Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand! After traveling from both near and far, all 25 of our students have arrived safely! It has been a long day of making trips to and from the airport, but after taking some time to settle in to Joy’s House (our GLA Home Base and our home away from home for the next two weeks) students were given their first taste of authentic Thai cuisine at our first group dinner, followed by an opportunity to try some exotic Thai fruit before heading to their rooms for some much needed rest.
The GLA team at Joy’s House has been working hard preparing for the students’ arrival and trying to fine tune our schedule for the next couple weeks, and we are all very excited to have everyone here with us now. We will be going through an Orientation tomorrow morning after breakfast that will include an introduction to Thai culture, safety and security protocols, highlights of our service learning activities and adventure excursions, and a few other minor details (like staying hydrated in sunny Thailand!). After our orientation, we will be heading to the Sriri Panna Hotel for a lunch buffet full of more delicious Thai food, which should be a fantastic introduction to the culinary delights Thailand has to offer.
Also, a quick note: we have included a few pictures from our airport greetings and a large group picture after dinner earlier today, but unfortunately one student wasn’t feeling very well and was resting during dinner so Kristen Woodworth is not pictured. We want to reassure everyone that our entire group has in fact arrived and they are safe and sound, and we will be sure to post a group picture with everyone pictured for tomorrow’s blog update.
We’ll be getting an early start tomorrow morning so we’ll wrap up this first blog post here. Future blog posts will be authored by our student leaders and will include pictures from our busy days as well so be sure to check back often for updates on all the amazing adventures we are having together in the Land of Smiles! As they say here in Thailand, Khob Khun Krap!
-Keith Wingeard (International Director)
Title: Full Bellies
Greetings from the beautiful country of Thailand! The trip got off to a great start with lots of delicious food and new experiences. Our day started off with a delightful breakfast of exotic fruits, croissants, fried dough, and tangerine juice. After breakfast, we had orientation, which involved reviewing the code of conduct and establishing a solid foundation of Thai culture. Although it was boring at times, we tried our best to make it fun and definitely took a lot away from it. After this, we transported to a hotel where there was an impressive array of Thai food in the form of a buffet. We were all able to try new foods, and by the end we had all eaten our weight in curry and pad thai. We were also introduced to the concept of “bum guns”, a new form of wiping after using bathrooms. You can decipher that yourself (or Google it!)
Following the great food, our full bellies were taken to two different Thai temples. The range of vibrant colors, details, and architectural designs were stunning. We had the opportunity to watch a monk ceremony that took everyone’s breath away.
The best part of the day was the cooking lesson. After being separated into two groups, we explored a market and learned which foods we would soon be cooking with. We then had a few minutes to shop, where most people proceeded to buy pants, smoothies, and other fun goods. The cooking classes then began. Our meal was large, consisting of soup, chicken pad thai, green curry, and mango sticky rice. It was so cool to be able to take simple, fresh ingredients and twist them into a flavorful, authentic dish. You’ll have to ask your son/daughter to cook you a meal when they return (we’re basically professionals now).
The day finished back at home base with some small group sessions and journaling, followed by a large group activity. While everyone is still quite jet-lagged, we are pushing through it together and already making great friendships. We are all very excited to go to the elephant village tomorrow! So far, the trip has been an absolute blast.
-Claire Wright and Peyton Gaughan
We started our third day in Chiang Mai by snacking on a mixed selection of fruits, grains, and pad thai. After filling our stomachs with some local treats we began discussing the finer aspects of the day ahead of us. We then boarded the vans and embarked on a journey through Chiang Mai in pursuit of the Maetaman Elephant Camp. Soon after arriving we climbed aboard the majestic elephants with their mahouts and set out on an adventure through the jungles atop wooden seats. After about a forty-five minute journey through the river and the jungle, we boarded the bamboo rafts and rode down the river and through the lush vegetation of the forest. We quickly ate a locally made meal, made our own paper out of elephant dung, and prepared for the most anticipated activity of the day: bathing elephants. Twelve mahouts led their elephants over to our group and assisted us in mounting the elephants (without a seat). We rode them into the river to bathe them with their mahouts. After a bittersweet goodbye, all of the students began lesson planning for our English as a second language classes. Reflecting back on the day, many GLA students came to the consensus that it was an unforgettable experience in Chiang Mai.
-Liam McCaffery and Hannah Roberts
Title: Service and Suffering
Today was the commencement of our service work at Baan Don Keaw School in Chiang, Mai. It was our first official visit and the purpose of the interaction was to prepare us for our teaching. For many of us, we found it difficult to be culturally appropriate. Thailand has a very modest dressing philosophy, especially for women. In order to respect their standards, our clothing had to be more formal than expected causing a frenzy of nervous activity over cultural norms and what to wear.
When we arrived at the school, we were fortunate enough to witness the traditional Thai morning ceremony which honors many aspects of Thai culture. The students played instruments, participated in Buddhist prayer and paid tribute to the Royal family. The students were playful and enthusiastic making us all feel excited to be their teachers for the next week. When we returned to our home base we created our lesson plans for the upcoming classes.
After a tasty Thai lunch, we gathered at the Wat Suan Dok Temple to have a discussion with a monk about Buddhism and his way of life. His name was KK and as he liked to say “if you forget one of the K’s, there is always another.” KK was enthusiastic and willing to answer any questions we eagerly asked. We all felt the genuine passion he had for his philosophy and humor in his own quirks. Also, many of us admired the story of his journey to becoming a monk. KK explained to us that after he lost both his parents, he entered a period of extreme suffering and grief. Through the guidance of another monk, he found peace and relief from suffering through the Buddhist teachings. Not only did he share his own journey with us, but he wanted us all to know that we too could be enlightened and free from our suffering. After showing us around the beautiful temple, he blessed us and we all walked away feeling forever impacted by his words of wisdom.
It was a day full of new experiences, and one that all of us are going to remember for many years to come.
-Emily Buerkle and Caitlin Quinn
Title: Warm Welcomes
Today we woke up excited about the thought of teaching English at our designated Thai schools for the first time. This thought filled our conversations during our early breakfast as we prepped for the day to come. We were welcomed with warm smiles from both the Thai students and teachers as we entered the class rooms. The first few moments in the class room were nerve racking but everyone soon realized the exhilarating act of teaching. We were all sad to see the vans pull up at the end of the day, meaning it was time to leave, even though we knew we would be back again.
After teaching, we made our way up the very windy roads to Doi Suthep temple, the most famous in Chiang Mai. We walked up hundreds of steps until reaching the vibrant reds and golds of the walls. Within the walls we played a game to discover our fortune and then proceeded to get blessed by a Buddhist monk. It’s easy to understand why so many people travel to Chiang Mai to visit this gorgeous temple.
Next, we drove up a very foggy, almost magical looking road to visit a Hill Tribe village approximately 10 minutes away from Doi Suthep. At first glance, we knew the Hill Tribe would be special. We trekked through gardens, stopping to shoot a traditional Hill Tribe bow, until we reached our final destination, a coffee shop overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. For many, this experience was surreal. The beauty of the foggy vine-laced jungle and lush gardens made us feel like we were truly experiencing the heart of Thailand.
-Madison Botzet & Sydney Van Sickle
Title: Culture Swap
All of us were more confident in our teaching abilities after the first day, allowing us to form more connections with the kids. This also means we were able to teach more successfully. We were greeted by smiling faces ready to learn when we arrived at the school, and left with smiles on our faces. The saddest part was knowing we would have to wait until Monday to teach again.
In the afternoon, we all traveled to a Christian private school for a cultural exchange. We both gave performances and played games representative of our separate cultures. While the Thai students displayed their culture through a traditional dance, we showed our American-Canadian-Chinese pride through the Cha-Cha-slide and a slideshow presentation of the places we are from. GLA students formed connections with students of the same age and differing cultures to form a wider grasp of a world beyond their own.
We ended the night as usual with dinner at Joy’s House and team bonding games including Frogger and Mafia. Everyone is exhausted but ready for the day tomorrow at the Hill Tribe Village or the market! Stay tuned for more updates of our adventures!
-Sophie Klein, Jack Berroug
Title: Ahka Village & Thai Market
This day, for many, was a great day. Half of us went to the Ahka Village that was within the hills of Chiang Mai. It was a sight and a drive that was absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking. While the group was there, they took a tour around the village, got to taste a traditional meal, as well as try on a traditional headpiece that was very common in the community for women. While on the hike around the gorgeous hill view, many slipped and almost fell due to the rain and the mud. The other half of the group went to a very popular market within Chiang Mai. At the market they tried many traditional snacks in Thailand and got to buy a lot of new foods that they might not be able to get back home. A lot of students loved trying the new flavors of the food of Thailand. After both groups came back from their day activities, we all had a large pool party. At the pool party, we played a big game of volleyball and everyone was having a great time. After we played a glorious game of volleyball, we all had root beer floats and headed back to change in order to go to the Duke’s and the night market. The Duke’s is an American food restaurant and many students were excited to finally have food that reminded them of home. After everyone ate the Americanized food, we all went down to the market and had time to buy gifts for friends and family. While at the market, many students experienced fish massages and a majority of them were uncomfortable at first but enjoyed them in the end. After everyone finished their shopping, we all headed home to do mentor groups and everyone expressed how much of a great day they had.
Authors: Alexa Mirchou and Caia Crow
Title: Ahka Village & Thai Market
Today we switched the groups for the Ahka Village and Thai market so we could visit both places. Martyna’s group tried Thai snacks and shopped in the midst of smelly durian and dried squid. Ryan’s group ran down muddy hills in the village and tasted a traditional Ahka meal of rice, tomato sauce, and vegetables. All the ingredients were organically grown and freshly harvested. After Martyna’s group finished shopping at the market, they spent some time at a park in the city. They fed the pigeons and catfish for a good half hour before meeting up with Ryan’s group at the Art in Paradise museum, an illusional art museum in Chiang Mai. The whole group took lots of hilarious photos at the museum. Afterwards, we took a trip to a local spa, where we all got Thai massages. Some found it to be a relaxing experience; some could not stop giggling, and others found it too rough. Nonetheless, we all found it to be an hour worth experiencing. Next we returned to home base and had a delicious dinner at Joy’s House. In the later hours of the evening, we relaxed together by sharing refreshing root beers and watching emotional Thai commercials, humorous short videos, and motivational speeches. Laughter was heard and tears were shed, and finally, the group retired to their rooms, ready to rest for yet another great day!
Authors: Juliet Polaski and Jessica Huang
Title: Muay Thai for the Win!
Today every one woke up with excitement on their faces, because we know that every day will be better than the last. In the morning, the vans picked us up and we were on our way to a new village. We arrived at the Ban Sanpeesua Community Learning Center, where the leader of the community lived and taught local people skills. We toured the community and saw goats, cows, wild black pigs, and thousands of catfish. While we were enjoying the view of the Ping River, we had the most traditional Thai tea and coffee. Then we proceeded to meet the community leaders and they taught us four different kinds of Thai art. Even though the elders did not speak English, we understood them through the universal language of art and creativity.
After arts and craft, we went to Khow Soi Lomduan for lunch, owned by one of our Thai staff’s family. Throughout the whole trip, this was one of the best meals we have had- also the spiciest!
After lunch we went to learn Muay Thai, Thai boxing. We learned how to punch, kick, elbow, and knee. The Thai boxers showed us how to dance in order to show respect to their teachers before competitions. A few students tried to fight with the Muay Thai boxers. Everybody agreed that Muay Thai was one of the highlights of the trip!
After a long day of fun, we arrived back at home base to play a couple of games. We played “Bird and the Perch,” “Wedding Game,” and Karaoke. Then we closed up the night with fireworks!
Authors: Bella Sinelli and Yi (Becky) Xu
Title: Rainy Day Adventures
Finally the anticipation for zip lining day had come to an end as we rode the vans up the winding road to Eagle Track Zip Lining. Before we could zip line, we spent some time planting trees along a rushing waterfall at the finish of the course. Each person got to plant two to three trees, experiencing the joy of making the world a more beautiful place.
Then we got suited up and fitted with helmets to finally use our Gold Zip Lining Package. We split into groups of eight and piled into pickup trucks. Once we arrived at our first station, we were briefed on safety and the technicalities of the adventure ahead. Within no time we were flying over rice paddies and enjoying the views. Throughout the thirty-five station course we completed a mix of lines, rope bridges, and drops. Many people overcame (or tolerated) their fears and ended the course with a forty meter drop. We then ate a quick lunch at the track, where we received certificates and t-shirts.
After a quick stop at home base we piled back into the vans to experience the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai. Using the buddy system we spent three hours browsing, buying, eating, and enjoying the overall atmosphere of the market. Due to the torrential downpour, many students rushed their shopping. Do not worry; we still got some great gifts! After we returned to home base, we got together for nightly mentor groups and discussed our day.
Overall it was a fabulous day with many fun-filled adventures that the rain could not ruin.
Authors: Emma Ungar and Bhavreet Dhandi
Title: Back to School
THE MCKAYLAS SINCERELY APOLOGIZE FOR THE FOLLOWING CONTENT: After a long weekend away from teaching, both school groups were reunited with their classes. We were all extremely eager to get back to teaching the students. The school day went on as usual and there were 3 to 4 groups of classes to be taught. After each school finished eating lunch, we reconvened at home base before setting off to the umbrella factory. Upon our arrival to the factory, the owner proclaimed that we were the first group ever to arrive on time. From there we proceeded with the tour, where we were taught about the making of the magical one-of-a-kind waterproof umbrellas. From there we were brought to paint our own little umbrellas. Once we had finished painting we were able to go to the gift shop, where we had the option to purchase items that we could have custom painted with a drawing of our choice. After spending a lovely afternoon relaxing around the umbrella factory we set off back to base. We then continued our evening rituals of mentor groups and dinner at Joy’s House. After dinner we came back to finish the night off with an all-group activity where we took personality tests. At this time in the night we all came to realize how little time we have left together and in Thailand.
Authors: McKayla Mottola & Mychaela Sullivan
Photo Credit: Claire Wright
Title: Teaching and Bonding
We started the morning teaching at our separate schools. We are all forming bonds with the students and are finding it difficult to have such a short amount of time with them. Teaching the Thai students has been an incredible learning experience for both the students and us.
When we returned to Home Base, many of us felt the stress from packing. After some time to pack/rest, we gathered together to plan for the English Camp tomorrow. We learned some games to play with the students and then split up into separate groups to come up with our own activities.
In addition, we played team bonding games, including the Blindfolded Maze Game, where we learned that it is okay to ask for help. We all ended up enjoying the games, though we were skeptical at first.
After dinner, we discussed ourselves and our futures. We also did an activity called Cross the Line where we embraced our personal struggles and realized that we are not alone.
We all can’t believe that this trip is coming to an end and how quickly time has passed.
Authors: Joyce Wei and Rebecca Goldman
Title: Departure Day
The past two weeks have flown by and we would like to say thank you to everyone for an incredible two weeks together! All 24 of our students were able to board their departing flights and are on their way back home (some have already arrived!). Our group finished up our service with English Camps at the two schools we worked at on Wednesday and then had our farewell dinner on a river boat in Chiang Mai Wednesday night. We shared many laughs and a few tears before saying our goodbyes, but we all have our memories from out time together here in Thailand to cherish. Our team here was privileged to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing young people this summer, and we wish everyone all the best in the future! Thanks for making our GLA experience such a great one!
Authors: Keith Wingeard (International Director)