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Life As An Older Volunteer

June 10, 2013

I recently posted this on a Facebook page for future volunteers 50+ and thought you might find in informative as well.

Q:  For all of us PC hopefuls, can any of you current or returned Peace Corps Volunteers  give any advice or suggestions, especially for “older” volunteers to make our PC experience the best it can be?

A. They say that everything changes once you’ve been at site for a year. For me that’s been so true. With increased language ability and the credibility that comes with time, both the people in my village and those working on the PC staff seem to trust me more. And with trust has come more real conversation and brainstorming of ideas.

So here’s my take on being an older volunteer in the Peace Corps:

1) The PCs going to treat you like a 20 year old and micro-manage everything you do. You’ll face more rules, regulations and yes, scoldings than you’ve received since you were 20. So get over it.  A twenty year-old need rules and in fairness, those  rules need to apply to everyone.  So, make it easy on yourself.  Just  smile and say, “Okay, I’m sorry.”

2) Life will be so much easier as an older volunteer. People in your host country will treat you with the respect and dignity you deserve and will seek your wisdom, through talk and observation. After a while, you won’t want to return home and face a life feeling irrelevant.

3) Young people in their twentys grow up fast in the Peace Corps and those who got on your nerves in the beginning will at some point in your service, become your good friends.

4) Your friends back home will live vicariously through your posts and blogs. You’ll become well-known among people you’ve never met and the subject of any number of dinner conversations.  Your name will be brought up in a whole bunch of new ways such as,  “If you don’t pay more attention to me, I’m going off to join _(your name)_____ in the Peace Corps!”

5) Though they might be initially unhappy with your decision to serve, your kids will become proud of you and if nothing else, they’ll have stories and pictures to show their kids about the time when Grandma lived in a grass hut and helped people. and finally,

6) Life is tough in the Peace Corps even in a place like rural Thailand, considered to be the “posh corps.” You’ll sleep on a mattress harder than a terrazzo floor, pick bugs from your nose and your toothbrush, curse your neighbors who party loud enough to make your teeth rattle  and plot the destruction your community’s stray dogs who bark all night and then chase you on your run the next morning.

But hey, you’ve lived through mortgage payments, job losses, child birth and raising teens. How bad could it really get, right?


April 15, 2013

Let me preface this post by saying that I am in no way an expert on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  In fact, most of what was covered about the subject during Peace Corps pre-service training was lost in my sleep deprived brain.  I did however take away four things:

  1. ASEAN is made up of ten countries in Southeast Asia
  2. In 2015 skilled people in any of these ten countries will be able to work in any of the other ASEAN countries
  3. The official  language of ASEAN is English and Thailand doesn’t rank very high in its English language ability
  4. Unlike the EU, ASEAN is not preparing for a single currency such as the Euro

Upcoming changes to ASEAN however, have significantly altered the nature of my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Thailand.  I therefore decided to learn more about these changes with the hope that I would better understand my role in helping Thailand as it struggles to adapt.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a geo-political and economic organization of ten countries located in Southeast Asia.   ASEAN was initially formed in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and ThailandIt has since expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam.

ASEAN covers a land area of 4.46 million km, which is 3% of the total land area of Earth, and has a population of approximately 600 million people, which is 8.8% of the world’s population. If ASEAN were a single entity, it would rank as the ninth largest economy in the world.

The motivations for creating ASEAN at the time were 1) the common fear of communism (think back to the period before and during the Vietnam War), 2) reduced faith in or mistrust of external powers in the 1960s (again think back to the Vietnam War), and 3) a desire for economic development.

The ASEAN Community

Skip ahead twenty some-odd years to October 2003.  Having achieved its originals goals, ASEAN Leaders decided to further enhance the effectiveness of ASEAN by creating  blueprints for what they called “The ASEAN Community.”  The blueprints contain a  comprehensive long-term plan aimed at ensuring durable peace, stability, and shared prosperity in the region. The original target date for completion was 2020.

The Blueprints for The ASEAN Community are based on three pillars;  1) the ASEAN Political and Security Community, 2) the ASEAN Economic Community, and 3) the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Here is a brief summary of each pillar.

1. ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) “The primary objective of the ASEAN Political-Security Community is to ensure that the people and Member States of ASEAN live in peace with one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment. The APSC also promotes political development in adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, and respect for and promotion and protection of human rights.”

2. ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Through economic integration, the primary goal of the ASEAN Economic Community is to transform ASEAN into (a) a highly competitive economic region, (b) a region of equitable economic development, (c) a region fully integrated into the global economy and (d) a single market and production base to include:

free flow of goods between ASEAN nations
free flow of services between ASEAN nations
free flow of investment between ASEAN nations
freer flow of capital between ASEAN nations
free flow of skilled labor between ASEAN nations

3. ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) – “The primary goal of the ASCC is to realize an ASEAN Community that is people-centered and socially responsible with a view to achieving enduring solidarity and unity among the nations and peoples of ASEAN. This would be achieved by forging a common identity and building a caring and sharing society which is inclusive and harmonious where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the peoples are enhanced.”

Opportunities and Challenges

Of the three pillars, the second, AEC and third, ASCC have proven to have the greatest impact on our work here in Thailand.   Economic integration will provide significant opportunities for the people and member nations of ASEAN.  Integration also comes with increased competition and not a few challenges.

English for example, is the official language of the ASEAN Community and as such will be used for all business, trade and services throughout the region.  Bilingual and multilingual individuals will have the advantage at finding job positions and getting promotions. At the corporate level, companies that adapt well to foreign trade will thrive from the integration, while those that don’t will be ignored. This also holds true for research communities, service industries and government officials.

Even in rural, farming communities, those that adapt well to change and build some English proficiency will attain a competitive advantage in negotiating pricing and market agreements over those who don’t.   Simply put, if people across ASEAN at all levels and in all occupations do not strive to communicate better, foreign countries will simply choose to do business with those that do.

Getting Ready in Thailand

As mentioned earlier, the establishment of The ASEAN Community was original planned for the year 2020.  However in January 2007 ASEAN Leaders, affirming their strong commitment to the ASEAN Community, elected to accelerate its implementation to 2015.

Facing an accelerated time frame for implementation and the complexities of the changes upon them, the Thai government saw the importance of raising awareness and building a framework for readiness. One sizable obstacle to readiness is Thailand’s limited competency with the English language.

Thailand ranks near the very bottom of ASEAN nations in English proficiency.  While English is taught in schools across Thailand, the focus has been almost exclusively on reading and writing.  In fact, many teachers who teach the subject cannot speak the language themselves.  As a result, the average Thai has very low English speaking ability.  Most Thais tend to be unwilling to converse in English and often revert back to using Thai among themselves, even in groups of mixed languages.  Thais who are fluent in English are not common, and those that speak flawless English are considered very rare.

To address these obstacles, the Thai Ministry of Education is now focusing considerable time and resources on a “Lets learn English” campaign.  The campaign is a major component of the Ministry’s long-term strategy and contains an elaborate plan to quickly 1) provide English education to the Thai people both in urban and rural areas and 2) equip vocational students with the skills and language ability needed to communicate with other ASEAN countries.  On any given day, hundreds of officials from district, provincial and national levels are taking part in English language training and an ASEAN awareness campaign.

In addition to language training, Thailand also recognizes the urgent need to educate the Thai people about their immediate neighbors and the challenges posed by the ASEAN Community.

Peace Corps Thailand Group 124

The Community Based Organization Development (CBOD) sector of Peace Corps Thailand was originally established to provide skill and economic development at the sub-district government/administrative level.   However, by the time Peace Corps Thailand Group 124 arrived in Thailand in January 2012, most public leaders including those at the lowest sub-district level were feeling the pressure to up their game in terms of English education and ASEAN Awareness.

In March 2012, CBOD Volunteers in Group 124 arrived at site with our 2-year plans for community development work in hand only to find that the game had changed.  We were faced with a new set of goals; teach English and teach ASEAN.

Tambon Mae Pao

I’ve rather enjoyed the change of direction.  As an educator and meeting planner by profession, I’ve found a natural niche here as an organizer and facilitator of training initiatives for youth and adults.  During my first year of service at site we’ve successfully undertaken several key initiatives aimed at enhancing English language and ASEAN awareness including:

  • In June 2012, we hired 2 additional English teachers with better than average speaking abilities.
  • In September 2012, we conducted a 2-day English Camp for 120 6th grade students with the focus on English conversation.  We plan to conduct a similar camp in the fall of 2013.
  • We have conducted a number of smaller English-based initiatives at our local schools such as “Celebrating Christmas,” and “Love to Read.”
  • We have also designed and run a series of ESL programs for adults.
  • But by far our biggest ASEAN initiative took place in early 2013. Over a 2-month period, 7 local schools, 600 students, 40 teachers, 7 school principals and our S.A.O. collaborated on The Children’s ASEAN Initiative.  Over an eight week period teachers and students studied and prepared for a day-long community-wide ASEAN Festival complete with a parade of nations, ten ASEAN country booths and structured learning activities.  In my last post, Children’s ASEAN Initiative  I’ve included more details about the project and some really great pics.


The upcoming implementation of The ASEAN Community has created a kind of angst in Thailand similar only to that faced by the rest of world as we entered the new millennium.  It’s pretty much all anyone in Thailand talks about.  The impact of these upcoming economic changes has significantly changed my role as a Peace Corps volunteer.  But a year in, I confess that the work I’m doing is both fun and extremely rewarding.  I feel extremely blessed to be here.

Children’s ASEAN Initiative

April 15, 2013

Children’s ASEAN Initiative

In early 2013 our village undertook a Children’s ASEAN Initiative.   Designed to help all 600 students in grades 4-9 from seven community schools learn about the countries of ASEAN in a fun and interactive way,  the two-month ASEAN project consisted of three parts:

Part 1:  ASEAN Map

In early February, two students from each of seven schools worked together to paint a large map of ASEAN on portable canvas.  The map now travels from school to school and serves as a tool for part two of this project.

Here is a slideshow of Part 1: Painting the ASEAN Map

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Part 2:  ASEAN Study

I am really proud of the degree to which the 600 students in this project engaged in studying ASEAN.  In Part 2, each community school drew the name of  one ASEAN country.  Based on school size, several schools  drew two countries so that all ten ASEAN countries were covered. Over an 8-week period, each school completed the following assignments and prepared for a community-wide ASEAN Festival.

  1. Studied 13 topics about their assigned country
  2. Prepared materials for an ASEAN festival booth
  3. Prepared a song and dance performance to be given at the ASEAN Festival
  4. Designed a fun game or activity for their country
  5. Organized “Tour guides” for their country booth.
  6. Prepared to attend the festival dressed in the clothing of their assigned countries

The program was conducted in Thai.  However, because the  official language of ASEAN in English and, because despite their differences, children in all ASEAN nations share some of the same needs and wants, a group of 18 students came together to learn the Raffi song “All I really need.”

Below is a slide show of the ASEAN Country Booths created by each school.

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Part 3:  ASEAN Festival

An all-day ASEAN Festival was held on Friday March 8.    Each group decorated a country booth with materials from their studies (slideshow above).  The objective was to present a colorful and interesting presentation of each ASEAN Country.  A total of 823 people attended the Festival which consisted six elements.  The first was the

  1. Opening Parade of Nations in costume with national flags and anthems

Here is a slideshow of the opening parade.  I’ve got to say that a lot of work went into this initiative but it was at the parade that I truly realized just how much work had been done by the teachers and students.  Tired as I was, the emotions of the day took over and I began to tear up.

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After the opening parade, the festival moved on to:

2. A presentation of the student’s ASEAN Map to the community and

3. Student travel to each ASEAN country (booth) to complete the questions in their ASEAN Passport.  Although students had mastered the facts of their assigned country, they had not yet studied the other nine countries in ASEAN.  Here is a slideshow of our students at work

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During the day each school performed a song or dance from their country. They were beautifully done. Here’s a look:

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And finally, we ended the day with a student choir singing Raffi’s “All I really need” in English (and fireworks!)


The Hill Tribe Village of Ga Lae

December 4, 2012

As I mentioned in my recent post,  my town (Tambon) in northern Thailand is  home to 10,000 people of which 3000  belong to the Hmong hill tribe.  These people live in three small villages tucked away in the mountains surrounding the valley. They are some of the most interesting people I’ve met.

According to Wikipedia and some other Internet sources (mostly unreliable):

  • The Hmong are a diligent and independent people who are believed to have been the original inhabitants of the Yellow River valley in ancient China. The expansion of the neighboring Chinese from the north, (sorry Vivi) caused a disruption in the Hmong culture and forced them to migrate southwards to escape oppression and persecution. The futile efforts to establish themselves as an independent people apart from the expanding Chinese led to their mass exodus into Southeast Asia. From here, they made their way into what became Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.
  • The Hmong are now the second-largest hill tribe group and are sometimes referred to as Meo.  Among hill tribes, the Hmong are becoming well integrated into Thai society and are considered among the most successful. The current population of Hmong in Thailand is estimated to be roughly 151,080.
  • They are largely animistic and best known for their intricate embroidery. Known to be fiercely independent and with nomadic tendencies, they sided with communist rebels in Thailand in the 1970s, while the Hmong of Laos sided with the US during the Vietnam and Laos wars – both seeking self-determination.
  •  The Hmong live in houses that sit right on the ground, not on stilts as do some other hill tribes. For a long time the Hmong supported themselves by the cultivation of opium poppy. Most of the Hmong people have turned from opium growing, and are now seeking to market their exquisite needlework in order to supplement their income.
  • Hmong women traditionally make clothing for their families from cotton or hemp. Their clothing is richly decorated with magnificent embroidery and silver jewelry. Blue Hmong women wear beautiful pleated skirts with bands of red, blue and white intricately embroidered. Jackets are of black satin, with wide orange and yellow embroidered cuffs and lapels. White Hmong women wear black baggy trousers with a long wide blue cummerbund. Their jackets are simple, with blue cuffs.
  • Hmong men make crossbows, musical instruments, and other items of wood, bamboo and rattan. Many of the men are also skilled in blacksmithing and gunsmithing.
  • The Hmong are strict animists, whose shamans use dramatic methods to contact the spirits.  They are much devoted to the sky spirit they believe has created their own ancient way of life.  Please note however that in my villages  there have been quite a  few converts to Christianity.

In late August 2012, my friend Tess McLoud and I were invited to spend the night in the Hill Tribe village of Ga Lae (pronounced Galay).  We slept on the floor of a small preschool as the guests of two preschool teachers, Kru Mon and Kru Hai.  Here is a slide show with the story of our visit.

Note:  To slow down the transition of each slide and read the captions, press the pause button and then press the right arrow to advance one at a time. 

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Where in the World?

November 29, 2012

It’s been a while since my last post, and really, I’ve  no  excuse for not writing….except to say that life as a Peace Corps Volunteer, while wonderful at times, can drain the life away from you at others.  This is a wild journey and I’d do it all over again in a New York minute, but the experience is so big and all encompassing, even in the utopia of Thailand, it’s been hard to describe it in words.  So month after month I open my blog only to close it again.

But things are beginning to settle down.  I’ve learned some language, tripped over some painful cultural differences and learned my lessons, made a few friends, done a few projects and am ready to share my story.

Pre-service Training  

  • I think when asked, many Peace Corps Volunteers would say they’d serve all over again  if only they could just skip pre-service training.  I mean no offense to our very skilled and dedicated Ajaans (teachers), but PST was a bear.  Think of it as military boot camp for the peacekeepers.  We arrived in the Province of Singburi in Central Thailand at 3:00 am after a 25 hour flight and 2 hour bus ride and were told to report to duty at 8:00 am the next morning.  Four hours later and half awake we stumbled into a large ballroom only to be whisked away by a beautiful woman wearing a smile and holding a hypodermic needle in each hand.
  • For 5 days we lived fairly well as we learned to speak enough Thai to introduce ourselves to the Governor, use a squat toilet without missing the bowl, take a bucket shower without removing our clothes, use a mosquito net, sit on the floor with our legs tucked behind us in what must be the most uncomfortable position imaginable and eat a chicken wing with a fork and spoon by cutting it into Thai-size bites the size of your fingernails.
  • After 4 days and the basics down, we met our Thai host families who would patiently provide housing, food, love and support as well as serve as a petri dish for our language and cultural education over the next 2.5 months.  I loved my host family.  Chon and Luuk-naam are both 37 years old government employees who live in a beautiful house surrounded by rice fields in a village of 500 people.  They have three young daughters ages 7, 5 and 1 year.  Like most Thai families, Chon’s mother and father lived in their house and Luuk-naam’s mother and father lived next door. .  They were kind, generous and fun…but totally lacking in spoken English!
  • And so began my journey into the world of Thai culture and language.  Six days a week we studied from 8:00 am -5:00 pm with four hours of intense language training in the morning and four hours of technical training in the afternoon.  Each morning we rode our bikes in the 95 degree heat from our host families’ home in the country to our training site 8k away.
  • To make things “real,” air-conditioning was prohibited in both our classrooms and at home with the hope that by the time we arrived at our sites, we would be acclimated to the weather.  By the time we arrived to class each day we were dripping with sweat and 2 seconds away from a heat stroke only to spend the next 4 hours sitting in a chair in a boiling classroom trying to stay awake. The lucky of us got to sit in front of a fan the size of an aircraft engine and with hair blowing about us like a January snowstorm, dream of other things.
  • And when we were finally dry, we got to do it  all over again on the  trip back home only to sit through dinner trying to stay awake and interact using on the 5 words we had learned in class that day.  I quickly learned to say “It’s 7:30.  I am old and going to bed now!”
  • But with a lot of TLC from our host families, some ruthless but highly effective training from our Ajaans and the occasional trip to the Walmart-size super-store, Tesco-Lotus to buy chocolate, we survived, we learned, we passed our Language Proficiency Exams, we received our site-assignments and were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.

My Site

  • I now live in a small farming community about 40k east of the city of Chiang Rai.   Chiang Rai is the northern most province in Thailand and my community is situated in a valley of rice fields surrounded by mountains.  My daily walks and bike rides take in some of the prettiest countryside in Thailand. (Okay, I’m biased!)
  • Even though our Tambon (town) is considered fairly large in area, it has no ATM, Post Office, 7-Eleven, gas station, hardware or grocery stores.   To get money or post a letter I have go to the Amphur (county center) about 10-12 k away.
  • While there are larger markets in the Amphur and even a few grocery stores in Chiang Rai city, my day-to-day supplies come from 2 small,  local markets and a bunch of raan-khas or local shops the size of a postage stamp that sell the same assortment of snacks, UHT milk products, washing detergent, condensed sweetened canned milk and an occasional Chaang beer.
  • We have a bunch of food stalls and a few small restaurants that are open until 2:30 pm but most people cook at night and eat at home.  And while there are no bars in our village, the amount of Thai whiskey consumed in the back of people’s homes and at town festivals and events could keep the Thai economy going for a very long time.
  • I stayed with a second host family for the first 5 weeks at site, mostly to help with integration.  I now live in a rental house in a village of less than 1000 people.  I cook my own meals, some Thai, some Farang (western).  My staple, go-to dinner is gai yaang (grilled chicken) from the market, with brown rice and a cucumber/tomato salad.  Most Thais think my diet is boring and repetitive but after a long day of working with people who speak no English and who see the world completely differently than I do, I crave the sameness of food that feels familiar.

My People

  • Our site is made up up of 10,000 people living in 20 small villages (muu baans).  About a third of these people are part of the Hmong Hill Tribe who live in mud huts in the mountains surrounding the town.
  • Approximately 90% of the people here are independent farmers growing rice in the rainy season and fruit (mangoes, watermelon, bananas, lum yai, long kong, mangosteen and my all time favorite, rambutan) in the drier months.  The other 10% of the population is made up of government workers (jao-na-tee), teachers and other professionals.
  • Many people augment their income by forming small business groups that make crafts such as woven floor mats or products such as brown rice.
  • People in this area of Thailand speak both central and northern Thai.  I speak central Thai with a few northern terms thrown in to make me feel cool. The Thais are so unaccustomed to hearing Farangs speak Thai that even on my worst days I’m complimented on my fluency and when you add in the five words of northern Thai, well I’m just off the charts in their eyes.
  • Though most people have studied English in school, most don’t speak it.  Some say they are just too shy but I say they just don’t want to sound mai suay or not pretty. To a Thai, being pretty is everything.  It applies to the tone of your voice, your dress, hair, makeup, the color of your skin, the choice of ink and type font for documents…. well you get the picture.  Unfortunately, after riding my bike 4k to work in the 95 degree heat each day, I am rarely suay when I arrive.  I’m sweaty, my hair is frizzy and whatever makeup I put on before leaving the house has transferred to the handlebars.  I think my Thai co-workers have just given up on me, though once in a while they’ll have an intervention and attempt to braid my hair into something presentable.
  • I love my co-workers.  Yes, they talk about me behind my back (or in front of my face in rapid northern Thai), they walk away mid-sentence when I speak too slowly, they think my food and table manners are disgusting and they’re  secretly plotting to dye my hair Waffle-House black so that I’ll be more suay,  but they are kind, fun-loving and caring.    We attempt to communicate with each other in central Thai but our communication often needs a boost with hand-gestures, pencil and paper sketches and a lot of acting!  Google Translate helps but it’s not always accurate and at times can produce sentences that are down-right incorrect if not hinky.
  • In addition to friends at work, I have also made some friends in my village and I am a favorite of the yais or old people who, without teeth or the ability to speak central Thai, are forced to communicate their affection through pats, hugs, smiles and the annoying habit of grabbing my belly fat.
  • In addition to friends, I have access to any number of chickens, roosters, geckos, frogs, spiders, centipedes, and my personal favorite, Tokay lizards, right in my back yard (and often right in my house.) So I never lack for company!

My Home

  • Rental houses are scarce in rural Thailand so in most cases, you take what you can get.  In my case, the only house available was one that had previously served as a day-care center.  The house sits within the enclosed compound of my Thai landlord, her Italian husband and the rest of her extended family.  When most people think of the Peace Corps, they envision mud huts, bucket showers pooping in a hole and trekking to the local well for water.  But not here.   I have running water, a hot water heater in my shower, electricity, ceiling fans and internet access.  Yep, I lucked out BIG time!

My work

  • I’m a community development volunteers which means I work with three main groups: the elderly, community groups that make and sell handmade items when they are not working in the fields and Youth.
  • For the first six months at site my primary responsibility was to integrate into the community.    This mostly  involved riding my bike around the Tambon and introducing myself, attending every event offered in the village, sitting through 3-4 hour meetings where I had no idea what was going on, standing on a stage and singing karaoke and being grilled on whether I had ever used a washing machine, computer or copier , and my personal favorite, being dragged on stage to introduce myself in Thai to a large audience without advanced notice.
  • This fall, I facilitated a large English camp for 120 students.  I have also designed and run a 10 week program on speaking English for adults.   I am now planning a community-wide ASEAN  festival to be held the last week in January.  Sanook! (fun)

Getting Around

  • As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, my primary mode of transportation is my 21 speed bicycle, issued to me at the beginning of pre-service training.  If you’re not good at riding a bicycle before you get here, you learn quickly as volunteers are prohibited from riding a motorcycle or driving a car.  Because I work in community development, I typically put in at least 15-20 k per day on my bike with some longer rides on the weekends.
  • During the hot and rainy seasons it’s too far to bike to the Amphur, so I travel via a rot song taao, which is a red pickup truck with top and 2 long benches for seating.  For 90 cents round trip I get to sit crammed together with about 35 Thai people or hang off the back breathing exhaust fumes. By this time, most passengers and bus drivers know me by name so the whole experience is kind of fun.  I can also take the same bus into Chiang Rai, which I do often if only to speak some English or buy some decent coffee.  Now that cold-season has arrived, I’ve started riding my bike to and from the Amphur.

Moving Forward

  • After nearly a year into my 27 month service. I’d love to say that  the hardest part is over, but it’s not.  I’ll continue to have my travails and bouts of homesickness, but I have work to do and places to see before March 2014.  We’ve become a team here at the Peace Corps, doing whatever we can to make a small difference.  In the early days of Peace Corps Thailand, volunteers left behind a more visible impact in the form of latrines, dams and agricultural techniques.
  • For Group 124, our  legacy will be less visible but I think equally important.  I am confident that years from now the people in my village in northern Thailand will remember fondly the older volunteer who at 63 years old was still fit and active, who still had her teeth because she flossed, who was crazy enough to leave family and friends behind for a few years in order to see the world, who was brash enough to speak her mind and demonstrate that conflict can be resolved by talking things through, and who was confident enough to know that suay maak maak has less to do with perfection and more to do with living life to the fullest.

With love,


English Camp

November 15, 2012

On September 13-14, and six months into my site in Northern Thailand,  I designed and facilitated a  2-day English Camp  for 120 6th graders who attended one of 5 primary schools in the community.  The camp consisted of six 1-hour lessons that covered basic English vocabulary used in a simple question and answer sentence structure.  Lessons were co-taught by my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and members of the town’s youth council.  Here’s what happened on Day 1.  

Note: to slow down the transition speed of the slides, press the pause button and then manually press the right arrow for each slide.  

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Minus 2 Days and Counting

January 6, 2012

Tomorrow, I start my journey to Thailand.  I’m flying to Detroit where  53 new Peace Corps Volunteers, who make up Thailand Group 124 will begin “Staging.”  Staging consists of registration, orientation and a half day of large and small group discussions regarding our hopes and dreams for the next 27 months and the Peace Corp’s dreams that we go the distance and behave responsibly, respectfully and reflective of the best America has to offer.  As I shut down the blog for the next several weeks, here’s a plethera of things you might want to know.

We arrive in Thailand on the 10th

24 hours after our departure from Detroit, we’ll arrive in Bangkok and board a bus for a 2-hour drive to our training site in Singburi, Thailand.  The Province of Singburi is in central Thailand and was chosen because its people speak the most universal Thai language and because it was the least impacted by the recent floods.

We’ll spend about 5 days in a hotel catching up on sleep and showers and then move to a host family for the remaining 10 weeks of training.  Though we arrive at 3:00 am we’re expected to show up for breakfast at 6:00 am and training at 8:00 am.  I asked if there was a special “late” session for old people needing a few more hours of sleep before functioning up to par but my pleas landed on deaf ears.

Contact Information

If you need to reach me or just want to be a great friend and send me coffee, letters and packages can be mailed to

Kathleen Williams Group 124

US Peace Corps

242 Rajvithi Road, Dusit, Bangkok 10300

Tel: (+662) 243-0140    Fax: (+662) 243-5777.

A Few Thai Words

As many of you know, I’ve been learning some Thai in hopes of at least being able to find a bathroom upon arrival at the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok .  I’ve really enjoyed Rosetta Stone and have used it for both Thai and French.  For those of you who love languages here are a few words to get you started before you come and visit me in Thailand.

Hello                                        Sa wat dee

How are you?                       Sabai dee mai?

I am fine                                 Sabai dee

My name is                            Dee chan/Pom cheuu (insert your first name)

I am American                    Dee chan/Pom bpen American

Nice to meet you                Yin dee tee dai ruu jak

Where is the bathroom     Hawng nam yuu tee nai?

Note: the word for “I” for females is Chan” or “Dee chan.”  For men its Pom.”

To be polite, women should end each personal statement or question with “Kaa and  men with  “krap.”

Thai Economic Facts

Finally, many of you told me that you like my posts that contain real information about Thailand.   I therefore thought I’d bore you with a bit of economic trivia.  I am not an economist but I do understand a little bit about finance, GDP, and trade.  Here’s what I’ve learned from US Department of State Economy Statistics January 2011.  For those of you bitching about the US economy, check out Thailand’s per capita income and then note that the per capita income in the areas we’ll be serving  is less than a quarter of that.

GDP (2010 prelim.): $317 billion. (Data based on the National Economic and Social Development Board)
Annual GDP growth rate (2010 prelim.): 7.8%.

Inflation rates (2010): 3.3% (headline) and 0.9% (excluding energy and food prices).

Per capita income (2010 prelim.): $4,716.

Unemployment rate (2010 prelim.): 1.0% of total labor force

Natural resources: Tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite.

Agriculture (12% of GDP): Products–rice, tapioca, rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans.

Industry: Types–tourism, textiles, garments, agricultural processing, cement, integrated circuits, jewelry, electronics, petrochemical, and auto assembly.

Trade (2010 preliminary): Merchandise exports–$188.8 billion. Products–automatic data processing machines and parts, automobiles and parts, precious stones and jewelry, refined fuels, rubber, electronic integrated circuits, polymers of ethylene and propylene, rice, iron and steel and their products, rubber products, chemical products.

Major markets–ASEAN, EU, China, U.S., Japan, and Hong Kong.  Merchandise imports–$175.5 billion. Products–crude oil, machinery and parts, electrical machinery and parts, chemicals, iron and steel and their products, electrical circuits panels, computers and parts, other metal ores and metal waste scrap, ships and boats and floating structure, jewelry including silver and gold.

That’s it for now

Training will be rough with little time or energy left for posting.  But I do promise to bring you up to date on my life in Thailand at least monthly.  For those of you who have not signed up for my blog’s automatic email notification, now’s as good a time as any.  My best to all of you!

Oh No…..She’s already looking for handouts!

December 21, 2011

Well not yet.  But before beginning my 27 month, 24/7 assignment in Thailand with its $240 a month living allowance, I wanted to take a minute to introduce you to the concept of the Peace Corps Partnership Project (PCPP).

The PCPP grant offers an opportunity for people  to donate directly to projects that are carried out by Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.  Every cent that is donated goes directly to the volunteer running the project.  This volunteer,  in turn, works with the local community to implement the project and has to account for all the money spent.

Yes,  I know;  there’s  already a plethora of opportunities for people and businesses to support people in developing countries.  But the thing I love about the PCPP grant is that donations go directly to a project in a developing country without any middleman or bureaucracy.

As I write, Peace Corps Volunteers in 45 different countries are looking to fund over 170 grassroots projects.   They are working to open doors in local villages in agriculture, business development, education, environment, gender and development, health and HIV/AIDS, IT, malaria prevention, municipal development, water sanitation and youth development.

Assuredly, over the next 27 months, I will be adding  to this list of grassroots projects.  I will be living in a village in rural Thailand and talking directly to local people about what they need most and what they will be able to carry on for themselves after I leave.   This will help me personally assess what projects will be most beneficial and sustainable.  Ideas and needs might include: building  an English children’s library, developing a group of IT trainers to enhance basic computer literacy,  sponsoring a camp/program to empower young girls and women, building a garden to teach children how to grow organic vegetables, designing a “Life Skills” camp focused on Aids and pregnancy prevention,  providing services directed at Diabetes management and wellness for the elderly,  or even establishing a  grassroots recycling program for old tires and other rubber products to replace the current toxic method of burning.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of my work in Thailand will require no funding at all and those that do will be funded with matched dollars. But you can count on the fact that if  and when I do need your help, I will be working very closely with my community on a shared vision that will hopefully last a life time.

So that’s it…just a heads-up with my “thanks” in advance for your enthusiastic support.

Best of everything to you in the New Year and may my return in March 2014  find you healthy, happy, employed and prosperous.


More Than a Clean White Shirt

December 18, 2011

As volunteers with the United States Peace Corps we are restricted to 80 lbs of checked luggage plus a small personal bag to carry on the flight.  In theory, this should be a n0-brainer.  I’m a million-mile Sky Miles member on Delta and experienced in packing light.  And Thailand is not, after all, an underdeveloped, third-world country where the  nearest toothbrush is sold in a town 8 hours away by open air bus, crowded with 100 farmers and their livestock.

But still, this is 27 months we’re talking about, not an overnight business trip to D.C.

I’ve read somewhere that there are two different mindsets when packing for service in the Peace Corps.  The first involves traveling with only the shirt on your back and seeing what happens when you get there.  With a change of khakis, a clean white shirt and a pair of Chacos, this group inevitably waits until the day before staging to throw a few things in a backpack and head out the door.

I envy this group, mostly because they look so young, cool and free-spirited getting off the plane with their hands free and able to give a “high five” to everyone in the airport welcoming committee.  And, after all, the Peace Corps is all about being young, cool and hip,  so much so that the standard advice used to terrorize the rest of us is “Make sure you pack light.  You don’t want to look stupid getting off the plane in Bangkok with so much luggage you can’t wave and high five, do you?”

Well actually, I do.  At my age, I don’t need to be hip.  I figure I’m cool enough just showing up for this crazy adventure.  I’m young enough to still ride a bike, mentally able to still learn a new language and free-spirited enough to live with a family who speaks no English, in a town that can’t be found on MapQuest.   So I am free to join the ranks of the second, cram everything you can into your 80 lbs (maybe 90 but whos counting?) of checked luggage and then start stuffing the rest into your carry on bag, purse, pockets, shoes, even bra, group.

You’ll recognize me in Bangkok as the one who resembles a Dutch immigrant debarking on Ellis island in the late 1800s.  With enough medicine, hair straightening products and underwear to get me to March, 2014, I will not be a pretty sight.  But I will be the one the next morning who is enjoying her fresh cup of Starbucks coffee made with a French press that was hooked on the waistband of her pants throughout 20 hours of flight.

So laugh away.  I’m not sharing!

Only half of this is mine!

Thai Challenge – Round 2

December 1, 2011

With only 37 days left until Peace Corps Thailand Group 124 begins staging for Thailand, I thought it even more important to challenge my co-volunteers and other friends to a second Thai vocabulary challenge.  Take a stab at the crossword puzzle below and let me know when you’ve finished.  Feel free to cheat and use the Reverse Phonemic Transcription on  Meanwhile the answers to last month’s challenge are found at the bottom of this post.  Good luck all yee fellow sojourners! 

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