Carly Allard, 129 YinD
This week, students all over Thailand made “hand turkeys”, a first for many of them. A popular idea in Peace Corps volunteers’ classrooms, the hand turkeys are not only an easy, fun art project, but a good way to teach about thankfulness and the American holiday we’re celebrating this week, Thanksgiving.
As I created my example hand turkey before class, I labeled my turkey’s finger-feathers with things I’m thankful for in an attempt to make the activity slightly more educational. I chose easy answers – friends, family, travel, and coffee – which, I know, are super lame but I thought they’d have the best chance of being understood by my fifth graders. Before my class started on their own hand turkeys, we brainstormed things they are thankful for. Among their answers were parents, pets, Buddha, siblings, friends, teachers, fried chicken, etc. I smiled as I wrote their very fifth-grade answers on the white board and was struck with a gigantic “ah-ha” moment as I realized what I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving season: Thailand.
Thailand has provided me more opportunity in the last eleven months than I’ve probably ever had in my life, and for that, I’m absolutely thankful. But the opportunities are only the beginning. The list of people, places, and things in Thailand for which I’m thankful for could go on forever.
Beginning the moment my feet touched down in Thailand, I’ve encountered some of the most helpful, kind, and understanding people in the world. Peace Corps staff, especially our training staff and language tutors, successfully helped us through pre-service training (PST), which was arguably one of the most grueling experiences I’ve ever endured. My PST host-mom whole-heartedly welcomed a complete stranger (who spoke something barely resembling Thai language) into her home. Moving to site, I was welcomed by helpful, curious, and kind people in my workplaces and at home. Every day at school, my students and co-teachers proved to be eager learners and devoted friends. I still live in my host family’s house because they are some of the most genuinely wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and loving in Thailand. I cannot begin to accurately express my gratitude to the people I’ve met, work with, and live among in Thailand, but I know they’re at the top of my thankfulness list this Thanksgiving.
Thailand is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Rice fields as far as the eye can see, breathtaking beaches, stoic mountain ranges, crashing waterfalls, raging rivers, and yet, more serenity and peace than one can sometimes endure. Landscapes have always provided me a sense of peace, a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself, and Thailand does just that every day. When the going gets tough, I try to find something beautiful in the natural world around me and Thailand makes doing so very easy. For that, for all its beauty and natural wonder, I am thankful for Thailand.
Patience, gratitude, perseverance, self-assurance, perspective: all things I’ve gained and improved upon since my arrival in Thailand. The material things Thailand has provided me – my pasin, traditional Thai dresses, a couple coffee cups, and an unending supply of sticky rice – will eventually wither away, but the abstract things Thailand has provided me have and will continue to change who I am. These lessons are innumerable and invaluable. I am forever changed because of Thailand and will forever be thankful for the experiences and life lessons I’ve learned here.
And then there’s the other piece of my thankfulness puzzle, the extra feather on my new-and-improved hand turkey. This piece is beyond the people, places, and things in Thailand. Yes, they’re more people, but they’re a special part of Thailand, just as I am. They’re my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, the people fighting for change alongside me each and every day. They were strangers who became friends and now have become family. They’re the loved ones I’ll be celebrating this Thanksgiving with, the family members being brought together by the holiday with the same motive in the States. And although Thanksgiving is very much an American tradition, I, once again, find myself thankful for Thailand, because without it, this family would not exist.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!