สวัสดี ค่ะ! <— That, pronounced Sa-wat-dee ka, means hello (and goodbye!) in Thai. Sa-wat-dee is the actual greeting, and ka is the suffix attached to indicate gender. Females use ka whereas males use krab. Additionally, Thai, as one of the oldest Easter Asian languages, is monosyllabic and tonal. The entire meaning of a word is different based on which tone – high, mid, low, rising, or falling – you use. And all of this comes into play when just giving a greeting! It’s clear just from scratching the surface that the Thai language is unique, complex, and is going to be a challenge to use, but I’m looking forward to learning.
Saying hello is just one of the many things I’ve learned as I’ve prepared for my journey abroad. Other tidbits: you can contract very scary-sounding diseases like chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis from contact with mosquitos; you have to mail your actual passport across the country to apply for a visa; and I can, in fact, squeeze all of my possessions into a four-door sedan (I recently made the drive from Nashville to Albuquerque).
To catch you all up to speed, I depart on Wednesday, June 28th (in just 8 days!) to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I will be working with Urban Light, an organization that provides life-changing services to young male victims of human trafficking and exploitation in the region. I will be serving as the full-time Education, Advocacy, and Social Marketing intern. As such, I will be assisting the organization with services and advocacy by teaching English and conducting life skills workshops, managing and maintaining UL’s social media accounts, fundraising, and helping case managers.
The last six months have been filled with tons of general life transition. In December, shortly after I received the Lumos Award, I graduated from Belmont University with a BA in Social Entrepreneurship. In January, I began working full-time in communications at Social Enterprise Alliance, an organization that seeks to equip and empower social enterprises across the United States. And last week, my life in Nashville came to a close (for now!) as I said goodbye to my home, my dear friends, my church, my beloved Chagos, and my team of girl bosses. My dad and I packed up my car and drove across the country to my hometown of Albuquerque, NM, where I’ll be until I leave.
On the preparation front, I’ve booked my flights, downloaded Memrise’s Thai course, volunteered in an ESL classroom, bought way too much travel gear on Amazon (like, do I need six packets of oral rehydration salts? Stay tuned to find out, I guess!), and started reading books like “Working at the Bar: Sex Work and Health Communication in Thailand.” I’ve gotten all the necessary vaccinations, navigated the process for my volunteer visa, ordered foreign currency (the Thai baht) and photos of friends and family, learned how to avoid mosquitos, and stocked up on contact lenses. In short, I am ready to do this thing!
2017 has been completely crazy so far, and it’s about to get even wilder! But through all the uncertainty and insecurity that comes with transitioning into “the real world,” thinking about this journey has always made me feel more like myself than I’ve felt in awhile. I’m sure I’ll have moments of fear and thoughts of what the heck made me think I could do this, but at this point, I feel nothing but excitement and joy. I cannot wait to learn and grow, make new friends, haul my camera and ukulele across the world, serve an amazing cause and organization, focus on my life’s purpose, and learn what it means to truly depend on my faith. I’m even looking forward to the hard stuff: fumbling my way through conversations in Thai, times of loneliness and solitude, and dealing with situations that put my strength to the test.
I can hardly believe it. I’ve been working towards this adventure my entire life, and now I’m actually here, standing on the edge of the unknown, about to dive in.