in her Regent Square home from the other side of the world, recently had a chance to spend a month in Thailand catching up with her old friends.
“I traveled to many different parts of Thailand and was very lucky because I got to visit my old students and they lived in all different parts,” she said.
Schmidt, a local coordinator for the exchange student program known as CIEE—the Council on International Educational Exchange—left for Thailand March 8, returning April 4. She visited eight students living in Thailand and the families of the six students who are currently staying in Pittsburgh. She also got to meet a student coming to America in the next school year.
“That was the highlight of the trip—seeing former students and being with them again,” she said. “It’s really interesting to go to them and say ‘ok, it’s been five years—what was important to you during your stay here?’”
Perspectives always grow and change after students spend a school year in Pittsburgh and return home.
“One student I had was so homesick and now what he remembers is how wonderful it was and how he can’t wait to come back and visit,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt is now looking for new local families interested in hosting students for the next school year. The students arrive in August and go home in June. If interested, Schmidt will then meet with potential host parents for coffee. Diverse couples of all kinds are eligible to host. The only restriction is that single men living alone cannot host. She can also connect interested individuals to people who have hosted in the past.
The experience of hosting creates connections around the world that can last a lifetime for many.
“I love to hear people say they’re going back for their students college graduation,” she said. “That’s why I believe this job is so important.”
During her stay in Thailand, Schmidt visited countless temples, countrysides, markets and street vendors. One surprise was her discovery that 7/11 convenience stores are everywhere—and a part of daily life for the Thai people.
“It is like a centerpoint,” she said. “They have two on every block practically no matter where you go and I soon understood why—one of it is because they have a good selection of quick food and they are air conditioned. Wherever you are, if you need a break from the heat, you walk into 7/11 and it’s like heaven.”
It was between 95 and 100 degrees during her stay, which marked her first trip to Asia. One aspect of the trip that she loved from start to finish—food.
“I feel like I ate my way from one side of Thailand to the other,” she said. “The food was amazing. So different and so good. There was very little that I didn’t love. It’s fresh vegetables, fruit, a lot of fish and not much beef at all. Everything is cooked fresh. People talk about the street vendors in Thailand—everywhere you go, there is food for sale by someone who is cooking it right there.”
The nature of the people also touched her heart.
“There’s something about the people of Thailand that is special—they’re very warm and very caring. Culturally, there is an attitude of caring and hospitality is important to them.”
Schmidt said she fell in love with Asia and will definitely travel there again.
“I cannot wait to go back,” she said.