THAILAND - Berkeley Heights resident and 2014 Governor Livingston High School graduate Joeii Loaiza landed in Thailand earlier this month and is already having the time of her life as a Rotary international student exchange program participant. "I'm sure this will be the best year of my life already!" said Loaiza.
The Rotary Club of Berkeley Heights is sponsoring Loaiza's school-year-long stay in Thailand. She will be living with host families while attending school in Thailand and immersing herself in their culture.
Loaiza quickly made the decision to turn any feelings of being homesick around and embraced the experience and all of the cultural differences she encountered during those first few days in Thailand. She began by feeling constantly tired due to major jet lag and for a while wasn't able to eat without feeling nauseated. But, reminding herself that this was what she always wanted, she decided to persevere, keep her head up, and make the best of the experience. "It's so awesome to think that Thailand, this crazy beautiful country, is on the same planet as little ol' New Jersey," said Loaiza.
She spent the first week orienting herself to the Thai culture. "Did you know, people drive on the left side of the road and the driver is on the right side of the car? And everyone rides motorcycles in Thailand. I rode on the back of my host dad's motorcycle, which was so cool and fun!" said Loaiza.
She had mixed reviews on the traditional Thai food. "It's either really good, really spicy, or really weird," she said, "but most of the time, it's really good or really spicy."
Living a non-tourist life in Thailand, she quickly became accustomed to taking a shower with no hot water. "With the sweltering hot weather, the cold shower is inviting," said Loaiza, adding, "the heat isn't friendly to my hair, but this heat is still better than winter." With the weather being so hot, she explained, there's no need for electric or gas clothes dryers; people just hang their clothes out to dry.
School started in the second week of her arrival in Thailand. She found it very different and "so much fun." "I find it hilarious that I seem to be so popular! Random people at school will call out my name. People ask to take pictures with me, even if I've never talked to them." She feels like a celebrity among the local students at school, which made her uncomfortable at first, but she's learned to embrace it.
Once school started, she attended a Rotary meeting of her Thai sponsoring club and traded banners with the club president. From that moment on, her "time of her life" experience began. She's already visited beautiful temples, shopped at a local mall, gone to a movie house, and enjoyed dinner along the river that runs through most of Thailand.
She recently attended an orientation where she met exchange students from around the world including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Taiwan, and America. The students exchanged pins that they use to decorate their Rotary jackets. The bond between the students was immediate.
"Everything is going so well! I'm having the time of my life and everything about Thailand is so different and cool," said Loaiza.
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