Sawadeeka (pronounced sah-wah-dee-khaa) from Thailand!
I am currently starting my third week at the Regents International School in Bangkok. So far, I have had an amazing experience and am so happy that Athenian gave me the opportunity to come here! When I first arrived at the boarding house (they do not call them dorms because they are on a British school system), I was quickly welcomed by pretty much everyone, adults and students- this really helped me feel comfortable the following day when I started school. As it turns out, I am the first American exchange student they’ve had which is kinda cool…and a little pressure to represent well! Upon arriving, I was immediately told people would want to practice their English with me but it turns out everyone’s English is amazing. I’ve noticed when people first talk to me, they tend to be slightly apprehensive because they worry that they are saying words or phrases incorrectly. Not only do they speak the language perfectly, it is usually a second or third language for most. It’s impressive to say the least and also really nice to not have a language barrier. Of course, it makes me feel like a slacker really only having a firm grasp on one language!
On my first night in the dorm I also had my first of what has become many outings to 7-Eleven (yes, the little store we barely think about in the US). Who knew?! They are everywhere here and it’s a place students like to go to get snacks and maybe enjoy the air-conditioning because it’s really hot and humid in Bangkok (especially this time of year). I have a great Thai roommate named Eye and we share a surprisingly large (air-conditioned!!) room. All the dorm rooms are air-conditioned but the common areas are not.
The school itself is very different from Athenian—we call our teachers by more formal Mr. and Ms. and we also wear uniforms (which I really like). I was able to select my classes on my first day and was excited they had many different types to choose from: Business, Information and Computer Technology, Design Technology, Global Perspectives (I think we may have some of these, but, they aren’t available to 9th and 10th graders) as well as many others that I have completely forgotten about already. It was a big, interesting list! I’m taking 9 classes but it is surprisingly manageable.
Their school system is very different here as well. They are on the British school system (as mentioned earlier) so everything is taught in English. They are on the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education- years 10 and 11) and IB (International Baccalaureate- years 12 and 13) programs. All of the year 11 and 13 students are stressing out about their upcoming tests. I cannot get over how test based everything is- it seems like I hear “you will need to know this for the test” in almost every class. I’m not at all suggesting this is a bad thing; it’s just different. I actually like that you know you are learning is what you need. The other thing is that the tests are not easy! Today, I took one of the chapter tests for biology (they are all made by the people who write the IGCSE tests) and I barely got through half and guessed on a lot of them. In my defense however, I have not taken biology and the teacher told me that she had only given me topics we had covered in her class (I am kind of questioning that, haha). Luckily, it doesn’t matter too much for me and it’s all about the experience! Whew!
Things are very structured here. A typical day for me includes waking up at 6 or 6:15 by the Gap staff, jumping in to my uniform, which makes mornings MUCH easier, and eating breakfast downstairs (the girls and boys dorms share the dining space). Then it’s off to the bus which is about a 10-minute ride in Bangkok traffic. Classes start promptly at 7:50. Every morning we go to our tutor groups which are basically advisories by grade and house (I am in the red house- I feel like I am at Hogwarts!) for 10 minutes. Then I go to whatever classes I have that day. There are 11 half hour periods in a day but, you will have some classes that take up two hours or half an hour, it just depends…basically, their schedule is more confusing than Athenians. We have a 30 minute break after the first four classes, then lunch after the next four classes, then three after lunch. I am always starving by the time lunch comes because it is later than Athenian’s and they make you wait until it is your grades turn that day. After a full day at school, it’s back to the boarding house where we have some downtime, maybe a trip to 7-Eleven (see, I wasn’t kidding!). At 5 pm, we all meet to do homework in the prep room then dinner at six. After dinner I will finish homework if needed and then have some down time. I cook fairly often although it is difficult because there are only microwaves and stovetops…but I have introduced some of my new friends to s’mores. I go to bed at 10 every night because that is the time the boarding house ‘makes’ us go to bed, but, they are not too strict about that. Then I wake up and do it all over again!
I have been able to see some notable sights in Thailand so it’s not all school all the time! I was able to see some things with my parents before they dropped me off and also skipped school (don’t worry, it was approved!) and went on a day trip with a staff member to see more sites. I have had the opportunity to see quite a few temples- there are SO many temples! I have been to The Grand Palace (their most famous and insanely crowded temple), What Pho (reclining Buddha), and What Arun. Chinatown is a must see and almost hard to describe- it is crazy, especially at night. There is a market running through the area and tons of street food with a giant mass of people, cars and scooters. You have to pay attention or you can get run over! By the way, everything is very inexpensive here which is a bonus! On the weekends there will be planned boarding trips to a nearby mall or market. Malls are a big deal in Thailand, they have huge movie theaters, tons of activities and shopping and are generally much nicer that ours in the US. I almost never go to malls at home, but, in Thailand we go once every one or two weeks…. As a fun fact, at the movie theatre, they stand up for the king and listen to the national anthem out of respect (I learned this when I saw Avengers). A few other notables –when I was in Chang Mai (northern Thailand) with my parents, we visited an elephant sanctuary where we fed and bathed the elephants. It was a little bit stinky and dirty, but, totally worth it! Probably the best thing we did there was cook an authentic dinner with a local family. I plan to duplicate that when I get home.
Although there are many differences in the Thai culture and definitely in our school systems, I am learning a ton every day and appreciating what sets us apart but also makes us alike. I have loved every minute of my exchange so far and am so happy that I have several weeks still ahead. Sawadeeka!