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Leaving Good Fingerprints

A+women+sits+at+her+pottery+wheel%2C+smiling+after+someone+complimented+her+work.
A women sits at her pottery wheel, smiling after someone complimented her work.

A women sits at her pottery wheel, smiling after someone complimented her work.

Maxton Preuninger

Maxton Preuninger

A women sits at her pottery wheel, smiling after someone complimented her work.

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It was two in the morning, and I was crying at gate 32 in the Bangkok International Airport. I was going through the bag notes written by other students in my program, dreading the upcoming 25 hours of flying, when I realized how much I was changed by my experiences.

Last summer, I went to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a service-learning program through Global Leadership Adventures and spent 21 days teaching English and helping refurbish a playground at an orphanage. I hauled my luggage across the airport thinking that I was going to help move someone’s life in a positive direction. I thought that I would be the teacher in most of the situations I’d be placed in, and I thought that I wouldn’t leave a drastically different person.

I was wrong on every level.

It’s not that the children we were teaching didn’t know English at all, they just didn’t know how to speak it. The school had an English teacher, but the class was taught in Thai because she wasn’t a native English speaker herself. The children at the orphanage weren’t all actual orphans; they were children from hill tribes that couldn’t make the commute to school every day, so they stayed at the orphanage during the week. The children were just as hungry for knowledge and connection as I was.

I started the program afraid to branch out and talk to other students on the trip. I had never been surrounded by people who truly wanted to pursue what they were passionate about. These people never took no for an answer, and it influenced me in the best way possible.

Teaching was definitely one of the biggest struggles I faced, because I wasn’t experienced in teaching prior to the program, and I didn’t know how to communicate through a language barrier. We were paired up as teaching partners, and my partner and I decided to focus on fruits. Sounds simple enough, right?

We thought that the students would understand that blueberries are not strawberries because the picture showed blue circles, and strawberries are red. We spent

Maxton Preuninger
Children from the House of Blessings orphanage play on new playground equipment.

a full week focusing on the pronunciation of basic fruits and connecting a picture with a word. Every day, we hit a new roadblock, whether it was using fruits that were too uncommon in Thailand for the students to recognize or trying to get the shy kids in the back to participate.

After days of team and matching games, we were able to see how much the children had learned from us in English class. We played games and drew pictures, thinking that we had done our jobs by making sure Thai children knew what a dog was and what color blueberries are.  

We had our chance to teach and see the exact moment a student understood an English word in a sentence; now it was time for the students to teach us how to be kids. So instead of going on about how long it took us to sand and repaint playground equipment, I’d rather say what I learned while being a part of the Land of Smiles for 21 days.

I learned how to cook killer pad thai, how to efficiently bargain at the marketplace and that you should never touch the black, fuzzy caterpillars. I learned that elephants are arguably the most caring creatures to ever walk the earth, that the rain will never stop a good game of soccer and that no matter how many times someone says, “Do not sit on the wet paint,” –even in Thai– someone will always sit on it. I learned that you can find happiness in pursuing your passion, that education is something we take for granted every day, and that you have to be willing to learn in order to make a difference in any person’s life.

It’s been four months since I stepped foot back home, and not a moment goes by where I don’t think of someone or something from my program.  From making sure to drink an almost ridiculous amount of water to being more flexible with plans, the experiences and people I met in the program shaped me into who I am now.

Every day, I wake up with the goal to leave my fingerprint on the world in a positive way.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Leaving Good Fingerprints”

  1. Mary on November 17th, 2017 7:36 pm

    You continue to amaze me with your words! Never stop sharing your experiences!

    [Reply]

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