By Anna Naran, Foster Undergraduate who participated in an exchange with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
I had one of those sappy dramatic moments the other night as I was driving back from Koh Chang Island. As I was listening to music, sitting next to 6 people that were otherwise complete strangers three weeks prior, and peering outside watching the southern parts of Thailand slowly but surely morph into the central parts, I had an epiphany. We all go through this moment when we apply to go abroad where we think we need to apply to the best place possible. The place that will provide us with the most perspective, the place that will look the best on Instagram, the place that will make us stand out the most on a resume. I had stressed so much before applying to study abroad about where to go, and at that moment it seemed completely trivial. It’s not where you go, it’s what you chose to do when you’re there and who you chose to do things with. The real issue for me, at that moment, was that I had spent so much time fretting over the location, and put barely any effort into thinking about what type of program I had wanted. I am beyond grateful that I happened to stumble upon an exchange, but I think it’s important to stress just how incredible an exchange is. Going abroad is incredible but it can also be vulnerable and scary. It forces you to rely on others in ways you’d never imagine. Going to a foreign country with a huge group of UW students is an amazing opportunity; however, going on an exchange where you are actually forced to open up, make connections, and break down stereotypical boundaries with people from all across the globe, is not only amazing, it’s epic.
I am choosing to reminisce about my time at Koh Chang Island (about a 7 hour bus ride + a 45 minute ferry ride away from Bangkok, Thailand) because up until this little weekend excursion everything had been going perfectly smooth. Though the island was beautiful and we had some amazing times, there were hiccups along the way that tested the entirety of our group. For one, the Airbnb that we booked was not what was advertised online—forcing us to become closer than ever intended. We were all crammed on 3 tiny twin beds trying to brush away the bugs that were everywhere and drown out the sound of the two cats meowing outside our window. We ended up staying up until 2 am the first night laughing about the situation. The memories that aren’t the glamorous ones tend to be the ones you never forget.
Having completely planned the entirety of our next day out, we were surprised to wake up to a full blown monsoon. Our plans of laying out in the sun and kayaking were destroyed. But instead of being upset at the situation we learned to laugh at the misfortunes of our trip and come up with alternative plans. We drove around the island, once the rains stopped, and were able to see parts of the island we probably would have never seen had the rain not ruined our original plans.
Having never ridden a motor bike, and that being the only form of transportation on the island, I quickly was overcome with anxiety and fear. I knew I couldn’t ride one myself; I had even tried and was seriously unsuccessful. But instead of letting my fear get the best of the trip, my roommate told me to stop worrying and to get on the back of hers. A simple solution, yet one that held so much importance. She snapped me out of my fit and told me to move on—showing me that there is always a solution to any problem. Later that day, an Italian girl we were traveling with fell off her bike. She was fine but very shaken up. The way we all came together to ensure that she felt comfortable, flagging down island officials to drive her places so that she didn’t have to go on a bike again, was truly special and a camaraderie that I never expected to see so quickly into this program.
So you see, though the trip was not what we had intended it to be, it was a trip that was important. In the moment, these little hiccups were annoying and made me immensely home sick. But on that drive back, these little hiccups came together to show me that this experience is one I will never forget. I know that whatever happens in these next four months, big or small, will impact me in ways beyond my understanding.