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Peace Corps: Decatur grad talks Thai | Slideshow
One year into her Peace Corps service, Christine Duffy has grown to appreciate Thailand’s people and culture.
The experience has eliminated misconceptions she had about the nation. For one thing, they live simply. They’re not all starving or living on dirt floors. It’s not uncommon to find a resident in a tin house who happens to be browsing the Internet with an iPad — while down the road, the local mayor lives in a lavish mansion.
While searching for a service-oriented career path, Duffy found the Peace Corps — and eventually, the Peace Corps found her.
It took a lengthy application process, but Duffy soon found herself en route to Thailand. After a three-month immersion in a Thai language and culture course, she located to the Surin province in a small village of about 7,000 residents. (See slideshow)
And yes, she can speak Thai. A major milestone came when she told jokes in Thai and actually got a few laughs. The language and cultural barriers have humbled her.
“I’ve learned to listen a lot more,” she said, noting that her community also speaks Lao.
Duffy, 26, grew up in Federal Way. She graduated from Decatur High School in 2004, and eventually earned a degree in international business and finance from Gonzaga University.
She credits her high school cheerleading coach for instilling a good work ethic, and credits a past job at Poverty Bay Coffee for introducing her to concepts like sustainable farming.
“I wanted to do some kind of global service,” she said. “Peace Corps was a great fit for me.”
Duffy’s main projects in her Thai community have involved recycling and waste management. The country embraces recycling, and even has a saying that goes with it: “Waste is gold.” However, Duffy is promoting more recycling. She’s also working on a project to clean up a forest that serves as a de facto dumping ground for this community, which burns much of its trash.
She is adjusting to life in the Thai village. She recycles and composts, and rides a bike everywhere. She also tries to be a good role model for Americans. Most residents of Thailand have formed impressions of Americans based on Hollywood or an encounter with wanton tourists in Bangkok — the capital city that seems worlds away from Duffy’s rural village.
Most of these Thai villagers are rice farmers (the nation is the world’s top rice exporter). Fortunately, Duffy said, the catastrophic flooding of 2011 did not directly affect her community.
“Thai people love to laugh and have a good time,” she said, noting their positive outlook as the 2011 flooding devastated much of the country. “They had so much to teach me.”
She’s even made an impression on the villagers, showing them U.S. traditions like Halloween and Thanksgiving. Part of her schedule includes teaching English at a Thai high school, while brushing up on Thai language skills weekly with a “host mom.”
Her small office in the village has wireless Internet, allowing Duffy to communicate with friends and family in the U.S. Skype has allowed video chats with her parents and alleviates homesickness.
When she returns to Thailand in January, Duffy will attempt to build a bio-gas tank that uses dung from water buffaloes as fuel to cook her food. The mayor of her Thai community is interested in one of these contraptions for his house.
Also, she’ll return to her pet cat Baksida, a name that translates to “foreigner.”
“There’s a niche for everyone in the world. I want to have a job that goes into my life,” she said, recalling the impact of her experience in Thailand. “These people are going to be in my life for the rest of my life.”
Slideshow and more
Duffy also has a blog at www.christineduffy.com.
Peace Corps facts
• The Peace Corps is an American volunteer program run by the U.S. government. Volunteers focus on social and economic development abroad.
• The program was established in 1961, and more than 200,000 Americans have served.
• Washington state continues to be the No. 3 all-time producer of Peace Corps volunteers. Since 1961, 8,631 Washingtonians have served in the Peace Corps.
• The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area currently ranks No. 7 in the country for producing Peace Corps volunteers with 196 residents currently serving.
• To learn more, visit www.peacecorps.gov.