The Start of an Unforgettable Journey
After treacherous hours in flight to Chiang Mai from around the world, all 19 students arrived at the GLA home base. To start the first day, we introduced ourselves by playing “getting to know you games.” While interacting and having fun with our new friends, we learned the importance of team building and Thai culture.
Throughout the first couple of hours, we had orientation, letting us know the proper greetings and dress of the Thai culture through the many skits that were acted out. Shortly after, we travelled to a nearby restaurant, Siripanna, to experience our first Thai lunch of the trip! After a long and fulfilling lunch, where we also got to know each other and eating new foods, we travelled to the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. There, we were taught the traditional way to pray in Thailand to The Buddha; also learning facts about the Buddhism faith and monks in particular. Very intrigued and enlightened to learn, our experience did not end there, but we then travelled to another nearby temple in Old Chiang Mai.
All of us then walked to a nearby Thai market to learn about the vast ingredients that are used to prepare a classic Thai meal. After learning about the ingredients used, all of us put our bodies to work and cooked our own dishes! By the end of the night, we were so full and tired, that the night ended with a shortened, but inspiring mentor group, which brought us even closer together from the memories just previously made during our first day in Thailand. Our first thoughts of Thailand were nothing of what we had already experienced in one day, and we are looking forward to the next three weeks of our journey in Thailand!
Authors: Anna Kosirog, Robert Thomas
Date Written: July 4, 2015
Yesterday was super fun!! Everyone in our group specifically mentioned elephants as a reason for choosing to visit Thailand, so we were all quite excited. After breakfast at the hotel, we rode for about an hour to reach our destination, an elephant camp. We started off by riding elephants in a make shift seat atop the elephants in pairs. We rode the elephants, along with the mahout around the camp. Traditionally, a newborn elephant was paired with a young child, his mahout, or trainer. The two grow up together and become virtually inseparable. The trek included a walk through the forest on a hill, past the mahout’s homes and a wade through the river alongside rafters. We then switched places with the rafters, taking a turn on the bamboo rafts and being pushed along the brown river, almost close enough to touch the legs of the slow moving elephants. The raft ride, although very hot beneath the bright sun, was quite relaxing. We even got to wear traditional Vietnamese hats and take turns pushing the raft along with long bamboo poles. When the ride ended, we had lunch at the camp buffet.
After we ate, one of our guides for the day took us to an area where we learned how to make paper out of elephant poop. We then each got to take turns dipping mesh metal squares into poopy water, attempting to make a layer of poop that would become paper when it dried. That’s when we got to what we all considered the BEST part of the day, elephant bathing!!!!!! Some of us got to ride the elephants down into the river. We then got to bathe the elephants alongside their mahouts. The baths got messy when the elephants sprayed water from their trunks into the air. We brushed them and splashed them (and each other) with the water. It was a marvelously unforgettable experience!!!!!! After the bath, we rode the elephants bareback back up out of the river. We then had another chance to take photos with the magnificent creatures. They were trained to carry people with their trunks, and to kiss and hug them. We were sad to have to leave, but when we went, it was with new and amazing memories.
Authors: Alaina Scott and Emily Alcaraz
Date Written: July 4, 2015
Happy Fourth of July everyone! After a long and windy journey, a few sick troopers, and 237 stairs, we finally arrived to our destination of the most famous temple of Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. We were lucky enough to be blessed by monks, take a tour, receive our fortunes from Buddha, make wishes to a lucky elephant and see the most amazing view of Chiang Mai, from the mountaintops. So, although the journey was difficult it was worth it every step of the way as we were reminded of the spiritual story of why the temple was built there… the story is that monks placed small statues of Buddha on the backs of a few elephants and let them wander freely, stopping three times and then one last time at the top of the mountain where they stopped to die. The monks believed that this was a message from Buddha – that he had chosen this place for the most glorious temple of Chiang Mai. After trying the famous family recipe of one of our Thai mentors, Pee A, Khao Soi, we explored the hill tribe village where we were introduced to a unique culture and view as well as a vibrant garden as we sipped our ice coffees from the ‘Family Coffee Shop’. This name was truly fitting as we are truly becoming a family here. After the treacherous path back to base-camp, we celebrated the 4th of July with an awesome pool party complete with fun games, American classics, root beer floats, soda, pizza, chicken nuggets, and fries. At the end of this already perfect day, we were surprised by our thoughtful mentors with fireworks and sparklers. Ironically, although we’re in Thailand, we can all agree that this 4th of July was one of the best we’ve ever had!
Authors: Mathilde Sarfas & Hannah Berzinis
Today we went to another Temple, which was called Wat Umong. Stairs led up to an ancient Pagoda and a beautiful view. One section had tunnels with multiple prayer sections. There was a lovely lake near the Pagoda where we were able to feed the catfish and pigeons, it was wild!!! Near the lake there was a legit sitting area where we saw hella turtles. Post lunch was Muay Thai Boxing. We got to punch the hands of strong men. We learned techniques such as left right punches, upper-cut, and kicks. Then Robert and Ally got in the ring with Pup, a boxer at the place, and they beat him to a pulp. Later that night we went to the Sunday market. Sunday is a very chill day for Thai. The market was swarming with people but we managed to scoop up some pretty cool souvenirs. We came home after a well spent day, participated in mentor groups, and then went to bed. Here are some pics below!! J
Authors: Ally Ghizzone and Jacquelyn Lochner
Date Written: July 5, 2015
Fun Day – July 6, 2015
To start, we went to the community leader’s site. While there we watched a short video on the background of his community. Next, we fed cat fish and went into a goat pen. We all held baby goats that were really cute and took tons of pictures. Soon after, we learned how to make traditional Thai crafts from Thai elders. To do this, we split into four stations with a different craft at each. The first craft was making a flower bouquet out of banana leaves. Then we learned how to make beautiful paper jellyfish from different pieces of tissue paper. Thirdly, we made a baby fish toy called ‘pla’ out of coconut leaves. Lastly, we made little booklets out of elephant poop paper.
All the elders were very kind and helpful. For lunch we went to P’ Aey’s grandmother’s restaurant and the food was delicious, especially the spring rolls. Then we went to the orphanage to paint two different buildings, a girls’ dorm and a common area. Although we had a lack of organization and supplies, we still had fun and are continuing the work this week. After that we went to dinner at Joy’s House where the food was good and as always the boy band was fun to watch. Thank you for reading our blog post!
-Camryn Borman and Jessie Serbee
Title: A Day Full of Smiles (July 7th)
To start the day off we went to meet the children at the local school we will soon be teaching at. We got to witness their morning routine which included: a student band singing and playing the National Anthem, reciting and learning English and Chinese vocabulary, and the younger students respecting the older students. Then we went on a school tour and had the opportunity to talk with some of the kids.
After lunch we returned back to the orphanage to continue our paint job from the previous day. We all agreed we made more progress today than yesterday by being more organized and efficient.
Three hours of painting later the children came home from school delighted to see the work we had accomplished. We had the privilege of being able to spend an hour and a half to bond with the kids living there by playing games such as soccer and badminton. The children were so excited to spend time with us, we felt the same. Everyone feels like we connected with the children and were able to start friendships. We can’t wait for the next time we get to spend time with the wonderful children we met.
It was a great day and we are all excited for many more!
Authors: Reagan Harrigan and Livi Plesent
Title: Crafts & Friends (July 8th)
Today, we went to see elephant sculptures at the Baan Jaang Nak. The elephants were intricately carved and beautiful. It was a great opportunity to see such amazing work happen right before our eyes. On top of all that, there was a cute gift shop that allowed us to purchase things such as the carved elephants that we had seen earlier. They were perfect gifts in many ways.
Next we went to the Borsang Umbrella center where we got a tour of the process that goes into making the umbrellas. We learned that it was a fourteen step process with many small details that would take a lot of skill that many of us could never imagine having. After the tour, we got to paint our own mini umbrellas and got the chance to have our phone cases or shirts painted by skillful and talented locals. We sat VIP for lunch and had delicious food.
Finally, we had the humbling experience of painting an orphanage which has progressed drastically since the first day we arrived. While painting we were able to learn more about one another and bond through sweat and laughter. We are excited to see the final product of the orphanages and the smiles on the orphans’ faces when they see it! J
Authors: Erin Resciniti & Mizuki Ihara
Title: Hill Tribe and Painting (July 9th)
Here is what was on the docket for today: visiting our second hill tribe village and our fourth day of painting at the orphanage.
The hill tribe village was an Akha village. The Akha people are one of the many groups of indigenous people in Northern Thailand. Many of the people who lived in the village were so indigenous they didn’t even consider themselves Thai; they were descendants of Tibetan immigrants from generations ago. They lived a very simple and quiet life up in the serene Thai mountains. They all lived in small wooden, straw and sometimes metal huts that housed up to ten family members in a given period. Growing and harvesting opium was the main source of income for the Akha people for many years, but, as it has been outlawed by Thai government, is no longer a major part of Akha culture. We discovered that the wealth of a given Akha man was not measured in his amount of opium but rather how much salt he had. After our tour of the village, we had a traditional Akha meal at the house of our tour guide, Nitti’s, mother. We ate on massive banana leaves on the floor and had banana flower soup, rice, and an Akha version of pico de gallo.
After this, we went to the Asia’s Hope Foundation Nimit House to continue painting the girls’ dorm and common house. The weather provided optimal painting conditions as it was very cool and slightly rainy. We worked from 1 to 4 p.m. and were able to greet the kids home after a full day of school. We can’t wait to finish our work and play with the kids tomorrow.
Authors: Natalie D’Amico and Canning Malkin
Title: Strong Friendships
Today, we visited Chiang Mai’s first market located in the old city where we tasted different Thai delicacies in crowded, narrow streets. Though we woke up quite late, the variety of scents at the market were quite overwhelming and we were particularly surprised when we saw turtles and birds being sold! We enjoyed the mango sticky rice and coconut dumplings, a Thai favorite.
After a tiring morning, we headed to a small mall for a quick lunch before continuing our service at Nimit Foundation. Today, our highlights were completing both the houses with a full coat of yellow paint, which we were extremely proud of. It was a very productive afternoon, and our reward was reuniting with the children from the orphanage that we had bonded with. The happiness and genuine joy on their faces made us proud of our impact on the community and we felt accomplished. We have created strong relationships with these children and even though we may live across the globe, kilometers away from each other, they have a very special place in our hearts. Although it was heartbreaking to say goodbyes, and we wished we had been given more time to play with them, we will cherish these memories. This has helped inspire us to volunteer in the future.
Authors: Avisya Kumar and QiJia Zeng
Title: Bittersweet Goodbyes
Today was full of mixed emotions for us all. We started the morning off at Baan Mon Fai (a Thai cultural museum) with thirty-eight of the Nimit Foundation children. There we learned about ancient Thailand and the once thriving Lanna Kingdom. We got the opportunity to try on traditional Thai dress that ranged from various periods of Thai history. We happily sampled Thai appetizers in a market style setting and bonded with our “buddies” from the orphanage. Our snacking was followed by a traditional Thai dance lesson and meal. We ate cultural foods on the floor around circular tables in our authentic garments. Many of us then purchased fruit smoothies and Thai teas from a coffee shop in the museum.
We departed from the museum and headed off to the Nimit foundation where we spent our last moments with our new found friends. It was a bittersweet feeling for all nineteen of us. Watching the children run around and play in their newly painted home brought smiles to all of our faces. However, these smiles soon turned into frowns as we said farewell and drove back to home base. It was difficult to watch the children run up to our vans in smiles unaware that this would be our final goodbye. Leaving the children we got so attached to was upsetting, but when put into perspective, worthwhile. The project brought a sense of emotional growth to many of us, realizing luck was the only thing that prevented us from being in their shoes.
The night took a more uplifting turn. We gathered in the library and played birdie on a perch and the Thai wedding game. We concluded with an epic karaoke/dance party and headed to bed after our long day.
Although it was difficult to see light in the darkness we felt, we concluded that the emotional strains were only results of our personal growth through service and the unbreakable bonds we formed.
Authors: Jess Gedallovich and Canning Malkin
Title: Peace Out
Unlike most days, today started off an hour later which gave us the extra hour to recuperate from the past two weeks. Jumping right into our day we headed off to an adventure quite different from the rest…zip lining, rope courses and even fast-paced repelling. Half way through when we thought the end was near, we were faced with another challenge to overcome. The rain didn’t stop us there. The other half way back, soaking wet, was a pleasant gift considering the heat. After landing from the death-defying 40 meter drop, tree planting with thorns and needles awaited. Although painful at times, it was an experience worth having. After planting a forest of trees, the rest of our day continued back at home base where we then learned many pleasant facts about our wonderful mentors and director. Learning things we may not have known broadened our horizons for upcoming experiences we may have. Although today was more chill than most, it allowed us to become closer to our peers as well as take the time needed for our mental well-being. To end the day with such heat, our pool party was much needed while then planning our English lessons for the next day/week to come.
Authors: Erin Resciniti and Anna Kosirog
Title: Pain and Pleasure
The past two weeks in Thailand have been an amazing experience, and today brought another new and, exciting adventure for us: Teaching English! All of us were very nervous and anxious to teach; as we have never done so before. After preparing lessons, making proper corrections, and practicing countlessly; we put our minds to the test and taught for the first time today. There were three sessions throughout the school day, each an hour long. Two sessions were going at one time, while the rest of the students observed their peers, or took a break in the teacher’s lounge. The grades taught were first through sixth. Directly after the third session, we breaked for lunch. We conversed and shared our experience teaching the Thai student’s, and while doing so, learned new tips to improve our skills. We left the school and drove to the “Art In Paradise” museum in Chiang Mai, where we took pictures in the three-dimensional sets. It was a unique and creative experience that no one has ever been to before! We left the museum to have an authentic Thai massage! Many of us shared strong opinions on the experience, varying from relaxation to ultimate pain… but it was an opportunity that will never be forgotten. We came back to the home base to have dinner at Joy’s House, and then finished with mentor groups. All in all, the day was filled with fun and, pain for some, but it doesn’t beat the fact that we’re in Thailand!! All of us are excited to continue teaching tomorrow, and see where the remaining days take us in this beautiful country.
Authors: Emily Alcaraz and Robert Thomas
Title: Touch of ‘Murica
This morning we had our second day of teaching. Like yesterday, it was a great experience. In some of our classes, we taught subjects such as weather, countries, numbers, colors, ABC’s and etc. It’s amazing how quick the children catch onto the material including the littlest of kids. After the teaching, we went to a Thai museum. While there, we learned about what makes Thailand how it is. Next, we went to an American restaurant called Duke’s. This was our touch of America J. We loved it! Some of the foods included pizza, ribs, Caesar salad, mac ‘n’ cheese, and Buffalo wings. The desert was amazing. It included a brownie with vanilla ice cream on top with whip cream and of course a cherry on top ;). After this, we had an hour in the night bazaar which was full of adventure. Some of us got our feet eaten by the little fish which is illegal in the United States. Others had a full on shopping spree. Watch out parents: we might not have any money when we come home!! To end the night, we had a surprise party for Alyssa and Jacquelyn as it was Alyssa’s birthday and earlier in the trip Jacquelyn’s. It was a lot of fun and the cake was delicious!
Thanks for reading our blog post J
Authors: Hannah Berzinis and Camryn Borman
Title: Monk Chat
Today was our third day of teaching. Overall we felt like we all had improved as teachers and leaders. Everyone spent time observing other classes and giving feedback so we could all improve. We all have made great bonds with the children and will be sad on the last day of teaching. This experience has inspired many of us to consider this as a career. After a tasty lunch we headed to a monk university with a really long name that was hard to pronounce. We got to spend time chatting with the Monk and asking him questions. We learned that the Monks are very accepting and you can become a monk even if you are a woman, or were once married. After learning tons about Monks we got to have a nice day in the park. There was exercise equipment that we all enjoyed using and realizing that we aren’t that fit. There was also a basketball court where some of us played ball. Then we got a taste of a fruit named durian. The locals love it but most of us hated it. We were lied to about the fruit. We were told that it just smelled bad, but that was not the case. It also tasted bad. Only two people in our group thought it was alright. Anyways, we are all super excited for our next day of teaching. Thanks America. Bye.
Authors: Avisya Kumar and Jacquelyn Lochner
Today was our fourth day of teaching. We each taught our own classes for an hour, and audited another class for an hour. We were all sad because it was one of our last days of teaching, but were excited for the cultural exchange later. After lunch, we went to Prince Royal’s College and met many high school students there. We all sat together and shared our name, ages and where we were from. Then, some Thai students showed us a traditional Thai dance. We showed them a powerpoint on where we were from, and each gave a fact on our state/country. We also sang ‘This Land is Your Land”, and showed them the Cha Cha Slide, getting many involved. Then they introduced us to a game called Snake which is a huge game of rock paper scissors. We had a blast!
We then got a tour of certain parts of the school, which was extremely nice in some parts. It was interesting to see the difference between the school we taught at, and PRC. The school we taught at had minimal supplies, and couldn’t finish building a library due to insufficient funds. But some GLA students donated money to help finish the library, while PRC had a huge planetarium, excessive amounts of supplies and a media center.
When we got home, we ate dinner at Joy’s house, and played a game with their staff. It was a fun but tiring day in which we formed many friendships and memories.
Authors: Jessie Serbee and Alaina Scott
“The End of our ‘Thaime’ Together”
After a late night of partying, we prepared ourselves for our last day together. We spent the morning at a lake, finishing up our Olympic Games, laughing and screaming. To relax after such a crazy morning, we went to a mall for lunch to eat our emotions (and our own body weight in ice cream), play at an arcade, and indulged in some retail therapy.
After some sad Thai commercials and videos, we had our final mentor groups. Here, we shared our last highs and lows of the day and the trip, telling each other how much we appreciated one another and our time together. We all put on our best clothes, did each other’s hair and make-up and went to our farewell dinner at a beautiful Thai restaurant. After endless pictures and photo-shoots, we gave each other face-massages because our cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
After an awesome dinner of memory-recalling, story-telling and plan-making, we headed back to the home base for final group activities. We played dancing games, cried watching a slideshow of all of our photos from these past weeks, made each other feel good playing a statement game where we anonymously tell each other how we feel about one another and shared final words about our experiences.
Filled with laughter, tears, sweat, hugs, today was our last day together and although we are sad to leave Thailand and each other, we leave knowing that we all have grown into more mature, open-minded, independent leaders.
Thank-you to our awesome mentors, Keith, Ryan and Martyna, and GLA, for an amazing and life-changing experience.
-Mathilde Sarfas, QiJia Zeng