24 March, 2017


Mia Prohaska is a 2016-2017 Fulbright-AMCHAM ETA placed in Sansai Wittayakom in Chiang Mai. She graduated with a BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) from Pacific University. Mia loves teaching in Thailand as this has been a long time dream. Five years ago Mia was a senior high school student in Chiang Rai, Thailand. She loves exploring the country and is trying to make it to every province in the north. She also has a deep love for Thai kanom (snacks). In her free time, she likes to cook, hike and volunteer. After her grant, she plans to move to Philadelphia and pursue her masters in social work.

When I found out I was selected as a finalist for Fulbright Thailand, I was over the moon. I had wanted this since I was a sophomore in college and first learned about Fulbright. I felt like every paper I wrote, every hour I stayed up late studying, every moment I spent giving back to my community was paid back to me in my acceptance. The first two people I called to tell this exciting news to was my Mom and John (my step dad). John believed I would be accepted for this award, even when I was convinced I wouldn’t be chosen. Thus, he was the first person I wanted to tell this exciting news to. “ I’m so proud of you, sweetie,” he spoke over the phone. I remember those words so clearly because they are the last words he ever spoke to me, it was only a week later he passed away.

After his 
passing, a family friend released an interview he did with John. In that interview, he asked John what quality he admired most in others. John replied “persistence”—People who stay strong in what they believe in, and put in the work needed to achieve their goal. When I heard him say those words I decided that’s who I was going to be in Thailand. A person who lives each and every day with total persistence. I felt like this was my way of continuing his legacy, or bringing him back in a small way.

When I got to Sansai Wittayakom, I was determined to show just how persistent I could be in my goal of becoming a teacher worthy of my scholarship. I took on the maximum hours of teaching, I signed up to volunteer at a local orphanage twice a week, I took on various tutoring projects after school, I said hello to every person I saw, and tried to connect with my community. At first I felt great I had always been a pretty busy person, so I was happy I was able to become so involved so quickly. I worked hard to meet the expectations of everyone around me, and said yes to just about everything. I wanted to be the best teacher Sansai ever had, I wanted to leave a legacy I could be proud of and a legacy John could be proud of.

Then a moment with a friend who came to visit me during Loi Krathong helped me realize something. Though it took until now to process this realization. I live in Chiang Mai, so Loi Krathong is celebrated in two different ways. First, the typical way where you sail lanterns down the river, making merit with the river spirits, and past ancestors. The second way is a tradition unique to the north, where you have paper lanterns that are set free into the night sky. The night of Loi Krathong we were in a crowd of hundreds of people each holding a glowing lantern we would all release in the sky simultaneously. We each held an end of the lantern and decided to make a matching wish (I read online that is what you are supposed to do). I told him about my goal of living with persistence and he agreed that was a good wish. 

Loi Krathong was one of the most magical days of my life.

After a beautiful evening of meditating, and listening to hundreds of monks chanting, the signal went off. We let go of our lanterns and watched them soar into the sky. It’s hard to describe that moment, it was like time stopped. I was caught in what felt like a sea of stars in a world that, for a second, was perfect. I stood there taking it all in the lanterns, the glowing faces next to me, the thousands of wishes that filled the sky. At that moment it wasn't work or a legacy I was pursuing; instead, it was my happiness.

A few months later after one of my tougher days I laid in my bed. As I started counting the little lizards pressed against my window, I began thinking about how present I felt during that moment during Loi Krathong. That was the kind of person I wanted to model to my students, someone persistent to live in the moment and someone who lives with compassion towards themselves.

For so long I was measuring the success of my persistence by the results of my work. Every day I would go home and think to myself “Did I do enough today?” When a class would go poorly from time to time, and I teach 7 classes of 40+ M-1 students. I would think to myself I need to be more persistent towards my lesson planning. When I would have a free evening, I would think to myself, I need to be more persistent towards connecting with my community. I became too critical with myself and started to get overwhelmed when I made mistakes, causing me to make more mistakes. 

I am the luckiest girl in the world to spend a year with such amazing students.

I am now trying to take this motto of persistence and apply it towards my own well-being. Attempting to balance staying persistent in my work and being persistent about my own personal self-care are still something I work on daily as I believe change doesn’t happen overnight. Thailand has always been a teacher for me, though. It is a country that constantly pushes me to be my best self.

The first thing I am working on is being more persistent towards advocating for myself in moments I feel important to do so. This can be a challenge in Thailand’s passive culture and my own passive personality. I am now learning there are ways to advocate for yourself, while respecting cultural boundaries, and part of living here is learning how to do that successfully. Recently, there was a moment in my personal life that for the first time in years instead of just saying “yes,” I actually tried explaining why I felt my point was valid. It was challenging because a huge part of me wanted to just agree with the other person to keep the peace. Even so, I was able to explain my feeling and in the end, I walked away feeling so proud of myself for saying something. If it wasn’t for this year in Thailand I don’t think I would have been able to act on this moment of small courage.

Hanging up Christmas wishes at Sansai Wittayakom.

The next thing I am working to be persistent in is finding beauty in small moments, and remaining in the present moment. It may be something really small like a student getting a phrase right or savoring the warm greetings I hear when I first start the day. I am learning to celebrate those moments and hold on to them as much as I do with the tougher moments.

Santa paid Sansai a visit this year!

I remember one day after successfully making a pan of brownie with my M-1 students, one of my students who really struggles with English came up to me, and in perfectly clear English he said “good job, teacher.” I was so impressed and proud of him as it was such a touching moment. It made me remember just why I wanted to be a teacher in Thailand so badly, and why I am so lucky to have this job. I’m still carrying that happy memory with me using it to remind myself of the little differences teachers can make without even realizing it. 

Made 700 brownies with my M-1 students for open house!

One of the most therapeutic things I’ve found that really helps me submerse myself in the moment and keeps me refreshed during the week is traveling. I have been taking weekends to explore different cities in the north of Thailand. These little weekends of travel are filled so much joy, from rolling hills to ancient temples I feel completely present when I am exploring this magical country.


Tucked away in a Hammock in Pai.

While the journey to get to these cities can be a challenge, I believe staying persistent can help you navigate any confusing bus scenario. Each place I have been to has its own individual charm and something to love. Each city has taught me to see beauty in a slightly different way, and recharges my batteries for the week. Just yesterday I sat on a hill of flowers, drinking tea and feeling complete and total bliss. I couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful for the opportunity Fulbright has given me to see this amazing country, and motivated me to stay persistent in my goal of seeing all that Thailand has to offer.

I am not the perfect teacher as I am still learning how to manage a classroom or make the most engaging lesson plan. Still, I am trying and I recognize that. The way I was defining persistence was all wrong. Persistence isn’t just about working yourself to your limit. Persistence is working to be the best self you can be, which includes loving yourself. I am still struggling to find that perfect balance of hard work and self-love. I do know, however, that I love living in Thailand. I love the way my students’ faces light up when they get something right. I love the meals I share with my fellow English teachers during lunch. I love the way a new adventure and a new city are only a bus ride away. I can find a million things to love about this amazing country that is slowly teaching me to love myself even on the toughest days.

Visiting Sukothai—one of my favorite places in Thailand.

So today I left my house with the mindset that today no matter how the day went I was going to stay persistent to find something to celebrate. So today I celebrated the laughs I shared with my students and teachers whom I feel like family. I celebrated a student's face when he/she won bingo. I celebrated busting a move with some M-1 boys. This is the kind of persistence in life John believed in, and the kind of persistence Thailand is teaching me to live completely in the present.

Sitting in total appreciation as I drink my tea in a garden of wild flowers.


  1. Your story is very inspiring! For me, as a Thai person pursuing a master degree in the USA, I feel like I have just been reminded about my purpose of being here. To learn and embrace new experience!!! I feel like it's much easier to me, compare to you, to adjust to whatever the surroundings are like. Is it possible to maybe we can befriend somehow on social media so we can share our experience?

  2. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you, Mia, for the reminder that in our busy world the greatest moments are right now. The present. No matter where we are, the power is in right now!

  3. Thank you so much for the kind words I'm so glad you liked it :) You can add me on Facebook at Mia Prohaska.