#NatGeoStudentExpeditions Thailand Community Service

My trip to Thailand with National Geographic was the best 17 days of my life. I learned so much about myself, the people I traveled with, the students we taught, and Thai culture. And on top of that, Thailand was absolutely stunning. Yes, the traveling was exhausting–it was a 15 hour flight from New York to Hong Kong then another 2.5 hours to Thailand and a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai–but flying for that many hours was so worth it.

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Playing volleyball with the kids

The main purpose of the trip was teaching primary school students English, which took up the first week of the trip. I never would have expected how hard yet rewarding teaching is. The first day was especially difficult because we didn’t know how much English the kids would know and because each group was at a different skill level. After we made it through the first day of teaching, the rest of the week was a breeze in comparison. We tried to make our lessons as engaging as possible so the kids would have fun and learn English at the same time. The first graders especially loved “Let’s Go to the Zoo,” and everyone loved drawing the words they were learning. At the end of the week, we had a dance party with all of the kids in the cafeteria, then we had to say goodbye. That day showed me that I want to be a teacher. I never would have expected to have formed such a strong connection with kids who can barely communicate with me: nearly everyone in our group was crying, including some of the sixth grade boys. I will never forget how genuine, enthusiastic, and engaging these kids were.

Rice Hike

The following weekend, we drove up to the mountains surrounding Chiang Rai and stayed at a guesthouse with nearly no internet connection. (Audrey screamed when she found out there were no outlets in the bedrooms.) In the morning, we took a short hike to the rice fields (pictured above), which was beautiful. The sun beating down on us, backs sore from bending over, we planted rice for an hour or so. The work was hard, but it was an educational experience that makes me appreciate rice more. Every stalk of grass that you see in the picture grows a single grain of rice. (I repeat, a SINGLE grain!) I will always appreciate every bit of rice I eat from now on. Not only were the rice planters going much faster than we were, they were not complaining at all! I admire their willpower and hard work.

Waterfall Hike.JPG

Around lunchtime, it began to rain, so we relaxed in the dining area while reading, sketching, listening to music, journaling, and/or drawing for an hour or two. We later went on a longer hike, which was also absolutely stunning even though we thought that we would be able to swim in the waterfall at the highest point in the hike (*cough cough Jay*). It was amazing to see the setting sun light up the cornfields on the way back. The view and the experience made the hike worth it. After we returned, we had a well-deserved dinner of homemade pizza and dessert for Chloe’s birthday. We played games to finish off the night and went to bed.

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The Blue Temple
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Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

The last week of the trip was filled with lots of adventures. We taught at another school, which was an absolute disaster: we couldn’t seem to control the kids, and it rained when we were halfway done with painting the playground. My favorite activities were Muay Thai boxing (shoutout to Jay, Hannah, Kate, and Adayan), visiting the Blue Temple with Thai high school students, and feeding and bathing elephants at Elephant Nature Park. I’m grateful that this trip gave me more knowledge about Buddhism because now I want to do more research about it, and I might convert to Buddhism, too! Muay Thai was a great mood-booster because of the endorphins and because I just thought about the person I was most frustrated with (it was Donald Trump both times). Going to Elephant Nature Park was a wonderful way to end the trip. The elephants were BEYOND adorable and so gentle despite how big they are. (I couldn’t even imagine how big an elephant was before seeing one in real life.) Elephants are definitely my favorite animal now.

Even though I was excited to see my family, I was so sad to leave the group. I am so thankful that I was able to go on this trip. Even though the purpose was teaching children, I definitely learned more than the kids did. I will never, ever forget this experience. Thank you to everyone who came on this trip with me for being so supportive, making me laugh, and being so inclusive; thank you to my parents for supporting my decision to go on this trip and providing the means for me to do so; thank you to all of my family and friends for keeping in touch with me and making sure I was doing okay on the trip. I did much, much better than okay because of all of you.

What’s the best place you’ve ever visited?

Sara ❤

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