I pass four 7-11 stores on my 14 minute walk to work. I am greeted with a blast of spicy aromas, gusts of wind from the passing of motorbikes, and warm, heavy, humid air each morning as I make my commute. Fresh coconut ice cream is a MUST each afternoon, and I can’t seem to get enough seaweed salad. When it rains, it’s a downpour…an exciting environmental change when the air becomes nearly unbearable. Over the next few months I am interning at JUMP! Foundation in Bangkok, Thailand, and despite being drenched in sweat all day long, I am LOVING my experience.
I arrived last Tuesday evening after traveling for a little over 24 hours. As I picked up my bags and left the airport, I was filled with excitement, curiosity, and anticipation for the week to come. With everything that’s happened, it’s hard to believe that only a week has passed since my arrival. I am loving Bangkok (more than I expected), which gives me mixed feelings as I know I’m literally half the world away from my family and friends in the states.
Moving anywhere new can be tough. I find it easiest to have an open mind, be explorative, make no assumptions, and find opportunities for enjoyment. My two years in Ireland taught me adaptability. Bangkok is just about on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ballyvaughan, in all capacities, though I am able to find wonderful charm in each place. For those of you who don’t know, I am here in Bangkok as the Marketing and Communications intern for Jump! Foundation. Jump! works with young people on empowering global citizenship through workshops that emphasize leadership, personal, and community development skills. I feel incredibly fortunate that I’m getting to work with an organization that has a mission and set of values that I am confident standing behind. Every aspect of the workplace is enhanced when you believe in the work you’re doing.
On my first day in the office, one of my colleagues, Katrina, showed me around, brought me out for coffee, and walked me to the apartment that I’m staying in. She went above and beyond to make me feel welcome and oriented. Just to add to the sense of welcome I felt, most everyone in the office took the time out of their busy schedules to entertain me during lunch. We went to a delicious Thai restaurant just around the corner from the office and stuffed our faces with several delicious dishes. Before returning to the office, one of the girls, Graci, brought me to a coconut ice-cream stand to grab a cone—it was so refreshing, creamy, and just what I needed to top off an already perfect meal.
After a wonderful first day of work, some of the women at the office invited me to join them at one of their homes for a clothing swap party. I felt badly that I had nothing to contribute but was so excited to be included. My girlfriends in Ireland always did clothing swaps at the end of each semester, so this event made me feel right at home. If you haven’t done one before, grab some friends and set a date on your calendar! It’s such a fantastic way to reduce waste and reuse. I ended up going home with a few new dresses and a new shirt and really enjoyed getting to know a few new women in the process.
In the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about Thai culture than what little I knew based on the content I’d read prior to my arrival. In Thailand, you remove your shoes in the home and workplace. The feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body and the head the most sacred. You’d think it would feel funny being barefoot at work, but it’s honestly such a treat! I feel like I’m in the comfort of my own home AND I don’t have to worry too much about making sure my shoes coordinate with my outfit.
Outside of the wonderful welcome that my coworkers provided, I’ve also received a considerable salutation from the people I’ve met and interacted with on the street and in other public spaces. Though I’m embarrassed to share it, one particular moment stands out. I think it’s worth my shame as it highlights the integrity that seems inherent in Thai culture. Headed to a work event with several bags in hand, I waiting on a bench for the BTS (public transport train system) to arrive. As soon as the train pulled up, I quickly grabbed my things and mistakenly dropped my wallet. I didn’t notice until an incredibly kind man ran after me and just before the doors of the train closed he tapped me on the shoulder and shoved my wallet back in my hand. My heart stopped at his thoughtful gesture and at my own ignorance. “Kap Kun Ka, Kap Kun Ka, Kap Kun Ka” (Thank you, thank you thank you), I quickly stated in my broken Thai. I meant it, sincerely.
On a less personally embarrassing note—I am LOVING Thai cuisine. Thailand is one of the few places in the world where you can eat out for less than it would cost to cook your own food. There is an abundance of fabulous restaurants and street food everywhere you turn. For dinner tonight I indulged in a bowl of shrimp pad thai which cost me 75 baht, the equivalent of $2.44. The food is abundant, fresh, and vibrantly satisfying. My tastebuds explode with every bite and I look forward to every meal, since each provides a new and exciting experience full of flavor and a happy belly.
My favorite lunch go-to (for less than 3 USD)
My first weekend was wonderful. Lucky for me, JUMP!’s annual Executive Board Meeting fell on the first weekend of my time in Bangkok, so I spent Friday evening celebrating the end of the work week with members of the JUMP! team and board. We started the evening with cocktails on rooftop bar. It was my first time seeing the city from that perspective. After great conversation, we moved the party to a restaurant where we were brought many flavorful and warm family-style dishes. I so enjoyed sharing the evening with such wonderful individuals. It gave me confidence that coming here was a great decision.
On Saturday I went for a run, which ended with me excitedly distracted with the sights and sounds of an Asian market. Though I didn’t know until later, the market that I arrived at happened to be the largest market in Asia—the Chatuchak Market. It covers about 27 acres and has over 8,000 different stalls selling nearly anything and everything imaginable. I was most engaged by the stalls selling litters of fluffy puppies. The small dogs looked like stuffed animals, all perfectly groomed and ready to win over a future human mom or dad.
Sunday was a very special day. For those of you who weren’t aware, it was the final day of World Refugee Week. In order to share and promote the importance of the week, a local cafe and cultural center, Bangkok 1899 led an afternoon and evening long workshop. I showed up just as the afternoon began at noon and stayed until around 5. At the workshop, I enjoyed Afghan, Somalian, and Pakistani food made by some individuals in the surrounding communities. With a belly full of vegetarian salad, rooti (stuffed bread), and a few samosas, I enjoyed relaxing and chatting with the other attendees.
Before leaving the event, I learned how to make a samosa…with decent success. I also got a beautiful henna tattoo, enjoyed fabulous entertainment of song and dance, and met the current artist in residence of Bangkok 1899, Tiffany Singh. Meeting Tiffany was one of the biggest highlights of my day. She’s a wonderful female artist and mother, interested in the empowerment of other female artists. I’ve already marked my calendar for her show opening on September 1st. To see some of her amazing work, I encourage you to check out her website.
It feels good to wrap up my first week in Thailand. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here. I realize it’s a privilege and I feel honored to share my experience. I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring.
Have a lovely week, friends.