WESTMONT – “It’s not one year during your life, it’s a life in one year.”
That’s how 17-year-old Westmont resident Hannah Slattery defined her senior year of high school abroad in Thailand.
“Now I can see from different points of view and understand what they’re going through,” she said. “It was a slap in the face and a kick in the butt, but it was a huge life lesson.”
Slattery and about 16 students from suburbs traveled around the world through a Rotary Club program.
She left last August for Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand, and returned two weeks ago. She said she decided to be an exchange student after hearing the stories from current exchange students.
“[Rotary wants] young people to go travel the world and learn about the cultures,” she said. “They want us to experience and to learn how to adapt and understand different cultures and different people.”
The 12 months abroad have opened her eyes.
“The cultures are different but different doesn’t mean scary, bad or stupid,” she said.
While in Thailand, Slattery lived with three host families. None spoke English.
“I got to learn the language so much better,” she said. “I was pointing at things just trying to learn the basics of everything.”
The biggest difference in the two cultures, she said, is the amount of rice they eat. Other than that, she said she was just being a teenager in Thailand.
“I was a normal kid in Thailand,” Slattery said. “I wasn’t riding elephants down the street; I was just being normal. You just got to get used to it.”
The local temples were “exquisite,” she added.
“They’re beautiful,” Slattery said. “They put so much work into the temples, representing how much they love Buddha.”
But, she said the majestic, mountainous terrain was the “most amazing” part of the trip.
“I loved the mountains,” she said. “I appreciated them so much. Every time I rode my bike, I would just stop and look at a perfect view of the mountains. All around you is so beautiful – just untouched land. It was breathtaking.”
Slattery’s younger sister has signed up to become an exchange student, and the family has decided to become a host family for students traveling to America.
“I want to help [the exchange program] grow because it helped me grow,” she said.
Slattery plans to attend College of DuPage this fall and hopes to major in political science.