Fresh Batch: Sticky Rice Writers’ Introductions

This January marked the first time in almost three years that Thailand has seen a full group of Peace Corps volunteers from both the Youth in Development (YinD) and Teacher Empowerment for Student Success (TESS) programs sworn in and serving in the country. 

The writing staff of Peace Corps Thailand Magazine would like to introduce ourselves, some of the members of group 134, as your first serving of a fresh batch of Sticky Rice.

Kayla Kawalec, 134, YinD | Northern Thailand

I was a YinD volunteer serving in Thailand with group 132 in March 2020. We were just finishing our 10 weeks of training when the global evacuation of PC volunteers was called due to COVID. 

As soon as I returned home to America I committed to returning to Thailand to complete my service, no matter how long it took. I certainly didn’t expect it to take three years, but I’m so grateful for every experience I had. During that time, I lived on a farm in Nevada, in a school bus on a ranch in eastern Washington, drove myself through 30 states and desperately missed Thailand. 

I think all of it prepared me to come back as an even more effective and motivated volunteer, so when the opportunity to return finally came in the summer of 2022 I was more than ready. I’m so excited and humbled to be back in Thailand and also taking on the role (one I aspired to three years ago) as interim editor-in-chief while we work to get Sticky Rice back to its former glory, albeit with a fresh perspective.

Dano Nissen, 134, TESS | Northeastern (Isaan Region) Thailand

Like many a twenty something, the proverbial real world walloped me with a big adult lesson: man, some jobs are meaningless. But, not the Peace Corps. A few years out of college, a global pandemic and a stultifying job or two later…I am finally here, doing edifying work, both for myself and the community I serve, which is in Nakhon Ratchasima province of the Isaan region. 

As a camp counselor, youth mentor, tutor and world traveler, I’ve always loved working with kids, teaching and exploring new cultures. So, yeah, this was the perfect fit. And to boot – we have this nifty magazine, where I can incorporate my other love: writing. As one of my not meaningless jobs, I’ve been a freelance feature and red carpet journalist, contributing all over the place, to wit: NPR, Variety, Cal Magazine and now Sticky Rice as assistant editor-in-chief!!! 

Grace Teng, 134, TESS | Northeastern (Isaan Region) Thailand

No regrets. That is why I decided to come to Thailand. When I applied in December of 2020, I never thought I would wait two years to serve in the Peace Corps. During those two years, I graduated college and I suffered through two draining desk jobs. The Peace Corps was rarely in contact with me and when they were, they tossed me around the globe. My first offer to serve was for Malawi, but the excitement died down when, only a day later, I was told that they sent that by accident. A year later, I received my offer for Thailand. I had an interview, and then several months later I was asked if I wanted to go to The Gambia instead. 

I grew increasingly frustrated and dismayed that I would never go anywhere at all, and by the time my actual invitation to Thailand came, I found that it wasn’t as easy to say yes anymore. I waited two years and was about to start a new job. The crux of my decision lay in the fact that I knew I would regret missing out on this experience and, thankfully, I think I can already say that I made the right choice.

Cloé Fortier-King, 134, YinD | Northern Thailand

Hello readers! My name is Cloé, and I’m a Youth in Development volunteer living and working in Lamphun, a small province in Northern Thailand. As a university student studying sociology and psychology, I felt drawn toward a career with tangible impacts and human connections. Serving in the Peace Corps was something I had heard about from my parents’ adventurous friends and my free-spirited professors, so I took the leap and applied. 

Like everything else, my Peace Corps application was disrupted by COVID-19, and my experience of service is no doubt very different than it would have been had it begun when I expected it to. The long months of suspense were torture, but I’m quickly realizing that I wouldn’t trade this experience—at this precise time, in this particular place, surrounded by these select people—for anything. Here’s to the impacts and connections of the next two years!

Teresa Derr, 134, YinD | Northeastern (Isaan Region) Thailand

March 18, 2021. I opened my inbox. There it was. I was being considered for a Youth in Development position in Thailand. I sucked in a breath, which immediately exploded into butterflies in my stomach. I flailed my arms as if having butterflies meant I could fly. I’d applied to wherever I was most needed, and Thailand felt like a God-given opportunity. I’d always wanted to go to Thailand.

It continued to feel like that even as departure was delayed again and again due to Covid. Peace Corps offered me other posts: Morocco (a tempting offer – I love that country), Guinea (No. I can’t teach math), Vietnam (so close to Thailand… and yet, so far), and Mongolia (Ooh. Could I live in a Yurt?). But I held out.

July 6, 2022. I opened my inbox. There it was. My invitation to Thailand. Worth every delay.

Cadi Duncan and Bradford Reszel, 134, TESS | Northeastern (Isaan Region) Thailand

Our decision process to apply for the Peace Corps started in the COVID shutdown during the spring of 2020. As we were growing as a couple we wanted to be a part of something that resonated with our values and propelled our passion for service. Both feeling “stuck” in careers after ~5 years out of undergrad, we knew we wanted to see the world and make positive change. 

The Peace Corps drew us in as a way to accomplish those goals and learn so much more. We applied in October of 2020 and waited 27 months before departing for service – the same amount of time we will be “in country”. While waiting for our opportunity to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers, we devoted ourselves to each other, getting married in May 2022. Now, as we approach our first anniversary on the 28th, we are thrilled to be serving our values as individuals and as a couple here in Thailand. We are sure we will look back on the combined 54 months as pivotal to our personal growth, prosperous to our love and values as a couple and positive to the communities where we are privileged to be welcomed and accepted.

Symon Majewski, 134, TESS | Central Thailand

Four years ago, I traveled to Thailand, not as a volunteer, but an awestruck tourist. Despite my flip flops and swim-trunks, this was an incredibly compelling time in my life. I had studied in Seoul the past semester, and I would study in Beijing the next. This year abroad inspired me to re-route my studies and career aspirations onto a path back to Asia. Promotion of cultural exchange was my new purpose, and cultural exploration my personal passion. I eagerly applied to the Peace Corps to achieve these goals. After two years of pandemic induced limbo, I left Albuquerque to join Peace Corps Thailand group 134. Now, I’ve been in Thailand almost as long as I studied in Korea or China, and my work as a TESS volunteer at Bannongkui School in Uthai Thani Province has only just begun. No doubt the next two years will be especially inspiring.

Morgan Shupsky, 134, YinD | Northeastern (Isaan Region) Thailand

Sa-wat-dee-ka! I’m Morgan and I’m currently representing YinD volunteers in Na Phu, Udon Thani, a province in north Isaan! Isaan is known for weird food, hot weather and kind people. And after six weeks of living here I can attest that all of the above is very true.

I had wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer all through college, where I studied Family, Youth and Community Sciences. What better major for Youth in Development?? I can now say with the utmost confidence that there is NO major that could prepare you to actually be a volunteer. We’re six weeks into service and have so many weeks left for me to share all of the happenings that nothing could’ve ever prepared me for here in Na Phu – the good, the badand the weird. Kaaw hai chook dii na ka (Good luck)!

Dito Montaña, 134, YinD | Central Thailand

Hey! My name is Dito Montaña and I’m a Peace Corps volunteer from Group 134 serving in Phetchabun province. I think my Peace Corps story is similar to that of many volunteers who applied during the pandemic: initial excitement about the possibility of serving slowly morphing into uncertainty as the months, and then years, went by with little word of when the Peace Corps would resume operations. 

In those three years, I was a Spanish translator for medical patients, internet salesman, Americorps VISTA volunteer, freelance videographer, and a babysitter, all the while checking my email daily for updates. As time moved on, so had I, and after a while I gave up on waiting for that email, half-convinced that this opportunity just wasn’t in the cards for me. But it’s funny how things tend to work out – I received my invitation to serve in July 2022 right as I was wrapping up my VISTA service, and with nothing lined up afterwards, the timing was near perfect to move to Thailand in January and be a volunteer. I’m excited for these next two years of service and to share my stories/experiences in Sticky Rice!

Kyra O’Connell, 134, TESS | Central Thailand

Sa wa di ka! Dichan chuu Kyra, bpen assassamak kroon-gaan puan kruu pua gaan-pat-ta-naa kong noi sam di pap saharat America ka.

I’ve given this introduction so many times, and I still struggle to get it right. In English: My name is Kyra and I am a Teacher Empowerment for Student Success (TESS) volunteer with the United States Peace Corps.

Currently I’m serving in Surin province in Northeast Thailand, about a 6 hour drive away from Bangkok. I’ve been here just over 4 months, and have approximately 23 months left to go. This is still less time than I’ve spent initially considering whether or not I should join Peace Corps in the first place.

I don’t remember where I first learned about the Peace Corps, but it’s always been something in the back of my mind whenever the big question, “what do I want to do with my life?” comes up. Finally I reached a point where I thought, if I don’t at least try then I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I went for it. So here’s me going for it. It’s been a great ride so far. Nice to meet you!

Bianca Palese, 134, TESS | Northeastern (Isaan Region) Thailand

My name is Bianca, but the locals call me Faa. I am serving in Ubon Ratchathani province in a village called Ban Khok Noi, 30 minutes from the Cambodian border. My site is part of the Isaan region, where everything is hotter: the food, the weather and the small town gossip. I’m coincidentally the second volunteer named Bianca to serve here, but they swear that’s not why I got this assignment.

My wanderlust began when I went to Thai school for a day with my grandparents, who were foreign English teachers in Nonthaburi. I knew I’d come back to Thailand one day, but I never expected myself to hold the Kru title. Staff says I was placed here because the strong sense of community that arises from physical isolation is something worth understanding for someone who wants a career in international development as I do. And they were right. 

3 replies »

  1. Well aloha and of sawadee, RPCV G102, MOPH and English Camp /Health Topics Presenter.. I think the first time to hear about Peace Corps was in my 9th grade class, RPCV from Tonga came and did show and tell back in 69. I always thought that would be a cool experience to live. Years later working and then tired of corporate life, I joined… and stayed… I’m down south… Do you have any PCVs assigned down this way. Back then we used the copier at PCO and send them out by mail. Cheer Mates


  2. I was in group 61 and wrote for Sticky Rice. One of my articles accusing Peace Corps Thailand staff of improper behavior was censored even though I had reason to believe my allegations were true.

    Sent from Outlookhttp://aka.ms/weboutlook


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