Just like that, we found ourselves in the final week of PST. WHOA!
We gathered for our last YinD session on Monday morning and shared details about the previous week’s volunteer projects. After watching a video montage of photos from our time together, we spent the rest of the hour’s session writing words of encouragement in cards for each other. Although my card’s photo is one of the worst I’ve seen of myself, I will forever treasure the kind words from my fellow trainees. The last nine weeks have certainly been filled with many personal struggles, but I absolutely would not have survived the heartaches without support from everyone else in my group.
The rest of Monday was allocated to time slots for our LPI tests. I was thankful to have my test right before lunch because it allowed me to prepare a bit beforehand and then enjoy the rest of the afternoon without worry. I will be the first to admit that my Thai language skills are not great, but I was very proud of the extra effort and determination I dedicated to practicing Thai and felt really good about my performance during the proficiency test.
Tuesday was, without a doubt, the most anticipated day of PST – Site Placement Day! Instead of meeting at our local government office, we took song tao’s to our beloved Golden Dragon Hotel for a day of all-group sessions and the big reveal. After struggling to focus through a morning session on culture and another short session reminding us that ALL of Thailand has beautiful things (not just mountains in the north), we were finally ready for the site reveal!
Never in my life have I seen 65 people so anxious, excited, nervous, scared and giddy all at the same time. As we gathered outside the ballroom doors, chants of “let us in” and “where are we going” started, as did dances, jigs, jumps and shakes.
When the doors finally opened, we hurried inside to find a string outline of Thailand on the floor and sheets of paper marking different provinces scattered throughout. Standing around the county’s outline, we anxiously listened as our Director of Programming, Kathryn, shared the story of her own site reveal in Togo and reminded us that our site would soon become our home. After a goosebump-raising “welcome home”, the announcements finally started.
They started with the south of Thailand, as our group would be the first to send more than a couple of people to the southern part of the country. I watched as many friends and fellow trainees heard their names’ called and hurried to find their spot on the map. After the South came the East, which we knew only had one YinD volunteer site. I was still waiting for my own name to be announced as they then decided to travel north. For those who don’t already know, my geographical preference has always been the North, as there are mountains, coffee farms and wineries a plenty (and, rumor has it, cooler temperatures!)
Our program manager announced the site in Chiang Rai as a YinD site, which got me even more excited, but I was still trying my hardest not to be too excited or bummed if I wasn’t the one whose name was called. And then, in an instant, I heard my name announced as the volunteer going to Chiang Rai! Like others, I hurried to my place on the map (the very farthest north), received my site information packet and subsequently held it in front of my face while I let out a silent yelp of joy.
So there it was, my official site placement and home for the next two years. When I arrived back to my host house that night, I told my host mom I was headed to Chiang Rai. After leaping out of her chair with excitement, she hugged me, which was a first for both of us. As if receiving my site placement information wasn’t enough good for the day, a first hug from my host mom made the day one I’ll certainly never forget.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday weren’t quite as exciting as the earlier part of the week, but were still special in their own way. On Thursday we met with two resource volunteers from the 128 group to discuss volunteer committees and elect members to our group of 129 representatives on the VAC (volunteer advisory committee) committee. Without any prior want or need, I put my hat in the ring for the election and ended up being one of the two representatives from the YinD program. In a nutshell, my involvement in the committee will allow me to work with Peace Corps Thailand’s core staff (basically all the PC employees at headquarters in Bangkok) on behalf of my fellow volunteers. The committee meets in Bangkok quarterly and eats New York style pizza, too, so there’s lots of VAC-related positives in my future.
Saturday was our last full day with our host families, which added twists and turns to the emotional rollercoaster we were all riding. Thanks to the PST staff and volunteer support, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon farewell party with our host families. Among other fun activities, we were able to share words of gratitude and thanks to our host families (in Thai) during the party.
We all moved back to the Golden Dragon hotel on Sunday morning, which brought another twist in the emotional rollercoaster. While waiting for my host mom’s friend to pick me up Sunday morning, I enjoyed a walk around the neighborhood with my Mae (“mom” in Thai). Although she doesn’t say much, it was evident that she was devastated to see me go. Saying goodbye to my host mom was much more difficult than I ever anticipated it to be.
The rest of Sunday was a free day, so I spent it indulging in city luxuries like Dairy Queen and Thai massages with a few friends. I even treated myself to a bottle of cheap wine, which was enjoyed over sausage pizza for dinner. Amidst our “last night before swearing-in” celebrations, I snuck away for an all-family FaceTime with my four favorite people. They were spending the weekend together in Chicago, so we took advantage of the five of us being “together” for the first time since I left home. On the eve of one of my most momentous professional days, I was again reminded of the amazing people cheering me on from 12 time zones away.