It’s a weird sensation to be packing my bags right now. My first semester has screeched to a halt, and I am left realizing that what standard Western measurements of time would define as the last four months, to me, have been nothing more than a blur of chaotic attempts at English class, trips to new places with colorful people, and more offers of dancing and whiskey than I ever thought imaginable. A pool of sweat has permanently formed on the nape of my neck and an air conditioning induced cough that won’t go away indicate that the Thai summer, somehow, is indeed upon us.
One of the most brilliant parts of Fulbright’s ETA program is how summer vacation is handled. Understandably not so keen on letting a bunch of twenty-somethings run free with little direction for an entire two months, Fulbright requires that its ETAs spend March exploring an interest, or perhaps developing a passion, that might, how shall I say, deepen our cultural experience. In our perfectly polished applications, I’m sure we proposed doing things such as saving children and equally cute elephants from burning buildings and exotic diseases, writing anthologies of poetry that heroically describe the quaint life of farmers living in the country side, and working tirelessly as research assistants for the premiere scholars of the country’s most prestigious universities. And that’s exactly what we are doing. What can I say? This program is full of go-getters.
For my internship, I’m leaving the land of sticky rice and somtom and heading back to the big city of Bangkok where our orientation was held in order to intern with Fulbright for the next couple of weeks. While I might have just joked about the intent of the internship, I will say that even the seemingly simple task of deciding where to go and what to do with myself ended up being a pretty useful, self-reflective exercise. A string of panicked emails with the subjects lines reading something to the effect of “HELP, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO” to our program’s director, P’Tip, forced me to think about what interests me the most right now. In response to her simple question, “What are you looking for out of your internship,” I found myself somewhat vaguely responding with buzzy phrases such as “applied linguistics,” “educational research policy,” and “opportunities to write.” When she responded that Fulbright could offer me an internship that would give me the chance to contribute to its newsletter, attend a conference on international education, and help develop networking projects for current program participants and alumni, I knew she had me, hook, line, and sinker.
Anyways, back to my suitcase. It’s open and in front of me. There’s clothing around it and sort of in it. Everything’s folded, at least, in my own abstract version of what folding looks like. I have a mental list started of what things I’m probably going to forget but shouldn’t, like my toothbrush or my towel that’s still drying outside on the laundry line.
I refuse to say that packing for Bangkok and beyond has been fun, because it hasn’t. Packing sucks. I do have to admit, however, that there is something strangely cathartic about it. The act of trying to fit everything that has been part of my life since November back into one bag has become a clear and exciting indicator that times are changing. Shirts, skirts, and nude colored heels that were once new and completely unsuspecting of what they’d be be going through, I now throw into my luggage worn, torn, and stained with fish sauce. My suitcases aren’t only filled with clothing but also my experiences.
Though I’ll be in a familiar city with a familiar organization, I’m bringing with me a brand new perspective that only four months of teaching in my beloved Yang Talad Wittayakarn could have given me. I am so excited to carry that with me into the next part of this adventure and am equally excited to see how these next two months will change my perspective for when I return to Isaan and embark on semester number two. Like everything in Thailand, I have no idea what to expect to happen in the month of March. Though it’s impossible to know, I can, and will, speculate. I think I’m going to need a bigger suitcase.