When I Look Back

Celete Kato, 129 TESS

When I look back on the past 26 months I feel a deep swell of gratitude, and speaking honestly, relief. Gratitude for the experiences, relief that I survived them.

I vaguely remember landing in Bangkok, transferring to a large bus, and waking up in a small community just outside Bangkok to a group of strangers who were as nervous and excited as myself.

I remember the first night living with my host family during training. My dinner didn’t sit well, so I spent that entire evening alone on the wet bathroom floor being stung by mosquitoes while my body was hunched over a squat toilet and I watched as my dinner reappeared and mixed with my tears. I acknowledged that this experience may be harder than I thought.

I remember biking to language training and happily accepting assistance from six Thai strangers when my friend’s bike broke while riding over a bridge.

I remember sitting with my host aunt during training. She asked me if I liked Thailand and I was so alone and homesick I couldn’t even answer, I just cried. I remember being hugged and comforted.

I remember two months into training, cooking with my host mom and feeling at home for the first time in Thailand.

I remember my first classroom, my first class, my first solo teaching assignment. I remember feeling terrified and I remember feeling capable.

I remember swearing-in. Shedding the Peace Corps Trainee title and taking the oath to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer for 27 months, in conditions of hardship if necessary, alongside 63 new friends. I remember the mix of pride, fear, anxiety, joy and anticipation.

I remember meeting my counterpart and thinking — just maybe — I could do this.

I remember arriving at my new home after training and spending the first summer exploring, teaching kids to play UNO, and relying on laughter and confusion for the majority of my relationship building.

I remember arriving to school on my bike for the first few weeks and seeing children run away from me. Scared to say hello and unwilling to be near me.

I remember the swell in my heart now that kids start yelling “Hello” to me as soon as I leave my house. They greet me at the entrance to school and chatter at me all the way to my classroom.

I remember the awkward dance I perform in the small circular bathroom stall at school where I changed from bike clothes to dress clothes almost every weekday for two years.

I remember long bike rides around my community. Biking to visit the nearest PCV and close friend. Biking to the waterfall. Biking to find new and unexplored gems in my community. I remember the freedom of biking; when freedom in Thailand was so hard for me to find.

I remember after school volleyball, attempting to teach ultimate frisbee, running with neighbor kids, and bonding through sports.

I remember singing Christmas Carols with my fourth graders.  

I remember feeling antsy at site. Inadequate. Unsure and unstable. I remember wondering if living inside my own head this much would change me forever. I remember wondering if it was worth it to stay here. I remember deciding moments later that it definitely was.

I remember traveling. Seeing beautiful sites and sharing meals and conversation with some of my favorite people. I remember feeling refreshed by these people and places.

I remember painting a giant world map on the wall of my English classroom and talking to my kids about diversity and the value of learning about the world.

I remember feeling exhausted, forgotten, unappreciated. I remember feeling refreshed, known, and valued. I remember all of the emotions in between.

I remember sharing meals with teachers from school and realizing I consider them friends. I remember feeling comfortable. I remember cracking jokes in Thai/English and laughing together.

I remember seeing my kids get excited about leading activities and spending a week at camp with students from communities different from their own. I remember feeling proud of how confident and capable these students are.

I remember piling into my Thai friend’s car with my Peace Corps besties and ringing in the New Year with a diverse, unique, and multilingual group of people I love.

When I look back, I remember so much of the good and the bad that have formed 27 of the hardest and most fulfilling months of my life.

When I look back, I do so with gratitude for all that I’ve learned and will continue to learn from this experience.

When I look back, I realize how much I will miss this little life I’ve built.

With all of my heart, thank you, Thailand.

Read Celete’s previous articles and contributions.

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