Carly Houk loves traveling and finds being out of her element intriguing. When she applied to spend an academic year in Thailand with the Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program, she welcomed the challenge of both an unfamiliar language and culture.
“It would have been highly beneficial if I had studied more of the Thai language before leaving,” admits Carly. “By the end of my stay I was conversational, but could only read and write a little bit. On the other hand, it is also good to go into the exchange without any sort of expectations, so in some cases, I wish I had known less about Thailand before going there. Ideally, I would have known a lot about the geography, politics, language, and religion, and left the cultural learning until I arrived.”
Although Carly studied hard prior to her trip, there were still plenty of surprises. Carly was taken aback by the formality of the Thai bow, the wai, though she now sees it as a sign of respect. And while it took some time to adjust to the language barrier, she was helped by her host family, which was much larger than she was used to in the United States.
“It was definitely different to get used to such a huge family, but after a while I loved having such a huge group of people around,” says Carly. “There was always something going on at one time or another, and I always had somebody to talk to, practice my Thai with, or cook with if I wanted.”
Carly’s most unforgettable moment came when she participated in a Buddhist temple service and offered alms to the monks with her host grandmother, who said that it meant the two had “met in another life.” Experiences like these gave Carly a greater global perspective, and she now sees her future as filled with opportunity.
“Above all, it really changed the way I look at the world,” says Carly. “I constantly find myself thinking about my life on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and it makes me realize how big this world truly is,” she says. “[The program] forced me to adapt to a new place, and therefore opened up my mind to all the possibilities there are for exploration and discovery beyond the borders of my home country.”
Carly is thankful for the new friends and support system she was able to build in Thailand and hopes all students considering something unique to enhance their high school education will make the choice to participate in a program like hers.
“I encourage you to talk to any exchange resource [alumni, program staff and volunteers, etc.] you can find to get as much information as you can about the program, and to take the leap into the unknown. It will be the best choice you make,” says Carly.