My Luce year has been a whirlwind of firsts. My first time visiting and living in Asia.

My first time living on a tropical island. What was meant to be a two-week quarantine on Phuket upon arrival in Thailand before moving to Bangkok turned into almost four months of living on the island. I created a home in the southern part of Phuket, developed a community, and maintained an active routine.

My first time learning (or attempting to learn) a tonal language. I have been learning Thai since my arrival with various Thai tutors and teachers, some of whom have become good friends. Learning Thai has been frustrating for me because I struggle to hear the difference in tones. A couple months in, I almost thought about giving up entirely, but I decided that attempting to learn the language to the best of my ability was better than not trying at all. Speaking Thai has been an incredible asset in communicating in different settings and exhibiting my embrace of Thai people and their language.

My first time learning and training Muay Thai. I had tried boxing and kickboxing before, but the knee kicks and elbow strikes of Muay Thai make it that much more exhilarating. I trained at a gym on the soi (street) I lived on in Bangkok and I would look forward to my trainings. Although the trainers had won countless fights and had delivered more than a few sweeping knockouts, they are some of the kindest people I have met. They were reserved at first, but once we got to know each other, they would poke fun at me for my dance-like fast punches, tell me about their families and their days as Muay Thai fighters, and show me pictures of their hometowns and their pets.

My first time driving a motorbike. Although apprehensive at first, I learned how to ride a motorbike since it is usually one of the most efficient (and sometimes the most enjoyable) ways to get around many parts of Southeast Asia. I might be the slowest driver on the road, but I love being able to ride through landscapes of jungle and sea. My senses come alive when I feel the wind and the changes in air temperature and smell the trees and the greenery. It’s a religious experience.

My first time visiting Buddhist temples and learning about Buddhist practices and rituals. I learned that monks go out every morning to collect food for the day from the community, and according to my Thai friends, some individuals donate foods that their departed liked to eat. A friend told me that her grandfather donates his deceased wife’s favorite foods to the monks so that she may enjoy them too, which is such a beautiful gesture.

My first time picking a starfruit from a tree and eating it fresh. I got to go on a field trip to Northeast Thailand as part of my placement with a community-based tourism (CBT) social enterprise. The community we visited is known for its indigo dyeing and farming and we got to spend a week there experiencing their local tourism activities and conducting workshops with the locals to help them expand their CBT ecosystem.

Despite all of these firsts, the once novel and foreign experiences now feel familiar and almost commonplace. I never thought that I would feel at home sitting on the back of a motorbike taxi whizzing through the busy streets of Bangkok or asking for a kilogram of mangoes in Thai at the local produce market. This is all a testament to the wonderful people (Thai and foreign) I have met who have welcomed me, befriended me, and answered my many questions. Cheers to these firsts and hopefully many more to come!

by Michelle Abou-Raad on February 02, 2022