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When I first arrived at my home-stay village I was extremely excited. I came to Thailand from California to get away from the industrialized city and to experience a non-Western non-Christian culture. That is exactly what was waiting for me at the village!

I was immediately offered to teach a class, and proceeded to do so by playing a game of bingo with the kids that I had brought from home (I used marbles which I also brought from home as the prize). After an hour of teaching I ventured off into the mountains. One of the greatest rewards from a home stay is the hiking. The mountains are beyond gorgeous, and the weather wasn't too hot. On my hike I encountered a rice field worker, and after conversing with him as much as I could in Thai (which took about two seconds), I offered him a cigarette, he talked to me and pointed around for a bit, and off I went. When I eventually made it back to the dirt road, the same field worker drove up with his moped and offered me a ride back to the school! The friendliness of the village people never ceases to amaze me.

Later that day I learned from the English teacher, Pitook, who is my contact person that I will be staying close to Lui, a city 60 km away from the village, for several weeks before coming back to live at the village. The past week I have spent my time living with Pitook's family, and I couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable experience. My typical day consists of waking up at around 8:30 from the combination of the heat and the sun (though they have kindly provided me with my very own fan!). I sit down to have coffee and breakfast with the father of the family (which consists of the father, mother, and a ten year old boy).

Then I spend around twenty minutes teaching him English by going over short English phrases in a book that he bought. It helps develop his annunciation and I act out the meanings until he understands, so I should be much better at charades by the time I get back to the States. Then I'm off to the Wat, which is a 1 km bike ride from the house. I teach two classes, each an hour long, at either the high school or the university, depending on which teacher spots me first. Afterwards I'm bombarded with invitations for lunch, so I either eat with the students, the teachers, or the Monks. By far the greatest food I've had has been with the Monks. We eat all sorts of different fish, with spices, sticky rice, and vegetables. It's very interesting because although a woman brings them their food (free donation), she cannot directly hand it to them, so she must give it to me and I pass the food on to them (but not to worry, she gets all the thanks!).

Now it's time for arguably my favorite activity of the day, hiking! There are so many different roads and mountains to go on I just take my backpack, put on my hiking boots, and try my best to remember how to get back. Just a few days ago I climbed a beautiful mountain that took an hour and a half to get to the top of, and there was a great Buddha statue at the top. On my way back down from that particular hike I met a man who invited me to his house (he lived at the basin of the mountain). We chatted for two hours; I attempted to teach him English and he showed me all of his photo albums. Apparently he makes ceramic sculptures for a living, and before I left he insisted that I take with me a big ceramic mask and five small ceramic sculptures that pictured different cultural aspects of Thailand.

After the daily hike I hang out and teach the Monks for three hours. They're wonderful people who enjoy laughing a lot, and they love to learn. On some days I will partake in their praying ceremonies and I try to meditate with them every chance I get. I then bike back to my home-stay and eat dinner with the family while enjoying some very interesting Thai TV (soap operas and news). By this time of day I'm pretty tired, so I either take a short walk outside or read in the house before I go to sleep to do it all over again!

! This past weekend I have been in Nong Khai, and it's been great to hang out with other volunteers who speak English. It's also made me realize how lucky and happy I am to be having the opportunity to experience a home-stay. When I go back tomorrow I will be staying a few days with the principle of the school and then for a week and a half in the Wat! After this I will spend several weeks at the village, and from there we'll see where the wind takes me. I urge you all to spend at least some of your time in Thailand doing the home-stay program. It helps you understand what Thai culture is really all about, and you get a chance to enjoy not only various foods that you would not get to otherwise, but the beautiful nature that surrounds the villages.

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Chris Erin Michael