heart & sole

 

I first started running the way most of us probably did – being forced to run the mile in elementary school gym class. I was always out of breath and one of the last to finish besides the walkers, but I always tried my best. From this early on there was something about running that really made me want to be good at it.

I never pushed much further than a mile until I joined cross-country in middle school.  The main reason for joining CC was that I was a very impressionable middle-schooler trying to fit in and for some reason a few friends joined so naturally I did too. I began to realize running farther than a mile really felt GOOD. Then I saw the incredible results of all these after school practices when I lost a bunch of weight. As a chubby kid weighed down (pun intended) by all the pressures of the media to look a certain way, this had a major impression on me.

I’ve never stopped running since. However, I didn’t go from the ~2 mile middle school races to 10 miles easily or quickly. I began just running on my own all throughout high school and ran my first 5k when I was a sophomore in college. I did another 5k as a junior but I never really thought of running as a serious thing I do – I just felt like it was something I could do for charity/good causes/a way to bond with people around me. (I did one of these 5k’s with my boss at the time who has completed an Iron Man race!!! I did not keep pace with him whatsoever haha but it was a cool bonding experience).

Over the next few years (end of college & post-grad), it became therapeutic for me but still casual. It was just something I do that I never really thought about. I did gradually begin to run longer distances (4-5 miles).

 

In 2017, when I moved to Thailand, it became essential for my mental well being – it was my way of dealing with the stresses of being in a foreign country, the everyday misunderstandings and exhaustion, the worry about being far from home, etc. It became a lot harder for me due to the heat and humid weather so I went back to 2-3 mile runs. (I did have a gym at my apartment building but it didn’t have AC so I’d usually just run on this path by a river since it was a nicer view.) It also became harder to fit running into my schedule since I was working full-time for the very first time, but since it was my main source of stress relief, I made it work.

In 2018, running became something much more to me. It became proof of what I can do – what I can set my mind to. It became a love and a passion that I believe will last for life. It is so many things to me. I began running 5-7 miles each time I would go. I experimented a lot more by starting to take different paths or running in the early morning instead of the afternoon and in different weather conditions.

I ran an 8k in March (Shamrock Shuffle), a 10k in July (Chicago 10k) and just completed a 10 mile race (Chicago 10 mile) in September. I hope to complete a half marathon next!

When I run a race now, it’s a completely personal experience – I observe what thoughts cross my mind in a meditative manner and I feel myself working things out and processing emotions I didn’t even realize were there much more efficiently and methodically. At the same time it’s a completely collective experience, as I’m passing others and as others pass me, there’s this sense that we all know running is freaking hard and therefore we’re all cheering for each other. We’re proud of each other for putting our bodies through this, for being so brave to challenge ourselves to our very core and we all want every single person there to win, to cross that line, to share that adrenaline rush of emotion when you’ve completed a goal that at one time seemed impossible.

 

In honor of completing my 10-mile race last weekend I wanted to document the way I got there. When I first set out to write this I planned to list physical steps I took (see below) but then I started writing and everything above just flowed onto the page because running is so many things to me now: it’s individual, it’s collective, it’s mental and physical, it’s pain and it’s pleasure. If this article helps or motivates even one other person in the world I will feel that I’ve accomplished something great because running can truly change your perspective about the world, about what you’re capable of and changing a simple way you think can change your life and so much more.

Here’s what I do:

I run every other day because that’s what I found works best for me personally. I do a hard run and then take one recovery day. I might work on my upper body or core the next day because balance is important but I give my legs at least one day’s rest.

Pay attention your pace & keep checking in to make sure you haven’t strayed– I think this is the biggest problem most people run into because people will start out too fast at the beginning and wear themselves out before they get very far or speed up when the adrenaline/pre-workout is really kicking in and use up those energy reserves too early on. This is especially easy to do during races because people either get competitive and want to pass others so they pick up the pace or if you find yourself running next to someone else you might just naturally adjust to their pace without thinking about it. So my biggest tip is to try to constantly stay conscious of your pace throughout. (If you listen to music, you can try to pick songs with a tempo that matches your personal pace to make it a little easier on yourself).

I use the Nike Plus app to keep track of my runs, distances, pace, etc. I really like the badges feature so there are always new goals to complete. It also lets you know every time you’ve broken your own record times/distances.

Diet: I maintain a pretty healthy diet the majority of the time. That could be another whole post in itself so I’ll just say what I do before/after a run. Before a run I try to stick with veggies/carbs because they digest much faster than protein. Protein is definitely needed after a run though so your muscles can repair. I also like a natural version of Gatorade to hydrate and make sure you’re getting your electrolytes back (listed below). Finally, running is so good for you but causes a lot of inflammation in the body so I take turmeric tablets to try to counteract some of that. (There’s a ton of good recipes for adding turmeric powder to food/smoothies too if you don’t like tablets).

Supplements:

(Everyone that knows me knows I’m really into NATURAL health supplements and prefer vegan when possible- so here’s what I use.)

(VEGAN, GF) My personal favorite energizing pre-run supplement: https://ommushrooms.com/product/energy

(VEGAN, GF) Post- run electrolytes (tropical fruit is the best flavor): https://nuunlife.com/shop/nuun-electrolytes/

(VEGAN, GF) Post-run Vega protein: https://myvega.com/collections/protein-powders/products/vega-sport-protein-1

(GF) Turmeric tablets: http://youtheory.com/shop/turmeric/ 

*may add to this post if I think of any other useful info*

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International TEFL Academy Alumni presentation

 

March 2018 I returned to International TEFL Academy (Chicago Campus) after living abroad to share my experience teaching in Thailand with the newest graduates of the certification program.

Chamber of Reflection

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It’s nearing the end of my time in Thailand so we are finishing up exams in class and I’m beginning to pack up some of my belongings. I’m also beginning to reflect on the emotional rollercoaster this experience has been.

These last 6 months have been some of the most challenging of my entire life. I’ve been living in a small town where most people speak very little English. This can sometimes turn simple conversations into big, overwhelming interactions. Every act of communication takes more effort, which at first is exhausting but gets easier over time. I was able to understand people better after about a few weeks of getting used to hearing the accent. I also learned which words to use that people will understand, when to just point at things and at times have resorted to Google Translate when necessary.

This being said, I truly believe that Thai people are some of the nicest people on Earth. I have had so many touching experiences where a stranger went out of their way to help me. While having these experiences I’ve been very appreciative and blown away because it’s just not something that could be expected in the U.S. (not that people don’t sometimes show random kindness at home, but the point is this isn’t random, it’s just a natural, usual way of life here). Once while traveling on an island, I fell into this huge hole in a sewer grate. My whole calf went down this grate and the only thing that stopped me from falling further in was my knee. It sounds dramatic and it was scary but I wasn’t too badly injured. However, my knee was bleeding and I wasn’t quite prepared to take care of it. A Thai couple that owned a shop across the street came up to me and gave me tissues and the woman actually applied ointment herself to my wound. I was incredibly grateful that they went out of their way to show me kindness when I needed help. Another example is when my friend and I were on our way home and her motorbike ran out of gas (for the record this wasn’t negligence, the gas gauge is unreliable). We attempted to ask a group of Thai people who owned a food stand where we could go to fill up her bike and they told us to wait. We were a little confused until we saw a man drive off and shortly later arrive back with gas for us. While we did thank him and pay him, I was again astounded by the selflessness of people who don’t even speak the same language.

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The only transportation available is driving a motorbike or taking motorbike taxis or tuk tuks around which are not very cost effective. However, I’ve been forced to rely on these methods a lot since I only drove a motorbike a few times here. It wasn’t something I ever got comfortable with since not only do they drive on the opposite side of the street as at home but there also aren’t really any “rules of the road” and it can be pretty unclear at times who has the right of way. I decided I would rather spend a little bit more money to make sure I get home in one piece.

It’s pretty impossible to keep work and personal life separate, which is something I appreciate a lot at home. I’ve had to learn to be friends with the same people I work with everyday and most of who live in the same apartment complex as me. It’s been an extremely different lifestyle just in that alone from living in Chicago where English is widely spoken and your friends sometimes live in whole different neighborhoods, not to mention the difference in population size.

This has been a positive experience in that I’ve had to really put myself out there to form connections with people I don’t immediately have a ton in common with so I’ve had to get out of my comfort zone not only in living in Thailand but also in making friends. It’s also been a negative experience at times because it feels so alienating to be in a country alone with people you don’t really relate to on a deeper level most of the time. I have questioned everything about my own judgment and myself more in this time than ever in my life. At times I could feel completely confident in everything I’m doing and at other times I could feel utterly torn down and like giving up. This experience has taught me a lot about myself, that’s for sure.

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Speaking of health, I have struggled a lot with my physical health as well as mental health. I have been sick more than half my time here even when taking as many preventative measures as possible. This also affected my mental health because feeling lethargic and sickly doesn’t exactly promote optimism in general. Some of the sinus issues I believe has to do with the air quality as well as the different weather and changes in weather. Some days it is extremely hot and the next day it is cooler, rainy and extremely humid. Another aspect of this was my change in diet, which was pretty unavoidable. Although I did manage to continue to be a pescetarian, many food places are not regulated up to the same health standards as in the U.S. In general, there is a lot more MSG used in a lot of the food and a lot of sugar is added to pretty much any kind of cold beverage except water.

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Finally, the biggest challenge here was unsurprisingly the job itself. I had a little experience teaching English as a foreign language but only to different proficiency level adults. I have never taught children and don’t have kids in my family. I only remember ever holding one baby in my life and that is the son of one of my best friends. (Hi Grieta if you’re reading this!) Even having a conversation with one kid at a time is not something that ever came naturally to me and then I had 33 students in class at once. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I had to learn what level they were at, what I’m supposed to teach them and how to get them to improve. Now at the end of this semester I’ve never felt like I’ve understood kids better. I’ve learned how to make them laugh, how to cheer them up when they cry, and how to get and hold their attention. They’ve taught me more than I will probably ever realize but one of the most important things they taught me is how to truly be a kid again (or at least feel like one). They’ve taught me how simple happiness can be and how fleeting every moment is. They’ve brought me so much joy throughout all the stress and times I wasn’t feeling my best. They love unconditionally and show it so simply. I hope to be more like them in certain aspects of my life and remember not to take life so seriously all the time. (I definitely cried my eyes out saying goodbye to these beautiful, happy souls a few days ago).

I don’t know if being a kindergarten teacher is my life calling. In fact this could possibly be the only time I ever do it. But I can say it has definitely been one of my favorite jobs so far.

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Although 6 months may seem like a short time to some people, that is how long I planned to stay from the beginning and it’s fairly unique in that it’s somewhat rare (although definitely possible) to find contracts with a teaching agency abroad for less than one year. It’s a good way to try it out without making a huge commitment. Tourist visas in Thailand last only 30 days although it is possible to get them extended to a maximum of 90 days. I think it’s pretty cool that I got to stay double the time someone just traveling would be able to spend in Thailand.

I’m really happy with the experience I’ve had, with the changes I’ve made in my life and with the person I’ve become. I’ve really grown up a lot here because I’ve had to. I’ve met some incredible people who I will never forget and have learned so much about the world and myself. I am grateful to my parents and everyone else who supported me and feel blessed that I was able to go pursue one of my dreams overseas at 24.

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Now I just have to get through the reverse culture shock of returning to the life that I knew in the U.S. but constant change = life and I feel pretty much ready for anything these days!

 

 

Local Attractions: Chachoengsao, Thailand

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The Pink Elephant:

The Pink Elephant is located at the Wat Saman Rattanaram Temple in Chachoengsao, Thailand. It is Thailand’s largest reclining Ganesha.

 Here is some info about the interesting legends and history behind it from http://www.thaismile.jp/FotoGallary/ThaiPics/e_ThaiPhoto_Chachoengsao.html

Ganesha:

Ganesha is one of the Hindu deities, the eldest son of the destroyer god, Shiva and his wife, Parvati, has an elephant head and four arms, rides on a mouse. Ganesha is worshipped as the god of wisdom and education and remover of obstacles. In Thailand, Ganesha is called Phra Phikanet – พระพิฆเนศ, or Phra Phikanesuan – พระพิฆเนศวร as well. In Hindu, he is known as one of the five deities; Surya (the Sun God), Vishnu (the preserver), Shiva ( the destroyer), Durga (Goddess of Power) and Ganesha.

The elephant head:

There are some legends about the elephant head.

When Shiva’s wife, Parvati, was taking a bath, she made a boy, “Ganesha”, out of the dirt of her body. She asked her son to protect the entrance of the bathroom. Soon, her husband, “Shiva” came back and was going to enter the bathroom, however, a strange boy, Ganesha, was protecting there and wouldn’t let him in.

Shiva didn’t know the boy was his son and got really mad ! He cut Ganesha’s head off and threw it somewhere far away. Ahhh …

After that, when the mother, Parvati, knew that, she cried and cried. Shiva felt very sorry and dashed out to find the head. In the end, he couldn’t find it but brought back an elephant head that he met first on the way, and made it as Ganesha’s lost head.

One tusk broken:

There are some legends about it as well.

Ganesha was walking at night under the moon but fell and one of his tusk got broken. The moon was watching all of this from the first and laughed and laughed. Ganesha got mad ! and threw the broken tusk at the laughing moon. Since then, the moon has gone through phases.”

(sic)

Thailand’s Tallest Bronze Standing Ganesh

This was absolutely beautiful especially with the nice garden surrounding the area and a walkway that goes around the entire statue so you can view it from every angle. Here is a paper I read about the construction of it that I found really interesting: http://papers.cumincad.org/data/works/att/caadria2012_046.content.pdf 

Mini Murrah Farm

This small farm was extremely cute. They had lots of animals that seemed very happy and well cared for. A few were even allowed to roam freely. It was a really nice way to spend an afternoon. They also have a restaurant where we ordered delicious wood fired pizzas.

Last visit to Bangkok

The photos above are from one of my favorite places I’ve been to in Bangkok. It’s called Viva Tapas bar and restaurant. It’s located right off the Nana BTS stop. They do so many different styles of cuisine and everything is equally delicious! I also tried my first oysters here and I was surprised at how much I liked them! Full disclosure: I did have to google what is the correct way to go about eating them because I had no idea.

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I returned to a bar I previously visited my first time in Bangkok back in April which is called Octave Rooftop Bar. Last time it was too late to see much but this time I arrived just in time for the sunset, beautiful view and happy hour!

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The next bar I stopped at was about a 20 minute walk away and is called the Iron Fairies. It is a dimly lit, intimate place with live music. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to save the photo I took of the bartender making our absinthe with fire but I do have this picture of Anna and I enjoying ourselves!

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The last stop for food in Bangkok I made for a friend’s birthday party. It was at Charley Brown’s Mexicana restaurant which I wasn’t a big fan of my first time. I thought the vegetarian taco and quesadilla were very plain and flavorless. Luckily, we were informed straight away that they now had a new chef who is from Mexico City and he created a separate menu of some of his specialty dishes. I ordered a fish taco and eggplant that was layered with a cheesy sauce. This time around I was blown away by the food so I’m glad I gave it a second chance! Oh, and of course we ordered sangria to celebrate!

 

Teaching in Thailand Part III

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This post is just an update about some of the topics I’ve been covering with my students and some of the activities I’ve really enjoyed. Last Friday we made Mother’s Day cards since Mother’s Day in Thailand is August 12.

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We’ve covered one letter a week so this week we are on Letter N. I’ve begun adding their names to the phonics for that letter so every student whose name begins with N will be sounded out, written out and repeated by the class. They all laugh when this happens but they seem to enjoy the lesson more.

Some of the recent topics I’ve covered have included colors and shapes, five senses, my home, safety first, healthy food, fruits and vegetables, Thai/western culture, Mother’s Day and this week is seasons.

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For the topic of “Seasons,” I had to ask what exactly they meant by that because in the U.S. specifically Midwest, we have four seasons (summer, spring, fall, winter) but here in Thailand they really only have two (wet and hot). It is currently the wet season. Sometimes that can mean cooler temperatures during a storm but most days I’ve been here it has still been extremely hot temperatures. Similar to the week of Thai/Western culture, they wanted me to do a little bit of both. The main vocab words are “season,” “winter,” “spring,” “rains,” and “summer.”

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The last few topics of the semester I will be covering in the rest of my time here will include trees, flowers, “butterfly,” weather, “enjoy with numbers” and finally “project.”

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I’ve also still been teaching my non- English program classes as well. I see two classes each once a week focusing specifically on speaking and listening (they call it “English for Communication”). Since I only see them once a week for one hour, it is difficult for them to remember what we learned so it’s a lot of repeating and reviewing.

A usual class session with these students starts with me having an individual conversation with each student where their classmates listen until it’s their turn. Then I will attempt to have two students stand up and talk to each other although this usually includes a lot of help from both their Thai teacher and myself.

Example of what point we’ve reached thus far:

Me: Hello (waving)

Student: Hello (waving)

Me: How are you?

Student: I am happy/good/okay.

Me: What is your name?

Student: My name is _________.

Me: Nice to meet you.

Student: Nice to meet you.

Me: Goodbye. (waving)

Student: Goodbye/bye-bye. (waving)

Next week I am going to introduce them to handshakes during the “nice to meet you” section and intro the response of “nice to meet you too.” I take very small steps with them since these few classes they’ve had with me are their first ever English classes whereas my homeroom class have been in the English program for one year already and I know a few of them have tutors outside of school to help them with their English and a few also attend a Saturday school program at the school here.

I also always play songs and videos for these non EP program classes since they don’t have internet or a video projector in their classrooms and I like to make it as fun as possible for them.

Ko Chang

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This weekend was a long weekend due to Mother’s Day, which in Thailand is on August 12. On Friday we made Mother’s Day cards at school and then Friday evening I embarked on a trip to Ko Chang. It’s a longer journey than I’ve taken by van previously so I split up the trip by staying overnight one night in Chantaburi and then continuing to the Trat ferry pier in the morning. The ferry goes from Trat to the island of Ko Chang. Then a taxi truck took me to Chang Park Resort, which I had booked through booking.com. (Use this referral link for $25 off- https://www.booking.com/s/34_6/cnc93081 )

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Ko Chang was larger and less touristy than Ko Samet. However, perhaps due to the holiday or it being an off-season, a lot of shops and restaurants were closed down. That being said, there were still many worthwhile places open and within walking distance.

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Since I’ve been here around 5 months now, I’ve finally started to become a little bored with Thai food so I indulged in greek salad and pasta to change it up a bit. The cacio de pepe I ordered at an Italian place was TO DIE FOR. It was honestly better than what I had in Rome and it’s a traditional Roman dish. The owner is from Milan and decorated his cozy little restaurant with antique and vintage items for an old-fashioned décor.

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The resort was almost deserted with the exception of a few families. I expected it to be pretty crowded so it was a nice surprise that it was fairly secluded. There were always beach and pool chairs available even during the beautiful sunset. The pool bar wasn’t overpriced either. 120 baht for a cocktail is a great price especially considering you’re right on the beach.

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The resort also had a lot of pets including 4 black cats some of which would always follow you up the stairs and were very friendly. The dogs were friendly as well but kept more to themselves than the cats. My personal rule in Thailand is to only pet animals with a collar and even then approach quite slowly so as to not startle them. There are a lot of strays everywhere since they don’t neuter them here.