Over the summer, senior Maddie Curtis was a part of the Global Leadership Adventures program which provided selected high school students the opportunity to participate in service projects in a global area of their choice. Curtis chose to be a part of the Cultural Emergence program that took place in Thailand for a little under a month.
“I knew I wanted to go somewhere really far away just because I have a very big fear of flying. I wanted to prove that I can go out on my own. Thailand has always been on my bucket list and I just think it has a beautiful culture. I especially chose this program because I had the chance to teach children, which is something I really wanted to do, ” Curtis said.
Each week was dedicated to a particular service project. During the first week, the students efforts were focused on repairing a sidewalk in Chiang Mai, Thailand, near a women’s center. Their responsibilities were to mix concrete and carry bags of rocks. They also interacted with the natives of the city.
“There were a lot of pregnant women since this was a shelter where battered women would go to seek refuge and health, especially if they had children. It can be very rainy in Thailand so they wanted to make sure all the women were safe walking from place to place. It was a lot of hard work, but in the end, there was a really nice path that we made for them and we got to spend time with the children and women we were helping as well,” Curtis said.
During the second week, the group of 16 teens visited a school and taught students the English language. Curtis primarily worked with fifth and sixth graders on alternate days. Their school day included morning and afternoon classes until 1:00 PM, alongside having lunch and playing games such as soccer during recess with the children.
“We went to a school that was mostly for impoverished kids located on the poor side of the city of Chiang Mai. I was surprised by how much the kids wanted to learn and how happy they were to have us there. We got so attached to them, and when we had to leave we were all sobbing. My favorite was my student named Bing Bong, she was so funny and always gave me a hug at the end of class. It was truly the best experience,” Curtis said.
The third week featured work at an elephant reserve. Participants learned the role elephants play in Thailand and had the opportunity to take care of an elephant for the day which included, feeding them, bathing them in a river, and taking them on hikes.
“It was just so adorable; they were gentle giants. What I found out was that elephants, in most places in Thailand, are treated very badly. They are often used for tourism, and I found out that riding elephants is very bad for them. The place I went to took care of these abused elephants which was really special,” Curtis said.
Other than service projects the students visited many temples and learned about Buddhism and its influence on Thai culture.
“Buddhism is such a big part of their culture, and I actually converted to Buddhism upon my return because I fell in love with the whole ideology behind it. One day we got to talk to a Buddhist monk and he even blessed us,” Curtis said.
During the program, the participants visited and engaged in hands-on activities, some of which included visiting tribe areas, villages, hiking up a waterfall in the middle of a jungle, biking and ziplining.
“We spent days at a lake and it was really beautiful, lush, and green. We also visited the hill tribes, which are poor regions up in the mountains in the north of Thailand. We got to experience the hill tribe culture and they even taught us how to plant in a rice paddy field,” Curtis said.
Curtis plans to continue volunteering for those within and outside of the Farmington community. Traveling is something she wants to dedicate her life to, as it has impacted her in shaping who she is today.
“Traveling is my entire life, it has made me into who I am today. This program especially opened my eyes to seeing that I really want to dedicate my life to helping others, so I will probably join the Peace Corps when I get older. I just think it’s important to do as much as you can in your lifetime. It’s so worth it and you grow so much,” Curtis said.