Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 130 // Re-discovering Creativity

I've always been a creative person. As I child I loved painting, singing, drawing, you name it. But as the years went on, I found myself continually stifled from self-criticism and a perfectionist mindset that nothing I create is good enough. Embarrassment of being judged and being self-conscious stopped me from experimenting with my creativity more.

Thailand gives you a completely new perspective on yourself. It's been such an encouraging adventure. The culture here is very careful about saving face and not making others feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, and it transcends into your mindset after a while. You gain a lot of self-confidence.

In my 4 and a half months here I have explored the depths of my creativity and found out what's been lying dormant all these years. I began drawing again, I started singing in public, I started taking pictures. And I am so happy I've been doing it. It shocks me I was so embarrassed to share any of that side of me for so long, and now I can't wait to draw another mandala or sing on Friday nights.

At first I found putting my art, photos, and singing up on social media as vain and self-centered, then as quickly as that thought came to me, I let it go. Why would I not want to express my joy and art? I want to share with my loved ones bits and pieces of my happiness, and no one should feel shame in doing so.

I've changed my mindset and have now been thinking, why not me? Someone will always be better than me, and someone always worse. But even thinking about comparison at all starts that tumultuous cycle of judgment before you even start. While those thoughts still come to me, I've gotten much better at enjoying creating for what it simply is and how much joy it brings me.

I've been given the opportunity to make a painting for a bar in Chiang Rai, I'm blessed to perform with a group of outrageously talented musicians every Friday, I've met other artists here exploring their creativity, and I even won first place for the CIEE Photo contest for school related photos!

So while this post has nothing to do with teaching really, it doesn't need to. Teaching abroad isn't all about teaching. I have this program to thank for rediscovering my love of art and music, and how I now feel that I am good at it as opposed to feeling ashamed.

If you are interested in any of my work, check out the website I made ! ----> www.ameliaskinner.com

And good luck to all those teachers out there getting ready to leave for your incredible adventure in October!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

6 (well 7) Things that make a LDR easier while Teaching Abroad

The day I left Eric at the airport to catch my flight to Thailand was one of the more emotional days of my life. Let's take a look back real quick (May 2014) ---

That's right, I cried so hard I gave myself a nosebleed.

Needless to say, doing a long distance relationship is hard. Especially if you are 7,500 miles away from the person and 13 hours apart. It's not the ideal situation, but I've found my time in Thailand has helped nurture my relationship more than I thought possible. 

Here are 6 things that have helped teaching abroad work with a long distance relationship (and are probably all totally obvious) :

1. Texting
    I downloaded WhatsApp for my phone (Viber and Line work well too) and it works off of wifi and data. I also got data for my phone and it's allowed me to text Eric whenever, making it feel like he's right across town and not on the other side of the world. Literally. Some people rely on finding wifi spots to get access to using phone data, but for about 500 baht (about 16$) a month you can buy unlimited data for your phone. 

   This has also allowed us to communicate on a much deeper level, I've never been particularly eloquent expressing my emotions and we have gotten really good at really diving into our feelings (even though it's texting) this because of the distance. 

2. Sending packages
    Sharing little tidbits from the amazing country you are in with your loved one will make them feel so special, not to mention receiving something from home that reminds you of them. 

3. Make Skype your friend
    Even though 70% of Skype conversations are "Can you hear me? Wait I lost you. I can't see the video! Wait you froze. WHY ISN'T THIS WORKING?!" It's all worth it to see a smile and have a (semi) face to face conversation. 

4. Bring Pictures
   This is one thing I forgot to do before I left. I didn't print out any pictures at ALL. I am a super visual person and love a beautifully nested area, so my room still feels empty without pictures of loved ones. I wish I took the time to just stop by a Walgreens back home and get a bunch of pictures printed out. Now I have notes that my loved ones wrote to me and put those up on my wall and read them all the time. 

5. Trust it's all going to be okay
   It might be a sign of growing up and the evolution of dating in my life, but having 100% trust and respect for my partner has been the most crucial factor in "being okay" with a long distance relationship. I trust there's nothing going on behind my back and he knows the same with me. It's been that way since we got together and has made the hard parts of our relationship totally approachable if we need to communicate something. This experience will help challenge your trust, but just have faith. 

6. Try to share the experience together
    While this is a once in a lifetime experience that has allowed me so much personal growth and inspiration, I get to share the end of my time in Thailand with Eric when he comes to visit me. It will be a perfect ending to such a magnificent adventure, and while I had the experience for myself, I will still be able to share part of it with him. If you can't manage this, support each other through whatever is happening at home and remind each other that you are always there for one another no matter how far (how's that for cliché? oof)

Best of luck to all of you heading out in October or planning to next year. And don't fear the LDR! It will make you both warriors of independence and masters of communication :)

Oh and one more...
7. Cookies, etc.
    Eat the loneliness away with all the cookies and delicious food you can find in this beautiful land. Kidding...actually not really. Food = happiness.

Any questions? ---> amyskinner05@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day 122 // 11 Things I Wish I Packed (and Didn't Pack) for Teaching in Thailand

In my 4+ months here I've accumulated an astonishing amount of stuff. Good to know my spending habits haven't changed much from leaving the states. I'll take all of the trinkets and clothes and food please.

I've been here long enough to look back on those days before my departure as I scrambled to fit all the things I thought necessary in a backpack and a small suitcase now being much wiser and more practical. Here are the things I wish I had and hadn't brought to Thailand

I wish I brought...

1. An external hard drive: I am very grateful that my boyfriend snuck an external harddrive into my purse before I boarded the plane. It's been a sanctuary for all the movies and photos I've collected in my time here since I've spent an unnatural amount of time on my computer at this job with all of it's "free time." So this would be something I would have definitely bought here if I wasn't surprised with one.

2. A rain jacket: Little did I know when it rains in Thailand, IT RAINS. No messing around. I thought coming from the Seattle area I could brush off the incessant rain I've dealt with just the same in Thailand. So, so wrong. It doesn't just rain here. It friggin pours. Especially during the aptly named Rainy Season. I've been rocking the 30 baht rain poncho from 7/11 the past couple months (yes it's disgusting) and wish I brought a jacket instead. But now I'm too stubborn to buy one with 2 months left.

3. A small(ish) backpack: Most of the getting around is a pain with my giant Mary Poppins purse (espcially on a motorbike), but then my huge travel backpack screams FARANG and I have found I don't like being isolated as a temporary tourist when I go places. I live here! I'm different right?
I bought a backpack at the market but it's not the best quality and I'm just waiting for the day the straps break and my computer goes flying down the highway.

I wish I didn't bring....

1. Hair appliances: I haven't "done" my hair in 4 months and I'm surviving just fine. Going from curling or straightening my hair nearly everyday to nothing has been surprisingly liberating. The frizz and unmanageability will humble you and astonishingly make you very low maintenance. Same with make up, I brought a small bag and all I've really used in 4 months is mascara.

2. Excessive amounts of teaching material: Like my other blog post stated, I printed out nearly 900 pages of ESL exercises, have touched one page of it in my semester here, and feel responsible for killing probably 20 trees. Come prepared, but not that prepared.

3. Chopsticks and straws: This is a weird one but my doctor scared the crap out of my when she said do NOT trust any straws or utensils they give you in Thailand because you WILL get a viscious disease. So I packed chopsticks and straws to carry around with me every time I bought food? Weird decision, Amy...

I'm glad I brought...

1. My Smartphone (and charger): many people in OEG decided to buy a temporary phone (provided at OEG orientation) while staying in Thailand, but I've found having my iPhone (unlocking it - which was very simple), getting a Thai SIM card, and buying data every month (only about $15 each month) has been a wonderful decision. It's kept me close in contact with my loved ones at home. This is totally personal, but it was an important decision for me and I'm glad I made it.

2. My laptop: This seems like a no brainer, but I couldn't imagine lesson planning on the school's computer or even existing without my laptop. Partially necessary, partially my generation's attachment to technology. Oh well.

3. My DSLR Camera: Pretty obvious but do yourself a favor and bring a camera of any sorts. You'll want to remember as much as you can and you will have the images for a lifetime. Also, I've found a whole new love of photography while here and I can thank this experience for nurturing that creativity.

4. My own work clothes from home: Many people had a hard time with finding appropriate and "polite" attire for being a teacher, and I somehow managed to bring the right amount of clothing that was perfect for teaching. 2 floor length cotton skirts, white button down linen shirts, light cotton blouses that don't show pit stains (even if you aren't a sweaty person like me, you will become one).

5. For the ladiez - Menstrual Cup (or Tampons): Sorry if this makes anyone uncomfortable but the reality of being a woman is what it is. Tampons are outrageously expensive and hard to find in Thailand, so I brought a sustainable cup that has been a life saver, and a one time purchase. And for those of you women not down to try one of these, try and bring as many tampons as you can shove in your suitcase. Or have your family mail them to you.. it's probably cheaper anyways.

The reality of living in Thailand is that you can buy nearly anything you want here, or have buy it online, or have a loved one send it to you. These are just my own personal opinions on my time here, and what has become important for me.

Any questions? ---> amyskinner05@gmail.com

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Day 119 // Sights at the Sunday Walking Street

Most of the cities in Thailand will have a Night Market or a Walking Street where you can spend way too much of your paycheck on beautiful trinkets, delicious food, and watch some traditional Thai performances. Last night, Rachael and I finally took the time to watch a beautiful Thai dance done by a group of younger children and captured some beautiful moments. 

A rhinoceros beetle

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What it ACTUALLY costs to be a teacher abroad / A month of logging purchases

After writing my post about what it costs to be a teacher in Thailand, I was dubious of my math and where my money actually went. So for the past month I've logged every single purchase, a interesting and insightful habit I no doubt got from my father, from the 1st of August to payday (which was early this month). It's quite fascinating to see where all your money goes, especially in a foreign country.

Looks like my estimation of about 11,000 for the absolute necessities was offset by my overwhelming desire to buy beautiful trinkets (including some expensive boots, a scarf, and a purse) and a bottle of Campari for myself. I took out the previously mentioned items on a side bar showing the expenses of the month without them to show a more realistic amount of money spent (because they totaled to about 7000 baht...oof).

August 9 - 12 I spent in Pai and there was no mercy to my spending... I figured it would be my last time in the beautiful artsy city, so bought everything I wished to bring home and remember.

So as you can see, my estimation was a tad off. I will explain though that this month I was quite frivolous with my spending as I have developed more of a mindset of buying things that I can bring home that will remind me of this trip. A lot of teachers may spread that over their 6 months, or years here...and I did most of it in August (hence the frighteningly high shopping category).
Also, some teachers may try and save money while they are here... which is totally doable. Even putting a couple thousand baht away every month can definitely add up at the end of your trip.

While there is a canteen that gives me my meals for free (and I theoretically shouldn't have spent 4000+ baht on dining out...), some of my best experiences are trying new restaurants and exotic dishes in town.  I also missed a few laundry trips in this chart. Oops. 

Hope this helps people to see where most of your money will go when you are in this beautiful country!

Any questions ? ---> amyskinner05@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Day 101 // Long Weekend in Pai

I found myself drawn back to this paradisal town every day after my first visit back in July, and was looking forward to the long weekend in August to come back one more time. For the 4 day weekend, I met up with some friends from my orientation group that I hadn't seen since May, including my roommate for the first week, Josie. The bond you make with these people in one short week in Bangkok is truly special, and you are guaranteed to have a hell of a time with them no matter where you adventure.

We heard of a waterfall that would take about 4 hours round trip from our bungalow and all set out in the forest. The walk was nothing short of spectacular. The forests of Pai are filled with lush trees in every shade of green your eyes can savor, a continuous murmur of the waterfall's run off, and a symphonic buzzing of giant insects.

Despite the photo that makes him look fairly average in size, this spider was easily as big a dinner plate.

My nausea from seeing the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life was overwhelmed by wonder as I watched him wrap up his prey in his web and start to eat it. One of the many times in the hike I felt lucky enough to be experiencing the things I've only dreamt of when I would watch Planet Earth or read National Geographic. It reminded me to always marvel at how beautiful our world is.

My Birkenstocks took quite the beating and didn't survive the hike. You will be missed.

Pai Canyon gave a beautiful view of the valley and even allowed a brave few to trek down the orange dirt pathway for a better look.

Our waterfall endeavor wound up successful! Just at another waterfall that didn't require hours of searching. We cooled off in the chilly water and sat on the rocks enjoying each others company.

Silly group. Thanks for a great weekend guys.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Day 100 // FAQ's about Teaching English Abroad (Round III)

More emails = more questions and answers! Thanks for all the questions guys, it makes my heart so happy that people are reading this blog and getting some use out of it :)

Any more questions send them my way - amyskinner05@gmail.com

FAQ's Round III

What is one thing you really wish you had packed and didn't? 
There is not much in Thailand that you can't buy if you leave at home. I do wish I brought more comfortable work clothes, I barely packed anything and wound up buying a lot of my clothes at the mall because what I actually did bring was so friggin hot or not "polite" enough for work. If you can find button up linen shirts I definitely recommend those for the hotter months. I know it cools off significantly for October - January so it's not as bad.

I also wish I brought a smaller backpack, I have a large purse I use at school and a traveling backpack for long trips, but nothing in between. And you can buy backpacks here, but the quality is just a tad less than a nice North Face back pack or Jansport from the states. Just me thinking out loud.

What did you bring that has turned out to be totally useless?  
My hair appliances and too much makeup. I used to spend a good 30 minutes on my hair every day back in America before I left the house, either straightening it, curling it or this and that. I have maybe done my hair once in Thailand, and within minutes  sweated it out. It's so humid and you sweat so much it really doesn't matter, and vanity isn't the same thing in this culture as it is in America. That might me just me though, but this place can really help you become very low-matienence. I also would recommend packing small amounts of toiletries to get you through the first weeks, because they have giant shopping malls that have everything you will need.

Whatever your hair looks like in 5000% humidity, just work it. 
I also was FREAKING out before this trip thinking I needed to bring a gazillion teaching resources with me so I would be better prepared for my first week. So I went to kinkos and had them print out all the sample teaching material CIEE gave us…which turned out to be nearly 900 pages. The binder sits on my desk and I haven't touched it in my time here. Everything you really need can be found online or ask other teachers.

I actually printed all million pages and brought them to Thailand, yea don't do that. 

How difficult is it, really, to learn and use Thai?  
Thai is confusing, but not impossible. You will learn that tones are very important, so you can say the same word in different ways and it will change the meaning. So "maa" said with no real change in pitch means "come here." But "maa" said with a rising tone, kind of like how we would read maa? means "dog". It's things like that that get challenging because our language changes tone to imply meaning and change sentence tone…sooooo that's fun to work on with your students. I've learned the basics fairly quickly because you kind of have to to get around the market and use public transportation. CIEE does a great intro to Thai lesson that helped me immensely.

Get your maa's straight.

Where have you traveled that I absolutely should visit?  
I am up in Chiang Rai (one of the northern most cities), so most of my travels have been up north. I love Pai (i've been there twice), it's like a westerners paradise in the hills of Thailand, all very hippie and artsy. Chiang Mai is great too, a lot more relaxed but still super busy (though nothing like Bangkok). There is pretty much everything in Chiang Mai, shopping, temples, zoos, museums, hill tribes, food, etc. The beaches are calling my name and I will be headed down south in October. But Chiang Rai as a city is awesome too, we have the amazing White Temple which is definitely worth a visit.

Any advice you wish someone had given you when you first arrived?  
That the few first weeks are going to be hard. Homesickness and anxiety are real when you make a huge change like this. Just knowing my drastic emotions at the beginning of this experience were not unwarranted made me feel better. It's a hard transition for some. I would have liked to know that culture shock and all that is very real but is totally manageable with the right resources (like a hospital visit and some medicine for me).

What are the best and worst dishes you have eaten?  
Ooooh Kao Soy, it is my favorite dish I've had in Thailand for sure. It's only up north because it's a traditional Burmese dish. It's a sort of sweet and savory coconut curry with noodles, chicken, onions, lime, and crispy fried noodles. Seriously the most incredible dish ever. Also Pat Thai, som tom (papaya salad), sticky rice with anything, pad see ew, pad pack boong (Stir friend morning glory), and mango sticky rice are all delicious plates. As for fruit, mangosteens are amazing. I've never had anything like them, and have a hard time comparing them to anything back home.

I haven't had too many awful plates, but I did try sheep's brain the other day and wasn't really into that. It was very creamy… And durian fruit isn't my favorite. It's a SUPER stinky and pungent fruit that smells like gas,  but tastes somehow different. Another creamy consistency that I didn't enjoy much.

Kao Soy, the most glorious of all the foods

The main thing I've learned on this experience is that you will be thrown a lot of curve balls, and you take them all as they come. It will be nothing totally out of your ability, but it will challenge you and you roll with it. I wanted to know about absolutely everything before I left, but it's so hard to get all the answers you want because every school, every city, every experience is so drastically different. The great thing about Thailand though is they are very good about "saving face" and not shaming each other or embarrassing each other, so even if shit goes south, it's okay. The Thais just laugh it off. This can be very frustrating, but sometimes just what you need when you have a total shit show of a class, or day, it's all good.