When my 13-year-old daughter Rachel asked if she could go to Thailand for a month, I was a little shocked. She had been the one to hide behind me and not speak, and now she wanted to travel halfway around the world for a month? Well, what is a mother to do? So, I let her go.
This great experience would not have been possible without the dedication of former Windsor Charter Academy middle school principal Julie Claeys. Claeys had been a teacher at the International school in Thailand for five summers and brought the idea to the WCA board to have an exchange program with its eighth-grade students. After much planning and translation, the exchange program was implemented to begin in April 2013. With this date set, it was time to begin planning for several Thai students to come to Colorado and attend WCA.
It would be a five-week program where Thai students would attend school and be entertained by host families located in Windsor, and then WCA students would travel in June to attend the Satit Kaset IP International School in Bangkok.
When all was finalized, there would be four boys (Sarm, Ohm, Nitit and Yie) and one girl (Prea) ages 13 and 14 and one teacher (Kob) traveling to the U.S. In June, WCA students Rachel, Joshua, Jenna, Izzy and teacher Beth Leninger would make their journey.
The Thai students arrived during a spring blizzard on April 15. After a few days of getting adjusted to snow and the time change, the kids were attending classes at WCA and enjoying their new friends. During their second week, the Thai students put on an assembly for the school to showcase what their country is like. Each of the kids talked about his/her culture, food and school. Prea even demonstrated a traditional Thai dance, complete with traditional Thai dress.
The weekends were spent shopping, skiing, tubing, attending a Rockies game, playing at the beach, soccer/lacrosse games, playing in the neighborhoods, hiking, fishing and horseback riding. It was a wonderful time for the host families to spend time together and for the kids to really experience life in Colorado. As the weeks went by, the Thai students began to connect with their teachers and host families and Nitit even began to call his host parents “Mom” and “Dad.”
“Our student from Thailand truly became part of our family,” said host mother Deb. “Nitit is like another son to us. When Izzy went to stay with his family, she was welcomed with opened arms. We now stay in touch on Facebook. Even though there are language and cultural differences, caring for each other’s children brought us together as parents.”
When asked what they enjoyed most about their visit, Ohm and Prea said “the weather.” In Thailand, the weather is pretty consistent. They liked the changing of the “seasons.” Sarm loved the charter academy and said that “Mr. Crompton at WCA,” was his favorite part of the visit. Yie enjoyed playing soccer with his host Joshua and Nitit loved the food. All the students said that everyone was very friendly and that they would love to come back. On the final night of their visit, Joshua’s family hosted a bonfire. It was a chance to say goodbye and remember the trip to Elitch’s, sleeping with the sharks at the Downtown Aquarium and having a scavenger hunt along the 16th Street Mall. Many tears were shed and a few of the Thai kids didn’t want to go home. It was great to see how the kids all got along and that kids are kids, no matter where they are from.
Pretty soon it was time for our charter group to make their 8,387-mile journey to Bangkok. If you look at a globe, it is almost exactly halfway across the world. When I was 13, I was lucky to make it halfway across the state. Anyway, I had to tell myself that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that if Rachel really wanted to go, I had to let her. She was so excited, which was unusual, especially since she hates to fly. Altogether the flight time from Denver to Bangkok was 21 hours. This included stops in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.
Well, I’m happy to report that the flight, after an overnight delay in L.A., made the great leap across the Pacific and landed safely in Bangkok at about 2 a.m. The same students who came to Windsor were the host families for our students. It was reassuring to know who the kids were staying with and that they were well taken care of.
Our young teacher Beth, who has no children of her own, was a brave girl to take this group on. But being the great teacher she is, she had established a blog for the families to follow. She did a great job of keeping the blog up to date and posting pictures of the kids and their various activities. In one of the first writings, she mentioned the weather and how hot it was. This blog was titled “Holy HUMIDITY Batman! And other field trip things …” The school had also provided our students with field trips and many of these were to the many temples that make up this ancient city.
“We were off to the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha. And that is when we started to melt due to the sun, heat and humidity … the sites were amazing,” wrote Beth.
It was great to read all the happenings that our students were experiencing. Beth had posted all kinds of pictures of the kids at the temples, enjoying the markets, at the malls and during classes at school.
“One of the most valuable things I learned in Thailand was how to adjust to an entirely new culture,” said Izzy.
The Satit Kaset University is located in Bangkok and the students there are taught all classes in English. Many teachers come from other countries, such as Germany, Canada, the U.S., Great Britain and Australia. The students learn English, as well as Thai and some take Japanese and Chinese. Our charter students had the opportunity to take many of these classes as well as help to teach the students in English class.
“The most memorable experience in Thailand was riding the elephants,” Joshua said. “And the beach!”
One of the most popular classes our students participated in was Thai cooking. They learned how to make coconut chicken soup called Tom Kha Gai & Larb (which is ground pork salad).
“I loved the Thai lady who taught us. She is retiring after this year so we got very lucky. She is amazing. They also told us that Thai cooking only works when you are not in a rush,” Beth said.
“This was a great cultural experience and I’m glad I went through with it,” Rachel said.