December 4, 2020

Step out of your element and onto an elephant

At work, I was wearing a pair of sunglasses. A teenage girl, no older than 16, exclamatorily said, “Oh, my God! Those are so cute! Where did you get those from?” I calmly replied, “In Thailand.” She gave me a dumbfounded look and asked, “What’s that? The new store over by Nordstrom?”

Seriously? I couldn’t do anything but laugh and explain it was a country in Asia, if she had ever heard of such a place. She didn’t understand why I would ever go to this far away land of Thailand.

People are always confused as to why I would go to a country so far from the great U.S. of A. Why would I go to a country so strange and unknowing? Why would I go to a country whose capitol is Bangkok, a city thought of as hosting scenes from “Hostel” or “Taken?”

Both of those films were set in Europe — you hipsters love the irony, I’m sure. What would a place like that have to offer some young female from St. Louis, other than potential kidnapping?  I went to Thailand almost to spite these stereotypes. I had to prove Thailand had more to offer than a bunch of dangerous nonsense.

A majority of Webster’s study abroad options are in Europe. In my eyes, the option between Thailand and other European countries was a no brainer — studying in Thailand offered the opportunity to go somewhere I would be completely out of my element. The stories of friends who had gone sounded like experiences I would never have the chance to encounter anywhere else, or at any other time in my life. Why wouldn’t I go somewhere that had unimaginable opportunities such as riding elephants, cuddling tigers, seeing incredible royal palaces, sunbathing on the most gorgeous beaches known to man and have Webster give me a scholarship for the complete cost of my round trip? Of course, I was going to Thailand over any country in Europe. I’d have plenty of opportunities to travel all of Europe later in life, but I may never have the chance to live in Thailand ever again.

So I went. I took my scholarship, got on an airplane for more than 20 hours and I landed in the busiest and strangest city — Bangkok.

One of the most impressive things about Thailand was how friendly and welcoming everyone was to all of us study abroad students. It’s not called “The Land of Smiles” for nothing.

The university population there is small, so it’s a very tight-knit community among staff and students. That didn’t stop them from welcoming us with open arms. The friends I became the closest with, besides other students from St. Louis, were the girls who grew up in Thailand.

My time there would not have been as worthwhile without them. Alongside the university, my Thai friends organized more than half of my trips.  We visited a small, beautiful river town called Amphawa. All of the houses, markets, home stays and restaurants were directly on the river.

The town is also known for its glorious amounts of fireflies at night. We took a boat tour down the river to see all the trees off to the side lit up by fireflies. This town, without the help and organization of our friends from Thailand, would have been completely off the map for us, as well as many other trips we took.

You can study in Thailand and find new adventurous things to do without ever leaving the country. The islands on every coast are just as breathtaking as the next.

The country is built on history and tradition, so you will never run out of palaces to see, temples to visit, festivals to attend, caves and mountains to explore. The Thai New Year happens every spring and consists of country-wide water fights in the streets for a week straight. Every fall there is the festival of lights. Every month, a southern island, Koh Phangan, hosts a Full Moon Party. The beach of the entire island is full of people dancing and going crazy.

I plan on going back later in life to explore parts of Thailand I didn’t get a chance to see the first time around, and even after that, there will still be more to explore.

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