Lauren Dekleva
Lauren Dekleva
Thailand 2017
S̄wạs̄dī! My name is Lauren Dekleva, and I am traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand where I will intern with Urban Light, an anti-trafficking NGO that restores and empowers boys who work in the red light district. At Urban Light, I will teach ESL classes, lead life-skills workshops, assist with social media marketing, and support case workers.

Midpoint reflections

It’s so surreal… I have hit and surpassed the halfway point of my time here in Thailand. It feels like it’s been a month and a lifetime all at once. And it’s scary – as fast as these past three months have been, I know the next three are going to absolutely FLY by. Now that I feel more settled, and have more of a routine, a week passes in the blink of an eye.

It’s crazy to remember how I felt just a few months ago, and rewarding when I realize how far I’ve come since then. I’ve learned so much, adapted to my environment, met so many lovely people, and I still have time to continue to do so.

The most obvious then-and-now contrast is definitely my work with Urban Light. In the past few weeks especially, I have come to feel so settled in my day-to-day work. When I first began, I often felt overwhelmed and inadequate. Everything was hard – trying to communicate with the boys, balancing all my different tasks, feeling comfortable within the space. I constantly felt guilty; if I was working from my computer, I felt bad for not being with the boys, and if I was playing UNO or guitar with them, I would remember a social media deadline. I constantly required translation when the boys talked to me, and it would make my entire day just to have one of them approach me and ask to play a game.

Now, being approached is a normal and regular occurrence. The language barrier, while still significant, is much more manageable and less intimidating. I’ve learned enough Thai to have short, basic conversations (still including some element of charades!) with the boys and can get by without translation. I’ve learned how to establish my boundaries – gently at first, more firmly if they don’t respond, and excusing myself as a last resort (though usually, the boys apologize as soon as they realize they’ve made me uncomfortable). I’ve been able to find a balance between my different roles and set reasonable goals for myself. I’m not nearly as easily overwhelmed, but can recognize if I am and practice self care (quiet corners, short walks) to address it. I’ve found a groove when engaging with them, be it through music, art, ping pong, conversation, English or card games.

And they’ve warmed up to me too, which is the most rewarding part. I have real relationships, and even inside jokes, with several of them! Some playfully kidnap my supplies, or tease me over the way I say their names. And they’ve finally learned mine! An intern from the local university realized that “Lauren” sounds similar to “Lolen,” which is the Thai word for joking/kidding around. That makes it much easier for them to remember (except for one, who persistently refers to me as “Natalie” haha). And one boy even told me that he comes to Urban Light every day that I work there, and that it’s like his family, and I’m like his older sister. I melted.

Of course, there are still plenty of things I am not sure about, but it’s nice to take this opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate how far I’ve come. I truly love this organization and the work that I’m getting to be a part of.

Playing UNO on the sidelines of a soccer game!

Playing UNO on the sidelines of a soccer game!

Screenprinting workshop - the social enterprise is in development!

Screenprinting workshop – the social enterprise is in development!

Helping our counselor with a mental health workshop!

Helping our counselor with a mental health workshop!

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