A year ago while the Soldotna Rotary Club hosted a foreign exchange student from Thailand named Chang, SoHi student Anna Wrobel was in the same country as an outbound exchange student, “It is unusual that it happened to work out that way but I was able to meet Chang’s family and I traveled to his home actually and became acquainted with his mom very well and that was a unique opportunity to be able to share with her what my life was like in Alaska and what her son was experiencing here in Soldotna,” Wrobel told the Soldotna Rotary Club. While here, Chang held a Taiwanese dinner where he cooked traditional foods from his homeland and with the help of local Rotarians raised over $7,000 for emergency shelter boxes that are distributed globally in times of natural disaster.
Anna was in Thailand for nearly a year, “I was there for eleven months and in that time I attended Thai school and learned about the Thai culture by attending Thai weddings and going to temple traveling the breadth and width of the country while making life long relationships with my host Thai family and also with students from five other countries that were also on exchange in Thailand.”
While Chang was in Alaska in an interview he said he felt the primary misconception that Alaskans had of Thailand was that they all rode Elephants. While Anna did ride traditional elephants while in Thailand she said that the misconceptions about Alaska were, “That it was cold all the time with no summer and had polar bears in our back yards every day. Also many thought that Alaska was part of Canada,” she said.
It takes courage to leave family and home and journey to a distant land where you don’t speak the language or have any friends, “I was nervous in the beginning and didn’t really what to expect. The language barrier was difficult in the beginning and I had to really make an effort to connect with people when you don’t share a common language, but it was the challenges that made it enjoyable. I enjoyed learning the language and then being able to connect with the Thai people and make friends and family of them. To become comfortable and feel loved and welcomed into and become part of their culture is a life changing experience. I’m privileged to know that. In that relatively short period of time I have never grown as close to a group of people as I did with my host family. They took me in and welcomed me just like I really was their own child, sister and daughter of their family and shared every aspect of their life with me as I did with them. I was happy to be there and they let me know that they were happy to have me. They truly became my second family and the experience has totally changed the direction I want to follow in my life. Before the exchange I never thought much about international relations, but now as I prepare for college I’m thinking of majoring in international affairs with an emphasis on international education and hope someday to have an international career. I so appreciate all the Rotarians that made my experience possible, it would not have happened without them. I’ll be a Rotarian someday and help make such an experience possible for another young man or woman because truly it is the best model for world peace and it will happen one student at a time,” said Wrobel.