Instant Friendships and Courage Last Years Beyond Journey

Through my travels that summer back in 2017, I slowly got comfortable with the uncomfortable.


Emma Nulman

A little girl in my third grade class who had only seen a phone on TV, smiles for the camera. She is one of hundreds of students I taught English to during my 2017 trip to Thailand.

Emma Nulman, Features Editor

I couldn’t spend my whole summer at home. This I knew. If I couldn’t be at camp, I had to find somewhere else to be. I had to be away from home.

I took a risk. I boarded a flight on Singapore Airlines on my way to Thailand at just 16 years old. I didn’t know a single other person, and I had no idea what awaited me on the other side. I landed and found a group of girls who looked like they could be a part of my program. It was instant friendship.

The next five weeks would change my life. I spent the first week teaching English to Thai children, something I would have never pictured for myself. I never believed children liked me, but my perception changed the second I began teaching. I bonded with a little girl in my 3rd grade class. Honestly, I favored her over some of my other students. On my last day with their class, she handed me a gift: a little box she had made out of paper and bracelets out of string. On the side of the box she had written my name. Looking back on it now, I feel ashamed I hadn’t paid closer attention to learning her name. Within a week, I had taught over one hundred students and, for the amount of time she spent lying in my arms between lessons, I could have made an effort to learn her name, even if it was in a completely foreign language.

In addition to this small girl, I bonded with an older boy and I learned his story. Over the period of a few days in broken English he told me. When he was about ten years old he saw his family murdered in his hometown in Burma. He took it upon himself to create a better life for himself and conquered a feat we only hear about in movies: he walked the border from Burma to Thailand and later found himself as a part of this group that takes in eager teens and teaches them about Thai and Burmese culture.

From this boy, who would now be about my age, I have gained a greater appreciation for what I have and the opportunities I have to better the lives of people who are less fortunate. When I tell people now that I traveled to Thailand by myself and lived among other teens I had only just met on one of the most dangerous borders in the world, they call me crazy. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley just outside of Los Angeles, I had experienced different people but not like this. I grew up attending Jewish day schools and so my experience learning and living among diversity was slim to none. This is not real life nor how I believe life is meant to be lived.

From this trip, I not only collected an abundance of memories and lessons to hang onto, but also lifelong friendships. At the airport in LA, I was scared to talk to anyone and spent all my time on Face Time with my dad. When I got off the plane in Korea, I ventured out and tagged along with a few girls in the airport. When we got to the airport in Thailand, I started talking to two girls and by the time we got on the bus, they were both asleep with their heads on my shoulders. This was instant friendship and I am still so proud to call these girls my best friends.

Through my travels that summer back in 2017, I slowly got comfortable with the uncomfortable. Throughout those five weeks, I had the time to think about why certain things made me uncomfortable and what I could do to push through and make it more enjoyable. Along the way, I met so many people who have indirectly changed the way I view humanity. I was most directly changed by the children in my class, but I was also deeply affected by the wildlife and cultures around me and the way some of even the most oppressed villagers make the most of everyday.

When I tell people about my experiences, they look at me in awe. They tell me I really took advantage of something that was already so out of the ordinary and turned it into something even better, even extraordinary. Reflecting back, I wish I had appreciated each moment even more than it seems I did. Yes, I have some incredible stories and hundreds of pictures to back it up, but I wish I had taken the time to soak in the memories even more.