05 July, 2016


Alyssa is from Lawrence, Massachusetts and graduated Valedictorian from Saint Michael’s College with a BA in Anthropology/Sociology and Environmental Studies. Prior to Fulbright, she served as an AmeriCorps Fellow at a Boston middle school. She most recently served as a Fulbright ETA at Jorakhe Wittayayon School in Khon Kaen province. She enjoyed bringing laughter and movement to learning through vocabulary games and her students’ favorite, Bingo. Throughout her time in Thailand, Alyssa has been able to connect with her surrounding community, helping the local veterinarian and playing badminton with teachers. She enjoyed participating in two of Thailand’s half-marathons and forming life-long friendships.

Anne Frank once said, “Think of all the beauty still around you and be happy.” For some time, I have struggled with eating disorders and have forgotten to see the beauty in myself and the world around me. However, Thailand showed me what I was missing. When I was accepted to Fulbright, I was nervous about living in a country with an entirely different cuisine and culture surrounding food. When I arrived at my school in Khon Kaen, the teachers greeted and welcomed me with lunch. I accepted a small portion of rice and a boiled egg. When told to eat more numerous times, I grew nervous and repeated what I found to be the most important Thai phrase, “Im Leu” which means “I am Full.” I worried that I would ruin my relationship with my new friends because everything I had learned so far indicated that I had to partake in this food culture to fit in. However, something amazing happened. 

First experience teaching in Bangkok

I stopped and looked around hoping to find something beautiful and I did. I saw badminton rackets, bicycles, and volleyballs. At this moment, I began wondering what the exercise culture of Thailand entailed. What were all of the sports and activities that my new community partook in? My first taste of this culture was badminton. Every day after school, two teachers and I would play for one hour. We set up a scoring system, allowing us to keep track of points and of who had the most wins. Although I consider myself an athlete, I never won. Not once. Therefore, I often took my turn waiting on the bench. While resting, I laughed and learned more Thai words as the teachers shouted challenging remarks back and forth as well as the word for windy when someone made an error. As the badminton birdie flew back and forth between my two, smiling teachers, I myself smiled and felt that I had found my place here. I didn’t have to change who I was; instead, I was able to blend my love of exercise with theirs and allow my true self to shine through. 

Finish line of the 13th Annual Khon Kaen Marathon!

My next endeavor into the exercise culture was running the Khon Kaen International Marathon. Prior to coming to Thailand, I knew that I wanted to partake in the half marathon part of the event. When I arrived, I was excited to learn other English Teaching Assistants also hoped to join. As the weeks passed in January, I would run every day, training bit by bit for the big day! The psychical education teacher at my school had run the marathon in the past and was thrilled when I shared my training plan with him. My host teacher’s husband also planned to run the full marathon and was set to be one of the oldest participants. I enjoyed being able to talk with him about running. I never imagined that running would be as much a part of Thai culture as it is in my life. When the day finally arrived, I remember standing at the starting line and thinking how everything in my life had changed. I moved to Thailand, I trained for my first half marathon, I found my place in a new community, and I was happy. 

Making friends at Elephant Nature Park!

A happiness that continued throughout the whole race despite some foot pain! Spectators cheered as all of us runners passed by. Everyone around me was smiling, cheering, and enjoying being a part of something that transcends differences. Regardless of race, religion, or culture, people can join together for running. And so, I kept running my way through Thailand. Every visit I made to Bangkok, I ran around Lumphini Park. A taxi driver taught me how to express my love of the park in saying, “Chan chop Suan Lum” (I like Lumphini Park). I ran around the largest lake in Khon Kaen every single weekend. I joined the Valentine’s Day race in Chiang Mai which was the first of its kind. I ran around my school every morning with almost seven dogs which elected themselves as my bodyguards, making sure no other stray dogs bothered me. Every step I took brought me a feeling of closeness to a part of Thai culture that I did not know existed. 

My neighbor, Poolita, visiting me at school!

To my excitement, the exercise culture included even more than running. I played volleyball with my students after school for a few days. I also learned of a game titled, takraw, which can be described as kick volleyball. The students would leap and spin in the air as they kicked a bamboo ball back and forth over a net. In the private of my own driveway, I would practice trying to kick the ball while remaining in one place in order to feel comfortable enough to step onto the court and try this new game. However, as the bamboo ball alluded my feet and rolled down my driveway into the trees numerous times, I realized that this was not an easy game. Soon after, I went to a festival where sponsored teams were participating in a takraw competition. I remember admiring the players as they leapt in the air like ninjas. My host father also took an interest in this sport, which allowed us to bond over yet another aspect of the exercise culture. 

Soon after the festival, an event titled Bike for Dad arrived. Two teachers at my school tossed a shirt at me and invited me to join. I was told to be ready in ten minutes. “Okay!” I shouted as I tossed my bike into the back of their pickup truck and headed to the starting line. I felt so relieved in this moment that I was making friends through sports rather than dining. Several people in the nearby village also joined the event. Some rode bicycles while others stood along the side of the roads. Many people greeted me in the traditional Thai way which is to wai. I attempted to return the act with two hands, but soon remembered that I am not that savvy on a bike. As I continued to pedal past onlookers and rice fields and the sun slowly set, I was again very happy. While running allowed me to see the beautiful cities, the bike ride allowed me to explore the pure, undeveloped parts of Thailand.

Bike for Dad

Throughout all of these experiences and more, my fellow teachers and host mother came to understand and appreciate me in the ways that I was different from them. Teachers gifted me with a badminton racket and a volleyball, and if food was the gift it was either corn or bananas. To close, when I think about the phrase “Im leu” now, I think of how true it is. Maybe I am not full because of all the papaya salad and sticky rice, but I AM FULL of love and happiness from my time in Thailand and from the people who have forever impacted my life. Thailand and the community I became a part of, have taught me to believe in myself, see the beauty around me, and that it is okay to say no as long as you say yes to something else.

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