( Kasetsart University)
Premier Aquatics, Alexandria, VA
Summer Work and Travel in 2019
Never in my life had I, Thanan Thanakekhun (First), truly understood how this thing – souvenir – can actually remind oneself of somewhere one has been to until last summer when I got an extraordinary opportunity to live my dream in the states, the country of which many people, me included, dream, for 4 months, starting from May 22, 2019 to September 22, 2019.
But before digging deeper to how magnificent my life was back then, let me bring you back to the very beginning of these whole memorable – once in a life time – stories. It started in September 2018 when I was thinking what I would do after my graduation. There were actually two simple choices- one, applying for a job in Thailand and never be able to experience what I had been longing for, or two, going to the States, and of course,
I followed my heart so here I am, sharing this invaluable experience with you.
Having clear decision to materialize my wildest dream, visiting America, I contacted lots of agencies and found jobs and locations American Learning had to offer were – in my opinion – better than the rest. No regrets or disappointments were made since the staffs were genuinely helpful, preparing all documents, booking flights and, most importantly, looking after us from the beginning to the end. What I chose was life guarding for Premier Aquatics, Alexandria, VA.
Departing for America early in the morning of May 22, travelling for almost a day, my friends and I finally made it to LAX, but we still had to connect 2 more domestic flights to finally be at IAD (Dulles International Airport) where our employer would pick us up.
Arriving and picked up an hour later, we were individually dropped off at different locations regarding our assigned pool. Along the road, the iconic road and street signs kept my eyes outside the window the whole time, exploring the new surroundings and atmosphere, despite the fact that the driver, one of Premier’s supervisors, drove wayyy too fast. Lol. “Where is our location?” asked Plub, my college friend, and I to kill the silence. “Arlington” he replied. We, with perplexity, googled where in the world that was and found that our location was an adjacent city to Washington D.C. before saying out loud “Really?” “Yeah, really” he nodded, adding that our roommate would be 3 Turkish and 2 Belarusians.
The car decelerated – THANK GOD – as we approached The Wellington, our accommodation. Built with bare bricks on the outside and located near Pentagon City Metro station, this apartment had almost every facility needed in everyday life, ranging from a laundry room, gyms, a swimming pool, a free printer, a free shuttle bus to the Metro station and a cozy common room with high security preventing unauthorized entrance of nonresidents. At first, before getting there, I thought the accommodation cost was relatively high but living in it for 3 months, I realized it’s more than worth it. Lucky us, there was also a Thai grocery store nearby so we could just walked there and bought some food. Giant, a supermarket like TESCO Lotus, was 15-minute walk from the apartment.
The next morning, my supervisor, Samantha Olmert, picked me up and drove me to D.C. area, heading toward my pool located on the second floor of The Westbridge Condominium, a luxurious condominium with a spectacular view of the National Mall and an advantageous location right next to Georgetown, the biggest shopping center in D.C. The pool deck was decorated naturally with flower bushes and trees shredding their leaves to the pool every single minute, keeping me busy with picking the leaves out.
People here – the pool patrons or the residents- were really nice to me. Knowing that I was an exchange student whose major was Economics, the patrons were so eager to learn Thai culture as well as share theirs- some even asked about my opinion on U.S. politics and Thai economic policy- and, of course, be my English teacher. They sometimes cut an economic article from the news. Some even invited me to their party. Some bought me high quality ham and food. Some, here I’d like to mention their name: David and Rosemary Bowes, took me to a Thai restaurant and their house in Maryland, marking my first time riding a convertible. David, at the time an 86-year-old man with a wobble rolling walker whose wife was Rosemary, often coming down the pool for his daily physical therapy, not only taught me tons of English words but he, with his kindness, also shaped my belief that all Americans were actually nice and kind and deleted all the fears of living in the country I prior had. Some helped plan my trip after work.
Time flew. On my last week, these residents gradually came down to say good bye, making it a bitter sweet moment in my life. Farewell cards expressing their appreciation of my work burst me into tears of joy. Putting the equipment away and packing my stuff, ready to go back to my apartment and never return, I walked quietly out, looking back at the building, and thought “I love The Westbridge”.
During the program, when I faced technical difficulties, Samantha and her boss, Rady, came to the pool timely. I was also nominated for Superguard after being complimented by pool patrons and Samantha herself. The company held many activities and free trips to other cities or attractions around D.C., Maryland and Virginia. For instance, Ocean city where we, Thai lifeguards, met P’Roong from ALC.
Speaking of my wage, Premier hired me at $13 per hour and $19.5 for overtime, but then, out of nowhere, I got a raise to $14 and $21 respectively a few weeks later. So totally, I earned $10,000 only from Premier Aquatics or, approximately, 300,000 Baht. It was definitely worth participating!
How to Get to Work
Because my apartment was close to Pentagon City, I took a free shuttle bus to there then connected to the blue-line train to Foggy Bottom. To go home, I took 38B, a Metro bus, to Rosslyn then connected to 42, an Arlington bus, directly to my apartment. All modes were simply connected with one Metro SMARTRIP card.
Moreover, the change in transportation mode, for example from bus to train, within 2 hours from the first use get a discount on the second mode, in this case the train fare will be discounted. Transferring from bus to bus is free within 2 hour counting from the first time you tap the card on the target.
Was my English actually improved?
Forced to immerse myself in an English speaking country, I certainly exploited this opportunity to strengthen my English, particularly in speaking and listening, while building up confidence in using the language. To visualize this, after coming back to Thailand, I took a TOEIC test in January, 2020 and got 895 out of 990.
As an English tutor here in Thailand, when seeing interesting English Grammar on posted signs, I constantly posted them on my Instagram, explaining how the grammar was used in such content.
During work, because I, surely, didn’t wanna take my limited time in the U.S. for granted, First, I made a trip to Winchester where my university teacher’s relatives, Steve and Joyce Bishop, two other Americans who fulfilled my experience in America with happiness, warmly took me around the town as well as brought me to their lovely cozy American-style house. Since my pool was 5-minute walk from Georgetown, when I was off, I thus walked through the area every other day, actually going window-shopping haha. Everything seemed pricy there, like Siam Paragon- but an outside version.
The best part is here when the work session ended and I got to travel around the US with friends and then alone! Just like most of the exchange students, my journey began with the city that never sleeps, New York City. Walking along the High Line, heading uptown toward Time Square, I couldn’t stop enjoying the sight of this amazing city surrounded by dozens of high-rises. Lost in astonishment in the middle of Time square. Riding the subway to other attractions- Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Top of The Rock, Flatiron, Wall Street, Charging Bull, Dumbo, Brooklyn Bridge, 911 Memorial and, unquestionably, the Statue of Liberty. Four days in New York weren’t enough but I anyways had to catch my flight to Orlando, Florida to meet another Thai friend. We went to Disneyland, Universal studio, Kennedy Space Museum and, what couldn’t be missed, outlet stores. To be honest, everything was so tempting that I spent two-thirds of the income I made! Seven days in Orland went by. My friend went back to Thailand 2 days prior to my flight to San Francisco, so I was technically alone since then.
Alone, I arrived at SFO, riding BART straight to a hostel near Chinatown. Ascending from Montgomery BART station, I suddenly fell in love with this attractive unique city. I didn’t miss to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, admire the sunbathing seals at Pier 39, and surely visit the biggest gay community, the Castro.
The further I went, the more I didn’t want to leave the country, but “Rules are Rules” and the family was waiting for me to come home. But I, however, had to make the most of it. Therefore, I took one last shot to explore Los Angeles. And here comes the last day, the day filled with agony, the most painful moment. Packing things up with tears rolling down my face, sitting quietly on Uber approaching LAX, I embarked the plane, thinking about all the beautiful memories I had had so far and repeating the this question “Would I ever have a chance to come back here again?” over and over again until the plane took off.
Life continues the way it is. And each time I see those little things- Souvenirs- I bought along the journey, it feels like they are bringing me back to the time and the place I was at, reviving the feelings I then had at those wonderful moments, the feelings that will never wear off, the feeling that I can’t find anywhere else.
The word “SOUVENIR” today becomes more than things people buy just to show they have been to a place. For me, it means the feelings, the stories, the memories, the people, and the experience happening at the place