Letter from Thailand 

It’s a small world after all for 11 high school students, including Spencer Paddock, a Hellgate High senior currently in Thailand and “getting pretty bad attendance” marks at Hellgate.

Three weeks ago, Paddock arrived in Thailand to help deliver $18,000 in tsunami relief funds and perform community service with GlobalQuest, a Portland, Maine-based nonprofit educational organization that offers semesters in Thailand to high school seniors and students who can take time off between high school and college. Since 2001, GlobalQuest has sent roughly 100 students to Thailand.

“The goals of the program are to immerse students in different cultures,” says assistant director Sheila Sullivan.

Any place else in the world it would be fair to say that Paddock has been immersed. He has worked on an organic farm in Thailand (independent of GlobalQuest), befriended “a good number” of Muslim Sea Gypsies, and along with his GlobalQuest troops, helped them reconstruct vital infrastructure wiped away by the recent tsunami, i.e. toilet holes.

“It’s an unforgettable experience to come up from the 6-foot deep toilet hole you’re digging and be greeted by a smiling guy who just bought you a orange shake from the next village down the path even though he lost everything he had to a tsunami and doesn’t know what he’ll be eating in a week…” Paddock writes in an e-mail to the Independent. “In Thai society, you can’t refuse offered food, you’ve just got to sip the shake and promise yourself you’ll buy him and his children ice cream tomorrow.”

Judging from GlobalQuest’s spring 2005 newsletter, the trip so far has been thick with adventure. Students have been swarmed by monkeys while kayaking through mangroves, they’ve spent a day of silence at a Thai monastery and performed sun salutations atop a mountain.

At least a portion of the trip has been almost perfect, at least for Paddock. In the newsletter, he describes a stint in a national park in Suratthani, Thailand. It appears that he might be in danger of never returning: “If I can think of anything better than lamplight nights on rafts…and days hiking in the jungle, caves and water while I’m fueled by rice, local pineapple, fish and jungle fruit, it escapes me now.”

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