February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Ambassador to Thailand and RPCV Johnson

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: February 22, 2003 - US Embassy in Thailand: Ambassador to Thailand and RPCV Johnson

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 6:30 pm: Edit Post

Ambassador to Thailand and RPCV Johnson

Ambassador to Thailand and RPCV Johnson

Ambassador to Thailand and RPCV Johnson

The ringing of Thai music, the fragrance of jasmine flowers, and women in elegant silk outfits greeted Kathleen and me when we arrived at the khantok dinner in our honor in Lamphun on the evening of February 11, 2002. The event was organized by a group of former students, teachers and officials from my time as a Peace Corps teacher at the provincial secondary school in Lamphun, 1963-65 (Group 111). The evening included classical music and dance from Northern Thailand, tasty Northern dishes served with sticky rice on low tables, several speeches and lots of photos. The most moving speech was by the former provincial vice governor, now 87 and still vigorous, who cited his diary from 1963 in which he recorded the arrival of the first farangs to live in Lamphun, Khun Damrong and Khun Mali (Lee Johnson, nee Franz). He also cited several other highlights of our years there, including when I knocked on his door at I am to ask him to drive us to the hospital in Chiang Mai, where our first child, Darawan, was born later that morning, August 4, 1964, And he concluded his speech by reading from the handwritten draft of the farewell remarks he made back in March, 1965, when he wished us well in our future endeavors, and predicted that one day I would return as U. S. Ambassador to Thailand!

The other big event of that homecoming was the return to the school where I had taught during those years. Chakkamtanathorn School then had about 300 students in grades 711; now it has about 3,000 in the same age groups. The current teachers and students welcomed us to a pleasant lunch and slide show featuring a dozen or more photos from that time with teachers and students. Several of these photos were also mounted in a courtyard, together with some comments from former students and teaching colleagues. When we toured the current school facilities, I was delighted to find two rooms for English language practice, one for silent use with books, one for interactive use with sounds and videos. They also had a room dedicated to the American Field Service program, for which I had nominated the first three students from Lamphun to spend one high school year in the US. All three took part in the festivities during those two days in Chiang Mai and Lamphun. One went on to be first in his class from Chiang Mai University Medical School, and now runs a clinic in Lamphun; one is an Assistant Professor of English in the Education Department at Chiang Mai University; one is Assistant Dean of the Nursing School of Chiang Mai University. And a fourth former student, who had lived with us and helped to take care of our new baby back then, is now the headmistress of the provincial girls' school in Lamphun.

I said at the school reception that anyone who has ever been a teacher finds his/her greatest satisfaction in the accomplishments of his/her students. And that certainly applies in my case. It is also true, of course, that life does not end with the end of our Peace Corps service - on the contrary, that experience came early for most of us. But it was a defining experience. We never see with the same eyes as those with which we first behold a truly different culture. Everything is different, from language to food to transportation to latrines. And no matter how much we anticipated these differences, or how well we were trained, there is a cumulative shock to the system. For a few people, it was too much. But most of us coped, and even thrived. And most of us have continued in some form of public service, professionally or personally.

Now, nearly 40 years later, the experience remains indelible, reinforced by events like the once-in-a-lifetime homecoming in February. The Peace Corps experience, and the lasting warmth of the Thai people with whom I lived and worked back then, has had a lasting influence on my world view, on my view of the country where I now serve, and on the country we came from. What was the impact on those whom we taught and lived among? Significant for some, marginal for others. What was the impact on those of us who served here? Incalculable.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; Diplomacy



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