its ‘Western’ food glory. In these past 6 months, I have finished orientation in Bangkok, successfully completed my first semester of teaching, and lived and worked for a month inside Chiang Mai city with a plethora of Fulbright friends, while interning for Urban Light. Wow. What a whirlwind of adventures. Throughout incredible moments of immersing myself in Thailand, there have been equally wonderful moments with my fellow Fulbrighters as I have deepened relationships with them and opened myself to new experiences. As always, thinking (okay, worrying) about the future is a constant for me; but I am eager and excited to be living this year in Thailand with less responsibilities and more free time than I will ever be able to indulge in again. Self-growth and learning about myself has been a daily aspect of my time in Thailand, as for once I am not the busy-bee I was in high school and college. I have given myself time to breathe (or at least I try to).

(I did get bitten by a dog and had to get a lot of rabies shots, but that holds little importance to my experience here J )

Now for some thoughts on my semester of teaching and my internship with Urban Light:

Reflections on a semester of teaching at Sansai Wittayakom School

Teaching here has confirmed my desire to work in education, in many different facets (direct service, policy/politics, internationally, philosophically). My students are a source of joy, frustration and laughter. Though teaching ESL is not a discipline I see myself pursuing long-term, the relationships I was able to build with the students, the (albeit minimal) progress I saw, the shared laughter, and the lesson planning all provided me with insight into why I love teaching and education, and for what more I need to do next semester and in future teaching jobs.

In November and December, my teaching was still timid. Though enjoying it, I did not have a ton of faith in my ability to connect to the students. By January, I felt very differently. At least with the three classes of students that I saw twice a week (where as other classes were once every 3 weeks) I had established a rapport; enough that kept them quiet when I needed them quiet and had them participate in activities when the lesson called for it. Though the English level is low, I was able to cover a fair amount of topics, but most importantly there was laughter every class as I encouraged students to not worry too much about their ability and to just give it a try. Often just being able to convince my Thai students to attempt speaking English aloud is hard enough, let alone in full sentences or in response to a topic. January and February flew by, with teaching and weekend adventures combined.

Though some days were harder than others, and there were definitely days where I wished I could explain a game without flapping my arms around and translating into Thai or getting help from a teacher, my experience was overwhelming positive. The bad days gave me time to reflect on what could have gone better or in what was getting in the way of it being a good day.

Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater? Or Communal Learning?
Toward the end of February it was time to give exams. I decided upon giving oral exams, since my job description is technically listening and speaking, and because most of my teaching is auditory and spoken. To keep the students busy who were waiting for their orals, I provided them with a written final exam, that ultimately only counted as a worksheet. Though I had been warned about cheating, the written exam was the first piece of work I gave that there could have been any cheating on. Despite explanations of what I would do if I saw cheating, there was still, a great deal in all my classes. Balancing calling up students one by one to do the oral and supervising the exam at the same time was a challenge. I was frustrated and wished they were listening to my instructions (though there were many who did not cheat, and who did great on the exams).

I wondered if it was my US education perspective that was frustrating me in their cheating (or maybe the rise in temperatures and the heat settling in much heavier?). US students are (stereotypically) very individual and self-focused. You do your best, for you. Thai schools appear to have a different approach, one that revolves much more around helping one another. After the first exam my frustration turned more into a teaching moment. Perhaps students were not going to show me what they knew in the way I expected, but instead were going to share their knowledge. Students with much higher ability passed notes and whispered to their lesser ability friends nearby, or even several desks over. Not giving them full answers, but hints, or key verbs – or translating the questions. It was communal. They all wanted to do well and wanted their friends to do well too. Of course this was not universal, nor is it necessarily in every Thai classroom, but it opened my eyes to yet again more cultural relativism.

Though yes, important to assess a student’s ability, the communal ‘cheating’ culture in my classroom that I experienced may not be so bad after all. They still needed to do the oral exam, in which I assessed their individual ability in speaking. Though the written work was hard to grade – not knowing what was copied and what was remembered – in the end – of my 89 students that I see twice a week for their full elective class, only one student failed and he had come to only one class the whole semester. Cheating seems to be more of a US concept in these schools and in some ways it can be detrimental to a students learning, for sure – but I think the community ideology behind it is sort of beautiful.


Urban Light: Interning with Boys in Chiang Mai

I am unsure how to summarize, explain or explore my month long internship with Urban Light.  A reoccurring topic of conversation amongst my close friends here, this internship has been rewarding, troubling, frustrating and inspiring. As perhaps, maybe it should be. It begged me to ask ethical questions, reconsider the non-profit world as a career, redefine my own personal ideology and worldview, and allowed me some wonderful experiences as well. I have yet again (as I always should) struggled with my ‘role’ as a white woman not fluent in the local language, trying to ‘make a difference’ in the lives of marginalized people.  I suppose the problem is maybe in ‘wanting’ to ‘make a difference’ because at the end of the day what does that even mean? Additionally, as always with these short-term projects, consistency is an issue I worry about greatly. Though eager for the opportunity, one month making connections with these boys is simply not enough. More is needed, especially long-term volunteers.

Do not get me wrong, the work I have done has been heartwarming. The relationships I’ve built with the boys at the center, albeit short-lived, has been inspiring.  Some days are filled with interactions with the boys and other days revolve more around various tasks, attempting to push Urban Light forward toward their mission. Some days are filled with activities, like baking or museum trips or pool days; others are filled with laughter on the 2nd floor as we make up new rules to the classic UNO game. I have never played so much UNO in my life.  The boys, staff and volunteers come together for a hot meal at 1pm every day. Holding hands and giving thanks before every meal, I am always reminded that I am thankful to have this experience, despite the challenges. Hearing the boys laugh is my favorite part of the day. Whether it is from a slip up in an UNO game, or finding out a volunteer is ticklish, or just generally teasing each other, when the boys laugh – the frustration I feel of being useless and out of place falls away and I’m just purely happy to be connecting with these young boys.

Despite my own internal questioning, the work Urban Light is doing provides a safe space for boys who are being trafficked, subjected to exploitation, living on the streets, and others in need. Beyond a safe space, Urban Light aims to empower and rebuild the lives of these boys – and they take many steps toward these goals with education, health services, housing and beyond.

An additional, really wonderful part of my experience thus far has been sharing it with a group of students at Concord Carlisle High School. Through connecting with my long term mentor and high school teacher, Johanna Glazer, I have been assisting a group of CC junior and seniors in an ‘internship’ type experience labeled ‘Outreach to Thailand.’ On the ground at CCHS, the students have raised awareness about Urban Light through posters, and are working to create fundraisers and raise even more awareness. Interacting with them has again reminded me of my desire to raise global awareness amongst the youth of the USA through the education system. Their surprise, eagerness, passion and excitement about this project has been so rewarding – and reminds me how important it is for young minds to open themselves up to issues worldwide at a young age.

I am very thankful for the internship experience and as always opens my mind and heart to many more questions. As it well should.

This whole month has been a social overload as I’ve been living in close quarters with Fulbright friends, as well as sharing meals with friends almost every single night. Though enjoying the stock up on social time, it was a strange transition from so much alone time to massive amounts of social time.

In just one week from today my mother and father will be visiting. We will travel together for 8 days. Then, I will celebrate Songkran, the Thai new year with a massive 3-day water fight. I’m a little scared. On April 16th, my friend and I will depart for India. Backpacking for 2 weeks there, followed by a week in Bali – then Bangkok for 5 days. On May 19th I will return to Sansai Wittayakom to teach for my final semester.

Talk to you all in mid-May! J Sorry for no pictures...

LOVE,
Jessye





Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Still bloggin': little things and adventures


I've avoided writing. Partially for personal reasons, and partially because sometimes I am at a loss for words at how to describe the little things in Thailand that make life here so extraordinary. Let's go with mostly the latter. :) I've managed to barely take any photographs in the last 40+ days since I last wrote. But I have filled an entire journal of thoughts for my future & current state of mind, and I've read 10 books in the past month. Losing myself in the intricate pages of the stories crafted by an artist has become my favorite past time. Though I always loved reading, here it has become a 2-4 hour routine of my daily life. When will I have that freedom again? Retirement? So, I am living it up. :-) As well as enjoying Thailand! 

The semester is nearly over. Just a month more and then I will be living the city with friends on an internship! I am over the moon excited for my internship. I will be working with Urban Light an organization that is dedicated to prevention, education about and direct service regarding sex trafficking and sex workers in Chiang Mai. However, unlike most organizations, Urban Light focuses on only boys who are affected. The plans of what I will be doing are still in the works, but I am thrilled to be assisting which such a phenomenal NGO that is doing such important work. 

In the beginning of April my mom and dad will visit, which I am equally thrilled about! Then I will travel with some friends for a few weeks (INDIA AND BALI!) until a mid-term meeting and back to teaching for mid-May through the end of September. Technically I am finished with my Fulbright on Oct 3rd...but as of now I think I am going to stay. Who knows. At first I was scared to leave for a year, and now I want to stay!

The Beauty of Little Things
The little moments and beautiful friendships that have developed have been my favorite. From P'Oh, the woman who owns the ice cream store, has dinner with me, lets me watch her sing in shows, and drives me home late at night to P'Uh, the sweet single woman with a 6 month old baby who runs a beauty shop and teaches me Thai through trying to tell me her story to the P'An who is homeless, and from Burma, and lives in the marketplace, and always smiles at me and says hello to P'Ja who knows my order of 'Shrimp Pad Thai, very spicy' at the stall downtown -  all of these people are so kind, generous and warm. These are just a few of the budding relationships I've started to build here that mean so much to me. Then there are the teachers at my school who go out of their way to help me, teach me, engage me, and understand me. Then my students, who greet me on campus and off campus, who call my name out in the courtyard and ask to be Facebook friends. There is so much beauty in the relationships here that I am developing. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the kindness of these relative strangers. 

Outside of human contact, there is also the beauty of the commons. The common spaces used by community members. I like sitting outside on a bench or ledge and just watching people. Or watching people on a bus. Thinking of their stories. Their lives. For all the pain, horror and hate in this world, there is so much beauty, love and kindness too. I am so blessed to be living in this community and I am eager to continue to spread my wings to many more places in the future. 


Me & Nong Poo, P'Uh's son!


Here are some event highlights from the past 5 weeks:

  • Visiting Pai, a Northern town that is encased in the most splendidly stunning mountains, waterfalls and canyons. I rode on the back of a friend's motorbike around this beautiful scenery. We explored stunning landscapes on foot and on bike, and indulged in delicious foods. It was a spiritually wonderful weekend of good friendship and beauty. (Dec 20-22)
  • Som Tum Making While Dancing Contest...ANew Years Party at my school with all the teachers! At one point there was a spicy papaya salad making contest in which I had to make the papaya salad (som tum) while dancing. I was holding a large wooden mortar and pestle and trying to understand the instructions being yelled at me. Ultimately mine was mashed instead of stirred, and I did not win the contest. But how many people can say they've been on stage in front of 70 teachers making papaya salad (when they don't know how) and DANCING during it? I considered it a win! (Dec 27)
  • Church with a student and friend. Somehow every country (except Denmark) that I have been to, I have found my way to a church. Which I suppose is odd for the cultural Jew and spiritually unsure nature of my faith. Anyways, one of my students had been asking me since November to go to church with her, but I was always busy and did not have the time. Finally on the Sunday after New Years Day I had time! We planned to meet in front of the University in our town at 8:30am. I waited there and then a short man came over to me and said "Come with me!" At first I just looked confused, but they he said, "Bookky (my students name) Dad! I Bookky Dad!" I suppose that was enough information for me and I got into his car. Luckily, I was right to trust him and we ended up at his house where I found myself having breakfast with him and my student's step mother while she put on make up in her bedroom. My Thai is not so great, but we managed to have a classically Thanglish conversation. Then we headed to church. First, I attended bible study (in Thai). I read my English copy of the bible and took notes in my notebook as I listened to these students talk about God. Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist, but there are some people who are Christian (and I'm sure other followings as well). The missionaries have mostly seen to this. Though I am not a Christian (but was baptized in Ghana if you remember!) I really enjoyed the FULL DAY event, I just watched and listened to the Thai prayers and songs. Bookky was very appreciative that I was there and I loved being a part of something important for her. (Jan 5th)
  • White Water Rafting! What a splendid adventure and it was not on a huge tourist organization! We went through my host teacher's husband's small organization that supports and helps sustain a hill tribe in Nan, a hilly, beautiful province to the Northeast of where I live. There were 10 of us total, and it was a group that can't really get together on the weekends usually so it was really wonderful. Not only was the white water rafting an exciting adventure (albeit terrifying) but we stayed in a beautiful wooden home up in the mountains and spent electronic free time just bonding with one another. There was even a campfire!  (Jan 10th) 
  • Horse Carriage on a Highway? No problem! This past weekend, Anja and I, the volunteer who lives close to me in Chiang Mai, decided to head down to Lampang, a 1.5 hour journey, to visit two other Fulbrighters who live there. We had a relaxing friendship filled weekend, but we also tried out the typical Lampang adventure of a two hour horse carriage ride around the city seeing different temples! It was a quite a blast, and hilarious to watch cars on a busy street avoid the slow walking horse carriages. Reminded me of snowy Boston carriage rides, except really hot and in Thailand and to see temples and much cheaper...so really not the same. (Jan 17th)
  • Don't miss your bus stop. Engrossed in a novel, (and so excited to be able to ride on a bus and not get too sick) I missed my bus stop. I looked up and realized I had no idea where we were. It turned out I was about 5-6 miles from my house. No problem, just cross the street and get the bus in the opposite direction. BUT WAIT! It was 6:00pm and the buses had stopped running in the opposite direction, and it was starting to get dark. I figured I would walk the direction I thought I was supposed to go. Cows, mountains and fields surrounding me. But then I got nervous. What if it took a few hours to get back? And it got really dark? There were no street lights. So, in desperation I called a student teacher at my school and she rescued me on a motorbike (after talking on the phone to someone in Thai to figure out where I actually was...). (Jan 28th) 
  • I can't do aerobics or dance. Friday night, the 31st of January, I made my way to my friend Anja's house. After a tour of her house, a photoshoot with her next door neighbor who loves photos, and some delicious cucumber spicy salad, we headed to group aerobics at the police station. If you know me well, you know I am possibly the least coordinated person ever in existence. Imagine me, with twenty 40-60 year old Thai women, trying to do a speedy aerobics Zumba-esque class outside. It was quite the experience, but very amusing and worth the sore body and laughs (at me). (Jan 31st)

Me & Anja - Her host teacher made me a welcome sign!

Posing for the photoshoot

Pai - Damn it was beautiful!
Probs my fav picture of the year - Aerobics!

White Water Rafting! SO FUN! <3

You can tell I don't know what I'm doing right?


With all the free time I've had, I've spent a lot of time thinking about my future and next steps for where I want to go. It's been quite a process. I've spoken to a few people about my dreams, goals and fears, which has been helpful and grounding for me. This is quite an adventure - this thing we call life. :) 

I miss you all - be in touch!

Rak khun! (Love you!)
J




Monday, December 16, 2013

But I don't dance!

As I wrote this, the long table in the Foreign Language office, with it’s plastic flowery table cloth, was splattered with a feast of spicy papaya salad (Som Tum), sticky rice (Kao Nee-ow), fried chicken, curries, coconut milk treats and other delicious Thai foods. Usually once or twice a week there is some large shared feast between the 8-10 English teachers that populate this office. My belly was full and my mouth was on fire from the spicy chilies as I began to write this post.

Today is Day 81. Eighty-one days ago, on an early Thursday morning I finished packing my bags and headed out on this journey, mom & dad in tow, giving me big hugs in the Logan airport. Anxious, but excited I arrived with an open heart ready to take this adventure by the horns and learn as much as I could throughout this amazing opportunity.

Happiness is a choice, but it also comes from accepting love and acceptance for oneself and the rest of the world. This is something I have finally come to accept and realize as I grow more into myself and discover new aspects of my identity; and additionally recognize that I am always growing and learning. I am eager to live. Really live. Live each day to the absolute fullest.

Never in all my life have I felt happier and more of a purpose than I do now. Each day is an adventure that I am open to, each evening as I lay my back against my brick mattress I am reeling with new Thai vocab, new ideas, for classes, my future, life, philosophies, beliefs – new findings of my day or week run through my head as I try to relax and sleep. My days and evenings have left me with ample time for self-reflection, philosophical musings and goal setting. Though, despite the amount of ‘free time’ I still manage to have a lengthy to-do list that is ever-growing and is never complete. My days are different; yet follow a semi-distinct routine.

I'm on a staff board!


An Average (Week) Day of Jessye in Thailand

6:03am: The loud rooster fights outside my window awaken me as they squawk their morning
               tunes. This also occurs at 1:00am & 4:00am approximately. I doze back to sleep.
7:15am: My favorite Ghanaian hiplife songs rudely awakens me from my sleep in the post- 
               rooster rouse mood. Wake-up routine begins.
7:50am: Walk the 2 minutes from my house in the back of campus to the English office, drop off   
               school bag and go downstairs to the morning assembly, until 8:30am.
8:30am: Teach first class.
9:30am: Teach second class.
10:30am: Read book/write in journal/lesson plan/talk with Thai teachers/practice Thai
11:30am: Lunch time! Sometimes complete with coconut ice cream with black beans. A time of  
                 great fun and laughter. My favorite time of day to get to know the other teachers.
12:30pm: Teach third class.
1:30pm: Shadow other classes/edit worksheets/lesson plan/talk with Thai teachers/edit friends
               essays back home/read books/online class work/philosophize with another Westerner
3:30pm: Teach 4th class! TEACHER CLASS (Tutoring 5-6 Thai teachers)
4:30pm: Drop off bag at home, change out of work clothes and into exercise clothes
4:45pm: Play badminton/volleyball with my host teacher or students
5:30pm: Either catch bus (sorngtaew) or a ride 3 miles into Maejo area (a university near me).
               Walk around, interact with my local friends & make new local friends
6:15pm: Decide on something to eat, pay about $1.50 for a full meal, sometimes only $1.00.
6:35pm: Catch a bus back to my house
6:43pm: Confront the guard dogs that guard me from entering my own house.
6:49pm: Safely in the house, lock the door, turn off the lights downstairs, grab a bottle of water
                and head upstairs.
7:00pm:  Shower
7:30pm: Get in bed, read/surf internet/talk to friends/online school work/research Phd
               programs.../watch a movie (rarely)/meditate
9:30-10pm: Asleep.

Life is pretty wonderful. Though through this ‘average’ day schedule, it is important to recognize that Thailand is anything but average. There have been days that finished with impromptu trips to the city to see a friend, or markets or parades or festivals or dinner parties at friends houses or being ‘thai-napped’ to rooftop restaurants and other such crazy adventures. Each day something new happens. Each day I challenge myself to further analyze the world in its’ complexity and discover my purpose, goals and desires. Each day I learn something new.


But, I don’t dance...I don’t even KNOW the dance!



Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the day before I flew to Bangkok, I had the afternoon free and was fully planning on relaxing, packing and getting myself ready for the Thanksgiving adventure with Fulbright friends. Around 2pm, my friend P’Jan told me “Jessye, dance rehearsal at 3pm.” Thinking we would rehearse the dance we had minimally learned the week before at an hour long rehearsal, I happily brought my school bag to the dance room to rehearse for an hour and calculated I would be in my room by 4pm, happily eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. P’Jan was a bit late, having to attend a teacher meeting, so I practiced once with the dance teacher and then read my book.
            “Jessye!! We put on your make-up and costume!! Okay???” The dance teacher, Kru Jum announced to me around 3:45pm, when I was ready to go home and shower & pack.
            “Huh?” was my tactful response.
            “We perform the dance tonight!! It is the Assistant Director’s going away party! So we dress up and put make up and then perform the dance, okay?”

My heart rate quickened instantly and my palms became sweaty. I like dancing in front of the mirror and occasionally at a party/bar, but dancing in front of a crowd, on a stage? Not my thing. Not to mention, I DID NOT KNOW THE DANCE. I had practiced all of three times and am possibly the most uncoordinated person alive. I panicked.

I scolded myself internally: Jessye, you are here to experience new things and go outside your comfort zone! With a deep breath, drying my palms on my skirt, I smiled at Kru Jum and said “Great, what time do we perform and what am I wearing?”

In the following three hours I had: two fake eyelashes, three inches of make-up, flowers in my hair, a traditional Thai costume, borrowed jewelry, and done three dance run throughs. I was anything but ready, but that did not matter as I was escorted to the large assembly hall where all the teachers were seated around large white circle tables feasting.

“Oh Jesssyeeeee!!! So beautiful today!” the teachers oohed and ahhed, several taking selfies with me or pictures of me. I nervously picked at some som-tum (spicy papaya salad) and drank a bottle of water before P’Jan tapped me and said, “it’s time!”

Waiting behind the stage, I could hear the beginning of our song playing. Mind over matter, I told myself and willed myself to remember the moves. Six teachers in matching costumes, myself included, stepped carefully onto the stage in line with our formation. Quietly moving our hands and fingers to the allotted dance routine. When I began to forget a move, I would quickly glance to my left at what the others were doing and copy with a semi-seamless transition. In the back of the large hall I could see my host teacher, Kru Toi, smiling and dancing along to the dance. I willed my nervous heartbeat to slow as I looked around the familiar and unfamiliar faces around the room and silently prayed that the dozens of clicks of the camera in front of me would not end up on Facebook (they did, of course).

Within a few minutes, our dance was done and I sashayed off the stage (on the wrong side I might add) and breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, at the same time I was happy and grinning. I cheered with my group of dancers and we all took a group picture once outside. I did it.

Sometimes, you just have to do it and the result will be better than you hoped. This dance story is how much of my life here in Thailand is, taking chances and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am not always in charge of the plans, I might get to bed to late or miss a Skype date or have a class canceled that I’ve been laboring over a lesson plan for, but in return there is excitement, culture and experiences that are unforgettable. Let your guard down and live a little. 



With a student dancer

With P'Jan, my girl!


Teaching Teachers and Big Changes

Most recently I started a teacher’s class where I teach Thai teachers who have signed up for my course for an hour a week, (I teach three sections). I quite enjoy the different pace of adult learners and small circle style learning. The class period goes by quickly and I enjoy it immensely.

My partner, Ryan has just arrived to Thailand and this will definitely change the alone time I’ve happily breezed through in the past 80 days, but I look forward to the new change and challenges that will arise as a result.

Thanksgiving in Bangkok was a blast and two weekends ago I went to Chiang Rai to see my friend Francesca and we visited this strange Narnia-esque Temple with underworld undertones... very strange.

Narnia aka White Temple

Strange hell images?

Real sweet turkey 

Me & the Exec Director of Fulbright @ Thanksgiving in BKK



Hope everyone has a very happy holiday season and is booking their tickets to Thailand as soon as possible! :)


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Learning how to walk again: Sansai, Chiang Mai


Existing in Sansai, Chiang Mai 
840+ nametags made. 21 introduction lessons.  12 additional lessons. 200 Hand turkeys made with “I’m thankful for” written neatly. 40 hours of teaching. 4 lessons with the Director of the school. What is it? The first 2.5 weeks of teaching at Sansai Wittaykom school. This, coupled with numerous dinner parties, mistakes, laughter, bugs, games of badminton, volleyball and ping pong, trips to Chiang Mai city, festivals, parades, several Skype dates, informal Thai lessons, new friends, fabulous students, minor frustrations and way too much food, has been my life these past two weeks. This has been my life. Sometimes as I start to fall asleep, while the little beetles are crawling on me, I have these strange moments of confusion and then clarity. The first of confusion: am I really here? In Thailand? For a year? The second, that follows is a moment of clarity: yes, I am and not only that, I am meant to be here. It feels right. 

Humans are complex. We contemplate our existence. As a fellow foreign teacher reminded me the other day, this fact sets us apart from other species. We contemplate our existence. What is my purpose for living? Is it to learn? To get rich? To have babies? To get to heaven? To achieve enlightenment? For me, my purpose is to serve & help others primarily. Secondly, to grow and learn continuously until the day I depart from what I know as earth, and third to make meaningful, lastingly relationships and share my existence with people. Our lives are often a series of decisions, some that take longer than others, some that are a split second. One decision can change the course of someone’s life for a lifetime. One application. One plane ticket. One summer. Singular actions, days, even minutes – can change the course of someone’s life forever.

My first trip to Africa was life changing, the others that followed life-changing in different ways. Thailand too, although perhaps not in the same way, definitely has its life changing ways. I’ve already noticed my ability to laugh more at my mistakes, take my time doing things, not rush, try foods I do not want to try, and generally become comfortable with being constantly uncomfortable – both physically (heat, bugs etc) and culturally. My teaching schedule changes? No problem. Bugs in my bed? No problem. Dogs chasing me? No problem. Printer broken? No problem. This is Thailand, as we were told, and as ethnocentric as I first thought that was, the phrase helps me remember to remove my American perspective and to be as open, adaptable and loving as possible. Sometimes I don’t have to remind myself to do this, and other times I notice frustration bubbling and I need to remind myself to be calm. Be calm. Jai yen yen. Keep a cool heart.

I am slowly learning how to walk again. It is a slow dance of mistakes and learning experiences and keeping a smile on.

To Teach, My new favorite sport
The classroom has always been a place of comfort for me. The classroom has varied from a place to expand my own mind and feed my love for learning, to my minimal experiences in teaching non-formally and semi-formally in Ghana and the US, to now my first formal teaching job (although still quite different than what a US teaching job would entail). I have a set schedule, a roster of students, grades to assign and a curriculum to design. Exciting, overwhelming and exceedingly rewarding (though exhausting & challenging at times) teaching these two-plus weeks has been the highlight of life in Sansai for me. My class size varies from 30-42 students. I teach grades 7-12, some once every two weeks for an hour and others twice a week (3 classes). I question my curriculum, my teaching style and am constantly trying to perfect, a non-perfectable technique.  

The hand turkeys I had my students create really put a smile on my face and teaching about Thanksgiving was wonderful; it remains my favorite holiday. Not because of the history, but because of family, love and thankfulness.

Those moments of pure joy with students


The English Office
The English office is a place of comfort, where I sit at a desk of my own, write in my notebook, read, lesson plan, make posters/teaching aids and most importantly practice Thai with the teachers / they practice their English. The relationships I've been creating here are, as always, the most important to me. There are those I connected with immediately and others whom I'm getting to know. All in all, a wonderful experience day to day - very festive. I've yet to buy lunch for myself, because someone always wants me to try something they've gotten!

Kru Toi, my host teacher/mom



P'Jan! Also an English Teacher, we get along great! :)


Let’s light 1,000s of flaming lanterns and set them into the sky! It will be the most beautiful thing in the world, really!
Loy Loy Krathong was this past weekend. Words and pictures cannot truly capture the essence of this stunningly spiritual and beautiful celebration. Camping out on mats for several hours, thousands of people crowded onto a large field. We sat on our mats and waited for darkness to fall. We listened to Buddhist prayers and eventually, after much waiting, we set ablaze a tissue paper and wire lantern (in the right place, on the fuse) and watched as they filled with hot air and rose hundreds of feet in the air. The night was magical, ablaze with lanterns, the sight truly unreal.

Escaping the madness of crowds post the lantern take off was nearly impossible. We climbed through fences, jumped over barbed wire and were stuck not moving in the midst of sweaty people pushing and shoving. Eventually, with the help of my host teacher we made it through and got home safely. It was a truly fantastic evening. (By we, I mean a few other Fulbrighters who came together for the event).

The Lighter Ablaze

Words cannot describe how incredible this was to see.


Setting it off!

Post Take off in the field.


And with that,
Here are some more pictures of my various experiences thus far. This is my life here. Life is beautiful. As I posted recently on Facebook, life is too short to not find happiness in your life. Enjoy things. Positivity will bring about more change than negativity.

Student Smoke Lanterns for Loy Krathong

Angry Bird FISH CAKES

Wat Phra Singh - Stunning!

Loy Krathong Parade!

Adorable Child Photographer

Jessye Kass in Thai! Written at the Temple !



Love you all.
Jessye Kass  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sabai Sabai: It will all be fine...

Despite my general enjoyment of writing, the daunting task of writing this next blog post has had my stomach in knots for over a week. I began writing the night before my departure into the unknown, but with last minute packing and an early wake up, the blog describing the last two weeks in Bangkok did not happen. On Wednesday morning at 4:15am (Tuesday 5pm  EST) I departed my beloved Krit Thai Mansion in Bangkok for the airport with the two other Chiang Mai Fulbrighters.

Bangkok, though not my favorite city, will definitely be missed in these few weeks of adjustment to my new home at Sansai Wittayakom School. The past two weeks included meeting my host teachers at a dinner, a dance performance with elaborate, sparkling costumes and hard to follow stories, massages, a brief Shabbos dinner at the Chabad in Bangkok (yes, there are Orthodox Israeli Jews in Bangkok...I guess I missed Brandeis) a week of practice teaching with 'volunteer' students, and lots of Western food to fill our bellies in preparation for the unknown access in Chiang Mai (I will sometimes refer to this as CM). Now I am in Sansai, slowly acclimating to my new surroundings and home for the next eleven months. 

Trekking into the Unknown
Just a few days ago I was sitting in my hiso (high society) hotel room with AC and hot water. In preparation for the unknown lands of Sansai. I tried to remind myself: be patient, be adaptable, keep smiling - I told myself I would be fine and could handle anything. PTip, the executive director of Fulbright Thailand had told us to accept that with our expectations we should expect to be disappointed. Bangkok did not bombard me with too much culture shock, in fact it did not feel so different to other cities I've inhabited. I was surrounded by 19 other Americans, speaking my language and understanding my cultural references. Now...for something entirely different...

Arrival to Sansai Wittayakom School
Sansai Wittayakom lies on a busy road. My little two-story white house is in the back next to the rice paddy fields. Which apparently I am helping harvest when the time comes. School grounds are fairly large for a high school, but smaller than my university. Not the dirt roads I imagined in my mind, but busy streets that terrify me when crossing. Despite busy roads, there is not a great deal of shops or food around. Though a 25-30 minute walk gets to me to a populated area with open-air food places, street vendors and various shops. Yet, on Thursdays there is a sprawling market place across the road from my home/the school, laden with dozens of delicious looking treats and other slightly less appetizing items that I'm sure I will be talked into testing at some point. I've already been forced to eat fish stomach and congealed pig's blood. I suppose I'm not the intrepid adventurer I thought I was for these foods had me desperately wishing for Annie's Mac N' Cheese.

Kru Toi, my host teacher and Kru Dang, the head of the foreign language department, and truly a second host teacher, picked me up from the airport. P'Noi, a Fulbright staff, came with me the first day and took me around to different shops to get the various things I needed for my house. Though the entry was overwhelming, I'm excited to be here, excited to explore and am slowly acclimating to life in the province (or highway school near a small town?).

Thai Kindness
Already I've been given several free meals, been invited to dinners at teachers homes (and attended one already), been to an English competition at another school, and been checked in on constantly. My host teacher(s) are kind, wonderful women and treat me as their daughter - helping me with every question, qualm and issue to the best of their ability.

Lizards, Flying Ants and Construction
Stepping into my new home on Wednesday I was greeted by several men inside my home as nails hammered and drills drilled. It was not quite the peaceful entry I had hoped for, but I supposed better that they were still renovating the house than giving up on screen doors and such. The house has four rooms - two downstairs & two upstairs. One room upstairs is empty except for a dresser and my room has a twin bed, two desks, a dresser and a mirror table. It is the largest room I have ever lived in and the largest living space I have ever lived in - alone or with 7 other people.

At night, lizards roam my ceiling and keep me company in the eerie quiet with the songs of bugs outside my window wanting to join the lizard party on my ceiling. Small bugs flood to my fluorescent light & small flying ants and beetles share my bed with me, as well as making their way onto my arms and legs, and even in my hair. Some may say, how are you living there? Well, sabai sabai - just go with it, as they say here in Thailand. This is an adventure. Though hard the first day, I am getting used to my amenities (or lack there of). My blue fan sits close to my face and the cold water showers wake me up! Put a smile on - and fake it 'til you make it.

Oh Thailand
There may be language barriers, I may be overwhelmed and my house may not be the house I imagined. But at the end of the day, I have 17 hours of teaching a week, lesson plans to write, free online courses to take, places around the country to explore, friends near and far, in Thailand and abroad, growing and learning to do, a new language to learn and a smile on my face - life is wonderful and I am excited to take each day one day at a time - facing new challenges each day.

Maybe I will even like sleeping with ants by the end of the year. Who knows. Anything could happen. :)
More on teaching Thai students next time.

Sabai Sabai - just go with it, it's fine. :)

Jessye











Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bangkok: Language, Waterfalls, Pad Thai, Goals and of course Hospitals.

My year in Thailand has officially begun...
After 32 hours of painful plane travel I finally arrived in hot, sweaty Bangkok around midnight on Friday, September 27th. It's been a spectacular 18 days thus far.

Currently, I am betwixt and between my intrepid adventure time in the Northern province of Thailand - as I'm currently staying in a Motel 66 type location, ironically called the Krit Thai Mansion, (it's really perfectly nice, just doesn't live up to the name). This month (I leave Oct. 30th for Chiang Mai, San Sai District) is an 'intensive' orientation that includes safety lessons, cross-cultural training, Thai language classes (my favorite!) and practice teaching. Though some days are ridiculously repetitive or common sense, others have provided me with some useful knowledge or a lens I had not yet acquired. Meeting the old batch of ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) who are outgoing has been the most useful thus far, as seeing their journey completed gave me both hope and excitement to get my own year really started. Additionally, it provided very useful information and was perhaps the most realistic toward preparing us - as best prepared as we can be. Truly, there is no way to prepare for the adventures, trials and challenges this year will bring, but each day I become more excited to truly dive into this adventure, more than I already have. 

Weekdays are 9am-4pm orientation activities and weekends are up to our leisure. Which I've spent a balance of cultural activities with new friends and 'Jessye time' where I read, write, draw, walk and get foot massages for $4. Also a bit of weekend traveling most recently (which was awesome). As per usual, I found myself in the hospital already - but I'll explain later.

Consistently I find myself comparing things to Ghana. Which, although useful for me, is frustratingly obnoxious for my peers. This is Thailand and I need to learn it outside the perimeters of Ghana. Let Ghana be Ghana, but be in Thailand and learn it - as best I can. I will do my best. Though comparisons can help when it comes to cultural differences/frustrations, overall I need to let go of preconceived understandings of similarities across 'developing' places and let myself learn a new place and be open to its newness.

Finding my footing in this new place has been challenging, though despite my need to not compare I believe the experiences in Ghana (and Kenya) have helped me adjust. I have not struggled nearly as much as I did on my first trip to Ghana. My cultural relativism skills are fine-tuned and I am able to have a bit of mai pen rai (don't worry/it's okay) about most things that occur in this bustling city.

So...Thailand...
Coconut Ice Cream with Corn & Peanuts

My first 18 days in Thailand: 
Bangkok in 13 semi-coherent thoughts...


1. Bangkok: The City of...: It's difficult to describe Bangkok. At first glance, it looks almost like parts of NYC with a hint of Ghana. When you look deeper, and go to SkyTrain (subway) stops off the main areas you can find less NYC type places, with more culture embedded. Whether it be a sprawling market place, a water taxi, the Grand Palace or other landmarks in Thailand, Bangkok has differences, culture and things to observe, but if you just watch the surface you might be simply overwhelmed by the busy atmosphere and rush hour at all hours.

2. Thai Massages: Painful - and somewhat similar to partner yoga. Have not decided if I will get another full body one. Last time I felt slightly better and slightly in pain. My masseur kept slapping me and saying "relax!" and when she danced across my back holding onto the pole on the ceiling I felt faintly as though a small wheelbarrow was going across my back.

3. Learning Thai: There is a reason I was never in an a cappella group in college - I'm tone deaf. Therefore, attempting to learn a tonal language has thus far proved to be very difficult. However, I will continue to practice. The dips in tone, both high and low, are confusing and I find myself often hearing the same word when in a different tone the words mean something different. I'm looking forward to getting some flashcards and really digging into the language. Language is such a critical aspect of communication, culture and understanding. Without learning enough Thai, this year will be much less enriching and I will not be able to contribute as much.
This is what Thai looks like: ภาษาไทย -- that means the language of Thai I think...
Most recently I learned how to say (not write): "my parents are psychologists" I think that about says it all, ;-)

4. Lack of English: Having spent much of my undergraduate career and nearly all of my traveling in Ghana and Kenya, I naively (and perhaps ethnocentrically?) assumed that Thai English would be at the level that Ghanaian and Kenyan English was. I was wrong. Though I do not believe that English NEEDS to be spoken by everyone, I understand that it does assist in offering opportunities. Despite the industrialized city of Bangkok, complete with subways and Starbucks, English speaking and comprehension ability even in the capital city with tons of 'farang' (foreign) the English is often limited to saying the price in Roman numerals and not a whole lot else. Though I had not expected this, it makes it that much more important for me to master Thai in order to be able to communicate with my community. The level of English spoken by my students will also be significantly lower than I expected, but that is why it is important for me to let go of my expectations and just let come what may!

5. Hospitals! Duh. It would not be my blog without a mention of some sticky situation regarding my health. On Oct 2nd, after being here less than a week I had to go to the hospital. I was well taken care of, but it was painful ear problem (I won't go into details, it's rather disturbing). Luckily I got lots of heavy painkillers and got to have stuff removed from my ears while watching it on the television screen above me that was connected to the microscope! Fevers and three times to the hospital put a damper on my first week, but my fellow Fulbrighters were very kind - especially my roommate who accompanied me twice. Doing much better now but still not supposed to get my ears wet...

6. Thai Food is My Food: The food here is incredible. Lots of times I do not know what I am eating. From fried coconut milk balls with corn in them to grilled squid balls stuffed in bean paste cakes...it all varies. I try most things. Some unidentifiable items leave me feeling ill, but I try it anyways. Though already missing cheese, hummus and fresh veggies, I am immensely enjoying the Thai staples (as well as learning how to order them... in Thai!) 
     Things I've tried: fried orchids, green tea brownies, jellied bean candies, pork buns, fried balls      of octopus, sticky rice with mango, fried rose petals, litchi, jackfruit, fish cakes, pad thai for real!! ... and so much more! 


Vegetarian Festival in Chinatown!! Fried Orchid on left.


7. Temples & Grand Palaces!: I legitimately can not describe the beauty, serenity or detail in the temples and the Grand Palace that I have visited. It was a surreal (and hot & sweaty) experience as we walked around the grounds of Wat Pho temple and Grand Palace on my second weekend here. Truly incredibly. Here are some pictures, but it only scratches the surface at the beauty. I plan to learn more about Buddhism and architecture before my year has ended here.

The Grand Palace

Wat Pho Temple & Buddha from Grand Palace

Grand Palace & Wat Pho



8. Lessons from old ETAS: As I mentioned, seeing the old ETAs was the best part of orientation. It was exciting to see them at the end, some excited to go home and others moving to Thailand and others traveling around for awhile. I enjoyed watching them interact and hearing their stories. It made me incredibly excited for the year ahead. Right now I feel so eager for the year to begin and feel as though the adventure has only just barely begun.

9. 16 people in a 12 person mini-bus that is breaking down: So...we had a three day weekend and took a little trip to Kanchanaburi!! It was 15 of us, which was overwhelming for me size-wise, but still exciting. On the way to the waterfalls (see number 12) we took a mini-bus. With broken AC and two people sitting on top of feet on the floor, as well as slipping down hills with the rusty stick shift van... it was certainly cause for an adventure. But, it got us to the falls and back in one piece, so I really can't complain. It was definitely humorous and cause for some laughs...and screams of terror too.

10. World War II in Thailand - The Bridge over River Kwai: This is a picture on the beautiful bridge over the river Kwai. The bridge/railway track was constructed during WWII and was built by prisoners of war of the Japanese. Though beautiful, the history was a bit horrific and we learned about it more in the Thai-Burma Railway museum later on.


11. WWII Museum: Perhaps the strangest museum I've ever entered ... - though that may not be culturally relative of me, it was hard to follow the winding paths and dripping locations, as well as an organization model that was hard to process. The museum itself was about as run-down as the artifacts themselves, yet this gave it a rather 'real' feeling, yet a slightly creepy one at that. It documented the Japanese-Thai relationship during WWII (among other things).

a showing of the PoWs working on the Thai-Burma railway



Some interesting buildings in this museum

12. WATERFALLS!: On our little trip to Kanchanaburi, after our amazing mini-bus ride, we hiked a (small) but beautiful mountain and saw the most incredible waterfalls. Seven tiers of waterfalls, with the 7th being the most breathtaking by far. From the 5th-7th it was a bit more challenging (and much more slippery) as we walked through water and up slanted, slippery steps or climbed up some rocks. Pictures nor words do it justice - but here are a few!
Mountain View Point - 4th fall

The 7th waterfall. Stunning
7th, 2nd and 5th

13. Projects & Internships & Career Paths & Goals: 
Throughout the past few weeks, as I have attempted to develop friendships with other Fulbrighters, learn Thai, think about lesson plan ideas and ultimately decide what I want to get out of this year - I have made many lists. Monthly goals, yearly goals, letters to myself, internship ideas, career ideas for the future, potential projects to accomplish at my school - and several more. This year is more than teaching English or learning Thai, more than learning a new culture or teaching about my own - though these are the things outlined by my cultural ambassador position, it is more than simply that (of course!). This year is about exploration beyond these things, (though those goals are important, critical even) it is time for me to let myself relax and accept that I do not have my entire life figured out, that I am young and have many passions and intellectual threads that can take me anywhere. This is my time to shine and to develop ideas for my future, to think critically, open up my mind and somehow keep my brain active. It is the time to learn about a new culture with new lens is a way I have not yet done. My main goal this year is to grow as much as possible emotionally, intellectually and beyond. 

Thank you all for supporting me.
With love,

J