Carissa Sutter, 126
Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’58: Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
than my own meandering experience.
I will dispense this advice
Enjoy the power and beauty of your newness at site.
Oh, never mind.
You will not understand the power and beauty of your newness until they have faded.
But trust me, in one year you’ll look back at photos of yourself
and recall in a way you can’t grasp now
how much possibility lay before you
and how much your community really didn’t know what you’re doing there.
You’re not as “Thai” as you imagine.
Don’t worry about your programs,
but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation
by chewing bubblegum.
The real troubles are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.
The kind that blindside you at 8AM on the day of your event.
Do one thing everyday that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with Thai people’s hearts,
don’t put up with Thai people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy;
Sometimes you’re ahead,
Sometimes you’re behind.
The race is long, and in the end, it’s with yourself.
Remember the compliments you receive from your supervisor,
forget the insults;
If you succeed in doing this,
tell me how.
Keep your old language notes, throw away your old progress reviews.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do at your site.
The most interesting people I know
didn’t know in the first three months what they wanted to do at their site,
some of the most interesting third years I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to Dr. Quiggles, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.
Maybe you’ll ETA, maybe you won’t,
maybe you’ll have great projects,
maybe you won’t,
maybe you’ll switch sites immediately,
maybe you’ll do the chicken dance at your fifth approved site extension.
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either.
Your experiences are half chance, so are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your handbook, use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it,
it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance. Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the VRF directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do NOT read the ONET test, it will only make you feel angry.
Brother and sister together we’ll make it through.
I know you’ve been busy, but I’ve been waiting to be there for you.
And I’ll be there, just tell me how, whenever I can.
Get to know your host parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your counterparts.
They are the best link to your community
and the people most likely to help you in the future.
Understand that friends in America come and go,
but for the precious few you find in Thailand you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
because the longer you’ve been at site,
the more you need the people you knew when you were new.
Visit Pattaya once, but leave before it makes you hard;
Visit Chiang Mai once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths:
temperatures will rise,
politicians will philander,
you too will leave Thailand;
and when you do,
you’ll fantasize that when you were in Thailand
temperatures were reasonable,
politicians were easily discarded
and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone at site to support you.
Maybe you have a big budget,
maybe you have a dedicated counterpart,
but you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your program manager,
or by the time you’re COSing,
they will forget to put you down for a plane ticket home.
Be careful whose advice you buy,
but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia,
dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal,
wiping it off,
painting over the ugly parts
and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen