Thailand 2000, An AFS Experience of a Lifetime
by Dr. Barbara Y. Wills
I had known about the AFS Educators Programs for many years, but had never found a summer that I could devote over a month to the same project. Early in the year, I decided that this was the year for me to apply. I did so to China. However, AFS felt after reading my application and resume that possibly I was better suited to go on the program to Thailand. It took a couple of days for me to agree to the change.
As it turned out, fate must have had a hand in this change because several very spectacular things happened that would have been impossible in China. Among those were the meeting with three former AFSers to the USA and the Miss Tennky AFS Area Leadership Team in Bangkok during the first several days of my visit. The other was the opportunity to serve as the surrogate mom to the US Marine Recruiter of my high school at his wedding in Korat on the day before I left. These events framed the many that were planned by the AFS Clubs, our three host families and the many educators and AFS volunteers who went all out to make our stay memorable. This is not also to speak of my wonderful traveling companion, Virginia Livingston, from Houston, Texas.
Virginia was an excellent partner. We seemed to mesh well with each other. She is a primary teacher in a private school and I am a professional counselor in a public high school in Nashville, Tennessee. We did not always agree on issues, but we did bring many different ideas to the Thai educators and AFS Volunteers.
We began and ended our Thailand travels in Bangkok. Traveling throughout Thailand by overnight trains , bus and cars to Ubon Ratchthani, Chiang Mai, Lamphun , Pattaya and Korat were expereiences within themselves. I believe the two always to be remembered events took place while traveling. One on an overnight train soon after we arrived and the other several days before leaving while driving with the sister of the bride to be from Bangkok to Korat. I managed to drop from the top bunk on the train, but my right hand managed to keep hanging on as I was coming down the ladder to use the rest room at 2:00 AM. The results was a ripped muscle in my right arm.
The other event was on what should have been a three hour car ride to Korat that developed into an eight hour ride. We left on Friday at 9:30 PM as it appeared everyone else in Bangkok also did. It was the weekend of the Queens birthday which is also celebrated as Mothers Day. Everyone goes to visit their mother as it is a long weekend. The only way I can describe it is that it was as close to the descriptions of what it is like to be in an entourage going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Every truck, bus and car was full of people as was ours. Everyone was driving as fast as they could when we were not going at a snail's pace. When we stopped for a restroom break, we had to stand in line behind about twenty people. I did more praying on this night than all of the rest of the trip put together. I really had my doubts that I would ever get to Korat without some major injury. At 5:30 AM, we finally arrived safe and sound.
We were not allowed to pay for anything. We spent our days visiting schools in the areas where we were staying. Usually, we spent most of the day teaching classes. Sometimes we were together and other times we did separate activities. We developed quite a great teaching team focusing primarily on Texas and Tennessee and how they are alike and different as compared to Thailand. We also spent time viewing their schools prize projects and discussing educational problems in the USA and Thailand. We were lucky enough to get to see almost every kind of public school in Thailand. This included the deaf and blind schools and the school for the at- risk students. In many areas, no foreigners had ever visited their schools. It was the students and educators first opportunity to interact with foreign visitors and they went all out to show their appreciation. Pencils, stickers, pins, etc. were taken to share with the students. We gave each of the schools visited a book on Texas, an American Flag and AFS pins.
Several schools also received the Tenneessee Blue Book. Over twenty-five schools shared their programs with us. We appreciated the generosity of State Senator Joe Haynes, Mr. Georges Daaboul of Crest Cadillac, and Mr. David Duncan of Jack Daniels who helped supply materials that could be shared with the Thais.
In the after work hours, we visited festivals, temples wats, bazzars, and every historical site they could find to show us, plus ate, ate and ate the most delicious food possiible at very place imaginable. This included on the street, in private homes and in four star hotels. Our host families were diverse, open and friendly. The generosity of the Thai people overflowed into our suitcases. It was difficult to get all of the many tokens of appreciation back home. Our commendations go to the Thailand AFS International Office and their staff for their planning and execution of a trip of a lifetime that will never be forgotten by this AFS volunteer. I can only recommend to any of you who are adventuresome and want to be treated royally that you sign up now for one of the many new programs that is being offered by the AFS Educators Program in the future. You may contact Helen Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org. Programs for the future are summer, semester and year programs in Argentina, Spain, Mexico, South America, China and Thailand. AFS can also help American schools obtain exchange teachers at no charge to their schools for semester and year programs.