It's been 2 months since Sonya flew across the world for her Thailand internship and she's already experienced so much!
In Part 1 we learned about her first impressions of Thailand and getting accustomed to the Thai culture.
Then in Part 2, Sonya gave us great insight into her internship, as well as some of her travel adventures.
As Sonya's internship comes to an end, this will be the final part of her Thailand internship blog series.
Let's see how Sonya spent her final week in The Land of Smiles.
Week Eight, or, The World Is Smaller Than You Think
As with any major epochs in our lives, the beginnings and ends always seem to be accelerated, and my last week in Bangkok proved to be no different.
And so I began the laborious but ultimately rewarding process of simultaneously cherishing my last days while reflecting on my trip as a whole.
Final Work Projects
Looking back on my personal compilation of everything I have done in the past weeks was evidence enough that quality work takes time, but it is also the most rewarding.
What started as small daily tasks and weekly presentations for clients and the Foundation’s Board soon graduated to 3- or 4-week long projects in the office, culminating in my two capstone projects: a Lemongrass Tea Business Plan and complete Foundation website redesign (including wireframe, corresponding guide, and copywriting).
Paralleled with my professional growth were strengthened relationships with my boss, co-workers, and other AIP interns.
For my lemongrass tea business plan, a simple brainstorming session of packaging, copywriting, and mood boards soon grew into a full-fledged PDF with target consumers, competitor analysis, and cost estimates from the Foundation greenhouse manager (whom I interviewed during my week-long stay in Chaiyaphum on the Foundation grounds).
My Foundation website document evolved from simple suggestions to research-backed wireframes for every single page of my newly-envisioned website, to consulting with a digital marketing business partner of my boss, and writing stories of my interviewees at the school to be featured on the website.
Along the way, I also developed a confidence and true interest in website design.
My case is a testament to the classic “interest versus competency” debate—does being innately good at something make you like it, or does liking something make you work to become good at it?
For me, it was a constant game of catch-up between both. Perhaps I had some initial skill in creating business plans or designing websites; the more I worked on them, the more I enjoyed it.
The more I enjoyed it, the harder I worked. And so the cycle continues in perpetuity.
The night before my last day of work, I received a phone call from my boss, who had just found out about a client meeting at her and her husband’s home in Hua Hin the next day.
She did not want to miss my and my friend’s last day of internship, and so invited us to her home for the next 2 days, the official purpose being for us to present our major projects to her (Founder/ CEO of Qube Consulting) and her husband (Founder/ CEO of TBP) in an extension of our internships, although in many ways it was also a celebration and her way of thanking us at the end of our time at TBP.
In those tranquil, anticipatory hours before dinner, I sat down at the coffee table, brought out my laptop, and presented my capstone projects of the last 2 months to the two CEOs, some of the most inspiring, hard-working, yet down-to-earth and genuine people I have ever met.
The Founder/ CEO of TBP was incredibly supportive and offered positive feedback, but also expressed concern in the amount of work he didn’t realize needed to be put into both the Foundation website and lemongrass tea product until he saw my presentation.
The joint ownership of TBP and TBPF creates synergy, sure, but it also leads to an inevitable, asymmetrical focus of the for-profit entity over the non-for-profit one.
Nonetheless, he and my boss promised to implement both of my projects within the next 30 days, and we expressed mutual appreciation for both the opportunity and work we had invested over the past 8 weeks in the company and foundation.
The following morning, having officially completed my internship but still at my boss’s home, I borrowed my boss’s bike for a quick ride around the neighborhood. Although, to be fair, “neighborhood” might not be the right word.
It was more like a gated community of spaced-out beach homes, each with its own distinct design personality, charm, and winding driveway. I made it as far as the community’s golf course, admiring the houses and tree-packed mountains in the background.
You would think the past 7 weeks would have desensitized me in a way to natural beauty, but if anything, it has heightened my awareness of and appreciation for the world.
There are few things I love more than biking, so wandering around in Hua Hin was the perfect end to my week, and what I view in hindsight as the perfect unofficial end to my internship.
On my second-to-last day in Thailand, some I decided to finally visit Ayutthaya, or what was once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
Additionally, Ayutthaya was a prosperous international trading port from 1350 to 1767 until it was attacked by the Burmese.
Today, the city houses some of Thailand’s most beautiful and historic sites, known as Ayutthaya Historical Park, which is comprised of palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries, and statues.
Getting to Ayutthaya was an adventure in and of itself. It was also my first time in an open-air train that sometimes rolled gently but more often jerked along the rails.
Amidst the poor ventilation and 2-hour ride (the return trip was largely spent standing or sitting on the floor as the train had been comically overbooked), the redeeming factors were the price (only 20 Baht, or about $0.60 USD) and lush green scenery that soon emerged once we were out of Bangkok.
I lost track of the number of Thai Buddhist temples I've seen long ago, but the ones in Ayutthaya were undoubtedly at the top of my list. (For future reference, the names of the temples and reclining Buddha are Wat Yai Chaimongkol, Wat Maha That, Wat Chaiwatthanaram, and Pratu Chai.)
In many ways I loved their faded architectural glory more than the ornate golden temples that towered in Bangkok Old City. To me, these ancient ruins of temples epitomized Buddhism in a way the intricate could not.
Here was the antithesis of materialism, the ruination of religious magnificence—sites that had been doled out their expiration date centuries ago. And still, the Buddha depictions were no less powerful or relevant or venerated. Buddha was still Buddha, after all, in all its forms.
It surprised me how close we could get to the chedhis (pagodas), how largely unregulated and unsupervised the visitor sites were. Aside from a few signs and tape blocking off certain areas, the vast majority was free for exploration and discovery.
Being a writer drawn to the picturesque, I envisioned the city at the height of its days: temples filled with visitors; palaces swarming with suitors and dignitaries; streets graced by families, merchants, and foreigners. The temples were my absolute favorite.
They gently tinged you with nostalgia and transported you to a time of different but nonetheless complex lives—fraught with troubles, outlined with joys.
Celebrations and Goodbyes
The most difficult part of the week was definitely the goodbyes. On Monday, my work family bid our farewells to an intern who returning to university in Bangkok.
Thursday was dedicated to saying goodbye to an intern from Indonesia whom I had befriended and now viewed as a sister (she had spent a week at the Foundation with me).
Saturday evening was spent with the remaining AIP interns, amazing people whom I honestly could not have asked for a better group to spend 2 months in Bangkok with.
Finally, on the following Monday, or my last full day in Bangkok, realization of the permanence of good-byes and uncertainty of reunion snuck up on me like a beach sunburn on an overcast day.
As promised, I stopped by the office one last time for lunch and said goodbye to these co-workers who had become sisters over the weeks.
From eating the best ramen in Bangkok to admiring breathtaking temple ruins of Ayutthaya, and ending my internship in the celebratory form of staying overnight at my boss’s seaside home in Hua Hin, in many ways my internship came full circle during the final week.
To say I am still just as spellbound as I was my first week here is to discredit all that I’ve learned and absorbed during the past 8 weeks. I loved succumbing to the distinctive magic of each city—Hua Hin (twice!), Krabi, Chiang Mai, Chaiyaphum, and Ayutthaya.
Rather, what materialized in my last days was an all-encompassing sense of awe, for all that I have experienced and all that I will never experience in Thailand.
Because just as the concept of limitless possibilities makes life worthwhile, the manifestation of unbound potential in Thailand has, if anything, augmented my curiosity for the world and my passion for serving it—through business, writing, or mere daily interactions.
Whether by choice or circumstance (probably both), this has easily been the best summer of my life. I'm eternally grateful to Cornell for connecting me to AIP, because these opportunities don't come around more than once in a lifetime.
My boss truly believed that hierarchies in the workplace are a social construct. Her embracing of me as an intern and friend for the past 8 weeks proves as much.
I am forever grateful to her mentorship and guidance, because she really did change my life in all the ways I believe a boss should—by assigning responsibility, exhibiting trust, providing feedback, and encouraging exploration into new concepts and ideas.
But perhaps more importantly, she provided a blueprint of a personal trajectory that I had previously only harbored within myself, but never openly shared with the world.
I’m more certain than ever now of the things I want in life: a voice, through writing and speaking and interacting; a platform for spurring positive impact through business; anything and everything that makes my heart soar, that makes me wake up every morning excited for work; and lastly, people to do life with, because synergy is everything.
I used to think having so many professional and personal interests was a disadvantage, that I would never find a job that fulfilled all aspects of myself.
But watching my boss run from TBP to the Foundation to Qube day in and day out, tirelessly, without complaint, I realized that this merging of passions is possible, and moreover, advantageous to all three entities involved.
I didn’t want to come to Thailand with the onerous, unnecessary pressure that this experience would be life-changing.
Expecting that, to me, was a lot like meditating and clearing your mind—the more you thought about it, the more difficult and forced it would become.
But as I became swept along in everything, first by work, then by the city and its peoples, then by the country itself, I knew my life was changing before my eyes, and the best part was that it was headed in exactly the direction I intended.
As a writer, I am constantly reminded of the lineage of eras, however long or short they may be, in our lives. Here is the finale of one beautiful chapter in my brief life. But the story doesn't end, because I don't end. As long as I live, the story writes itself.
So my promise to a Future Me is that, first I will live my life fearlessly, redefining comfort zones and meeting as many people as possible. I’ll draft a TED talk, start my novel, record the Chimes album that I promised my boss.
I’ll recall the magic of these 2 months and bring it all home as an ingrained part of me—merely by breathing I will keep alive the memory of everything I have learned. But someday in the distant future, I know I’ll find myself once again in Thailand.
Because when you have a piece of your heart indelibly lodged somewhere—in this case a vibrant, smiling slice of the world—sooner or later, you have to go back.
Start Your Thailand Internship Today
Sonya's Thailand internship has sadly come to an end, but we've thoroughly enjoyed reading about all of her amazing experiences.
We wish all the best for Sonya in her future career and hope to see her again in Thailand one day.
Has Sonya's story made you want to start your own journey abroad?
Then you can follow in the footsteps of Sonya with your own internship in Thailand, and jumpstart your future professional career!