Why studying abroad will change your life

spainIn spring of 2010 I studied abroad in Spain. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I wrote this piece a while back, but this goes out to all of my study abroad homies.

You land in the airport of some country you’ve been Googling pictures of for the past 6 months. You panic for a second when you can’t find your passport, but exhale when you realize you’ve actually been clutching onto it the entire flight for fear that you would loose it, not clear customs, and be forced back to your ordinary life at college.

After meeting up with the rest of your group, you are bused to a small town in some European or South American country where you shuffle off and meet up with your host family who begins to speak to you in a language you can only understand bits and pieces of.

You spend the next few days trying to figure out how to get to the school where you are taking classes, how to use the metro, which buses you will need to take, and how to understand what your host mom is saying.

The next few weeks are a blur of finding the cool people in your study abroad group, becoming friends with them, finding the best bars to hang out in, going into the city and coming home way too late at night. You don’t really pay attention to school (usually you are asleep because you were out so late the night before) and let’s be honest, you care more about having fun and enjoying the country than studying for any test or writing a paper.

The weekends are spent visiting new towns, taking pictures in front of historical landmarks, visiting ancient cities,
eating way too many pastries, and still staying out until the sun rises. You become closer with the people you are sharing this bizarre and unreal experience with. You tell funny stories. You hook up. You pass notes in class.

Then you realize there are only a few weeks left. You stay out even later. You contemplate kissing a local. You realize you’ve gained 8 pounds in 6 weeks. You freak out that you haven’t done everything that you wanted to do. You sleep less.

All of the sudden you find yourself packing everything back into the suitcase you haven’t looked at in months. You get creative in figuring out how to fit everything in with the souvenirs you have acquired. You go out to your favorite bar with your favorite people for the last time. You sing along to the songs that define the past few months. You cry. The next morning you say goodbye to your host family and cry again. And then you are on a plane headed back to normal life.

You don’t realize how much your life has changed until you get back home. Then, after spending hours looking through pictures of the places and people you’ve spent the past few months with, you start to feel it. The aching piece of your heart you left in that other country. And you’re left with stories and memories. But, even though you know that nothing you do will ever compare to those epic months, you would never trade it in for anything else. Because you’ll never be the same and you’ll never to be able to fully explain it to anyone else. You’ll just remember that time you were sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking a city and you’re friend whispered, “You realize we will never get to do anything like this ever again.” Or the time you got yelled at by the police. Or exploring castles. Or having so many inside jokes you start to loose track. Or spending afternoons in the Plaza and stealing wifi from Mcdonalds and watching the locals. And you’ll have get-togethers with your bff’s from the trip and argue about the location of that sketchy club and laugh at the time two of you hooked up in the subway station at 6am while everyone waited for the first train of the morning to take you back into town. And it’s those unexplainable moments that will change your life forever.

Study abroad

Traveling Thailand-Phuket, Khao Lak

Similan Islands

The last leg of our trip was spent in the southern part of Thailand bouncing around to different islands and eating enough boiled bananas that I thought we would start oozing coconut milk. We stayed in Khao Lak, which is about an hour outside of Phuket. It’s quieter and less crowded, leaving us with most of the beach to ourselves.

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The first thing we did after arriving was hit the pool. The pool wrapped around the entire resort, had jet pools, a swim up bar, and in the main pool, a beach front view. We swam the entire thing and at one point during our time there, I was wandering around trying to find my family, only to stop by the swim up bar to find them singing and cheering because it was happy hour and they ordered pina coladas (virgin people, we aren’t that crazy) for everyone in the fam.

We decided to take a day trip out to the Similan Islands, which have been listed in National Geographics top 10 islands in the world (Andaman Sea). The trip out there is rough, but so worth it. I took a seasick pill because my stomach hasn’t held up too well lately. Little brother thought he could brave it, but ended up with his head in the trash can barfing in front of everyone on the boat. My mom had to resist her urge to capture this moment on film out of fear that everyone would think she was a bad mom. She sat back and giggled with me instead. (We aren’t mean and we felt bad, but it really was kiiiiind of funny).

The islands are beautiful and the water is an impossible blue.

Similan Islands

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Michael and I spent one of the days riding long boats and kayaks through Phang Nga Bay which left me speechless. You go early in the morning and kayak in and out of caves and grottoes. You have to lay flat in order to get in and out of these areas and you come so close to having your nose chopped off by limestone that your adrenaline is pumping it’s hardest. We also stopped by James Bond Island which is super crowded, but the formation is amazing. But really, what would it take for me to get a shack on one of these islands? Because I would move there in a heartbeat.

These islands are also beautiful and the water here is an impossible green.

Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

James Bond Island

The other parts of our trip down south included getting massages (which later resulted in a shot in the butt for me, long story), pedicures, ringing in the New Year with fireworks on the beach, and lighting lanterns off at night over the ocean.

Lanterns in Thailand

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Also, shout out to this little restaurant on the beach where we ate every meal (I’m not kidding). They have some great thai food for even better prices. Plus, they are the nicest, most fun people and let us dance to Gangham style with them in the sand.

Khao Lak, Thailand

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Khao Lak, Thailand

Traveling Thailand-Bangkok

Grand Palace Bangkok

Bangkok is our home-base. We flew into Bangkok, out of Bangkok, back in, back out, back in, and sadly one last trip out. In between all of this airport time we managed to visit the gems of Bangkok. Props to my mom for being an amazing tour guide and taking us to the best places.

Our first stop in Bangkok was Chatuchak market. It’s only open on the weekends and we only had one open Friday where we would be in the city. We drove over with Kun Su Shard (sweetest man in all of Thailand who brought us Coke Zeros when we were thirsty) and explored the markets. They have everything there. Needless today it took a lot of self control to not go on a buying spree. Once we were done wandering we hit up some street vendors for chicken sate and some weird bread/butter/evaporated milk thing.

The Grand Palace, BangkokThe next venture into the city was to visit the Grand Palace, which is AMAZING. Often compared to the Forbidden City in China, I think this one takes the cake for me. With giant gold bells and hand mosaics covering many of the buildings and statues, it’s stunning. Also, if you are a boy don’t forget to wear pants. Girls are ok in dresses and sleeves but the guys have to be in pants because Thai people don’t want to see the tourist’s pale calves. Michael got to rent some nice baggy sweatpants to wear over his shorts. Lookin goooood. Coryne was immodest too and was given a long skirt to wear over her shorts.

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Next we hit up the Mandarin Oriental hotel downtown for a late lunch (super late because Bangkok traffic is insane and it took us forever to get there). The hotel is beautiful and set on the waterfront and the food was super yummy. After this we talked them into letting us grab a long boat from there (usually only hotel guests can, but mama Farnsworth got her way). The long boat took us down the river through the city and you can see 5 star hotels sharing property with run down shacks which back up to ancient temples. So cool. We also got pummeled with a wave from another boat and the camera was oh so close to being lost to the waters of Thailand.

Long boat, Thailand

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Mandarin Oriental hotel, BangkokOur last day trekking around Bangkok was spent out at Ayutthaya, the old ruins. We visited a floated market, got our feet nommed on by fish, and hit up as many of the ruins as we could. We had to cut the day short thanks to a pack of pit bulls that attacked us. We were trying to find the entrance, passed a sign written in Thai that apparently said “No trespassing”, and walked onto someone’s property. Before we knew it, 4 pit bulls were headed at full velocity towards us and my mom got the worst of it when one of them chomped her calf. We quickly got out of there and then hit up the doctor later that day where she got to start her 5 series of rabies shots.

fish massageAyutthaya ThailandAyutthaya ThailandAyutthaya Thailand

Ayutthaya ThailandAyutthaya ThailandAyutthaya Thailand

Traveling Thailand-Chiang Mai

Chang Mai, ThailandIn the past two weeks I have travelled by airplane, car, taxi, elephant, ox-car, bamboo raft, speed boat, kayak, and long boat. My family moved to Bangkok this summer and we were able to fly out and visit them for Christmas and New Years. They decided to take the opportunity and show us all sides of Thailand, and I am so grateful they did. I’ll be splitting the trip into three posts which consist of the three legs of our trip; Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Phuket. Without further ado…Chiang Mai.

Flying into Bangkok took three flights: SLC-LA-Tokyo-Bangkok. It was a long and exhausting treck, but everything was worth it. Also, special shout out to the kind stranger who snuck me into the business lounge. My sister is able to go and use the lounge on International flights due to her Gold status, but I am still Silver and she can only bring one guest. Thus, Michael and I were heading out to leave when I saw a lady give me the look and head nod. So I pushed Michael back with Coryne and I snuck in line with stranger lady. She got me in, told me to the enjoy my trip and disappeared. Thank you stranger lady, for letting me enjoy the perks of the business lounge on our long layover.

After landing in Chiang Mai with the fam, we drove about an hour to our hotel, Sukantara cascade restort and spa. It’s a small piece of paradise that is located on a set of waterfalls. We spent every  morning and evening eating homemade Thai food by the waterfalls.

All around Chiang Mai there are signs for crazy animal shows. “Feed a cobra!” “Tame a tiger!” “Stick your head in a crocodile’s mouth!” The crocodile one intrigued my parents and so we found ourselves there. Next thing I know they are pushing me into the pit of crocs and telling me to sit on one to get a picture. What??? I’m pretty sure the one we sat on was drugged but the rest were definitely alive and kickin. My parents thought this was hilarious.

crocodiles in chian maiNotice that I am actually too scared to actually make contact between my butt and the crocodile tail.

This guy is the craziest. I wonder if doing this daily pays well…

crocodileThe next few days were spent visiting the Long Neck People who are from Burma and have moved to Thailand to seek better employment (they are beautiful), shopping in the markets, and hanging out with elephants. I am kind of tempted to go work on an elephant reserve somewhere. Putting that down on my ultimate dream list right now.

Long Neck People

Long neck people of Thailand

Elephants in Thailand

riding an elephant

riding elephants in Thailand

Sukantara resort, Chiang Mai

waterfallThis place is a dream, so if you’re headed to Thailand, don’t miss it.

P.S.-most pictures taken by the one and only Michael P. Curry