Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thai GSE Team Blog

Please check out the blog from the Thai GSE Team visiting from District. 3330 and follow their trip throughout District 7890:

Monday, March 30, 2009

GSE Team from Thailand arrives in US

It was our pleasure to welcome the GSE Team from Thailand at the Bradley, CT Airport (Team Leader: Quanchai Laohaviraphab, Jiraporn Kansuwan, Chawengsak Leatritsirikul, Sawitree Muangyai & Unchalee Boonyanurak). Although tired from the long journey, they arrived full of good spirits and enthusiasm for the adventure that's ahead of them. Thank you everyone for coming out and meeting them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This I Believe - Never Stop Dreaming

I have been reading “This I Believe” a collection of essays created originally in the 1950s. And yesterday, as I sat alone having lunch in a food court that allowed me to look out over Bangkok, I realized that I feel very sorry for people who have stopped dreaming.
I soon will be a year from my 30th birthday and I have yet to stop dreaming. It saddens me to think that I will reach a point in my life when I will say this is it: this is who I am, this is where I live and this is my daily schedule. I never want to lose the hunger that keeps me searching, that keeps me wanting to evolve as a writer, a woman, a mother, a friend. As I transition in age, I want to ripen in spirit and love my family and friends harder each and every year.
When I dream, I dream big and then I work hard and God blesses me to always fall somewhere in between. And each achievement is sweeter than the last because it comes along in a way I could never have imagined. I am richer because of GSE. I have made friends that one month ago were unknown and oceans away. I have been reminded that as I curse my computer when it doesn’t perform my commands fast enough, there are children in Thailand pretending to type on paper because there are no computers in sight. I am comforted to know that when I lay in my bed at night, the reception to God is just as clear from all corners of the earth. When you read a news story, follow up on it. It’s not over. A tsunami happened about four years ago. Though the major press has moved on to the next hottest thing, people in Thailand are still rebuilding from it. It is not over for them.
These are the stories I crave to write. These are the people I want to meet, those who actually try to attack the problem instead of watching it from a comfortable difference. Every day I make my son say aloud, “I love God, God loves me and I love myself.” When you love something, you value it. I want him to love himself because when you do, it is easier to love someone else. And I want him to take all that love and do something spectacular with it. Read a book to a sick and shut in elderly person, color a wonderful picture and send it to Shriner’s Children Hospital, anything he wants to do. As he grows, I want him to have big dreams and plans for all that magnificent love waiting to be released. And when he comes upon the opportunity to use it, I want him to seize it.
I know what it feels like to have that opportunity come to you when you least expect it. I had one last year when my editor handed me the fax about Rotary International looking for GSE members. As I sit here typing my mind is still overwhelmed with all of the people I have met and places I have gone. I know the sky is the limit, a harsh reality is just below me and right now, I have landed in the clouds. Dream big and see what happens. The worst thing that can happen is that you end up exactly where you are. This I believe.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The other side of GSE

Maggie and I are born exactly three days apart. I can count on Jazz at the drop of a hat to kill creepy crawlers for me. And Brett knows, deep down, it’s better when you sing it (those close to me know what I am talking about). While I planned on making connections and forming friendships as I toured Thailand, somehow I failed to think about the relationships forming with my travel mates. Group Study Exchange is not just about exchanging ideas with those living in the country you’re visiting.
Take the five us, including our team leader, as an example. We all have different backgrounds: Jazz , an engineer, is originally from Puerto Rico; Brett is from Agawam and works in finance; Maggie was born in Poland and works in marketing; Ex Connecticut probate judge Aileen is our team leader; and I, last but not least, live in Springfield and write for a living. We got to know one another a bit while preparing for this experience. But let me tell you, vomiting, caves, killing bugs and burnt corn can really bring people together. While on this trip the others have seen me fall, scream at bugs, get carsick, sing terrible karaoke, freeze up during public speaking, sweat uncontrollably and more. The next GSE team should know up front that GSE also stands for Getting Stripped of your Ego. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ko Samui

After three days in gorgeous ko samui, we find ourselves waiting for the ferry to head back to the main land. The Rotary club of Ko Samui did a great job hosting us. Thank you!
The picture shows the under composed remains of the mummified monk Phra Khru Samathakittikhun of Watkunaram on Ko Samui. He passed away in 1973 and was placed in an upright position as a symbol to aspire the future generations to follow buddhist teachings (taken from Watkunaram temple).
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Above and beyond

My gratitude to each and every Rotary Club can truly not be expressed. From Bangkok to Nakhon Si Thammarat, every Club, every member, every President has welcomed us with open arms. The hospitality has been more than anything I have experienced in my life thus far. Sorry, mom, but I can now say I have met people up to par with you. Ha.
I admire the way Thai family and friends share meals. We have had more than our share of delicious fare here. But there is something to be appreciated about the way they all sit down together. There are no big stacked individual plates. The food is laid out on the table and during conversation; various dishes are passed and shared. It gives you that sense that we are all here together and in the moment. There isn’t one person snacking while on their laptop or another eating dinner in front of the television. I like the camaraderie aspect of it. We all could use a little more of that in our lives.

Our life in Thailand

Greetings from Thailand: Sawasdee Kaa, I'm finally blogging. My team is so proficient I feel no need to intefere. What a trip!'s a TRIP..
Here are somethings of we've done: visited temples, rode tuk-tuks in NYC like traffic (scary), spelunked, dealt with monkeys, ate every type of food, some of it staring back at you, manis, pedis and massages (often), attended live theater, visited the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha, sailed on a yacht with Captain Mark from Australia,, met with the Chief Justice in Phuket Courts, served snacks t0 inmates, sat with mothers at the nursery in the women's prison and spoke with youngsters (9 to 12 yo) at Juvenile Detention. We were privileged to see the inner sanctum of the Bank of Bangkok, a tuna fish factory, a deisel something something, a palm oil producing factory, latex factory, we rowed to hongs, (look that up in your Funk & Wagnall), climbed to waterfalls and dove through an unlit cave to an underwater wedding festival site, more temples, more food, visited a pottery making business, shadow puppet show, rubber tree plantation, chicken hatchery, rode in long tail boats to a floating village, saw swift bird condominiums where birds' nests are harvested for consumption, MANY Rotary meeting, Rotary clean water projects, we were interviewed on live radio...Gary we need to talk..... wait...almost done, we visited an electrical & gas plant and brick making factory, several tsunami sites, a self sufficient village that was under mud slides ten years ago, and one of my favorite spots, a batik printing business and oh yes, we kayaked and went to an aquarium, butterfly garden and prawn farm. Can't wait to show you hundreds of pix. Miss you all. Aileen

See Mike I am working, too!!!

We had a great day of vocational visits while staying in Phuket. I had the chance to meet some marvelous individuals. Thank you all for sharing your work and history with me. I will complete detailed articles upon my return.

Eye of the Tiger

The other day we visited Tiger Hill. I’m sure you’ve seen other posts from my teammates about the 1,287 stepped-feat. I did about 100. Ha. Anyhow, after I took the scary descent back to the safety of dirt beneath my feet, I sat on a nearby bench (away from the Monkeys) and took in the scenery. An old woman sat begging on the side of the road. She held her blue change bucket out before her shaking it gently at passerby. Her skin was wrinkled and tanned deeply from the scorching sun. Adults barely acknowledged her presence, passing her without hesitation.
A flock of school children no older than grade four began marching in her direction. They called hello to me, waving and giggling as they passed. Their gorgeous smiles made me break into one of my own and return the wave probably too eagerly. As they neared the old woman, her basket now beside her, their attention transitioned from me to her. There was no deliberation, no whispers of approval, they just reached their tiny fingers into their pockets and colorful purses and offer her temple hands, greeted her, and dropped change into her bucket. First one child, then another, and another and so on. I could hear the clang of their metal change ringing as it hit the bottom of the plastic bucket. They were so little, so humble, so giving … We could learn a lot from children. At what point from childhood to becoming men and women do we lose “that thing.” That innocence. “That thing” that makes us reach into our pockets rather than turn away. Just food for thought. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

GSE presentation to Srithammasokarat

More pics from gse presentation to Srithammasokarat

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Radio website correction

The GSE Team will be interviewed on live radio (US time and date) March 4th between 9:00-9:30 pm. Please log on to to hear us live from Thailand.
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Random Pictures

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Radio interview

The GSE Team will be interviewed on live radio (US time and date) March 4th between 9:00-9:30 pm. Please log on to to hear us live from Thailand.
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Monday, March 2, 2009

Nakhon Si Thammarat pictures

We were welcomed with colorful flowers and tons of smiles.
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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Welcomed to Nakhonsrithammarat

6 clubs of Nakhonsrithammarat welcomed us with open arms as we arrived
from Trang. We have a very busy schedule over the next few days;
hopefully we will have time to blog!

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Last day in Krabi - Welcome to Trang

Our last day in Krabi was full of energy. Our first stop was the Laem Pho Mollusk Fossil site. The fossils in this site are believed to be about 75 million years old. Our second stop was the Outdoors Aquarium where we got to see a little bit of everything: small fish, BIG fish, colorful and even ugly fish. After that we visited Wat Tham Seua (aka Tiger Cave temple). Even though this visit presented a challenge, Maggie and Brett made us proud by climbing 1237 steps to the top of the mountain. I only climbed half of the mountain, but Maggie and Brett took amazing pictures for all of us!
After an amazing day we had to say goodbye to our friends in Krabi and move to the province of Trang. We were received with open arms. Our hosts families were very excited and happy to see us. I enjoyed a great dinner with my host family, Manit and Lynn Wongsureerat. They made thai rice noodles and shrimp soup for me. Delicious!

An amazing day awaits tomorrow! It will include a sea trip, snorkelling and visiting an underwater wedding festival.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


2/26 evening-

Spent the evening at the Krabi Tipa Resort belonging to Rotarian
Kanokwalee Engchuan. The resort was a compound of over 100 very nice
secluded bungalows very close to main street Krabi. Dinner was of
traditional dishes (chicken,rice, octopus, prawn, thai coconut soup
and egg omelette, among other things). Dinner included 7 Rotarians
from various vocations including hotel owners, doctor, insurance sales
and an owner of high end commercial construction company. Pitak
Peanusaha, a Rotarian, engineer and hotel owner was graciuous enough
to give us a tour of his property and treated us to an after dinner
cocktail. Before calling it a night we spent time on main street Krabi
where there were several vendors and a Burger King; I had forgotten
how good Whoppers really are!!!!!

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Updated photo for 226

Here's the correct photo for post 226, sorry! The other picture was in front of the Phuket Marine biological Center. So much fun!
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The true meaning of resilency

Earlier this week, we visited Ban Nai Rai, a village in the stages of being rebuilt. The former site was ravaged by the tsunami four years ago. Thanks to local Rotary efforts and those abroad, 300 homes have been constructed. Right now, there are 65 units up in the mostly Muslim community.

There are still shards of its former tenants about - scattered debri, old clothes, toys that were probably loved dearly by some child. It was quite sad and very, very moving to see these people getting on with their lives. Children still being able to smile despite the cards they were dealt. It really makes you wonder about the inner strength that lurks within all of us. I will post photos of the village when I can. Until next time, peace, love and blessings.
~ Natasha

Thai Ocean Venture Co

We've had the pleasure of visiting the Thai Ocean Venture Co Ltd in Phuket which is one of the largest tuna processing plants in Thailand. The owners, Mr Paol Yu and Mrs Kanya Yu received us all and gave us an overview of their business. We had a tour of the very sterile and impressive plant, which included the chill room (-60C), freezing, trimming and cutting of the tuna and of course the packaging. We had a delicious lunch with the freshest tuna, mahi mahi and snapper, so next time you enjoy a delectable yellowfin sushi, know that if it came from TOV Co, you're having the best available in the world! Please feel free to check out their web site at:

Warm welcome at Phang Nga

We were welcomed with beautiful traditional Thai dancers by our hosts the Sineenat Jangtatang family and rotary club of Phang Nga. The team is in Krabi preparing to meet the rotary club for dinner. ~ the team
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Vocatioanl day for the team in Phuket

2/23 The team spent the day in Phuket visiting the various vocation
sites individually. I spent the day with Leo and Piopop at a local
credit union and bank.
More to come when internet access is available.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Visiting Bangkok Bank February 19th

Quanchai, our gracious host in Bangkok, Past Rotary president and 2009 GSE team leader to the US was able to arange a meeting with Bangkok Bank. I was excited to meet with the Bank and get a better understanding of their operations and how it may relate to what I do at Babson Capital. The GSE team intersted to learn of the bank and in some respects trying to get a better understanding of what I do also accompanied me. The first part of the day was spent touring the normal operations of the bank including a visit to the vault. We were then escorted to the 24th floor which included all of the investment activities of the bank which included private banking, fund management and the securities divison. Sornsak Sroisangchan, officer in the Fund Mangement department walked me through the structure of the bank and the various attributes of the bank including the investment subsidaries. the bank is relatively small by US standards but quite large in Thailand. Banking and finance is beginning to evolve rapidly, as it was not until recently where the bank was allowed involvment in foreign investments. This has been relatively limtied to date due to the US /global financial crisis over the last year. ;"bad timing" according to Sornsak.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Leaving a blazing trail in Bangkok

In the intense Thailand heat we follow our guide, C, in a neat row on the crowded Bangkok streets. He smiles often, pauses to call out “Momma” over his shoulder. Each time he does it brings out a giggle from us. His “momma,” our Aileen, shouts back that she is just fine. But that never stops him from circling back to make sure that “momma” has not fallen out of step with the group.
Our line would be hard to miss – I’m sure there is a trail of perspiration we weave from our hotel to the sky train all the way to the markets. The water seems to pour out from us to soak our clothing and run down our faces as quickly as we guzzle it from our plastic bottles. I am in desperate need of a diaper. My pants are soaked from perspiration and I am pretty sure along with our trail of perspiration, I have left prints of my derriere all over the city.
The markets are almost overwhelming as we make our way through it. Side by side, row by row unique gifts, clothing, quality handcrafted furniture, paintings, carvings and more are at each turn. You can smell the scent of cooking meat at nearby vendors. The city is alive with sights, sounds, smells and tastes. In fact, I can almost taste the thick humidity. Inside the markets we spilt up and roam leisurely. I climb the tri-level market and explore what I can. Exquisite silks and handcrafted jewelry line tabletops and counter spaces waiting for an owner. I hit the jack pot in the basement though. Unique paintings line a small square room. Bright colors, bold images and minute details capture me. I ask the young woman if she has created the wonderful artwork and she shakes her head. Her sister, who is not present, is the artist behind the masterpieces.
After lunch (old-school cafeteria style complete with karaoke entertainment) we leave the markets, get back on the sky train and head over to MBK mall. The stores are impressive. I have little luck in the clothing departments. I tease C earlier in the day by telling him, “Big Girls Get No Love in Bangkok.” Ha.

Goodbye Bangkok......Next stop: Phuket Island

Our last few days in Bangkok were full of fun activities, including the zoo, the weekend market and a great Thai show called Siam Niramit. We did a lot of new things and saw unbelievable sites. We even had the chance to feed the elephants, who slobbered all over us.
Visiting the traditional Thai village was one of my favorite things to do. We had the opportunity to witness the string ceremony. We had a piece of string tied to our wrists, while a prayer is said to bring good luck and health.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wonderful Thai Cuisine

And it wouldn't be a good recap of our time here without some pictures of the delectable food that we've been enjoying. Thai cuisine is a wonderful combination of fragrant spices. herbs, vegetables, beef, chicken, the freshest of fish and of course sweet and colorful fruit. The food is aromatic, delicious and contains many varieties of rice dishes, sauces, soups and side dishes. Enjoy!!

Learning from one another

This morning I can’t seem to sleep for a long period of time. I went to bed a little before midnight and kind of toss and turn in the night. It is a little after 4 a.m. and since we will depart Bangkok in two days, to begin to head south, I figure now is a better time than any to write. I may not get the opportunity, nor have the time, to fully get my thoughts down later.

First off, you don’t realize quite how long 23 hours is until you’ve spent it with no where to go in an airplane. Nonetheless, when the five of us finally landed in Bangkok, after crisscrossing our way from Connecticut to Washington D.C. to Tokyo to Thailand, I don’t think we could have imagined the welcome wagon that awaited us. The people of District 3330 have been absolutely amazing. It’s funny because language is not the barrier that everyone seems to think it is (Of course, many of the fabulous people we’ve met have spoken English, so it may sound overconfident to say). When we can not understand each other very well, we do take a moment to find a better word that will contribute to understanding. But warmth, kindness, hospitality, the early roots of friendship, these are things that can be communicated without words. It is body language, demeanor and the tone in which you say anything in any language.

Jiraporn reminds me of just how similar we all are when we are on the grounds of the Grand Palace. She is a GSE member of District 3330 who will journey to our District 7890 in April. She and her other GSE teammate Unchalee, Krittika and I visited the Emerald Buddha together. As we move around the palace my team (Maggie, Brett, Jacelyn and our Team Leader Aileen) break off into twos or threes, meet up again, take pictures, chat, keep it moving – the cycle continues. I pretty much have traveled along with Jiraporn and Unchalee not only because they are awesome, but because I really love to hear them explain what each piece of architecture, painting or symbol means personally to them and their people as a whole.

We take off our shoes and sit down inside, pointing our feet away from the Buddha. We talk a bit about Buddhism; I do most of the listening and every now and then ask specific questions about prayer, worship and meditation. This is why I personally came to GSE, for these moments. You see I am captivated with studying and learning about life and how others get through theirs. About a year ago I went to Elms College on a scholarship to study religion. Not because I am taken so much with the acts of worship, but with the reasons people choose to worship. We human beings are ingrained with the need to believe in something. In order to survive in at least a happy existence we all have the inner need to be connected to something or someone - whether we choose to believe in our family, a politician, God, our friends or in the greater good of every human being. Here I am sitting with a woman I met for the first time a day before, and while I don’t know everything about her (she’s still almost a stranger), I know the feeling she talks about when she tells me about what her prayers and meditation mean to her. She finishes by telling me that in Thailand there are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, but all, each and every one of them, are all Thai.

Time for bed

I am very tired after a long day. But the photo is an inkling of what the day held.

First day pictures!

Here are some more pictures on our first day adventures! We saw a lot in one day. Thank you very much to our hosting country!

We visited the Rotary Center of Thailand!

The Grand Palace visit was amazing! So beautiful.

Sawitree & Unchalee will be visiting us in New England next month.


It is my pleasure, after 23 hours of air time, to say that we arrived safely in Bangkok yesterday. To say that we received a warm welcome would be an understatement. Rotary District 3330 gave us a magnificent welcome complete with banners,Leis and a number of friendly faces and kind smiles. The fact that we landed close to midnight shows the generosity of those hosting us. To leave their homes at that hour to greet us speaks highly of who they are and what Rotary represents.

First day in Thailand!!!

We arived in Bankok at 11:45 pm and were graciously greeted by over 20 Rotarians from 5 districts. On Tuesday morning at 9 we toured the Rotary center of Thailand. They had a full day planned for us including a visit to the Grand Palace, the Emerald Budha and Wat Pho where we recieved a traditional Thai massage. Shortly there after we went to fai Kham resaurant where we were warmly welcomed by host DG. Dr. Ratmanee. A long but very enjoyable day. The reception hads been wondeful and the people are most generous.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

GSE Thailand

Rotary District 7890, comprising of Rotary Clubs in Northern Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, has selected four non-Rotarians and a Rotary Team Leader to travel to Thailand as the 2009 Group Study Exchange. The team will depart on Sunday, February 15, from Bradley International Airport.

The Group Study Exchange (GSE) of The Rotary Foundation is a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for businesspeople and professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who are in the early stages of their careers. The program provides travel grants for teams to exchange visits in paired areas of different countries. For four weeks, team members experience the host country’s culture and institutions, observe how their vocations are practiced abroad, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas.

This year’s team includes three individuals from the Springfield, MA, area and one from Manchester, CT. Brett Gearing is the director of the structured credit group of Babson Capital and is sponsored by the Springfield Rotary Club; Natasha Clark is a reporter for The Reminder publications and is sponsored by the East Longmeadow Rotary Club; Magdalena Jaroszewicz is a product marketing manager at Lenox Tools and is sponsored by the West Springfield Rotary Club; and Jacelyn Lopez is an aircraft engineer with Pratt & Whitney and is sponsored by the Manchester Rotary Club. The team leader is Rotarian Aileen Witkowski of the Putnam (CT) Rotary Club.

The team will participate in a rewarding, once-in-a lifetime experience and will return home with a broadened cultural perspective and new understanding of a nation’s history, language, commerce and government. A GSE offers a unique opportunity to develop leadership skills, work on team building, and increase self-confidence. The program is designed to have an invaluable impact on the career of these young professionals in an increasingly global workplace by creating networking opportunities and lifelong friendships.

While in Thailand, the US team will stay with host families from the local Rotary District and will move to a new location every few days. The Thailand team will arrive at Bradley International on March 28 and will stay with host families from the Springfield, Franklin County, Simsbury and Windsor Rotary Clubs over a four-week period.

It's official

We're officially notifying the public ... though next week I notify Reminder readers in my own way ... Reminder Adventure style ... ha ha ha. Above is the official press release making the rounds: (if i can get it to post.) he he he

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blog mobile update

testing the mobile update of the blog. Hope this works

Trip preparation

The team continues to meet to prepare for a mid February departure. Hopefully we lock down are travel dats this week!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

L-R: Brett Gearing, Jacelynn (“Jazz”) Lopez, Natasha Clark, Team Leader Aileen Witkowski,Maggie Jaroszewicz. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Gendron. The D7890 GSE Team to Thailand is busily preparing for their upcoming trip. They will visit D3330,beginning in Bangkok and touring almost all of the Host country, from February 15th through March 17th,2009.Our Team will be led by veteran Rotarian Aileen Witkowski, a retired Judge of Probate in Thompson CT,sponsored by the Putnam RC. Team Members include Natasha Clark, a reporter for The Reminderpublications, sponsored by the East Longmeadow RC; Brett Gearing, a Director with BabsonCapital, sponsored by the Springfield RC; Jacelyn Lopez, an aircraft engineer with Pratt & Whitney,sponsored by the Manchester RC; and Magdalena (“Maggie”) Jaroscewicz, product marketing managerat Lenox Tools, sponsored by the West Springfield RC.In addition to learning about Thai culture, the Team will be staying with host families and meetingpeople in similar professions. Visit their blog: